Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The rotisserie cake family!

Hello, can I be adopted by this family please?

I just learned about THIS WONDERFUL WEBSITE, which is primarily about chimney cake but embraces all the members of the cake-on-a-spit family. There's an insane amount of information here, and the documentation page has all the resources one could ever hope to acquire. This is wonderful, because I am busy populating my own website with very similar information. I feel one step closer to a proper communications network for rotisserie cake enthusiasts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's new at Glaze?

Since my May tour of Glaze Baum Cakes, the team has pulled off a successful opening and merger with the trendy Japanese restaurant, Sasa. Amanda and Zach are still running the dessert show, and despite the cramped kitchen space they are working wonders. Seasonal flavors right now include more varied citrus, and they are bracing themselves for autumn and the inevitable rush on pumpkin spice baum cakes.

Pastry experimentation continues to pay off, too! During my May visit, the bakers lamented that the matcha baum cake had such a high failure rate, shearing apart with little or no warning. After diagnosing that the matcha powder was interfering with the whipped egg whites' ability to keep the cake solid, they began to tweak. Adding more egg whites affected the flavor too heavily. Putting the whites in un-whipped kept the cake from collapsing, but it ruined the smooth texture (effectively turning the batter into sandkuchen batter). Eventually they found a ratio of some whipped egg whites and some non-whipped whites that boosted their cake output and preserved the texture we've come to know and love! Is there a Fields Medal for cake science?

Aside: Sasa offers shredded mountain yam as a side dish. Fans of the literary genius Ryūnosuke Akutagawa may want to check it out, since this non-Newtonian pintxo is the crux of his 1916 short story, "Yam Gruel".

Thursday, July 31, 2014

NYC is a tree cake wasteland

I'm surprised I'm writing this: it's a negative review of a baumkuchen shoppe!

I can't speak authoritatively about turnover rate for tree cake bakeries. However, I can say that last year I identified a baumkuchen bakery and a kürtőskalács bakery in New York City, and both have shut down. So what was left for me to visit last week? Well, Google turned up two places that claimed to do a higher-end assembly-line cake product. Supermarket style.

There are actually lots and lots of places to get baumkuchen in the United States and other nations. Japanese grocery stores sell them all over the place! You can go out and buy some. You should go out and buy some! But always remember: it is nothing like the real deal! Supermarket cakes are made to have a long shelf life, and they use preservatives and emulsifiers that noticeably alter the flavor and texture. In my opinion, the supermarket flavor is usually just okay, and the texture is always a little pathetic. So that's why I don't talk about them that often on this blog anymore.

It was very disarming to realize that the only readily available tree cakes in NYC are made in East Asia and shipped here in vacuum-sealed bags with little desiccant packets. But like I said, two places advertised cakes made in this method but promised they were of superior quality.

BAD BAD BAD. Minamoto Kitchoan is a purveyor of high-end Japanese sweets with a luxury storefront near 30 Rock, in Manhattan. They offer two varieties of baumkuchen (plain and matcha) with an eye-popping price tag: $27 for a 300g cake. I bought the matcha flavor. It was, in a word, atrocious. The ingredients listed are identical to supermarket cakes—emulsifiers, preservatives, artificial dyes, artificial flavors. The texturing agents in the batter mean there's no satisfying distinction between layers; what a waste! It was way too sweet and had the mouthfeel of neon green lard. Don't forget, it was also the most expensive tree cake I've bought so far. Until they change their recipe, STAY AWAY.

This one was actually superior to supermarket cakes! Paris Baguette is a Korean chain of pastry shops, and their cakes are baked in Korea. In that sense it was a first for me. I have to say, the plain Paris Baguette baumkuchen was pretty good for a pastry that crossed ten time zones to reach me. The texture was closer to fresh-baked, with good layer definition! It wasn't sickly sweet, and paired well with a cup of tea. Was it worth the $15? Perhaps...

Here's hoping the NYC tree-cake scene gets better and better!

Updating my web presence

I don't know what's compelled me to try maintaining a fuller, nicer web presence. Check out my new twitter account and my wonderful business card. Next: a non-blogspot website!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Glaze Baum Cakes - Denver, CO

I'm thrilled to write another piece about a rotisserie cake bakery here in the United States! It has been far, far too long. What's more, I may no longer need the phrase "rotisserie cake," since Glaze Baum Cakes has come up with a short, snappy phrase to describe cakes baked on a spinning axle. Baum Cake. What a nice phrase; more inclusive than "baumkuchen" (which is already a well-established referent for one very specific cake), more appetizing than "spitcake," and less of a mouthful than "rotisserie cake."

Speaking of mouthfuls, the Glaze team provided a comprehensive tasting menu for the occasion of my arrival. Between my warm reception here and at Baumkuchen USA headquarters, I'm convinced that "professional cake blogger" is the best job imaginable. Heather Alcott, the head of Glaze, is busy preparing for an official opening on June 15, but agreed to open the bakery's doors for me and my friend Susanna (a tree cake neophyte). Going inside, Heather introduced us to her pastry chef team, saying, "This guy is a baumkuchen blogger!" with disarming enthusiasm. Maybe I should get business cards with that title. But I digress.

