I read a great article published by Food & Wine back in January about cake baking. The theory behind the article is that if you want to get really good at baking cake, you need to bake cakes on a regular basis. That way, you learn how cake baking really works and learn important lessons to help you improve your cake baking craft over time.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when there is cake in the house, the cake goes into my mouth. So, while this is great in theory, it does pose some challenges for someone trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, I’ve been baking cakes when I have an occasion to attend, as most of our friend gatherings tend to be of the “bring something to share” variety.
For Superbowl Sunday, which was actually in February, I made the January cake, Citrusy Angel Food Cake. While I have baked cakes before, I had never attempted Angel Food. This one came out just a little more dense than I would have liked, but the important lesson I learned was to be careful about how long you beat your egg whites. I believe mine were just slightly overbeaten and that is what caused the cake to be slightly more dense. The other issue that may have given me some challenges is that I chose to use orange zest instead of lemon zest for this recipe. As I looked at the zest, it occurred to me that the orange zest was more wet than I typically see with lemon zest. Perhaps I should have modified my wet ingredients just slightly. Nonetheless, everyone raved about it, so it wasn’t a tragedy.
In February, I ended up skipping the cake of the month. My husband and I bought a blow torch and we tackled creme brûlée instead. He has made it again since our Valentine’s Day attempt, and we still feel like the consistency isn’t quite right. It tends to come out more like a pudding than a firm custard. So, it is still a work in progress. I, however, still want to come back to the February cake recipe, because who wouldn’t love a Molten Chocolate Cake as the conclusion to an intimate dinner party?
I made my March cake for a gathering of the same group of friends who were together for the Superbowl party. There was a beer tasting party, so it seemed the perfect time to make a Porter Bundt Cake with Whiskey-Caramel Sauce. OMG, this cake was amazing, but definitely not kid-friendly! The Whiskey-Caramel Sauce packs a real punch. If I hadn’t been pregnant at the time you might have found me eating the sauce with a spoon instead of just drizzling it over the slice I ate. I had never baked a bundt cake before this attempt, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out. I will make this cake again around the holidays!
April was a crazy month, I was miserably pregnant, so even though I had plans to make April’s Carrot Cake for a birthday party, I ended up skipping the party and sleeping instead. So, no cake. However, after the baby came, my sister decided to bring my nieces down to visit over Memorial Day weekend. My youngest niece adores carrot cake, so I decided it was time to break out the recipe. However, my older niece and my husband are not huge carrot cake fans so I needed a backup plan. Since the older niece loves chocolate, I settled on the chocolate cake recipe I grew up on. Now, in my family, we call this Grandma’s Chocolate Cake; truth be told, it is really the chocolate cake recipe from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa can. And, it is amazing. So, with a nearly 3 week old baby, I decided to tackle making two cakes in one day.
I was kind of surprised that I managed to pull it off with only a little bit of support from my mom. She ended up having to take the chocolate cake layers out of the oven for me while I fed the baby. But, other than that, I did it! Important lesson learned from this cake baking day, however. My frosting for both cakes was so soft that I had trouble icing the cakes. It was a very warm day, and I had left the butter out for quite some time. While room temperature butter ensures a smooth icing, I may have let it get a little too soft. In the future, when I have an icing that feels soft after mixing, I will be sure to throw it in the refrigerator for a short rest before I put it on a cake!
Another important lesson I learned from this cake baking adventure is that the quality of your ingredients really matters! I grew up eating this chocolate cake made with Hershey’s cocoa. However, I had a good supply of Dutch process cocoa already in my kitchen cabinet so I decided to use that instead. Holy cow! It made the cake the regularly decadent cake truly unbelievable. I’ll never go back to using regular Hershey’s cocoa for baking again!
The cake on the calendar for May was Tres Leches. This is my mom’s favorite, so I’m looking forward to making it for her next visit. June is a white cake with chocolate ganache icing. I’m looking forward to finding an event for making that one.
I do feel like I am learning a lot from participating in a cake baking process on a more regular basis. And, now that I have a little one, I think it is safe to say that making cakes might become a regular thing even after these 12 months! As for the rest of this year, I’m looking forward to sharing my monthly cake adventures with all of you!
Have you ever set out to practice a skill that you wanted to improve by engaging in it on a regular basis? What do you think I should take on next?