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Monday, March 30, 2015

A Little Girl's Baby Shower(chocolate-chocolate-chocolate!)

Baby showers are so fun! But I simply detest cakes shaped to look like babies...it just feels so gross and macabre. Better to celebrate with some well-done and fanciful cakes with easy-to-do techniques. Honestly, this is not hard, and yes, you can do this!

Pictured above is a 4-layer chocolate cake with Italian buttercream(I should note that this isn't the recipe I used, it is a great stand-by) with Devil's Food cupcakes and whipped ganache frosting.

See? Just spray-painted, basically
This ombre technique is easy to achieve using this stuff called "Wilton Color Mist" and a cake turntable. Simple spin the cake and spray, going heavier(obviously) at the bottom and lighter on the top. It achieves that breathtaking look without having to mix a bajillion different icing colors.

The frosting on the cupcakes was simply a freshly-made ganache that's whipped using the paddle attachment in the standing mixer. Ganache is miraculous, and has a fabulous array of uses, one of which can be frosting. It produces a very rich-yet-light burst of flavor on the cupcake, without that icky mouthfeel that many store-bought chocolate frostings leave behind. What's that? You don't know how to make a ganache? Oh, very well...

Favorite Chocolate Ganache

  • 1 lb GOOD QUALITY chocolate (I prefer callebaut 53%), chopped
  • 9 oz (BY WEIGHT) heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1.5 oz (BY WEIGHT) light corn syrup (karo light is what I use)
  • 1 oz butter(NOT MARGARINE, BUTTER) (2 Tbsp, basically)
Combine the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl. Heat a pot of water to simmer, and set chocolate over the water to slowly melt. You don't have to get it entirely melted, just started. When the chocolate is about halfway melted, with still a few visible pieces holding their shape, put on the heavy cream, combined with the remaining ingredients. Let it come to a nice hot boil and immediately shut the heat off. Swirl for five counts in the pot, then dump the hot liquid over the chocolate. Let sit for about four minutes, then blitz using an immersion blender. If you don't have one, you can use a rubber spatula, but not a whisk. Why? At this stage, you don't want too many air bubbles, otherwise you'll get a sandy texture, which is not pleasant. I highly recommend getting an immersion blender, though. It is a serious powerhouse in the cook's kitchen.

Once you understand tempering chocolate, you can use the technique for many decorative purposes. It's 3D, it's delicious, and it looks really impressive. I would tell you how I do it(it's basically the seeding method), but you're probably better off going to Google about it. I'm sure they can explain better than I can. But I can tell you that it's easy! Also, you can practice writing out whatever it is you want to write out several times and just pick the one you like the best. This way, no stress when it comes to writing on cakes. I use a small offset spatula to remove and place my chocolate decorations! Search "ateco" baking tools on Amazon and find one you like!

This cake is Devil's Food cake, baked in a mini cupcake tin. You can use whatever recipe you like, obviously, but these were especially good. And tiny!

To make your presentation look extra-professional, make sure that the cupcakes and decorations are all facing the same direction! It's the little things like that which can make or break you.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

You had one job.

You had one job, you disgrace.

A Novel Dinner

Crispy egg, bacon hushpuppies, tripe, frisee

Last week, I had the pleasure of dining at Novel, a restaurant in Kansas City which is, frankly, still the talk of the town.

True to form of my own laziness and consideration, I don't like to visit restaurants when they're absolutely brand new. I've worked in the kitchens of opening restaurants enough to know that kitchens, like baby animals, need some time to figure out how their legs work. I try to not visit new restaurants until they've got about 6 months(at least) under their belt. This way, I know that they've gotten most of the new kinks out, such as which servers suck, which dishes need to be timed perfectly for a busy service, etc.

I honestly can't stand it when critics review restaurants right out of the gates. Sure the food is probably going to be new and exciting, but there are going to be kinks in the system, and that's just the way it is. This is the nature of the Beast, and many critics/writers(and, frankly, angry Yelp users) just don't understand that you need to give them a second. Geez, guys, can you give them a second? Let them grow a touch before you judge.

Novel boasts Ryan Brazael, New York City Chef, who came to Kansas City to start this place, who most-famously worked with David Chang. I studied David Chang in Culinary school, and am no stranger to the techniques and signatures that evolved out of Momofuku, if only by the written word and trying it myself from the book. The NYC influence is pretty apparent, and that is a great thing.

