i ‘ve heard and generally agree with the statement that cooking is an art and baking is a science. this phrase explains why i love baking (yay science experiments!) and why i am sometimes so ridiculously terrible at it (just like in a lab, chemical reactions require precise measurements. duh.)
there is certainly room for experimentation in baking, mostly when it comes to taste and what you might call seasoning in cooking. i like strong flavors and often feel that baking recipes are much too hesitant about adding intense tastes. so i often ignore measurements, and this has resulted in some exciting new flavor combinations. quadrupling the spice in a chai spice muffin? that’s why it’s called a SPICE muffin. it should be SPICY. dumping a tablespoon of cayenne pepper into my toffee cookies? delicious and HOT LIKE FIRE. i love the look on people’s faces when the slow heat kicks in after the sweetness.
at other times, exactitude in baking is required. those tasty toffee cookies originated in my head, and on the stove, as soft fleur de sel caramels. after i insisted on ignoring all the recipes requiring a candy thermometer, they became rock-hard bits of toffee that luckily tasted absolutely delicious when baked into butter cookies. the flouting of other baking processes are not so salveagable, and this is absolutely true in my experience when it comes to bread.
for me, making good bread equals magic. the baking process is very complex and exact and i am generally unable to follow long series of directions or wait patiently for things to rise. you can’t just go all renegade in bread making and switch wheat flour for white flour or dump in some flax seed or eyeball the amount of yeast and expect your bread to turn out delicious. in fact, if you do all three of these things at once, your bread will turn out wholly inedible with a cardboard texture and a sour taste not even fit for breadcrumbs and you will have to shamefully scrape this bread directly into the trash can. so either follow directions when baking bread, or just walk down the street to tartine and experience the true magic that is their bread.
ANYWAY. irene, the reason i’m discussing all this baking in the first place is because of the best thing i brought back from italy, my silicone castle cake mold. i did some more baking experimentation to discover the best type of cake to form the castle materials, using mostly bittman’s ‘how to cook everything’ and a little bit of the interwebs. unfortunately, there’s no section or recipe for ‘the best cake to shape into a really fucking awesome castle,’ so i went with what i had. or to be exact, i went with what i didn’t have. no milk in the fridge meant finding a recipe with no milk, so i started with a sponge cake. sponge cakes are pretty much egg, sugar and flour. for a lighter cake, you can separate the yolks and fold them together, but i wanted something denser that wouldn’t fall apart in the mold. unfortunately, it turned out too dense and eggy in a bread-pudding/french toast-y kind of way, so i decided to suck it up, eat me some turrets, and actually leave the house to buy ingredients.
upon purchasing milk and more eggs from our super amazing corner store (you know you live in san francisco when the bodega downstairs sells not only cage free eggs, but also biodegradable bags for the compost bin), i decided to make a bundt cake. bundt cakes are the main recipe i can think of where the outer form of the cake requires a certain consistency. lo and behold…the CASTLE CAKE.
oh, to be queen in the kingdom of bundt, where lemony goodness flows from the heavens and sugary sweet cakiness is your royal birthright. here is me storming the castle walls and DOMINATING the enemy. i shall not be stopped by boiling oil or catapults or malicious wizards throwing spells from your turrets. you will be mine…
mmm. nothing like the sweet taste of conquering your enemy, especially when your enemy is drenched in lemon icing, lemon zest, and sugar sprinkles. the spoils of victory below: