Friday, July 11, 2008

Birthday Cake Tutorial

Step one:
Bake some cakes. I used box mixes this time, due to a butter shortage I didn't know I was having. These are Duncan Hines Chocolate Fudge, which is my favorite box mix.

This day I was trying out my new 5" round pans. It turns out that half of the box mix filled the two pans nicely. I used the other half to make a dozen cupcakes.

Step Two:
Make an insane amount of ganache. I used the recipe in Martha's baking book, which makes about 7 cups. I had enough to coat and decorate an 8-inch tier cake, a 5-inch tier cake, and a dozen cupcakes. There is also about a cup left in my fridge right now.

Step Three:
Chill half of the ganache. I poured half of the hot ganache into the bowl of my stand mixer, and put the whole thing in the freezer for hmmm...a while...probably 20 minutes. Normally when I take it out and try to whip it up, it doesn't whip well, so I end up returning it to the freezer for another stint. After two or three more tries, it whips up beautifully and I have to resist the urge to dive head-first into the mixer bowl.
Leave the remaining ganache in the pan. We’ll return to it in a later step.

Step Four:
Devise a make-shift cake stand. Those of you lucky enough to already own an appropriately- sized pedestal can skip this step. An inverted lunch plate double-stick taped to an inverted cereal bowl worked well for my 5” diameter cake.

Steps Five, Six, and Seven:
Level your cakes, if necessary (or even if not necessary...maybe just do it to give yourself some cake remnants to sample) with a serrated knife. Place one layer of cake on a wire rack and coat the top liberally with whipped ganache. An offset spatula is a handy tool for this job. Carefully place layer two on top and coat all visible cake surfaces with the whipped ganache.

This is your chance to correct any surface defects in the cake--whipped ganache is sort of like cake spackling. You won't be sanding the cake though. You'll have to make do with just the spatula.

When you think you've got the thing as smooth-looking as possible, place the cake in the fridge for thirty minutes or so--enough time to allow the coating to stiffen.

Step Seven-Point-Five
If you want to induce a chocolate coma, add another coat of whipped ganache after the first coat has hardened. Chill after applying, as before.

Steps The Rest:
Remove the cake from the fridge and place the cake—wire-rack and all—on a sheet pan. Photos would be helpful here, but ha! There are none. I apologize.

Remember the ganache you left in the pan up there in step 3? Check that it is still warm. You want it to be in that magical temperature range where it is easily poured, but not so warm that it melts away the whipped ganache coating on the cake. You may need to rewarm it slightly.

Pour the ganache onto the cake. Marvel as it spreads and drips down the sides of the cake. Gravity will coat the entire cake for you—just keep pouring until the cake is completely covered.

Now place the cake (still on the sheet pan) in the fridge again for another twenty to thirty minutes. Feel free to use this time to "clean" any remaining ganache off of the mixer attachments, rubber spatulas, bowls, pans...

When the outer coat of ganache has firmed up, it’s time to transfer the cake to its pedestal. Use an offset spatula in a sweeping motion under the cake to encourage its removal. Grab a pancake turner in one hand, and an offset spatula in the other and ever-so-carefully, pick up the cake and set it on the cake stand. This is not a job for the faint of heart, but the less time you spend thinking about it, the better off you’ll be.

All that’s left now is to decorate and enjoy. The whipped ganache can be piped, but you’ll need to work fast or it will turn to mush. Refrigerate the cake. Remove from fridge and let stand for 20 minutes before serving.

Did you read that last sentence? I just want to be sure. Trying to slice into a cake of this sort that hasn't been allowed to warm up can ruin the look of your lovely cake. It will still taste wonderful, however.

Use a spatula to recover the ganache in the sheet pan. This is the stuff that slid off the cake during the coating process.

Store the extra ganache in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Rewarm it a tablespoon or twelve at a time for a heavenly ice cream topping.

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