Happy Sunday, dear readers. I type to you with bandanged fingers because, apparently, hot caramel is hot and I am clumsy. Who knew?
(Okay, yes, everyone knew).
Last week, I forced Andy to watch Julie & Julia with me, because it was my birthday. Well, technically it was the day before my birthday, but that’s semantics.
Julie & Julia is one of my favorite movies, and one of my favorite books. It’s what inspired me to take on this crazy challenge of baking my way through an entire cookbook.
I realized, as I watched Julie Powell bone a duck, that I’d also been harboring an unrealistic dream. That if I took on this oh-so-interesting project and baked all these cakes and cookies and treats, someone would give me a call and ask if I’d like a book deal.
Obviously, that isn’t how things work. It never was, except for a few immensely popular blogs, and yet… here I am, putting my words out there into the world secretly hoping to be the next Julie Powell.
To be fair, Andy did identify a bit strongly with Eric, as played by Chris Messina. I like to think he (Andy) enjoyed the movie more than he let on. At the very least, he hated it less than he hated The Luck of the Irish, which we watched on my actual birthday.
Watching Julie & Julia did also somehow inspire me to butterfly a chicken, my own personal version of boning a duck. And yeah, I did not enjoy it.
It did taste amazing, though.
Anyway, this week’s recipe is a showstopper to stop all shows. A mirror glaze cake, aka the thing I’ve dreaded most of all since Day One of this challenge.
This Week’s Recipe: Ultimate Indulgence Mirror Glaze Cake
After the week off and the chicken butterflying incident, it felt great to drive up to the Fresh Market, per my usual tradition. It’s spring here in the states, which means sunshine and warmer temperatures and the return of enthusiastic birdsong outside our windows.
It also means the Fresh Market was decked out in its Easter best, all Peeps and bunnies and sales on big, fancy dinners, which I am led to believe some people have for Easter? My family nodded at celebration with Easter baskets when I was very small, but that was pretty much the extent of things.
I’ve gotten to know the insides of this particular Fresh Market quite well throughout this challenge, so my visits could be quite short, if I wanted them to be. Of course, I lingered just a little bit, since the Fresh Market is the only non-work place I go, and it’s always blissfully quiet and never crowded.
Plus, some lady spent a long time standing in front of the baking supplies, so I did a few laps around the freezer section while waiting for her to figure it out and move along. I can only imagine how many times someone has done that as I scour the shelves for an obscure ingredient… though, I think a normal person without social anxiety might have just said “excuse me” and grabbed what they needed, right?
The big question of the week was: Can you get sheets of gelatin in the U.S.?
The answer? Nope. Not at this particular Fresh Market, anyway.
So, with a cart full of a couple oranges, some heavy whipping cream and powdered gelatin, I headed home to let some eggs come up to room temperature.
As I read over the various techniques this recipe would require of me, I once again remembered that the book wasn’t designed as a stepping stone from one recipe to the next. I have yet to temper chocolate, work with caramel, or create a mirror glaze, and this one cake suddenly expected me to do all of these things?
I stared down the task of once again crafting a Genoese sponge by way of using my tiny prep bowls to organize all the ingredients.
Natural mess that I am, even I find neatly organized things satisfying, and I somehow had a bit more faith that this combination of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs would produce a light, fluffy sponge.
Off to the ribbon stage we went, and I was feeling pretty good about folding in the flour this time around. I put the cakes in the oven, then turned around to see that the butter was still on the counter.
Quickly, I pulled the tins back out of the oven and gently folded in the butter, hoping it would somehow incorporate smoothly and also still be a light, fluffy cake.
Who can say what might have been? The cakes came out looking okay, though not exactly “well risen” as the recipe indicates. My egg troubles and I are used to that at this point, though, so I happily set them out on the counter and embarked upon the next task.
I’m learning that the cakes themselves rarely take up the bulk of time, even in the more complicated recipes. Instead, it’s all the extra bits. Whip up a caramel sauce on the stove top, whip heavy whipping cream and mix in the caramel, then chill.
Because there’s some resting involved, you’re meant to put together the cake with the whipped caramel filling/frosting before you produce the mirror glaze. All too happy to avoid what I anticipated would be certain failure, I took my time slicing my (flat) cakes in half and dolloping the whipped caramel cream between them.
Eventually, though, the mirror glaze was upon me. This particularly worried me as the recipe had instructions for sheet gelatin while I had powder. Google to the rescue, I looked up a similar chocolate mirror glaze that uses powdered gelatin in order to compare techniques and adjust accordingly.
Even so, as I melted the chocolate and sugar together over the stove and set it to cool slightly before adding in the gelatin, I did not feel optimistic. So much labor only to fail, I thought, kicking myself for not buying more cocoa powder at the store for the inevitable redo(s).
I don’t know if you’ve ever made mirror glaze, but there’s a lot of waiting for things to cool involved in the process. After the initial mixture cooled, I stirred in the gelatin, which I assumed would remain clumped and not melt at all.
Except it did melt and I sat there staring at the smooth, shiny glaze in a measuring cup waiting for it to cool down.
It felt I was waiting for a certain failure, even as it looked more like a mirror glaze than I had expected.
The time came, and I asked Andy to film it for the live Instagram stories portion of the project.
To my utter astonishment, the mirror glaze worked. On the first go! I waved hello to my shiny reflection in the top of my cake, popped it into the fridge, and set to work with the decorations–tempered chocolate ribbons and caramel-coated hazelnuts.
Straight away I realized that our candy thermometer wasn’t precise enough for the job of reaching exactly 27 degrees Celsius and resigned myself to non-glossy ribbons. I was correct in this aspect, unfortunately, but noted it down in the event tempered chocolate comes up again in the future. Hello, new digital candy thermometer.
And then, caramel. My first attempt making caramel, though I’ve seen enough failures on GBBO to know where it might go wrong.
This, too, miraculously came together as it should, not even grainy or burnt. And then, it was time to dip the hazelnuts.
You’re meant to insert “cocktail sticks” into the hazelnuts and use those to dip them and create the “spikes.” I took cocktail stick to mean toothpick because I have never learned to always check with Google when translating from British English to American.
Alas, the toothpicks were too short, and trying to produce the spikes resulted in the finger burns I mentioned in the opening, hot caramel dripping off the sticks onto my poor, exposed flesh. Ouch, to say the least.
I did manage to get spikes on one or two of the hazelnuts and accidentally spun up a bit of the caramel as well, which I pushed together into a decorative nest. Admittedly, that part of caramel work was very fun, though I’d soured on it already given I had to keep taking breaks to run my hands under cool water just to press on.
The nuts candied, the cake glazed, and the ribbons ribboned, I assembled the finishing touches and proceeded to smile fondly at the thing and take far too many pictures because I could not believe it came out looking so well.
Would Paul and Mary think it was sloppy? Probably. Would they be disappointed in my flat little sponges? Definitely.
Do I care? No, not really. Because I did an amazing job for a first timer at, well, most of the things. And now just one recipe stands between me and the end of the cake chapter. Never have I yearned more earnestly for “biscuits and tea time treats.”
Next bake, one more mirror glaze and a go at praline redemption await me.