I dined on a Tuesday night in the quaint Victorain-style manor that had become the restaurant. It was cozy and tiny, and had a stairway that you need to watch your head on to get upstairs. I don't know how many people it seats, but B("B" for boyfriend), who is an architect, joked about how the single stylish door might not be up to fire code if it sat more than 80 people. He then went on to say that if a building is constructed prior to a new code or law or whatever, they technically have something called a "grandfather" clause, which lets you hang on to the historical integrity of the structure. Or something. I kind of was only half paying attention when trying to get up the stairs in a short skirt and 4-inch heels.

The view is charming, and we dined at sunset, which made it even moreso. The patio is so quaint and stylish, old and new at the same time. We aren't drinkers, but the cocktail menu looked nice and clean. I loved that the actual menu was very nice and clean, too. I honestly don't like it when menus are too big; it's bad news for restaurants, unless you're a giant corporate running a Cheesecake Factory or Chili's or something. It is this humble blogger's opinion that smaller restaurants are better off sticking to smaller menus, perfecting them, making each dish perfect every time, versus focusing on wide varieties.

I was recommended the octopus by a friend, but B isn't that adventurous of an eater, so we opted to split the crispy egg instead(pictured above). This is by far one of the absolute coolest techniques I've ever seen. I don't know how they do it, but I can guess: sous vide the egg at a low temperature for about 40 minutes(I learned this technique in school; it's called "slow poaching") and then pop in a blast chiller. Remove egg from its shell, bread, and deep-fry, resulting in a warm and gooey yolk that's perfectly cooked. But, then again, I have no actual idea on how they did it. This is only my educated guess. Boy, was it delicious. I loved it. The tripe was a bit much for B, but I thought it was great.

Roasted chicken, grilled rice, egg yolk, scallion, radish
For the entree, I ordered the sea bass while B went with the roasted chicken, which featured another slow-poached egg element, but only in the form of the yolk. The chicken was also accompanied with grilled rice and scallion elements. The radishes seemed to be quick-pickled, but I didn't ask. The bite I had was delicious, and it honestly made me a little sad that I didn't order it myself. It was a good-sized portion, and I was almost disappointed when I saw the size of my own entree, the sea bass, in comparison. But let me clarify on something: size doesn't always matter.

See, I was presented with this gorgeous wild sea bass with big, juicy flakes and a super-crispy skin. It was seasoned perfectly and accompanied with excellent garnishes of celeriac puree and parsnip. The dish was gorgeous and expertly prepared. So, even though I would have liked more, I didn't necessarily because...well, I was satisfied. It takes a good chef to make you enjoy a first bite, but a great one to make you enjoy your last. And you know what? I did enjoy my last bite of that sea bass dish, because I wanted more.

I'll have dreams of the crispy skin on this sea bass...

Oh, and the crab jam pictured on the bottom? I'd like a jar of it, please.

I didn't want to skimp on dessert because I'm a.) a pastry chef and b.) a little fat girl . But I also heard that the pistachio cake was nothing to write home about. Intrigued, B and I ordered differing desserts: the roasted apple for him and the honey semifreddo for me.

Honey semifreddo, pear, chai spice cake
The honey semifreddo dessert wasn't bad. The chai spice cake tasted like an isi canister cake, which is a really cool technique. Basically, you can use one of these puppies to bake cakes in a microwave! Simply pop cake batter into your canister, nox it up with the gas, let sit in the fridge for a few, and spray into paper or plastic cups. When nuked for 30 seconds or less, you get a wonderfully airy cake. The downside that I've found, however, to using this technique is that you yield a rather dry sponge...so best stick with things like angel food style cakes versus your typical butter cake. I asked our server(this absolutely adorable blond girl)and she came back with saying that they didn't have a microwave on premises, but that the Chef knew what I was talking about and that's how they did the chocolate cake at Momofuku. Cool beans, right?

Roasted apple, puff pastry, vanilla ice cream

I had a bite of B's roasted apple and it was pretty darn good. The puff pastry was light and flaky and crunchy on a level that was almost unreal, so kudos to that. The thing was...it was just "alright." The dessert menu at Novel seemed nice, simple, but it reminded me of an old favorite analogy: "It was like a Toyota Camry--reliable, but not inspiring." The desserts honestly almost seemed like an afterthought. Oh, sure, I got it: the roasted apple was like a wonderful, elevated apple pie or apple turnover. And who doesn't like pears with honey? Simple cuisine. I get it.

