Cake is all the rage these days takes to the TV shows that feature fancy cakes.
We are a nation up to our eyeballs in buttercream icing, ganache, fondant and the cakes that support them.
Layer cakes. Cupcakes. Bundt cakes. It is a passionate love affair. Fantastically decorated sweets fill bakery shelves, TV screens and cookbooks.
To put it simply: We’ve got a serious case of cake love, and we’ve got it bad.
“We are a cake-centric society,” said Rose Levy Beranbaum, America’s reigning queen of cakes. “We always have been, and it has only gotten more so. I think it’s because of the ‘Iron Chef’ syndrome.”
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The symptoms? Constant viewing of sweet-TV.
Shows such as TLC’s “Cake Boss,” with Buddy Valastro’s family at Carlo’s bakery in Hoboken, N.J. Or maybe Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes,” with Duff Goldman and his team in Baltimore.
Not enough for you? Click on TLC’s “Ultimate Cake Off” or We TV’s “Amazing Wedding Cakes.” And if you can wait until later this year, Bravo will add “Top Chef: Just Desserts” to the mix.
“People don’t know how to do it themselves, so they really love seeing somebody else doing it,” said Beranbaum, author of “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes” and “The Cake Bible,” in its 44th printing.
“Cake Boss” Valastro would agree. “You know, it’s kind of like watching that show on the Discovery Channel,” he said. “I get sucked into that because it’s, ‘Ahh, how do they make Reese’s Pieces’ And you see it.”
Such sweet-TV fuels our appetite for cakes. So do hundreds of bakeries and cupcakeries. The final swirl atop this multilayered phenomenon? Dozens of cake cookbooks, from “Cakewalk,” by New York sugar artist Margaret Braun on through “The Whimsical Bakehouse,” by mother-daughter bakers Kaye and Liv Hansen from Westchester, N.Y. Coming in April: “Simply Spectacular Cakes,” by London-based Peggy Porschen, who’s done sweets for Elton John and Madonna as well as the centerpiece cake for Stella McCartney’s wedding.
How over the top can cakes get? “The cake I’m most proud of I did in the shape of a NASCAR car,” Valastro said. “And it was actual size. That was a monumental task. It took like three days.”
Cake “is the fanciest, most visual aspect of food,” Beranbaum said. “When food starts getting too fussy, you don’t want to eat it. But when it comes to cake, that’s different. It’s a symbol of celebration.” Something you might do for loved ones.
One other reason to bake a cake? “Decorate with your kids at home,” said Valastro, a father of three. “Hey listen, if it comes out lousy, you can still eat it. And the kids’ll never forget that time.”
From decorating tools to classes to how-to online videos, here are a few helpful Web sites:
“Ace of Cakes”: Food Network’s Duff Goldman’s team creates a cake “Viking ship,” wedding cakes, offering inspiration. foodnetwork .com/ace-of-cakes/index.html
“Cake Boss”: Videos of old-school piping (TLC-TV’s Buddy Valastro goes swag crazy) and decorative roses, etc. tlc.discovery.com/tv/cake-boss/cake-boss.html
Rose Levy Beranbaum: Cake cookbook whiz’s blog plus instructional videos on lacquer glaze and more. realbakingwithrose.com
Wilton Industries: The “Decorating 101” page is especially instructive. Want to mix mauve, plum or lavender tinted frosting? Check out the color chart. wilton.com
This is Cream cheese Pound Cake is adapted from “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro’s basic pound cake. The cake can be decorated as you like or served simply with citrus-glazed fruit.
Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Makes 16 servings
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups sugar, divided
2 1/3 cups cake flour, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 large eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Citrus-glazed fruit, see recipe, optional
Whipped cream, optional
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in 1 3/4 cups of the sugar until smooth; beat in flour and vanilla on low speed until batter has a dry, crumbly appearance. Add yolks, one at a time, beating each until incorporated. Clean beaters.
2. Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and remaining 1/4 cup of the sugar in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into batter; repeat twice. Pour batter into buttered and floured 10-inch Bundt pan. Bake until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes. Invert onto cake rack; cool completely. Decorate as desired, or serve with citrus-glazed fruit and whipped cream.
