Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Cake, Finally

So how hard could it be, I ask myself. The first day of the big Opera Cake Project went well, with even the buttercream frosting that started out looking like a disaster turning out well in the end. All I needed to do was make the sponge cake, make the glaze, which was just melting chocolate and adding in the butter I had already clarified, and assembling the cake. So what could go wrong?

Where to start, where to start. Let’s start with the jelly roll pans. I needed two the same size, 10 by 15 inches. I have two of different sizes, with the smaller one being close in size to what I needed. This meant I had to bake the first layer, turn it out to cool, clean the pan, bake the second layer. Not a big problem, but I elected to eyeball the division of batter in half rather than measuring exactly how much I had. I chose poorly. The first layer was thicker than the second. Since the middle layer is actually the two ends left over when you cut a 10 by 10 inch square from the two layers you bake, that difference in thickness is not trivial. Oh, well, I had lots of ganache to balance out any unevenness.

An even bigger problem was that I forgot to add the three tablespoons of melted butter to the batter, and didn’t realize it until layer one was in the oven. I pulled it out, stirred half of the butter into the batter in the bowl and the other half into the still liquid batter in the pan. The only problem is, the batter wasn’t really half and half.

But the ganache and the filling were perfect, and then there was the espresso syrup, so there would be lots of flavor, right? As the cake cooled, I kept saying to myself, “Remember to brush the espresso syrup on each layer before you put on the filling.” 

So guess what I saw on the counter as I got ready to put the top layer on the cake? The unused the espresso syrup. At least the top layer got some. A lot.

Okay, so with the cake assembled, except for the glaze, it needed to chill for an hour (and so did I). That should have given the top layer of buttercream a chance to harden up so it wouldn’t blend with the chocolate glaze. Should have. Didn’t quite. The top of the cake looks like chocolate peanut butter.

I still have hopes for it tasting okay. The buttercream, ganche and glaze all taste delicious. They should, that’s where the almost pound of butter and almost pound of chocolate all went.

By lunchtime today, I should know.

Next time anyone hears me say, “How hard could it be,” please just shoot me.

ETA: despite all my best efforts to mess it up, the cake tasted great, kind of like tiramisu. Everyone loved it. Still not sure I'd make it again.

I need to trim the cake and move to a serving platter before I take it to the luncheon.

Trimmed up, ready to go

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Not the Aria, Yet

Remember my post about opera cake? The one in which I reminded myself that people go to school to learn to make cakes like that and then decided to bake one, anyway? I finally have an occasion to make one, coming up on Saturday. We are having our UMW general meeting and annual membership meeting, and Day’s End Circle (me and my posse) have to bring desserts.

I have already been heavily involved in the upcoming meeting in that I volunteered myself to find a speaker. I found a historical interpreter who has worked on bus tours for the riverboats that come down the Mississippi and who is charging us what I consider a modest sum to speak to us in character and demonstrate how women dressed in the 1800’s. Nonetheless, as there aren’t too many of us in circle, I felt like I needed to contribute a dessert as well, and what better time to tackle the opera cake? (Other than after I finish cooking school, the pastry division.)

To review: the cake consists of three layers of almond sponge cake, each brushed with espresso syrup, then filled with coffee buttercream alternating with chocolate ganache, and topped with more buttercream and a chocolate glaze. Altogether it uses almost a pound of butter and 14 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. 

So today I did the shopping and then made the items that can be made in advance: the espresso syrup, clarified butter for the chocolate glaze, the chocolate ganache, and the buttercream frosting.

The syrup, butter, and ganache were easy. I had never clarified butter before, but the ghee I buy at the Indian store is too salty for baking, and it wasn’t hard to do myself. Sugar syrup and ganache I have made before.

I’ve made buttercream frosting before, too, but this is not your standard cream-butter-and-confectioner’s-sugar-then-add-flavoring-and-milk frosting. No, this one starts out with boiling sugar, water and vanilla to 255 degrees Fahrenheit (the hard ball stage) then letting it cool slightly while beating one egg plus a yolk. However long slightly is, I seem to have exceeded it, because when it came time to pour the syrup in a slow stream into the beaten eggs, I soon found I was scraping up a powdery mixture and beating it into the eggs instead. Things didn’t look much more promising when I added the dissolved espresso powder. The next step was to beat in 14 tablespoons of room temperature butter, one tablespoon at a time. I think the room temperature they had in mind was a lot cooler than my house, because the butter was rapidly becoming soupy as I frantically cut and tossed.

I reminded myself of Backup Plan One: make a batch of ordinary vanilla buttercream frosting with espresso powder tossed in for flavoring. (Backup Plan Two was buying a can of some appropriate looking frosting at the Winn-Dixie.)

As I was watching the dismal failure congeal under the beaters something strange began to happen. Bits of pale, fluffy looking peaks began to appear in the unpromising mess. Pretty soon, half of the mess began looking like frosting, and then the whole thing looked glossy and held soft peaks.

It worked!

So tomorrow I need to grind two cups of blanched almonds, make two 15” x 10” sponge cakes (to be cut into two 10 x 10 inch squares plus two 5 by 10 inch squares which together become the middle layer), make the chocolate glaze, and assemble the whole thing.

Now, how hard can that be?