Let them eat cake

The story (mostly false) goes that Marie Antoinette, shortly before becoming a foot shorter, was talking with an advisor. The advisor told her that the peasants had no bread, and she responded, "Let them eat cake!" Ignoring the historical accuracy of the quote or the players, the language and its relation to food is what I'm interested in. (History? Pah!)

A more accurate quote is closer to, "The peasants don't have baguettes*," and, "So let them eat brioche!" The thing is, back when the phrase was popularly introduced in the English Language, there wasn't really an appreciation of the many kinds of french breads that exist as there are today. And, truth be told, I suspect a great many people still don't have a full enough appreciation of the different bread types, so it's not like a more accurate translation is going to work its way into the mainstream.

Still, a guy can dream.

*- Okay, okay. Baguette is a shape, and the actual type of bread is the lean bread known as "le pain." However, "pain" being a very distinct word in English that nobody uses for bread, it would completely confuse people. Frankly, I'm very close to banning this phrase in English or maybe altogether. There are just too many problems with it.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

The image for the article is licensed by robplusjessie under a Creative Commons By-NC-SA 2.0 license. If I need a relatively simple dessert, or if I feel that I have earned a reward, or if I think of it, I like to make Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake, from her cookbook Feast. It is the perfect cake, because not only is the cake itself rich and flavorful, but I actually enjoy the frosting as well. Generally, I despise frosting in more than trace amounts, and I will ditch the frosting from a cake without a second thought. This cake, though, is great with all of its frosting. Indeed, the frosting balances out the dark chocolatey, Guinnessey nature of the cake. It is a well-balanced cake. The problem for others has been that, as far as I knew, the recipe wasn't available online. However, Susie Nadler from The Kitchn showed me that it was in the New York Times all along. Hooray! So run, run, run, and make the Chocolate Guinness Cake. Serve it to people that you like, and notice how they like you just a little bit more now.

The Buttercream Nemesis on FineCooking.com

On Thursday I posted a new article on FineCooking.com about making Italian and Swiss buttercream. If you have trouble making traditional, egg-white based buttercreams, this will be helpful. If you need another metaphor for how emulsions work, that's a good place to go as well. Naturally, if the article is useful for you, please click the Thumbs Up button. If you have some troubles with it or further questions, a comment is always appreciated.

The mystery of the moister cake

One of my twitter friends posted what was, to him, a disturbing tale of a cake transformed. In 140 characters or less, here was the conundrum: From Twitter user Steve. Me: 'This (day-old leftover) cake is really moist!' Her: 'Wow. It was bone-dry yesterday.' #ulp After eating the cake, his mind was alight with frightening tales of adulterated coffee in offices and strange and weird ways that the cake could have become more moist over the course of a day. None of those possibilities made him feel particularly good about the thus-eaten cake. However, I know a food secret, and it's this: sugar loves water. Loves it. Sugar has a water tattoo on its shoulder, and when they're not dating, it hangs out creepily next to water's car when water is at work, writing little messages in the windows that water won't see until the dew hits the next day. Most substances, when they sit out in the open air, become dryer as time goes on. Bread goes stale, food sticks to the bottom of a bowl, dogs no longer have to shake the water off onto the entire living room, etc. With sugar, though, you've seen how it starts clumping together given half a chance. You let the sugar sit in the jar too long, and you'll have to break it apart. That's because sugar is hygroscopic, which, as I mentioned, means it loves water, especially water that is hanging around in the air. Cakes are sweet, what with all the sugar in them. So even a cake fresh from the oven that is dry has a chance to moisten up if there's any humidity at all. Generally, a cake is better the second day than the first for just this reason. Steve felt much better after I told him about that, and I performed another public service, so it was a good day all round.

Quick bread options

I made a batch of my Banana Nut Bread the other day, which is a relatively simple recipe. It's basically a cake, as it's assembled via the creaming method. It has some additional lift via baking powder, but primarily the lift is derived from the sugar making little pockets of air in the butter, which turns into slightly larger bubbles when heat hits the batter. If it were via the muffin method, then all of the lift would be chemical in nature. Whichwhowhaaa? Okay, with baked goods, there are several ways of assembling ingredients, and their ending texture is determined by, among other things, which method. All of the methods are intended to get air molecules to form bubbles in the batter or dough, which will harden around those bubbles, leaving something that is anywhere from fruitcake dense to angel food cake light. Bread uses yeast to make the bubbles, muffins use baking soda and/or baking powder mixed with acid or water respectively, and the creaming method has sugar puncture little holes in the solid fat (such as butter or shortening). In any case, there are more ways to affect the texture. My concern this weekend was with gluten development. With bread, you want a lot of gluten, because yeast are active critters that can generate a tremendous amount of gasses for leavening, so strong gluten development helps trap in those gasses. With muffins, you want very little gluten, because chemical leavening isn't so strong, and it wouldn't be able to push apart the gluten as easily. Of course, with years of eating breads and muffins, you'll want to match the texture of a tasty bread or muffin. If you over-develop the muffin's gluten, for example, you get tough muffins, which is not what people are really expecting. With the banana bread, there's a certain amount of gluten development that has to happen. Generally, the trick is in incorporating the wet and dry ingredients into the batter in such a way as to keep from either over-soaking the batter or over-drying it. So you mix in a few batches, alternating wet and dry, which means that gluten is going to be formed more than in a muffin, which you just barely bring together. If you want a lighter bread, something more cake-like, then your best bet is to use cake flour. It's nice and low-protein, so it won't develop a lot of gluten. If you want something more dense, use AP (All Purpose) flour. I was fresh out of AP flour, but I wanted something a bit more dense, so I mixed some cake flour with some bread flour. Not quite the same, but close enough for my purposes. I also worked the dough a bit more than was strictly necessary at the end, and I got a nice, dense bread. Mind you, I think Melanie would have preferred a lighter bread, so next time I probably won't work it so much, but it's nice to play around with recipes a bit.

Cake in disguise

I do not support this trend. If you like a food, eat it how you like it, as long as it can't argue a case against your eating it. However, in this case, Japanese men are afraid to eat tasty, tasty cakes without them being disguised as, well, hamburgers or such. Bury your pride and enjoy your cake, I say. Still, it is their culture, and it is not my place to call them "pansies." I do salute the clever baker who came up with the scheme, as that is capitalism at its finest.