Sunday, October 14, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mama!

Today, everyone, is my mother's birthday.  She is 58 years old (it took her some time and some math to figure this out) and that is something to celebrate!  She had requested a rather strange menu for her birthday dinner (but are you surprised?): seafood chowder, pulled pork, Olive Garden copycat salad, and cake.  I was in charge of the cake.  Late last night she chose ginger pecan cake.  I figured this was the best I was going to get from a woman who usually just prefers "chocolate cake with vanilla frosting." So, this morning I got right to work, because this baby had a lot of parts to it!

First I worked on the cakes themselves.   There are three (!) layers to this cake.  I kept reminding myself of this when it felt like I was adding huge amounts of things (like 3 stricks of butter or 6 eggs!).  I guess if you divide all the things by 3, it isn't so bad.  Anyway once the cakes were in the oven, I worked on the filling.  Now, here is where things get iffy.  The recipe calls for creme fraiche to be whipped with sugar and bourbon.  Creme fraiche, I found out from some quick research, is a mixture of heavy cream and buttermilk that has been allowed to set for 12 hours.  So clearly, making it this morning was out of the question, and there wasn't any for sale at the grocery store.  I decided to make whipped cream instead.  While this seems like a good enough idea, let me tell you, it is not.  When you have three cake layers and you do not want them to slide all over the place, crack, or end up covered in wet cream, then do not use whipped cream.  It became rather horrifying.  And unfortunately, it gets worse.

Cooking the sugar!
The top of the cake is a "glossy caramel icing."  This was pretty interesting to make.  You put a pan of sugar on the stove and heat it until it reaches 310 degrees.  I have never just heated up sugar on its own, and it was kind of cool to watch it turn brown and melt and caramelize.  Then I added cream and stirred like mad.  It appears I did not stir madly enough though, because I still ended up with lots of little hard candies in there that I had to pick out.  Then it was time to pour it on top of the cake.  Here is where things got worse.  The cake was already a little slidey... add hot caramel to a cake frosted with whipped cream, and what do you think happens?  Yes.  Bad.  Needless to say, I insisted that we have cake immediately, and I hoped people planned to eat with their eyes closed!

Note the severe sliding to the right... also note how all the whipped cream has disappeared and you can hardly see 3 layers...
Here is the good news: the cake was awesome.  Everyone gave rave reviews.  The cakes themselves are really flavorful; you can taste all the fresh and ground ginger, and the ground toasted pecans (yes, I had to both toast and then grind my own pecans for this recipe!) add a great crunch and flavor.  Then the whipped cream, while melty and pissing me off, was light and fluffy and sweet.  The caramel topping was sweet, glossy and soft.  All of this, by the way, was information told to me by others; I didn't actually try any, mostly because I hate cakes,  but also because this cake in particular pissed me off by sliding around.  However, it got rave reviews from everyone who ate it, but especially from Mom, Kenzie, Gram, and Betsy.

Please note the toasted meringue peaks! :)
Then it got crazier.  Mom had said earlier this morning that she was afraid so many people were going to come over that we would not have enough cake.  My triple layer cake was huge, but hey, who am I to argue with the birthday girl?  So she chose another one from her beloved Martha Stewart: meringue-frosted cake with raspberry filling.  I do kind of love making meringue, and this cake was much easier than the first, so I was happy to add it to the menu today.  There are only two cake layers on this one - vanilla cake - and I had them in the oven as soon as I could steal the cake pans from my other cake!  It was a crazy day in the kitchen, let me tell you.  The filling was a mixture of raspberry preserves and frozen (thawed) raspberries - easy to throw that together.  Then the meringue is just egg whites and sugar whipped together like mad until it's cloud-like.  I used a spatula to frost the cake with it, and then - this was scary- I had to bake the whole frosted cake for 2 minutes at 450 degrees.  I hve never frosted a cake after frosting it, but then again, the frosting was raw egg whites so it did feel better baking it for a bit.  The goal was for the peaks that I made on the cake to turn brown and toasted-looking.  A little more than two minutes later, and it looked rather awesome!   Not that it was even close, but this cake definitely "took the cake" (ha) for the best looking dessert today!  It was a pretty fancy presentation.  This cake also got rave reviews.  In fact, after eating slices of both, Betsy claimed this one to be her favorite cake of the day!  Susie only had this one and said it was well worth 5 WW points :)
A little peek into the raspberry filling!

So, here the cake breakdown:
People who ate both and were allowed to vote: Mom (she votes for ginger pecan but says it was very close), Kenzie (she votes for ginger pecan because she doesn't like the texture of menigue), Gram (did not vote) and Betsy (voted for raspberry cake)

This means that, by a very thin margin (1-2), the ginger pecan cake won the most votes for best cake.  This makes me feel better about the fact that the cake slid and looked like a mess!  If you are interested in voting, come one over, because there is an embarrassing amount of cake left in this house! :)

Oh, and for anyone wondering how the Olive Garden copycat dressing came out?  That went over really well too.  Everyone said it tastes just like the read thing, except for Susie, who said it tastes even better.  Again, I didn't try it myself (are you sensing a pattern today? Can you see why I am both exhausted and starving?) but Mom said it was a real treat, and is currently eating another bowl of salad.

Happy birthday Mama!  I hope your birthday was everything that you wanted it to be, and that you are stufffed with cakes for the rest of the week :)

ginger pecan cake
meringue-frosted cake with raspberry filling

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