Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cooking School: Large Scale Cakes

While most people will have to scale a recipe from time to time, doubling a batch of rice pilaf for a crowd or halving a batch of pancakes to feed only one or two, not everyone will be require to scale recipes for baked goods. You have to be exact with a cake recipe. The first thing to do is determine what size pan you're going to use. For this cake, I used a 14-inch by 2-inch round pan to make a 2-layer cake. I only had one pan this large, so I used it twice: once for each layer.

Depending on the increase you're going to make, you will need to dust off your multiplication skills. I learned the hard way that trying to multiply more than a few ingredients at a time in my head was simply not practical, so it's important to write down all your ingredients on a separate piece of paper. Before you can calculate the new ingredient amounts, you need to know how much batter you'll need.

My usual chocolate cake recipe makes two 8-inch layers. A reference sheet like this one is useful for conversions between pan sizes, but my 14-inch pan is too large to be on a list of common sizes, so I used an easy volume calculation to find out that I needed triple my usual amount of batter, or 1 1/2 batches for each layer. I multiplied my ingredients and wrote them out. It's easier if the ingredients are in grams or ounces and you can weigh them all, but using fractions is fine when you're not opening a bakery. The baking time should not really change when you're going from one pan size to another if the pan is the same depth. If you switch to a different style of pan - a bundt, for example - the time will definitely be affected. My baking time was identical to the time for 8-inch layers.

Once the layers were baked and cooled, they were put together like any other cake. It was, however, rather difficult to maneuver such large pieces of cake without breaking them because this cake is so moist. I actually ended up placing the larger piece on the cake stand (specially sized), frosting it and cutting the upper layer into quarters before laying them on. Frosting covered my cuts and it was dramatically easier to position the top layer this way.

Decorating is always the most fun part of baking a cake. I used the idea for the Snowflake Cake on Leite's Culinaria and made an uncounted number of white chocolate snowflakes to cover the mascarpone frosting. They were delicious and beautiful and it turned out to be a very simple way to dress up the cake.
When it came time to serve, I cut the cake in concentric circles, not slices, like a wedding cake. It served about 36.

Large Scale Mascarpone Frosting
This recipe can be cut in half for a smaller cake and will frost, thinly, a 14-inch layer cake.
1 cup butter, room temerature
24 oz mascarpone, room temperature
8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Beat together butter and mascarpone in a mixer. Add vanilla extract and gradually add all of the sugar until the frosting is thick, fluffy and smooth, about 5-10 minutes.
Makes about 7 1/2 cups