Do you know what else I get? It's good. It's good food. Is it expensive? Yes. Does it deliver? Yes. Does it disappoint? No, but only if you don't get dessert and if you're a giant raging dessert snob like I am. And you know what? You don't have to get dessert. But you have to get those crispy eggs(which were unreal).

Novel on Urbanspoon When I asked who the pastry chef of Novel was, I was told that there was a lady who came in to help with the baking (probably breads, puff pastries, etc) but the Chef was their pastry chef. "Ah", I thought.

Here's the trouble with pastries and desserts in restaurants: when the Chef is the pastry chef, it(unfortunately) becomes an afterthought. The real meat of the menu should come where the meat is, rightly so. I know it sounds harsh, but I just don't think that the desserts live up to how amazing the food is. Chef Ryan has done a truly great job with the food, and that should not be overlooked. But the fact of the matter is that the dessert seemed like it was just an afterthought. It's well prepared, yes, and it's technically correct, yes. It's just...alright. I honestly left feeling a little under-whelmed(opposite of overwhelmed) by it. I almost wish that I didn't get it because the meal itself was otherwise perfect. I don't think it's a sin by any stretch of the imagination; I just think that it could be better. I don't think I'll come back for the dessert.

But I will be back for those crispy eggs and to see what else is on the menu.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ouefs au Naturale (Naturally-Dyed Easter/Ostara Eggs!)

Dyed using red cabbage and carrot tops/tumeric

Happy Spring!!!

There are so many wonderful things about spring, and dying Ostara eggs is one of my absolute favorites. I am not shy about my religion, being a Wiccan woman and proud of it is honestly one of the favorite things about myself. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I'm happy to be a Wiccan. I am happy to call myself Witch. While Wicca itself is a modernization of old Pagan values and practices, I still see it as an ancient and beautiful religion with so many fun ways to practice it in the modern day. Ostara is my favorite Sabbat, and dyeing eggs is my favorite activity, which I look forward to doing all year long. With so many creative ideas going all around Pinterest, it's easy to get caught up in all of it! Here's the thing about Pinterest, though: It's all insanity.

I've gone on quite a few Pinterest kicks in my day, and most of the pictures from my results have been burned since they were too fail-tastic to show anyone. But do you know what else is fail-tastic? Chemicals, and too much of them. We are becoming more and more aware of  the food we eat and the chemical crap that goes into it, and the body is a temple, so you must worship at it accordingly. Now, if you want your temple to be full of chemicals and GMOs and junk food, that is completely fine. It is your body. It is your temple. I honestly don't mind getting a little crap in my system. Being someone who struggled with body image and an eating disorder before(both first and second hand)I have learned to listen to my body. If my body wants some organic grapes, I feed her that. If my body wants Cheetoes and ranch dressing, I feed her that. That being said, I realize that I'm getting older, and that the world is changing...so I should learn to change and adapt with it. Why  not start with my favorite things for my favorite sabbat: the Ostara Egg.

 So here is a super-quick guide to dyeing Ostara eggs in a natural way!

A huge thanks to Radmegan.com for the awesome image and beautiful pictorial guide! Here's another, taken from WaldorfToday.com:

These recipes are done using what is known as the boiling method, which is my preferred method. You basically take your "dye" ingredients, whatever they may be, and combine them with water and a nice teaspoon of white vinegar, then boil the eggs in the liquid for 14 minutes and let set. Basically, just boil everything in the biggest pot you've got, then turn off the heat and cover. This will not only result in perfectly cooked eggs, but a beautiful bright hue. Here's the thing about this method: it takes forever for the color to set. The amounts of the dye ingredients are sort of whatever you like. Once it boils, you can add more color, if you like, and let it steep. Remember that the longer that you let it steep, the more brilliant the color will appear.

The one advantage to artificial dyes is that they are fast. Only a short 8 minutes and you have beautiful eggs, all brightly colored! For the best results on your natural dyes, it's honestly best to let them sit overnight in the liquid. There are disadvantages to this in the practical sense, especially if you have small children who just can't wait to see their beautiful creations, but your patience will be rewarded.

However! This does not mean you should be discouraged, especially because you have so much creative room. Did you know that you can "print" on your eggs using leaves and flowers that you find in  your garden? My garden isn't really  in bloom, yet, but this visual tutorial can be used as a guide.

