Tag Archives: cake baking

Cake Recipe Testing

Blast from the past - www.talksweettome.com

Maybe this early on in the life of Talk Sweet to Me I shouldn’t show you how cake-crazy and obsessed with perfection I am, but you’ll probably get that idea eventually anyway. For the past several months I’ve been sharing bits and pieces from my old blog which chronicled my start in the cake business. This post is one of my favorites.

“Cake Recipe Testing” was written shortly after I returned to the United States from Australia to show what I did to develop my go-to cake recipes. I hate to admit this, but on the very first order that I completed on my own, I was devastated when the customer complained that the cake was very dry and fell apart. It was the birthday cake recipe that was used in my family for years! That feedback inspired this frantic quest to find the best cake recipes EVER. Was I glad I did it? Yes…I developed a library of recipes I could count on again and again. Would I ever want to do it again? Heck, no. It was a lot of work!

Hope you’ll enjoy this blast from the past!

Written May 2008 - talksweettome.com

Over the past month and a half, I have been doing a bit of baking. By a bit, I mean that I tried 47 different cake recipes in order to narrow it down to fifteen that I can count on to be fabulous. It was tiring, it was messy, it was expensive, it was crazy, and it was worth it.

Do you know the looks you get when you walk into the grocery store and buy 4 packages of 18 eggs each, multiple large bags of flour and sugar, at least six pounds of butter, and mounds of (expensive!) chocolate bars? I got all of those when I went to pick up the ingredients. 75 eggs!

Ingredients for taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

I wanted to wear a sign on my forehead that said “I’m not eating all of this by myself,” (or maybe it would have been funnier if it said I was eating all of it myself!) but it turned out to be a good conversation starter. The guy who rang me up at the checkout counter asked me if there were real carrots in carrot cake. Seriously…

On Thursday afternoon I started making the box mix cakes. It is so easy…

Baking for taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

The first cake testing was held on Saturday, and I figured if there were any cakes that could withstand a couple days of being wrapped with plastic wrap, it would be the unnaturally moist, preservative-filled box mix cakes. Should I tell you how I really feel about box mix cakes??

And that’s not even half of what was made for the first tasting…I spent the next two days, right up to the 2pm tasting, making the rest of the cake. Luckily, my friend Kate, who also bakes and decorates cakes, was my accomplice in these extreme cake endeavors. She did everything from gathering supplies (who knew it would be next-to-impossible to find crème fraiche in Iowa?), to helping with the baking, to cutting the cakes and preparing for the tastings. It is great to know someone who is not only fun to hang out with, but who is also as obsessed with cake as I am. Here she is preparing for the first tasting:

Jones taste testing3 - www.talksweettome.com

Two friends of mine offered to host the tastings at their homes. The first tasting at Sarah and Dan’s house consisted of 26 different kinds of cake, some from a mix and some from scratch. Each of the mix cakes were paired with their corresponding from-scratch cake for the tasting for the ultimate in taste-testing analysis potential.

Jones taste testing2 - www.talksweettome.com

We learned from this tasting that 26 cakes, even when just trying a bite or two of each, was waaaayyyy too much cake and most tasters wanted nothing to do with cake for the next three weeks. No one should ever hate cake, and I think some of them did by the time we were finished.

Jones taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

That is why the second tasting at Katie and Kyle’s house had “just” 15 different cakes. Even fifteen different kinds of cake was pushing it for a few. But they were brave, soldiering on through the feelings of full-ness and sugar saturation.

Katie taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

To keep the tasting anonymous, I gave cakes different names and didn’t tell the tasters whether it was from scratch or from a mix. My scientific background finally came in handy with research methods!

Katie taste testing2 - www.talksweettome.com

For each kind of cake they tried, the tasters filled out a form that ranked the taste/flavor, texture, moisture, appearance, and perception of overall quality of the cake…and they also had to guess whether the cake was from a mix or from scratch. I realize this was just *slightly* over-the-top and I may have looked like a cake-obsessed fool with too much time on my hands, but in the end it was really, really helpful.

The results - talksweettome.com
From compiling the surveys, I found that most people can taste a cake mix accurately…but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like it. I also concluded that there is no way I can use a boxed mix for my cakes. They are easy and inexpensive, but…for me they are cheating. And my tasters said that if a person is going to pay for a cake, they want to feel like they couldn’t have gone to the store and whipped it up out of a box themselves. Quite right. That is why I did all of this ridiculous work.

I am going to go rest now.

Looking back - talksweettome.com

When I look back at this, I’m fairly certain I’d do things differently this time around to develop recipes, but I still find this posting too hilarious to not share. One of the people who commented on this posting way-back-when said she concentrated on finding just one good recipe at a time and gathered smaller groups of friends to taste-test…a good vanilla recipe first, then a good chocolate, then red velvet, etc. It’s a great excuse to get friends together, and if you do one flavor at a time people might even go back for seconds of their favorite recipe, which is sometimes even more telling!

