Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Cookbook Review - The Whimsical Bakehouse
In the Whimsical Bakehouse by Kaye Hansen and Liv Hansen, you are confronted with page after page of vibrant, whimsical cakes. The recipes seem pretty standard, but what drew me in was the chocolate art. I was intimidated by how beautiful it looked, since Liv is clearly an artist who happens to use chocolate as her medium, but the directions were clear and took away the complexity.
So the cake and frosting and filling recipes - fine. Good, even. But to me, the joy in this book is about working with chocolate, something I have wanted to learn more about.
The process starts by outlining images in chocolate. I found some good butterflies online, and drew one freehand. The spirals and squiggles were just done freehand with extra melted chocolate. The examples in the book are far more delicate and intricate than mine, but I was just curious if I could do it at all! Melted chocolate is harder to work with than something like buttercream, because if it is warm enough to flow easily, it is pretty liquidy, and the cooler and thicker it gets, the harder it is to be precise. The book describes an advanced method where brushes are involved, but I found myself just using the brushes to help with the next stage. Maybe next time I can create feathered effects!
The next step is to use colored white chocolate. For simplicity, I only made yellow and green, but on a week with more time I would have liked more varied butterflies. In the book, Liv also creates almost a watercolor texture with colors that flow into each other within an outlined space, whereas I tended to put one color per outline. It really just creates a difference in style - hers were more realistic, ethereal, and mine are more cartoonish. Cartoonish isn't bad!
After filling in all the spaces and adding extra to the back, the chocolate has already started to harden. Then they can be flipped over and viewed. This technique does create chocolate decorations that have to be used on one side, but the possibilities are endless here.
There are a few questions I had that weren't answered in the text. There weren't really any indications on how far in advance you could assemble the cake, and since all of them were quite intricate, this would have been helpful. I almost waited until the last minute to add the chocolate parts, but that didn't really fit my schedule, so I decided to chance it and iced and decorated the cake the night before. I used their house buttercream, which is made with an interesting recipe that combines boiling water, powdered sugar, and cold butter (I didn't think it could possible come together but it worked great!), and put the chocolate decorations on right after icing the final layer. They stayed through the night in the fridge with no problem, and still seemed rather stable.
I made the golden butter cake, and was surprised that the book did not include any soaking syrups, since butter cakes can be a little dry. At least the one I made was! I suspect I should have split the two layers in half again so there was a higher ratio of filling to cake. I should have made filling but I had so much buttercream that I just used that in the middle - but the filling recipes look amazing.
Another thing I'd say about the recipes is that they aren't for standard cake pan sizes, and I really wish they'd made each one for the same size cake and included recipes on cutting back or increasing them. I made the golden butter cake which is for 10" pans but I only had 9" pans, and some of the others call for 8". I'm not sure the typical home baker would have an entire cupboard of cake pans - I bake a lot, and I certainly don't!
Categories: Cookbook Review, Cake, Buttercream, Chocolate
at 9:48 PM