May Daring Bakers Challenge!

So this month was my first Daring Bakers Challenge – very exciting! Basically, the Daring Bakers are a group of bloggers who like to bake. Each month, somebody picks a recipe and makes up rules about how closely we have to follow that recipe (exceptions are made for dietary choices and allergies, of course). Then we all make the recipe and post about it on the same day, i.e., today!

This month’s recipe was an Opera Cake but with a spring twist. Ordinarily Opera Cakes are flavored with chocolate and coffee, I think, but our rule was that we could flavor it with anything that would end up being a springy color. As you’ll see, I tried but did not have much success, so the springiness of my cake is all in the frosting.

This is a more complicated dessert recipe than I usually make in my teeny, tiny kitchen and rightly so. But I joined the Daring Bakers in an effort to broaden my baking horizons and I suppose making adjustments for uncooperative equipment and space constraints is all part of those horizons.

The cake is made up of…five parts? The first is, obviously, the cake.

And the source of the first of my problems. It’s made of a sort of almond meal (or whatever nuts you may happen to have in your fridge if you can’t be bothered going back to the market again) and then baked on jelly roll pans. Large jelly roll pans. The size of jelly roll pans that don’t really fit into my oven. So I had to use two that do. I don’t think I split the batter very evenly, but I don’t think it helped that one of the pans I used was a cookie sheet (the cake on the left) and the other had fairly high sides (the cake on the right). You can’t tell from that picture, but the cake on the right is much thicker than the cake on the left. And the cake on the left is much thicker on the right than it is on the left due to the fact that the cookie sheet it baked in warped while it was in the oven. Also, I think I shouldn’t have tried to bake them at the same time given that my oven is fairly temperamental about its, well, temperature. And I burned my arm on the door because apparently I am unable to remember that my oven is freakishly small. (This was the same day as the steam incident, so I was really on a roll.) But they turned out edible, just not pretty (much like the finished product, actually).

Next, there are two layers of buttercream. And the biggest of my problems. The first was due to an error in the recipe up on the Daring Bakers site. I think next month, I’ll wait until some other people have had a chance to look things over for a while before I actually bake (but I was so excited to get going I couldn’t wait!) – I bake a lot, but I don’t have the real understanding of the chemistry of baking and can’t tell when recipes are weird just by reading them. The second was that I just don’t understand how you make the buttercream taste of anything but caramel and be anything but a caramelly-brown color because you have to heat the sugar up with the water before you beat it into the egg mixture (thus creating a rock hard trail of sugar on the edge of your bowl and in your whisk attachment). Any advice, Janis? 😉

I tried to get mine to taste of lemon, using the limoncello liqueur that I had from the mirror cake, but it just ended up tasting of the aforementioned caramel. And being brown, so technically I didn’t follow the rules, but hopefully I won’t be shunned because I did try to make it a springy flavor/color.

Then there’s a flavored syrup that you use to soak the cakes, but I don’t think that should really count as a part of the cake because you can’t see it in the finished product and it’s not that exciting to make. Actually, the rest of the cake isn’t that exciting either. There’s a white chocolate mousse (I always get excited about white chocolate because it’s chocolate [or at least has the word chocolate in the title, I know it’s not really chocolate] and I always forget that it tastes vaguely of stomach acid [not unlike parmesan cheese, actually]) and then a white chocolate glaze that I thought was going to be like a ganache, but wasn’t (or at least what I made wasn’t)

Then you decorate.

Because I failed to make the inside of my cake a springy color, I decided to focus my efforts on the top of the cake. Initially I was going to make it a plaid, but got tired of having to wash out my pastry bag each time I needed a new color (I have got to get another one) and just ended up sticking with the checkerboard (it matches my kitchen!). So here’s a slice of my finished Opera Cake:

Oh, also, because my jelly roll pans were smaller, the area of the top of my cake was smaller than intended but I still used all the mousse because what else was I going to do with it? Hence the high ratio of mousse to cake. It didn’t taste bad. I thought the cake was maybe a little dry, but actually the combination of the caramel with the nut meal in the cake gave it a sort of sweet/salty effect that I hadn’t intended. You couldn’t taste the lemon at all – what a waste of limoncello! (Don’t worry, it didn’t all go to waste. It gave me courage to make the second batch of buttercream after I had to throw the first away.) 😉

Even though this wasn’t a complete success (or even really a success at all), it was fun to have a go and I think the Daring Bakers will be a fun project to take part in and hopefully it’ll make me a better baker. If you click through the blogroll up there (clicking on the Daring Bakers logo should take you there) you’ll see some absolutely gorgeous, mouth-watering cakes that put my cake to shame but give me something to aspire to!