Sunday, March 7, 2010

Know When to Hold Em' and When to Fold Em'

I'll start off by saying that Grandma's birthday cake was a delicious, moist and chocolatey hit. The final result was very close to what I envisioned from the start, so I'm pretty happy with my first cake. That's not to say that I didn't run into a few snags along the way.

I started with the fondant cards and suit shapes earlier this week. The fondant recipe worked amazingly well with the painting, but could have done better with the hardening since they were still a little flexible. All in all, they worked out beautifully and I'm very proud of the way they turned out. It's always a bit of a surprise to see what you imagine come to life.

Recipes from an Ex-Con
Next came the baking of the cake. I couldn't find a tried-and-true chocolate cake recipe that is known to be moist and flavorful. The cake recipes we used in culinary school tended to be dry and a bit on the bland side, no one was a fan of any of those. My friend Margaret suggested that I try Martha Stewart's  ( since she had been pleased with her other recipes. It was absolutely perfect — exactly what I was looking for in a chocolate cake! It baked perfectly and was amazingly moist. We filled the center with homemade strawberry jam given to us by a friend. Yum! However, the cake pans I have flare out on the sides a bit, so the cakes had a slight trapezoidal shape. I straightened them as best as I could, but the sides aren't quite flush (card pun intended). Oh well, it worked out pretty nicely overall.

Osh Kosh Ganache
Lastly, I had to make the chocolate ganache glaze to drizzle over the cake. This is where things started to come undone. At this point it was 10 o'clock in the evening after a busy day at the bakery and a long week on my feet. I was exhausted and ready to finish the cake that I had been working on all week. Ganache is relatively simple, being comprised of just heated heavy cream and chocolate, so I thought the finish line was finally in sight. Oh, how wrong I was!

Ahhh...Freak Out!
Using a double-boiler, I heated the heavy whipping cream then removed it from the heat and stirred in the chocolate. That's when I noticed that the mixture had a weird oily separation. I continued to stir it, but the oil would not go away. I was out of chocolate and cream and it was now about 10:30 pm so I couldn't even try again. This is when the mini-freak-out commenced.

My poor, sweet husband Ryan was trying to reassure me that it would be okay and we could just buy a cake at the store, but I couldn't fathom doing that. I had just spent most of the week working towards this cake, how could I just give up and buy a store-made one? I was just too exhausted to deal with it so we agreed to just buy a jar of frosting to top it before we headed out to grandma's house in Waco in the morning.

My Husband the Hero
Well, Ryan (the morning person) was nice enough to go to the store to pick up the frosting but he also bought more chocolate and cream so we could give the ganache another go. I'm so lucky to have such a sweet husband who believes in me! While he was at the store, I started heating the water for the double-boiler and it was ready by the time he got back. However, even on the second attempt I still had the oil problem. Ryan had googled this issue the night before and apparently it's a common problem remedied by vigorous whisking. So that's what we did and problem solved! The end result wasn't as liquid and syrupy as it is in school, but it worked as a glassy, spreadable frosting. No need to use the jar stuff...hooray! We quickly assembled the fondant accessories, loaded the cake in the car and headed to grandma's.

We arrived in Waco on time and grandma and my sister-in-law Nicole were very pleased with the homemade cake. I was just relieved that it tasted delicious, didn't come in a grocery store box and didn't look like it belonged on Cake Wrecks. Phew!

So who has the next birthday? I'm ready!

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