I have to be honest, I’m definitely a better cook than baker. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve come a LONG way in my baking skills, but they still need some work.
Take cake for instance. I’m always frustrated when I make a cake. I get cake envy from those brilliant bloggers I read that can make huge thick layers of cake. My cakes never turn out like they do in the pictures. Their always sad and small.
So I decided to sign up for a cake baking class at the Boston Center for Adult Education. I had previously taken a cooking basics class there and really enjoyed it so I thought with a 3 hour cake baking class I could figure out just what the hell was wrong with me and cakes.
Our teacher was Michelle, and she has an extensive and impressive background. She is a former bakery owner, went to culinary school and is currently earning her Master’s degree at BU. I was definitely impressed.
The first thing she taught us was how to make a simple syrup. It was crazy easy. You basically add sugar and water, leave it along, and voila, simple syrup is made.
Then it was time to make cake! We made 2 different kinds, a traditional vanilla cake and a chocolate cake. I learned that you can basically mix the crap out of the cake for as long as you want until you add the flour, then you want to make sure you don’t over mix. By mixing the butter and sugar thoroughly, you incorporate air, which makes the cake big and tender. I think this was step 1 in my cake problem.
I think we mixed the butter and sugar for at least 5 minutes. I know that I’ve never done that when I make cakes, so I know the next time I make cake I’ll let my mixer go for a LONG time. Michelle basically said to mix it for longer than you think.
Both cakes called for the milk/flour or sour cream/flour alternating technique. At this point we mixed the batter until it almost came together. Then, using a spatula, we incorporated the rest.
We made them into cupcakes because they don’t take as long as a cake, and the cake wouldn’t have cooled down enough for us to frost it. But don’t worry, she baked extra.
Both sets of cupcakes came out fantastic! The crumb was tender and moist, and I had a hard time not eating them all!!
Next up we made an Italian Meringue Buttercream. And when I say butter, I mean butter. This frosting has almost 2 POUNDS of butter in it. They aren’t kidding around.
This buttercream involved making another simple syrup, but this time it had to be brought to a specific temperature (242 degrees). I had never made this kind of frosting before, and it was a really interesting process. Basically you whisk the egg whites until frothy, add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Then, you turn the mixer to medium low and pour the sugar syrup in. Then you stir on high until the mixing bowl is cool to the touch. And believe me, it gets hot!!! A tip she gave us is that if you don’t have a ton of time, you can use a wet towel to cool the bowl.
Congratulations, you’ve just made Italian Meringue!!
Now, in order to make it into a buttercream, you start adding in butter. And more butter. And more butter. Adding small chunks and incorporating them until the buttercream “breaks” (like shown above). You’ll know that the buttercrea has broken because one second it’ll be nice and smooth and the next second it’s all choppy. Turn off your mixer baby, because you’re done!!
At this point, we learned how to assemble our cake! Michelle demonstrated how to cut off the top of your cake (and I volunteered to cut the second!). Basically you want to plant your hand on top of the cake, and glue your elbow to your side (the one holding the knife). Try not to move your hand that is holding the knife, but guide the knife all the way around the cake. By keeping your elbow as close to you as possible, the more straight the cut will be!
At this point we were running out of time, but she gave us a quick overview about the crumb coat. Basically you need to a) use an off set spatula b) never put your spatula into the frosting if it is covered in crumbs! Use a regular spatula to plop the frosting on c) use an edge to get as close to the cake as possible and get rid of excess frosting and d) refrigerate for a couple of hours before putting on the second coat. We didn’t have enough time for that so she went onto the next stage!
At this point she slathered on more and more frosting and evened it off until it looked pretty. Then she took some crushed candy bars and added them to the side of the cake. Hurray! Finished! And it was of course, delicious!
I definitely learned A TON from this class and I’m quite certain that my next foray into cake baking will be more successful. The BCAE is so wonderful and I’ve really enjoyed all the classes I’ve taken. In fact, I’ve just signed up for their bread baking class in June and I’m very excited! Can’t wait to report on that class as well!