This week’s obsession: Cake Wisdom
I don't know about how you guys are doing, but I feel that things are precariously off balance in my life right now so I've been looking for mantras and words to live by to get me back on track. Mostly I've found catch phrases that pertain to cake and chocolate, because that's what my life tends to revolve around. I've come across some pretty useful advice so far, and I want to share it with you. I'll start you off with this little nugget of wisdom:
STRESSED is DESSERTS spelled backwards.
Isn't that so brilliant? And since I strive to live a balanced life, every time I feel STRESSED I try to counteract it by having DESSERTS.
We're living in stressful times so this may or may not explain why I ate half of a half gallon carton of ice cream for lunch a few days ago. (Full disclosure: I also classify drinking wine as having dessert, too, and I definitely “had dessert” for dinner that night.)
Since this is a blog where I try to share helpful tips for those of you who are actually baking, there is a more applicable nugget of cake wisdom that I would like to discuss with you today. This is actually something that I do to ensure that my cake layers are tall and that I don’t waste too much cake when I level off the tops before stacking. I use a little baking hack called “cake strips” which allows the cake batter to heat more evenly as it bakes and prevents it from “doming up” in the middle. Cake strips are simply long strips of cloth that I soak in water while I prepare my cake batter, then I wrap them around the outside of the cake pan to keep the outer edges of the batter cooler during the baking process.
I took a photo of my cake strips this week as I was making the geode cake above for a cake order, and I have photos of when I used them to create the lovely pistachio wedding cake I made for a friend last year. You'll see the cake layers came out extremely tall and flat. #Success
I’ll attempt to explain why this works. (This guy/his quote haunts my thoughts every time I'm about to explain something. Here’s hoping I don’t let him down.)
As cakes bake, the outer edges of the batter heat up the fastest because the edges are in contact with metal (the cake pan) - which is a good conductor of heat. When cake batter heats up to the right temperature, it reaches a solid state of matter. Simultaneously, another reaction is happening while the batter is being heated: the cake batter is rising with the heat. Once the batter has been heated enough to reach a solid state, it no longer rises. So if the outer edges reach a solid state first and stop rising before the middle of the cake does, we are left with a cake that finished rising in the middle last and is therefore taller in the middle than around the edges (i.e. domed).
To prevent the edges from baking faster, wet cake strips are wrapped around the pan to keep the metal of the cake pan cooler which prevents the pan from cooking the outside edges of the cake faster than the middle. This allows the cake edges to rise more, and causes less doming.
Does that lesson make sense? Good! A+ for you! #SmartyPants
(If not, call me. We can discuss it together while baking and eating cake. #LearningThroughEating is my favorite!)
Now, it’s not required that you bake a flat cake and/or trim the tops off to level it, but if you don't you’ll end up with a cake shaped like this:
There's nothing wrong with it (I mean... I'd still eat it!) but sometimes it’s really hard to get the stacked layers to remain stable with just frosting filling the gaps, so you will end up with a cracked top layer or a collapsed cake. #cakenightmares But if you DO decide to level your cake, don’t forget to save all of the cake that you trim off. You can make cake parfaits like I did with my Black Forest Cake, or you can make cake pops if you’re into that sort of texture (I’ll have more to say on that at a later date.)
Anyway, now that we’ve established why it’s important to have flat cakes and how to achieve that goal, I have a few more pieces of cake wisdom to share with you, such as this pro-tip:
And a reminder to watch what you eat:
And this genius observation by Julia Child:
I know it's true because Julia Child said so. And for those of you who are working remotely, I suggest that you turn those never ending Zoom meetings into a party and make your coworkers jealous! Call me if you need some assistance:
Happy eating, y'all!