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Let Them Eat Cake

December 4, 2014

Hopefully I can keep my head. Historical precedent hasn’t taken kindly to talk of cake when important matters of social justice are unfolding just outside the palace gates. Or maybe that’s just apocryphal. I’m not sure it matters.

I have no expertise on the subject of police violence and the needless deaths of unarmed black citizens or other abuses of power. If you are interested in these things you should check out what Ben Brucato has to say.

What I do have are a lot of notes from a cake decorating demonstration I attended yesterday at the Market Bistro cooking school. It was taught by Duff Goldman who flew in from Los Angeles in part to promote his book and his line of cake mixes and decorating tools. Apparently he is on cable tv in addition to owning a bakery in Baltimore.

Anyhow, even though I don’t do a lot of baking, it’s always interesting to watch an expert in action. More than anything else, this gave me a tremendous appreciation for the craft.

First, Duff isn’t his name. He’s Jeffrey Adam Goldman. The chef said he’s “as Jewish as it gets and I love Christmas.”

I can relate. We never had a tree in the house, but we would always visit friends who had theirs decorated and lit. I loved to string popcorn and help apply tassel to the branches. But more than anything else, I loved the smell.

Yesterday, Goldman was building a Holly Jolly cake which was two layers of bright red cake with a layer of green in between. Personally, I don’t find these vivid color cakes to be appetizing. Striking? Certainly. Desirable? Maybe to someone else.

The first step was applying buttercream to the layers and the exterior of the cake. And even for a professional it wasn’t that easy. The buttercream was cold and there was no blowtorch to be found. So the initial bold stroke curled up and took some of the crumb from the top of the first layer with it.

This is when we learned the importance of the baked edge. The outside circumference of the cake layers are not only critical for the cake’s overall structural support, but they hold icing better than the soft, exposed crumb on top. Naturally, the cooked surface has been sliced off the top in advance to make the layer perfectly flat. Goldman will sometimes use those scraps to fill up mason jars and layer with buttercream for a portable cake experience.

Duff admitted, “I think about cake a lot.” But that’s a good thing. Because when it came time to put a layer of buttercream around the entire cake, he had a fascinating way of looking at the task.

He calls it a reductive process. Most people think in terms of adding buttercream to the cake, one swipe at a time. And that makes a lot of sense. But Goldman’s approach is to overfrost the cake, and then carefully take away the excess. First from the sides, and then from the top.

Too much frosting can doom a cake. It can settle. And even if it sinks a mere 1/16”, that can make a perfectly smooth outer layer of fondant grow unsightly ripples. The chef warns that “buttercream is very unforgiving.”

Until yesterday, I had never watched anyone wrap a cake in fondant. Wow. It didn’t look easy, but it did look like a meditative process. What’s happening is that you are taking a two dimensional disk and coaxing it into a three dimensional cylinder. Doing that without seams, wrinkles or tears seem impossible at first. But slow, patient, and repetitive movements of stretching, bunching, and smoothing eventually make it happen. The sound of powdered sugared hands working this sugar paste around the cake below were meditative and hypnotic.

I could see myself really getting into this.

Goldman was clearly into it too, because when he asked how he was doing with time, the Price Chopper people let him know that he had been working for 90 minutes. He was shocked, because to him it seemed like only a half hour had passed. I know exactly how that goes.

With all the time and effort that goes into making these fanciful cakes, Duff was asked how he felt about them being cut into tiny pieces and eaten.

“You want it to be worth cutting into,” was the response. Fundamentally, it’s important for the cake to be not just gorgeous, but delicious.

I have to say, I kinda like this guy. I like his stance on using plastic boba tea straws instead of wood dowels for structural support, because wood can be treated with some really nasty stuff. I like his knee jerk disapproval of self-rising flour. I like his no nonsense style. But I especially like all the thought he puts into what he does, and the depth of knowledge he has on the subject.

Maybe since I’m not such a big cake fan, I’ll just buy a tub of fondant and start using it to cover objects in the house. I bet the kids would love fondant-covered milk glasses.

Regardless, it was great to meet new bloggers and reconnect with a few I hadn’t seen for a while. Thank you Price Chopper and the Market Bistro Cooking School for hosting such an illuminating seminar.

# # #

For the sake of full disclosure, I was invited to this event by Price Chopper for which I paid nothing, and was sent home with a gift bag that contained a box of cake mix, two tubs of frosting, cupcake liners, decorative snowman toothpicks, dangly cake stars, and a stainless steel frosting spreader. Some of these will be going to Little Miss Fussy for art projects. Others will be heading off to the farm in Pennsylvania. I’m keeping the frosting spreader.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2014 12:06 pm

    I’m sorry I missed this. I love learning more about all things cake related. I am t

  2. Debra permalink
    December 4, 2014 1:26 pm

    Lucky you. I bet that was fun. I’ve only seen him on Food TV, but he’s good.

  3. December 4, 2014 2:21 pm

    ” Apparently he is on cable tv in addition to owning a bakery in Baltimore.”


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