Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Countdown to Kelly Ripa, day 7: Chocolate cake fail

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One week. Seven days. In exactly one week I will be in New York, decorating cakes with Kelly Ripa and 14 stellar food bloggers on behalf of the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. Foodbuzz and Electrolux have a great few days planned for us. Meantime, I'm here at home in southern California, obsessing about cake and trying hard not to get sick. Yes, of course: My husband and both kids are sick, just when I absolutely have to stay healthy. I'm taking my vitamins, washing my hands and giving air hugs - that's about all I can do at this point, other than pray.

After that great cake lesson with Clemence of Gourmandise Desserts, I figured I was ready to try my very own cake. So yesterday I made this:


Unfortunately, I discovered that I was not ready to solo.

I realize that you may be looking at the cake above and thinking, "What's she talking about? Looks perfectly tasty to me." Ah, but looks can deceive.

The cake itself was an experiment. I wanted to make a chocolate yogurt cake, so I adapted my favorite yogurt cake recipe from Chocolate & Zucchini by substituting 1/4 cup cocoa powder for the same amount of the flour. I also added the zest of a Cara Cara navel orange (highly fragrant) and used triple sec instead of the rum the original recipe calls for. I think the cake, on its own, would have been okay. But I overbaked it. So it was dry. Pretty, though:



Thanks to Clemence, I knew enough to let it cool all the way through. And I had no trouble splitting it into two layers. But I forgot to even out the top. Ah well, I figured, I'll just turn it upside down and put the cut side up. But the top layer was domed enough to make a big gap between the top and bottom layers.

And then there was the frosting. I wasn't brave enough to try the Swiss buttercream Clemence had made; somehow, the raw egg thing made me nervous, even though Clemence assured me that the sugar syrup cooked the eggs thoroughly. But the whipped ganache, that was something I thought I could manage.

Wrong.

I made a ganache with my normal ratio of one pound of chocolate (Trader Joe's 72 percent Pound Plus bar) to one cup of cream; to accent the orange flavor, I infused the hot cream with the zest of another lovely Cara Cara navel before I poured it over the chocolate. I let it cool. I put it in the mixer with the whisk attachment and turned it on. But instead of becoming a light, fluffy, mousse-like puff like Clemence's, mine was an oily, curdled mess.

No, I didn't take a picture of it. I was too busy crying.

I pulled the mixture off the mixer, stuck the bowl over some simmering water, and melted it again until it was smooth. I left it to cool again, longer this time. And when I whipped it the second time, I did it at a lower speed. It worked, more or less. Still never got as mousse-like as Clemence's. But it was spreadable. So I spread it over the bottom layer, then over the top and sides of the cake. Unfortunately, because of the upside-down domed top, there were some big gaps on the sides, which I filled in with frosting. You can see the effect of that in the slice I cut:



See the notch of pure ganache? That's where the cake layers didn't come together and I used the frosting to hide it.

Here's the problem with whipped ganache, or any ganache for that matter: At room temperature, it's pretty much solid. Either I should have added more cream when I first made it, or I didn't whip it long enough, or something, but this was basically like cake surrounded by truffles. Not what I was going for.

So, lessons learned: Add a little more oil to the cake batter to keep it moist. Make buttercream instead of ganache. And level the top of the cake, assuming your memory is better than mine.

My colleagues still polished it off. After all, chocolate cake is chocolate cake. But next time - better.

5 comments:

suz said...

It does look really good though. I say A+ for effort!

Gisele said...

Don't feel bad, Erika. Whipped Ganache is REALLY TRICKY. Alice Medrich is my go to fix it person for all things Ganache.

Laura said...

Oh is that gap NOT supposed to be there? I like it because I get a HUGE wallop of frosting.

Having fun watching you flounder and flail with cakes :)

Erika said...

Flounder, flail and fail, that's me. I have decided that I am all about taste and not at all about presentation - and that this is not likely to change much. Although I do know how to drape fondant now, a useful skill.

Gisele - who's Alice Medrich?

Gisele said...

Alice Medrich- author of Cocolat, Bittersweet-, and many fine books and articles on desserts and specifically chocolate. She discusses Ganache ( and truffles- since I know you are interested in them) at length in Bittersweet.

She lives in Berkeley, and has always been willing to answer my questions when I e-mail her. Definitely worth getting to know.

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