Too Much Heaven

Why is it that criticism is more adrenalin-stimulating than praise?! Of course it's always delicious to hear favorable things about one's self or one's work but the occasional criticism is what makes one sit up straight and take notice. My wonderfully wise husband Elliott has always told me two things about criticism: 1. Ignore it, i.e. don't write back some rude or defensive remark. 2. Engage the person who will probably become your greatest ally (he didn't explain why). The first i almost always listen to except recently as regards that totally inappropriate and unfair one star review on amazon--i just couldn't help myself and fortunately several other people i didn't even know leapt most eloquently to my defense. The second has proven true every time and most recently with a terrific blogger/writer whose blog joe pastry will soon appear in my favorites on the home page. I was going to take Elliott's first advice but Woody felt he had to write personally and refute some of what was written. I told him that if he was going to do this he should add that I would be happy to give an interview explaining my point of view. So here it is now but I urge you to click on the link above so you can see the photos as well. By the way, Elliott doesn't know this yet but Joe Pastry and his family are now friends for life. Start at the bottom and scroll up for the final posting.

01/25/10
A little last wave of the flag.
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 11:37:55 am
If I have any regrets about last week's interview with Rose Levy Beranbaum it's that I didn't engage her more on the subject of Continental pastry-making and the relationship of American baking to it. I wish I'd delved a little deeper, since she had some surprisingly strong feelings on the matter. One thing that's stayed with me all week was Beranbaum's story about a publisher's refusal to even consider the Pastry Bible for publication in Europe because, as he said, "the French would laugh" at her approach to pastry.
Why did this fellow think the French would laugh? Clearly, because of Beranbaum's non-traditional, explorational approach to techniques and materials. Though the decision itself might be best characterized as ignorant, his assessment was certainly spot-on. For of all the things one might say about say about Rose Levy Beranbaum it's that there are no sacred cows in her kitchen. This is a woman who is constantly questioning, examining and re-examining the technical underpinnings of every formula and method. That's what makes her books -- including Rose's Heavenly Cakes -- such a treasure trove of information for the serious baker.
The problem is that innovation -- particularly Beranbaum's brand of constant, unrelenting innovation -- is not the first thing that leaps to mind when one considers European baking. Thus Beranbaum's apparent love-hate relationship with the Continent. One story that stuck out because of its relevance to recent joepastry.com history was what she had to say about her visit to the Sacher Hotel kitchens to witness the making of Sacher Torte. "There was this huge build-up to it like it was this big deal that I was going to be allowed in there to see it,' Beranbaum said. "And the whole thing turned out to be such a huge...nothing."
Hilarious...at least to me (sorry Gerhard). But then what else would you expect from a woman who runs a 24-hour-a-day baking and pastry R&D department out of her own kitchen? How logical that her attitude would be why must these people be so mired in tradition when there are so many new and exciting things waiting to be incorporated into the world of baking?
I have to marvel at how classically, beautifully American that sentiment is. And it just so happens that it's a theme I'm constantly returning to here on joepastry.com. I have always maintained and I still maintain that New World bakers are the most prolific and experimental in the world (though in fairness the Japanese now belong in that category). This week I've realized, as if it wasn't completely obvious to begin with, that Rose Levy Beranbaum is an embodiment of this audacious, independent, optimistic spirit. Long may she -- and it -- live.

