Monday, May 22, 2006

The great debate... Scratch vs. Mix

There is a rift in the world of cake artists. There are the scrach bakers, and there are the mix-based bakers. There are a few brave souls who bake on both sides, but most of us stay in one camp or another.

There are some very goods arguments on both sides, and in the end, I believe it comes down to what you are comfortable with, and what your customers prefer.

I bake from scratch, but that's what works for me. I will eat a mix cake (and enjoy it!) but I prefer a good scratch cake, hands down.

In Favour of Mix:
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* consistent results... commercially made cake mixes contain many ingredients to stabilize and maintain freshness which results in a more consistent result.
* inexpensive... you can often purchase cake mixes at a lesser cost than buying the individual ingredients.
* customer preference... many people have grown up on boxed-mix cakes and they prefer that which is familiar. My own husband is happier when I dig out a mix to make his birthday cake!
* can customize flavours... by adding any number of ingredients to a mix, you can "doctor" it up to change the density of the cake, alter the flavour or extend it to fill a slightly larger pan.

Book Recommendation: Complete Cake Mix Magic (Jill Snider)
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(review by a friend of mine...) AMAZING, I like it much better than the Cake Mix Doctor....colour pages and pictures and receipes for everything and same idea here all start with a cake mix, I have made a few of the bundt cake one....so tasty!

In Favour of Scratch:
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* flavour... not every scratch recipe is better than a mix... but the ones that are; well there's no comparison!
* control over ingredients... read the side of a cake-mix box some time... I can't even pronounce some of the ingredients... much less understand what they do to someone who consumes them! Many people are more conscious about what they eat... whether due to allergies, or just general concern about their long-term health. When you bake from scratch, you know exactly what you put into that cake!
*unique-ness... while you can "doctor" up a mix to customize the flavour, there's nothing like tweaking a recipe to make it your own!

Book Recommendation: The Cake Bible (Rose Levy Berenbaum)
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My fave recipe book for scratch cakes & fillings & frostings!!! If you bake from scratch, you NEED this one!! And the best part is that she explains a little of WHY each recpie works, and what makes it similar or different from other ones! You get a little chemistry lesson (which you can ignore if you want... it's in a separate section at the end of each recipe) with each recipe! It really gives me the confident to play with and tweak the recipes to suit what I want, because I KNOW what each ingredient does.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Fondant Follies

Fondant (or sugarpaste as it is known in the UK)... decorators love it for the smooth porcelain finish and wonderful modelling capabilities. But when it comes to eating it... well that's another story!

There is at least one major manufacturer of cake decorating supplies which makes a truly in-edible version of sugarpaste. Unfortunately, a large number of decorators use it, not realizing that there are alternatives.

There are several manufacturers whick make some very tasty versions... my personal favourite is Mill Lane brand available at www.creativecutters.com in both the USA & Canada. I have also heard good things about Chocopan, which is based on white chocolate (but is a little pricey.)

If you want to make your own, there are several good recipes out there, there's one in Toba Garrette's book which I've used with good results. I don't find that the homemade versions are quite as workable as the commercial ones, but I may not have found the right one yet!

I would be remiss if I did not mention Marshmallow Fondant (MMF for short.) Similar to homemade in flavour and cost (which is substantially less than the commercial varieties) it is MUCH sweeter, due to having about 1/3 again as much sugar as scratch recipes. Many people believe it to be easier to make, but in reality, you only save one small step (mix gelatin into water...)

Most recipes I've seen list the glycerine as optional... I would not leave it out... that's what gives you the stretch to make it really workable... in fact I often double the required glycerine!

Whenever I work with rolled fondant, I always roll it approximately 1/4" thick... any thinner and it become much less forgiving! I also provide a substantial layer of buttercream underneath for those who don't wish to eat the sugarpaste