The Dallas Skyline
One day you’re down, the next day you’re up. Thankfully, today was a real high note. I had been tasked with making a really fancy chocolate layer cake with a chocolate butter cream crumb coat and a glacé topcoat. If all those steps weren’t enough, it had to be decorated, or embellished. And, Ballymaloe likes drama! Thanks be to God that it was my only recipe. It took me the entire time allotted to us to cook for me to get it done and I came in early this morning.
Being from Texas, I’m a sheet cake girl and have literally been making those cakes since I was seven years old. One evening, I can remember it plain as day, I said, “Mommy, I want a chocolate cake.” We’d had one recently and I remembered it being delicious and wanted more. Being my ever-lovin’ Ooma, she said, “You do, do you?” and set about putting ingredients on the counter and getting the mixer out. I was so excited to think I was going to get a cake that easily. When she was finished, she sat down at the table, opened the newspaper and looked over at me and said, “There’s the recipe, right there,” nodding her head toward the counter and began reading the paper. 😳
I stood there a minute, wide-eyed and went around to the other side of the counter to look at the recipe. Today felt a little like that.
There were so many steps I’d never done, things I was unfamiliar with and yet, if you can read and follow directions, you’re already ahead of the game. That’s what saved me when I was seven. At least now, I’m considerably taller than the counter and don't need a stool. With my mom nearby, I went about doing what the recipe said to do. I don’t remember asking her to do anything except light the oven. We lived with my grandparents and they had one of those old gas ovens that you had to light. On another occasion, my mom leaned in to light it and a big poof came out of the opened door, singeing her eyelashes and brows!
Once my cake was out of the oven back then, I was one proud little baker. My cake didn’t look too great, even I knew that, but it tasted delicious! And Ooma said, “Well, at least it’s moist and that’s the best thing I can say about a cake.”
That early “success” ensured my mom would never make another cake as long as she lived and we’ve laughed about it ever since. So, today, nervous as I was at this cake’s production, I just knew to take one step at a time and that it would be ok, even if it were a flop.
Our cake had to have four layers which meant we had to cut our two layers in two perfect halves. There’s a trick to doing it just right and once you know the trick, it’s a sinch. Once that’s done, you must brush off your cake with a pastry brush to get crumbs off so they don’t gravel up the icing in your next step. Before you put your crumb coat on, your cake has to cool to the point of being cold. You don’t want to ice a slightly warm cake with your butter cream icing because it will make the icing melt. The goal to the crumb coat is essentially, to ice between the layers and to lay the barest of icing coats on the outside of your cake and to settle whatever crumbs and cake texture that remains. The best part for me is, your tool to spread the icing is a palette knife and I’ve been wielding one of those for 35 years when I paint.
Once that’s done, you need to chill your cake for a few minutes while you make your glacé. This is the last main step and it’s so critical. This chocolate glace is the type that’s used to ice éclairs and it’s meant to be shiny. The consistency is key because you pour it right onto the top of your cake and let it drip down, hopefully, covering every bit of the sides of your cake. You're not meant to ice it, gravity is supposed to do the work for you. Once it’s finished dripping, you wield your handy palette knife and borrow another one, to transfer it to your serving plate. Last step, decorate the top, bottom or side. Whatever your vision dictates. I decorated mine with rather large chocolate chards and named it The Dallas Skyline.
Once we were all finished, we had to put our cakes all together and vamos while the teachers judged them for outward appearance and taste. Each one had a teeny little wedge cut out of the back, for sampling. Since I’d been dismissed, I came back to my cottage to change and get ready for lunch. This is one of my very favorite times of the day, when we’re finished cooking and can let our hair down a little, change out of our chef whites and come back and chat to our friends while we eat the food we spent all morning preparing.
When I came back, Tiffen, my teacher this week, motioned for me to come over and follow him. He gave me a thumb’s up and said, “your cake won, my dear! If you ask me, it’s the best one of the whole lot!” He led me into the demo room where the four kitchens’ winning cakes were displayed behind the counter. There were two lemon cakes, one coffee cake and my chocolate glacé. I was just thrilled out of my mind and I thought of Ooma and how tickled she’d be at the full circle of this story!
If there was one amazing thing about today it’s that there were so many lovely cakes made by people like me who don’t make layer cakes. Honestly, it looked like an uptown bakery when they were all displayed together. When demo began, they announced the four winners and gave us all our prizes which were cookbooks from the various teachers we’ve had. Mine is a Rachel Allen cookbook and I’m thrilled. After congratulating the winners, they told us we four could bring our cakes back to our cottages to enjoy and share with our friends. When we were all back at the Coach House, there was one communal fork being passed around, tasting to oohs and ahhs and I’m oh so happy to say, it’s as moist as it can be.
Ooma would be so proud. 💝