It's a guy thing.
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 09:11:38 am
And so Joe's Week of Rose draws near an end. Some of you loved it, some of you hated it, all of you have much more important things going on in your lives. Yet there is a question that's still hanging out there: Joe, where did you end up? Which is to say, for all my meandering from topic to topic, interview to recipe and back again, where have I ended up in regard to my original criticism of Rose's Heavenly Cakes?
The answer is that I've come to appreciate the book quite a bit, and more than on a mere technical level. On the point of "excess" in some of the recipes (and in truth I only have a problem with some of them) I haven't changed my mind, but then I wasn't bound to change my mind on that, was I? I mean, when it comes to matters of personal preference, people tend not to budge much. I like my cakes and desserts on the simpler, more straightforward side. That's part of what makes me "Joe."
It funny, but looking back at what I wrote about Julie and Julia a week ago, I find some parallels to my critique Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Make no mistake: I like this book a whole lot more than I liked that movie. However what those two things have in common is that neither one was produced with someone like me in mind. Which is to say, a technically-minded straight male who drinks beer and owns a chainsaw. I'm not trying to portray myself as some sort of he-man here (I mean come on, I keep a pastry blog), but I think you can see what I'm getting at: Rose's Heavenly Cakes is a book that's aimed primarily at women.
What makes me say that? There's the design for one: lots of reds, pinks and whites, floral graphic elements and handwritten typefaces. And then of course there's the luscious photography that I commented on originally. I don't think I'm being sexist here when I say that the only thing that appeals to most women more than a sensuous, glossy, full-bleed photo of a chocolatey dessert is a one-day-only half-off shoe sale at Macy's.
What?
I'm simply not in the so-called "sweet spot" of this book's demographic. It's also a marked change for her, at least to my eyes. Especially coming off the Bread Bible which might as well have been sheathed in rawhide it's so masculine in its look and feel, Rose's Heavenly Cakes really threw me. But I get it now, even if I don't enjoy it to the extent that most of the rest of Rose's core audience does. For my part I want the formulas, the tables and the science behind the new techniques. The frills aren't important to me. However I've learned that they are to Rose. As an artist (and RLB really does have a design degree), they're tremendously important. Given the limits of what she's been able to achieve in her publishing career thus far, that part of her hasn't really registered on me until now.
But I accept it. I appreciate it. And from now on, I'll be a little more open to it.

01/22/10
How to Make Rose's Golden Lemon Almond Cake
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 03:23:21 pm 

I tend not to make a lot of bundt-style cakes, but I might need to change my habits because this was excellent. It didn't take long for the girls, the missus and me to polish it off. Little 2-year-old Joan, who likes cake but has never been passionate about it, loved it so much she ate it for dessert two nights running. On the third night, when I was forced to tell her there wasn't any left, she put her chubby face in her hands and cried. That's good cake.
I don't have one of the very groovy 10-cup textured bundt pans of the kind Rose uses for this cake, but I plan to get one. The classic 15-cupper will have to do, even though the batter won't fill it. First thing to do is preheat the oven to 350 while you get it prepared for baking. Baker's Joy is the best product to use in this case, but failing that, just melt about two tablespoons of shortening in the microwave. Pour it in...

Spread it around with a brush, though a paper towel will work just as well.

Pour in half a cup or so of Wondra instant flour...

...and start tapping it around. Don't forget the tube.

Empty out the excess flour and you're ready to rock and roll.

Now toast your almonds in your preheated oven until they're just golden. About like so:

Cool them and pour into the bowl of your food processor. Process about 10 seconds, then add 1/4 of the turbinado sugar, and process another 15-20 seconds until very fine.

Next, combine your wet ingredients in a medium bowl with 1/4 of the sour cream...

...and whisk just to combine.

Now bring the batter together. Combine the almond mixture plus the remaining dry ingredients including the sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle (beater).

Stir them on low until they're combined, then add the butter and sour cream.

Stir on low to combine, then scrape down the sides. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Until about like so:

Scrape down the sides. Turn the mixer down to medium low and add the wet ingredient mixture in two installments, beating for 30 seconds after each addition and scraping down the bowl.

Now pour the batter into your prepared form and smooth it with a spatula. See that slightly grainy texture? It's because I beat the batter a little too long and broke the emulsion slightly (Rose won't be pleased). The cake probably didn't rise quite as high as it could have as a result, but it was still excellent. So where was I? Oh, bake it for 45-55 minutes.

