Friday, July 27, 2012

A cake inspired by the Bicinchonic Acid (BCA) test for proteins

Here in the lab, one of the tools that we use to measure the amount of protein in a solution is an assay based upon Bicinchonic Acid.  After you run the test, greater amounts of protein will be revealed by a deeper purple color.  Today's entry for student cake month was a cake inspired by this assay.  It was quite a cake.  A great part of the reason was that the student who made it is also a pastry chef by hobby.  We expected something spectacular and we were not disappointed.
Research inspires a cake!

It's quite a creation!
Floral pattern getting deeper purple towards the bottom!
Layer of fruit on the top!

Artfully arranged no less!

Obviously the color purple is going to figure into this and indeed looking at the outside you see rather impressive florets/rosettes in deepening shades of purple just like in the assay. The cake was topped with a layer of fruit in gelatin that was very artfully laid out.  To say it was impressive is an understatement.  The frosting making the florets was a cream cheese butter cream frosting bearing some resemblance to that of a carrot cake.  The base frosting layer coating the actual cake to which the decorations adhered was a white chocolate butter cream. Did we miss anything?
The presentation with passion fruit syrup!
Fruit detail
The BCA inspiration carried on into the cake layers themselves. It was a white cake with four layers that were colored using food coloring so that they were different shades of purple. Where have you seen a purple cake before?  The filling in between the layers was a passion fruit curd.   The cake was sliced and plated with some passion fruit syrup.  The whole experience was creative to say the least.  Our baker took her time making the components over a period of five days. Having the experience to know how to do that was certainly helpful in getting the final product to look so good. Pity the other students who tried their best on the night before. 
The layers also are different shades of purple!
Rapidly disappearing!
Needless to say this cake got the highest five star rating for the student cake competition.  As you can also tell from the photos, despite the size it went pretty quickly.

It's down to the end!
CAKE ART: A final piece as a bug!
...and another five star creation is gone!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

That's a big chocolate cake

Student cake 2012 number 4.  This time it was a classic American chocolate cake with a butter cream or something similar frosting.  As a matter of fact it was a VERY BIG American chocolate cake.  We took a look at it and figured it is one of those that would be around for awhile.  Boy were we wrong.

Chocolate Cake Under Glass

A good size chocolate cake!

Lab appropriate inscription!
Our student baker with her creation!

It's pretty tall!

The 7 or so inch side wall!

In addition to a rather large footprint the cake was also very tall. We assumed it was multi-layered but in fact it was only two.  The baker did not have the problem that a lot of people do when the cake turns out a lot flatter than what you would like or expect.  Whatever was put into this one helped each layer to rise appropriately thereby giving the cake its tall profile.  In between the layers there was more of the chocolate frosting.
Good size layers with frosting in between!
Eating cake and longing for a glass of milk!
Usually when we get a cake this tall we are reluctant to eat a large amount given the number of calories that could be consumed.   However this cake was much lighter than expected. The cake was nowhere near as dense as some of the commercial products that we have had making it very easy to have a larger portion.  The frosting was soft and not too sweet but adequately chocolatey. There were a lot of comments about how great it would go with a glass of milk or some ice cream. Clearly it was provoking nostalgia for childhood days of cake eating.  In any event given its size we thought it would last but it went instead pretty fast. There was but a small piece remaining at the end of cake hour.
We never thought we would get this far!
This was all that remained....nothing for the second shift!
To tie the cake in to the laboratory it was inscribed with the phrase "Keep Calm and Pipet On". It was an appropriate phrase but hopefully there isn't someone being too stressed by working in the lab environment.  This last little touch of creativity helped give the cake a four star rating.  (We're being pretty generous this year.)

Am I done or do I finish that last piece!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Manju, Dango and Japanese Ding Dongs

One of our colleagues reluctantly returned from Japan from a trip to see his newly born daughter.  Family does not stop the march of science, you see! As has been done in the past he brought us some Japanese sweets. We are familiar with a lot of these and always like the way they are wrapped almost to excess.  We had three different things offered up.
Three nice little packages!

Plain Pink parchment type wrapper!

Another package with a drawing...

Similar format - do you think it is from the same company?

Explaining what we are about to indulge in!

The first is a treat called Manju. †his is a small little bite size treat that is made kind of like a tea cake. The outside is flour but the filling is a sweetened bean paste or something similar. They use beans and bean-derived concoctions quite a bit actually.  Usually they are not too sweet and somewhat dry. This is why they go well with tea or in our case coffee.  As you can see this one had a nice little character drawing on the top.  We think that might be the character for "Manju" but we are not sure.  People did tend to like these little things so so far so good.

