Folllowing are listed items that you will need to get started. Some are very simple, and you may already have them on hand; some you can order through the mail or find in a well-stocked kitchen store. The standing electric mixer is a wonderful investment; it proves its worth when you have a buttercream that needs to be beaten for twenty-five minutes or more, because it frees you to do other things. Most mixers come with one 41/2-quart bowl, but I strongly suggest that you get yourself two bowls. The standing mixer is something you cannot live without. I would also not be without a turntable. Once your cake is baked, you will use the turntable for every subsequent step, from slicing and trimming to filling, icing, and decorating; it will cut your decorating time in half. It's another key piece of equipment that will make these cakes infinitely easier, and I don't recommend doing a cake without one.
* Standing electric mixer with dough hook and whip attachments
* Two 41/2-quart beater mixing bowls
* Handheld electric mixer
* Set of graduated mixing bowls
* Citrus zester
* Wire whisks
* Measuring spoons
* 14-inch serrated knife
* Small offset spatula
* Icing blade
* Rubber spatulas
* Pastry bags and couplings
* Set of pastry decorating tips
* Vegetable paste colors
* Vegetable gel colors
* Petal dust or vegetable powder colors
* Paint or pastry brushes
* Baking parchment or wax paper
* 6-inch, 8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch round and square cake cardboards
* Plastic drinking straws
* 12-inch bamboo skewers
* Swivel-blade utility knife
* Candy thermometer
* Baking pans (2 of each size):
* 6 x 3-inch round and square
* 8 x 3-inch round and square (at least 2)
* 10 x 3-inch round and square
* 12 x 3-inch round and square
One of the reasons for my success is that I take no shortcuts. All of my cakes are made with only the freshest and finest available ingredients. If you want something to be the best, you must start with the best materials available. I believe that people are willing to pay for a quality product, and that is what they get from me. The flowers for a big cake can be made several weeks in advance, but the cakes are never baked, filled, and iced more than one or two days before an event. My customers always get a fresh, tender, and delicious cake. I understand that for the home baker, it may be unreasonable to bake, fill, and decorate cakes in just two days, but I don't recommend baking the cake more than three days prior to an event. Some layer cakes have a better shelf life than others. A carrot cake, nut cake, or chocolate cake can hold several days without noticeable deterioration, but a sponge or yellow cake should be as freshly made as possible.
People often ask what kind of cake mix we use for our cakes. The answer is, of course, that we do not use mixes. All of the cake recipes are classics. I don't use cake mixes because I don't like the taste, and I prefer a cake without preservatives. One also can control the flavor when a cake is baked from scratch. In the end the difference in taste will be noticeable. I haven't created any "new" recipes; all of the cakes in this book are from recipes that I have been using for years, some of which were given to me by George Keller and other pastry professionals who taught me, but most of the time I have no idea where they came from. We have fiddled with them, modified and fine-tuned them, and I am passing them on to you.
The structure of the cake is very important. You will be working with cakes that have tiers and decorations, so the cake must hold up. You cannot put tiers of cake and icing and decorations on a delicate angel food cake; it simply will not hold the weight of fillings and flowers. You can fill your cake with mousse or whipped cream, but you must use a cake that is sturdy enough to hold its shape and the added weight. Over the years I have determined which cakes work best for which structures, and the recipes I give here will work well for all of the cakes I discuss. Remember that the cake is part of the palette of the feast, and that it should not overwhelm the meal but complement it. Certain foods and certain flavors marry well, and I have given suggestions for which washes and fillings go well with each cake.
Read the recipes from beginning to end before starting, have all the equipment and ingredients out and ready, and use this book as a creative guide. Look at the photographs, and then use your imagination to make each cake uniquely yours.
A few very simple tricks will assure a successful cake. First, it's very important to sift the flour. Flour tends to settle and get heavy; sifting will aerate and lighten it and get rid of any lumps, making a lighter cake. I always use the freshest extra-large eggs I can find. Eggs should be cold, because they separate more easily, and butter should always be at room temperature. I always use sweet butter in my cakes; salt is added to butter as a preservative and therefore sweet butter tends to be fresher. Also, I want to be able to control the amount of salt I use in the cake. Baking is not stovetop cooking. You can be creative with a pot of sauce, but baking is chemistry. There is a balance and a relationship to the proportions of eggs, baking powder, salt, and other ingredients. Measure, do not improvise. You can play with flavoring washes and fillings, you can play with design, but following the recipes exactly will yield the best results.