When the cake is almost finished, prepare the syrup. Combine the lemon juice and turbinado sugar in a small sauce pan and heat it until the sugar is about 80% dissolved. Don't boil it. You want a few crystals still floating around on the bottom, about like so:

When the cake comes out of the oven, use a skewer to test it. If the skewer comes out clean, just keep poking the bottom of the cake all over to create channels for the syrup.

Paint about a third of it on and let the cake rest for 10 minutes.

Apply a cardboard cake circle (or platter)...

...flip the whole works over...

...and paint on the rest of the syrup.

You can see those residual turbindo sugar crystals on top there. They create a sparkly effect (or would if the sun was shining) and give the crust a crispy/crunchy texture, even after it's been stored for a day. Which, by the way, Rose recommends.

Just wrap it airtight in plastic wrap and try to keep your mits off of it for 12-24 hours. Could I? Well, no. But I'll thank you to do as I say, not as I do.

You talkin' to me?
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 10:46:01 am
For all the years I've spent flipping through my egg- and vanilla-spattered editions of the Bible books, I confess I still find myself wondering: who was Rose Levy Beranbaum talking to when she wrote these? Professionals? Indeed just about every professional cake baker doing business today went to school (literally) on the Cake Bible. Yet every serious home cake baker has a copy, and most don't seem to find it intimidating.
It turns out I wasn't the only one who was confused on the issue. During our conversation, Beranbaum recounted a story about an early editor, one who told her that while she could write for both the home baker as well as the professional, she'd ultimately need to pick one or the other as her primary audience.
"My problem is I can't remember which one I picked," Rose said with a laugh. "I want my cake and eat too, so to speak. But really my main audience is myself. I insist on having ingredient weights in there because that's what I myself want, but I also put in the ounces and the volume for the home audience."
Of course it's Beranbaum's insistence on providing so much information that has endeared her to legions of geeky cake makers and professionals who want to know what's going on under the hood of a cake. But it was a hard sell at the beginning. Beranbaum can still recite, almost word for word, a letter she received from a prospective editor at Harper Collins in regard to an early draft of the Cake Bible.
"She said I threw the reader into a quandary of contingencies," Beranbaum said. "That I told them more than they wanted or needed to know. That I went way over their heads, and that if I wanted her to be my editor I'd have to rethink my entire approach. I've never forgotten it.
"Of course I still get that kind of criticism. People say that I give too much information, that the recipes are long and difficult. What they don't realize is that I put all that information in there precisely because I don't want the recipes to be difficult, that I don't want anyone to be confused about how to succeed. The recipes really aren't complicated, but I guess they appear that way to some people."
All of which is not to say that Beranbaum hasn't made some compromises over the years. The fact that all of the recipes in Rose's Heavenly Cakes are self-contained on two or three pages is a concession to home bakers, who she says don't like to cross-reference in search of different components. However she staunchly defends her approach as not having caved to popular demands.
"Rose's Heavenly Cakes may appear on its surface to be more for the home baker," Beranbaum says. "But I didn't do anything easier for the home baker, I just left out some of the scientific explanations. I don't think home bakers want to be condescended to. I think they like to have something to push them a little, to inspire them. That's why I do what I do."

01/21/10
So where's the history?
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 05:03:35 pm
I know, I usually have some to offer. This week though, the historical pickin's are a little slim. I can talk about bundt pans a bit of course. Now me, I instantly assumed that the metal bundt pan dated to about the 1870's or 80's, the time in American history when popular baking exploded and metalworks across the nation were cranking out pans and gadgets by the thousands. It turns out that the bundt pan is much younger than that, popularly speaking.
While ceramic bundt forms go back probably 200 years in Central Europe, the light metal variety weren't seen on our shores until 1950, when a Minnesotan by the name of H. David Dalquist trademarked an aluminum design, one he fashioned at the request of several female members of the Hadassah Society of St. Louis Park (a near-west suburb of Minneapolis). His company, Nordic Ware, is still based there, and is churning out more cool pans than ever (I took a picture of a few at the NRA show last May).
What does "bundt" mean? The Germans describe a round cake with a hole in it as a bundkuchen. I'm told the word "bund" means a group of people. "A cake for a group of people"? I dunno, it's the best I can do.
RLB adds:
The first prototype Rose Levy [yes, that was her name] brought from Germany to Dave Dalquist was cast iron (i have one but not the original which is in their office). The aluminum one is not light, it's cast aluminum which is part of why it bakes so evenly. They used to coat it with a dark color until recently when they lightened it. Dark color ones need to have the temperature decreased by 25˚F or the crust becomes much too dark by the time the inside is baked. You're right, though, the metal is lighter than the ceramic which is so slow to conduct -- the cake falls instead of setting in a timely manner!

