Williams College has this wonderful tradition called Winter Study. Williams students are overloaded with courses, sports, extra-curricular commitments, and who knows what else during the fall and spring semesters. During January, for 3 1/2 weeks, they get to relax - just a little. There are academic courses offered for those who are so inclined, but a majority of students participate in the type of course that would not be offered as a regular college offering. In the past I've taught a course called Pilates: Fitness, Physiology, and Philosophy. Other courses offered include Atheism, Wine Tasting, Contemporary Movie Criticism, Mathematics of the Rubik's Cube, The Philosophy of Chess, and so many more! I am absolutely thrilled this year to be teaching a course called The Art & Science of Baking.
The dining services staff have been absolutely wonderful, and we've been allowed to use the College Bakeshop. We're meeting for 36 hours (in 3 hour increments, though they often stretch longer) over the course of the month, baking up all sorts of yummy concoctions. It's such a learning experience to bake in a professional kitchen, even though we're not touching most of the heavy machinery (I want the students to be able to bake in their own home kitchens when this is all over with afterall). I've been planning this course for the past year, and it's so worth it. I can't wait to do it again.
Though much of class time is spent with aprons on, hair pulled back, and flour flying, we've been reading about the science of baking in Shirley Corriher's Bakewise. It is completely fascinating, and I'm sure my copy will be covered with chocolate and dried batter soon, despite my best attempts to keep it clean.
We baked butter cakes, oil cakes, combination cakes, a flourless chocolate cake, and a genoise cake. They were covered with powdered sugar frosting (aka American Buttercream), chocolate frosting, chocolate ganache, cream cheese frosting, and buttercream frosting.
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
3/4 cup cake flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Spray a 10" x 15" jelly pan or a 9" round pan with baking spray; line with parchment paper; spray again.
Preheat the oven to 400F; set an oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Set a medium saucepan of water on the stove, with about 2-3" of water; bring to a boil. Keep at a simmer.
Whisk the eggs, yolks, salt, and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place over the simmering water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl). Whisk constantly for about a minute - you just want to heat the mixture to lukewarm - not hot. If you heat it too long, the cake will be dry.
Remove from heat, and attach the bowl to the stand mixer. Beat on medium-high with the whisk attachment until the mixture is cool (the outside of the bowl should be completely cool) and has tripled in volume. This will take several minutes.
While that's whipping, whisk together the cake flour, cornstarch, cocoa, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a dry bowl until the cocoa is full incorporated.
When the egg batter is ready, sift about 1/3 of the flour mixture over the batter, and gently fold it in with a rubber spatula. Repeat two more times. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake for about 10-12 minutes. It will be firm to the touch and just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Don't overbake or it will be dry.
Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then flip onto a piece of parchment paper on a cooling rack.
Genoise cakes can often be dry. I like to pour a little flavored simple syrup over the cake before frosting. We used almond extract, frangelico, or peppermint extract to flavor the syrup.
4 large egg whites (or 4.5 ounces egg whites)
1 cup sugar
3 sticks butter, softened
2 1/2 tablespoons Frangelico or Kahlua or Amaretto (or water)
4 ounces semi-sweet or bitter-sweet chocolate, melted (do not use chips)
1 teaspoon vanilla (or other) extract
Whisk the egg white and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in another heat proof large bowl if using a hand mixer). Set the bowl over simmering water, and whisk constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot (if you touch the whites, you'll need to immediately remove your finger). Remove from heat, and attach the bowl to your stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium until the bowl is room temperature (it should feel like it was never on the pan of simmering water). This will take 5-10 minutes or so.
While you're waiting, dissolve the espresso powder (if using) in the liqueur (or water if you don't want to use alcohol).
Remove the whisk attachment, and put on the paddle (or my favorite, the beater blade). Be sure that your butter is softened (you can microwave it just a little, or squeeze it with your hands if it's already room temperature). On medium speed, add the butter, and beat until smooth. This will take about 3-5 minutes. Beat in the liqueur/coffee mixture and the extract, then the melted chocolate.
You really want your meringue cooled completely and your butter soft - this will speed up the beating process, and keep your buttercream from breaking. If it does break (appear curdled), don't throw it out! It's not ruined. If it's curdled before you add the chocolate, the warmth of the melted chocolate may fix it. Add the chocolate while still somewhat warm, in a few additions, if this is the case.
The frosting should be very light and fluffy now. Add food coloring if desired.
Chocolate: Omit coffee from recipe.
Vanilla (plain): Omit espresso powder and chocolate from recipe. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
Coffee: Omit chocolate from recipe.
Almond: Replace vanilla extract with almond extract. Use Amaretto for the liqueur.
Jen and her chocolate cake layer