Week 4 Technical: Tiramisu

The cake week technical challenge is the classic Italian cake tiramisu, a coffee and brandy soaked sponge cake with layers of marscapone frosting and chocolate. Tiramisu may not seem like a challenge, but I think the biggest challenge for the bakers was making the appearance to Mary Berry’s standards. Mary Berry asked for even layers that were evenly soaked. I’m just hoping the cake won’t end up looking like it was beat up in a fight…

Tiramisu Cake recipe

The Bake

At first glance the recipe doesn’t seem too complicated, but there are a lot of steps. Again, I think the challenge here is going to be keeping everything neat.

  1. The Batter

This is an odd batter. It only has three ingredients. It would have a meringue base if the egg yolks weren’t included, which means I’ll be getting the most rise from mixing the eggs and sugar. The flour is sifted and I was worried I undermixed it because as I spread it in the tray, I found pockets of flour. I mixed it as best as I could while trying to keep air in the batter.

2. The Bake

This cake came out much earlier than the recipe’s bake time but it was baked until springy (with some slight crisp edges I got to trim off). I was worried I’d have to find a way to trim this cake in half but I had enough to cut four separate squares.

3. Fillings

Nothing in this cake is sweet. The mascarpone “frosting” is essentially mascarpone and cream with a little powdered sugar. The coffee and brandy weren’t reduced into a syrup, just mixed and brushed right onto the cake.

I hate grating chocolate and hope I never do it again.

4. Assembly

My cake squares were not all perfect sizes. As a result, the cake seemed lopsided as I stacked it. Looking at the photo now, I see that I did not use enough of the brandy mixture to soak the sponge and create that darker appearance.

5. Decoration

I had zero idea how to get those loop-the-loops like in the show… I tried using one of my piping bags but the tip I chose was too large and the hot chocolate just poured out.

The Final Result

As I thought the layers were not soaked enough (something I’ll know for next time). The cake actually turned out alright and once I left the cake in the fridge long enough, I was able to trim it so it didn’t look like it had been smooshed. My European coworkers enjoyed that it was not very sweet and my American coworkers liked the high-quality chocolate.

Week 1 Technical: Cherry Cake

Technical challenges, obviously, are designed to challenge the bakers’ knowledge of baking. For Mary Berry’s cherry cake, the challenge was focused on how to suspend the cherries evenly throughout the cake, as well as how long to bake the cake.

For me, the challenge will be using ingredients I’ve never used (glacé cherries and self-rising flour), as well as toasting almonds for the first time. Even in the episode, Kate burnt her almonds.

Predictions

As this is essentially a fancy bundt cake, I’m not predicting too much difficulty in making this cherry cake. However, I do hope I can get the cherries to suspend evenly. Mary Berry’s recipe can be found here.

The Bake

Step 1: Prep

I ground my own almonds. Cutting the cherries took me so long I’m still kind of stunned. Also my fingers will probably be red for about a week.

Step 2: Batter

I’ve never used ground almond in a cake mix before. I mixed cakes like I’m used to (cream butter and sugar, then wet, then dry). I already knew about the trick with the cherries, both from watching the episode and from making Irish soda bread (the raisins have to be rinsed, dried, and coated in flour). I’m not a fan of the taste with the almond. Perhaps I haven’t ground them fine enough. I also have very little experience with self-rising flour.

Step 3: Bake

The instructions say to bake at 180 Celcius, which is about 350 F. My oven requires turning halfway through a bake, otherwise it will overbake one side. I baked for 20 minutes then rotated. I checked about 10 minutes before I hit 40 minutes (recommended bake time 35-40 minutes). The cake was dark brown on the bottom and came out clean when poked with a skewer. When I turned it over, it was a little delicate but looked baked consistently and all the way through. I probably should have baked in the center rack because the edges are more brown.

Step 4: Decorate

I ran out of icing sugar for the icing! I also bought slivered almonds instead of shaved, but that probably kept me from burning them. I have never toasted nuts. I thought about using the oven, but I remember the bakers using the stovetop. So I assumed its butter and almonds? Remember no research! They turned out a nice golden brown, which I’m hoping doesn’t mean they are burnt.

The Judging

I love how this turned out! I’m super proud of myself. As for the cake, Mary Berry would probably say it’s slightly overbaked, which made it a bit dry. My icing was also “higgledy piggledy” and I also iced a little too soon (before the cake was completely cooled). The flavor tastes lovely. The cherries add some moisture and the lemon keeps the cake from being overwhelmingly sweet.

The key to this challenge was the distribution of the cherries. Since the cake was fairly small, it seemed the cherries were spread throughout the levels of the batter. I’d say I’m still in the running this week, wouldn’t you?


