Recipe Source (actual cake and frosting): Peterson, James. Baking. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2009 pp. 60, 46 - 48 and 28.
Recipe Source (concept): www.bakingdom.com
A lot of bloggers have a kind of love-hate relationship with Pinterest. Personally, I love it. It's a positive way for me to start the day. Instead of waking up and starting out with, "Give me some coffee or the whole world will pay," I sit down and go through all the boards I follow and the crafts category and think, "Oh, I'd like to make that, I could try that..." It's much more positive, much more affirming. The important thing to remember is that the content doesn't come from Pinterest itself. It comes from other sources, usually blogs. It probably seems like a petty distinction to a lot of people, but it's an important one. Pinterest didn't work hard to make the cake that inspired this disaster. The person who runs www.bakingdom.com did. (And if she's reading this I apologize profusely for what I've done to your vision. If you keep on reading you'll see that it was innocently done.) I didn't get the idea from Pinterest, but I found it through Pinterest.
Right. Now that's over with... Another vital role that Pinterest serves here in the Fearless household is that it serves as a family bonding tool. My husband is very artistic. He spends a lot of time woodworking. I find historical wood items and pin for him to give him ideas. In the past year I've taken up knitting, I'm trying to take up crochet and nalbinding, I've taken to embroidery and chip carving and enamelling... I get a lot of ideas. And even though Fearless Baby hasn't quite turned three yet, she's showing a similar turn of mind. She likes to sit on my lap when she's feeling the need for some quiet time and we look at Pinterest together. She sees things she likes. Often these are things like cute puppies and kittens, or shoes (really), but often these are craft projects she wants to try. We made some Christmas presents for some relatives this year at her instigation, and she's got a good idea of her own abilities. She's already agitating to learn to knit "just like mommy."
Anyway, there we were surfing Pinterest and Fearless Baby saw this cake from bakingdom. It looked wonderful. She saw it and she absolutely had to have it pinned, and she said, "Can you make that?" I looked at it. I said, "Well, the decorating is a bit beyond me. I'm not so good at making things pretty. But I can try to do the layer cake part for Christmas, would you like that?" And she said, "Yes!"
I was very excited to make this cake. I didn't have enough egg nog left so I decided to work from a book I had on hand rather than cheesily steal bakingdom's recipe wholesale. I decided to use the same buttercream I did for the Quince Buttercream, only I did a straight buttercream with orange blossom flavoring instead. (It's not a separate recipe, it's just the same thing as before with a regular simple syrup in place of the quince syrup I used then. Don't worry, I'll give details, not that you want them.) My problems were two-fold. My cakes were fully cooked - the internal temperature was perfect and the cake tester came back fine - but they were very, very crumbly. I don't know why. I couldn't slice the green one in half to get layers out of. Well, that was fine, I thought. I'd do a bottom and top layer of red and use green for the middle. It would still be pretty. The problem was that even though the cake layers looked pretty level to the naked eye they were not actually level. Hey, my house is over two centuries old. It happens.
Then the top layer crumbled in a couple of places.
Let's talk about the buttercream. I followed the directions exactly. It still turned to cream, as in a very liquid texture. I managed to get it to resemble something like a frosting instead of a beverage, but it still wasn't the pretty fluffy treat I was expecting and in fact counting on. The right texture of buttercream could have mitigated some of the sins of the cake structure. It did not.
I considered crying. I stopped referring to the original, because that was not helping with the waterworks. I cursed. I looked at the cake, switched languages, and cursed again. (Cursing in two languages did not actually solve anything, but it made me feel like less of an incompetent.) I had to do something to make the cake look less wretched. I remembered some chocolate squares that I'd bought, ironically enough as a toilet training reward. Fearless Baby showed no interest in them whatsoever, or in toilet training, but I still had them around. I could use them to distract from some of the weird-looking spots. I'd had a cake from Snowflake Bakery when I was very small that had little chocolate lozenges on the side and I remember thinking that it was the most elegant and magical thing in the history of ever; maybe that would help. (You be the judge.)
Then we come to the decorations. I was all excited to make snowmen out of marshmallows. I made little faces on the marshmallows and used toothpicks to prop them up. I then found that between the crumbly cake, the lousy buttercream and my own inability to make anything pretty they would not stand up. I probably could have found some way of making it work, but I decided that it was Christmas and I owed it to myself not to put myself through that kind of frustration. Besides, I didn't think that the cake could tolerate that much more manipulation for such uncertain results. I left the snowmen where they were.
