Martha Bakes: Yellow Cake

Martha Stewart’s baking show on PBS is a delightful, low key baking show, where even experienced bakers can pick up a few tips. The yellow cake recipe is pretty straight forward, but some of the tips are rather neat.

In Martha Stewart’s baking show Martha Bakes, we get a gentle non-threatening approach to baking unlike some of her high fashion complex recipes. It’s just her and the camera in a kitchen, with her preparing the recipes with good advice. She comes across mostly as warm and informative, although the script sometimes seems a little stilted, and her descriptions are occasionally rather formal, but mostly quite helpful

In last night premiere episode Yellow Cake she bakes a yellow cake with several variations. And she doesn’t need Joseph Wilson or Valerie Plame to find it!

One of the main recipes is her Dad’s favorite birthday cake, with orange curd inner fillings and a chocolate ganache on top. It’s a little hard to keep track of the ingredients as she reads them out, though, and only the base recipe seems to be on the web. The orange curd and chocolate ganache are not.
Here are some of the interesting things we learned.

• Although her kitchen is probably nicer than yours or mine, the only real equipment she uses is a stand mixer. Most bakers would have them, although we confess we’ve never had an Offset Spatula for lifting small cakes out of pans.

• She lines her cake pans with baking parchment rather than wax paper, although both would be buttered in any case. She draws a circle on the parchment and then cuts it out. This is harder than it looks to cut evenly. We prefer folding the parchment in half until you have a little point and cutting it off to make the parchment circle as shown in our slide show.

• All of the ingredients for her recipes need to start at room temperature, including the milk.

• She butters the pan using soft butter and a pastry brush, but mentioned that her mother always used waxed paper to spread the butter around. We still do, using the butter wrapper. She also flours the pan after buttering it. This is apparently to make sure that all surfaces are buttered, but we dropped that step years ago, since it is so easy to spread soft butter on wherever you want.

• We noted that rather than using an old-fashioned rotary flour sifter, she just shakes the flout through a fine sieve. This looks a lot easier. There is no pretense that this sifting actually mixes in the leavening. It doesn’t. You do that when you mix up the batter.

• Her cake recipe uses half cake flour and half all purpose flour. This makes a tougher crumb, but if you are going to cut each layer horizontally into two slices, this will keep it from collapsing.

• Baking is simple and not shown, and when she put the cake pans into the oven, it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t turned on.

• We really liked her trick of using the baking sheet rims to steady the knife so you make an even horizontal cut to slice the layer in two.

• And, after she iced the inner layers with the orange curd, she used 3 skewers to keep the cake layers from slipping while they cooled. The complete recipe is here, including the filling, and the online video we watched earlier is here but hard to find.

Some questions

We did have some questions about steps she skipped over. She puts the layer cake with the orange curd inner layer frosting into the refrigerator to chill. Was this really necessary? Refrigerating a cake is common at commercial bakeries, but it toughens the cake crumb quite a bit.

When icing the cake with the chocolate ganache, she briefly mentions a crumb coat. This is an important step in icing cakes, especially in humid weather, and can sometimes be kind of tricky. It is so easy to tear the cake surface at this point. She skips over most all of this. Usually the crumb coating is done with thinned icing, which you then let dry. She doesn’t say this, and she apparently refrigerates the cake while the crumb coat dries and again after spreading on the ganache. We think you should avoid this if you can because again, it toughens the cake.

Some of the other variations included a nectarine (and plum) upside down cake with some caramel topping (after flipping), and cupcakes with a very interesting Swiss meringue icing we’ll certainly want to try.

The nice thing about her informal and low key approach is that you can watch her bake and pick up tips without feeling you must concentrate so intensely. It’s relaxing to watch.

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