Ice Cream Cake & Mighty Moo’s

Ever since we were little, my brother has loved the cotton candy ice cream at Maggie Moo’s (which closed down). His mouth and tongue would be bright blue, made worse by the bubblegum candies he liked to add to his ice cream. I came across a post on Buzzfeed, listing the best ice cream places in each state. Arizona’s is a small ice cream parlor in the West Valley called Mighty Moo’s. Mighty Moo’s makes homemade, hand-churned ice cream, shakes, and floats with unique flavors. The flavors are often changed depending on the season. (I was dying to try their Octoberfest pretzel & beer flavor).

This local place is small with great charm. You can tell it’s a hit with the locals, who wait outside the doors before opening. One sweet older lady said she came every week for her praline ice cream. Buy a cone, a cup, a pint, or other special treats. Next on the list is the “reverse” root-beer float – cream soda with root-beer flavored ice cream! Though it may be a bit of a drive for many, the ice cream is worth it. There’s a greater variety than Phoenix favorites such as Churn.

It turns out Mighty Moo’s carried a flavor called “Elsa,” a bright blue cotton candy flavored ice cream. Naturally, I thought of my brother. It’s a sickeningly sweet flavor for my tastes, but it made a perfect birthday cake for him.

To make an ice cream cake, you do not have to use cotton candy ice cream. Pick a favorite ice cream, hand-churned like Mighty Moo’s or your favorite store bought brand. My only recommendation is to make it the day before hand so that the ice cream can really freeze! (Seriously, save yourself the mess.)

Now the ice cream cake recipe actually has a cake recipe of it’s own, but I have had bad experiences with cakes that involve boiled water, so I chose to use this chocolate cake recipe instead. It’s up to you which recipe you use (or your own!) but my instruction will be for a different chocolate cake recipe.

Ingredients:

For the Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

Filling and Decoration

  • 4 cups ice cream
  • 2 cups chocolate frosting
  • Chocolate sprinkles, for decorating

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease one 10-in. springform pan.

You can line it with parchment paper, but I usually choose to use butter or pam and flour. Since my springform pan is a bit tricky to butter, I used pam. Sprinkle in a few tbsp. of flour and then coat the pan. Turn it sideways and turn it like you would a steering wheel to coat the sides. Shake out the excess flour.

2) In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

3) In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat butter and brown and granulated sugars until blended. Increase speed to high; beat 5 minutes or until pale and fluffy, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

It’s really important that your ingredients be room temperature. They’ll blend easier, especially butter.

4) Reduce speed to medium-low; add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla until blended. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat just until batter is smooth, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

5) Spoon batter into pan. Bake 30-40 min. or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. 

I’m not as clear as the baking time because I tried the original bake time, forgetting that a 10 in. pan takes longer to cook than a few 8 in. pans. Put it in for 30 min. and keep an eye on it.

6) Let the cake cool for 10 min. Once cool enough to handle, take the cake out and let it cool on wire racks.

7) Once cool, cut the cake into two halves. Wrap the layers in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 2 hours.

8) Place one layer of frozen cake into the (clean) springform pan.

Here’s where it gets messy!! I made such a mess that I’ve made some suggestions on how to make it easier.

9) Remove your ice cream from the freezer. Thaw for about 10 min. Once softer, spread the ice cream on top of the cake layer in the springform pan.

It may not take very long to melt the ice cream. Since I live in Arizona and this was hand-churned, the ice cream melted quickly. I might consider melting the ice cream completely for a more smooth surface.

10) Place the other cake layer over the top of the ice cream. Place the plastic wrap over the top to seal. Freeze again for at least 2 hours.

Two hours was not enough to keep everything from melting and falling apart. I would suggest freezing overnight.

12. Remove the cake from the pan and frost fast! Otherwise your ice cream will melt.

13. Decorate as desired and then wrap with plastic wrap. Use toothpicks to keep it from touching the frosting if you want.

14. Remove from the freezer about 10-15 min. before serving to thaw a little.

Final Thoughts: In hindsight, hand-churned ice cream may not have been a good choice, but my little brother was happy with it. If I ever do this again, I’ve got some strategies to make the ice cream part less frantic and messy. Even though I disliked the ice cream by itself, in the cake it was super delicious!

If you’d like, stop in at Mighty Moo for a tasty treat!

Pieced Together Lemon Cake

Though this recipe is for a simply delicious lemon cake, I felt it was important to bring it from my old blog. Mistakes happen. I have shared my “foodie fails” on my blog in the past. I can be a perfectionist, who gets frustrated about the slightest problems.

Learning to cook and bake means that I have to embrace the mistakes. The great part about food is that it can often be forgiving. No one cares if your cake is a little messy as long as it tastes good. If it doesn’t taste very good or it’s rendered inedible, you’ll know for the next time you try. The important part is that you don’t give up!

 

 

Would you have guessed that one of the layers of this cake fell apart? This isn’t an episode of Chopped. While you may disappointed, no one is going to kick you out of the kitchen. My coworkers enjoyed the tasty cake even with its flaws.