Just before serving, my husband saw the snowmen. He asked me what they were for. I explained that I could not make them look like they were anything but drunks on a week-long bender. He said, "Excellent," and strewed them drunkenly over the cake.
Then Fearless Baby saw the drunken snowmen staggering around the snowscape of my cake. She decided that they were zombies.
So here you have it: a super-wrecked zombie snowman Christmas cake, a family effort. This is certainly not what bakingdom had in mind when she produced the beautiful masterpiece on her site. On the other hand, the cake tasted fine. My daughter chose it, my husband helped to rescue it when all seemed lost, and frankly I'm happy enough with the results. It's not pretty, but it was fun and even my in-laws got a good laugh at it. If it can't be pretty it might as well be fun.
Super-Wrecked Christmas Cake (serves 12; approx. $0.78/serving)
2 1/2 cups cake flour, divided
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 cups butter, divided
1 1/2 cups plus 6 tablespoons raw sugar, divided
6 eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups milk, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, separated
2 pinches cream of tartar, separated
red food coloring
green food coloring
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup water
6 egg whites
Pinch cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups butter, cubed
1 shot (approx. 1 1/2 tablespoons) orange blossom water
- Cooking Spray
- Mixing bowls
- Immersion blender with whisk attachment OR hand-held mixer
- 2 9" cake pans
- Rubber spatula
- Cake rack
- Offset spatula
- Stand mixer with paddle and whisk attachment
- Instant read digital thermometer OR candy thermometer
- Preheat your oven to 350︒.
- Combine half the flour, half the baking powder, and half the salt in the mixing bowl. Whisk to combine.
- Combine half of the first quantity of butter with 3/4 cup of the raw sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together.
- Switch to the whisk attachment and whisk three of the egg yolks, one at a time. I like to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl between additions but there were no instructions to do so.
- Whisk in 2/3 cup of the milk and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla.
- In a clean mixing bowl, beat 3 egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar. (If you're using a copper bowl you can skip the cream of tartar.) Beat until soft peaks form.
- Beat in 3 tablespoons of the raw sugar and beat until medium peaks form.
- Whisk about a quarter of the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture along with the red food coloring. Use enough of the red food coloring to get to a shade slightly darker than you intend; it will get a little lighter when you add the rest of the egg whites.
- When the desired color is achieved, remove the bowl from the stand mixer and use the spatula to fold in the remaining egg whites. Do not overwork.
- Lubricate one of the cake pans with the cooking spray. Be generous about this.
- Pour the batter into the pan and try to level it out.
- Bake 40 minutes or so or until a tester comes back clean.
- Meanwhile, wash the bowl and attachments of your stand mixer.
- Repeat steps 1 - 12, using green food coloring instead of red.
- Cool the cakes in the pans for a while, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.
- If you intend to use the cakes that day, no further action is necessary right now. If you intend to wait more than 24 hours you should brush the layers with a simple syrup and wrap in plastic wrap before storing them.
- To make the butter cream, combine 1 1/2 cups white sugar with 1/2 cup water in the saucepan. Bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, beat the 6 egg whites in the stand mixer on high speed with a pinch of cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.
- Add 1/4 cup white sugar to the egg whites and beat for another minute.
- Test the sugar syrup with the thermometer. It should read about 240︒.
- Pour the sugar syrup slowly into the egg white mixture while the mixer is still beating.
- Leave the mixer running until the bowl is no longer warm to the touch.
- Add the cubed butter, a handful at a time, to the stand mixer. Wait until all of the butter is incorporated before adding more.
- When all of the butter has been added, add the shot of orange blossom water. Incorporate fully, then chill for at least an hour.
- When you're ready to frost the cake. split the red layer in half and even it out. Spoon some frosting on top of your layer and smooth it out.
- Put the green layer on top of the frosting. Spoon some frosting on top and smooth it out with the offset spatula.
- Put the last red layer on top. Spoon a lot of frosting onto the top of the cake and use the offset spatula to spread it over the top and down the sides.
- If you want to decorate as I did, use some chocolate squares to make pavers across the center of the top and lozenges along the sides of the cake.
- Use jumbo marshmallows and toothpicks to make snowmen. Use icing gel to make little faces for them.