All Cakes Considered by Melissa Gray (Chronicle Books, 2009) is a 2010 IACP Cookbook awards finalist in the Baking: Savory or Sweet category. For a list of all the finalists check out the Project Foodie IACP Finalists' Guide.
Fans of National Public Radio are no doubt familiar with its weekday drive-time segment called All Things Considered. What may come as a surprise is that every Monday producer (and now cookbook author) Melissa Gray fuels her colleagues with a home-baked cake.
The recipes originate from a wild array of sources, but usually end up with Gray's personal touch. Whenever Monday's offering was not a rousing success, she would tweak the recipe in search of perfection and "re-cake" it for tasting later in the week. The producer's inherent attention to detail is evident in her recipes; each presented clearly as a tried and true favorite from an accomplished home baker-rather than the scientific formula of a professional. With all the baking tips and stories of lessons learned along the way, there is definitely a hanging-out-in-the-kitchen-with-a-friend vibe going on.
Chapters separate the more than 50 cakes by type and complexity - everything from Miss Saigon Cinnamon Almond Coffee Cake to Poor Niece Melissa's Humble Attempt at Re-creating Aunt Di's Bittersweet-Chocolate Frosted Layer Cake. There is even a "Break From Cakes" chapter where the author tries her hand at things like Peanut Butter Fingers, Chewy Butterscotch Bars, and Fried Pies.
With plenty of witty behind-the-scenes anecdotes to accompany each recipe, All Cakes Considered is a worthwhile read for NPR fans as well as home bakers. Should you decide to fire up the oven and follow her on this cakewalk, the author offers this bit of advice: "Prepare to become very popular at work. Not for your brains. Not for your beauty. For your bundt pans."
Stephen Pyles' Heaven and Hell Cake
From All Cakes Considered by Melissa Gray (Chronicle Books, 2009)
Make this cake one time and they'll talk about it for years. It's CRA-zy! A layer of devil's food cake, covered with peanut butter-cream cheese mousse, followed by a layer of angel food, covered with more peanut butter-cream cheese mousse.
The devil's food layer is repeated and topped with that last layer of angel food cake. The whole thing is covered in milk chocolate ganache and refrigerated for 2 hours before serving.
It is a tall cake. It is a rich cake. It teeters on the verge of being just too, too much cake. It flips people out. It is one outrageous cake.It is also a cake that you cannot make correctly unless you've baked a whole lotta cake. Trust me. Been there, done that. Was better the second time around.
Now, who's Stephen Pyles? Chef Pyles is credited for revolutionizing Southwestern cuisine. He's a fifth-generation Texan, and the first Texan inducted into the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America. If you're ever in Dallas, you can go to his famous Star Canyon restaurant or his latest, the eponymous Stephen Pyles restaurant. Look for the Heaven and Hell Cake on the menus.
Yes, I know: ANOTHER Texas recipe! What is with Texans and their cakes?!
Chef Pyles told me he intended the name "Heaven and Hell" to refer to the angel food/devil's food combo, but he overheard a waitress one time telling customers "it's heaven on your lips and hell on your hips." He was a little annoyed with her at first until he realized it certainly wasn't hurting sales-Heaven and Hell Cake has long been his most popular desert. And many thanks to him for allowing me to share it with you.
A couple of caveats for this Fabulously Sweet Monstrosity: It does take a while to make and it may, indeed, be too much cake for you-I mean physically, too much cake. It is so tall, it does not fit in my cake carry. I have to remove the serving plate and put the cake flat on the bottom of the carry, which only leaves me with about a quarter of an inch of clearance when the lid is snapped on. Also, a mere slice of Heaven and Hell can easily be overwhelming for the palate and bloodstream of the average cake eater: too many flavors and too much chocolate at one time! And it can be a pain to slice: Angel food tends to be spongy, and the ganache gets thick after it has been in the fridge. A regular cake knife won't do: find a large serrated knife. Run it under hot water, and then slice through the cake. And forget about having a pristine first slice: that ain't gonna happen!
My best advice to you is this: Bake only 1 layer of devil's food cake and 1 layer of angel food on your first try. Just halve the ingredients for the cakes. Seriously. You can divide each layer, so you'll still end up with 4 layers of cake, but they'll be thinner, and you'll make the same amount of mousse and ganache. This will keep your co-workers from going into a sugar coma after one slice. It will also make the cake more physically manageable. Later, when you're serving hundreds daily (like Chef Pyles), or feeling particularly fabulous, put on your long sequined cape, your diamond dinner rings, break out your candelabrum, and go at it.
