Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who You Calling Baby Cakes?!

A lot of the inspiration for my baking projects comes from my background as a Midwesterner.

But this Indiana baker has been influenced by my more than 25 years of living in California and the access that has given me to new trends in the pastry arts and to the talents of all the many baking pioneers that live in the San Francisco bay area.

So I find it great fun to give traditional childhood desserts a makeover.

And maybe it is the down economy and the resulting urge to consume comfort food that has made this a growing trend in the pastry world.

For example, recipes in the February issue of Sunset Magazine draw upon our love for traditional desserts such as chocolate cream pies, ice cream sandwiches and chocolate mousse but makes them a less guilty pleasure by presenting them in bite-size and miniature versions.

And bakery owners and cookbook authors Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito gives us the vanilla cream cake we crave but their version uses malt ball powder and tastes just like our beloved Whoppers Malted Milk Balls candy. I'm also a big fan of their root beer Bundt cake.

The February issue of Bon Appetit features that star of many childhood favorite treats -- milk chocolate. In these recipes milk chocolate is used in desserts that give it a more sophisticated image or, as writer Rochelle Palermo puts it in her article, "a childhood favorite grows up."

I like the many possibilities presented by that idea of a childhood favorite all grown up. Some of my greatest baking pleasures come from giving someone a favorite dessert from childhood. But a dessert that is perhaps a bit more grown up like a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie with just a bit of espresso mixed into the batter to give it a more nuanced flavor.

During my recent red velvet cake experiments, I was thrilled to see that Rose Levy Beranbaum had included the Tomboy Cake -- a signature dessert of one of my favorite San Francisco bakeries, Miette Patisserie -- in her latest masterpiece, Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Unlike most cakes that typically bake in a standard 9-inch cake pan, this recipe calls for a 6x3-inch pan.

This dark chocolate cake is sliced into layers and sandwiched with vanilla buttercream. It is adorable (childlike) and elegant (grown up) at the same time. This photo is from the Miette website.

These recent articles and cookbooks recently inspired me to not only try the recipes, but to also experiment with different size baking pans as well as flavor combinations.

Of course, it can be frustrating to try a recipe in a different sized pan than the author specifies in a recipe -- after all, the author tested and retested the recipe for that pan size so you and your finished dessert would get rave reviews.

But sometimes authors will give alternate choices, like in Flo Braker's essential, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking, where she specifies one type of pan size for the recipe but gives alternatives in the margin for other sizes in case you want to experiment. She does all the work for her reader!

Several of the baking "bibles" offer invaluable charts that help a baker calculate what pan to use if they should veer off the beaten pan path. Of course, Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible and Rose's Heavenly Cakes offer expert guidance but I also find myself turning to Cindy Mushat's The Art and Soul of Baking to help me puzzle out the correct pan size.

I belong to the Bakers Dozen professional group and every few months the question about how to substitute pan sizes comes up. This link was recently given as a good place to start.

But really bakers, sometimes you just have to experiment and take a chance. That is part of the fun after all.

Maybe try a favorite recipe that doesn't rely on pricey ingredients or on a time-consuming procedure like whipping egg whites just right.

I started with a favorite but very basic snack cake recipe -- old-fashioned gingerbread -- that can be made quickly with ingredients that I bet are sitting in your pantry right now.

I had purchased four 4x2-inch round cake pans for my experiment. I quickly made the gingerbread batter and had enough to fill three of my pans to various levels -- half full, 2/3 and 3/4 full.

I didn't change the oven temperature called for in the original recipe but after the first 20 minutes of baking, I did start peeking at them to check their progress.

When you are experimenting with pan sizes it can be hard to test for doneness. One easy way to tell is to use an instant thermometer, a method I learned from Rose Levy Beranbaum. The range you are looking for is 190-205 degrees.

Two of the cakes had an interesting belly button-like formation on the top. No matter -- it could be easily covered up with a caramel sauce or some other sort of topping. Since I had made three cakes and they all looked a bit different, I knew what I needed to adjust to get the look I wanted next time.

The day before my experiment I was lucky enough once again to be presented with a big bag of Meyer lemons.

Of course my cute gingerbread baby cakes gave me the inspiration to use the lemons as a topping for the cakes. Ginger and lemon are one of my favorite combinations.

Then I thought of the Miette Tomboy cake. What if I sliced the baby cakes into several layers then spread Meyer lemon curd between the layers and on the top?

Well, the result was a childhood favorite with a grown up twist -- a lemon twist.

1 comment:

  1. That is a cute lil' cake. Ginger and lemon make such a great pair.