If you are going to make a cake for some upcoming occasion, you might as well go the distance and make something unusual and appealing. I follow food websites and one thing that is popular right now is kind of ultra-cakes and cakes that are decorated with candy. To me, this is a little like wearing designer clothing and fragrances. As a person who has fought for my identity--and been wrong along the way--I don't need a logo or the blast of a heavy and well-known scent to tell people who I am.
My husband says that his work is his signature, and he certainly has fans in Tucson who fully appreciate his culinary talents. If I could have persuaded him to go to cooking school I would have been happy, but he isn't attracted to doing something professionally that he does now for pleasure.
That brings us back to being yourself. The fashion industry's never-ending quest for your money prompts them to introduce new products all the time, and they hope to engage us in our own endless search for "what's hot" so that we can dump "what's not" and make sure that we are in the vanguard of whatever. Unfortunately this has slopped over into the food industry, for one thing, and today on the Huffington Post I saw an article on their Food pages urging us to double down on food decorated with candy--by which they mean sprinkling something like M & M candies on the frosting of a cake.
First of all, as a person who would like to maintain a healthy blood-sugar level, that's out of the question for me, personally. I have nothing against using the little chocolate fellas in something like Chocolate Chip Cookies, but the decorated and re-decorated examples attached to the article have actually gone beyond the point of being appetizing. Isn't that the point of food? If you move a little ways away from eating to live, and you want food to be attractive, how do we define that? I don't even want to taste the overdone monstrosities in the HP photos, but there may be some people who would. Perhaps those are the people who follow cupcake contests and sugar contests and over-the-top pastry chefs. So that's fine, but before you decide to throw caution to the winds, ask yourself if your friends would truly love sugar on frosting on candy.
Some of the ideas I have collected lately range from simple to complex. A beautifully-simple idea is the Southern Coconut Cake, always a symphony of vanilla and coconut. And if you can melt chocolate for frosting, you can use white chocolate as well as conventional types (usually semi-sweet for frosting). A white cake with white-chocolate butter-cream frosting is an excellent background for decoration with simple Christmas-themed decorations, which you can find at Tucson's Walmart stores, as well as Michael's, such as the one on Oracle Road. The white-on-white theme can work to your advantage if you like to decorate with a pastry tube, once you put your frosting on with a large spatula and make it very smooth. At that point you can add snowflakes and scrolling to your heart's content.
To make it easy, get some candy molds at a specialty baking store and melt some white chocolate; mold it and simply place on the cake. This is so simple a child could do it--like your niece or nephew or grandchild on a Christmas-season afternoon.
Another thing I saw that was interesting was a sort of variation on Marble Cake, which is very popular in Tucson if I can judge by the occasion cakes that I see at church once in awhile. But what I saw with the cupcakes that caught my eye was this: you make two batches of cake batter, white and chocolate. But instead of marbling them with a blade, you crop them into cupcake pans with a scoop. One scoop of white and one scoop of dark will rise as they bake, creating a black-and-white cupcake. This, then, can be decorated with any kind of frosting that you like, either white or chocolate or some of both.
If you want to make refrigerated cakes, one easy method is to bake a recipe of Angel Food Cake in a loaf pan. This type of cake is relatively easy to handle, due to the strong protein bonds in the large amount of beaten egg whites. So it isn't too hard to slice the cake horizontally into layers (using a serrated knife, by the way). Once you have that, you can fill and frost with anything that has enough density to support the layers above it, such as pudding or mousse. Be a tad careful if you want to make an ice-cream cake--have a space cleared in the freezer before you start so that you don't need to deal with melting ice cream.
Here is an interesting idea to try: the idea that a fallen cake is not new to American cookery, because the legend says that Brownies were originally a fallen chocolate cake. So try this one, a fallen mousse cake, and see what you can do with it.
FALLEN MOUSSE CAKE
1/2 cup almond meal (fine-ground almonds)
3/4 cup sugar or Splenda baking sugar
1/2 cup baking cocoa
2 ounces sweet chocolate, melted in 5 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg whites
3 Tablespoons all-purpose or pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a layer pan with nonstick cooking spray. The size isn't very important; eight or nine-inch circular pans will work.
Combine 1/2 cup of the sugar, water, cocoa and vanilla in a double boiler. Heat them and add the chocolate (watch to see that it does not burn). Set this aside, off the heat, to cool.
Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and 1/4 cup of the sugar until they form soft peaks. Add the almond meal and flour and beat again until they are thoroughly combined.
Beat the egg yolks and add a small amount of the chocolate mixture to "temper" it. When it is combined, add the rest of the chocolate mixture.
Finally, lower the mixer speed to Low or Fold and combine all the mixtures together. Transfer the batter to the cake pan and bake it for 25 minutes. It will appear pretty much like a normal cake, but once it is done (firm in the center), remove it from the oven and allow it to cool in the pan. This cake will fall as it cools.
A chocolate mousse-type frosting is a natural for this, something that won't weigh it down. The texture will be delicate, and lighter than the typical flourless cake, which the recipe resembles but not the finished product. However, you will love it if you like chocolate.