Sunday, November 28, 2010

Just Taste the Rainbow Already!

(Okay, you so don't want to know all the images that Google gives you  when you search on "taste the rainbow."  Trust me on this one.)

If I were to take one of those inane Facebook quizzes about "what kind of bird are you?", I would probably score as a crow or a magpie, based on my love of shiny and colorful things. In this episode of "Baked:  or Why Don't I Just Go Ahead and Put My Head in the Oven Already," I get distracted once again by something pretty on a baking blog of someone who has way more luck and experience than I do with getting something edible out of the oven.

I know I whine a lot about baking, but I really, really, really want to be able to do it.  And I don't understand why I can't.  I know practice makes perfect, but sometimes, you need more than practice.  I think you need either magic, the appropriate gene structure, or possibly voodoo.

And, we can just blame it on Linna for sending me links to the The Food Librarian's celebration of Bundt cakes, appropriately named "I Like Big Bundts."   (You have to love the Sir Mix-a-Lot reference...the man is nothing, if not honest.)  Somehow, I got a link from there, at least I think it was from that site, to this one for the Kitchen Koala, who posted one of the coolest looking cakes that I have ever seen:  a Rainbow Cake.

It's not just enough that all the layers are different colors; they are all different flavors, too.  KK got her recipe from the Cheeky Kitchen, which is where I got the actual recipe as well.  I used some of the techniques described in the Koala post, like using thawed frozen fruit and pureeing the beejeezus out of it, and the Billowed White Chocolate frosting recipe that Cheeky Kitchen used.  And, this is what I got:

 Pretty cool, huh?  Each layer is obviously a different color, but they are also different flavors.  The red one is raspberry with pureed raspberries; orange has orange zest and orange juice; lemon has lemon zest and juice, as does the lime, with lime zest and juice.  I whirled up some blueberries for the blue layer, and blackberries for the violet layer.  (Indigo was put in the corner and had to wait this one out.  I suppose I could have gone right on out on the crazy tree limb and made a 7th layer for indigo, combining blueberry and blackberry, but I feel that 6 layers was quite enough, thank you.  "ROYGBV" works just fine in my spectrum.)

While making this cake, I felt a kinship with Tim "The Toolman" Taylor--I got all the tools and a lot of enthusiasm, but I might be a little lacking in the innate talent department.

The slippery slide down the path of baking construction started out auspiciously, when I borrowed 3 8-inch cake pans from Linna to add to the 3 8-inch pans I already had  and discovered that I have no idea how to measure.  I have 9-inch cake pans, and as with most things, an inch makes a BIG difference.  And, really cake pan manufacturers, is it so hard to put the size on the darn pans?  Pyrex manages to do it...just sayin'.

You know that I have already mixed the cake batter up and divided it out and mixed the colors and flavors in by the time that I discovered the discrepancy.  I call Linna in a panic, and she talks me off the ledge and assures me that I can just run a little cool water in the pans after I take the first 3 layers out to cool, and I should be fine to bake the next three layers.

I am very concerned about making sure that my batter is divided evenly--the recipe says to scoop out 6 cups and divided them in to 6 different 1-cup containers.  I double-checked that all the layers had the same amount of batter by weighing them to make sure they all weighed the same before adding the fruit and color.  I was kinda proud of myself for thinking of that method, if I do say so myself.  (Yes, if you look closely, that is a ladybug toaster on my counter, which was a wonderful Christmas present from Linna.)

When I added the fruit for the red, blue,and purple layers, I measured out 4 oz of each fruit before pureeing it and adding it to the batter.

Yep, that is ladybug tea kettle...
Before I put the pans in the oven, I spun them around and tried to make sure that I had distributed the batter evenly in each pan.  I have no idea what happened in the split second that it took me to stop the spinning the pans and toss them in the oven, but they came out in all different depths.  I was rather surprised when the green layer came out, and it was significantly flatter than the other 5 layers.  I had expected that the red, blue, and purple layers might have been a bit thicker, because they had more ingredients with addition of the pureed fruit.  I assume there must have been some sort of extra reaction to the acidity in the lime juice which caused it not to rise more.  (If I'm wrong, don't tell me...just let me add it to the mythos and madness of what I think baking should will keep me happy and stop me from over analyzing my fool ass off.)  I was afraid to try and level them, especially that ol' green layer...Hulk say leveling bad.  Besides, I figure I can fill in the gaps with icing. (Hah!  I can hear you all laughing about this now.)