- A heavy saucepan
- 2 to 3 medium bowls
- Two 9-inch round cake pans
- A whisk attachment and extra bowl for mixer
For the Ganache
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 pounds milk chocolate, coarsely chopped, OR 2 pounds milk chocolate morsels
For the Angel Food Cake
- 2/3 cup cake flour
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1 cup egg whites (about 8 to 10 large egg whites)
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
For the Peanut Butter Mousse
- 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
- 2 cups creamy peanut butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1 recipe Devil's Food Cake (see below), but without the frosting and jam
To Make the Ganache (make this early)
1. Bring the cream to a boil over medium-high heat in a heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat, then gradually add the chocolate, whisking until smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
I pour the hot mixture into a large metal bowl, rather than leave it in the hot saucepan. This helps dissipate the heat. I also stir several times while the ganache is cooling to room temperature. You're looking for it to get thick and spreadable. Because it's made with milk chocolate and not semisweet or bittersweet, this ganache will not be oily like the ganache for the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pattie Cake.
To Make the Angel Food Cake
2. Center a rack and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper. DO NOT SPRAY THE PANS.
3. Dry whisk the flour and confectioners' sugar together.
4. With the mixer on medium-low speed, beat the egg whites with the whisk attachment while adding the salt and cream of tartar. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating until soft peaks form. This will take about 1 minute.
5. Increase the mixer speed to medium and gradually add the regular (granulated) sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, to the egg whites, beating until all the sugar is incorporated. Continue beating for 1 1/2 minutes more until stiff peaks form.
6. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the vanilla extract and almond extract, and beat until just incorporated.
7. Remove the bowl from the mixer and sprinkle about half of the flour mixture over the top of the meringue. Fold the flour mixture into the egg whites, about 5 turns of the bowl. Repeat with the remaining flour. Do not overmix!
8. Gently spoon the batter into the prepared pans, mounding it slightly in the center.
9. Put the pans near the middle of the oven rack, without touching, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the layers are golden brown and test done.
10. Cool the layers in the pan on a cake rack for 30 minutes, then unmold and and remove the parchment paper.
To Make the Peanut Butter Mousse
11. With the mixer at medium speed, beat the softened cream cheese until it's light and creamy. While beating, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, and then the peanut butter. Add the heavy cream and continue beating until thoroughly blended. The mixture should be fluffy. Once finished, set aside.
To Make the Devil's Food Cake
12. Here's an economizing-your-time tip: If you only have 2 round cake pans, don't start making the batter until you've gotten the angel food layers out of the oven. By the time you're ready for a pan, the angel food will be cool and ready to unmold. Just be sure to clean your pans and prepare them before pouring the next cake.
To Construct the Cake
13. Now, the original directions call for dividing your layers, but because this cake is a lot of work and I find dividing angel cake in half particularly annoying, I've dispensed with that by having you bake 4 layers, total. Once the cakes are cooled, take your serrated knife or your Wilton cake cutter and even up the tops, if necessary.
14. Arrange 4 strips of wax paper in a square on the serving plate so that the edges of the bottom layer will sit on the paper. Remember to stack your layers raw-crumb-side down. Place a layer of devil's food cake on the wax paper. Spread a third of the peanut butter mousse on top.
15. Add a layer of angel food. Spread a third of the peanut butter mousse on top. Repeat with the second devil's food layer. Spread with the remaining mousse.
16. Crown the cake with the second angel food layer.
17. Whisk or stir the ganache one more time. Once it is thick enough to spread, go ahead and frost the top of your cake, then the sides. You should still have about a third of your ganache left. Put the cake in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to firm up the ganache, then bring it out and repeat, spreading with the remaining ganache.
18. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve it chilled. Don't forget to use that warm, wet knife to slice!
Devil's Food Cake
From All Cakes Considered by Melissa Gray (Chronicle Books, 2009)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 cup strongly brewed coffee
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Prepare cake pans, spraying and lining bottoms with parchment paper.
2. In separate bowl, hand whisk cocoa and coffee until smooth. Set aside.
3. Using mixer, combine shortening and sugar. Add eggs, beating after each. Add vanilla extract and beat until incorporated.
4. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.
5. Add flour mixture and cocoa/coffee mixture alternately to creamed mixture. Beat until smooth.
6. Pour batter into prepared cake pans.
7. Place pans on rack as close to the middle as possible without touching. Bake for 30 minutes, or until cake tests done.
8. Cool for 10 minutes in pans, then unmold onto cake rack.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.