I recommend that you butter your cake pans and line them with parchment. This ensures that cakes will come out of the pans evenly, not in ragged sections. Buttering the pan(s) will produce nicely browned, moist cakes. Always preheat the oven. Always fill the prepared pans 3/4 full. Place the pans in the center of the oven to assure even heat.
Test with a wooden skewer; the cake is done if the skewer emerges dry. The cake in its pan should be removed from the oven and placed on a wire rack to cool. Only when the cake has cooled to room temperature should it be removed from its pan. To remove the cake from its pan, insert a thin knife along the edge of the pan and run it around the cake. Then invert the pan and the cake should slip out. If the cake does not slip out easily, place the pan bottom over very low heat on the stove for a few seconds to warm the butter in the cake just enough to get it to slip out of the pan when the pan is inverted. Once out of the pan, the cake, on a cake cardboard, should again be placed on the wire rack to completely cool so it will be ready to be trimmed and sliced.
Trimming, slicing, filling, icing, and decorating are functions that make a turntable essential. You should also have on hand a supply of various-sized cake cardboards.
As the result of the baking process, cakes usually mound up on top. This mound must be sliced off to get a flat-topped cake that can then be sliced into discs about one-half inch thick that will make up the filled cake. I usually discard the bottom slice that was next to the pan bottom, because it tends to have a browned crust.
With the cooled cake on a cardboard cake board, place on the turntable. Using a long, sharp, serrated knife, mark the cake horizontally at 1/2-inch intervals. A cake baked in an 8 x 3-inch pan will usually yield three to four segments, depending on which cake you have used -- some bake higher than others. Hold the knife against the cake and parallel to the base of the turntable, and turn the turntable while keeping the knife at arm level. As you spin the turntable, apply a subtle but firm inward pressure, allowing the knife to go deeper to cut through the cake; this is the first slice. Now take a long icing spatula and lift the edge of the cake slice slightly. Slide a cardboard cake base under the first (top) slice, and remove. Repeat at the next 1/2-inch mark. Repeat until you have sliced the whole cake. Very often the cake will yield four or even five slices. Use cake cardboard to support your cake slices until you are ready to assemble the cake layers. If you have cake slices left, you can always wrap them tightly, date them, and freeze them for up to one month.
It is important that the cake slices be completely cooled before you attempt to fill them, otherwise the filling will soften, melt, and make a mess, with the slices sliding out of alignment and oozing filling.
Only the first cake layer will remain on a cardboard and will sit on a platter or wooden cake base. Once you have put filling on the first cake slice, use a long spatula to ease the remaining cake slices off their cardboard and onto the filling below
If you are baking the cake ahead of time, after you have trimmed and sliced it you can plastic-wrap the slices on their cardboards and freeze them until you are ready to fill and decorate the cake.
When you are ready to fill the cake, place the first cake disc, on its cardboard, on the turntable. Assuming that you have prepared your filling with the mixer and that it is soft and workable, using a plastic spatula fill a pastry bag that you have equipped with a #789 tip and squeeze out a bead of filling in a close spiral, starting at the outer edge of the cake disc and winding inward to the center. The same principle applies to a square cake, where the spiral has square corners. When you have covered the cake disc with a spiral of filling, smooth and level the filling using a larger metal spatula so that it is even, and then place the next cake disc on top and repeat the process until the entire cake is filled. Don't apply filling on top of the uppermost slice, because that is where icing will be applied.
Using your large metal spatula, holding it vertically against the side of the cake as you rotate it on the turntable, you can smooth out any filling that may squeeze out between the cake disc slices. The filled cake should be refrigerated to chill and harden the filling so that the cake discs will not slide out of alignment.
It is preferable to do a crumb coat before the final icing.
When you are ready to begin icing, fill a clean pastry bag with buttercream icing and attach a #789 icing tip. Place the cake on the turntable and apply the icing to the stacked cake, icing the sides of the cake first, then the top. Smooth the icing with a blade or an icing spatula. Remember that the icing should be at room temperature. If it is too cold, it will be very difficult to spread; too warm and it could slide off the cake. Do not be discouraged; practice is the name of the game.
In various sections of this book, I have defined and given formulas for the various ingredients and terms to which I have already referred and which I may mention hereafter in giving hints about formulas for icings, fillings, washes, and other ingredients for wonderful cakes. Please make reference to all parts of this book so that all aspects of making wonderful cakes are clear to you.
My listing of equipment and ingredients for each cake may seem repetitive, but it is intended to make it easier for you to assemble the tools you need.