Posts tagged ‘layer cake’

Fall Leaves and New Love

“Bowl-o-Rama” Bowling Ball – Chocolate cake, chocolate & vanilla buttercreams

Pumpkins, cinnamon, vibrant leaves, and my favorite red rain boots – there is everything to love about fall. Along with the drizzling rain and the brisk, crisp chill sweeping into Seattle comes school, but also fresh starts and new love. A love in the form of Swiss Buttercream.

The photos in today’s post are a few paid orders from the summer. Because time was an issue and setting up photos was not a priority, they are not my most beautiful shots, but I’m still happy to share them with you. And the one thing they all have in common? They are frosted with a silky, light swiss buttercream that I am head over heels for. It makes me swoon. It’s sweet and velvety and also a dream to work with. I’ve never frosted a cake so smooth.

Buttercream has always been elusive for me. I’d tried making a classic buttercream once, but something went wrong between heating the sugar and whisking the eggs and I ended up with a big mess. That seemed to scare me from buttercream ever since, and I just stuck to powdered sugar frostings. Not anymore! I made… wait for it… six batches of buttercream in the past two weeks. Which sounds like a lot, and then I did the math and realized that I baked 13 cakes this summer, including 7 paid orders!

“Bowl-o-Rama” Bowling Ball Cake & “Strike!” Bowling Pin Cake

Baking paid orders is so different than baking for fun. For one thing, it’s a lot more stressful. Failure when I’m baking for fun or experience is merely disappointing, and frequently entertaining. Failure when I’m charging somebody for it makes my insides curdle faster than my first buttercream. I worry about taste, appearance, and getting the order right – after all, it’s a purchase.

It’s hard to say if I truly enjoy paid orders. On the one hand, I am creating cakes I would have never made on my own.  I cut out interesting shapes, learn new techniques for decorating, and even try new frosting recipes. For the same reason that I love being a Daring Baker, I like the challenge each paid order presents and the new ingredients, tools, and skills I acquire. And the feeling when I know the client has gotten exactly what he or she wanted, is amazing. When the client arrived to pick up this bowling cake, she saw the pin first and gasped. It’s genuinely thrilling, and it makes me want to do nothing but make customers happy.

On the flip side, I stress like Robert Irvine on Dinner: Impossible. I always wake up before 8:30 that day, to make sure I have enough time to work and start over if necessary. If the cake is drier than expected or something doesn’t go according to plan, even though I know how to fix it, it’s difficult not to feel anxious. When I don’t like the final result, my hands actually shake as I transfer the cake to a platter and my stomach tightens uncomfortably until the moment I feel certain the client is satisfied. Somehow, when my whole body relaxes and I begin to gather the dishes, it feels like the whole morning was worth it. It’s not about the money, but something so much more important than that.

Vanilla “Dream” themed cupcakes with vanilla buttercream, fondant stars & moons, and blue sanding sugar

Monday was my first day of school. This year I’m taking some fascinating classes and will be participating in a fantastic internship. It’s been a long week, and a busy one. My school doesn’t offer a cooking class and my teachers haven’t hesitated to assign homework even in the first few days. The result? I haven’t had the opportunity to spend as much time in the kitchen as I’d like.

It’s jarring to be suddenly thrown back into the world of lectures, lengthy homework assignments, and commitment. While I would never sacrifice my responsibilities for my hobbies, all of you know I would also never stop blogging no matter how busy I got. While I might need to put paid orders on hold, baking and blogging is my passion.

SAT prep classes, college applications, and warm autumn flavors… I welcome fall with open arms, sharpened pencils, and a satisfied stomach.

Pink Fairy cake for a special 3-year-old girl’s birthday

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September 3, 2009 at 9:10 pm 30 comments

Baking with an Honorary Daring Baker – Mini Dobos Torte

It’s a strange thing. I absolutely adore being in the kitchen, baking, fueling this blog with sugar and creativity. And it’s without a doubt that I’m a social person. I like being with other people and spending time with my friends. But put them together? It doesn’t always ensure a good time. The honest truth is, I rarely enjoy baking with other people.

I’m not sure why. I guess it’s a bunch of little things… other people don’t know where the pans are, the tools, the ingredients. I know, silly. And they don’t really get the baking techniques. While I don’t mind teaching people, you can only do it to a point before you feel condescending. I would rather do it alone than give people the clearly “easy and boring” jobs like stirring, making them feel useless.

My explanation sounds sort of unreasonable written out like that, but I’m happy to say I am proved wrong sometimes. Take earlier this week, when my friend T- came over for dinner and to work on my top secret Daring Baker’s challenge.

