Monday, September 21, 2009

What am I doing?

I'm baking all 65 cakes in Nancie McDermott's Southern Cakes cookbook, and blogging about it.


I love cake.

Because on my other blog I made a New Year's Resolution to write 300 blog posts in 2009 and I am woefully behind. (Hey, I never said on what blog I would write 300 posts in 2009...)

Because I was struck with inspiration reading this article in the LA Times by Charles Perry:

A cookbook can change your life. Two years ago I reviewed one called "Southern Cakes," which did just that.

Like most people, I'd always thought making a cake from scratch was only for the heroic. In fact, Nancie McDermott's book showed me that all you have to do is beat butter and sugar to a cream, beat in some eggs and add flour and milk in alternating batches, and there's your batter.

Wow, really have to lie down and recover after all that.

I'm a different person now. People see me and say, "Hey, Cake Guy!" Because I'm usually carrying a cake around with a goofy grin on my face.

Yes, I too would like to grasp the basics of cake baking. And what better way to do that than practice. I'm also quite ready for a cookbook to change my life. Taking Mr. Perry's ringing endorsement of Southern Cakes as a cue seemed obvious.

And, of course, because I was very inspired by the recent Julie and Julia movie as well. (I thoroughly enjoyed Annie in Austin's recent term paper on the subject.)

As it stands now, I've got five cakes down, and 60 to go.

I still have a lot to learn, especially about frosting. My presentation skills could use some work too. And I probably ought to try mixing more cake batter by hand instead of always relying on my Kitchen Aid to do the mixing for me. I've hardly even broached the subject of chocolate yet.

Feel free to chime in with helpful (or unhelpful) comments, and let me know if you'll be around for a tasting. Guy and I can't eat all this cake by ourselves.


  1. Hello. Found your site via Hector Owen's comment on Althouse about you taking great pics. Indeed, the pumpkin pics on your Back 40 blog are outstanding.

    My comment here, though, is a question. Does the Southern Cake book you read talk about flour? I notice in your photos here a small bag of Gold Medal A/P flour.

    Flour is classified by amount of protein. Bread flour has the highest amount of protein because the gluten is kneaded to developed a web-like matrix that captures and holds air bubbles produced by live yeast cells.

    Cake flour has the lowest amount of protein because cakes and biscuits are leavened chemically and tenderness is valued over matrix strength. Using your mixer, you do not want to develop the gluten protein present in flour while mixing the batter for cake like you do when kneading dough for bread.

    All Purpose flour is a happy medium between the two protein extremes.

    Examining the sacks of flour is of little help. If you look at the protein content of a cake mix you'll see the protein most likely listed as 2g. On a package of bread flour the protein amount is probably listed at 4g. All Purpose flour lists 3g protein. But oddly, when I look at the protein listed on flour marketed exclusively for cakes, which I have here, Soft As Silk™, the protein is listed as 3g., same as A/P flour. I do not understand this discrepancy, but I do know the Soft As Silk flour is much softer than the A/P flour. You can feel the difference with your fingertips.

    So that's was my question, does the book talk about this?

    I do believe, as you persist in this endeavor of making 65 cakes, you'll find you achieve greater tenderness in your cakes if you do what the cake mix companies do and use low-protein flour in place of A/P flour, especially when using your mixer which risks working up the protein even in low protein flour.

  2. Holy Cow! Usually I head for your blog by clicking on it in my sidebar, Chuck, but this time I clicked on your comment which took me to your profile with the "65 Southern Cakes" - cool new blog. I'd have a hard time choosing between the coconut cream and the pineapple one, myself. It's going to be fun to hang out here ;-]

    About flour: Many of the cakes I make are sturdy, midwest-peasant varieties like bundt cakes or country-style sheet cakes. They come out fine with all purpose flour {always use King Arthur unbleached).

    For pound cakes and layer cakes and the Depression Burnt Sugar Cake I buy a local store brand of cake flour. After reading the above comment I went to the freezer to check and it has 2 g protein.

    If you do buy the straight-sided pans the cakes could be harder to get out -are you already using a greased sheet of waxed paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan?

    Bon appetit!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose