Sunday, March 23, 2014

Conquering Bread and Cake Fears

Donna with her first breads, and my first cake!

Conquering Bread and Cake Fears

Bakers usually seem to fit into one of the two baking categories.  Either you gravitate toward bread baking, or you prefer cake and pastry baking. 

Bread baking means working with yeast and developing gluten.  You can get rough with the dough, especially when kneading it.

On the other hand, when a cake or pie crust is being made, baking powder or baking soda are used.  The goal of making a cake or pie crust is to limit the amount of gluten created to create a more tender finished product

There's a difference in approaches, also.  My favorite example of the difference is of being a parent of a small child.  One way of raising the child is to tell it precisely what it needs.  In cake baking, it's extremely precise in ingredients and methods.  When and how you do something is as important as an ingredient of the recipe. Extremely detailed.

The other way of raising a child seems to be to see what it needs and then provide that for them.  That's like bread baking.  Humidity and many other factors can affect the dough.  Most of the time, you start with your recipe, see what it needs, and then see what the dough needs.  You might need to add more liquid or more flour until it feels right.  You wait for the dough to rise and may have to help it along.  Lots of patience.

I consider myself a bread baker.  Oh, I have made muffins, a few cupcakes and some cakes in 9" x 13" pans. I don't remember ever making a layer cake.

My baking buddy, Donna, is a cake baker.  She's a very good cake baker, in my opinion. She posts pictures of her cakes on her blog, "The Sweet, The Sassy, and The Blur."  Check out pictures of her cakes at the following link (but please come back here for the rest of the story...)  

Donna wanted to learn to finally use yeast and bake breads that don't contain preservatives.  I got a free Wilton beginning cake making class on Craftsy.  I'm healing from a broken ankle, so I figured it was time to try cakes.  We recently go together at my house to bake.  

We started off shaping bread dough: 

I remember how hard it was for me to remember the "right" texture of the dough.  I started baking with a bread machine in 2007.  I couldn't understand why the dough texture was dry when I followed the recipe exactly.  It got so that Carol, at Red Star Yeast Customer Service, knew who I was by my voice.  I didn't even have to say my name, I called so much for help. 

Donna said that she saw a bread baking demonstration with a mixer.  It may have been intimidating, because she didn't follow up with baking on her own.   No knead dough was probably the easiest way for Donna to venture into yeast baking. in my opinion.  I had baked the no knead recipes from "Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day" in the past. They have a lot of leeway and are very forgiving for a beginner, and makes good breads.  

All the ingredients are in place to make bread dough!
We used a scale to weigh out the ingredients for the dough.  This method is much easier than using cups and tablespoons.  The newest version of the book includes these measurements.

I showed Donna how the Olive Oil Dough should look after mixing

The Olive Oil dough is very much like the Master Dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day."   It's a versatile dough, and is great for pizza crust.

Donna mixed up the wet dough (she took the picture, LOL)

Donna was surprised how easily the dough mixed up by hand.  We mixed it in a large pot, so we didn't need any special equipment.  A mixer wasn't needed!  Rather than wait for the new batch to rise for a few hours, we used a batch of the dough I had prepared a few days earlier.  The "Master Dough" recipe can be stored in the fridge for up to 14 days!   The earlier batch had been stored overnight in the fridge. This dough is very wet, and easier to shape when cold.  

We set aside the newly mixed batch of dough to rise for several hours.  It more than doubled in size!  I showed Donna how to shape the breads.  She's a natural for the special shaping, having shaped fondant in her cake making.

Here's a quick video of the baking and shaping process:
The shaped breads, before rising

Don't they look great after baking?

Donna loved her breads, and so did her family.  She has added the recently released "The New Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day" book to her wish list!

Let's make a Cake!

While we waited for the breads to rise before baking, Donna showed me how to make a layer cake. We made a 9" two layer yellow cake with white buttercream (all white) frosting.

Baking a cake is very exacting.  You don't add all the eggs at once, you alternate adding certain ingredients, and placement of the pans in the oven--this has an impact on the finished cake!  Donna watched the whole process, all the while holding onto the recipe.  We used the yellow cake recipe from the Wilton online Craftsy class.  Here's a link to the recipe:

I'm just relieved that the batter is mixed and ready for the pan!!!
I was very glad when the cakes came out of the pan.  I'm so glad Donna showed me how to grease and flour the pans properly.  After the layers were baked Donna suggested that I trim off any "crust" from the sides of the layers.  That way, people will always be biting into a soft part of the cake.  It was difficult, because I could easily chop off a larger piece of cake.

Details, Details!

I'm hoping the Wilton cake strips I purchased later on will help eliminate this step.

The cake, with the crust removed.  Not too bad, huh?

We used Donna's buttercream frosting recipe. LOTS of butter and confectioners sugar!!!  I got to see how the yellow frosting actually became white and texture became fluffy when it was mixed for awhile! 

