Saturday, November 6, 2010

In search of the perfect vanilla butter cake

I love butter cake! The problem I have now is that I want to make vanilla butter cupcakes and it seems they dry out on me too quickly. Yes, I can put a sugar soak on them but I don't want to add more sweetness only moisture.
I have tried several recipes and this one seems to work out the best for texture, taste and shelf life. But I still would like it a bit more moist. What I do to fix this is pipe a filling into each and every cupcake. This mimics what we do with layer cakes anyway so I find it to be the best solution for my issue with dryness.
This mixing method I use to produce the moist, light and buttery cake is the two stage.
It is a bit different than most recipes in that you mix together the dry ingredients with the fat/butter before adding any of the liquid/milk and eggs. What this does is coat the flour particles with fat creating tenderness. Then you whip it up to add air cells and viola! You have a light and tender cake.
Starting with your ingredients:

 For the best mixing have all your ingredients at room temperature especially the butter! Butter creams the best at 70 degrees F. I have added the vanilla to the milk since it is distributed better in fat.
Then add your butter and dry ingredients with just a tiny bit of the milk. This creates a kind of thick paste for batter. Be sure and scrape the bowl with each addition of liquid or you will have a very lumpy and uneven batter and hence a lousy cake.

 Add the rest of the liquid ingredient in two parts, scraping in between each. The batter should look very smooth and creamy and slightly loose... not runny just a bit loose.

This cake will rise well so don't over fill the pans. I usually fill about 2/3 of the way.

 You can see the nice the airy texture.
Nice large crumbs produce a tender cake. Now all you need is a fabulous buttercream!! And here is the final product... aren't you hungry now :)
This is a rich chocolate buttercream on top of the butter cake and I piped a dark chocolate ganache in the center...mmmmmm....c h o o o c o l a t e....

And here is the recipe for Vanilla Butter Cake!
3/4 cup sugar
1 2/3 cup AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter (room temp.) 
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. 
Add the soft butter and half the milk. 
Mix on medium speed until thick and smooth.
In a small bowl mix together the eggs, the rest of the milk, and the vanilla.
Wisk until blended.
With the mixer on low speed add half the egg/milk mixture and when it is blended in turn up on medium high for 30 seconds. Scrape the side of the bowl well and add the rest of the egg mix. Again mix slowly until just blended and this time turn the mixer on high for 10 seconds. 
Scrape the sides and if there are lumps mix briefly until the batter is smooth and silky.
Bake in cupcake pans for 15 - 18 minutes at 350F. It makes about 18 cupcakes. 
Top with your favorite icing. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Speaking of Inspirations...

Last week was the most inspiring week I have had in ages...First I went to Las Vegas for the IBIE Bakery Showcase and with that was the US chocolate competition where 6 chocolatiers/pastry chefs competed for the US title to go to France for the World competition. Also, a bread competition for the title to go to the Coupe de Monde in France next year. AND a Pillsbury cake decoration competition that was not so inspiring but still interesting... all piped buttercream type decorating.
The most fun I had in Vegas was the tour we got (because someone knows someone) of the Wynn Hotel's pastry kitchens...and when I say plural kitchens I mean they have a kitchen for each department. They have the pastry kitchen, the chocolate kitchen, the dessert kitchen, the cake room, the dough room within each state of the art equipment and so clean you could eat off the floor during production!! Amazing! I wish I had had the opportunity to work at a place like that when I was just up and coming!
Here is a pic I took in the cake room...and the story gets better after this!
The following weekend I went to Tulsa Oklahoma for Kerry Vincent's Sugar Art show! All the cakes were both beautiful and intimidating...the work, the talent!! But with all the categories that are available to enter in there is hope for any cake decorator at any level to enter. They even have kids categories!
The most weird and amazing thing that happened though is that when they announced the Grand Master Wedding Cake winner they told her story first and mentioned she was the cake decorator at the Wynn Hotel in Vegas!! I had just met her!! So I ran up to her to tell her this and congratulated her and of course this was far more exciting to me than to her but none the less I found it a fab coincidence!
I then remembered the picture I took at the Wynn in the cake room and because I forgot my camera...errrr... I had to buy those throw away cameras to get some shots of the trip. I ran to the store to have them developed and when I got the pics... is the winning cake... weird, huh?
Completely unaware I had taken a picture of the winning cake the week before she was to drive it out to Oklahoma for the competition! She surely deserved the win!! The girl is an artist!
BTW, the theme this year was Mansions and Monasteries.