Little Manjus all nicely in rows!

A little nugget filled with bean paste!

The second treat was something called Dango.  These are kind of interesting.  They are made of sweetened rice flour and are made into little balls that are skewered and served on a stick.  The flavoring of these was green tea.  So not only are we eating something sweet but earning health benefits at the same time.  Because it is rice flour these are actually soft and somewhat gooey.  Somewhat similar to one of those "Chuckle" candies or spearmint wedges but a little softer.  Again they were not appreciably sweet so we washed them down with our favorite caffeinated beverage.

Box o' Dango!

Individually wrapped for a taste sensation!
Dango on a stick!
Loves me some dango!
Out last selection was something we have had before - actually I think we have had all these before!  They are some very nicely wrapped and displayed cookie sandwiches consisting of washboard-like cookies with a sweetened cream in between. These are again not too sweet but more familiar for western palates so were probably received the best. These are INDIVIDUALLY wrapped and contain a card with a lot of Japanese writing that we did not understand. So to come up with how to call them in a totally inappropriate free association we likened them to certain filled Hostess treats called Ding Dongs hence the newly named Japanese Ding Dongs.

Nicely packed and individually wrapped!
Two cookies filled with cream - Japanese Ding Dong!
This card probably has the real name but we didn't ask!
That doesn't mean some didn't try to figure it out!
Our Japanese colleagues savoring the success of Ding Dongs!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Who knew there was such a thing as a Margherita Cake?

Another day for the student cake competition and we were told it would be a Margherita Cake.  Sounds interesting to say the least especially if it was reflective of the drink and not someone's tia vecchia. When we took it out at first we thought it was going to be a version of a key lime pie for obvious reasons.  But that was not the case.
You'd think this was a key lime cake!

Nice little star burst of lime!

Specks of lime zest flavor the frosting!

Our competitor arrived after we lost patience and cut the cake!

This was a Margherita Cake consisting of a white cake on a crust of crushed pretzels butter and sugar that was topped with a whipped topping with some line zest sprinkled about and sliced limes as the final touch. At first we thought the bottom was another nut brittle of some kind but soon realized the baker had a nut allergy so we had to clarify. Kudos to one of our student bakers who was able to determine what it was upon taste. 
Something nutty on the bottom?
Nope, it's made of crushed pretzels!!
The cake was a nice surprise and was a good choice for a summer day albeit one that was not too warm.  The crunchy bottom was tasty and fun and the cake not at all dry. The whipped topping, although probably not real whipped cream was light with a subtle flavoring of lime.  Adding some of the juice from the lime slices was a nice touch also. There was supposedly some booze baked into the cake for flavoring but whatever kick there was to be offered was baked out. Too bad!  Otherwise we could have licked some salt, eaten the cake and then sucked on a wait that's with shots of tequila. Never mind!  All in all the cake was a pleasant surprise, well executed and a good choice on the part of our student "volunteer" baker.  We gave it 4 and a half stars.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chocolate Cake with Almond Brittle and Dulce de Leche

For the second entry of our student cake competition 2012 we had a veteran of last year and the challenger in our tiramisu off that could not unseat the reigning champion although he gave it his best shot.  So there was some anticipation to see what he could come up with. He consulted with a friend and opted for a new recipe.  This was a single layer chocolate cake that he coated with homemade dulce de leche and homemade almond brittle. The cake was also made from boxed cakes here. 
Back to compete again!
Interesting and delicious looking!
The full effect of the coating!
That's dulce de leche - aka caramel - with embedded almond brittle!
The cake was very moist and was good and chocolatey but not outrageously sweet. Our chef attributed the moistness to using yoghurt as an ingredient. He also put some coffee in with the chocolate which is always a good combination.  Atop this all he put a layer of caramel (dulce de leche) that he had boiled down himself and as a contrast to the sweetness of the caramel he sprinkled it with black Hawaiian sea salt.  I wonder what makes it black.  It sounds great though, doesn't it. Serving caramel with salt seems to be a bit of a trend these days but the two do complement each other well and that was the case here too.  Finally a layer of almond brittle was added for a crunchy cover.
Those little black flecks are black Hawaiian salt!
The remaining brittle will hit the plates!
This was plated out with a swirl of dulce de leche topped with a small amount of the brittle.  The presentation was quite lovely and appreciated by all. The combination of the three homemade sweets worked very well and for all the extra effort our student gets the first five star rating.  The pressure is on!
Putting it together!

The official presentation!

Nice chocolatey center...just couldn't get it out of the pan!

The competition gives it a try!

Another satisfied customer!

It went pretty fast!
Closeup of that black Hawaiian salt!

Arguing that baking is just like science!