Finding the Perfect Balance

There’s this small hole-in-the-wall bakery near my apartment that I had been dying to visit. The owner had won the lottery a while back, then cashed in and opened his own bakery! I just had to meet this guy. My roommate Jenn and I finally went, and after introducing myself we began talking about our shared passion for baking. We both immediately agreed upon the one book that every baker should own – Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. No baking kitchen is complete without it! Recently when I was asked to bake a cake for a coworker’s going-away party, this “bible” certainly lived up to its name when I made the Chocolate Butter Cake with Mocha Espresso Buttercream.
What’s ingenious about Rose’s book is not the recipes themselves, but the science that structures them. Rather than assuming the old measured ratios, Rose explores the chemistry behind baking and how the different components react with one another. All of the recipes includes actual weight measurements, as well as an explanation behind the process and ingredient ratios. Additionally, she provides the basics so you can choose from a variety of cake batters, frostings, etc. to build your own!
This was the first time I had made a cake where the dry ingredients are added before the butter. Normally, the butter is creamed with the sugar to aerate the butter’s proteins and disperse the sugar crystals. By adding the butter after the dry ingredients, the fats in the butter are able to coat the gluten in the flour, and prevent the batter from toughening during the mixing process. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth cake whose texture is far more consistent than that from the traditional creaming method. The only downside to this process is that cakes won’t rise quite as high as they would with the creaming method. Since I was baking this for my entire office, a short double-layer cake wouldn’t quite cut it. Upon realizing this, I decided to bake a second batch. I used only one of the cakes to make a triple-layer, and froze the leftover for another use.
This buttercream is to die for, but I will warn you – I nearly lost the entire thing thinking I had botched it. Water and sugar is boiled to a “soft ball stage,” or when a spoonful can be dropped into very cold water and forms a ball while in the water. Patience is key here – I dropped several little drops into a constantly refilled glass until it reached that  point. My agony could also be blamed on the ridiculously hot weather, with my buttercream resembling a milk shake more than a frosting. So I refrigerated it for about 30 minutes, then removed it and whisked it with a hand mixer once again – the end result was gorgeous. To make it espresso, I added both instant espresso powder AND Kahlua. Click HERE to learn how to make this decadent cake.
To honor Rose’s baking wisdom, I wanted to choose a piece that reflects the way the different ingredients interact with one another. This led me to chamber music – unlike a large ensemble, every performer in a chamber setting plays a crucial role. The unique balance relies on the reactions the musicians have with one another, almost like a musical conversation. One person who arguably understood the “chemistry” of chamber music was Beethoven. Every voice in his works has a purposeful, expressive quality that is truly brilliant. This is especially true of his string quartets. For this cake, I chose his String Quartet No. 1 in F major, op. 18. The recording below is the Alban Berg Quartet performing the first movement, “Allegro con brio” – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
– Beranbaum, Rose Levy. The Cake Bible. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1988.

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