On Tuesday, night I attended a Cakes & Desserts technique class at the Whole Food Bowery Culinary Center. The class was taught by the always delightful duo of Christine Carroll, Culinary Center Director and Wai Chu, Culinary Center Educator. I’ve taken nearly 1/2 dozen courses at the Culinary Center and always enjoy myself. As soon as the clock struck 5:30pm I dashed out my midtown office building and took the F train down to Houston Street. I arrived at the Culinary Center to find warm sunlight streaming through the West facing windows and everything mise en place (French term for prep or set-up). After a brief introduction, we began to bake! All recipes are from The New Best Recipes Cookbook by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated. I highly recommend anything published by the Cook’s Illustrated test kitchen! If you have a subscription to the magazine, you are also given access to the Cook’s Illustrated website which is chock full of recipes, how-to videos, and photos. My lovely sister gave me a subscription to the magazine for Christmas, but I don’t yet have the cookbook (Attn Nate: my birthday is in 2.5 months).
We worked in teams of 4-5 to prepare the first recipe: Mini Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting. You may remember the whole wheat carrot cake cupcakes that I made a few weeks ago. Well, ladies and gents, the cupcakes I made on Tuesday were a completely different animal. My carrot cake cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World were very good, but they definitely leaned towards muffin territory (whole wheat flour, lots o’ nuts & raisins). The mini cupcakes I baked (and ate!) Tuesday night were so soft and fluffy that they melted in my mouth. Upon first bite, the outer crust produced a bit of a crackle followed by the center’s moist, light crumb. Topping it all off was a tangy and sinfully creamy (you don’t want to know how much butter) cream cheese icing. The icing contained a few Tablespoons of sour cream – sounds weird, but it made such a delightful difference. Even if you think you don’t like cream cheese icing, I guarantee you’ll like this recipe. I think the tangy cream cheese icing provides the perfect foil to the sweet carrot cake. Regular old butter cream is good, but sometimes a bit cloying.
Last night we had a lengthy discussion about eggs and baking. I’m fascinated by eggs! Here is some of what I learned from my Cake & Desserts Class:
Eggs are an essential ingredient in baking. The yolks provide richness while the whites create lightness and loft.
Always use room temperature eggs. And if you’re going to add eggs to a hot batter (or hot butter) make sure to temper it first. This means adding a little of the hot batter to the eggs first and then slowly adding the rest. You don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs!
Older hens lay larger eggs. As a hen ages (and loses calcium) she lays bigger, yet thinner shells. This results in a bit more egg white and a heavier egg. Always use regular (large) eggs unless the recipe specifies something else!
If you get a piece of shell in your egg mixture, use a piece of shell to scoop it out. This will make a faster job than if you use your fingers! Shell attracts shell.
Creaming batter = combining eggs and sugar to cream a lighter batter, almost sponge-like.
Whisking batter = incorporating air into the batter, NOT the same as mixing. To whisk correctly, tilt the bowl to one side, hold the whisk by your underhand, and try to whip as much air as you can into the batter. You should hear the whisk “clink” on the side of the bowl.
Next on our agenda was a Blueberry Cobbler (it’s berry season folks – a perfect time for cobblers, crisps, grunts, and pies!). After macerating the berries with a little lemon juice and sugar, we baked the berry dish in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes. It is necessary to pre-bake the berries before you add the biscuit topping – otherwise the biscuits will finish before the filling is cooked through! After we prepared our biscuit dough, we removed the berry dish from the oven and placed heaping balls of dough on top. After another 15 or so minutes in a 425 degree oven, our cobbler was finished. The ripe, luscious berries paired perfectly with the sweet, doughy cobbler crust. The biscuit was exactly as it should be – slightly sweet with a cinnamon sugar crust and tender to the tooth.
We had some leftover dough, so we made biscuits! We topped these heavenly carb-bombs with Wai’s homemade lemon curd. Yum!
Our final project of the night was Mini Hot Fudge Pudding Cakes. These cakes were based on the ever-popular Chocolate Lava Cake invented by the famed chef, Jean-Georges. This recipe is a bit confusing and doesn’t seem like it will turn out correctly, but trust the geniuses at Cook’s Illustrated! After preparing the chocolate cake batter, we filled our ramekins 1/3 full. We topped this with a mixture of cocoa powder and sugar until 2/3 full and then finished off the ramekin with a healthy pour of instant coffee granules dissolved in water. The results of this recipe are based on inversion – the batter on the bottom of the dish begins to cook first, meanwhile gravity causes the water mixture to be sucked down, thus creating a gooey sauce in the middle of the cake. As the water moves downward, the sugar-cocoa mixture creates the top crust. This dessert is intense with bittersweet chocolate and coffee dominating the flavor.
I was in a bit of a sugar coma after the class, but everything was so delicious that I can’t complain! If you’re inspired to do some baking of your own, check out this article on Creative Cupcake Ideas by Real Simple Magazine.
Note: I don’t know if I can post the full recipes because of copyright issues, but if you’re interested just let me know in the comments session and I will email the recipes to you!!