Ok, I know it has been way too long since I last blogged and I apologize... with the cake shop and teaching and my regular life I have been a bit busy.
One of my followers asked me to video blog my croissants and I think that is brilliant. I plan on working on that soon! It may take awhile but I will find the time!

With that suggestion I got the idea of asking all of you what else I might do that you would like to see being made? A student asked for the cake decorating page, did that....being an instructor I like to teach what others want to learn...

So please!! Write to me... let me know what it is you want to learn and I will do what I can to comply!

Monday, August 30, 2010


This is where I live. Eight blocks inland in an old neighborhood in Santa Cruz. I have lived here for 40 years now and am still inspired by the beauty, ocean smell, the fresh produce and generally healthy lifestyles of the folks who live here. People make fun of Santa Cruz saying it is a "Hippie" town and that we are all "Veggies" and "Tree huggers"... well, who cares! Let them laugh....I live in paradise! I am not a vegetarian, no longer a hippie, and well as far as a tree hugger...ok, I own that one :) 

Living in an inspirational location I get ideas from nature and the surrounding areas for cake concepts. The ocean is an amazing inspiration. It has not only the colors of the sky, water and earth but it creatures and shells, the rolling sands and waves, and then the myths that go with it's glory. So here is a cake where I took the ocean as my inspiration and since so many folks want to perform their nuptials in this area I thought it would be a great window display for the shoppe!
 The photograph was taken by Royce at BlurredLine photography. He is amazing with lighting and just capturing little moments that really make a photo something special. THANKS Royce! You should check out the website if you like photographs. He did some amazing shots at the World Pastry Cup last month! 
As far as the Ocean Themed cake goes....there is a mermaid at the top I am carefully placing... I used fondant and gum paste as my mediums. Some things like the waves that stand out from the sides of the cake and the dolphins are all gum paste but other things like the shells are a mixture of gum paste and fondant. This buys me time for making details since gum paste drys out so quickly. 
Another inspiration I have here is the fabulous farmers markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I can always check out what is in season and perfectly fresh and ripe around here. Summer time is the time for fruit and berries are going all around me so I adore making strawberry desserts and here is a classic with a more modern decoration. I made the little wild strawberries on top out of marzipan. I colored some green and some red and then took a tiny bit and made it a darker green for the foliage. The cake is a vanilla chiffon filled with a classic bavarian and whole cut strawberries. I placed half cut ones on the edges of the cake so you can see them when it is out of the mould. I then spead a thin coat of buttercream on top and rolled out the light green marzipan, cutting it to size I placed it on top of the cake. I then made a nice arrangement of the little strawberries and free hand cut leaves. I rolled a bit of the dark green into thin ropes for the vines and viola! you have a lovely strawberry bagatelle or frasier. Whatever you want to call it ... it is a fabulous summer dessert! Sometimes I like to scent the bavarian cream with a tiny amount of rose water for just that little something something! 
So now I go out into the world to look for more inspirations. They are all around us, we only need to keep our eyes open! 
I am very excited to go to Las Vegas and Oklahoma at the end of September for a bakery showcase and then the Oklahoma Sugar art show! Talking about inspiration!! It just gets my juices flowing to see what amazing art folks are doing with food and sugar. Although my home is a good source, the world at large is soooo much more inspiring and fascinating for ideas. I can't wait! And just think of the blogs I will come up with and photos too! YOU should be excited too.. and even better come on down to one of these shows! The Oklahoma Sugarart show has been going for many many years and is now HUGE due to the overwhelming popularity of cake decorating...and thanks to all the cake shows on TV. 
Here is Mercedes Strachwsky's winning entry from last year...guess what the theme was! :)
Look at the incredible detail of the underwater scene between the bottom layers!! And the delicate and beautiful mermaid... kinda makes mine look like a bag lady... LOL. 
Can't wait to see this years entries!! The theme is mansions and monasteries. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

So you want to make croissants??!

MMMMmmmmmm...making me hungry!

