I don’t know if you are aware of this awesomeness, but Kitchn has a entire 20-day baking school series for free on their website! I finished it a few weeks ago and seriously, SO MUCH LEARNING GOT DONE! There is SO MUCH SCIENCE that goes into baking! And a lot of it has to do with the way eggs, butter, yeast and sugar act at different temperatures in different recipes. You basically get to bake and eat your way through a valuable education. Why can’t all school be like that??
What I Learned in Baking School
The first week takes you all through the science of eggs, including how and why egg whites, egg yolks and whole eggs act differently. And yes, I can now crack an egg with one hand, thank you very much. I feel just like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina when she went to culinary school in Paris… *swoon* But for real, I loaded up on pastry creams, meringue cookies, a GIANT cheese soufflé… yummm… What?! Why are you staring at me?! It’s for the sake of my culinary education!
The second week was all about delicious, delectable butter. Butter is super important in a lot of recipes and the temperature of the butter can change everything. Literally you can make or break your buttercream frosting or your pie crust, depending on a number of factors all surrounding your butter. Sounds daunting? Just bake your way through the lessons and you’ll learn how to bake a perfect pâte sablée every time!
Truth be told, it doesn’t have to be “perfect” because no one is grading you and really, it’s all just for fun! 😀 It’s okay if you have a few mishaps here and there. If you don’t ever make a mistake, how will you ever learn what not to do!? And get creative ideas for what to do the next time you make something!
The third week takes you through the ins and outs of yeast. Unfortunately, there is a massive shortage of baking yeast on grocery store shelves right now during COVID-19, so I’ll just save these homework projects for later. I definitely want to try making my own sour dough bread literally from just flour and water! Stay tuned for baking adventures 😉
In the fourth and final week, it is all about sugar. Sweet, decadent and indulgent. I spread these lessons out a bit more because although I have a pretty intense sweet tooth, there’s only so much sugar one person can handle! Sugar is a key ingredient not only to add sweetness, but also to add structure, stability, texture and moisture retention. Dive into making the most scrumptious cookies, dessert sauces (there are so many!) and the grand finale, a layer cake!
For my “final project” I decided to take my time and think of something unique and impressive to show off so many of the techniques and baking science that I learned. And since it’s summer and we are spending as much time at the beach as possible, I was inspired to make nothing other than an… EPIC BEACH-THEMED LAYER CAKE!!! *cue the sunshine and pop music and beach volleyball and the whole beach scene from Princess Diaries woo hoo!*
An Epic Cake Step-by-Step
- Prepare your baking dish with a little butter and flour.
Note: I nearly produced an epic fail by using the wrong size baking dish. The recipe I used for the yellow butter cake makes either one 9 x 13 or two 9-inch cakes. My baking dish is 9 x 11 so I was like mehhh that’s so close it’s basically the same. No. Cake was oozing everywhere. Use the right size dish!
Also, using the wrong size dish caused my cake to be super dense on the bottom and more fluffy on top. Which is kind of weird. It tasted good, but heed my warning.
2. Make the delicious cake mix and pour it into your prepare baking dish.
Note: I wanted to add a little somethin-somethin to my cake, so I added 1 tsp cardamom powder. The result was incredible! The cake is sweet yet well-balanced with a hit of spice and it is rich yet delightfully light.
3. Because I baked my cake in a (too small) rectangular cake dish, in order to get it out I had to cut it in half and do the old scoopy-doop to dislodge it.
Note: If you don’t know when you’ll actually make the cake OR if you want to make it plenty in advance, you can actually freeze this cake quite easily. Just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or cling film, then wrap that tightly in aluminum foil. Your cakes can last in the freezer up to 3 months.
4. Decide on your fillings!
To go with the beach/tropical theme for my cake, I decided to bring in some coconut and banana flavors. The buttercream frosting recipe I made is from Day 7 of the Kitchn’s Baking School and I definitely recommend reading all the do’s and do-not’s of buttercream before beginning. It’s a finicky and precise science, I swear. But once you get the basics down, you can really take hold of the creative reins and turn your frosting into whatever you like! I just replaced the vanilla extract with coconut extract and let *clap* me *clap* tell *clap* you *clap*. One bite and you’re in the Caribbean drinking out of a coconut on the warm sand under a palm tree baby.
5. Decide on your toppings! And test them!
I scoured the internet for ideas. The look of jello “water” on a cake looked so much more impressive than just blue frosting or icing. This was my first attempt. I tried following Tastemade’s Ocean Beach Cake recipe for a multi-colored water effect. Unfortunately my light blue and dark blue just turned out same-blue. And they didn’t set after like 8 hours so I put them in the freezer, then forgot about them…
The super cool water effect that did (sort of) work was inspired by this jello recipe using agar agar, which can be found at your local Asian grocery market. It set within an hour or two in the fridge and it was super firm and easy to work with.
But slippery jello doesn’t exactly want to stick on buttercream frosting. So it literally acted like water in the way it kept trying to slide off the cake. I guess I just made it too realistic… lol
6. Trim and level your cake!
When the big day for your epic cake reveal finally arrives, put the cake in the fridge the night BEFORE in order to begin defrosting it. Then about an hour or two before you begin assembling your cake, set it out on the counter.
I used a ruler to make sure the two levels of my layer cake were the same size, since it was originally birthed from one GIANT rectangular cake.
A cake leveler is on my wish list, but you can use a serrated knife (or struggle with a dull IKEA kitchen knife, like yours truly) to trim off the all caramelized edges and level the top of each cake piece.
Now the fun begins… Feast your eyes on this little montage of the unveiling of a masterpiece! :p