All about cakes

Rose’s Truckload of Trucs

Rose Levy Beranbaum / September 2009

There’s always something to discover, something to learn in the food world, as pastry perfectionist Rose Levy Beranbaum found out while conducting meticulous R&D for her new book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes

She’s more than happy to share the results.

This marks my first book dedicated to cakes since publication of The Cake Bible

in 1988. During the intervening two decades, the baking world has seen great changes in technology, ingredients, taste, and style, all of which have allowed me to consider the subject anew. Also, I’ve been further enriched by 20 years of travel and association with food professionals throughout the world. For example, a trip I made to Japan to research wasanbon sugar (see “Wasanbon: The World’s Most Expensive Sugar,” Food Arts, April 2001, page 168) led to a meeting with one of the country’s top pastry chefs, Osaka-based Hidemi Sugino, who introduced me to a precise chocolate glaze whose main components—cocoa powder, water, corn syrup, granulated sugar, and heavy cream—are heated to 190°F, cooled to 122°F, blended with gelatin (his secret “shining moment”), and cooled further to between 85°F and 82°F before coating a cake with a mirrored sheen. This turns out, too, to be the ideal glaze for warm weather outdoor cake displays—weddings or any other excuse for alfresco revelry—because it doesn’t become runny and increases in shine.

Chefs often approach me with the need for cakes that maintain their texture when cold, and I’ve addressed this by working out a technique that combines butter and oil—butter for flavor, and oil because it keeps the texture soft when chilled in the refrigerator. I usually use only oil, however, for cakes that harbor distinct flavors and ingredients, such as those made with carrots, bananas, and, yes, even those with a high quantity of chocolate. I find these cakes don’t require butter’s flavor-enhancing quality. There has also been a great demand for moist wedding cakes with more than a day’s shelf life to allow time for decorating. For the new book, I’ve created three butter wedding cakes and one oil-based chocolate cake that fulfill this need. The ingredient that has arguably changed the most in recent years is chocolate, which now comes in a vast variety of cacao percentages. Because the amount of cacao has a direct impact on flavor, sweetness, and texture, I specify percentage wherever chocolate is called for and also offer a formula for making ganache with chocolates of varying percentages by adjusting the amount of cream per each half pound. For example: for 60 to 62 percent cacao chocolate use 1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons cream (9 ounces/283 grams); for 70 percent cacao chocolate use 1 1/2 cups cream (12 ounces/340 grams). In addition, I employ the unique qualities of cocoa butter contained in white chocolate to enhance the flavor and texture of both cakes and buttercreams.

A sharp detour into the world of bread baking with The Bread Bible (2003)

greatly enhanced my understanding of flour and how it performs. This has enabled me to improve traditional cakes and to create new ones using different types of flour. Using Wondra flour, for example, not only makes ladyfingers more tender, it stiffens the batter, making them easier to pipe onto a baking sheet without spreading and flattening.

Another of my goals for this new book was to come up with a way to make chiffon cakes as layer cakes without the usual support of a center tube or compromising texture. Experimenting with different types of flour, different ways of incorporating ingredients, and ways of unmolding the cake layers offered spectacular results beyond expectation. The chocolate version turned out to be ideal for cupcakes and wedding cakes as well as for traditional nine-inch layers. What follows are some highlights of technical discoveries I uncovered while working on Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. I hope you find them useful in the professional kitchen and that they inspire new cake visions.

Mousseline buttercream: For a foolproof method, use high fat butter, add the meringue to the butter instead of the reverse, and make the addition only at specific temperatures, 65°F to 70°F for the beaten butter, 70°F for the meringue.

Stabilizing whipped cream: Can be done with cream cheese, believe it or not, but Cobasan (a stabilizer) and gelatin are best for holding at room temperature. Cobasan only works with cream that has not been ultra-pasteurized.

Canned cream of coconut:
Use the food processor or immersion blender to emulsify the coconut cream that floats to the top. Canned coconut milk needs to be whisked briefly to a uniform consistency.

Coffee cakes:
Apply streusel (crumb topping) part-way through baking so it doesn’t sink into the cake or overbrown.

Egg whites: To beat to maximum stiffness without risk of them breaking down, add the correct amount of cream of tartar per either volume or weight of egg whites—1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar per 2 tablespoons (1 ounce/30 grams) egg whites.

Use a balloon whisk to fold flour into sponge mixtures to maintain the greatest volume.

Crystallized citrus peel:
Use to make stunning decorative roses.

Marzipan leaves: Make balls of different colors and roll them together for an autumn leaf effect. Make a leaf template by photocopying the leaf, reducing the image, and clipping it out from cardboard.

