Inspired by many blogs and "reality" TV shows, I decided to really get busy with a cake last weekend. I went with a fall theme because I thought it would be fun to do a straw bale. Pumpkins and squash are also natural fall items that lend themselves well to cake, so I dusted off the old hemisphere cake pan and went to work.
I think it turned out pretty well, especially considering how long it's been since I made a cake. Looking good is only part of the equation, though - if it doesn't taste good, what's the point? I've seen many blogs with pretty cakes that are made with boxed mixes and ready made frosting.I know it's easier and cheaper to do that, but it will not taste as good. I have some friends that say they can't tell the difference between from scratch and boxed mix, but I call shenanigans on that claim. To me there is a marked difference in both taste and texture, with the scratch cake easily beating the boxed mix (well, at least the recipes I use. I am sure that there are a lot of crappy recipes out there that give scratch cakes a bad name).
This was made with my go-to white layer cake recipe (below) and a tweaked Rose Levy Berenbaum's Classic Buttercream made with more sugar.
Piping and assembly went pretty well, but I dropped one of the pumpkins AND the squash as I was transferring them to the platter. However, the baking gods smiled on me because both cakes did a complete 360 and landed upright. I didn't have to go all Gordon Ramsey this time, swearing just once during the process.
The straw bale is my favorite part. I baked the cake in an 8 inch square pan, then cut it in half and made two layers. I tried a couple of different ways to make the "straw" and settled on my husband's suggestion of using a small star tip (Wilton 15/16) with two slightly different colored icings. I used a skewer to make the indentation for the "wire," then piped a plain gray band in the groove. Anyone who grew up on a farm will note that I did my bale backwards - the grain should be vertical with the bands horizontal. I'll get it right next time.
The pumpkins gave me fits and although the effect isn't quite what I envisioned, they turned out okay. I used a mini (6 section) hemisphere pan and sandwiched the halves together with icing. The icing for all of this is a classic buttercream made with egg yolks, a hot sugar syrup, and plenty of butter. Most icings called buttercream today are made with butter (or shortening, yuck) and confectioner's sugar. There's nothing wrong with that icing and I use it frequently, although it can end up way too sweet even for my sweet tooth.
Many folks don't like classic buttercream because it can end up tasting like nothing more than slightly sweetened butter and it can taste really greasy. The first time I made it I shared that sentiment and ended up adding some confectioner's sugar just so I could choke it down. Of course the addition of confectioner's sugar killed the silky texture that is the biggest plus of classic buttercream. What I do now is add more sugar (almost half again as much) in the beginning, and I've come up with something that's not too sweet, not too greasy, with a luxurious texture. I added a splash of Grand Marnier at the end to give it a bit more flavor, and I found myself eating the stuff with a spoon. I ate so much Halloween night I think I screwed up my blood sugar! (Or maybe it was all the Halloween candy. Hmmm...)
My husband and I split a pumpkin and my friends had some "bale" and it was great. The cake was moist and tender with the most delicate crumb. The buttercream icing was tasty too.
I think I need to make more cakes - that was fun!