3.To make Citrus-glazed fruit: Mix 1 cup each sugar and water plus grated zest of one lemon in a small saucepan; cook over low heat until sugar dissolves and mixture thickens slightly. Cut enough fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, kiwi fruit, for example) to make about 3 cups. Place fruit in bowl; pour glaze over fruit.
Sweetheart of a Cake
Remember when a fancy cake was decorated with pastel-tinted royal icing roses, a piped edge and a carefully written missive that began with “Happy …”?
No more. So much sweet TV and its sugar wizards, cake artists and those working in the Technicolor-bright, sugar-and-butter world of decorated cakes have changed that.
It doesn’t mean there’s no room in the kitchen for the rest of us who want to try our hand at sugar art.
And why not? Especially if you agree with Duff Goldman who writes in “Ace of Cakes,” a book about his Charm City Cakes and Food Network show, that “cake is a physical manifestation of joy.”
To get you started, some decorating tips from the pros:
“Get inspired from other people’s work.” — Buddy Valastro, TLC’s “Cake Boss”
“When designing a cake, simplicity is always best. One idea or element is always better than trying to make two or three ideas work on one cake.” — Goldman, in “Ace of Cakes”
Buy a turntable. “Anybody who wants to be serious about cake decorating needs a turntable.” — Valastro
“Make sure you let the cake cool — even put it in a freezer, so it chills a little bit. It’s easier for you to handle. A half-hour in the freezer will give it a little stability.” — Valastro.
“The trick to keeping crumbs out of your icing is to glide your spatula over the icing, never allowing the spatula to touch the cake surface or to pull already spread icing from the cake surface.” — From “Cake Decorating 101” at wilton.com
“Many factors can affect your icing consistency, such as humidity, temperature, ingredients and equipment. You may need to try using different icing consistencies when decorating.” — From “Cake Decorating 101” at wilton.com
“Dip hands in ice water if, while piping, it (the icing) gets too soft.” — Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes”
“If you can’t make the sides (of a cake) smooth, encrust it with nuts.” — Beranbaum
“There’s nothing wrong with buying pre-made royal icing flowers.” — Beranbaum
— — — Adapted from “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes,” by Rose Levy Beranbaum. For a more distinct chocolate flavor and a much darker red, you can use up to 1/4 cup cocoa, sifted before measuring, but you must decrease the flour by the same amount.
Rose Red Velvet Cake with White Chocolate Frosting
Makes 10 servings
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons egg whites, room temperature
2 tablespoons red food color
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
2 cups sifted cake (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose) flour
1 cup superfine sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil, room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
White chocolate frosting, see recipe
1. Grease bottom of one 9-inch heart-shaped or round cake pan; top with parchment paper cut to fit. Grease paper; dust with flour. Set oven rack in the lower third of the oven; heat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk egg whites, food color and vanilla in a medium bowl until lightly combined. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cocoa and salt in a medium bowl.
2. Mix oil and butter in bowl with electric mixer on medium speed, 1 minute. Add flour mixture and buttermilk; mix on low until dry ingredients are moistened. Raise speed to medium; beat 1 1/2 minutes. Lower speed to medium-low; beat in egg mixture in two parts, 30 seconds each. Pour batter into the prepared pan; smooth the surface evenly.
3. Bake until cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center, 25-35 minutes. Let cake cool in the pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Carefully invert the cake onto a greased wire rack. Reinvert the cake so that the top side is up. Cool completely. Frost top with white chocolate frosting.
4. To make white chocolate frosting: Microwave 3 ounces white chocolate (containing cocoa butter) in a bowl on high heat, stirring often, until almost completely melted, about 30 seconds. Remove from microwave; stir until fully melted. Cool until no longer warm to the touch but still fluid. Beat 4 ounces softened cream cheese, 2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter and 1/2 tablespoon creme fraiche or sour cream until smooth. Add the white chocolate; beat until smooth. Beat in 1/8 teaspoon almond extract until smooth.