Last week in my Bakery Merchandising class, my fellow students and I spent hours preparing for a sale in the culinary school's retail bakery. One of my duties included piping huge swirls of fluffy vanilla buttercream onto dozens of yellow cupcakes, chilling them until firm, then suspending them upside down, one by one, and dipping them into a deep bowl of warm chocolate ganache.
At first my task progressed smoothly, but then the big white swirls started plopping off as I lifted the cold cupcakes out of the chocolate. Cursing under my breath with each failed attempt, I nervously fished out big globs of buttercream--once, twice, three times. Speed was of the essence that day and, not wanting to gum up the works, I took immediate steps to remedy the problem. Soldiering on, I carefully refrosted some of the cupcakes, chilled them longer, rewarmed the ganache, and crossed my fingers.
Meanwhile, directly across from me a much younger student, who told me she'd been working in a bakery since high school, was deftly enrobing iced layer cakes in ganache. I kept glancing over as she ladled the fluid chocolate atop each cake, letting it move languidly down the sides before picking up a small offset spatula to cover any bare spots. Her sense of calm bordered on the meditative, and her technique produced beautiful results.
It made me want to do the same thing at home. Damn the cupcakes, I said to myself, full speed ahead with a big round layer cake in my own kitchen.
Thus was the inspiration for today's cake. (A cake that would, I believe, make a sensational Valentine's Day dessert!)
About this recipe . . .
From the book Welcome to Junior's! Remembering Brooklyn with Recipes and Memories from its Favorite Restaurant, this fudge cake is moist and densely textured. The recipe actually produces three hefty layers, but they were each so tall and obviously substantive, I decided to save and freeze the third one. If I'd actually used all three layers the iced and coated cake would probably have been 10" tall. (If you need a truly lofty layer cake, go ahead and use all three.) The vanilla buttercream recipe is also adapted from Junior's. The decision to apply a luxurious dark-chocolate ganache over the whole thing was, as you know, quite my own.
I bought this book last April in Junior's Restaurant (the one in Times Square) during a trip to NYC, and I have to admit I'm pretty fond of it (the book, yes, and also the restaurant!). My family and I visited Junior's twice while we were there, one night just for dessert (that famous cheesecake, of course), and again on our last morning in town before heading to the airport. We'd finished breakfast and were getting up to leave when it hit me that I could not exit Manhattan without my own copy, bright stacks of which were displayed near the entrance. Along with solid recipes, this volume offers an honest and deeply affectionate homage to Brooklyn--as it was decades ago, and as it is now. It's full of historical tidbits that are pretty engrossing for anyone who's interested in the evolution of a classic, family-owned, American restaurant. I began reading it at the airport, while awaiting our flight, and hardly put it down until our plane landed back in Detroit. I used one of Junior's cute paper coasters as my bookmark.
Yield: Makes one large, tall, 3-layer cake that, when iced and ganached, could probably serve 20 or more people.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three round 9"x2" cake pans, place parchment paper circles in the bottom, and then butter the parchment (it's easiest to do this with a pastry brush, and do use unsalted butter). Place a rack in the middle of your oven.
Ingredients for the cake layers:
3 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 generous teaspoon of coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temp.
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
7 large eggs, not cold
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 and 1/4 cups milk (I used 2 percent.)
Onto parchment, or into a medium size bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on high speed, cream together the butter, shortening, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Beat for several minutes, until the mixture turns light yellow. Scrape the bowl and beaters. Again on high speed, add in the eggs one at a time, beating for a couple of minutes after each addition. Stop and scrape the bowl and beaters.
Pour in all of the chocolate and vanilla, and continue mixing on high speed for up to 20 minutes. (Yes, I said 20 minutes--that's what the instructions indicate, and that's what I did. The batter is quite fluffy when you're done with this step.) Take the bowl off of the mixer now, and gently scrape again with your spatula.
Now, sift one quarter of the dry mixture over the batter and carefully stir (as opposed to just folding, which you will be inclined to do) it in. Then pour in one third of the milk, stirring to blend. Continue in this fashion, until you've incorporated all the flour and milk, stirring well after each addition.
Portion the batter equally into the three prepared pans, and smooth it out. Gently tap each pan on your work surface to help release air bubbles. Bake the pans side by side on the middle rack, but don't let them touch each other. (The cookbook suggests delaying the baking of one layer if you don't have an oven large enough to accomplish this, rather than baking one of the layers on an upper- or lower rack.)
