Sunday, September 30, 2007

This koala's goin' to Candyland

So I thought it would be fun to take a little break from baking and try my hand at candy-making. Seems fitting enough, since Halloween is just around the corner. Not that I would give these out to any kids because they'd just be thrown in the trash anyway. What a waste.
Turning once more to, I found a caramel recipe that sounded good and had a pretty respectable 4.5 stars out of 5 rating. I made out my grocery list and headed to Albertson's. Staring at the dairy case, my mind struggled to see the recipe I printed out not 15 minutes earlier. Did it say "heavy whipping cream" or "whipping cream?" I picked up the heavy version, put it in my basket, and proceeded to the next item on my list, only to return to the dairy aisle and grab the regular whipping cream instead. Once home, I discovered that I actually needed the heavy cream. Drat. No biggie, I'll see what happens. It's 8:15 p.m. and I'm not going back out.

The recipe says to "Monitor the hea
t of the mixture with a candy thermometer while stirring. When the thermometer reaches 250 degrees F (120 degrees C) remove the pot from the heat." Okay...does that mean stir the whole time, or can I stir occasionally? Too lazy to stand there stirring the entire hour it took to reach the 250 degree mark, I pulled up a kitchen chair and kept an eye on the boiling pot of candy. The other eye was busy watching the season premiere of "CSI."

Okay, so I'm stirring, and watching the little blue line in my candy thermometer rise up slowly, when I notice something unexpected happening: the butter is separating from the mixture. Could this be the result of using regular and not heavy cream? Have I upset the fat ratio, causing the butter to come out of
emulsion? It's because I didn't stir the whole time, right? I don't know. What I do know is that the 240 degree butter splattering out of your pot hurts. A lot. Proceed with caution, kids. An hour later it finally reached the right temperature, so I poured it into my parchment-lined 11x15-inch pan and left it to cool. It's almost 10 p.m. now, so I was off to bed.

When I got home from work the next day I discovered that the caramel hadn't set up; it was a viscous goo. Tasty goo, but goo nonetheless. Well
... maybe my thermometer is off. Me of all people should know that your instruments should be calibrated before you start working with them. So off it goes into a pot of boiling water to check for accuracy. I don't have a mark for 212 deg.F, but it was almost to 215 deg.F after a few minutes in the boiling water bath, so that wasn't the cause of my problem. Drying off the thermometer, I noticed that the handy dandy chart on the back says that "hard ball" stage is 260 deg.F, not the 250 deg.F specified in the recipe. Determined, I scraped the candy back into the pot and cooked to 260 deg.F, stirring the WHOLE TIME. Surely, it has to turn out this time. I poured the caramel into a smaller 9x13-inch pan and waited.

Great success! T
he next problem to tackle now is wrapping them. Armed with my Cricut (the mascot is a cricket. But it's a cutter. So cri-cut. Cricut! Get it? Haha, I am so easily amused!) paper trimmer and a roll of waxed paper, I cut 120 3x3" squares. In total, I cut 165 squares (about 2 cm big), but my sister took some to work and the rest were tasty "casualties." Wrapping them was going to be a tedious task, but oddly enough I like doing tedious things once I get into a rhythm. Popped in a good CD and sat down at my computer desk to wrap candy while chatting with friends online. And I always say I can't do two things at once. ;)

Pretty as a picture

While cleaning out a junk-filled room in our house, my mom and I found a Bundt pan set that came with its own plastic carrier for toting your goods around town. She purchased this last year to give to me as a Christmas gift, but forgot about it and it got lost amidst the clutter. I have a standard Bundt pan as well as a tube pan for making angel food cakes, but nothing as fancy as this. I was thrilled!

Using the "Whipping Cream Pound Cake" recipe from Allrecipes I filled up the well-greased pan. Greasing it, by the way, took forever and a day because of all the nooks and crannies. I knew all those sharp edges would be good for clinging to cake, so I had to be sure to get those suckers good. Looking at the batter in the pan my mind immediately flashed back to my muffin volcanoes incident. This cake batter came up to within one inch of the top of the pan. Re-reading the recipe to be sure I had the correct pan size, I crossed my fingers, put the pan on a foil-lined baking sheet, and popped it in the oven. Every 5 minutes I turned on the oven light to peep at it and check for overflow.

Rising...rising...getting dangerously close to the top edge...this is a LOT of batter to clean up if it overflows...still getting taller...

Much to my surprise and delight, the batter stayed within the pan. The result was a full, dense, yet fine-textured cake. Added bonus: it's pretty danged purty. It looks and tastes...well... caketastic. Enough said.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A little sad now that it's over...

But I'm definitely thrilled that J.and K. are finally married!!! You couldn't imagine a more perfect match :) I'm just sad because oh, do I love to make cake...and this was CAKE.

Let me just say that I should have never referred to their wedding cake as "The Beast" (see earlier post), because it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The original plan was to bake the cakes on Thursday night, ice and decorate on Friday night, and deliver the cake on Saturday morning to the reception hall. Well something told me to start on Wednesday night, just in case something unexpected happens and I could avoid staying up all night Thursday with the oven running. I'm so glad I started baking one layer of each tier Wednesday, because it took longer than expected to bake up some of those rounds. Oddly enough, it wasn't the gargantuan 14" bottom tier that gave me grief, but the middle 12" layer... which took an eternity and a half to bake.
The results of my wedding cake recipe test over two weeks ago taught me that I needed to adjust my frosting recipe to compensate for the heat and humidity down here. Well... by the time Friday night rolled around I forgot. I made the icing exactly as last time, which resulted in a softer product than I was hoping for.

Luckily it all worked out, although I had to be fast with the piping. Hats off to those ladies (and gents) out there who work full-time and do wedding cakes on the side. I don't know how you do it, because I stayed up till nearly 3 a.m. finishing up that cake. And it wasn't even elaborately decorated! There were definitely lessons learned, and next time (if ever there is one) I'll be much quicker and more confident.

Do I still want to make my own wedding cake, whenever THAT might be? Mayhaps.