Sunday, March 4, 2012

Baking marathon: red velvet cake, funfetti cake, mocha cake and salted caramel cake.

Last week I embarked on my second largest baking project ever. My high school journalism program, ThreeSixty Journalism, asked me to donate a few cakes to their mid-winter fundraiser for people to win as prizes.

Last Saturday, I baked a red velvet cake, two batches of the chocolate cake I made for Karyn's wedding, and a funfetti cake, based on this recipe. I also baked a batch of red velvet cupcakes to bring along for volunteers or anyone else to nibble on. I wrapped the cooled cakes in plastic wrap and left them in the fridge until Wednesday.

Wednesday, I made three large batches of vanilla buttercream and a double batch of cream cheese frosting for the red velvet. I flavored two batches of the buttercream with espresso and salted caramel sauce (I doubled this recipe from Michael Ruhlman's blog). I was very impressed with both of these flavors. You can see all of my favorite cake gear here: the cake boards stacked in the back, our awesome cupcake carrier (a wedding gift from a great friend), lot and lots of plastic wrap to keep the cakes fresh and safe between baking and decorating, offset and flat spatulas for icing, my cheap but reliable cake turntable, and in that white plastic bin in the front, that's where I keep my decorating tips and pastry bags.

I was also testing a product for the Food Now! newsletter, a cake slicing kit. I was able to make the funfetti and red velvet cakes into four layer cakes (I thought they looked very nice), and the single 10-inch layer of mocha cake into a slim two layer. The kit worked really well - but definitely better with the funfetti cake, which was a butter cake and much more firm.

Here's the salted caramel getting the crumb layer of icing. I filled between the layers with the rest of the caramel sauce. I think it was a bit too thin though, it was hard to keep it from running out the sides.

My freezer is jam packed, but thankfully it was a chilly day outside. I used my porch as a freezer to help firm up the icing after the crumb coating. This is the 10-inch mocha cake and the 8-inch salted caramel.

Not surprisingly, I was in a rush on my way out the door, so I forgot to take photos of the finished and decorated cakes. I was worried about transporting them, but each finished cake sat outside for probably 30 minutes before driving, so the frosting was firm, and the dollop of frosting between the cake board and the cake carrier had time to set, which minimized sliding. 

Here are the cakes out for display with some of the others donated by volunteers and staff. On the far left, my four-layer red velvet, topped with cream cheese frosting, and decorated with strawberries and pecan halves. In the middle an M&Ms and KitKat bar cake baked by one of my former editors. On the far right, the 10-inch mocha cake, decorated with crushed Oreo pieces. 

Top left: the 8-inch salted caramel chocolate cake, with caramel sauce filling and salted caramel buttercream, decorated with a star pattern around the edge. Top right: a vanilla frog cake by one of the staff. Botton: the 8-inch vanilla funfetti cake with vanilla buttercream and topped with tons and tons of sprinkles. 

The fundraiser was a success and I had a ton of fun baking all of these cakes. 


(adapted from Paula Deen's Food Network recipe) 
*Note: After baking this cake a few times per year, I can tell you purchasing red food color each time is a pain--also somewhat expensive. I finally purchased a large bottle (maybe 20-30 ounces) of red food color in bulk at my local Asian grocery (Twin Cities friends: I bought mine at the Shaung Her in Minneapolis) for $8, or the cost of 2 or 3 of those little bottles.

For the Red Velvet Cake:
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I like natural cocoa from Penzey's Spices)  
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 ounce (1-2 TBS) red food coloring*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 TBS white vinegar, at room temperature)
For the cream cheese frosting:
  • 2 sticks butter at room temperature
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese at room temperature
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar (about 1 lb, or half a bag)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1-2 TBS milk or cream, as needed.
* Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two cake pans with nonstick spray, flour and parchment paper. 

* In a medium sized bowl, sift together dry ingredients until completely combined. 

* In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix eggs, oil, color and buttermilk. 

* Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three batches. Drizzle in vinegar and vanilla and mix only until fully combined. 

* Split evenly among the cake pans then bake for 24-26 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. 

* Cool completely before frosting. 

>> To make cream cheese frosting: beat butter and cream cheese on medium high until fluffy and fully combined. Add the vanilla then lower mixer speed and add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Mix on medium 5-7 minutes, then test texture. If the frosting still feels grainy, mix another 3-5 minutes until smooth. 

(Ina Garten's Beatty's Chocolate Cake recipe)
Serves 12 or makes 24 cupcakes.
Note: This is a time to break out the really good cocoa powder. From "The Barefoot Contessa," by Ina Garten, who recommends extra-large eggs in her recipes, though large will work fine.
• Butter, for greasing the pans
• 13/4 c. flour, plus more for pans
• 2 c. sugar
• 3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
• 2 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. kosher salt
• 1 c. buttermilk, shaken
• 1/2 c. vegetable oil
• 2 eggs, at room temperature
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 c. freshly brewed hot coffee
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; mix on low speed until combined.
In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely. (If brushing with Raspberry Glaze, see directions at right.)
Place one layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

VANILLA BUTTERCREAM (the starting point for 3 of my cakes): 6 sticks of butter (room temperature), one 2 lb. bag of powdered sugar, 1-2 tsp clear vanilla flavoring (you can use regular vanilla for the salted caramel and espresso batches), 1-2 TBS milk or cream as needed. 
> Mix the butter on medium high in a stand mixer for 7-10 minutes until shiny and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar with the mixer on low 1/2 cup at a time. When desired consistency has been reached, turn the speed on the mixer up to medium again, and mix 5-7 minutes, then test for graininess. 
Variations: Mix 2-3 TBS very strong espresso (I used 4 TBS Cafe Bustelo coffee grounds with about 6 ounces of water, then strained.) with the butter on low before adding the powdered sugar OR mix 1 1/2 cups salted caramel sauce with the butter before adding the powdered sugar.