I watched them very carefully, since my oven tends to run a little hot, and did my best not to overcook them, and started preparing the icing.  I used the Billowed White Chocolate recipe from Cheeky Kitchen's original post, which involves 2 sticks of butter, a bag of white chocolate chips, milk, and 3 pounds of powdered sugar.  Yeah, that was 3 pounds and not a typo.  I am fascinated with how you can take an enormous amount of powered sugar and have it absorbed by a small amount of liquid and become frosting.  When I turned to the Internet to find out why, I got distracted by this post of baking substitutions on Joy of Baking and remembered that I really needed to finish this post...

The icing just about did my little hand mixer this point in the evening, I did not have the strength nor the mental acuity to wrestle with the stand mixer.  Besides, I think my stand mixer hates me, because it knows I don't have any baking genetics.  The frosting came together well; it was just hard going at times when adding in a fresh dump of powdered sugar..."dump" might not be the best word to use here, but I'm going with it anyway.

I start stacking and frosting and stacking and frosting, until I end up with something that looks like the Leaning Tower of Cake-a.  I put about 5-6 long wooden barbecue skewers in to try and hold the cake together while I finished frosting it, so the whole thing wouldn't slide off into the floor, possibly crushing the Goldfish and have the other two devil poodles in cake and frosting sugar coma heaven.

Frosting this cake is tiring and a real arm workout. After I get frosting all over the cake and me, I decide that I am throwing it into the fridge overnight and dealing with it tomorrow.  Hopefully, it will magically straighten up and be perfect when I pull it out.  Because, you know I wasn't just making this completely for my own amusement...I was going to inflict it on people who were Coming Over.

A couple of hours before the victims guests were to arrive, I pulled it  and the rest of the frosting out of the fridge to soften and come to room temp before trying to finish it off.  Kimma showed up early, and I immediately threw myself at her mercy, handed her an offset spatula, and begged her to "fix it."  She smoothed out the icing, filled in the gaps, and then we sprinkled multicolored sugar on it to liven up the stark white frosting.  It was pretty darn impressive looking, all tall and white, and not quite so leaning, if I do say so myself.

At this point, I have ingested so much cake batter and frosting in the process, trying to determine how the finished product will taste, that I am so over and done with this cake that I can barely stand to look at it.  My guests are brave and try it, proclaiming it to be delicious, and that all the fruity layers seem to work together...which is good, because I had visions of it tasting like a bad bowl of Froot Loops.  Everyone seems to have a favorite layer, and not necessarily the same flavor.  I was sort of worried about all the flavors, because in tasting the batter before baking, the purple/blackberry layer was the only one that seemed remotely edible.  Amazing what a little heat and a tone of frosting can do, isn't it?

I foist off as much as I could on folks and wrapped up a couple of slices to throw in the freezer, waiting until I could work up my nerve and appetite to try it.  The Poodle Sitter came over the night before Thanksgiving, and she was pretty excited about the rainbow cake, so we pulled some out of the freezer to try.  And, you know what?  It was pretty tasty.  It was moist and tender, even after being in the freezer, and the fruit flavors really did taste fruity and light and did not clash with each other.  I think my favorite layer was the purple one (blackberry), followed in a close second by red (raspberry).

Lessons Learned

First and foremost, I would not attempt this cake again in a single session...especially not on a work night.  It's a 2-day project at the very least.  If I ever get crazy enough to do this again, I will definitely make the layers in advance and refrigerate or freeze them.

I would also like a better frosting much as I hate to say it, the old standby cream cheese frosting might have worked better for this cake.  The white chocolate one that I used was just too sweet and didn't really have any flavor but sweet, if that makes any sense.  I am right fond of marshmallow icings, and I realize they might be an acquired taste, but I think that would have went well, as would a basic butter cream or 7-minute.

And, I will start leveling my cakes better...even if the green layer becomes nothing more that a sliver between the yellow and blue.

Also, since this started life as a box mix and all the fruity flavors seemed to turn out well, I'm thinking that might be a tasty way to quickly jazz up the cake and have something a little bit out of the ordinary when you need a cake in a pinch.

Part of me (probably the logical rational part that I keep buried in a box) says give up and leave well enough alone and stick to the Bundt cake, because it is hard to screw one of those up.  Bundts always looks nice and neat, with those handy lines for portion control.  The Crow side, the wild and crazy part that is sucked in by bright colors and shiny things, is wondering if we can conceivably turn this rainbow cake thing into a Bundt and then cover it with those little silver dragees.  Luckily, Crow is in her cage and distracted from picking the lock because I threw in one of those Fushigi balls to keep her occupied.

Am not completely sure why it's art and why "everyone loves" it, but it keeps her out of baking trouble...


LinC said...

I love it! And it tasted really good. You are a star for even attempting anything so spectacular.

J said...

When you bake you bake big! I am so impressed.