Is Wondra flour really necessary?
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 04:13:21 pm
That question from reader Angela B. this afternoon, referring to the flour that RLB recommends for stick-proofing the bundt pan. In fact Rose's top recommendation for greasing a baking pan is Baker's joy, a top-of-the-line nonstick spray that has real flour in it. The trouble is that Baker's Joy is frequently hard to find, and while me-too products are now being made by manufacturers like PAM, they tend to introduce off flavors and odors. That said, Rose's #2 recommendation is to brush the inside of the bundt pan with melted shortening, then apply a dusting of Wondra flour.
The reason for the Wondra? Because the particle size is so much smaller compared to a regular AP flour. That smaller size reduces sticking and, so Rose says, also helps make the cake's crust shinier.

Why lemon oil?
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 11:52:03 am
Simply because you can only add so much lemon zest to a cake before the tough zest starts to compromise the texture. This cake calls for a whopping two tablespoons of zest, but Rose still wanted more lemon flavor, hence the oil. She says she uses lemon oils over bottled extracts but "there's lemon oil and there's lemon oil." Rose made a point to specifically recommend Boyajian lemon oil, which she says it offers the purest essence of lemon she's ever tasted. I've seen that particular brand on sale at Williams-Sonoma. Failing that, look for flavored oils at cake decorating and/or candy making supply stores. It comes in really tiny bottles.
Also, for recipes that call for lemon zest, Rose strongly suggests washing the lemon in hot water and detergent -- not soap -- before zesting it. The best product to use? Liquid Dawn, which removes residues on the surface of the lemon that impart bitter flavors.

The High Cost of Photography
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 10:44:01 am
If you're a music lover, you've probably had the experience of following an artist or a band from their early days. You go along for a few years enjoying that thing they reliably do, expecting they'll go on doing it forever. Then one day you pick up their newest record, hit the play button and hear something totally different. You think: "What the heck is going on here?"
I vividly remember having that experience with R.E.M.. I was a big music listener in high school, and R.E.M.'s first album, Murmur, shook my little world. I followed them through Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Life's Rich Pageant and Document (which I hoped was just a pop aberration). Then they came out with Green.

What the...?
I bring this up because there's a parallel here with Rose's Heavenly Cakes, at least for me. Until its release, I'd grown accustomed to the look and feel of Rose Levy Beranbaum's three Bible books: heavy on information and charts, light on pictures and illustrations. I was used to it, and my assumption was always that the format was Beranbaum's ideal. Then I spoke to her, and I learned that all along she'd been aiming for something else, a book very like -- in fact just like -- Rose's Heavenly Cakes.
"With the Cake Bible my original idea was to do a four-color book," Beranbaum said. "That's because I've always thought it was important to be able to see the structure of the cake as well as the outside of it, to see what the crumb looks like, but also to see the ways in which you can make it look appealing."
The big obstacle to that approach, she said, was the expense of the production and the printing.
"When I was working on the Cake Bible I remember [my editor] telling me how expensive all that photography would be," Beranbaum said. "I remember telling her that if I could get a picture on every page I would sacrifice my royalties for it. The reason was that I really wanted people to succeed at baking these cakes. Otherwise I thought: what was the point of doing it? I could always do something else for a living.
"If all I was interested in was making a living from writing cookbooks it would have been much easier to just make my recipes, keep my notes only in grams, and crank the book out. But that's not what I wanted. I wanted to share all the techniques and the information. A lot of people keep secrets when they write their recipes, they never quite tell the whole story about what they're doing. My attitude has always been: please, follow what I say, there's a reason for doing it this way. I was never afraid of people stealing the technical things from me, that's actually what I wanted them to do. I wanted to spread the discoveries I'd made."
When R.E.M. was out touring in support of Green way back when, they stopped by the MTV studios in New York to do an interview. During that interview I remember them saying "this is the sound we've been going for since the day we started." Since every rock band always says that, I didn't really believe them. In the case of Rose's Heavenly Cakes, I confess that Rose convinced me.

