Finishing touches

Cooking 101

May 09, 2007|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Reporter

Mother's Day calls for a beautiful dessert. A layer cake holds the promise of becoming a stunning centerpiece, but things can fall apart at the finish line -- the frosting. It's easy for crumbs to get in the way of a smooth coating; for unsightly blank spots to appear; for layers to tilt.

Faith Kling, a pastry chef and chef instructor at Baltimore International College, said bakers often fail to trim their cake layers evenly before they start. "They hate to waste cake," she said.

Her keys to success include taking it slowly, using an 8-inch spatula and turning the cake as you frost it (instead of walking around the cake yourself).

Before you pick up a dollop of icing, prime the cake itself. After you trim those layers, rub off all the crumbs you can with a light hand. Apply a simple cake wash -- half sugar, half water -- to seal in moisture and add flavor. A first, or "crumb coating," of icing helps a cake look more finished.

Cold is your friend. If layers start to slide or frosting gets too warm, put the cake in the refrigerator or freezer. You should do so as a matter of course after applying your crumb coating, before your final layer of frosting.

kate.shatzkin@baltsun.com

TIPS FOR CREATING BEAUTIES

Here are some of chef Faith Kling's tips for beautiful layer cakes:

When you trim cake layers, it's key to keep your knife flat and level as you cut. Cut the layers so that the tops are as flat as possible and so the layers are the same size.

Don't throw away those leftover cake trimmings; save them for instant rum balls. Put the cake pieces with a few drops of rum and some icing in a food processor and pulse to combine. Scoop into balls with a melon baller or ice-cream scoop and roll in chocolate jimmies.

Always scrape off your spatula on the side of a separate bowl as you frost. If you let even a little build up, the spatula will make drag marks on the cake.

Use a revolving cake stand or a Lazy Susan to turn the cake easily. Spread the frosting in one direction while you turn the cake the other way.

If frosting develops air bubbles, spread it on a flat surface and work back and forth with the spatula until it's smooth.

If your cake layers start to slide as you're frosting, chill the cake until it gets firmer.

To give the frosted cake a smooth finish, press the spatula vertically against the cake with the tip touching the bottom. Turn the cake slowly, and use a light touch. Clean top edges with the edge of the spatula.

Instead of frosting the middle of your cake, try a coating of jam.

To simply decorate your frosted cake, evenly space raspberries around the top to mark portions. Press shaved chocolate into the sides.

THE TECHNIQUE

1. Trim the top of each cake layer with a long serrated knife to make sure it's even and flat. Afterward, rub off stray crumbs.

2. After brushing the top of each layer with a cake wash (1 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup water, brought to a boil and cooled), dollop frosting on the top of the bottom layer with a long spatula. Spread the frosting toward the edges, turning the cake as you go. (If you are using the same frosting on the outside of the cake, spread it so that it hangs slightly beyond the edges.)

3. Put the second layer on the cake, turning the cut side toward the middle to minimize crumbs. Apply a thin "crumb coating" of icing. Start at the top, spreading icing slightly beyond the edges to make a square. Turning the cake and using the back of your spatula held vertically, frost the sides, pushing the extra frosting up to the top edges of the cake. Carefully scrape away extra frosting with the spatula.

4. Freeze or refrigerate the cake until it is firm to the touch, then apply the final coat of frosting. Dollop a more liberal amount of frosting -- all that you think you'll use for the whole cake -- on top. Use the same technique as for the first coating, plugging blank spots.

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