Maybe it worked because T- is such a great friend. This is the girl who bought me a vanilla bean for my birthday and was one of the first people to start reading 17 and Baking. She brought green plums her family picked and a really delicious orange-water flan. Even though this month’s challenge was pretty difficult, she was up for the challenge and we had a really great time!

The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

The Dobos Torte is really quite stunning. Five layers of super-thin sponge cake, dark chocolate buttercream, chopped hazelnuts, and a caramel-coated layer of cake. I was so intimidated by it that I waited until the last possible minute. When T- came over, we had the baking possibilities narrowed down to cake or breakfast pastry when T- said she was willing to tackle the Dobos Torte.

We pored over size, height, shape… T- saw firsthand just how crazy and stressed (the good kind) I get about my DB challenges. Finally we decided on 6″ rounds. We made the buttercream first, and it wasn’t as tricky as I was worried it would be. The result was smooth, rich, velvety chocolate frosting. After that we tacked the cake. It definitely wasn’t as easy. We cracked the eggs and weighed out the sugar, but without experience, we couldn’t get the batter just right. After baking, the rounds of cake were really eggy and did not want to come off the pan.

But we had a great dinner that night, sitting outside and talking until the mosquitos and flying ants/beetles showed up. After tackling the massive mountain of dishes, I took one look at our cake rounds and decided I’d just have to redo it.

As I started baking late on the 25th, I told myself I’d never wait this long to complete a challenge again. It’s incredible how the 27th of each month creeps up on you. My summer felt even shorter as I looked back on the milanos of the July challenge. I recracked the eggs and weighed out the sugar again, but this time the batter seemed better. I chose to make teeny 2″ cakes and ended up with a towering stack of matchstick-thin layers.

Using the successful buttercream that T- and I made, I assembled and frosted two tiny 10 layer cakes and topped them with whole hazelnuts. In my defense I did attempt the caramel topping (twice.) Since I read that nearly every Daring Baker had not liked the caramel-cake topping, I decided to make the caramel and pour it into designs instead. The first time I burned the caramel so badly, it poured out like blackest chocolate. The second time I didn’t heat the sugar hot enough and while it was a beautiful amber color, it was too flexible and stuck to the paper. I tried!

In the end, after so much trial and error, the cakes did taste good. It reminded me of a ferrero rocher candy. As I ate it I got the impression that a Dobos Torte baked by someone who really knew what they were doing would taste amazing. Mine tasted good, but not necessarily worth the effort. I think the buttercream is something I would make again because it was so simple.  As for the caramel, it’s something I know I’ll be trying again.

The final thing I’ll be sure to try again… baking with company. It was just too fun this time to write off!

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August 27, 2009 at 12:01 am 29 comments

Rainbow Pride Party Cake

I think all little kids, at least at one point, have unrealistic ideas about what they’ll become when they grow up. I know I did. For a while I wanted to be an actress, then a singer, then a vet, and I went through an inevitable, short-lived pokemon master phase. I also remember once announcing that when I grew up, I wanted to be a duckling.

Yeah, I don’t know where that came from either.

But there was always something I wanted to be that I never told anyone about. I wanted to be a creative product namer – it would be the most fun job in the world! As a child I’d walk through the candle aisle of a store and think to myself, “This would be Golden Raspberry Dream and this one could be named Velvet Plum.” My favorite was to think of cute crayon colors, like Pink Lemonade Paradise and Safety Patrol Yellow.

Turns out I still can’t help but do it!

I can’t look at this vivid rainbow cake without feeling a bit of that creative spark all over again – Cherry-Red Hard Candy, Greenest Grass Green, Princess Eyes Blue. And even though I’ve seen the rainbow a million times, I still experienced an unexpected feeling when the cake was cut open. It was as if someone had waved a magic wand and restored all of the childish wonder and curiosity that I thought I’d outgrown years ago.

This cake was commissioned for a local company’s Pride celebration. I knew right away that rather than make a regular cake decorated with rainbow frosting, I wanted to make every layer a different color. This suggestion was met with a lot of enthusiasm, and I didn’t realize the difficulties of it until later.

First of all, I’d never made a cake of this size – six layers, 9″x13″ – and secondly I haven’t had a lot of success with white cakes. They usually end up dry or flavorless. Yet here I was, making six layers. I was also worried about height. Six layers is surprisingly tall, even taller after you add frosting, and I didn’t want the cake to lean or fall apart. I settled on Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party cake… after all, I trust Dorie whole-heartedly and it seemed like a moist, flavorful white cake that would also be sturdy.

I made two layers in advance, just to test things out. Unfortunately, I found the cake to be dry and much too sweet. I cut each layer into three, stacked them, and moaned a little when I saw how tall the finished cake would be. I tested freezing the layers, but they came out even drier the next day. I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into.