01/20/10
Turbinado Sugar vs. Granulated
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 02:09:54 pm
Reader Chana asks:
What is the difference between Turbinado sugar and "regular" brown sugar (either light or dark brown). Moisture content? Texture? Can brown sugar be used instead of the Turbinado sugar in the Golden Lemon Almond Cake? Can one replace the other in general?
Good question(s). Turbinado sugar differs from brown sugar in that it's a larger crystal. It also has less moisture and less molasses. If you recall some of my older posts on molasses manufacturing (right here if you don't), you know that sugar is crystallized out of cane syrup in a series of steps called "strikes." Turbinado sugar comes from the first "strike", before the cane syrup has been reduced down to a thick goo (as a result of removing the sucrose). That means that while the turbinado sugar does have molasses in/on it, that molasses is light and mild tasting.
Turbinado sugar is also processed to a lesser degree than regular white granulated sugar. It's the simple product of the first strike. That's in contrast to granulated sugar, which is essentially made by dissolving turbindo (or later strike) sugar, filtering it, then "seeding" the mixture with smaller, more consistent crystals. It's interesting to note here that "real" brown sugar isn't much made anymore. Once, it was the granulated sugar that came from a late stage in the manufacturing process, when there wasn't much sucrose left in the cane syrup mixture and the molasses was thick and chewy. Today most of our table sugar is made from beets, which don't yield molasses (or none that you'd want to eat at any rate). These days, brown sugar is made by simply adding a second or third-strike sugar cane molasses to regular white beet sugar.
And to (finally) answer your question, while turbinado sugar does have more moisture than white sugar, brown sugar has still more. It also contains more -- and stronger tasting -- molasses. All of which means that the two are not interchangeable.

RLB adds:
Turbinado sugar may also have a different granular shape. For example, Sugar in the Raw has a rectangular grain whereas C & H has a more square shape. But they are both far more granular than a typical brown sugar, and they have less moisture. Sugar in the Raw has far less molasses than light brown sugar but C & H has at least as much. That's the whole story!
Mexico Bob adds:
If you want really rich brown sugar you should go to a Mexican grocery and by mascobado sugar or piloncillo sugar. These are made from crystallizing sugar that doesn't go through a centrifuge. Sometimes mascabado is spelled mascavado.

Why do you use all turbinado sugar in this cake instead of regular granulated?
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 10:58:03 am
Funny you should mention that. I've done a lot of experimenting with sugar in cakes, superfine versus baker's sugar versus granulated, and I always found I got a finer texture with superfine.
However I had a funny experience during an experiment I did with Italian meringue. Against the conventional wisdom I discovered that I could make it with tubinado sugar instead of regular granulated sugar. I would have thought some residual something, maybe the large crystal size or more likely the molasses in it would have prevented the meringue from whipping stiffly, but the turbinado sugar dissolved beautifully and the meringue was wonderful. All you have to do is let the turbinado sugar sit in the egg whites for five minutes, then you beat the whole thing together at once instead of adding the sugar gradually.
Having made that discovery I started trying experiments with cake, and I discovered I could get get just as fine a texture with it. For this recipe I thought that combined with the lemons it would be a nice flavor.

