No cake mixes here, buddy!
For Bebe's 5th Birthday Castle Cake, I soon realized that in order to make a 2-layer 6-inch cake and a 2-layer 10-inch cake, that I'd have to do some finagling with some recipes. I looked through all of my books and only the professional ones had charts to scale cake batter for tiered cakes. The problem was the 10-inch cake because most ordinary recipes make 8-inch or 9-inch cakes. None of the usual recipes in my cookbooks created 10-inch cakes.
Also, I know from my readings, that you can't just scale up all the ingredients for a 10-inch cake. The baking powder proportion has to be decreased for larger cakes. It's counterintuitive, but Rose Levy Beranbaum in The Cake Bible gives a good lesson in science:
"The larger the pan size, the less baking powder is used in proportion to the other ingredients. This is because of surface tension. The larger the diameter of the pan, the slower the heat penetration and the less support the rising cake receives because the sides are farther from the center. Baking powder weakens the cake's structure by enlarging the air spaces, so decreasing the baking powder strengthens the structure and compensates for retarded gelatinization and the decrease in support" (Beranbaum 493).
the cook's treat is eating the crust. nothing goes to waste here! it was delicious.
I consulted Beranbaum's Cake Bible (my go-to book in emergencies) for the chocolate cake layers I was supposed to make for Bebe and decided to use her Chocolate Butter Cake base recipe. I wasn't going to screw up the "surface tension" in the 10-inch cake by scaling up one of my regular favourite cake recipes. I settled on her butter cake instead of the genoise because it looked easier and I like a good butter cake.
She had a list of instructions that initially looked really complicated. It was a series of calculations you needed to complete that included finding out the "Rose Factor". The Rose Factor is what you multiply her base recipe by in order to make different size cakes. After reading it a couple of times, it became much more clear and I decided to make the 6-inch cake today to test out how it worked. What was important to me was the little chart with the special baking powder requirements for different size layers.
In addition to making the cake, Beranbaum advised a simple syrup for the butter cake in order to maintain freshness and moistness. This I decided to do because I was indeed baking the cake ahead. I would wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator until I was ready to ice it with my buttercream.
when you gently lift of the top crust of a baked cake, you can more easily see the "pores"
What intrigued me the most is her suggestion to use drinking straws (not the bendy type!) in order to create structure in tiered cakes. This would replace the wooden dowels or plastic dowels most people use. I simply love this idea, though I already purchased the plastic dowels. The dowels leave a big foot-print in my opinion. They're not so slender and they can't possibly be easier to cut than straws. That, and the straws are cheap. Or free if you happen to "collect" them from fast-food outlets...and I am so not advising you to do this ;) I just happen to have 3 or 4 boxes of different kinds of straws at home because I have kids and they insist on drinking everything through straws.
Seeing as Stomach is a Structural Engineer, I guess I could ask him. I know during university, I saw him and his peers with McDonald's straws doing amazing geeky-engineering stuff with them. However, I have faith in Beranbaum and my intuition tells me she's right. I mean, the straws would be just as strong as dowels in their application. I also like that they'll take up less cake real estate.
This straw idea appeals to me on so many levels!
So, after I baked these cakes, I cooled them and gently peeled off the top crust using a little thin spatula (actually it's a nifty thin plastic sandwich spreader) and lifted off the crust and set it aside in a little bowl. Exposing the cake interior, you can see the fine crumb and tiny holes. I think that's supposed to be good. I hope. If you don't peel off the top crust, the syrup won't easily be absorbed into the cake interior. In fact, a lot of the syrup might just roll off the crust altogether. It just makes sense to peel off the crust. Just do it. Then eat the crust yourself...mwah-ha-ha! Then, you sprinkle syrup over the cake if you intend to serve it more than 24 hours later. The cake itself is supposed to stay well for 2 days at room temperature or 5 days in the refrigerator (and 2 months frozen). I'm keeping my layers in the refrigerator and I'm sprinkling the syrup because I want a moist cake when I serve it.
One problem I encountered with the syrup-sprinkling was trying to evenly sprinkle the syrup without mussing up the surface of the cake. I didn't want to touch the delicate crumb with a pastry brush. I also didn't want to use a spoon because you sometimes get big blotches of syrup in some places and none in others. I rummaged in my kitchen drawers and found one of those plastic scoops that you find in baby formula cans. They hold a little over a tablespoon of liquid and they have a tiny little hole in the bottom. I positioned the formula scoop over the cake top and used a tablespoon to pour the syrup into the scoop. It dripped out perfectly! The dripping was constant, but not too fast. I moved the scoop over the top of the cake layers in a spiral from the outside crust to the centre of the cake. The syrup dispersed evenly and I was doing the happy dance.
I used just a few tablespoons per cake. Perhaps this was too much? I don't know. I will also admit that I think Beranbaum mentions somewhere how much syrup you need for different size layers yada yada but of course at 10pm I wasn't going to flip through and read more! I couldn't tell how far the syrup seeped through the cake but I didn't want to overdo it and have a mushy cake.
Next post will be probably include a lot of swearing. I'm supposed to do the frosting, dowelling and stacking. Please excuse my potty-mouth in advance. Be forewarned.
Here's the proportions I used to make the 6-inch layers and the 10-inch layers. I insist you purchase Beranbaum's Cake Bible if you haven't already. Unfortunately, it's devoid of pictures for every recipe, but this woman knows what she's talking about!
6-INCH CHOCOLATE CAKE LAYERS (Rose Factor 2!)
- 42 grams unsweetened cocoa
- 156 grams water (boiling)
- 2 eggs
- 6 g vanilla
- 158 grams sifted cake flour
- 200 grams sugar
- 1/2 t. salt
- 151 grams unsalted butter, softened
- 16 grams baking powder (almost 4 teaspoons)
10-INCH CHOCOLATE LAYERS (Rose Factor 5!)
- 105 grams cocoa
- 390 grams water (boiling)
- 5 large eggs
- 15 grams vanilla
- 395 grams sifted cake flour
- 500 grams sugar
- 8.35 grams salt
- 378 grams unsalted butter
- 37 grams baking powder
- NOTE: use cake strips around the pans to promote even baking!
- Arrange 2 oven racks as close to the center of the oven as possible with at least 3 inches between them.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- In a medium bowl whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until smooth and cool to room temperature. In another medium bowl lightly combine the eggs, 1/4 of the cocoa mixture, and the vanilla.
- In large mixing bowl combine all the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute to blend. Add the butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake's structure. Scrape down the sides.
- Gradually beat in the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, filling about halfway, and smooth with a spatula. Arrange the pans in the oven so that air can circulate around them. Do not allow them to touch each other or the oven walls. Bake 25 to 35 minutes for 6-inch layers [I baked mine for 35 minutes because it was still jiggly at 25]. For 9-inch layers, bake 35-45 minutes. For 12-inch layers bake for 40-50 minutes until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.[Since I'm making 10-inch layers, I'll probably just look at it around 40 minutes and see!] In the 6-inch pan, the cakes should start to shrink from the sides only after removal from the oven. The 10-inch layers should bake until they just start to shrink from the sides. To promote more even baking, turn the 10-inch layers 180 degrees halfway through the baking time. Do this quickly so the oven temperature does not drop.
- Allow the cakes to cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes (15 minutes for 10-inch layers). Loosen the sides with a small spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert and cool completely before wrapping airtight with plastic wrap and heavy-duty foil
- When preparing the cake more than 24 hours ahead of serving of if extra moistness is desired, sprinkle layers with cake syrup.