Happy Sunday, internet people! This past week, we’ve finally seen a break in the winter weather here in Pittsburgh, which means I saw the sun and took walks that didn’t hurt my face.
In spite of the strange, heavy workweek I ended up having, I couldn’t help but roll into the weekend feeling a little bit more cheerful. This morning, the sun slanted into our kitchen as I set up to do my bake earlier than usual (8am!).
I’ve officially reached the “showstopper” section at the end of the cake chapter, which means the bakes are more involved and more challenging. As daunting a prospect as this is, I have to admit I’m rather excited to bake some big, showstopping cakes.
On my marks, get set… bake!
This Week’s Recipe: Black & White Celebration Cake
I went to Fresh Market again this week! As much as I tend to resist doing a single solitary activity after the workday, I decided to drag myself there on Wednesday evening so I could start baking straight away on Saturday.
None of this week’s ingredients are particularly unusual or difficult to find, but it is the first time I’ve worked with white chocolate for the challenge.. and possibly ever?
Also on the agenda: a restock of cocoa powder and sugar, both of which are heavily present in the three-tier celebration cake.
These items assembled, I packed them away and eagerly awaited the dawn of Saturday morning and my next go at buttercream after the Little Rose Cake fiasco.
Friday night, Andy and I realized a slight dent in my baking plans–the arrival of several yards of dirt would hit smack dab in the center of my bake.
Hence, the 8am start time for my bake. I figured I would try to have the cakes out of the oven before the dirt arrived and make the buttercream (which looked very complicated from the recipe) later on, so I could be on hand as needed.
The cakes themselves were a pretty simple affair, though it’s the first time I’ve had to bake three at once. Thankfully, my cake tins all have the same circumference if not appearance, and all three fit on one rack in our oven.
Andy helpfully reminded me that you can weigh out cake batter to determine exactly what 1/3 of it would be, so I filled the tins precisely equally before popping them into the oven for their 25 minute bake time.
At that point, I decided to go for the gold. I had nearly two hours before the dirt delivery, and the buttercream surely wouldn’t take that long. Andy helped me clean up the kitchen, and I set to work.
Swiss meringue buttercream is a complicated affair of temperatures and egg whites.
First, the egg whites and sugar are combined, then set over “gently simmering” water in a heatproof bowl. The goals here are twofold–dissolve the sugar to remove grittiness and heat the concoction to a precise temperature between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
This, of course, occurs whilst constantly whisking the egg white and sugar mixture.
They came to temperature faster than I expected, and soon they went under the stand mixer for the next scary thing–making them into a swiss meringue.
I’ve mentioned before how miraculous I find the transformation of sugar and egg into new forms of matter, and this swiss meringue situation takes the cake. The hot mixture whipped into a smooth, glossy meringue under the care of the stand mixer while I watched and cut up the butter for the next step in the process.
At this point, I had to simply pause and admire my first ever meringue. It was gorgeous, if I do say so myself.
But then, on with transforming it into buttercream by adding a truly astonishing quantity of butter whilst the mixer beat on. The timing of this is tricky, since the formerly 150 degree mixture has to cool entirely back to room temperature before you add the butter, lest the butter melt and turn the mixture “greasy.”
I thought I’d managed temperature control at first, the meringue slowly turning to a thick, buttercream-esque icing.
And then, it split. Again.
Frustrated, I googled how to save split buttercream and consulted photos to see what might have caused it. Apparently, my butter was not room temperature, so while the meringue hadn’t melted it, the butter had resisted being incorporated because it was too cold.
Luckily, the solution was to put it over a double-boiler which I still had handy, and gently heat the edges just enough to bring the buttercream to a warmer temperature. I had to do this twice before the buttercream began to look less like a clotted horror and more like smooth, delicious buttercream.
The dirt arrived just as I finished melting the white chocolate. Nearly finished, I pressed on, waiting for the melted chocolate to cool so as not to melt my hard-won buttercream.
At last, I slowly mixed in the chocolate to turn the lightly vanilla flavored buttercream into its final form: white chocolate swiss meringue buttercream.
The final task awaited me–icing the cake, with my first-ever crumb coat. I divided the buttercream as instructed and stacked my cakes, neglecting to trim the top of the middle one, resulting in a slight gap between layers. Why do recipes never specify you should do this before stacking them? A note for next time, I suppose.
The layers stacked, I glommed on the crumb coat, and finally, the last layer of frosting. I’ve always been a little bit dubious about the efficacy of the crumb coat, but sure enough, the final layer came out smooth and crumb free.
Readers, I am very proud of this cake. After several weeks of less-than-spectacular results, I felt so accomplished looking at this massive, smoothly coated cake, even if I did phone it in on the decorations with my little confetti cannon attempts.
For my first show-stopper warmup, I don’t think I could’ve had a better result, save the buttercream coming out right on the first go and remembering to trim the middle cake layer. The best bit? The cake is positively delicious, a chocolately delight.
Normally I don’t care for a chocolate cake with white frosting, but the white chocolate makes a nice, natural complement flavor that works well. I can certainly see myself returning to this particular recipe when a true celebration is in order.