Have you ever had a bad baking day? If you have, you’ll know that they can be as devastating as a bad hair day from hell. Most people don’t bake only for themselves. At least, I don’t. I’ve always been very aware of the people I bake for, and I firmly believe that the touchy-feely idea that people can taste the emotions you had while making the food is true. So when I have a bad baking day, it’s almost always when the product is going to someone–or many someones–I care about. On top of that, these people usually know I went to pastry school and was a pastry cook, and so should be capable of making a decent cake. All in all, bad baking days are a dogeared and food-splattered recipe for extreme embarrassment in the cookbook of my life.
This past Saturday, I was making the birthday cake for a very dear friend of mine’s birthday party. I wanted it to be spectacular, because the birthday girl is pretty darn spectacular herself. I ended up deciding to do cupcakes, and I set out to do two different flavors as soon as I woke up Saturday morning, a chocolate cupcake recipe from The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri and a white chocolate cake recipe from Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow of Fran’s Chocolates. I’d had success with the devil’s food cake recipe in Malgieri’s book twice last fall, and one of my chefs at pastry school used to work for Fran Bigelow and helped with the production of the photos and drawings in the book (if I remember correctly, the hands in the drawings at the beginning of the book are hers), so I trusted both books to have good recipes. Continue reading
To finish off writing about the Christmas treats I made, here’s my last big project of the season (that I managed to get to: Rainbow Cookies from Sherry Yard’s fantastic book The Secrets of Baking.
These were hugely popular with everyone who received them. How could they not be, looking that adorably festive on a cookie tray? Everyone wanted to know what they were, and thanks to Yard’s engaging storytelling in her second book, I had details to give them on their Italian origins.
They’re very pretty, of course, but they taste much more sophisticated than you might expect. It helped that I used a couple of aging bars of very dark Michel Cluizel (my absolute favorite chocolatier in the world) chocolate in the glaze, but the cake’s sweetness and almond flavor are very light and subtle. It was only when I tasted one that I realized there was no almond flavoring in the recipe, only almond paste and almond flour, and I think from the photo in the book I was expecting something with the concentrated flavor of the extract. Continue reading