Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Checkerboard

I'm on a quest again. A friend asked me to make a bride & groom's cake for her wedding (with the very clear understanding that I don't do gorgeous cakes, but it will taste good). The bride likes vanilla, the groom likes chocolate. We discussed several alternatives for compromise, and they picked a checkerboard cake.

I'd never made a checkerboard cake before. I just knew you needed a special pan set for it. I ordered up the pan and started planning. My first trial run was a big learning experience. I learned checkerboard cakes are a pain.

After the trial run, I did a little internet searching I learned that the best method of getting the batter into the pan evenly is to use a pastry bag and pipe it in. Brilliant! That would be way better than the batter pouring/ cursing method I'd used.

I also found out that having different densities of cakes affects how evenly the cake rises. I'd used two boxed cake mixes, a yellow and a fudge, and the yellow rose way more than the fudge. And that it's important to pull the divider straight up, or you get interestingly warbly lines in your cake.

This time around I wanted to try making it all from scratch. Using Valentine's Day as an excuse, I got to finally make something I'd never made before - a red velvet cake. But I was worried about the density issue. Luckily, I found a light red velvet cake recipe in a Cooking Light cookbook, so I figure that paired with a silver cake would work.

Next issue - pans. Honestly, the pans that came in the checkerboard set were pitiful. Thin, shallow, and they rusted when breathed upon. I figured, "Hey, they're 9-inch pans. I own 9-inch pans. Why can't I use my nice ones? " Strangely, the cheapo pans were about an inch smaller than my nice pans, although both claimed to be 9-inches. This worked out well as the divider slipped inside my pans, rather than hooking over the edge like it did with the others.

The hardest part was getting up the courage to do it. I was really intimidated at the prospect of making two cake batters simultaneously. But just buckling down and getting organized got me through it. I had the two cookbooks open, side by side. Next to each recipe I gathered the ingredients for each. Then I started with the red velvet cake, and when that batter was transferred to a bowl, proceeded with the silver cake.

The silver cake batter went into my pastry bag and the red velvet, because it stains, went into a gallon zip-loc bag with the corner cut off. Using the pastry bags was much easier and gave me greater control in getting the batter evenly into the pans. There was extra batter which I piped into cupcake papers in a muffin tin and got 11 cupcakes.

After baking and cooling, I put it all together with a cream cheese buttercream frosting. I loved this frosting; it has the taste and creaminess of cream cheese frosting, but not the gut-busting heaviness. The cake was delightful. A delicious way to celebrate Valentine's day (or your favorite red & white sports team).

If you want to try this, be sure to read through all the recipes first, check that you have all the ingredients, and have everything mise en place (room temperature, measured, ready to go) before you start.

Red & White Checkerboard Cake

Light Red Velvet Cake
- adapted from Cooking Light

3 cups sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 large egg whites
2 cups fat-free buttermilk
1 (1 oz) bottle red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla extract

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F with racks dividing the oven into thirds. Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans by greasing them. Place parchment rounds in the bottom. Grease the parchment, then dust the entire pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

2- Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine thoroughly. Set aside.

3- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat granulated sugar and butter at medium speed 4 minutes or until well blended. Add egg whites to sugar mixture; beat at medium speed 5 minutes or until fluffy.

4- Combine buttermilk, food coloring, and vanilla in a small bowl. Stir well with a whisk.

5- With mixer on medium speed, alternate adding the flour mixture in three additions and the buttermilk mixture in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until moistened.

6- Gently spoon batter into a gallon-size zip-loc bag. Seal the bag. When you're ready to pipe the batter, cut off about 1/2-inch from one corner.

7- Wash your mixer bowl and beater.

Silver Cake
- adapted from Baking For All Occasions by Flo Braker

2-1/4 cups (250 gm) cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 cup (120 ml) well-shaken buttermilk
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
7 oz (1-3/4 sticks/ 200 gm) unsalted butter at room temperature
1-1/2 cups (300 gm) granulated sugar
4 large egg whites, lightly beaten

1- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper; set aside.

2- In a small saucepan, heat the milk with the vanilla bean just until lukewarm. Set aside to cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk and set the pod aside to save for another use.

3- Pour the vanilla milk into a small bowl, add the buttermilk and lemon juice, and stir to blend; set aside.

4- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until it is lighter in color, clings to the sides of the bowl, and has a satiny appearance, 30 to 45 seconds. Add the sugar in a steady stream, then top the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue to beat on medium speed until the mixture is very light in color and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

5- With the mixer on medium speed, add the egg whites, 1 to 2 Tbsp at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated before adding more. If the batter appears watery or shiny, stop adding egg whites, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the batter looks smooth again. Then return to medium speed and resume adding the egg whites. Continue to beat, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl once or twice, until all of the egg whites are added and the mixture is fluffy.

6- With the mixer on it's lowest speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, mixing after each addition until incorporated. Stop the mixer after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

7 - Transfer enough batter to fill a pastry bag about halfway full.

8- In the first cake pan, pipe a layer with the red on the outside and in the middle ring, the silver in the one in between. Then carefully lift out the divider, put it (without washing) into the second pan and repeated the process. (So you have two layers that are identical.) Then, after carefully lifting the divider and washing it and drying it, place the divider in the third cake pan. This time, pipe the silver cake batter on the outside and middle and the red velvet into the one in between. The batter should be even, about 2/3 of the way up the side of the pan. After removing the divider, smooth the tops a bit with a rubber spatula. Any extra batter can be baked as cupcakes.

