Tuesday, April 28, 2009


It's hard to believe, but I'm actually finally done with school. I did some therapeutic baking over the past few weeks (nothing makes you feel in control like weighing out flour and chopped chocolate) and the results were very good.

The first of two Cook's Illustrated cakes I made was a vegan chocolate cake. I'm not vegan, but I think vegan baking makes for a fun challenge. I've had some great experiences with vegan chocolate cakes in the past, and there is a glint of satisfaction from giving someone a slice of vegan cake that doesn't taste like Play-Doh. So I was excited to find out that Cook's Illustrated spent two months making over 100 cakes and 23 batches of icing to come up with something they could stand behind. As always, the most important things you can do when making a cake are to get some parchment paper, baking spray, and an oven thermometer and to pay attention to temperatures!

Vegan Chocolate Cake

For the cake:
  • 1 and 2/3 cups natural large-crystal cane sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
  • 1/3 cup natural cocoa
  • 1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup hot brewed coffee
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup vegan butter substitute

For the frosting:
  • Two 10-ounce packages vegan or other semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup hot brewed coffee
  • 4 tablespoons boiling water
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 4 ounces silken tofu

Cake directions:
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Process sugar in a food processor to a fine powder, 30 to 40 seconds. Sift sugar, flours, baking soda and salt into a large bowl, then whisk to combine.
  3. Combine cocoas and chocolate in a large bowl and cover with hot coffee; whisk until smooth.
  4. Combine coconut milk, vinegar and vanilla in large measuring cup. Place vegan butter substitute in a medium bowl. Add coconut milk mixture in two additions, whisking until smooth after each.
  5. Add vegan butter-coconut milk mixture to the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine, then add this mixture to dry ingredients and fold gently with rubber spatula until just incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.
  6. Divide batter evenly between cake pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, switching position of and rotating pans after 12 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Frosting directions:
  1. Place chocolate chips in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Pour hot coffee and boiling water over chips, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in coconut milk until incorporated.
  2. Process chocolate mixture and tofu in food processor until smooth and combined, 10 to 15 seconds, scraping down bowl once or twice.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cool and texture resembles firm cream cheese, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (If mixture has chilled for longer and is very stiff, let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.)
  4. Transfer cooled chocolate mixture to the bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whip mixture at high speed until fluffy, mousse-like, and the mixture forms medium stiff peaks, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
  5. To assemble, invert cakes from their pans. Spread a dab of frosting in center of a cardboard round cut slightly larger than a cake. Place one cake, centered, on the cardboard round. The frosting helps hold it in place. Using an icing spatula, spread about 1 cup frosting evenly onto the top of the first cake. Place the second cake on top of frosted bottom layer and spread about 1 cup frosting on top. Cover sides of cake with remaining frosting.
I made this for my belated housewarming party that ended up being incredibly fun, despite two of my best friends' (whose turnkey social groups have been invaluable) being unable to come. It was super dense and at least as good as any chocolate cake I've made, least of all the Grit's chocolate vegan death cake. A little labor intensive, but worth it, if only to put a dent in the Play Doh vegan cake hegemony. This is one of those cakes that's especially good chilled.

The second cake I made was for my friend's birthday party. Once I found out she wanted yellow cake with chocolate icing I couldn't wait to get to it. I've been wanting to make Cook's Illustrated's version for months.

Fluffy Yellow Cake

For the cake:
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 c sugar (12 1/4 ounces)
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 c buttermilk, room temperature
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature

For the frosting:

  • 20 Tbsp (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (60 to 65 degrees)
  • 1 c confectioners' sugar (4 ounces)
  • 3/4 c Dutch-processed cocoa
  • pinch table salt
  • 3/4 c light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8 oz milk chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

Cake directions:
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch-wide by 2-inch-high round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper. Grease paper rounds, dust pans with flour, and knock out excess. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 1/2 cups sugar together in large bowl. In 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and yolks.
  2. In clean bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium-high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With machine running, gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should hold peak but mixture should appear moist). Transfer to bowl and set aside.
  3. Add flour mixture to now-empty mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment. With mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape whisk and sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds.
  4. Using rubber spatula, stir 1/3 of whites into batter to lighten, then add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans. Lightly tap pans against counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.
  5. Bake until cake layers begin to pull away from sides of pans and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen cakes from sides of pans with small knife, then invert onto greased wire rack and peel off parchment. Invert cakes again and cool completely on rack, about 1 1/2 hours.

Frosting directions:

  1. In food processor, process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl, then add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds.
  2. The frosting can be made 3 hours in advance. For longer storage, refrigerate the frosting, covered, and let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.

There was another cake at the party that was almost exactly identical to this one, but I have to give it to CI - this really did taste like the best cake mix cake ever, and totally homemade. Here's a quick snapshot of the slightly mangled results.

So yeah, hi from San Francisco! We're having a cake auction next month at the office, and if I'm in town I'll probably be making something overly complicated.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Time enough at last...

In about a week I'll start cooking for myself, exercising, and doing other normal things that normal people do, because I'll be done with 23 years of school.

I did manage to make a cake a couple weeks ago for a new friend's birthday, and I'll try to put that up here sooner rather than later.