Bake the layers for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each one comes out clean, and the sides of the cakes just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool the layers on racks for 30 minutes before inverting them onto racks (and removing any parchment still stuck to them) to finish cooling.
Ingredients for Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:
2 lbs. (8 cups) of confectioners' sugar, well sifted (I always use Domino's 10x for frosting. Much less lumpy than the cheaper stuff.)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup margarine or high-ratio shortening, not cold (I did not use margarine, which the original recipe indicates. Instead, I used Sweetex, which is a "high-ratio" shortening typically used by cake decorators. Trans-fat free, it adds stability to frostings--ie., helps them hold up without softening in warm temps--and doesn't lend a greasy mouth-feel the way vegetable shortening can. It also helps make frosting easier to spread. You can buy it at cake decorating supply stores, but be forewarned that it's not cheap.) 2 Tbsp. light corn syrup 1 Tbsp. and 2 tsp. vanilla extract 1 scant tsp. almond extract 1/2 cup heavy cream, not too cold
Onto a parchment sheet, or into a large bowl, sift together the confectioners' sugar and the salt, being sure to break up out any stubborn sugar lumps. In the large bowl of your electric mixer, using the paddle attachment on high speed, cream together the butter and margarine/Sweetex; beat for about three minutes, until light yellow. Still on high speed, add in the corn syrup and vanilla. Stop and scrape the beaters and bowl. Now on low speed, add the sugar in two additions, beating well after each one. Pour in the cream and blend until the frosting seems of reasonable spreading consistency; if it seems too thick, add in more cream as needed, a teaspoon or so at a time. Keep the frosting tightly covered until you're ready to use it. If you won't be using it within a couple of hours, cover and refrigerate it.
Ingredients for the Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache:
8-10 oz. good quality dark chocolate (I tend to use Ghirardelli if I don't want to spend a fortune. If I'm flush with cash, I'm more likely to use Callebaut, and more rarely Valrhona. Bittersweet ganache works well with this cake since it balances the sweetness of the buttercream frosting.) 5-6 oz. heavy cream (The amount can vary a little bit, depending upon how soft you want your ganache to be.) 2 tsp. soft unsalted butter
Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place it in a heatproof bowl.
In a small sauce pan, heat the cream slowly until it simmers. Pour it over the chocolate, add the butter, and do not stir. Let the mixture sit undisturbed for a couple of minutes. Stir until the chocolate is obviously completely melted; don't whisk, as you don't want to add bubbles. As the ganache begins to cool, you'll be able to get an idea of its texture. If it seems it will be too thick to ladle onto your cake, stir in a little bit more warm cream, adjusting as needed. If you won't be using the ganache right away, keep it well covered in the fridge. It can be warmed up in a double boiler, or gradually in the microwave if watched very closely.
To assemble the cake:
Place your first layer of cake on a cardboard cake-circle so you can more easily lift and move it; this will be a big help when it comes time to add the ganache coating. Frost the top of the bottom layer. Frost the top of the middle layer. Frost the top of the top layer and the sides of the cake as smoothly as you can, ideally with an offset spatula. It doesn't matter too much if some crumbs show through in the frosting at this point since the cake will be covered in chocolate, but any obvious lumps should be smoothed out to ensure a nice finish.
Place the cake, still on its cardboard circle, over a cake rack that's been placed atop a rimmed baking sheet.
When your ganache is at the right consistency (it should drip easily from a ladle, like a very pourable gravy), ladle it directly onto the top center of the cake, letting it spread out and drip down the sides. The excess ganache will drip off the bottom edges of the cake onto your baking sheet (that excess can be saved and used again, assuming it doesn't contain crumbs, etc.). Use a small, metal, offset spatula to smooth out, and dab delicately at, any bare spots on the top and sides of the cake; work fairly quickly since the ganache will start to set up as it cools. Let the ganache-covered cake sit on the cooling rack over the baking sheet until the ganache seems somewhat firm. Move the cake onto its serving plate, sliding a firm metal spatula beneath it to help lift it up off the cooling rack. Before serving, add on any decorations you prefer (whipped cream swirls, piped frosting, chocolate-dipped strawberries, whatever you like).
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Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
If you'd like to know a bit about me please click here, or look for the tiny photo of a pink cupcake topped by a strawberry, further down, in the "About me"section. You can also reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . . .
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JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (both now in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do a lot of freelance editorial work, something that I really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
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