Donna showed me how to do a crumb layer, and then the final layer of icing.

Taste testing, always the best part


My hubby loved his taste test!
Donna inspired me so much in cake baking, that I decided to challenge myself to another cake.  I decided to bake my own birthday cake, and I succeeded.  Donna gave me the pink pearls and flower for the top of the cake, but I did everything else myself.  The whole cake was an adventure in parts and slight mishaps, but icing covers many secrets, LOL.  It was a yellow cake with chocolate custard filling and vanilla buttercream icing.

Donna came over on my birthday to share the cake with my husband and I.  It was like an afternoon tea party!


Donna inspired me further with a nice birthday surprise--the Wilton Course 1 kit!  It has lots of wonderful icing tips, bags, and other cake-making goodies.  I look forward to using them really soon.  What a creative journey!!!

And.... we conquered our baking fears!  YAAAY!

Have you conquered any baking or cooking fears?  I hope you will leave me some comments about your journey.
Photos by Donna Nave Smith

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Small Batch Bread Baking--Coffee Cake

Old Fashioned Coffee Cake--Small Batch Bread Baking

All of us "kids" who grew up going to one of the LA Unified School district schools have fond memories of the coffee cake.  All you have to do is mention the coffeecake to my classmates, and you'll see them salivating and having a big smile on their faces.
I was especially lucky.  My mom was a pastry chef for one of the high schools.  Yes, Mom was one of the nice lunch ladies in the cafeteria!  Sometimes, she would bring us a piece of coffee cake that she had left over from her lunch.  What a treat!

Mom at work (don't tell her I posted it)

Because of her work, I was able to get a recipe for the coffeecake.  I know that Mom started baking from scratch at the beginning of her career and they switched to mixes from headquarters later on.  So the coffeecake may have changed slightly.  

I've downsized this beloved recipe even further, which may change the flavor slightly.  It's easier not to measure 1/2 tsp + 1/16 tsp of an ingredient!  Also, baking in a different pan may change how it bakes up--that can change the flavor.  I added nuts to the topping; I think it tastes better.  But I've tried my best to make a wonderful cake for you.  It tastes great--we polished off a loaf in a sitting.  It's in a size that won't tempt you to eat too much!  That's the purpose of my Small Bread Baking project.


Old Fashioned Coffee Cake

Adapted from Los Angeles City Schools recipe

PORTIONS: 2-4 You can share a loaf and give one away/freeze it   (or two people can eat a warm loaf, LOL)

PANS: 2  mini foil pans, about 6" x 3"  in size.  1 1/2 cup capacity

TEMPERATURE: Conventional Oven, 375 F

BAKE TIME: 20-25 Min.

TOPPING (suggest you make topping first and set it aside so can put cake in oven as soon as mixed, for better rise).

1 TBSP      All purpose flour
1/4 Cup      Brown sugar, packed
1/16 tsp.     Salt
1 tsp.          Cinnamon

1/4 cup       Finely Chopped Walnuts
1 TBSP      Canola oil

In mixer bowl, combine all ingredients except oil. Mix well.  Add oil gradually and continue to blend until topping is crumbly.  I used my fingers.

1 Cup                All purpose flour (4.25 ounces)
2 1/2 TBSP       Non-fat dry milk
1/8 tsp               Salt
1/4 tsp               Nutmeg
1/4 tsp               Cinnamon
1 tsp                  Baking powder
1/8 tsp               Baking soda
1 1/2 tsp            Vinegar
6 TBSP             Water
1/4 Cup             Canola Oil
5 TBSP             Brown sugar, packed
1/4 Cup             Granulated sugar
1 1/2 TBSP       Egg (beat 1 egg, use half)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease and flour your pans.

In a bowl, combine flour, dry milk, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

Combine vinegar and water in a measuring cup. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, blend together the oil, brown sugar and granulated sugar for 1 minute on low speed.  Tip:  A stand mixer makes it much easier to make the batter; a handheld mixer would work also.  Mixer timing is for stand mixer.

Add eggs and continue to blend low speed for 1 minute.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the water and vinegar mixture to the mixture in the bowl.

Scrape down bowl, then blend on medium speed for 1 additional minute.  Just a minute!  If you mix any cake too much, the cake becomes tough.
Divide batter between the 2 prepared foil mini loaf pans. Sprinkle half the topping evenly over batter in each pan.

Bake until tooth pick comes out clean when inserted in the center of cake, approximately 20-25 minutes.

Let the cakes cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before removing them so they will come out easier.  After removing them, let them cool awhile longer while they continue to set up. (If you can wait!!!)


I would love your suggestions for more small batch bread baking.  I'm working on ciabatta and cinnamon rolls also.

What would you like to see?