Here's me, giddy next to the oven.

Glaze is an awesome addition to the tree cake scene. Their oven, the "Red Dragon," is a sleek multi-rotisserie marvel from Fuji Shokai, which incidentally was the first company I queried for cake machine pricing six years ago. It's the only Japanese cake machine in the United States. In fact, it's the only Japanese cake machine outside East Asia! This means Glaze, willingly or non, must be an ambassador, representing Japanese-inspired tree cakes for the whole Western Hemisphere. Don't worry, they sure do rise to the occasion. Patissiers Amanda and Zach were privately tutored for weeks by a baumkuchen artisan from the Japanese pastry élite, to round out their pastry school credentials.

The Glaze bakers show an obsessive attention to detail and to the quality of their ingredients. Granted, a certain level of obsession is necessary to bake a tree cake—to say nothing of running a tree cake business—but I was still surprised by every detail the bakers related. I assumed one of their biggest challenges would be adapting existing recipes for Denver altitude; no, they said, that's just a small part of the process of testing scores and scores of recipe variations. They go to amazing lengths to find just the right taste and texture.

So, how did the tasting event go?

Here's the array of cake flavors, mid-way through tasting. The bicolor wedges with a smooth surface are "Duo Baum Cakes," pairing original-style batter with chocolate or matcha flavors. These cakes, the Baum Cakes and Duo Baums, have the most seductive texture. The matcha and chocolate cakes are flawless; they really demonstrate the effectiveness of the bakers' perfectionism. That said, I worry that the original style suffers when presented solo. The very mild flavor is, by design, a good complement for tea, coffee, or the other half of a Duo Baum. But alone, it feels too dull to play well with the luscious texture. It's like having a Montblanc fountain pen but only using it for tic-tac-toe. Actually, looking back at my notes, The plain-style cakes I tried in the store had rum and fruit notes present, but I couldn't detect anything of the sort in the one I took home that night. Perhaps I am trying to review inconsistent pastry? The upshot here is that I support flavor in my tree cakes, and "inconsistent pastry" would be a great name for a rock band.

But there are so many great things about Glaze! Let's talk about those! Let's talk about the Mount Baums! Yessss, the Mount Baums. Their direct predecessor is the cake made by Nenrinya in Japan, but there's a clear connection to šakotis. The Mount Baums are thicker than the šakotis and gâteaux à la broche of my previous encounters, though I remain convinced that not all of them are thin (for example, the ones at Sweet Tree). The inside of the Mount Baum is moist, with uneven layers, but it's the kind of unevenness that is the product of meticulous care from the bakers. Magically, this interior moistness is preserved, even though the outer layers transition to a drier, crunchier, cookie-like consistency. I suspect this is because they don't do the key step in šakotis-baking, where they spin the cake faster and faster with each layer. The shifting textures create a little puzzle for the jaws to ponder and delight over, while the tastebuds savor the sweet icing and the mellow cake flavors. They blend in a way that feels more complex and satisfying than in any of the rustic gâteaux or thin šakotis. I'm not surprised that it took such a dedicated team to pull off these amazing cakes.

Aside: I got way, way excited for one Mount Baum's Cointreau glaze, but then again, I'm the person who puts Cointreau in chocolate chip cookies, so that reaction was pretty much a given.

There are even more cool cakes from the Glaze staff experiments. On the menu are baked apples and pears, tree cake style. They use a special spit with retractable hooks to secure the fruits before layering them with the exquisite batters. I can't imagine how long it took to figure out the settings to get a perfectly baked fruit in there without overdoing the cake layers. I mentioned Trayne Roste as a possible alternative for when suitable fresh fruits aren't around. Think they'll try it out?

As for other off-the-menu experimentation, Amanda told me about their Super Bowl chimney cake tests, wrapping pretzel dough and sending that through the Red Dragon on a low heat setting. I have got to try that myself, it sounds amazing! But I can see why it stayed off-menu, since it veers a bit off course for the Japanese café theme.

Aside again: Heather says a great number of their online orders come from Japanese immigrants around the country. That's a pretty solid metric for success, eh?

Glaze reopens June 15. It has joined forces with a local izakaya, and will be serving up drinks, Japanese bar food, and small plates in addition to the phenomenal cakes and macarons. Please check it out!

Several posts are forthcoming!

I went to Glaze last week and it was wonderful! A full discussion should go up in a day. In the meantime, I wanted to share that I learned how to pluralize šakotis, sort of. Šakočiai. It's masculine, first declension, and I'm doing the typical thing for loanwords (namely, pretending that the nominative case is the only case that exists). But don't worry, I probably won't be using it any time soon, and I'm not going to quiz you.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

NPR story about Glaze Baum Cakes in Denver

I'm so glad to hear Glaze Baum Cakes is doing so well! There's a wonderful NPR story up now, talking about Baumkuchen with the Glaze family. Maybe I should get back into Cake Reporting, and get myself on the news...