Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Baking Tips

Here's a collection of cake bakingtips and tricks I have collected over the years. Hope this helps.

1. I do use boxed cake mixes when in a bind, but I try to make the frosting from scratch. There are many doctored box cake recipes that taste as good as baking from scratch. Home made buttercream definitely masks any boxed cake mix taste.

2. Measuring flour: This I have learned the hard way. For baking, flour is best measured by weight. But I don't own a scale (shame on me) and most recipes just mention cups..so the second best method of measuring flour is to spoon it into the cup with a light sprinkling action and then level off with a knife. Dragging the cup through the flour ends up packing the cup with a lot extra flour resulting in a much drier denser cake/bread.

3. Room temperature ingredients: Its best to work with all ingredients at room temperature. Liquids like milk, water etc can always be nuked in the microwave until barely warm (not hot!). Make sure butter is soft but not greasy/melted..if so pop it into the fridge for 2 minutes. I have not learned any tricks to getting butter softened quickly (sorry!) Also eggs are best at room temperature but I never seem to remember to take them out an hour in advance. A trick I learned from the web is to submerge the eggs in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes until they do not feel cold to the touch. Works like a charm! I definitely see the egg liquids are much looser and whip up better this way.

4. S-M-L-XL: Eggs in the US are sold by size. I've learned that recipes usually mean "Large" eggs. Recipes should specifically call for M or XL eggs if required.

5. Greasing the pans: I spray my baking pans with Baking Joy (its a grease+flour spray that works very well for cakes). Alternatively, you could use Pam or butter and then dust it with flour. I also use parchment paper rounds at the bottom of my cake pans, it takes the stress out of getting the cake bottoms smooth and out of the pans without ripping. They're not perfect circles but I try to get as much of the bottom covered.

6. For dark pans, lower the oven temp by 25 deg F. Also he lower the temp, the less the cake will dome. I'm going to try and buy aluminium pans only going forward. The next time I go to India, I'm going to go shopping for pans...they're way cheaper there I think!!

5. Cutting cakes: Joe Pastry (http://www.joepastry.com/) does an entire post on how to cut a cake the right way...its worth a read, when you want clean cake slices.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chocolate Ganache cake

This was one of the easiest cakes I made, under the least amount of pressure. One of those snow days this season, I asked Big A what he would like for dessert and he said chocolate cake with icing. Little A agreed wholeheartedly! My job was 50% done already!

I used the Hershey's perfectly chocolate cake recipe since I've heard rave reviews of the same. The only change I made was I replaced the cup of boiling water with a cup of fresh brewed coffee per one of the reviewer's advice. I think instant coffee would work well too. You don't taste the coffee in the cake, but it definitely deepens the flavor of the cake.

Here's the cake recipe:

Hershey's perfectly chocolate cake:
2 cups granulated sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water (brewed coffee)

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9 inch pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Peel off the parchment paper and flip the cake. Let the cake cool completely before frosting it.

The cake layers came out quite flat to my delight and needed very little trimming on the top.
I frosted the 2 layers with chocolate buttercream. I used the Hershey's frosting recipe. Unfortunately it is not a crusting buttercream so you won't be able to smooth it very well. (More on crusting buttercream in another blog post). I tried to get it relatively smooth since I was going to be pouring ganache on it later.

Hershey's chocolate frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar (10x or confectioner's sugar)
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter in the microwave. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla.

Next get the ganache ready.

Chocolate Ganache:
9 oz semi sweet chocolate chips/chopped chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

Get 9 oz of semi sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (I used a mix of milk and SS chocolate chips) in a glass or metal bowl. In a saucepan, heat 1 cup heavy cream until small bubbles appear around the edges. Turn off the heat and pour the hot cream on top of the chocolate. Let stand for 2 to 3 minutes, until the chocolate has melted, then whisk until smooth.
The ganache will thicken as it cools. In fact I put it in the fridge for about 30 mins or more until it is pourable but thick enough to make a decent layer.
Place the frosted cake on a wire rack over a baking sheet or large pan to catch (and re-use) drips. I didnt do that and ended up with pools of ganache over the counter top :-(
Pour the ganache slowly over the cake so it drapes the entire cake. Depending on the thickness of the ganache, you may need to pour a second layer so it gets thicker but it won't look as smooth as the 1st one.
Left over ganache can be refrigerated and then stored or once chilled, beat into a creamy frosting.
Here's the finished product....the paper liners are just flattened pastel cupcake liners you get at the grocery store.

Note: I am no expert at cake baking..but there are a few tips and tricks I have picked up from all my web reading and searching. I'll put up a blog post just on them.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Not sure if this is will be a short term affair or what...got to start some where :-)
Wish me luck!!