At Cooking by the Book, we do a lot of baking. Whether it is a corporate client or a private party, dessert is on every menu. Often a cake is requested. If the party is for a birthday or anniversary, you can be sure that a cake will be on the table.
I thought it might be fun to show you a cake “literally” in progress. Have you ever seen a perfectly frosted cake and told yourself that you could not do it. That you cannot imagine how it is done. How it can come out so perfectly.
Well, here’s the secret. The intermediate steps are messy and demand patience. The final product will smashingly pretty but along the way, there can be a bit of a mess. And touch up work is routine.
Look at the cake above. A couple of minutes ago, warm and flowing chocolate ganache was poured on top. Yes, poured. Gravity is your friend. There is no way you should attempt to “apply” ganache to a cake. Pour it on, let it flow. Then keep letting it flow. You see at the top of the cake how there are a couple of bare spots? Tempted to smooth it out right now? I mean, RIGHT NOW. No, wait. Gravity is your friend.
Don’t believe me? Look at the next picture.
See, it’s better. Couple more minutes, slow flow, but the gaps are filling in naturally. Not perfect yet. But better. Now you can unleash the artist in you. Get that flat spatula that has been waving in your hand and go, not to the cake, but to the sink. Run it under hot water. It’s a hot spatula that will let you sculpt with grace. Make a mistake? Go wash the spatual clean, heat it up again and just go carefully. You do have time here to “perfect” your surface. You’ll have a mistake or two. Frosting a cake successfully is a lot like a yoga class. You have to breathe, move smoothly, have patience and wait for the rewards.
But wait, you say. That bottom is going to get ruffled when the paper is pulled away. It’ll crack, it’ll be disrupted, the beauty will be lost. Next picture, please.
See, you can simply “adorn” the bottom with chocolate shavings and any problems are quite simply hidden.
Oh, the first three cakes above are round and this last one is square? You noticed? Well, our pastry maven Charmaine has made lots of cakes, more than you will in your lifetime. On this particular day, she made both the round one and the square one. By letting the ganache set a bit and by edging with a sharp knife and steady hand, she was able to free up that round cake with minimal damage. A little hot spatula work and it was perfect.
The square cake, on the other hand, needed a little body work. She shaved chocolate and applied it before the ganache had hardened. The result is clearly a chocolate masterpiece.
The moral here is nothing you did not know. Chocolate is messy and your cake will not be looking perfect every second along the way. Just enjoy the experience, take your time, and lick your spatula.
This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day and it may just be time for husbands and kids to spend some time in the kitchen. Make Mom a cake. Frost the cake. See Mom smile.
Actually, see Mom roll her eyes when you surprise her with a spectacular frosting that transforms any cake — white, yellow, chocolate — into a carousel of flavor. I don’t think there is enough Kahlua here to really cause a problem for the kids. If you are sensitive to the alcohol issue, you can substitute an equal volume of coffee. But if you can, use the Kahlua for its very specific flavor profile.
You can play with this recipe by adding in a teaspoon of espresso powder, or additional vanilla. Here the recipe calls for ½ teaspoon vanilla, an amount that appears to be “traditional.” Do you really measure carefully? Have you ever just put in a full teaspoon instead? Or a tablespoon? It takes a lot of vanilla to make a difference. It really does.
And if you need a good cake recipe, please use the search box here on this blog. There are 240 different cake recipes available to you [that includes crab cakes, which I would discourage with this frosting].
Yield: 4+ cups
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup Kahlua
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- Milk or heavy cream as needed, if needed
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter for 2 minutes on medium speed. Add the Kahlua and vanilla extract and beat for an additional minute. Adjust the speed to low and add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until well incorporated. Add more powdered sugar to thicken the frosting or some milk/cream to loosen to a spreading consistency.
Source: Frostings by Courtney Dial Whitmore
Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/2.8 for 1/100th second at ISO‑800