10 cake lessons learned

1. i can’t bake cakes without a scale. flour gets packed, unpacked – i’ve heard some methods where first you whisk the flour, then scoop and level with knife, but it still feels inexact to me… guess this is where my chemistry background is an influence? anyway, now i use the scale whenever i bake. the conversions i use the most are on a post-it note on the fridge:

butter: 1/2 cup = 1 stick = 1/4 lb. (4 oz) = 113 g
ap flour: 1 cup = .28 lb. (4.48 oz) = 125 g
cake flour: 1 cup = .20 lb. (3.2 oz) = 90 g

hmm, apparently ATK has slightly different conversions for the flour:
ap flour: 1 cup = 5 oz
cake flour: 1 cup = 4 oz

i haven’t decided which are more accurate yet… i’ll update if i read anything new

2. almost any batch of buttercream can be saved, according to dede wilson (author of wedding cakes you can make). i wish i had read the part before i threw away 2 batches that i thought were ruined! it was a little too hot that day, and i think some of the butter melted, so the buttercream got all watery as i started adding in the butter so i stopped adding the butter and tossed it. anyway, the next week i tried again and used butter that was still cold – it still got a little watery, but listening to dede, i added in all the butter. it got kinda chunky (from the cold butter), then got smoothed out after i let it beat in and warm up a little. anyway, rule of thumb is chill if it is too hot/soupy, warm if it’s too cold/chunky. don’t throw it away!

3. when icing the cake, the buttercream has to be really smooth and creamy. if not, just let it warm up a bit more because it’s just a waste of time to try to ice with buttercream that isn’t totally smooth. i wasted lots of time on the first wedding cake because of this!

4. i find dede wilson’s cakes a little on the small side, so now i usually do 1.5x the recipe. the slightly thicker cakes are easier to work with and give me a little room for error (like leveling the cake, etc.).

5. i really like chocolate cake. those tasty crumbs from all the cakes were not wasted 🙂 buttercream is also great. the kind i make is italian buttercream, which is really light and delicious.

6. to me, real flowers (as long as they’re not poisonous) are the best decoration. it’s so much work to make edible flowers, and usually the results pale in comparison to the real thing. often comes out real artificial too. and not like they taste really good. that would be a different matter entirely if they were delicious edible flowers. my friend told me now days there are also nice artificial flowers, so that’s an option too.

7. don’t forget the moistening syrup! sometimes i have trouble remembering to put the syrup on every layer… cake syrup frosting, cake syrup frosting. just gotta keep repeating it to myself.

8. hey my co-worker told me costco butter is not good… has anyone heard that? so far it has been ok for me, but maybe i should research better butters.

9. speaking of quality, i’ve found that egg quality is very important. i had some trouble with some mainland eggs… now i always buy fresh local eggs (2.5 dozen large from ka lei is about $7).

10. don’t use a hammer when putting a wooden dowel through the whole cake. i did that, and then when i got to the wedding, i couldn’t get it out! good thing that hydrangea was there to conceal it.

i think that about sums up what i’ve learned so far. i’m sure i will pick up more things as i bake more. let me know if anyone in honolulu needs some cake… 🙂

laura & alex’s wedding cake

here’s the cake!

cake2

it came out really well! looked good and more importantly, tasted good 🙂 also, laura and alex were really happy with it, and that’s the most important thing. here’s the happy couple cutting the cake:

couple

here’s a closeup of their pixelated heart that matched their invitation:

cake-closeup

since the lunch reception was a buffet, they asked me to make some sheet cakes:

sheet-cake

meanwhile, the display cake’s bottom two tiers were styrofoam, and the top tier was cake. all the cakes were chocolate with orange buttercream inside and vanilla buttercream on the outside. also had orange moistening syrup to keep it moist:

cake-piece

anyway, big thanks to cameron’s mom for helping me with arranging the flowers on the cake. we did a good job 🙂 and thanks to cameron’s dad for helping to transport the cake to the wedding. and thanks to cameron for dealing with cake stress 🙂 one more picture!

cake

pasta with eggplant and sausage

this recipe is from two meatballs in the italian kitchen by pino luongo and mark strausman

pasta

ingredients
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
8 oz sweet italian sausages (about 2), removed from casings and crumbled
1/2 dry white wine
1 large eggplant or 4 small sicilian eggplants (about 1.25 lb), cut into 1/2″ dice
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cute into 1/2″ dice
1 28-oz can italian plum tomatoes, preferably san marzano, with their juice, pureed in a food mill or food processor
1 tsp dried oregano, preferably sicilian
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp crushed hot red pepper, or more to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh italian parsley
fresh ground pepper
1 lb rigatoni or mezzemaniche
1/4 cup (1 oz) freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

heat a 10″-12″ skillet over medium heat. when it is hot, add the olive oil, onion, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and beginning to color, 5-7 minutes. add the sausage and cook, stirring frequently and breaking it into small bits with a wooden spoon, until it loses its raw color, about 4 minutes. add the wine and bring to a boil. add the eggplant and bell pepper, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until most of the wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

sauce

add the tomatoes, oregano, 1 tsp of salt, and the hot pepper flakes. reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft.

stir in the parsley and cook, uncovered, until the sauce is thick and well combined, about 6 minutes. season with salt and black pepper to taste. transfer the sauce to a large warmed serving bowl.

while the sauce is cooking, fill a 10-quart stock pot with 7 quarts of water and bring to a boil over high heat. add the remaining 2 tbsp kosher salt. add the pasta, stir, and cook until al dente.

de_cecco

reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta. add it to the bowl with the sauce and toss to combine. if the pasta looks dry, add the reserved cooking water, 1 tbsp at a time, tossing to combine between additions. sprinkle with parmagiano reggiano and serve immediately.

comments: cameron says this is one of the best pastas he’s had in his life! i also agree that is a really excellent recipe. we splurged and went with the de cecco pasta ($4/lb.) and the san marzano tomatoes ($5 for 28-oz can). we could both tell the de cecco pasta tasted different than the brands we usually buy; i’m still not sure if i can taste the san marzano tomatoes, but pino and mark say they are really good, and they probably are. my palette is not that refined… usually i am just stuffing my face with food. anyway, great recipe!