Monday, March 17, 2008

Cake-baking weekend

This weekend was my wife's birthday. There was much partying, and I baked three cakes. The first was a sponge cake, to get warmed up. Then I made the intended real cake, an orange chiffon. However, I left out all seven egg yolks because I was being “helped” by my two-year-old while also simultaneously trying to keep the pacifier in my three-month-old. We baked it anyway and I went out for another dozen eggs and did another orange chiffon cake. I think I got that one down to the letter, but it fell out of its pan while it was cooling. (All these cakes are baked in a tube pan which you turn upside down and impale on a bottle during cooling so the cake doesn't compress.) I was glad we'd baked the yolk-less one; that was the one I decorated and presented. After serving up the final cake we tried out the yolk-less one. It was actually very good; just skewing toward angel food territory in its consistency. (It had ten egg whites in it.)

Chiffon cake is basically like a sponge cake but it's got oil in it which makes it softer and moister. It was invented in 1927 by a Californian guy who sold insurance and did catering on the side. He kept the recipe secret until he sold it to Betty Crocker in 1948. They published it as the “cake discovery of the century”.

Sponge cake, in turn, is like angel food cake but with some whole eggs instead of being egg whites only. Like angel food cake it has no additional fat. You separate all the eggs, beat the whites up into stiff peaks, and then fold them into the batter which contains the yolks. Mine turned out a little rubbery.

Here's a picture of the decorated cake from the day after:

It wasn't my best-looking cake effort. Chiffon cakes tend to have ugly surfaces because they're baked in an ungreased pan (to enable the cake to climb up the pan). They are such light cakes that a heavy frosting would really not fit (plus my constraint this year was a non-dairy cake). I dusted mine with powdered sugar to cover the blemishes and put a ring of daffodils and roses around the base.

Being able to separate eggs is key to making these kinds of cakes. Crack the egg in the middle. As you pull it apart, keep it tilted toward vertical so the yolk will fall to rest in one of the halves as the whites spill out. Then carefully transfer the whole yolk back and forth between the two halves of the shell a few times. This will allow the remaining whites to work themselves loose from the yolk and shells. Do this over an intermediate bowl and transfer yolks and whites to collection bowls if you are successful. It's important not to get even a hint of yolk in the whites.

I'm not really a baking expert; I just follow the recipes in Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible, and get advice from my wife, who is the real baking expert. The book is great, and the author's got a blog too.

What? No Programming?

Hopefully our regular scheduled programming will return next week. We are moving in the middle of this week so things have been slightly hectic.

A Moving Story

Speaking of moving, when we moved from Chicago to Seattle we had cleaned out the house and had a whole ton of liquor that we didn't feel like moving. I placed the bottles (some of them unopened, even!) in the top of the trash can in the back alley.

You know how raccoons will rip apart your trash if they think there might be something yummy inside? Well, it turns out homeless people will do the same thing, if they discover an unopened bottle of Stolichnaya in the top of the can.

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