Last week I got my first opportunity to do a “big” cake; a baby shower cake for someone at my church. The parents-to-be have been referring to their baby as “baby bean”, so I thought I’d use that for the cake design too.
This was no ordinary cake! The smaller tier on top was a dense vanilla cake with homemade custard filling. If you’ve never had homemade custard before, you really need to try this stuff! I’ll never buy a box of pudding mix again! It does take a little bit of work, but the results are worth it. I used vanilla bean paste in place of regular vanilla extract, which has little flecks of vanilla beans in it. The flavor was incredible! Here was the recipe I used, from http://www.food.com:
This stuff is fantastic just to eat by itself, or maybe with a dab of whipped cream on top. Yum! If you’re using it for cake filling, be sure to pipe a barrier of frosting around the edge of the layer first, as shown above. This will prevent all that custard from gushing out the sides when you add the next layer of cake.
Moving on to the bottom tier of the cake, we have chocolate cake with ganache filling. This was a new cake recipe for me, and it called for a dash of cinnamon, which left a very subtle bit of counterbalance to all the chocolate. This recipe also convinced me, finally, that it’s worth going with the bona-fide cake flour instead of the all-purpose I usually use.
The ganache filling turned out perfectly, but then ganache is hard to mess up. Bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream, heated gently over a double boiler until the chocolate is melted, then add a dash of vanilla extract. I don’t really measure, I just add heavy cream to the chocolate until it looks about even. (Some recipes will tell you to melt the chocolate first, then add the heavy cream. I don’t recommend this approach, because when you add cold liquids to melted chocolate you risk the chocolate seizing – and seized chocolate is ruined chocolate. Trust me on this.)
The cakes being filled, we move on to the frosting. I am very pleased to announce that I have conquered Swiss Meringue Buttercream! And it is my new BFF. Up to now, I’ve been using what is sometimes called “American Buttercream”. It is simply butter/shortening, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. It is very quick to whip up, and very, very sweet. So sweet that last time I made it, most of my guests left gobs of it on their plate.
Meringue buttercreams, by contrast, are made up of egg whites, granulated sugar, butter, and vanilla. Because the egg whites make up the bulk of the frosting, you need a lot less butter/sugar than you would in the American buttercream, and the result is far less sweet, but oh so good. Seriously, it made my knees buckle.
Of course, it’s also a lot more work – back to the double boiler we go! The Swiss method requires you to whip the (very fresh) egg whites with sugar over simmering water until the sugar has disolved and the mixture reaches a temperature of 160 degrees. (no salmonella, please!) You have to mix pretty much constantly. Scrambled egg whites may be good for breakfast, but not so much in your frosting.
Next, transfer the mixture to a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, turn it on, and just walk away. Feed the baby, get your kid off the bus, fold some laundry, whatever. Meanwhile, your egg mixture is cooling from the 160 degrees down to room temperature, which it must do before it can start looking like meringue instead of the marshmallow fluff it seems to be now. I actually put a bowl of ice under my mixer the last time I did this, to help speed things up. Once it looks light and stiff, add the butter and vanilla. Again, walk away, though not for quite as long this time. When you’re done, you get something that looks like whipped cream, and tastes incredible. Seriously, go try it. Or, commission me to make your cake, I’ll do all that work for you, and you can just enjoy! 😉
Now while Swiss Meringue Buttercream is delicious, and spreads very smoothly onto cake, it does have it’s limits in terms of decoration. So the next step in this cake was to cover each layer with blue fondant, and add the green fondant decorations. The beans and leaves I made a couple days ahead so that they could dry and be three dimensional on the cake. The lettering and stems I rolled out that morning.