Monday, August 1, 2016

2016 Indiana State Fair - Cake Day

This was the cake I originally wanted to enter in the State Fair this year. White Chocolate Almond Coconut. Doesn't it look fabulous? I wanted to make it the moment I laid eyes on it. This was going to be my State Fair cake. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to carefully reading the recipe until a couple weeks ago. It's an almond sponge cake with a hint of lemon. That lovely filling though is made with heavy cream and Greek yogurt, which basically disallows it from Fair entry. Dairy fillings like these are against the food safety rules. No cream, custard, cream cheese or similar fillings or frostings. Humphh!!

I had almond and coconut stuck in the brain though so I searched for more recipes and ideas. I decided I was going to make a coconut cake. I had made one for the State Fair years before and not placed. I was ready to try again. Trial run was my County Fair entry. The flat coconut cake.


It actually ended up not looking too bad once I stacked a couple layers...

... but the judging sheet said it was lacking flavor so I decided to find another recipe. I also discovered days later that my original recipe was for a 6" cake, not the 9" cake I had made. At least that accounted for the flatness.

Anyway, I found another coconut cake recipe and tried it out on my co-workers.

They loved it. I loved it. I decided this was IT, at least for coconut cakes.

I still needed an "other" cake recipe for a single layer cake and a multi-layer cake. Still searching for almond flavored cake recipes, I came across a single layer French Almond cake. I really wanted to do a multi-layer almond-something cake but when I came across this I couldn't resist trying it out.

Fabulous. I'd have to say this is my favorite dessert I've made this year.

Still searching for that perfect multi-layer cake... Maybe I shouldn't do almond? I found this...

Banana Coco Hazelnut Cake

Problem was, it also had some caramel in it... and there is a banana caramel multi-layer cake category, which I wasn't entered in. Next up, I found THIS!

OMG! Momofuku Espresso German Chocolate Cake. It looked perfect. Except... well, by now it's Thursday night and I'm still trying to find the perfect cake recipe. (OK, I confess, I was looking at cake recipes in the middle of the night at work.) Thursday night and cakes are due in by 4 pm on Sunday. Plus, well you know, my rolls and cakes were due in Saturday. Reading the recipe I realize I need things like freeze dried corn powder (what?!!) and acetate sheets and a ring mold to assemble the cake. I had a fleeting thought of trying to track these things down on Friday AND make all my cookies and rolls AFTER working a night shift. I finally came to my senses and realized that this too was not going to work.

Back to thinking about almond cake ideas. I wanted almond cake with some kind of fruit and Fair-legal filling. Initially I thought about almond cake layered with orange marmalade and coconut icing... then I thought it might be too busy. Almond. Fruit. I really like the layered look of the Momofuku-type cakes. Then I found this...

Done! I was taking this idea and running with it. I had an almond cream cake recipe I liked. Instead of trying to layer fresh fruit in between the layers I'd bake the fruit into the bottom of the cake and then flip it to get the layered effect on top. Raspberry almond seemed too cliché so I went with blackberry almond. Besides, I already had the blackberry preserves. I'd spread this between the cake layers too because the fresh blackberries weren't super sweet. I also had found an intriguing almond cream frosting that I thought would be the perfect filling. It's a cooked frosting where you cook milk and flour together (sounds gross, right?) then whip it into creamed butter and sugar. It's suppose to taste like a whipped cream based frosting and not too sweet. I wanted to try it.

I finally started baking cakes at 5 pm on Saturday night. Did the three coconut cream cake layers first. No problem. Turned them out on the racks to cool.

French almond was up next. When I made it the first time I baked it for exactly 30 minutes. Usually when I bake a cake for the first time I always set the timer for at least 5 minutes less than the recommended baking time so I can check it for doneness, then I'll write down the exact time in MY oven on the recipe. For some reason I forgot to set the timer early for this one so when the oven beeped at 30 minutes I was startled to find that the top of the cake was very very dark brown and I was worried the cake was over done. Cake turned out fine but I wrote on the recipe "cover with foil at 20 minutes", "bake 30 minutes."

So, 20 minutes in, all the batter has risen to the top of the cake pan but it's jiggly and pale. I cover it with foil. 30 minutes. I go to get it out of the oven and uncover the cake. Ackk! The middle is still jiggly, plus it sinks a little when I open the oven. Crap! I give it another 5 minutes, then take a peek. Still jiggly and the middle looks like it has a permanent sink - not bad but I can see it. Another 5 minutes. Still jiggly. OK, I'm starting to panic now. Why?!! It's the same freakin' cake in the same freakin' oven! ANOTHER 5 minutes, and FINALLY the center is set. I was almost afraid to check for doneness with a toothpick, afraid it would still be doughy, but it was finally baked all the way through.

