Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mummified pupas, aka: my encounter with baking dried figs

I was going to post about the misconceptions often perceived when ordering a cake, but the draft was getting rather ranty to the point of being nonsensical, so I'm going to edit it for awhile until I feel it is at the perfect level of informative and vent-a-rific! I'm trying to use this blog partially as a teaching tool. Though few probably read this now, I'm hoping that in the future I will get more readers and that they can learn from my (frequent, haha) mistakes.

Anyway, on to the main subject of this post - dried fruit. Namely their pitfalls in baking.

The glorious thing about dried fruit is that you don't have to worry about it losing its beautiful plumpness and going bad and moldy. You can keep dried fruit for months, years even, as it has been proven in my household, where we are notorious for holding on to things longer than we probably should (NOTE: never fear, dear customers, as this behaviour does not ever translate into my baking. It is the only area where I am a stickler for freshness.)

Moving on, dried fruit is fantastic for many things - on salads, in curries, trail mix... the list could probably go on for a bit. What it doesn't really have a huge forte in is baking. Cookies are an exception because their baking time is relatively shorter than, say, a pie/tart. Unless there is a lot of liquid with the dried fruit whilst it bakes, you're going to end up with some burnt babies. There is a small window between having it warmed with the rest of the dessert in the oven, to it burning to a carmelized crisp. You have to really monitor it, and that was my huge mistake today. I set the timer and walked away. When I came back the fruit was crispy and not fit for selling. The fate of the tart is not a sad one, however - my family is more than pleased to indulge in my "screw ups"!

My first clue in baking the dried fruit should have been the fact that, well, they were dry enough to begin with. The high oven heat will only further this drying process to the point where there will be no more moisture to evaporate, and it will burn.

Below is the fruit of my negligence, no pun intended:

Mummified pupas. That was the first thing that came to mind. What could I have done differently to still obtain a baked dried fig tart? I could have mix all the sugar with the figs and added water, reducing slightly so that I have injected some moisture back into the fruit before baking, and also created a nice syrup that would help preserve this state during baking. I will test this next time and report back.

In other news, I made a raw tiramisu this week. Being a fan of the real thing, I scrutinized this dish a lot. The verdict? it was a nice thought, but nothing can replace the original. Especially when the replacement for the Frangipane cream calls for 6 ripe bananas. It's just going to taste like banana pudding with a cinnamon and coffee aftertaste! Pictures to come, though there really isn't much to look at. Next up, raw chocolate cake with raw chocolate ganache. Perhaps this recipe will be more successful.

Christmas is also coming up, and since I've gotten a full time job and thus am financially independent for most things, I am finding myself unable to be as fast and loose with my money this year. So everyone is either getting a box of chocolates, rum balls, christmas logs, or christmas cake. I still have to buy ingredients and chocolate moulds, but I'll spend a little to save a lot and besides, this is a much more personal gift anyway :).

Next post will hopefully contain more visually pleasing cakes. Lessons will take a backseat so that you can drool at my mad skills for a change, haha!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Website updates and even more cake adventures

My website is filling out more! Hurrah! If you've forgotten the address already click here for cake and tart love. Yes, I've finally gotten myself together and put up the majority of the cakes and tarts that I sell. Weebly is seriously the greatest website host in terms of layouts. As I've stated before, my HTML skills leave something to be desired so I could never whip up great photo gallery frames, pop ups, etc, etc.

I was incredibly busy with cake orders last week. I had promised a co-worker that I would make a vegan cake for a presentation she was making at school. The other ones were two baptism cakes for a friend of mine. Only three cakes, you say? That doesn't sound like a lot! Well, when you take into account that I have 10 hour days (1 hour commute each way to work, and then my full 8 hours work until 5:30pm), by the time I get home that doesn't leave a lot of time for relaxation AND cake making! Don't misinterpret this as whinging - I love doing it, I was just mildly stressed this week :).

Here are some of the baptism cake photos (I don't think you'd want to see every single angle that I took!)

The pink cake was a vegan fudge cake with vegan chocolate icing, and the ivory cake was a vanilla genoise with pear and vanilla buttercream.

One thing I've learned when working with coloured fondant is - if there is some cornstarch left over, do not, and I repeat DO NOT try to get it to disappear with water! Yes the cornstarch will go away but it won't dry properly and it will remain sticky and weird.

My piping has been improving with practice, but what I find really helps is to reduce the amount you work with. I used a cornet that was filled with probably a tablespoon or two of buttercream for the ivory cake, and I found I had farm more dexterity that way than filling up a piping bag and worrying about my small tips shooting out the end (I'm still warming to the idea of couplers).

Going back to the vegan baking, that's an area I'm really fascinated by. Being a Cordon Bleu graduate I'm supposed to revel in all things dairy and eggy, and my boyfriend constantly says that it's a "waste" of my talents working within vegan parameters. On the contrary! It's all too easy to whip up a buttercream and a wonderful sponge cake with good old butter and eggs, but what if you couldn't eat those for allergy reasons? Why should you be left out from having wonderful baked goods? If anything I find vegan baking all that more challenging. I'm currently striving to find ways to, for example, recreate a rich egg yolk laden French buttercream vegan-style. I've tried a recipe with the soy margarine from Earth Balance, but I'm not such a fan of that taste. Off to Loblaws for me to find more vegan butter substitutes!

Another adventure I'm going down is gluten-free baking. Eggs can easily be replaced by foods like apple sauce, but how do you get a cake to taste like cake with no flour? I remember a customer coming into my work wondering if we made gluten free cakes, and although we don't I offered her another place she could go, but apparently all they do is mousse cakes and I can still see the disappointment in her face knowing that finding a gluten-free cake that tasted like a gluten-full cake (what a mouthful!) is pretty near impossible in this city.

I really hope to start a line for vegans and celiacs. I want them to feel like they're getting in on the action without having to sacrifice their beliefs or compromise their health.