Why does this recipe call specifically for bleached flour?
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 09:24:53 am
Through my own tests I've found that cakes made with unbleached flour always fall a little in the center about five minutes after they're taken out of the oven. The reason for that is because butter cakes rely on flour for their structure, as opposed to a sponge cake like génoise which relies on egg foam to hold it up. When flour isn't bleached, the individual flour particles are like little ball bearings. They can't hold the butter in a nice emulsification and suspension, so the butter sinks to the bottom. That creates a texture that's awful and pasty, and it affects the flavor, since as you know in baking, if the texture is off it completely changes the taste.
Also where cakes are concerned you get a better flavor with bleached flour, a more melt-in-the-mouth flavor. Chlorine bleach, it's said, enhances a cake's flavor. I found in my own tests when I was writing The Cake Bible that it gives a cake a more flowery and sweet flavor, and when I say "sweet" I don't mean sugary sweet, I mean lovely.

"Guest Host" Rose
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 09:09:19 am
At this point in the week, it's standard operating procedure for me to pose a set of rhetorical questions and then answer them myself. This week I was able to put the questions I had about the cake to the inventor herself, so she'll be the answer lady.

01/19/10
Rose on the Question of Excess
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 12:12:19 pm
As I mentioned before, trying to stay on track with this interview wasn't easy (I think I need to take a journalism class). But here's what Rose had to say on the subject of my criticism and the subject of excess.
JP: So let's focus on what we're supposed to be talking about today: the criticisms I had about the book.
RLB: Of course. If I were any kind of normal person the first thing I'd want to do is defend myself, right? What's wrong with me? (Laughs)
JP: So let me offer a summary. There are a lot of toppings and fillings and sauces in Rose's Heavenly Cakes, more I think than in a typical Rose Levy Beranbaum book. Why?
RLB: I get your whole point, but what really confused me about what you wrote is that when I do interviews I tell people that my goal for writing this book was to present cakes that didn't need any adornment. (Laughs) Isn't that ironic?
JP: I'd sure say so, so how did...
RLB: Like the lemon almond cake or the lemon poppyseed cake or even the fruitcake. There are so many cakes in there, the gâteau Breton is one of them, so is the Swedish pear and almond, that have no adornment at all. I could make a list of those.
JP: I'm not disputing that those cakes are in there. But there are quite a few conspicuous examples of cakes that have an awful lot of icing and filling...
RLB: But then there's whipped cream cake, the spice cake, the banana refrigerator cake, which is wonderful with the buttercream, but you don't have to have it with buttercream. And the Orange Glow Chiffon Layer Cake, it's got the most incredible texture by the way, and I serve it with just whipped cream and marmalade on the side.
JP: But the ones that have adornments seem to have a lot. The presentation, the photography, is certainly far more sensuous that I'm used to from a Rose Levy Beranbaum book.
RLB: To that I'd say when you're doing a book that has pictures and you have the opportunity to do full-page color pictures, you want them to look as inviting and wonderful and luscious as you possibly can. Otherwise you'd just be putting a plain cake there, you know?
JP: Yes I see that. So you set out to make a book about unadorned cakes, and what you're saying is that this is the way it evolved for purposes of presentation?
RLB: No. But I didn't want a book of all unadorned cakes, even though those are my favorite cakes, the ones that don't need anything. But then there are some I thought that lended themselves to something more. I like simplicity, but I also have a sense of visual art. So if something lends itself to visualization, I'll be inclined in that direction.
JP: Were some of those inclinations exaggerated when the pictures were taken?
RLB: [My food stylist] may have made some things look a little more lavish and added a little bit more for photography's sake, but not much, and I take full responsibility for that. These are my designs, she was working from my photographs. The adornments are true to the balance of what I like in proportion to the cake. True there are a lot of special touches, like some spun sugar on the Saint-Honoré Trifle, they don't need to be there, that are optional. People can consider most of these touches as options. But what a wonderful thing it would be, I thought when I set out to do this book, to have a work book and coffee table book all rolled into one, one that can inspire you to greater heights, or one that can be just as good if you leave out some of the special touches.
JP: I think that's the conclusion I ultimately came to when I was looking at the book, that while in several cases the toppings and fillings were too much for me, that I could always scale them to whatever I wanted.
RLB: That's right. But I also want to say this: that if there's going to be a buttercream, and a substantial amount, it's got to be something you can't stop eating, otherwise what's the point, right? (LAUGHS) I don't want to put it on something just to have it on there. I wouldn't put it there if I didn't think it would be delicious.
More soon.

