summer birthday cake #3: america’s test kitchen’s devil’s food cake with cream cheese frosting

C. requested a chocolate cake with cream cheese icing for his birthday. I selected the Devil’s Food Layer Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. I have to say I no longer hang on to ATK’s every word when it comes to baking, as I’ve had a few of their recipes not turn out well (including one which caused Team Awesome to blow our grade on the Baking For Health and Wellness practical).  No issues with the Devil’s Food Cake but the Cream Cheese Frosting was really disappointing. It was too soft to work with in spite of being well-chilled. I know it’s a cardinal sin in the cake business to even attempt using cream cheese icing in the summer, so I was already asking for trouble, but I believe this recipe was a bit wonky to begin with.  This morning I conducted a postmortem and compared the ratios with the cream cheese frosting recipe I ordinarily use (from the Philadelphia Cream Cheese folks). ATK’s uses a quarter of the amount of confectioner’s sugar that Philly’s does, slightly more butter and includes a small amount of sour cream (which the Philadelphia Cream Cheese recipe does not have).  I really should’ve compared the recipes before making the icing and recognized that there might be a problem with the ATK recipe.  Baking is a science, so call this a failed experiment.
Icing failure or not, it was an adorable cake.  I enlisted the birthday boy, AKA fondant modeler extraordinaire, to create the figures for his cake.  My original idea was to model little schnauzers but he has more experience than I do with making dogs so I asked him if he might like to give it a go.  He suggested making something else entirely.  Recently he’s been on a Pikmin kick so he created different figures from the game. He mixed the colors and modeled everything himself. Clearly he’s the real artistic talent in our family. (Happy 14th birthday, C!)
The Wollywog squashing a blue Pikmin.
Different pellets, and a purple Pikmin carrying a marble.
Dwarf Red Bulborb
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stracciatella ice cream

This is the first batch of ice cream we’ve made this summer.  When the warmer weather rolls around, I always intend to make lots and lots of ice cream, but I somehow put off pulling out the ice cream maker. It’s really not such a big deal — retrieve box from the cellar, put the bowl in the freezer overnight, mix up the ice cream base and chill, then spin in the machine.  But as with many things, I manage to procrastinate… I’m not sure we made any ice cream last year.  Anyway, C. suggested we make some chocolate chip ice cream, so when we got home from our annual Cape vacation, I set the above process in motion.

The recipe is from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. The base is a French-style (i.e. using an cooked egg custard mixture) vanilla ice cream (see the recipe on David’s site here). Instead of using actual chocolate chips, which would have turned into hard little tooth-breaking rocks in the freezer, I made stracciatella or Italian-style chocolate chips by drizzling melted bittersweet chocolate over the ice cream at the end of the spinning process (scroll way down on this page to read how to make stracciatella) and then breaking up the chocolate bits as it cools and hardens. The tricky part is incorporating the hot melted chocolate into the just-spun and still very soft ice cream without rendering it all into a soupy mess. I found this really challenging (sometimes I really wish I had a couple more hands) and although there was a bit of melting, it refroze just fine.

I think this is the first time I’ve made a French-style ice cream outside of pastry school.  Before JWU, the idea of tempering a heated liquid into egg yolks would’ve petrified me, but now I’ve done it with such frequency that it doesn’t require much thought. The egg custard base produces a much smoother, creamier ice cream than the easier Philadelphia-style ice cream (which uses an uncooked base and doesn’t contain eggs). It is easily the best ice cream I’ve made at home thus far.

summer birthday cake #2: flour’s yellow birthday cake with fluffy chocolate ganache frosting

My darling and very easy-going husband requested a yellow cake with chocolate icing for his birthday this year so I decided to try a recipe I’d been eying for awhile: Yellow Birthday Cake with Fluffy Chocolate Ganache Frosting from Flour by Joanne Chang.  The photo in the book looks delectable — thick layers of yellow cake, filled and iced with light brown (thanks to the incorporation of lots and lots of air), super fluffy icing. As you might be able to deduce from the artfully-lit photo above, mine didn’t exactly turn out that way.  The cake was fine — a little dense, but moist enough for a scratch cake and not excessively greasy the way many scratch yellow cakes seem to turn out (not greasy = dry; moist = greasy). I followed the icing recipe to the letter, but it came out soupy. It was the consistency of cake batter — imagine trying to ice a cake with that.  I can’t quite decide what went wrong. Basically, you melt the chocolate with heavy cream over a double-boiler and let cool completely.  Then you whip the butter and cream that with confectioner’s sugar, salt and flavoring. Finally you add the chocolate-cream mixture and whip ’til it lightens and thickens.  Easy-peasy, right? No. The most obvious culprit might be excessive warmth, but my kitchen wasn’t particularly hot that day. I even went so far as to see if there were any corrections to the recipe posted on Flour’s website, but nadda.

In the end, it was yummy, if very frustrating. It was impossible to ice and smooth, and very difficult to decorate. Chilling the icing before piping just made it go straight from wet to rock hard, so I gave up on that. I attempted to pipe buttercream flowers on the top, but they just sank under the soupy icing. Piping on a border was out of the question. Yuck. The peeps were very understanding and appreciative nevertheless and proclaimed it delicious. I have the sweetest family!