So…has anyone else out there done something similarly crazy? How did you come up with your go-to recipes? Please share your adventures with me in the comments!

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Cake Beginnings

Flashback - talksweettome.comSo…I’m 3 weeks from my first baby’s due date, and I’d like to do a little series of flashbacks to share with you my experiences training in the world of cake before I started my business in Kansas City. It all begins with Wilton classes at the local craft store in Athens, GA while I was in school. I took all three of the courses that were offered at the time, and a few pictures of the cakes we made are below:

Wilton cakes - talksweettome.comI’m not particularly proud of these cakes (umm…or the photos!) and am honestly a little embarrassed to share them now. But…I’ll throw myself on out there for criticism because no one can possibly be more critical than me. It just goes to show that a person has to start learning somewhere!

Some friends from school got married that spring, and I was asked to make wedding cookie favors for them. It was super-fun! The picture on the left was the inspiration photo given to me by the bride (I am unsure of the source). They would look different if I did them today, but they tasted good and it was actually my first delivery for a wedding!

Holly-Eric Wedding Cookies - talksweettome.comAfter that I made a few cakes for customers while living in Atlanta. Here are a few of them:

Atlanta cakes - talksweettome.comAbout a year later, I moved to Sydney, Australia, still dreaming about working in the cake world. After a series of lucky breaks I became an intern at Planet Cake, one of the top cake shops in the city.

I began working as an intern one day a week, and it was amazing how much there was to learn! After some discussion with Paris Cutler, I started a blog called The Planet Cake Intern to document and share my experiences there. The next few weeks of postings on Talk Sweet to Me will share with you the weekly adventures while I was there, followed by my transition to working in the U.S. Enjoy!

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Lemon Yellow Bridal Shower Cake

Lemon lemon lemon - talksweettomeLast weekend I had the honor of making the bridal shower cake for a friend’s daughter. She gave me an inspiration cake, color scheme, and flavor choice, which was “Lemon, lemon, and MORE LEMON!” Needless to say, only a lemon cake with lemon curd filling and vanilla buttercream would do!

Cake design - talksweettome.comThe color scheme for the shower was bright yellow with navy blue and white accents. I was given this image as the inspiration cake…

Inspiration cake - talksweettome.comCake designer unknown

…but also given free reign to interpret the design in my own style. Don’t you love it when people trust you to be good at what you do?! Here’s what I came up with, all drawn very formally in blue pen on the back of an envelope:

Cake sketch on envelope - talksweettome.com

The cake - talksweettomeThen of course comes the baking, assembly, and decorating!

Baking lemon cake2 - talksweettome.comLemon bridal shower cake - talksweettome.comThe cake was delivered, my friend was thrilled, and then it was time for me to put my 8-months-pregnant-and-very-tired feet up to rest!

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Vanilla Cake Recipe Testing – Part 1

Truth Time - talksweettome.comSo, it’s truth time. I pretty much hate vanilla cake. Not the flavor – because that’s truly delicious – but because the perfect recipe for it continues to remain elusive. Come out, come out, wherever you are!

The Best Vanilla Cake Recipe Quest - talksweettome.comSure, there was a recipe I used for my business for the many brides who wanted a traditional white cake on their wedding day. But I never LOVED it the way I loved my chocolate or lemon recipes. So recently I tried Sweetapolita’s Fluffy Vanilla Cake recipe that she worked out while on her own quest for the perfect white cake recipe. Here is a link to many of her vanilla cake recipes. I truly admire her dedication (and her blog is pretty amazing too, of course!).

The cake - talksweettome.comMy husband and I had a couple friends over for dinner, so I had the perfect excuse and willing guinea pigs to test the recipe on. The cake was off to a good start when it rose nicely in the oven and smelled like my grandma’s sugar cookies when it came out. Heavenly.

Cutting into the cake was beautiful – it held it’s shape and made a very clean cut. At first bite, we were all met with a very nice melt-in-your-mouth texture and it was moist enough the night that I baked it. However, it still dried out very quickly and had that “white cake” flavor that I don’t like. Maybe that’s the baking powder? Alas, it made me want to pour the rest of the bottle of my favorite vanilla into it, but then again that seems like overreacting. And I might need it for another trial run.

Slice of Cake - Vanilla Cake Recipe Testing - talksweettome.comSlice of cake - talksweettome.comThe whipped vanilla bean icing was very buttery, but does taste wonderful in small doses. I LOVE the vanilla bean flecks in it!

Fluffy Vanilla Cake - talksweettome.comThe conclusion - talksweettome.comOverall, the cake recipe was met with rave reviews by my friends and co-workers, but this cake-obsessed fool is still on the hunt for the best vanilla white scratch cake recipe ever. Stay tuned!

