July 29, 2012

a year in cake

I started making cakes about a year ago. It all started with me trying to recreate the Chinese bakery birthday cakes from my childhood. I remembered the combination of airy sponge, whipped cream and fresh fruit, and set to work with the recipes I found in my textbook.

For the cake part I chose chiffon sponge, since it's the airiest, and for cream I chose Italian buttercream. For filling and garnish I used fresh strawberries, kiwis and canned peaches. Since I didn't have a kitchenaid it was hard to make the sponge fluffy (a lot of beating involved) and Italian buttercream was basically impossible. I managed to salvage enough of my attempt involving a sunbeam stand mixer to assemble something for my roommate Tram's going away send-off.

Even though the cake wasn't anything like what I had in mind, at least it tasted well enough to be eaten.


Later, for my sister Iris's graduation I made a second attempt. This time instead of Italian buttercream I used whipped cream. The chiffon sponge and fresh fruit I kept the same, with the addition of fresh cherries we picked. As you can tell from the picture I didn't frost the cake very well. So as a result it looked more like a stack of fat pancakes.

Also, since our family wasn't going to be able to get together for my mom's birthday a few weeks later, my sister decided to dedicate the cake to my mom.


Later that summer I made the first cake I was proud of. My success had a lot to do with dumbing down the ingredients. Instead of a fancy sponge, I made the chocolate cake I had learned way before culinary school. Instead of making whipped cream, I bought the cool whip kind. This made the cake a lot easier to frost. For filling and decoration I used fresh strawberries. What was special about this cake was that I used chocolate writing for the first time, melting chocolate chips in oil in the microwave and pouring it into a parchment paper cone like how I learned in school.


Having accomplished a proper cake, I started to get fancy. For a friend's birthday in the fall I made a three-layer cake for the first time. The top and bottom layers were chocolate but the middle was dos leches (like tres leches except with only condensed milk and evaporated milk, no half and half). Between the layers I put raspberry whipped cream, which is just raspberries pureed into cool whip.

On the outside I put raspberries, chocolate chips, crushed chinese almonds and shaved mexican chocolate. It was delicious.


But I never forgot my dream of recreating a Chinese birthday cake. I tried again, this time with vanilla sponge and cool whip. The vanilla sponge was crumby and dry (due to the use of butter instead of oil). But the arrangement of fruit was really beautiful.


Finally, after finding this blogger's recipe for Chinese sponge, I was able to recreate the Chinese birthday cake of my childhood. This was made for my sister Iris's birthday. Besides the sponge and whipped cream, I also made a triple berry mousse filling (using frozen berries). Both the sponge and mousse were beaten by hand, which meant that my arm almost fell off but it was worth it.

In keeping with the berry theme, I put sliced strawberries (and crushed almonds) on the side of the cake, and on top I put blackberries and strawberry roses (which I learned to cut in Garde Manger). Then I even wrote with chocolate in Chinese. I considered this my best cake ever.


For my youngest sister Jenny's birthday this spring, I decided to make a mousse cake, since I had just learned how to make mousse cake in Advanced Baking. Inspired by the fact that Jenny loves to drink boba/pearl milk tea, I made soaked the sponge layers in earl grey tea simple syrup. I made the mousse a strawberry one and inaugurated my new springform pan in the process.

Cooked some tapioca pearls and stuck them on top, although I learned that I should have done them at the last minute because the pearls harden once refrigerated. Also I decorated the top with marshmallows and chocolate truffles I made in class, plus honey sticks to simulate straws.

It was a creative cake, but the mousse could have been better done. Next time I need to get my hands on some acetate tape to line the pan - I used plastic wrap and it made the mousse edges jaggedy.


My most recent birthday cake was for my mom, inspired by the fact that she loves coconut, and last time I had lunch at her house we had pineapple for dessert.

Again, chinese sponge, but soaked with pineapple simple syrup. The middle was supposed to be coconut milk angel food cake, but I didn't remember until after that any trace of fat (as in coconut milk) ruins the meringue integral to angel food cake. What I should have done was make the angel food cake and then soak it with coconut milk. I baked the batter anyway, and it turned out flat and chewy, but not unlike Vietnamese honeycomb cake, so it wasn't all bad.

For filling and for topping I had whipped cream and cooked pineapple cut into triangle shapes. The sides were decorated with shredded coconut and crushed macadamia nut. As a bonus, since the "angel food cake" had a hole in the middle, I decided to stick the pineapple greens through, which made the cake look dramatic and unique. Mom loved it.


According to Iris, my mom brags about my cakes to random people. It's really cute.

I love making cakes because they symbolize celebration, and almost always imply people coming together to share. Although I've only been making cakes for a year, I can see myself making cakes and sharing them for the rest of my life.

1 comment:

  1. Your cakes look amazing!! Love the strawberry roses! :)