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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Miracle of Heating Cores (done the lazy way)

First, the food porn:



(I'll get back to this in a minute.) 

So, I've been on a baking swing lately, and if you live near me you've been getting the benefit of this. If you're far away, I can only give you delicious recipes and horrible pictures of the results (the pictures, not the baked goods. The baked goods have been great). Sorry about that. On the bright side, you've never been forced to lie to me about how tasty (or not) something is. So there's that.

Today I want to talk about heating cores. I have the world's trickiest oven, and my cakes were forever coming out lopsided. Since my oven has (a) no interior light, (b) no window on the door, (c) two different thermometers on the backs of an upper and lower rack which I use to triangulate the ACTUAL temperature the oven is, regardless of the dial setting, and (d) a tendency to crisp things in weird places, I have been blaming this on the oven and just moving on with life. This usually means I have to get out the cake leveler and get rid of the lopsided bit before stacking layers or frosting anything.

Getting rid of ANY perfectly good food item pains me. Also, cutting cake tops means you get crumbs in your icing more than normal when you have to spread the icing. Both of these things bother me A LOT. So when I was at Joann's the other day, I spent a little while staring at the heating core.

This is a heating core (from Wilton):


What you do is, you stick it in the center of your cake pan, then pour in the batter, and put a little batter in the heating core, and bake. This redistributes the heat and helps your cake bake more evenly. However, I've used a heating core before, and I HATE it. Because what you end up with is a little circular plug that you drop back into the cake.



Fine, but when you go to slice the cake, you lose the end off your nice little triangular piece. It BOTHERS me, y'all! It does not help me a bit. And it's another step. Plus, the things are $9 apiece and if you're baking multiple layers, you have to clean the core in between and wait on one layer to finish to use it. If you know anything about me, you know that I AM NOT PATIENT. I am not sitting around waiting on any stupid heating core.

So instead, I googled for a better way. And what did I find? Flower nails!


They work just like the metal thingies you can put a baked potato on that allow them to cook twice as fast. They distribute the heat, AND they do not require any of this giant-hole-in-the-cake business. Also, I'm lazy. Also, they cost $1.50. YES. So I bought four. (I actually need to buy 4 more, I realized I will still be waiting on layers to cool and I am not OK with that.)

Brilliant!

I tested out my new flower nails on a wedding shower cake I was doing for my friend Eli (you remember her and her adorable child and dog from Marie's wedding cupcakes, right?). So first I put down parchment paper cut to size on the bottom, and then stuck the flower nail through it. I sprayed it with Bake Easy all over as well (which also helps keep the parchment paper from curling up).



I had also recently invested in some Wilton Bake Even Strips, and between those and the flower nails, I got entirely flat cakes. No more wasted cake! (The strips say to just soak in water; the blog advice I read said 30 minutes of soaking. I would agree with that since these worked so well).


After they came out of the oven, I let them cool for a little while and then flipped them out of the pans and peeled off the parchment paper and flower nails. Then I wrapped them all in Saran wrap and stacked them in the fridge to sit overnight. This makes the layers less delicate and easier to work with. 

I should have taken a picture of the cakes when they came out all even, but it was late by then and I forgot.

However, I didn't trim these two layers at all, so you can judge for yourself in the picture below as I started crumb-icing:


Again, let me extoll the virtues of a cake turntable, shown above. It makes icing things super easy. (Also, I don't mean to be sitting around shilling Wilton items, but they are so often what's available that there aren't other brand options. Honestly, I don't know that there are brand differences, but if I find one, I will tell you.)

Anyway, so on to the stacking. Now, if I'm just buttercreaming a layer cake and not doing fondant, I prefer to stack my layers after the crumb-coating stage. This is just me, you can do it however you like. I find it easier to sort of shellack the layers together with a final icing coat so they don't slide, however.

This was a two-layer cake, so I had to insert the supports for the second layer: three wooden dowels, cut to the height of the cake and sharpened in a pencil sharpener.


I like to hold mine up to the side of the bottom layer and then cut them with a set of wire cutters. (Note: This will often cause the other end of the dowel to go flying across the room and smack your husband in the head. Be careful where you aim.)


Then I stacked up the second layer onto a 6" cardboard cake circle.


And then crumb-coated and stuck together with the bottom layer:


(I know you love my awesome phone photos, DON'T YOU?? Hahaha sorry, again. My camera died.)

I didn't take any of the in-between steps here when I did the second icing coat, but be assured it was just lots of buttercream. 

Anyway, so the cake was supposed to match the shower invitation, shown below, so I tried to mix a color as close as I could get to the invite border.


And then I piped on the little cross-hatch border with a tiny little #1 icing tip, as well as the monogram on the card. I think it came out pretty good, no? A little greener than I wanted, but still a close-ish match.



It isn't perfect, but I think it's pretty good for a two-night after-work-and-school project. Also, I'm told it was yummy, which is even better!

Yay cake!

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