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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, December 2

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Random Tue Nov 03 2015

Impressive Cakes: Essential Tips and Tricks

IMG_0628.JPGOn my journey to pastry sainthood, I'm gleaning knowledge faster than eggs curdle in hot milk. After some disastrous flings with cookies, I've decided to tackle the cake. See below for my essential tips and tricks:

Create a dense cake.
Density, or the relationship between mass of cake and the space the cake takes up, matters when you're frosting. Baking a cake that doesn't disintegrate into despondent chunks will help with carving. Bake dense cakes (hell, bake a brownie) or springy cakes that won't explode into a billion crumbs.

Paint your cake; it will impress everyone around you, even yourself.
Oh yes, you can paint a cake. I usually opt for the Jackson Pollock style in which I chuck a bunch of food coloring at a white fondant cake and pretend I'm a mighty fine artist. Co-workers are generally impressed, or at least outwardly so.

Follow the directions and be patient.
It's not okay to replace white sugar with brown sugar, eggs with peanut butter, or almond flour with bread flour. It's also not okay to eyeball measurements (Oh yeah, that's definitely 3 tablespoons right there) and carve your cake straight out the oven. You laugh scornfully at the Pillsbury Guide for Excellent Cakes, but you won't be giggling when your cake looks like solidified applesauce.

That being said, I've never found use in sifting my mixture or following a predetermined cooking time (Just poke the center of the cake and if your utensil doesn't come out clean, leave it!)

A ruler helps.
I haven't used a ruler since third grade, when it was my weapon of choice for smacking recess bullies. However, having a straight edge is beneficial for things like: 1) making sure your fondant covers your entire cake; 2) creating a straight or even edge; 3) leveling frosting.

Create a stable frosting, and use it fresh when it's soft and warm.
Take your time to whip air into your frosting so that it's fluffy and malleable. Good frosting is typically European, but making it is the absolute worst. Got a little yolk in your frosting? Go cry on the toilet. Frosting starts to loosen and look like coagulated lumps? Maybe you should call your mom.

rsz_2img_0631.jpgFondant is a beautiful lie.
Fondant is the play-dough of the pastry world--it's stunning to look at, relatively easy to work with, prevents the cake from drying out, and can hold its shape for days. The only downside is that it tastes like a marshmallow committed suicide.

Before frosting, create a crumb coat.
Why the f*** didn't someone tell me that earlier? My frosting never worked before--smearing buttercream goodness over a chocolate cake meant scraping half of a layer of cake off. Now, my cakes have lovely clean lines and all those crumbs are hardened into the crumb layer, like Han Solo in graphite.

Some kitchen gadgets are dumb, but some are pretty useful.
You don't really need an ice-cream scooper, blow torch, or microplaner. However, you do need a usable pastry bag (Ziploc bags won't do), non-stick trays or mats, a Kitchen Aid mixer, and parchment paper. You can't MacGyver all essential equipment, so spend a little money on things that will save you a whole lot of heartache later.

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Ellen / November 4, 2015 12:58 PM

This article came at the perfect time as I'm attempting a ridiculous cake for a birthday party this weekend. I've never heard of a crumb coat before, but I'll definitely put it to use this time around. Thanks for the tips!

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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