In A Lather Over Layers
I first read about the daring bakers on the blog of my favorite baker and cookbook author, Dorie Greenspan.
A little digging led me to the daring bakers blogroll and its amazing members. I contacted one of the co-founders to see if I could join their growing ranks.
Started by Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, in 2006, the daring bakers blogroll has since grown to more than 1000 bakers worldwide. Click here to read a recent interview about them and the daring bakers.
Each month, members of the daring bakers community all bake the month's baking challenge. Designated hosts pick challenges each month. The host issues the challenge and gives any additional rules to the challenge. There is assistance for all the bakers on the daring bakers website. I posted several questions during July's challenge and always received a prompt reply from one of the many bakers.
All the bakers taking the challenge post on the same day at the end of the month.
I call Saturdays at my house -- Test Kitchen Saturday -- because I enjoy the challenge of a new baking project so joining the daring bakers seemed right up my alley -- I especially like their tagline: "We Knead to Bake!".
I waited until July to join the daring bakers so that my calendar would be relatively free for my baking experiments. I nervously waited for the challenge to be posted.
The host for July is Mele Cottee and the challenge was Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from "Great Cakes" by Carole Walter.
I wasn't exactly thrilled that my first challenge was a layer cake -- one of the weakest areas of my baking skills. So this would certainly be a challenge for me.
The cake also called for filberts -- or hazelnuts, as I call them, which is one of my least favorite ingredients. I mean really, how many of you actually get the skins to come off after baking them and rubbing them in a kitchen towel?? I remember throwing away a great salad recipe that called for hazelnuts after making it for a dinner party almost drove me nuts!
But again, this was a CHALLENGE.
This recipe had numerous steps so I knew I better give myself several days to complete the challenge.
I wanted to get a copy of the book even though the host had posted the ingredients and instructions online. My local bookstore didn't have a copy so I biked down to the used bookstore. They had a copy and I was in business.
My next trip was to Sur La Table where I purchased the required pan, cardboard cake round, pastry bag and tips.
I was excited to get started.
The base recipe is a Filbert Genoise. So besides those pesky hazelnuts, there was also butter to be clarified. The Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream also included four additional steps in addition to baking the cake:
A sugar syrup
An apricot glaze
A praline buttercream, which also included an additional step of preparing a praline paste
A ganache glaze
All but the praline buttercream and the ganache glaze could be prepared a day ahead. My plan was to shop for the ingredients, bake the cake and prepare the praline paste, sugar syrup, apricot glaze all in the same day. The next day I would assemble the cake.
Skinning the hazelnuts was just as difficult as I remembered. I surfed the internet and scanned my large collection of cookbooks for newer ways to skin hazelnuts but most of the sources agreed that the toast and rub them method was the most successful.
My finished cake was beautiful but I was alarmed that it was only about three inches tall. I posted an inquiry on the daring bakers site asking if this size was correct. I noticed that others had posted the same inquiry so I breathed a bit easier. The responses back reassured me that my cake was the correct height. I couldn't see how this short cake was going to be divided into three layers!
The next day I once again turned to the internet and my cookbook library for the best way to divide a cake into layers. The author of the recipe actually had the best-written instructions and diagrams. I dutifully marked off my first layer by inserting toothpicks into the sides at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock. Because of the hazelnuts, the cake wasn't soft and spongy but instead had a strong framework. I hoped this would give me a better chance at successfully dividing the cake.
I gingerly picked up my long serrated knife and started sawing. And sawing. And sawing. This was one tough cake.
As I lifted the first layer off with what I though was the flush of success, I was shocked to see that there was a hole in the bottom of my cake!
I emailed Lis of La Mia Cucina to see if I was the only failure in the history of the challenges. "Of course not," she assured me. "And as proof, I will email you a photo of my finished cake"! Lis is a very gracious person!
So, where did I go wrong? I think that although my serrated knife was long enough to go through the cake, it still wasn't long enough. A longer knife would have given me a bit more leverage in dividing the layers.
Despite failing the challenge, I enjoyed the prep work and interacting with the other bakers. I'm also pleased to add "Great Cakes" to my baking shelf.
So, onward to the next challenge!