While this cake was baking, I also made the glaze that gets brushed over the warm cake and I started making the almond cream for the next cake. I had to simmer 2 cups of cream, then mix in 2 cups of chopped almonds, let them soak for 30 minutes, then strain the almonds out of the cream.

The French Almond cake then won't come out of the pan - even with parchment paper on the bottom. Stay calm, stay calm. Just let it cool a little while longer... This is the cake with no frosting. I can't hide any imperfections if it tears coming out of the pan. Another 15 minutes, then I gently stick a knife around the edge and ease it away from the pan. Flip. It comes out. Thank you Jesus!

Glaze gets brushed on. Sprinkle of almonds and cake is done. One down.

French Almond Cake

Next is the almond layer cake. I decided to do two layers with blackberries and one layer plain. That way, when the blackberry layers got flipped over one would see cake-blackberries-cake-blackberries-cake. I've never made this cake before and now I was altering it by adding the blackberries. More moisture. More volume. This could be a disaster.

I ended up spooning the batter in around the blackberries that were already sitting in the bottom of the pan. I was really worried about air bubbles causing tunnels. I then slammed the pans down on the table a couple times and was alarmed by the HUGE bubbles that were coming up. I let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes and typed up recipes. More slamming of pans. More bubbles. This could go on all night! Finally I was satisfied it was as good as it was going to get and put the pans in the oven.

Started making coconut cream icing as soon as the blackberry almond cakes hit the oven. Icing done. Now to baby sit the cakes. I started checking them at 20 minutes. The pure almond layer was done in 25 minutes. Kept checking every 5 minutes. The blackberry almond layers took almost 40 minutes! I was scared the blackberries were burned. I was scared the cake wasn't done in the middle. Again... this could be awful.

Flipped the cakes out of their pans. Meh... not too bad. Bottoms aren't burned; cake around the fruit looks a little pale though. I hope it's not gummy...

Coconut cake gets frosted. Beautiful. It's a little after midnight now. Two down.

Coconut Cream Cake

Now to make the almond cream frosting. I cooked the milk and flour together. Took 20 minutes to get the right consistency. 20 minutes of constant whisking. It then had to cool to room temperature before combining it with the butter and sugar. In the end though, the frosting was fantastic! Perfect for what I wanted to do.

OK, all I have left to do is assemble the blackberry almond cake. The layers are completely cool. I the realize the cake is so delicate you can't pick it up. It's so soft it's actually sunken into the cake rack a bit. In retrospect, I should have flipped it off the rack onto another flat surface, removed the rack, then flipped it onto my cake board. I was tired though and my brain wasn't firing on all cylinders so, instead, I had some really tense moments scraping the cake off the rack with an extra-large cake spatula and then slowly shoving it off onto my cake board. I'm lucky I didn't break the cake.

One layer on the cake board. Blackberry preserves spread over the top. Almond cream frosting over that... and the frosting is sliding off the preserves. OK, I can fix this. I put the layer in the freezer to firm up the preserves. I spread preserves over the second layer and put it in the freezer too. Wait 15 minutes. Almost fall asleep. Back to frosting.

So now the bottom cake layer has blackberry preserves and some frosting, which is now pretty solid. I fill in with more frosting, then have another tense moment scraping the second fragile cake layer off the cooling rack and shoving it off on top of the first layer, then realize the whole cake is now tilting sideways because the frozen frosting is not giving. Don't panic! Don't panic! I'm panicking. Finally I shove a knife through the frozen frosting to break it up a bit so the cake sits more level. More soft frosting on top of the second layer, another tense moment with the final plain almond cake layer, and all three layers are now on the cake board... still a bit tilted... and the top two layers are sliding around. This is a HUGE cake! Much larger than I anticipated. I finally resorted to pushing down on the top of the cake until it leveled out. I knew all my cake layers were flat. It was a matter of getting all the filling stuff in between to level out. It didn't matter if it ended up squirting out the sides because I was going to frost it anyway.

FINALLY got the whole thing frosted and decorated the way I wanted it. Went to put it away in the refrigerator and found that it was too tall for my cake containers. My cake containers have a 5 1/2" dome. It was 2:35 am. I put it away without a cover and went to bed. Three down.