Do you have a favorite vanilla cake recipe made from scratch? How did you find it?

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Book Review: The Confetti Cakes Cookbook by Elisa Strauss

The author - www.talksweettome.com

I absolutely love Elisa Strauss’ story. She got her start working in the fashion industry before attending pastry school and hitting it big as a cake designer in New York City. Her cakes have been featured all over in magazines and on television shows, including Martha Stewart Weddings, Sex and the City, Good Morning America, and the Food Network. In her book, The Confetti Cakes Cookbook: Spectacular Cookies, Cakes, and Cupcakes from New York City’s Famed Bakery, she shares her tips, techniques, recipes, and cake designs with us.

The book - www.talksweettome.com

The book is full of beautiful colorful photographs of the cakes and the step-by-step processes to make them, and since it is written in Elisa’s friendly and personable style, it is just as much fun to read and learn from.

And it’s not just cakes! This book offers a comprehensive guide to making a variety of cookies, cupcakes, cakes, and mini cakes for beginners through to more advanced decorators. With lists of necessary equipment and techniques to master, along with Elisa’s recipes for everything from cake and cookies to buttercream, ganache and fondant, this book is one of my favorites.

Confetti Cakes Book Review - Talk Sweet to Me - www.talksweettome.com

I love the Techniques section at the beginning of the book. Elisa covers everything from sculpting a cake and crumb coating to how to use dowels to create a structurally sound cake and wood staining/brush embroidery techniques.

While I never tried any of Elisa’s recipes because by the time I purchased the book I’d already experimented thoroughly to create my own go-to recipes, from reading through them I think they would definitely be worth a try.

Step-by-step, detailed instructions and diagrams are given for each of the 44 projects in the book, as well as tips and tricks to save time. There is even a list of resources where you can find many of the products and pieces of equipment she references.

This is a great book to add to your collection with its helpful advice, interesting techniques, and inspiring designs. Some of my favorites: Baby Onesie Cookies, Popcorn Mini Cakes, Hydrangea Cake, and Handbag Cake.

More information - www.talksweettome.com

While it seems that Elisa no longer takes cake orders, luckily for all of us, she has provided an excellent resource in her books! She still very busy teaching online classes like a Designer Handbag Cake or a Sculpted Dog Cake, holds private classes, has books and equipment for sale, and writes on her blog. Check out her website for more information.

If you’d like to purchase the book, you can buy it from Amazon.com by clicking here: The Confetti Cakes Cookbook: Spectacular Cookies, Cakes, and Cupcakes from New York City’s Famed Bakery

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A Little Laugh…

tired of cake text - Talk Sweet to Me - www.talksweettome.comNever! And yet…have you ever felt this way after a loooong day in the kitchen? I know I did…this image made me laugh so many times I wouldn’t be able to count them if I tried. Hopefully you’ll get a kick out of it too.Tired of cake image - Talk Sweet to Me - www.talksweettome.comNot sure where I found this photo because it was years ago, but whoever came up with this must be a cake decorator because they KNOW.

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Ingredients: Vanilla

The good stuff - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

Because everyone wants their cake business to thrive, I can probably say that most of you will agree with the following statement: Quality ingredients make a quality cake. We all know that guests at an event sometimes remember how a cake looks, but they ALWAYS remember how it tastes!  A solid cake recipe made with quality ingredients is what keeps people coming back for more.

There are some ingredients you can buy on the cheap. Others you buy the best you can afford. I think that is especially true with vanilla…and chocolate. Today I’ll talk about vanilla. Sometime soon we’ll discuss chocolate, I promise!

What - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve tasted a lot of the stuff and my absolute favorite vanilla on the planet is Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract. It is rich, it is flavorful, it is delicious, and somehow it makes everything it touches absolutely scrumptious. They also have a great vanilla bean paste. I scraped my fair share of vanilla beans and just found that the paste not only helped me avoid making a mess, but it also saved time and kept me from having to run all over town to find fresh vanilla beans…because it’s that good!

Vanilla - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

Why - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

A great vanilla adds a certain layer of flavor to your cakes and creates a rich and flavorful buttercream icing. The secret: People will have no idea WHY your cake and icing is so good, they will just know that it is out-of-this-world and make sure you are one baking their wedding cake. Ohh…..yum!

Where - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

The last time I searched, the least expensive 32-oz. bottle of this liquid deliciousness could be found at Culinary District online.

You can also buy it on Amazon if you’re ordering a bunch of stuff anyway!

You can find vanilla bean paste here at Culinary District or on Amazon here.

Culinary district logo

Question - Talk Sweet to Me - talksweettome.com

Do you have a favorite vanilla? Where do you find the best price for it?