This is a method that can be used with gauze, mesh, cheesecloth...but, honestly, I've found that a doubled-up coffee filter can work just as well in a pinch The red color seen here is from boiled beets. Instead of wasting beets, just peel the beets that you were going to roast or eat anyway and use that leftover peel in the water. Beets yield a gorgeous color, and stain everything they touch, so they're ideal. Plus, beets are tasty.

You can use red or golden beets for this application, both of which give lovely colors. Like I said, the longer you let it sit, the better. But please keep in mind that too  much vinegar will eventually soften your egg shell...which is both kinda cool and really gross. Exercise caution!

How can this kind of thing be applied to your modern Witch?

Simple! Take herbs and leaves that go with your own desires and wrap them in the eggs. Letting the eggs sit overnight will let the energies mature, penetrate your "seed" which will be an uber-powerful spell bomb in the morning!

Traditionally, this is the part where "hiding" the eggs come into play. You hide or bury these eggs in your garden or outside somewhere, with pictures of your wishes drawn on them, for the Fae to find. They take your wishes to the Goddess, and she grants it. Or something.

There are so many versions of this story and how hiding eggs came to be. I remember the stories that my own High Priestess would tell about how the eggs are seeds, and we hide them to plant them. We sow the seeds of our wishes, our desires, and nurture them throughout the seasons, which help them come to fruition. In my mind, this is all the more reason we should use natural dyes. After all, if you're going to end up planting your "seed" in the ground, in the garden, you may as well use natural stuff.

The most-beautiful natural egg dye job is this beauty, which is made from onion skins and flowers. I can just imagine the wonderful scavenger hunt you'll go on trying to find these flowers, can't you? They just look terrific. You can find the full visual tutorial here.

Like I said, there are advantages and troubles to dyeing eggs in the natural way.

Advantage: no extra chemicals in something you'll probably use for devilled eggs, if you don't intend to plant them or use them for a ritual.

Disadvantage: They take for-freaking-ever.

Advantage: They're gorgeous and fun!

Disadvantage: The ingredients for certain dyes (blueberries, beets,  turmeric, saffron, wine, etc) can get crazy expensive, which is no good if you're on a budget. Seriously, do you know how much blueberries cost? Just to not eat?

Advantage: Kids can safely enjoy without any risk of chemical reactions, as can your more delicate friends.

Disadvantage: They take for-FREAKING-EVER.

Advantage: You'll have one more fun thing to put on your Pinterest!

Disadvantage: There's a really big chance that it won't turn out like the pictures, so you might be setting yourself up for disappointment, when you could have just bought dyes.

Speaking of buying dyes, you can purchase powdered dyes off the internet for such au naturale dye jobs...but what's the fun in that? Go ahead and try these out. You're a powerful being: do the thing.

Happy eating and Happy Ostara!

Oh, and this is what mine ended up looking like after sitting in its dye for a couple of days:

Cool, right?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Best-Ever Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake gets its name from its signature color. Because of how the way cocoa was processed back in the olden days, it would color everything red. Nowadays, we have to use artificial dyes. Most dislike the taste of dyes in their liquid form, so I think that it is much better to stick with pastes or powders. You can find powders online, as well as pastes, but the Wilton color paste/gels can also be found with ease at any arts and crafts store. Since most of us have the liquid dye at their disposal, this recipe calls for that.

Best-Ever Red Velvet Cake
yields a 10" cake, serves 12-16
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups Buttermilk or almond milk with 1 tsp apple cider vinegar 
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 fat pinch of salt
  • 8 oz (BY WEIGHT) canola oil(it's pretty much 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp red food coloring(this is liquid. If you use gels, use about half that.)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, 320 degrees if you have a fan/convection oven. Prepare the pans of your choice with either fat and flour or a sheet of parchment paper. A full recipe will make either a full half-sheet pan or two 10" cake rounds. To make a personal-sized cake, simply cut the recipe in half and prepare two 6" cake rounds in the same way. 

Combine the buttermilk, vanilla, food coloring, and eggs and whisk until smooth. The dye will look very intense at this stage, but that's okay! I swear to you that it will calm down. 

Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blitz for 1 minute. Add the oil and blitz for 45 seconds. or until smooth. You're basically cutting in the fat like you would a pie crust...only the fat is liquid, not solid! This method is known as 'reverse creaming' and is suitable for a denser cake recipe. Next, simply add your wet ingredients in thirds, scraping down the bowl of your food processor/standing mixer after each addition. It will be an extremely smooth and very sexy looking cake batter.