Wondra flour:
Integrates most easily into sponge batter, causing it to deflate less. It results in slightly less height but a more tender texture and better flavor. Use for ladyfingers to keep them from spreading on the baking sheet. It’s also excellent in other sponge cakes such as angel, génoise, and biscuit (but not chocolate sponge cakes, as it produces an off flavor in them).

Chiffon cake:
Bake in a pan without a center tube, using unbleached flour for more structure. Inserted in the center, a nail borrowed from a piped fleural decoration kit will prevent a swaybacked surface.

Chiffon cake layer with almond flour: Different from a chiffon in a tube pan, this requires a little more flour and less liquid in the batter for increased structure. A flavorful syrup brushed on after baking makes the cake moist and tender.

White chocolate buttercream:
White chocolate made with cocoa butter adds texture, aids in emulsification, and transports flavor due to its lower-than-butter melting point.

Milk chocolate ganache syrup: When made with milk chocolate and milk instead of cream, it penetrates more evenly, adds a moist, velvety texture, and rounds the flavor of an intense chocolate sponge cake such as the chocolate chiffon.

Seville orange curd: This type of orange has enough acidity to set the curd as well as a lemon and is the only orange that contributes a true orange flavor to the curd.

Tomato ganache: Tomato adds acidity, mysterious flavor, and heightened color to chocolate. Tomato soup or puree can be used to replace some of the cream in the ganache.

Midnight ganache:
Deeper and darker flavor and the ultimate in voluptuous texture. The sugar is caramelized to a deep brown, and cocoa, made into paste with boiling water to release full flavor, brings the cacao solids to a higher volume. Water replacing some of the heavy cream keeps it very dark. This ganache is lower in fat without compromising flavor.

Miss Irene Thompson’s chocolate icing (compliments of Ariane Batterberry): Replacing sugar with corn syrup gives it a pleasantly sticky quality. Though its consistency is firmer and fudgier than any other chocolate icing, it adheres well, and once it sets up it can be molded with your fingers.

Red velvet: This beloved Southern cake is prepared traditionally with oil, a mere suspicion of cocoa, and 1 teaspoon white vinegar, which raises the acidity of the batter, thus intensifying the color. The liquid component is usually buttermilk, which also raises the acidity, although the baking soda normally used neutralizes most of it and makes the crumb coarser and less velvety and the color darker. So I created my own version of this classic, using only baking powder to capture the full acidity of the buttermilk, thus making vinegar unnecessary. I also used half oil (for softening) and half butter (for flavor-carrying). The result is flavorful, moist, velvety, and soft enough to eat even straight from the fridge.

Black chocolate party cake: A dense chocolate butter cake containing ground walnuts with a near black exterior crumb that’s kept moist and chocolaty by a cocoa syrup in and on the cake.

Chocolate chiffon cake baked as a layer cake:
Moist, light, almost fudgy, and powerfully chocolate; dissolving the cocoa in boiling water releases all of the powder’s flavor. Adding unbeaten egg whites to the batter toward the end of mixing gives more structure. But the most amazing thing about this cake is that, while the thin batter fills the pans only about one-quarter full, it bakes up to the top of the pan. Still another virtue is that, unlike a butter cake, it stays soft even when chilled. It’s perfect for an ice cream sandwich, as it stays softer in the freezer than would a butter cake. In the book I also use it for the German chocolate cake, the designer cupcakes, and the deep chocolate passion wedding cake.

Chocolate butter/oil cake:
This chocolate layer cake with caramel ganache calls for 4 ounces butter to 1 ounce oil, the small addition of oil resulting in a higher cake layer with a finer, moister crumb.

Caramel ganache: Using bitter (unsweetened) chocolate tempers the sweetness of the caramel.

Chocolate tweed angel food cake:
Adding unsweetened finely ground chocolate to an angel food batter cuts the sweetness while maintaining the gossamer texture. Chilling the chocolate before grating keeps it from discoloring the batter.

Tres leches:
Biscuit de Savoie using two-thirds the usual amount of the total egg and all the whites and yolks beaten together rather than separately help the cake to absorb the maximum amount of syrup while retaining the best texture. (Compliments of Mary Sue Milliken.)

Banana wedding cake:
Consider banana for this cake because it stays moist and fresh for several days and adds structure, making it excellent for large layers.

Golden almond wedding cake:
A butter cake that stays moist for several days, made fragrant with lemon syrup rather than liqueur.

Groom’s cake: Bake a rich walnut brownie, cut it into chunks, fold it into a chocolate cake batter, and bake in a sports stadium–shaped cake pan that I designed with Nordic Ware. An atomizer is perfect for spritzing Bourbon onto the cake after baking.

Sheet cakes:
Use for weddings or special occasions when you most need to have extra servings on hand. Two 12-inch round layers equal one 18-by-12-by-2-inch sheet pan, which will make about 50 2-inch square servings. Baking time is about 40 to 50 minutes. Slightly increase the leavening to keep the cakes level.