22 May 2010

Two Occasions, Two Cakes

Nothing marks celebration like cake.  It's been that type of attitude around these parts of late, what with the spring onslaught of birthdays and other festive occasions.  I'm not much of cake baker, but for some reason, I have recently taken it upon myself to apply whatever cake skills I may possess toward edible gifts of the cake variety.  Having kicked off the flurry with lemon cake for my sister-in-law's birthday barbeque last month, I was primed for Mothers' Day two weeks later.  The plan was to attempt to craft a vegan version of Princesst√•rta (Swedish Princess Cake), but instead ended up with something a little different and certainly less picturesque than I had hoped.
The Mothers' Day cake was composed of two layers of genoise that sanwiched a layer each of fresh strawberry mousse and homemade gainduia.  I then slathered the outside of the cake with a strawberry sauce--pureed strawberries simmered with sugar, lemon juice, and arrowroot powder--and draped the whole thing in green-tinted marzipan.  The genoise and marzipan components were all that remained of the cake's Princesst√•rta origins; attempts at creating satisfactory whipped and pastry creams were letdowns, and added issues with the marzipan nearly made me quit the project altogether.  But I resolved to not let the cake layers and all of that marzipan to go to waste, deciding to follow through with what I started with an altered game plan.  Thankfully, despite the less-than-stellar appearance, the cake didn't taste half bad.  The almond-strawberry-chocolate combination worked well with the vanilla-infused cake, so I suppose the effort paid off.  I took several lessons from this somewhat frustrating experience: don't be afraid to stray from the plan, and know one's limitations (i.e., don't get overambitious).  Also useful: accept that "perfect" vegan whipped cream is an elusive dream and don't drape anything bigger than a cupcake with marzipan.

The latest cake attempt was much simpler than the Mothers' Day incident, resulting in a more polished creation with far less stress involved in the process.  Because my father enjoys Boston cream pie but very rarely has the opportunity to enjoy it (due to lack of commercial availability), I wanted to bake him a vegan version of it for his birthday earlier this week.  The formula was simple enough: sandwich vanilla pudding or cream filling between two layers of vanilla cake, and cover the top with chocolate glaze or ganache.  I made a basic vanilla pudding with nondairy milk, cornstarch, maple syrup, and vanilla and almond extracts, painlessly and easily tackling one component of the project in a matter of minutes.  The glaze was just as easy.  My intrigue involving recipes from the Nom! Nom! Nom! Blog and PastryWiz led to a trademark bout of indecision, which in turn led to me combining elements from the cake portions of each recipe when making my own cake.  I basically stuck to Nom! Nom! Nom!'s formula, altering it slightly by substituting half of the oil called for with already-on-hand pureed sweet potato (inspired by PastryWiz's formula), reducing the sugar by 1/4 cup, and incorporating some whole wheat pastry flour.  I could just as easily have followed the original recipe as written, but that's just not my style.
The cake ended up just sweet enough but probably denser than the original recipe intends, due to the half-and-half oil and potato substitution, no doubt.  But the final, fully-assembled cake ended up being pretty tasty, with flavors and textures not much different from those of the non-vegan Boston cream pies I've had in the past.  And it looked like a Boston cream pie--certainly prettier than the Mothers' Day cake.  (By the way, I opted for chocolate glaze rather than ganache, because I wanted my dad's cake to have a thin and not-too-rich topping.  I even loosened the glaze with a bit more water than the recipe called for to achieve a more appropriately drippy consistency.)  In any case, my butter- and cream-loving omni family enjoyed it, and I think my dad appreciated the gesture (finally, his type of cake!), so it's safe to say that everyone was pleased.

With Fathers' Day a month away, I don't know whether another homemade cake is in the works, especially since I may not be able to top that last attempt (basic as it was).  Maybe I'll just let someone else do the baking next time.


  1. Oh, wow! Marzipan and gianduia in one recipe! You clearly know how to bake a decent cake!

  2. That cake is too beautiful to eat.

  3. That cake is too beautiful to eat.


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