Gorgeous red color!

Alternatively, if you do not have a food processor, this cake recipe can be easily made by hand! Simply take a large bowl and whisk together all of your dry ingredients, and add in your oil the same as you would if you did have a machine. Stir gently by hand until smooth. Add in your liquid mixture, a little at a time, until everything comes together. Try not to over-mix; you only want to stir it until you have no more lumps.

Pour into prepared pans (I used two 10" rounds) and spread evenly with a small offset spatula. Pop into your preheated oven and check after 25 minutes. My cake took about 30, but your oven might be different. Just be sure to use a skewer inserted into the middle, and that it comes out rather dry to test your cake. 

When trimming a cake, you must ensure you let it cool in its entirety, so that it's at least room temperature before cutting into it. It's better, of course, either cold or frozen. I'm not joking when I say that the freezer is the baker's second-best friend, next to the oven. Don't be afraid to use it in its entirety! 

Trim your cakes down to size using a serrated knife and cake wheel. Slice each layer in half lengthwise to create a total of four layers. Make sure your layers are even on top and save the scraps either for snacks or to decorate with! If you do want to use them to decorate, bake them in a low, dry oven for at least 15 minutes. You're basically creating croutons out of cake, which you will later crush or blitz in the food processor to create crumbs. The result will be lovely!

To decorate, start with a bottom piece and fill with buttercream, repeating each layer as you go. You can put the jankier layers in the middle, but be sure you finish with a bottom piece on top, flipped so that the bottom is facing upwards. My inner 12-year-old likes to call this a "bottom sandwich."

I used cream cheese frosting, which is basically 2:1 ratio of cream cheese to butter plus powdered sugar. I used 2 lbs cream cheese with 1 lb butter, all at room temperature, with 1 egg yolk and approximately five cups of powdered sugar, with a hefty pinch of salt and scant teaspoon of vanilla. For a small vegan alternative that works just as well, use 12 oz vegan butter substitute per 2 cups of icing sugar, and add a full spoonful of coconut oil. Add salt to taste, and there you are! Crush up the crumbs from the cake scraps to create a rather attractive garnish, which you can press into the sides of the cake as pictured. 

Et voila!

Every time I make this in a restaurant setting, people go nuts!
If you'd like to make something a little more fanciful, feel free to gather up your decorating supplies such as decorating tips and piping bags to give a little more pizazz. I like the 'naked' cake look because I like to see a lot of the layers within. I also like the naked cake look because - to be honest - I don't like to eat a lot of frosting all at once. What I do like are various textures, so I like to utilize sprinkles and candies for the top! I invite you to have a lot of fun at this stage and go crazy with any kind of decorations you may have on hand. Try to stay within one color family, if you can, so your cake will look like you put some thought into it.

I love this recipe because it's not only an American classic, but because it's something that everyone recognizes with ease. It's quite easy to make this cake a show-stopper with a little time and effort! Best of all, you don't need to have special equipment to make this cake. This is what I like to call a 'dump-it cake' because you can - if needed - make everything together in one big bowl and save yourself a lot of dishes.

Thank you so much for reading! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Beautiful red velvet cake, just because!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Vanilla/Vanilla Cake

My handwriting isn't the best, but I'm still proud!
Cake! Ohmigoodness, I love cake! I wish I could take back every time in my life that I was offered cake but turned it down, because I love cake. Actually, I don't have to, because I never turned down cake. Who turns down cake???

Diabetics, probably. Or people who don't like cake. But who doesn't like cake?? Cake is delicious, especially when done right. I can't stand the cakes that you get at the grocery store anymore because they so often use that "bettercream" stuff, which is a shelf-stable soy buttercream substitute which is used to frost commercial cakes. You'll see it on most ice cream cakes and supermarket cakes. It has a very distinctive taste, which I have grown to hate, from using it for over a year in a job I had once. I also hate American buttercream, which is just butter and powdered sugar. This is the buttercream you probably learned when you were a kid, while your mom(or dad) made cakes for your birthday. Just butter and powdered sugar. The end. You love it as a kid, but as a grownup you probably scrape it off your cakes because it's just too much. Another thing about powdered sugar is that it has cornstarch in it, which does keep it from clumping and whatnot, but it also leaves a weird, gross kind of film on the top of your mouth when you're done eating it. So, as an adult and as a professional, I tend to shy away for the American buttercreams in lieu of French or Italian buttercreams, which are less sweet and more fabulous, with a much more beautiful sheen than your typical American buttercream, and certainly shinier than your typical fondant.