9 - Bake the layers for about 28 minutes, till a cake tester inserted near the middle comes out clean.

10 - Let the layers cool on a wire rack in their pans for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans to the cooling racks to cool completely before assembling the cake.

11- To assemble, place the bottom layer, one of the two identical layers, on your cake plate. (You may need to level the tops of the cake with a serrated knife, if they rose unevenly). Spread frosting over the cake layer. Place the middle layer on top of the base layer. The middle layer should have silver cake on the outside ring. Spread frosting over this layer. Place the third layer on top and frost the whole thing. Add whatever decorative touches you like, and serve to oohs and aahs. Store leftovers loosely covered in the refrigerator.

Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting
(makes ~ 5 cups)
- adapted from Sky High

12 oz. cream cheese, slightly chilled
1 stick plus 6 Tbsp (7 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted after measuring
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
3 egg whites at room temperature

1- In a mixing bowl beat the cream cheese on medium speed until slightly fluffy and smooth. Add the butter 1 to 2 Tbsp at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy. Set this aside at room temperature.

2- In a small, heavy saucepan combine the granulated sugar and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 238 deg. F on a candy thermometer.

3- Meanwhile, put the egg whites the mixing bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on. When the syrup reaches soft-ball stage, turn the mixer to medium-low and begin mixing the egg whites. Slowly add the hot syrup to the whites. When all of the syrup is incorporated, raise the speed to medium-high and beat until the egg white mixture has cooled to body temperature and a stiff meringue forms.

4- With the mixer on low speed, begin adding the cream cheese mixture by the spoonful. When all is incorporated, raise the speed to medium and whip until the frosting is smooth and fluffy.


symphonious sweets said...

What a stunning cake! thanks for all the tips I have always wanted to give the checker board cake a try.

Beth said...


Your checkerboard cake is absolutely beautiful! You are creative, and detail-oriented, and an awesome cook to boot. Your family is really lucky to be able to try such delicious and pretty foods; I imagine you bake a little more than you normally would, given you have this wonderful blog.


Jennifer Jo said...

Very impressive and pretty...and intimidating.

Speaking of intimidating: have you ever tried an opera cake?

Aimée said...

Lynn, you've outdone yourself here. My mouth is hanging open.

I would not have even known where to start!

It's really lovely, thanks for the detailed post.

Jan (Family Bites) said...

I love the look of the checkerboard cake! I've made many a cakes in my day and just don't think I could pull this off. They really look lovely.

Melinda said...

I quite like the chocolate cake one as the checkers make an interesting sloping pattern.
The Valentine cake is gorgeous. Personally, I don't get the red food colouring thing but it is very pretty.
(a whole bottle of red food colouring still freaks me out, I guess)
I love how you are experimenting to make it perfect. Your friend's cake will be wonderful! x

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Symphonious Sweets - Thanks! Let me know if you try one.

Beth- Aw, you make me blush!

Jennifer Jo - Yes, I have. It was a ton of work, but reeeeally good.

Aimée - Thanks, dear.

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

That is just too cool. I love this cake:D

Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader said...

It's beautiful! So beautiful in fact that it makes me wish I liked red velvet. ;)

Abby said...

Well it's absolutely gorgeous and will make a BEAUTIFUL wedding photo. You are crazy talented, lady!

Bethany said...

Oh my goodness! Congratulations! What an accomplishment -- checkerboard cake are apparently more complicated than I realized! These both look fantastic.

Maria said...

What a fun cake!

Unknown said...

that looks lovely! and i always give the same disclaimer when making cakes for people "my decorating is not fabulous, but it will taste delicious!!!"

Elle said...

Lynn, not only is the cake delicious, but you did an awesome job with the checkerboard! Love the red and white look...very graphic. That icing is the bomb, too!

hobby baker Kelly said...

Oh, you hit on my greatest weakness. I am just not very good at doing mise en place. More like mess in place... Probably would help if I didn't keep such a messy kitchen, but then there is a reason I chose that moniker. I have a checkerboard cake pan kit; I think I used it once, well over 10 years ago. Think I ended up with wonky lines on mine. It was impressive looking though. Maybe I'll pull it out for the hubby's birthday this week...

Anonymous said...; You saved my day again.

grace said...

lynn! this is so impressive! i've never even attempted to make a checkerboard cake, but your tips'll come in handy if and when i become inspired. this version trumps any chocolate-vanilla combination i've seen. long live red velvet cake! :)

CookiePie said...

What a gorgeous cake!!! I love the idea of using red velvet -- it looks fantastic!

Big Boys Oven said...

this is so beautiful! The perfect cake for this Valentine! awesome!

Sarah said...

Wow, those are just beautiful cakes! I'm partial to the Silver Cake myself, just so stunning :)

Debbie said...

Your red and white checkboard cake looks delicious. I'd never seen this combo before. My husband keeps asking me to make a red velvet cake...I think he would be blown away if I made yours! Just gorgeous!

Anne said...

Love the combination...and best of all it's light! such a pretty cake :-)

Peabody said...

It turned out great, and the leftover cupcakes were awesome as well!

Katrina said...

Fabulous! Love it. Seems so hard to do. Great job.

EZSweets said...

this is so pretty! thnx for sharing!

eatme_delicious said...

What great looking cakes! And thanks for posting the process photos - I've always wanted to see exactly how those pans worked.

Lien said...

This is one serious stunning looking cake!! Sounds complex with all those layers. This would be a wonderful birthday cake especially when they don't know what's on the inside!!!! So cool, maybe just using 2 large round rings/cutters... as I don't have such a super gadget!