Ingredients:

THE CAKE

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

 

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease 2 9-inch baking pans.

To “grease” pans you can use sprays like Pam. I prefer to use butter, then lightly coat the pan with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. Beat together the butter and 2 cups of the sugar. Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Add the lemon zest.

 

3. Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

 

4. Add the dry ingredients, 1/4 cup lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla to the mixer. Mix well.

5. Divide the batter between the pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

 

6. While the cake is baking, make the simple syrup. Over medium-high heat, mix 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup sugar until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Syrups and reductions seem to be one of my weak points. They never seem to get quite thick enough. Fortunately, this will brushed onto the cake so it doesn’t need to be thick like maple syrup.

7. Make the frosting. Beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Mix in vanilla and 1 Tbsp lemon juice.

 

8. When the cake has finished baking, poke holes in the top. Divide the simple syrup between the two layers and pour over the top.

 

I kept the cakes in the pans to avoid making a mess. I also brushed the syrup over top to avoid saturating one part of the cake more than another.

9. Once the cakes have cooled COMPLETELY, assemble the cake and frost. Keep refrigerated 1 hour prior to serving.

Okay here’s where the fail happened. Do not rush the cooling process. The simple syrup makes the cake much softer. If it doesn’t cool, well then you end up with this…

 

With a little magic…

 

Final Thoughts: See what I was talking about? The first layer came out fine, but the simple syrup moistened the cake and my second layer fell apart. I placed the broken layer on the bottom, piecing it as flat as I could (aided by a layer of frosting to pull everything together). The whole layer went on top. By the time I finished, you couldn’t tell it had broken unless you cut inside! Even better, the cake was delicious. Lemon is one of my favorite flavors. This cake had sweet lemon-y goodness in every bite.

Almost Allergen-Free Carrot Cake

I have a very close friend who, due to health issues, must stick to very strict diet restrictions. Naturally, this means that he doesn’t get to eat some of his favorite foods anymore, things like pizza and matzo ball soup, unless it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free, and lacks certain other foods like onions and garlic.

Carrot cake is a favorite treat of his. We were both unsure about the recipe the first time I made this, but once we tried it we were both pleasantly surprised by the flavor and texture (a common complaint with gluten-free cakes). Now whenever he comes back to Arizona, he requests the same cake (which he freezes and eats piece-by-piece by himself). Please note that this is NOT egg-free. The original recipe uses flax eggs to make it vegan, but I used real chicken eggs.

After some searching and negotiating ingredients, I decided to alter this recipe for gluten-free, vegan carrot cake from renowned food blogger Gimme Some Oven.

INGREDIENTS:

VEGAN GLUTEN-FREE CARROT CAKE INGREDIENTS:

  • 2.5 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend, plus extra for dusting the pans
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled
  • Stevia equivalent to 1 cup of granulate sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil

VEGAN GLUTEN-FREE “CREAM CHEESE” FROSTING INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 cups gluten-free powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) vegan butter or margarine
  • 3 Tablespoons non-dairy milk
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

Note on the Ingredients: I use Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour rather than adding the flours together myself. For the vegan butter, I use soy-free Earth Balance brand vegan margarine. I chose coconut milk for the frosting for the sweeter taste.

While mixing ingredients, the batter smells like the inside of a rotted jack o’lantern. Adjust the spices to taste (I know the batter doesn’t taste very good). Usually I can adjust the spices in the ratio indicated in the recipe until the smell improves.

DIRECTIONS:

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use vegan margarine to thoroughly grease the inside of 2 9-in pans. Dust the inside of each pan with gluten-free flour.

 

 

A common method is to coat the pan by turning it like a steering wheel over the sink.

2) In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (gluten-free flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, cloves and ginger) until combined.

3) Using a blender or food processor, shred or blend the carrots.

 

I prefer my carrots well-blended to avoid a chunky texture.

4) Transfer the carrots to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Wipe out the blender or food processor. Add the Stevia, brown sugar, and eggs and blend until frothy.

 

5) While the blender or food processor is running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Blend the egg mixture until well mixed.
6) Add the carrots and dry ingredients to the blender or food processor. Blend all of the ingredients together into a smooth batter.
This is the point where you should taste the batter! If it smells bad, add more cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.
7) Pour batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes. While the cake bakes, mix the frosting ingredients together.
8) Let cake cool completely in the pans on a wire rack for about 1 hour. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen. Remove cake, if transferring to a different serving platter, and frost as desired.

 

Once I removed the cakes from the pan, I had to scrape some leftover flour off of the bottoms.

Final Thoughts: This is a tried and true recipe, though I understand that adding spices “to taste” can be a frustrating instruction. Vegan baking and using substitutions can be difficult. Each time I bake this I’m still never 100% sure that it turned out properly. I’ve played with the frosting in an attempt to reduce the processed sugar, but I can’t use milk powder to thicken. This recipe tastes the best so far. Does anyone have any suggestions?