Monday, November 15, 2010
Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, The Bread Bible, and a few other equally influential tomes, has been one of the pastry world's go-to references for many many years. Her detailed, scientifically tested recipes, which include tables, weights and formulae, and no apologies for precision or difficulty, were a great help to me in planning last year's wedding cake extravaganzas. Also, because Rose is an Ashkenazi Jew with a New York background, I've always enjoyed the way her palate skews toward things like poppyseed and apricot. When I heard her new cookbook was out, my friend Catherine immediately volunteered to get me a copy. I didn't tell her my hidden motive, which was that I had to join up with this wonderfully crazy woman on the interwebs who had already schooled my bake-through self-importance by making it all the way through The Bread Bible, and nearly twenty cakes into Rose's Heavenly Cakes.
As soon as I had book in fist, I emailed Marie and begged to join the Heavenly Cake Bakers. She graciously agreed, added me to the blogroll, and it was on. While I've had my struggles with babycake overload and frosting glut, it's been an educational and enjoyable journey so far, often aided by Lily's willingness to let me bake the cakes over at Lily & Fig and sell them as specials. The Heavenly Cake Bakers group is much smaller than Tuesdays with Dorie, but still manages to span several continents. Each week, we bake a cake selected by Marie, the group leader, and post it in the neighborhood of Monday. Mid-week, Marie posts a much-appreciated roundup of everyone's efforts, and Rose and her associate Woody often chime in to answer questions or concerns. Some of us (Rose included) are precise sticklers, others of us (self included) fall more into the free-and-easy camp. Everyone, though, is very supportive, and the group discourse is lively, and sometimes pleasingly technical.
A few randomly chosen examples show the diversity of our membership. In addition to me, previously described, there is Mendy, my fellow Brooklynite, an orthodox Jew who bakes for his family in a toaster oven. Then there is Lola, who according to her blog lives in Mexico, and is part of even more cooking clubs than I am. There is Sarah (the Bear), whose profile photo includes poultry and who dreams of cooking school, someday, maybe. Raymond posts on Sundays and gets us in the mood...and the list goes on and on. Check out the blogroll on the Heavenly Cake Bakers site for more.
Because Marie baked quite a few of the cakes before the group's official start, every now and then she designates a 'free choice' cake to catch everyone up. These are selected from the roster of cakes that Marie or the group has already baked, but I haven't. My choice this week was very Halloween/Thanksgiving appropriate -- Pumpkin Cake with Orange Silk Meringue Buttercream. The cake almost didn't make it to the buttercream stage, but that's getting ahead of the story.
In Rose's book, the pumpkin cake is one of the most imposing decorating projects, baked in a double mold that creates a ball/pumpkin shape when the two halves are pressed together. Rose's picture is decorated with bright orange buttercream and fondant leaves. Mine was baked in a single fluted tube pan. The cake is a simple oil cake, with walnuts, walnut oil, and pumpkin puree. I used a CSA butternut squash, roasted, pureed, and drained (it lost nearly a cup of liquid). Eager hands surrounded the bundt almost as soon as it came out of the oven, and several slices mysteriously disappeared before frosting time. To be honest, we just don't love frosting in my house, and both Matt and Liana (and I) have a yen for these kind of rustic bundt-y banana-bread-pumpkin-bread style cakes, which Matt categorized somewhat vaguely as 'one of the three kinds of cakes you make' (bundt-y, creamy, chocolately).
I am terrible at frosting bundts, so it wasn't terribly photogenic, but the texture was excellent. Final verdict, though, was that it was better unfrosted.