"New Journalist" or just incompetent?
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 11:03:16 am
So how'd the interview go? many of you are no doubt wondering. Let's just say I'd never make a living as a serious journalist. Make no mistake, I prepared my question list, had my themes all worked out...and my whole elegant plan fell apart in the first fifteen seconds. Why? I succumbed to the urge to simply gab. Over the course of the interview -- which lasted about two hours -- we covered just about every topic under the sun other than baking. I'm going to do my best to organize all the tape into meaningful dialogue, and will be putting it up in sections. Whether this approach will turn out to be "taking full advantage of the blogging medium" or just a mess, I really don't know. Let's hope for the best.

Rose's Golden Lemon Almond Cake
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 09:23:17 am
Since this week will be largely based on my interview with Rose Levy Beranbaum, it seems only appropriate that I make something out of the new book, Rose's Heavenly Cakes. I put it to Rose to give me the assignment. I was secretly hoping that she'd have me do one of the more opulent recipes, since I thought it would be funnier under the circumstances. Instead she asked me to make what she said was her current favorite, the Golden Lemon Almond Cake. I certainly won't put up a fight. You'll need a 10-cup tube pan (bundt pan) to make it. Here are the ingredients and procedures in my own words:
2 ounces blanched, sliced almonds8.7 ounces (1 ¼ cups) turbinado sugar3 large eggs, room temperature8.5 ounces (1 cup) sour cream1 ½ teaspoons vanilla3/8 teaspoons lemon oil (preferably Boyajian)8.7 ounces bleached all-purpose flour1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder½ teaspoon baking soda¾ teaspoon salt½ ounce (2 tablespoons) lemon zest 8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
Preheat your oven to 350. Then prepare your pan by coating it with Baker's Joy baking spray or brushing it with melted shortening, then dusting with Wondra instant flour.
Once the oven is up to temperature, toast the almonds for 7-9 minutes until they're pale gold in color. Cool them.
Next, grind the almonds in a food processor for 15 seconds. Add ¼ of the turbinado sugar and process until very fine.
Next, combine the liquid ingredients. Whisk the eggs, ¼ of the sour cream, the vanilla and lemon oil until lightly combined.
Now make the batter. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle (beater), combine the rest of the sugar with the almond mixture, flour, baking powder, soda, salt and lemon zest and stir on low for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining sour cream and continue to stir until the ingredients are moistened. Scrape down the sides. Next, turn the mixer up to medium high and beat the batter for 1 ½ minutes.
Turn the mixer down to medium low and add the egg mixture in two installments, beating for 30 seconds after each addition and scraping down the sids. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the cake is deep golden and springs backs when touched. Mine took about 60 minutes.
When the cake is nearly done, prepare the lemon syrup. Combine:
3.5 ounces (half cup) turbinado sugar2.2 ounces (1/4 cup) lemon juice
...in a small sauce pan over high heat. Continue to stir until the sugar is nearly, but not quite, dissolved (these larger crystals will give the crust a faint crunch and will give the cake a sparkly finish.
When the cake comes out of the oven, place it pan and all on a wire rack. Poke the cake all over with a skewer and brush on about a third of the syrup. Let it cool for ten minutes. Unmold the cake onto a cardboard cake round or serving plate. Brush the cake with the remaining syrup, cool it completely and wrap it airtight.
This cake is best enjoyed the day after it is made.

