Foodie Ramblings: Chiffon Cake Rant

The sensation of failure is not something that many actively seek out. While I am not completely pleased to admit this, tonight, I experienced another baking fail. This time around, it was a chiffon cake.  An olive-oil lemon chiffon cake if you want to be specific. For those of you out there who are scratching their heads and wondering aloud, “What is a chiffon cake?” here is a brief rundown.

Invented in the early part of the twentieth century, the chiffon cake is traditionally made with either vegetable oil or, in my case, olive oil. Unlike its well known cake cousin, the angel food cake, a recipe for a chiffon cake calls for both egg whites and egg yolks. While the egg yolks are mixed in with your flour mixture, the egg whites are whipped into a frenzy until they are stiff and thick. This creates the airiness that distinguishes a chiffon cake from the other cakes in the club. Seems pretty straight forward right? That is, unless you are using a recipe that isn’t coming out of a cookbook like Baking Illustrated, where the authors comfortably hold your hand as they lead you through the world of baking. In cookbooks like BI, they authors aren’t trying to be fancy or pretentious; they want the people who purchased their book to feel comfortable in the kitchen, especially when they are trying something new.

This was not the case for the recipe that I used. Instead of trying to be humble and informative, this recipe decided to be hip and trendy by promoting itself as a “skinny” recipe, only 260 calories per serving. Oh boy!!!! While I am all for eating healthy and what not, sometimes recipes are the way they are for a reason. In the case of this cake, the recipe didn’t ask for stiff and thick peaks, rather, it asked for peaks that were “just about stiff”. What the hell does that mean? As I have already explained, baking with egg whites has never really been my specialty. While I now know how the process goes in regards to beating egg whites until they are stiff and thick, I have never done it myself. Even so, I can figure something like that out by keeping an eye on the egg whites. When they’re thick and stiff, it’s somewhat hard to not notice. But what about egg whites that are just about stiff? How does one figure that out? I certainly didn’t know the answer and the recipe clearly wasn’t going to tell me either. So I did what I thought was best, I put total faith in the recipe and went with my gut. Talk about a great idea!

tumblr_m2nih8I3le1qa86mcWith my eggs sort of but not really stiff, and combined with all the other ingredients, it was time to put it in the oven. Ok, that shouldn’t be too hard. Right? Wrong! Having a tube pan that leaks batter sure complicates things. Thank god that I had my trusty bundt pan on hand. Clearly, tonight was not my night for baking. So how did this more trouble then it’s worth cake come out? Eh. Not amazing, but not totally horrible either. The flavor was great, the structure, not so much. This was 100% due to the egg white thing. However, I can’t totally blame the recipe for what happened. I’ll be honest, I probably didn’t beat the eggs enough. True, I didn’t know what I was doing, but still, they should have been thicker. Still, this doesn’t excuse the recipe. It was far too vague regarding what the egg whites should have looked like and that def did not help me out.

So all in all, what did I learn tonight?

1. When making a chiffon cake, make sure you have egg whites that are stiff and thick, even if the recipe is too pretentious to admit it.

2. Check your tube pan before using it. Even if it seems ok, set it on top of a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper before baking. Just to be on the safe side.

3. Approach recipes that are coming from a questionable source with caution. While there is nothing wrong with trying a recipe out of magazines like Taste of Home and Bon Appétit, keep in mind, those magazines are written by people who know food. I pulled this recipe out of fitness magazine and that should have been red flag at the start.

4. Getting lemon juice in your eye hurts like hell.

Till next time.

Cake Deocrating Class Final

Cake Deocrating Class Final

Behold! It isn’t the most beautiful thing out there but it is a fully frosted and decorated cake. See those little flowers? I did them, not some cake decorator at my local supermarket.

Sometimes its the little accomplishments like this that just make you want to smile.

Over all I am super proud of this cake. However, I think the only thing I wish I could change was that the frosting didn’t get to chill enough (we didn’t have a fridge at our disposal) between applying the crumb coat and the second coat. Next time I frost something I’m going to put in the fridge for at least an hour so I can ensure an even coating.

Now that I’ve taken this course, I have a better understanding and respect for cake decorators. I can’t wait to make a cake or cupcakes so I can practice and refine my skills!

Cake Fail: Hey, it Happens

Sometimes we forget that we were all novices at one point in our lives.

As the great Julia Child once said:

No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” –My Life in France (2007)

In the last two years, I have been highly fortunate to have unusually long run of baking successes. Of course there has been some failures, the majority of them related to appearances rather than taste. But don’t get me wrong, I have experienced some considerably nasty baking failures. Personally, I think my most memorable failure just so happens to be my first. It was junior year of college, a little more than two years ago. I had only begun seriously baking, having started the summer before. Until that early spring afternoon, I had never known the sensation of failure, at least in a baking context. That was until I decided to take my baking up a notch and try something new. The recipe? S’mores cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes with a gram-cracker bottom topped with a homemade marshmallow. While the cupcake itself was relatively easy to make, the marshmallow was another story entirely. Going into it, there were three signs that failure was going to be imminent.

http://www.52kitchenadventures.com/2013/05/23/homemade-smores-cupcakes/

From 52 Kitchen Adventures. I later tried this recipe and it worked perfectly.