While we are (sort of) on the subject, I have to say this:<rant>

 I am sick of friends(acquaintances, rather, that sort of only know me by proxy) that find out I'm a Pastry Chef and then send me pictures of crazy fondant-ed towers of confection saying things like "U should maek this for my 4yo's bday party pretty plz??? :):):):):)"

How about "No"?
Just because I'm a Pastry Chef doesn't mean I know how to make those crazy cakes that take literally days of work. Also, "should"? You know what I should do? Shower. Brush my teeth. Up my fiber intake. Take a Spanish class. Those are things that I should do. I can't fucking stand people saying "you should make this" and then show me a picture of something I have literally zero interest in. A giant wedding cake in the shape of the characters of Yo Gabba Gabba? How about no. Go to a fucking bakery and pay someone else to care.


Being a pastry chef nowadays is an interesting task. Being self-taught, I only really learned the things that I was interested in or thought of making for my job. If I wanted to make a pumpkin pie for the new menu, I looked it up and gave myself a little crash course on that. Cakes are a tiny bit of a struggle for me, since I make them so seldom. After tons of youtube videos, though, and several rules in mind, I've found the perfect white cake recipe and the technique to go with it.

For my recipe and technique, I turned to none other than Chef Ron Ben-Israel. This man is a world-renowned cake designer, and master baker. I love his personality on all of the Food Network shows, and I eat up every episode of Sweet Genius like no other. He showed up on an episode of "Worst Cooks in America" in their 4th season to show the cooks how to make cakes. The thing that blew my mind was that he used a food processor to make the batter. It was like a lightbulb: of course!

The enemy of cakes is gluten, which makes a product chewy, and produces odd bubbles called "tunnels", which are air pockets trying to escape their gluten-y trap. Who wants chewy cake? Not me. The perfectly cooked cake has tiny, uniform bubbles, like a teensy little sponge. Anyway, use a food processor for this method. But the original recipe, found here, says you can use a standing mixer with a paddle attachment. Another little tip is that, when baking a cake, you want all of your ingredients to be at room temperature. I don't know why this is better, necessarily, but I'm not one to question good results. Thank you, Chef!

White Vanilla Spongecake
yield: 1/2 sheet pan, or 12-16 servings

  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature(don't throw away the yolks! You'll need them!)
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 scant Tbsp vanilla paste(recipe calls for 2 tsp vanilla extract, but I prefer the paste)
  • 4 cups cake flour, sifted(to make your own: 1 c AP flour, take out one tablespoon and replace it with cornstarch. So that means 4 cups ap flour, minus 4 Tbsp, plus 4 Tbsp cornstarch)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chopped up in pieces, at room temperature
Preheat your oven to 350. Grease and parchment-line two cookie sheets, 2 9" cake pans, or 3 6" cake pans. You can also make cupcakes with this recipe. I used a half-sheet pan.

Place all of your dry ingredients in the bowl of your fully assembled and ready-to-go food processor. (Don't put in the stuff without the blade in it and then try to attach it to the machine. You feel like an idiot because you are.) Blitz all of your ingredients for at least 45 seconds to get everything fully incorporated and chopped up tiny. While that's going, mix your vanilla with the egg whites and about 1/4 cup of the milk using a whisk. You'll want your mixture to be smooth. 

Add your butter and blitz for another 30 seconds, at least seven pulses. Add your egg mixture and pulse about seven times. Now add in half the remaining milk, and pulse a few more times, just until it's incorporated. Repeat with the last bit of milk. The result will leave you with a smooth, delightfully shiny cake batter.

Divide your cake batter evenly between whichever pans you decided to use. Use an offset spatula to really get that cake batter spread evenly, and in the corners of your square. An even spread is crucial to an even bake. Even go so far as to give your cakes a few taps from the bottom, just for good measure, to make sure your cake is evenly distributed.

For the sheet pan, it took about 15 minutes to bake. For a round, I would expect it to take at least 20. Check your cakes after the first 20 minutes, and then decide from there whether to go further. You'll want your cake to be golden on the edges, and pull away from the pan just ever-so-slightly. You'll also want it to be firm when shimmied, and dry when pricked with a toothpick in the center. Let cool completely before you assemble your cake.

