I took a break from blogging when the Writing Retreat ended- a break about as long as the Writing Retreat itself. I’ve been working in the studio and dealing with some Christmas orders, but I’ve also been baking a little bit.
First, I went to the library and started methodically checking out their cake books.
From reading them, I figured out that the “buttercream” I had been making was “American buttercream,” i.e. the lazy kind. Whatever, it’s good on cupcakes, but it’s excessively sweet with no depth to it. I started reading about the wonders of Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and I knew I had to make some, so I did. It was insane. Basically you make a swiss meringue, which consists of sugar and eggs yolks heated and whipped, and then you beat in soft butter. Here’s a great blog post about how to make it.
Next I decided to make French Meringue Buttercream, which was even better but slightly softer and less appropriate for piping. FMB is like SMB but it contains egg yolks instead of just egg whites.
As a result of reading these cake books and experimenting with frostings, I came to an important realization: the style of cakes (and different cake elements) that originated in Europe were better and more complex than those developed or commonly used in America. A typical American cake might consist of two layers of cake with American buttercream between the layers and on top of the cake. European cakes, on the other hand, often consist of multiple kinds of frostings and fillings and three or more layers. They are often glazed with a fruit syrup, filled with a mousse, curd, or pastry cream, frosted with an egg based buttercream, and then coated with marzipan or fondant. The stuff you typically find here in the states, even in high quality bakeries, just doesn’t compare.
With that in mind, I wanted to tackle a whole cake with multiple elements. Luckily, my stepfather was having a birthday. I made a three layer chocolate cake, coated the layers with a syrup made from cooked strawberries, and filled the layers with a thick chocolate ganache (heated cream poured over chocolate and stirred). Next I made a chocolate flavored Swiss Meringue Buttercream for the exterior of the cake. I also whipped some cream and included some sliced strawberries on top for decoration.
I was mostly pleased with the way it looked.
The chocolate ganache was slightly too thick and set up a little too hard once refrigerated, but that could be easily fixed by increasing the ratio of cream to chocolate next time. Overall, it tasted good.
Next, I made an Austrian pastry called Rugelach for a friend, as a gift from another friend. The dough consisted of flour, butter, and cream cheese. It was rolled into a circle and covered with a paste of raspberry jam, chocolate, and ground walnuts. That was covered with a layer of cinnamon sugar, and then the pastry was sliced like a pizza and the pieces were rolled into crescents. An egg wash was applied to the crescents and then more cinnamon sugar was sprinkled on top.
They looked like this:
They seemed complicated before I began, but actually they just had a bunch of simple steps. I think I added too much jam to the mixture, because some of it oozed out and began to burn on the cookie sheets, and I had to carefully peel away the burned bits when I was done. They tasted good though, and looked impressive.
Today I’m baking some bread to test out the new breadpots I made this week.
I’m currently baking things for local friends for free- you just need to cover the cost of the ingredients. (Also, I get to pick the recipe.) Leave a comment if you want me to make you a cake or some pastries!