Blackberry Almond Cream Reverie

Sunday July 31st
Cake turn in was between 1-4 pm and open cake judging started at 4 pm. I waited until 2 pm to leave the house because I didn't want to sit around too long waiting for the judging to start. The start of the judging then got slightly delayed. We were suppose to have four judges. One of the judges had a family member have a stroke at 2:15 pm so she had to leave. One judge apparently moved to California and didn't tell anyone... One judge was still judging some of the pre-entries that were brought in yesterday. We had one judge on the stage.

I sat between Deborah and Rebecca. Barbara and her husband were in front of us, and Mary Alice and Darl and lots of their family members were there too. Also saw Rosalind, Michael and Phyllis; Jennifer and Raymond were there too.

My coconut cream cake got judged first. This was the cake I felt had the best chance of winning, The French Almond hadn't baked the way I wanted it with the slight dip in the middle and I had no idea what the blackberry almond cream tasted like. There were a lot of coconut cakes. The first thing the judges did was see how well the cakes cut. I could tell mine was more dense than the others. Was it not completely at room temperature by now? Almost everybody's cake looked exactly alike except for two on the end. One was pink. It had passion fruit in it. I always wonder if you can do stuff like that as it's technically not a pure coconut cake anymore. Sometimes it's so dependent on what the judge(s) like. Some will count off for not being pure; some will think it's unique. Our judge today was really looking at the appearance of the cakes too. I was thankful for that because I always make sure my cakes LOOK good. It's their first impression, even before they taste it, and I always make sure my cakes are eye-catching.

My heart sank a little when I did not get a 1-2-3 placing. I got Honorable Mention. Mary Alice won. Her coconut cake last year won and went on to win Best of Show. The coconut cake with passion fruit that was made by some guy we didn't know got Second. The judge liked that it was different. Rosalind got Third. Raymond and I got Honorable Mention.

Coconut Cake winners

The next cake I had judged was the blackberry almond cream. I held my breath as they cut it. I had no idea what the inside would look like. Both judges were looking at it. One of them was a pastry chef. They liked it. They commented that it looked like a "restaurant cake." They liked it! They liked it! I won. Darl (and Mary Alice) got Second with a fresh orange cake. Raymond got Third. I think his cake was Key Lime (?). Rosalind was Fourth with German Chocolate and Barbara got Honorable Mention with I think some kind of spice cake.

Other Multi-layer Cake Winners

After all the multi-layer cakes were judged, they picked the Best of Show from all the First Place winners. It was me!

Best of Show!

I finally got to see what my cake looked like once it was cut too.

Add this to the list of cakes I'll have to make again so I can taste it. I never did get around to making my Sweet Potato with Spiced Pecan Buttercream from last year either!

Next up were all the single layer cakes. The pastry chef had to leave so we were down to one judge. Finally all the "other" category single layer cakes got brought on stage. The first cake the judge cut into was a chocolate blackout cake. You could tell it just melted in her mouth. She really liked it. She got to mine and I was worried again that it wouldn't cut well and that it was too dense. It actually IS sort of a dense cake as it's made with almond flour... it's suppose to be textured like that. She liked it though. Then, she cut into Mary Alice's buttermilk spice cake. It cut like butter, like all Mary Alice's cakes... Judge really liked that too. Now for the placing. There was no way I was going to win...

Mary Alice (Darl) won. The chocolate blackout cake got Second. I got Third. Michael had a carrot cake that got Fourth and Barbara had a butter cake that got Honorable Mention.

Other Single-layer Cake Winners

That left me out of the running for a Best of Show for single layer cakes as that was my only entry in that division. I watched them complete single layer cakes. Best of Show went to an Applesauce Spice cake from someone I didn't know.

It was after 6:30 pm by now. There were still honey cakes, cupcakes, and cake balls to be judged but I didn't have anything left so I made my way home. I can't complain. All three of my cakes placed and I have my Best of Show for the year.

The Fair officially starts on Friday August 5th. I'm going to the Open House on August 4th to see how all my other pre-entry items did. After that my next competition will be the Cupcake Bake-Off on Sunday August 7th. Today was spent cleaning and organizing my house, taking the kids to brunch, and buying school supplies. I have to go to work this evening. The kid's start school tomorrow. I also work Thursday, Friday, and Saturday... and I still don't have a clue what I'm doing for the Cupcake Bake-off on Sunday. Looks like another busy week!

1 comment:

  1. I sure enjoyed this story! Congratulations and very very well deserved. I have been making that flour frosting for a few years now. Originally I got it with the Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake recipe 25 years ago. I have since made it with brown sugar for a pumpkin cake I make. It's a miracle recipe. I love it. Congrats again!