Consistent buttery layers with a crispy flakey outer layer and moist rich goodness inside. First thing in the morning with raspberry jam and a pot of hot dark coffee served with cream.... ahhhh yes... this reminds me of Paris! But you can make the a croissant as good as they make in Paris with just a bit of knowledge, patience and the right technique.
A good formula will have 30%-50% butter to flour ratio. This will help to determine how many layers are needed to create the flakiness in a croissant. The more butter, the more flavor but also the more delicate the structure of the layers as you do the turns needed to give you the right results. Am I getting to technical?
I hope that you are enjoying the info and can be a better baker by understanding the entire process of making the perfect croissant. You can do it at home even if I use professional equipment, I can help you to recreate what you need using what you have on hand.
The recipe is not that complicated and has relatively few ingredients. It is all technique in rolling, turning and forming these babies! Of course the rising, glazing and baking are crucial as well. There are tons of recipes using various amounts of butter. The one ingredient that I rarely see but have worked with is a croissant dough containing eggs. It is extremely important to not over mix the dough before adding the larger quantity of butter. Since you are rolling and folding the dough four times (the "turns"), you don't want to develop too much gluten at the beginning of the process or in the end your dough will be tough.
There are so many recipes for croissants and they all if given enough butter and the dough's right consistency, you ought to have success if following the proper steps. I am going to share what I know about making the little delights. 
Here are the ingredients for a classic style croissant: All purpose or bread flour, yeast, milk, sugar, salt, yeast and of course lots and lots of unsalted butter. 

You may find some with more or less sugar and the butter can vary in quantity but NEVER EVER substitute margarine for butter unless you are vegan and eat such unholiness... so very sorry to my vegan friends, but I just find it a very bad substitute for butter... I don't know how I would live in a world without butter!! I could give up meat (if I really had to for health reasons) and wheat flour too but butter...oh I hate to even imagine... 
Anyway, I digress. I put the ingredients into the mixing bowl in this order for easy mixing. 
First the milk and yeast, on top of that in this order I add: the flour, sugar, salt and the small measurement of butter on top. Turn on the mixer with a hook attachment already in place and mix first slow speed and then medium speed for a total time of 3 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, then put the ingredients in a very large mixing bowl in the same order and begin mixing with a wooden spoon, in small circles in the middle of the mixture. This will begin to get impossible to do by hand so you will want to pour it out onto a wooden or granite work surface and knead it until all the ingredients are mixed in but stop at that point. Do not overmix with either the mixer or by hand! 

Flatten the dough out into a rectangular piece even in thickness throughout. Now wrap it up with a sheet of plastic and put it in the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes. In the meantime, prepare you butter block. 
All that butter you saw in the second photo is what we use to make the block. Sprinkle about one ounce of flour on your work surface. Lay the cold butter out on the flour and using a rolling pin, preferably a french pin that has no handles, and begin to beat the butter into submission. This way you can guarantee that you will not have lumps in the butter and it has a smooth pliable consistency. 
Ideally you will have a dough and butter block that are the exact same consistency. This way the butter will roll out into smooth and even layers between the dough. 

Once your butter is soft and pliable roll it out into a sheet will fit over 
half your dough, leaving 1/2" on three sides to seal it in the dough. The sheet of butter should be about 1/2" thick and you can use either two pieces of parchment or more flour to keep it from sticking while rolling it out. The paper works the best since you can just peel one layer off the butter and then pick up the butter on the paper putting it down on the dough in the perfect place. Easy to handle and less messy too! 
Fold the other half of the dough over the butter layer and seal up the edges by pinching them together. Don't leave too much around the edges or you will have a strip of dough that gets much less butter than the rest. This can cause tough, shiny and not flaky layers on the top of the croissants when finished. Not desirable at all! The idea is to get as many perfect layers of butter and dough as possible. Another way you can cause uneven layers is to be sloppy with the turns. Be sure and stretch the corners out to the edges of the dough. Do not force them but if you have been rolling nice even rectangles and a corner or two are a bit rounded at the corners, take the time to straighten them out to ensure that butter is spread evenly. These little details will make a lot of difference in the end. I promise!  

