a birthday cake for gingerbread

July 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

People are always really sympathetic about me making my own birthday cakes. I find this bizarre. To those concerned sirs and ladies, have a fur bath, calm your eyeballs. I love baking, especially when it takes all day.  But cakes, being the cream-filled, artisanal chocolate-slathered delights that I expect them to be, damage the shit out of my bank account. They require occasion and multiple cake-thirsty mouths. This is where birthdays come in, my ultimate cake scapegoat.

For my birthday this year, I decided to challenge rural Hokkaido grocery stores to a death match and embark on my first baking venture in my new kitchen.  I decided on David Lebovitz’s German Chocolate Cake, which I made for a friend’s birthday last November. I think it’s a pretty perfect little cake.

Last weekend I finally got a chance to go to the grocery store (hey I live in the boonies), where I bought the one and only baking chocolate available. This morning when I was preparing my ingredients I cut off a sliver to taste and almost instantly aborted my cake plans. It was unpleasantly sweet and waxy, violating one of my most important baking rules (baking rule #1: Use the best-tasting, highest-quality ingredients or your product is going to taste like shit. Also, stop sucking). But I had already spent ¥1,500 on this chocolate. Also Hokkaido was watching me and I was not about to lose to Hokkaido.

The offending chocolate. I ended up adding some natural cocoa powder to the batter and omitting about 1/4 cup of sugar in hopes of remedying the miscreant ‘HOME MADE CAKE CHOCOLATE’ situation.

Next issue, threat level orange, no coconut. Why didn’t I just make a damn lemon cake and be done with it? I think sliced almond might have been a reasonable substitution in terms of texture, but I couldn’t find any of those either. I decided to use crushed cookies to bulk up the rest of the filling. I actually managed to find these ‘coconut sables’ which were hilariously the only thing in the store that had coconut in them. When I got them home and stuck one in my mouth I realized how foolish I had been for entertaining the idea that they might possibly taste something like coconut. I have to admit, they’re nice with tea.

Improvised flour sifter (tea ball). Also, improvised flour. There are two main kinds of flour you can get in Japan (at least rural Japan), high gluten flour (bread flour) and low gluten flour (cake flour). I thought about trying a combination of the two, but ended up just substituting straight cake flour for AP.

My other need-based substitutions: sour cream and yogurt for buttermilk (which doesn’t exist here), maple syrup for corn syrup (added a kind of nice flavor to the frosting, slightly overpowering), and walnuts instead of pecans. Converting things from oz to grams was also pretty haphazard and I wasn’t as exact as I would like to have been.

I only had one cake pan so before adding the egg whites I split the batter in two, stuck half of it in the refrigerator and beat half of the egg whites. After the first layer was cooked, I beat the second half of the whites, and added them to the reserved cake mix. The second layer rose as well as the first, which is to say not very well at all.

Finally, I had no serrated knife (ok, this one’s not Japan’s fault).

Oh dental floss you dirty two-timer. I took the point of a sharp knife and scored around the cake at the halfway point, then wrapped the floss around, fitting it into the grooves, and finally pulled it tight. Works perfectly. I googled this and apparently you’re supposed to use unflavored floss but I only had mint. If you’re in a similar situation, no worries babies, I detected no mint-taste in this cake.

So hey, even with my substitutions this is a tasty cake. The crumb was a little too delicate (use AP if you can), but it’s moist, the frosting is smooth and chocolatey, and the filling is gooey nutty-buttery. I missed the coconut and high quality chocolate (which I think help cut the cake’s richness), but all in all, a cake worth eating on my birthday (and, considering this cake is going down no mouth-hole but my own, I’ll probably still be eating it by then).

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