01/18/10
Opinions, opinions, opinions...
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 03:26:52 pm
I've received a couple of comments from readers pointing out that I've been quite opinionated lately. I've been critical of Rose Levy Beranbaum, critical of Michael Pollan, and now critical of Julie and Julia. I'm just too darn critical. It's funny because that jibes perfectly with what the Marketing & Public Outreach Department here at Joe Pastry Global Headquarters has been telling me lately. Their reports show that my congeniality curve has been trading downward the last ten days or so. People want to see less of my harder, more critical side they say, and more of my softer, more nurturing side. Well who am I to argue with market research? Here's Surprised Kitty.

The good news is...
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 10:52:15 am
There'll be a special feature to look forward to next week: an interview with Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose read what I wrote about her new book, and being the class act that she is, got in touch to request a little equal time, and to offer to take a few questions from Joe and the Pastry readership. So if there's something you've always wanted to ask the one and only RLB, please send me an email. I'll be selecting a handful of the best questions for next week's discussion.

Too Much Heaven
Filed under: Blog-- by joe @ 10:07:01 am
And now if I might speak out of the other side of my mouth for a moment, I'd like to devote a little time to a book that several readers have asked me to comment on, but which I only just received for Christmas: Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Rose Levy Beranbaum worshipper that I am, I've spent the last several days trying to figure out how to parse my opinions about this book. But it's only me and you here, right? So I might as well tell you right from the start: this book is a letdown.
Not because the recipes aren't technically perfect. They are. And not because the recipes aren't clear or well presented. They're that too. I mean, this is Rose Levy Beranbaum we're talking about. She's a legend. She wrote The Cake Bible (not to mention The Pastry Bible and the Bread Bible). There is no greater master of the art of American layer cake baking, nor any more skilled or technically proficient teacher of the subject. So what's my problem? The problem is with the aesthetic of this book. It's just too much.
Everywhere you look in Rose's Heavenly Cakes you find overkill. From the syrup spooned over her Apple Upside-Down Cake to the oozing passion fruit curd in her White Gold Passion Génoise to the near two inches of whipped cream plopped on top of her Heavenly Coconut Seduction Cake, excess abounds. Combine the 1/4-inch lemon curd and buttercream filling layers in Woody's Lemon Luxury Cake and you have nearly as much icing as you have cake. Even the photography is verging on lurid. Everywhere molten chocolate, liquidy curds and sticky sauces all but drip from the pages.
What gives? Was this not the woman who many years ago championed the judicious use of real buttercream versus heaping piles of out-of-the-can fakes? That encouraged her readers to see filling and icings as condiments as opposed to ends in themselves? That message inspired me. Yet here Beranbaum seems to have chucked all that aside and thrown herself headlong into pointless decadence. Why? I've often lampooned authors like Ann Byrn for authoring layer cake books that seem to regard the cake as a necessary evil. I'm sad to say that with Rose's Heavenly Cakes Beranbaum comes dangerously close to that very territory.
It's possible that I'm being too harsh. An argument can be made that Rose's Heavenly Cakes is a compendium of special occasion cakes and desserts which, when presented in series as they are, are bound to overwhelm a reader. My problem is that I read cookbooks as though they were literature, not sets of instructions. Yet it's hard for me to imagine a context where I'd find a syrupy Carmel Pineapple Pudding Cake or uber-gooey Bostini appetizing. Certainly not at the end of a rich meal, and I dare say not as a sinker with a cup of coffee on a weekend afternoon. Maybe I'm getting old, or the Europeans are finally getting to me, but I just couldn't take it.
Will I learn from this book? Absolutely. There are plenty of excellent ideas and formulas here, which in the right context and in their proper proportion would be wonderful. So on that level I recommend it, for there's no such thing as a Rose Levy Beranbaum formula that doesn't work. However as a layer cake recipe book Rose's Heavenly Cakes fails, sinking under its own weight.
I know from other food bloggers that Rose's publicist is currently calling around offering review copies and interviews with Rose as part of the promotional campaign. Having written this, it's farewell to all that I'm sure. However I care too much about the Rose I know and love not to tell the truth about this book, which is simply not worthy of the woman who taught a generation of bakers to cherish the classic American layer cake.