For this recipe, I used the French Buttercream recipe from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery cookbook. If you can't read it, here's the amounts that I used to frost what ended up being a 4-layer cake:

French Buttercream
  • 1 scant cup of egg yolks(about a dozen)
  • 1 1/4 c milk
  • A scant 1 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 lb 2 oz butter 
  • A fat pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste**
Bring to boil the milk with half the sugar and whatever flavoring you decided to use. Whisk the remaining sugar with the egg yolks until smooth. When the milk is steaming, remove from heat and splash about half of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, then whisk. Combine the now warm yolk mixture into the remaining hot milk and return to the heat. This technique is called tempering, and it's absolutely necessary to create  perfect custard sauces every time. Are you making a custard? Yes, you are! You're making a custard, which is going to be turned into a buttercream. Yum!

Return your custard to the heat and, on a medium flame, whisk until it gets thick. Remove immediately from the heat and pop about 2 oz(4 Tbsp) of the butter into the custard to stop the cooking. Pass the mixture through a sieve and into the bowl of a standing mixer to ensure that you get an uber-creamy and silky texture. You can skip this, but you've already gone this far...why half-ass it at this point? You've already separated those eggs...

Attach the whisk attachment and whip on medium speed until cool, about 4 minutes. Begin adding the butter in small increments, no more than a few ounces at a time. I know that this is a pain, but trust me, your patience will be rewarded. It may not look like much when you start, but by the time you get that last bit of your 2 lbs in, you'll be so happy. This buttercream is delightfully custard-like, and tastes like straight-up creme brulee when you use the vanilla bean. So tasty! And what a beautiful shine... Remember, everything in the pastry world should be shiny

To Assemble

Cut the layers of your cake as desired. If you used the 2 round cake pans, simply slice them in half crosswise to create the layers. You can take this opportunity to use a simple syrup to moisten your layers, if you like. I love having simple syrup on hand, as it's an instant sweetener to iced teas and an instant life saver to your drier cakes. It's just a simple 1:1 ratio of water and sugar, boiled together, but you can infuse flavors into this very easily, and then just go nuts with its many applications(cakes, cocktails, flavored teas, etc). I used a sheet pan for my cake, so I just cut mine into quarters, which then stacked up to be four layers. 

The thing to remember is that you shouldn't over-fill your layers with frosting. No more than half an inch, I'd say, when all spread out. Pick your piece to be the base(the most-level) and then douse with simple syrup, if
See the sheet tray that it's sitting on? That's the size I used!
Layering cakes create exponentially more servings without
having to actually bake MORE CAKE!
you're using it. Pop a dollop of frosting on and spread evenly. Repeat until you get to the top layer, dousing and frosting respectively. You want to make sure your cake is level now, versus later. Trim off any edges that are hanging over, now, too, using a serrated knife. Take your time with this step; look at the cake from all angles and from the top to make sure it's evenly round or square.

Once this step is complete, it's time for the crumb coat, which is just a thin layer of frosting to catch all of the crumbs and to make sure that the cake is nice and uniform. Just grab a fat dollop of your buttercream and schmear all over, evenly, using this coat to cover up any cracks or crags you might have. It's not intended to be pretty, this coating, but it's intended to give you a smooth, uniform level on each side of your cake. Once this is done, pop it in the fridge for about 10 minutes, so you can go to the bathroom or grab a Coke or something. 
Haha. Kind of looks like a marshmallow wearing a hat...
To finish, dollop a very generous amount of buttercream right smack on the top, and then just distribute it over all sides. Once you have a nice even coating all around, you can play with decorating combs or piping or whatever. This cake is your creation and you gave it life. You made it to share. Or to eat with a fork on your coffee table while you binge watch Parks and Rec on Netflix now that it's gone. *sob* But you should probably share it. You put all of this love and effort into creating this giant thing (baking cakes is a lot of work!) so you may as well share it. Bring it to a friend's house. Give it to a homeless guy. Go into a coffee shop and be like "Hey I made cake but I don't have any friends. Who wants a slice?" Totally do that. There's no way that could end up badly.

Happy Baking and Happy eating! Comment below with any questions or concerns! I am an open forum!

Hopefully your handwriting will be better than mine!