I pushed forward, and the morning of the party I woke up at 6:30 to be absolutely sure I’d have enough time to do the whole cake. Dorie’s recipe makes two 9″ round layers, so I was using one recipe to make two thin 9″x13″ layers – basically I would have to repeat the recipe three times. I measured, sifted, and set out all my ingredients beforehand. Then I made two layers at a time, did dishes, and repeated, working like clockwork.

I do kind of go into “baking mode” when I work, especially when I’m alone. I concentrate completely on the task at hand, and it feels good. I have a friend who loves running because it clears his mind and lets him focus, and this happens when I’m in the kitchen. Even though I was doing the same recipe over and over, it didn’t feel repetitive, and I even enjoy the feeling of being busy.

When all the layers were baked, I decided not to go with Dorie’s buttercream frosting, since it could be too rich in a 6 layer cake. I was going to go with whipped cream, but felt frosting would better hold the cake. Finally, I wanted the cakes to be moistened with jam but not too sweet. I ended up thinly spreading every layer with apricot jelly, then alternating whipped cream and cream cheese frosting. I frosted the outside with cream cheese frosting and then pressed shredded coconut into the cake.

Driving the cake to the office was a little nerve wracking. I was so worried about the cake leaning! A few hours ago, I had chilled the cake between layers. I had checked on it and realized, with horror, the cake was leaning to the right. I had turned the pan around and when I returned twenty minutes layer, the cake had straightened out. But every time we came to a sudden stop or made a sharp turn, I thought I could feel the cake moving like the leaning tower of pisa.

We made it to the office in one piece. Everyone who saw the cake was impressed by how big it was (and it was heavy!) It sort of looked like a giant coconut candy. But nothing can compare to the reactions I got when the cake was cut. The inside was a surprise, and it elicited gasps and outbursts of surprise all around. It was a room of adults, and yet there was still a wisp – no, a spark – of that innocent, fleeting joy at seeing something colorful. At that moment, I was reminded why I love to bake so much. This is what it’s for. I love to make people happy, and here was an entire room full of happy people – but I don’t think anyone was happier than me.

I was nervous about taste, but I’d learned a lot from my test run. Even though the cake was served in tiny, teetering slices, it was almost completely devoured as people came back for seconds.

It’s almost indecent that I was paid to do this. Creative product namer? No, what I am doing right now must be the most fun job in the world.

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July 16, 2009 at 12:36 pm 117 comments

A Little Taste of Independence

Hey everyone – happy 4th of July!

I know most everyone has a special Independence Day tradition. Most people spend the day with their family and friends, others go to neighborhood potlucks and barbeques, and still others go to the park to watch the fireworks burst beneath the stars. My personal tradition?

When we first moved into this house, I was so happy to discover that the neighborhood was full of kids. Boys, it turned out. We had only been settled in the house for a few months before it was July, and I discovered something else – those boys were ridiculous pyromaniacs. The entire day they shot off the loudest fireworks they possibly could, and not even stopping there. They would drop fireworks into hollowed out tennis balls, empty coke cans, even buckets of water, just to see what would happen. When I first opened my door, there was a half melted army man on our driveway. I don’t even want to imagine what they did to the poor guy.

We’re not little kids, and unfortunately I don’t go out and play with those boys anymore. It seems as we got older it was weirder for a girl to hang around the group, and I haven’t created a fort in their backyards or explored the neighborhood with them in years. I’m too scared to light off any fireworks (Roman Candle fireworks are about as intense as I can handle), and I hardly ever see them now. But every year for the 4th of July, the whole neighborhood comes out as soon as dusk falls to enjoy their show together, and I laugh with them like we’ve stayed friends all along.

While I wish I could claim credit for it, the idea of a flag cake was completely my father’s. It was all a bit of an experiment and when I finally cut the cake open, revealing the familiar red white and blue, I was so surprised to see that it worked. Besides that, I was floored by how beautifully colored all the layers were, and how much it really resembled a flag! It might be one of the coolest cakes I’ve ever made!

I used a white cake flavored with coconut milk. I wrapped the cakes and left them overnight and in the morning, was disappointed because they had dried out. I made a simple syrup with lime and tried to revive the layers, but the cake was still dry and I’m not sharing the recipe. However, the cake came together well and you can use any recipe for a three layer white cake.

I wanted the cake to be completely white on the outside, keeping the richly colored layers hidden. I also didn’t want to mess around with blueberries and strawberries on the top, which I think are generally pretty common around the 4th. I made my favorite cream cheese frosting and flavored it with lime zest. While the cake was nothing special, I do love this cream cheese frosting, and it’s the easiest to make – no room temperature cream cheese needed!

So, want to know how it’s made? :)

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July 1, 2009 at 11:03 pm 283 comments

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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