Wednesday, January 2, 2019

On a Christmas Baking Roll

Happy New Year to you all! We're going to have to roll the calendar back a few weeks though so I can tell you all about my holiday baking. So much baking! Let's start with a dessert that I brought to a friend's Christmas party: Red Velvet Snowflake Swiss Roll.

Since I've been watching so much Great British Bake Off, I've been craving a chance to attempt a Swiss roll. For those unfamiliar, it's basically a thin cake that you roll up with a filling to make a pretty spiral log. I decided to try this with a red velvet cake with a white chocolate cream cheese filling. And because I'm crazy, I also decided to try a technique where you bake a pattern into the cake itself. Sound nuts? You betcha!

Let's see if I can explain this baked pattern concept. Essentially, you use different colored cake batter to pipe a pattern onto parchment paper. You chill your pattern for a bit and then pour your main cake batter on top of the pattern. By doing this, your pattern bakes into your cake and when you roll it, you get pretty designs. If you're still having trouble grasping this, Google "deco roll cakes" and you'll see what I mean. In my case, I was planning to pipe snowflakes because ya know, Christmas.

I opted for a simple Taste of Home recipe for the red velvet roll because I wasn't too fussed about using the perfect cake recipe. The recipe didn't include the precious pattern-baking but I figured I could just add the red food coloring last and pull some of the batter aside for the piping. I mixed up my entire batter and then realized the fatal flaw: red velvet cake has cocoa powder. So the batter without the red dye isn't actually white. Dammit.

In my defense, I was baking this at about 8 am so my brain wasn't fully awake yet. It's not much of an excuse but I'll use it anyway. Also, I've never made red velvet cake before so it didn't even occur to me that it had cocoa in it. I'm not entirely sure I understand what red velvet cake is.

What's a baker to do? I guess make more cake batter. I obviously wasn't going to make a whole batch of dough without cocoa because I only needed a small amount to pipe. So (get ready, you're gonna love this...) I logic-ed that if the original recipe required 4 eggs, it would be easy to divide the recipe by 4 to get a reasonable amount of dough! Flawless plan, right? Except that now for other ingredients, I was dealing with minuscule amounts...I'm talking 1/4 and 1/8 teaspoons for some ingredients. I'd like to say I did all of my measuring precisely but I definitely did not. I was able to make all of my batter in a cereal bowl (because why would I use my mixer?) and was trying to hand-whisk the egg to cake batter foaminess. So dumb. I also just guessed a little bit on how much flour to add since I was eliminating the cocoa powder and was trying to get a pipe-able thickness. Silly me.

Now, here's where things get extra tricky. The recipe specified that I grease the baking pan, then put down parchment paper and then grease the parchment paper. I was curious what I should use for the greasing so I actually did a lot of research on this before starting. I couldn't find any reliable information. I also found that many recipes did not recommend greasing the paper so now I was feeling very conflicted about all of this. Eventually, America's Test Kitchen came through and said PAM would be fine. So I did that. Then I started piping snowflakes. Everywhere the batter dropped on the greased parchment paper, it just ROLLED AWAY. Obviously impossible to make a snowflake pattern like that. So I thought that maybe my batter was just too thin (totally possible since my mixing and measuring was a hot mess by then). I dumped the batter out of my piping bag, added some more flour, and refilled the bag. Better, but still ROLLING AWAY. I decided to test out the piping on a scrap of ungreased parchment paper and sure enough, flawless piping. Guess that solves that mystery!

I discarded my greased parchment paper in favor of ungreased and got to piping work. It was still really difficult to pipe. The batter was very thin and came out of the piping tip very quickly. After a couple of mushy looking snowflakes, I switched out my piping tip for the thinnest possible tip and things went a bit better. However, the snowflake template I had printed out ended up being way too small to be reasonable so I needed to freehand all of my piping. Eventually I started to get the hang of it a bit but only ended up piping half the parchment paper. Which was fine because you can't see the pattern on the inside of the roll anyway. I also added a few polka dots between the snowflakes to fill out the pattern. Oof. Already stressful and I haven't even rolled a cake!

I put the design into the fridge to set for a bit while the oven preheated. I was pretty worried about my oven because it's important to not overbake the cake for a Swiss roll or it'll just crack when you try to roll it. I set up my oven thermometer so I could see it easily and I could keep an eye on the temperature and made sure I got it set to the correct temperature before baking. I was determined to not screw this up. I poured my red velvet batter over my pattern on the pan and put it in the oven for 12 minutes. After 13 minutes, it was done. I had to test it by seeing if it springs back when I touch the middle. Success! Now to cool for 5 minutes and then roll the cake up with the parchment paper while it was still warm. Actually, let me amend that statement. The recipe said I should flip the cake and peel off the parchment paper and then roll it in a towel. I've seen a lot of conflicting advice here but since my pattern was on the bottom, I didn't want to be flipping any cakes around. Plus Mary Berry just uses the parchment paper and no towel. So, hot cake in hand (seriously hot cake! Don't let it cool or it'll crack!), I started to carefully roll my tight spiral. I am shocked and pleased to report that it was extremely easy. Then I had to let it cool in its spiraled form.

A few hours and a couple of wrapped Christmas gifts later, I revisited my cake and whipped up the white chocolate cream cheese filling. This was a very simple filling of cream cheese, vanilla, white chocolate, butter, and powdered sugar so not much to report there. The real challenge is the filling and rolling of the cake. I very carefully unrolled my cooled cake and immediately realized that I had a problem. When I rolled the cake, the side of the parchment paper that had been greased to the pan was on the inside of my roll and it made the inside of my cake a bit greasy and a bit inclined to bleed red food dye on my hands. The side that had been ungreased was completely fine though. Well, at least the greasy side would be the side with the filling so I guess it's fine? The other problem was that my first couple rolls were so tight that it didn't want to unroll very nicely without cracking. My solution to this was to just spread the filling up and around the slightly rolled end. Not ideal but not terrible either. I was also careful to not put too much filling at the end of the cake since I knew a bunch of it would squish toward the end as I rolled.

So I took a deep breath and started gently rolling and peeling off the parchment paper as I went. This was a slow process because the parchment paper did stick to the cake just a little bit. I had to be very gentle. Finally, I rolled the whole thing up with only the tiniest of tiny cracks in the top of the cake. Honestly, if you hadn't been looking for it, you wouldn't have noticed. I also had bright red hands and a bright red countertop but whatever! Amazingly enough, the pattern looked great in the cake (apart from the fact that my piped snowflakes are totally janky) and I plated it with some white chocolate snowflakes that I had piped earlier and voila! Christmas cake!

I'm very proud of the way it looks even if the snowflakes don't look great. I got a nice tight swirl in there and cut clean ends so you could see all the layers. I think the white chocolate snowflakes added a nice festive touch (and taste better than royal icing snowflakes). And it tasted good! I would definitely try this again sometime when I have more forethought on the design and cake colors and less time pressure and holiday madness.

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