Baking Lessons

Breath deeply. 

I’m baking a wedding cake for 250 people.

My super cool sister is getting married to an equally awesome fellow this February, and the typical saccharine confection simply will not please. She wants a cake that actually tasted as good as it looked.

I frequently bake, but I’m not a baker. My family’s toast and sandwiches consist of homemade bread. I’ve whipped up a cake or two or three for special occasions — my son’s first birthday party or my husband’s 30th — but I don’t bake and frost cakes regularly.

To make up for my inexperience, I’ve read all of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible and most of Smitten Kitchen’s blog this month. I’ve also been seeking excuses to bake cakes for people. Next Friday, I have the perfect excuse.

Our church is celebrating the completion of its new building with a formal affair. Crab cakes and sliced beef will be served from chaffing dishes to people at round tables  — all the elements of a wedding feast without the bride and groom. So, of course there should be cake. I begged the event organizer to let me make the dessert, and am now responsible for producing a passable cake for 80-90 people by next Friday.

I decided to bake the same cake I plan to serve my sister, Epicurious’s Lemon Raspberry Wedding Cake. The recipe calls for each layer of the cake to be slip in half horizontally and filled, but instead I baked a second layer for each tier. That’s two 10 inch cakes, two 8 inch cakes and two 6 inch cakes. This way, I will have a higher proportion of cake to icing, which I prefer.

I am also substituting blackberries for red raspberries, because my local liquor store did not carry eau-de-vie framboise. They did stock a promising blackberry brandy.

I made the layers yesterday and finished this afternoon. Nearly all cakes freeze well and sometimes their flavors even improve with chilling. Over the next week, I’ll make the syrup and icing, and Friday morning, assemble my creation.

In the midst of baking I made some discoveries — or rather I rediscovered what experienced bakers already knew.

1.) Ensure that your butter and eggs are at room temperature. The butter blends more easily with the sugar and other ingredients when it is warm or even slightly melted. One of the cake batters was lumpy because I thought the butter was softer than it was. As a result, the cake has some strange eruptions in its center.

2.) Measure the sugar into a food processor or blender and pulse before mixing with the butter. This idea came from Rose Levy Beranbaum. She claimed that the finer sugar granules were more easily incorporated into the butter.

3.) The batter should be at room temperature when it enters the oven. Most of the time, this is not an issue. If, however, you realize that what you thought was an 8 inch pan was actually 9 inches after mixing the batter and was forced to refrigerate the mix while you purchased the correct size pan, then you should let the batter come to room temperature before you bake it. If you don’t your cake will be domed like this one. Cakes may dome when the edges cooked before the middle. The brown crust testifies to its uneven baking. Crusts are good on bread – bad on cakes. Luckily, I found a way to overcome this.

4.) Cakes bake more evenly when the pan is surrounded by something cool and wet like Magi-Cake Bake Strips or my homemade version — strips cut from an old towel and soaked in water. (This idea came from I Am A Baker.)See how flat and evenly golden this cake is? Very pretty.

Fortunately, most of my baking mistakes can be corrected with a serrated knife. Next time I bake a massive wedding cake, I’ll have less waste.

More cake posts to come … 

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About beewhisper

Christian, Mama, Wife, Gardener, Beekeeper
This entry was posted in Bee in the Kitchen. Bookmark the permalink.

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