Never count the butter lock-in as a turn on the dough it is merely placing the butter into the dough. Usually three letter folds are given with a 20 minute rest in between each one. A letter fold can be called a three fold or a single fold. Do not get confused these are all names for the same fold. It has three layers and is folded like you fold a letter into three parts. Once the dough is turned three times it can be wrapped and ideally it should be frozen and then thawed in the refrigerator the day before you form them and bake them. This will keep the dough very cold while you roll it out and then form them into pastries.
I cut a strip that is 9" in width and the base of each croissant if 4". You want to then cut a one inch slit in the wide bottom of each piece. Fold the inside edge of the cut slit out to the outside corner of the piece. Then begin to roll it up and at the same time stretching the pointed end out a bit to get a nice tight roll up.
 To rise them correctly it is best to egg wash them now and then again before they go into the oven to achieve that nice shine. They will not form a skin on the top if you are ambient proofing.  
You need a warm place to rise the dough but not too warm or you will melt the butter out of the layers and literally fry the croissants in the oven. You can create this in your oven by turning it on low (170F) and then turing it off. Leave the door of the oven ajar so the heat is not locked in and if  you have an oven thermometer make sure it is not above 100F. If you have a spray bottle mist the inside of the oven before you put the croissants in it. You can hand a wet towel over the opening of the oven keeping the oven door open. If you house is heavily air conditioned, this is not a great thing for making any type of breads. They need warmth and humidity to rise properly so this is what we are trying to create. 

You can see how nicely these have risen. Puffy but not doubled in size only half again the size. Overproofing makes the dough bready and uninteresting. 

One place that is not a good proofing location is on top of the stove while the oven is heating below. Why? Because it will get way to hot on the bottom of your pan causing butter to melt....noooooooo
Bake your croissants until they are a nice Maui brown color. No pale, white streaked croissants please. The brown color is the caramelization of the sugars and starches in the product and that hold so much of the flavor. Be brave don't pull them out the minute you see some golden brown color! Go for it! Brown them up nicely and taste the difference! Geeze...I sound like a friggin' commercial...sorry... 
These are ham and cheese. You make these by cutting 4-5" square pieces and rolling up chunks of ham and swiss cheese inside before baking.... oh yea! Breakfast!
I sure hope I could demystify some information for you! If you have questions don't hesitate to ask!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cake decorating 102

Moving on... next I will show you the reverse shell. Hold your bag at a 30 degree angle but slant it back toward you instead of to the side. There are two ways of doing this one. One shell at a time or a continuous motion. Try both and do what suits you best. 

Squeeze out the icing and then curl around to the left then pull straight out to the side making a curl with a tail. Then beginning right on the end of the last one pipe a curl going to the right. One is curled up and the other curled down. Now try doing this in one continuous motion, curl around left, pull out then right pull out...keep going...
Let's try the emotion next. This is easier just make a small curl and pull out a little and the curl and pull out. In one continuous line. 
Here you can see I did it with both the large tip and then with a small #21 tip. 
Now we will do the rosette. Keep this one tight for a more consistent appearance. 
Holding your bag vertical to the cake (or table) squeeze out, wrap around, release but keep the motion going around so the tail wraps around. 

And the last one is the fluer de lis. Doing this one on the table is much different than on a cake. If you are making it on top of the cake the movement is similar but if you want it on the side of the cake you need to make it so it hangs down. This looks better and you can cover the end at the edge of the cake this way. 
First pipe out a long tailed shell. Then like on the reverse shell pipe one curl on one side of the shell overlapping the end with the end of the shell and then on the other side curl the other way and overlapping the end on top of the last two... 
Ok, so now you have several boarders you can pipe onto your cake. Here is what it looks like piping directly onto the edge of a cake. Remember to stay just on the edge. Don't go to far over or your boarder will drop off and don't go inside or you will use up all  your space for flowers and writing!

Happy decorating! And check out Aprils page she took all these great photos for me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cake decorating 101

I was fortunate to have a very good photographer in my last cake decorating class at Cabrillo! She took blow by blow shots of what I was demonstrating so I can post this and you can use it as a guide for practicing. One of my current students at the PCI said to me the other day that she is a very visual learner and wished I had a video of the demo she could refer to. I then remembered these great photos! So YEAH, why not write a blog for all you who want to improve their piping skills!
Here we go, but keep in mind two things... one I am icing a styrofoam dummy cake, and two I am using a huge tip for demonstration purposes. You should be using a #21 or any small star tip in the 20-30 number range.