1. I didn’t understand how egg whites worked. The whole notion not getting any yolk in the whites was beyond my comprehension.

2. I lacked an small, candy, thermometer. The recipe asked me to heat the eggs to a certain temperature before removing them from the heat. A slightly hard things to do without a thermometer.

3. I didn’t know the difference between over beating and under beating. Even if I had managed to get this far along, I lacked the knowledge to distinguish a difference.

Putting all three things together, it would be safe to say that I was doomed from the start. What resulted was a minor breakdown. Ok, maybe a bit more than minor. But after the tears were done, I was able to step back and take note of where I had gone wrong. I learned something that day: never bite off more than you can chew, especially if you don’t totally understand the task you are about to undertake. It was a lesson that I have since taken to heart.

Its been more than two years since that dark day in my personal baking history and once again, failure has come knocking on my oven door. This time around, I wasn’t trying to make something challenging. It was to be a simple birthday cake for dad, who turned 61 this past Sunday. While the s’mores cupcake fiasco was caused mostly due to ignorance, this time around, it was due to a faulty cake pan and our oven.

Taken from one of my mother’s beloved Cusinart cookbooks, she assured me that this was something that couldn’t go wrong. Well, it did. And boy oh boy was I surprised when the thing crumbled apart. Initially, we thought it was because we only put in 1/3 cup of brewed coffee instead of 1 cup, leaving the batter too dry.

Hard to believe that a minor difference could affect the final result.

Hard to believe that a minor difference could affect the final result.

An hour later, we shifted blame to the cake pan it was baked it. “I guess that’s what you get when you buy a cheap pan at the store.” Now my mom mentions that. But it was true, something was wrong with it. After I coated the pan with butter, which I did generously, and later flour, not enough of it seemed to stick. We later compared this to a pan I bought of amazon.com and it was true; her pan seemed unable to be coated correctly.

As for our oven, its quite possibly the slowest oven ever. It takes forever to reach the designated heat and then as soon as you open the door to turn the pan, it has to reheat to get back. When the timer went off and I went to check to see if it was done, my tooth pick came out with moist batter on it. I shut the door and added another five. Second time around, it came out clean. Ten minutes later I went to separate and this was what I got.

Happy Birthday daddy!

Happy Birthday daddy!

Half the cake came out, and the rest stayed in the pan. Not good at all. How about the taste? After all isnt’s what matter’s? Dry. Very dry. Was it the lack of coffee? The recipe also called for sour cream so the batter was plenty wet. Was it the oven? Who really knows? Despite the inopportune timing of this cake fail (9:30pm) it was kind of nice to be reminded of what I learned two years ago. Never underestimate a recipe, ever! Even if it seems simple, read the directions carefully and be prepared for all sorts of outcomes.

Since I started today’s entry with an inspiring quote from one of my personal idols, I think its fitting to end with another quote, one that I think perfectly fits with this post’s theme.

Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy” -Miss. Frizzle.

I think that applies to cooking and baking quite nicely.

Till next time,

Litbaker

Labour of Love

Labour of Love

They should attach a warning label to the sign up sheet that reads “Warning, you will be eating in class, a lot”. I had to resist the temptation of running my fingers through the icing.

Despite being surrounded by all things yummy, the class is going really well. The image above might not be the most beautiful thing on the planet but hey, not bad for a first timer! As for the class itself, its going very well. For just $20, which includes four classes and a decorating kit, you can learn all the basics, like basic pipping flower decorations just to name a few things we’ve been learning. You really do get a lot of bang for your buck. I guess the only downside is the somewhat obnoxious amount of advertising for the Wilton Company. I mean, its kind of borderline brainwashing, especially when our wonderful instructor mentions the 50% off coupons Michael’s has a tendency of offering online. Whenever class is over I always find myself back in the Wilton aisle, wondering what else I need to walk out of the store with. Pipping gel, cake boards, maybe a cake tin in the shape of Mr. Spongebob Squarepants?

Oooh I want me some Spongebob cake!!!!

Oooh I want me some Spongebob cake!!!!

Why not? I’m sure I will have a use for it someday down the road.

Pushing aside the corporate whoring, thee class is a blast! At the moment it’s just me and my friend Leslie which means we can act like idiots as much as want without inspiring looks of bafflement from other classmates.  Sadly our days of carefree craziness are now a thing of the past. As of this week, our class has been combined with a large class on Sundays. Apparently our class of two was a financial money pit. What this means is now, Leslie and I have to actually try and act mature since we will be working with five other people. As if resisting the temptation of munching on our baked goods wasn’t hard enough 😛 Well, actually, maybe it would be better if I didn’t resist the urge to eat what we decorate. That cake pictured above is still sitting in my family’s fridge, absolutely untouched. My parents don’t want to eat it so there it sits. Reflecting back on it now, I should have left the cake at the store for the shop clerks to eat. At least then it wouldn’t be going to waste/taking up space in my small fridge.
On the plus side of things, we’re going to be deocrating cupcakes to look like flowers! What this means is that I get to make cupcakes (my favorite thing on the planet) and that my beloved cake is going to have to find a new home…the trash.

Till next time,

Litbaker