Icing the cake is probably the most difficult part of cake decorating. You must learn to properly use the icing tools. Whether you prefer the icing spatula or the icing blade. It takes the proper amount of pressure to get a smooth and even icing. When applying the icing you want to use a firm pressure but when smoothing you lighten up on the spatula. Use the tip of the spatula to apply and then the edge to smooth. Even if you switch to the icing blade the slanted edge will give you the smooth surface you want. 

Once you have a smooth and even icing you need to be able to pipe consistent boarders. This takes practice using the piping bag and tips. Here I will show you how to use the star tip in several ways. 
Holding the bag properly will help you get consistent piping.
Never fill your bag more than half full! Twist the top of the bag tightly and hold the twisted top between your thumb and first finger then wrap the other three fingers around the ball of icing at the top of the bag. Squeeze from the tips of your fingers to the palm of your hand. With the opposite hand guide but do NOT squeeze as you pipe out your design. Keep the bag twisted tightly as you use up the icing. 
This is the simple shell. Holding your bag at a 25 degree angle squeeze out, push forward very slightly pull back and then release. Pipe several lines of this to practice until you can make them all the same size and shape. Whether you want short little shells or long large ones it doesn't matter what matters is that they are all the same!

I have twenty some photos so I am going to write this blog is sections so you can choose which one is best for your level. Next I will post reverse shell, rosette, and e-motion. Then the last one will be putting these to use on the edge of your cake! Stay tuned!

Friday, June 25, 2010

We're open!!

Hey all. we opened today with mini cakes to sell! I am calling them Petits Gâteaux...what do you think? 
Little cakes is the translation, if you don't speak French. Do you think it is too foreign? I kinda like it, really. It seems cultured and refined. I want my cakes to reflect quality and refinement. Does this work for you? Please let me know... comment on this subject. It means the world to me! 
So when you walk inside you  will be subjected to fabulous cupcakes or just chatting with one of us. We are three fabulous women who have been in the wedding business for many years. Myself, who has been making wedding cakes in the Central Coast area for over 35 years. My partner Marty who has been  a photographer for many years this area and Andrea who not only caters but also co-ordinates weddings. We have tons of local referals for music, flowers, invitations, and much much more.
If you want a one stop shop for weddings or major events we are the place to go! 
Come see us: Thursday - Sunday Noon - 7 pm or so... :) still figuring it out :))
The cupcakes, Petits Gateaux, will be available during our open hours and the flavors will change weekly. 
One for $3 or 2 for $5 or 6 for $15.... give them a try we have flavors like salted caramel, carrot ginger, lemon meringue, I want s'more (guess what that is!), and the chocolate "mostess" cupcake. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Win chocolate for one year!

Guess the Origin Contest for more info on Armano chocoates and the contest click on this link!

This contest is from Armano chocolates a small artisan chocolate maker. They came to the school a couple of years ago and I was privileged to try several of their single origin chocolates. 
This contest is for the chocolate savvy! You must be able to identify the origin of the chocolate by looking at this photo!
But if you do they will send you 10 bars of chocolate for a month for one year! 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My new web page!

Just a quick note to let you know that my dear Kathy re-created my web page for me!
It's now about my cake shoppe and my new business. Please go check it out and tell me what you think. It is much different than the old one. I like it because it is cleaner and easier to navigate. is the address if you haven't already been there.
We are closer to opening the doors for business... perhaps this weekend! Here you see one of my partners painting the walls. She did all the painting... bless her!
I am excited and only hope I can keep my energy up for both my jobs because teaching is a passion I am not able to walk away from at this point in my life. But creating incredible cakes is great fun and I get lots of creative juices flowing by decorating.
The kitchen is just too fun as well. I am baking in Russo's kitchen on Fern St. and it turns out that three of the old time bakers that have been around here as long as I have are working out of this kitchen too. So I feel like I am home. I guess I will have to photograph the kitchen as well.

For now though I have this shot of my table at the event I did last weekend with my other partner who sold her chocolate sauces. Unfortunately, there were several huge events going on at the same time and it was so very hot outside my cupcakes began to melt and there just were not enough folks to make it worth hanging out so I took the cupcakes back to the bakery and froze them. I then decided to use them as a marketing tool and I walked around downtown to my new neighbors and gave away goodies! I made a lot of people's day, I'll tell you!