Saturday, September 6, 2008

Bar Mitzvah: Torah Cake


Kodi: looking more determined than ever to get some food

The process of baking and decorating a cake is far more work than I would have ever originally thought. Maybe after a lot of practice, it becomes faster/easier. But, there are just so many things that can go wrong. In our case, we found a few of them. Here's our journey making a Bar Mitzvah cake.

You can check out the rest of our cake decorating experiences to date, here.

Our cake decorating adventure started out with a visit to Canada's premiere baking warehouse Golda's Kitchen. Can't go to their store - no worries, check out the online shopping nirvana. They ship to the states too!

Confused about what to do first, second or third? Send "Golda" an email. Response time is incredible, customer service just like the good old days when people actually cared. We took the trek to the warehouse and stood in total awe of the million different ways to spend money and be happy doing it. We were even lucky enough to have Golda come out and help problem solve. Does it get any better than that?

Ok – Golda may have thought that we were crazy and a bit last minute on our cake decorating plans. But, we used pity to our advantage and got a good 30 minutes of advice from Golda.

The plan was to make a cake that looked like an open torah with scrolls on the side. A torah is a long scroll containing the entire text of the Five Books of Moses, hand-written in the original Hebrew. It is rolled up around two ornate wooden shafts, attached to either end of the scroll. An open torah looks like this

Check out this link to see where some of our ideas came from.

The scrolls would be made out of jelly rolls and placed on top at that sides of a large cake base. We didn’t know anything about jelly rolls, except what Golda has described. So, probably a first mistake to not look into the process making a jelly roll in more detail. For future reference, here's a good starting point.

We started by using Golda’s recipe for chocolate cake:

Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake

½ c + 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa

1 cup boiling water

3 large eggs

2 ¼ tsp vanilla

2 ¼ + 2 Tbsp sifted cake flour

1 ½ cups sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

¾ tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

Makes 2 – 9x1 1/8 layers (we made a double recipe)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 2 9x1 ½ round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment and then grease and flour (we used two jelly roll pans)

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Cool to room temp.

cake 2

3. In another bowl, lightly combine the eggs, ¼ of the cocoa mixture and vanilla.

4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 second to blend. Add the butter and the remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high if using hand mixer) and beat for 1 ½ minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.

5. Scrape batter into prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. The pans will be about ½ full. Bake for 25 – 35 minutes or until a tester inserted near centre comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the centre. The cakes should start to shrink from the sides of the pans only after removal from the oven.

6. Let the cakes cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert so that the tops are up and cool completely before wrapping airtight.

Adapted from the cake bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum.

So – sounds good. In theory. The trouble started when Giz reinverted the first cake. All I heard was “oh sh*t” and turned around to see this:

cake 3

So, from this point, Giz was cut off from reinverting duties. Thankfully, we made a double recipe because we had to quickly make another cake. Generally, this is what the cake looks like after being reinverted.


Then the instructions we had were to roll the cake up right away to let it cool while in the rolled shape. That was easy enough…


Or so I thought…


Upon unrolling, I saw the first crack and thought, “oh no”. Then I continued unrolling and “oh no” turned into “oh crap”. Then… “mom, look at this”. “Mom…what are we going to do?”… Then denial. “Maybe we can fix this…with enough icing, you probably won’t notice”.

So, we proceeded to fill the roll using a similar technique as this one:



Then, I tried to roll it up…and things went from bad to worse:


So, I gave up entirely on the jelly roll. Apparently, this isn’t supposed to be terribly difficult. So, the challenge to perfect the jelly role continues. Here's bunny's roll - so you have a better idea of what a roll is supposed to look like.

At least it didn’t go to complete waste. R did his part to give our cake disaster a “good home”.


And then he came back for more:


But we still needed to figure out a quick backup plan. Neither Giz nor I trusted our ability to do a better job on the 2nd (or would that be 3rd) try… So, Giz ran out to the store and came back with these:


I know – complete cop out. But we tried – honestly!

Now…moving on to the more successful part of our baking efforts… We used Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake recipe. You know, the Daring Baker recipe from a few months back. Check out Ann from Redacted Recipe's version (also contains full recipe) of the cake. We hadn’t joined Daring Bakers at that point, so this was our first time using the recipe. We used it to make a large flat cake, I believe the pan’s dimensions were 11 X 14 X 3 (maybe larger).

So far, so good…


Split the cake down the middle and add a layer of buttercream (the same buttercream as Dorie Greenspan's recipe):


Add a layer of seedless raspberry puree on top of the buttercream:


Putting it all together, we get to this point. See the cake starting to shape up?


We iced the outside of the cake with this icing recipe:

3/4 cup water

2 Tbsp meringue powder

2 1/2 cups icing sugar

1 cup butter

1 cup shortening

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

beat water and meringue to frothy stage, add icing sugar and beat 3-5 minutes on stand mixer (7-10 on hand mixer). Add butter, shortening and vanilla and beat until smooth.

At first it curdled on me. But, seemed to be ok after I mixed more. I thought it tasted pretty good on the cake too. But, Giz used the recipe today for a different recipe (I’m sure she’ll share it with you later) and has since announced that this icing is crap. So – use it at your own risk.

After all that – here’s the final product. We transported it without any mishaps and it went off well.



Hours to create: 16

Hours to eat: 0.5




It was an exhausting undertaking for us. Probably more stressful to make the cake than everything else we made, combined.

Looks like we weren’t the only ones who were exhausted. Here’s the bar mitzvah boy:


and, of course, Kodi:




eatme_delicious said...

Wow that cake looks really awesome!! Great job. Psychgrad, in response to your comment about the pretzels on my blog - I don't know how long they keep for. Probably a few days before they dry out too much. I don't see why you couldn't freeze them or even freeze the dough. Hope you like them if you decide to make them!

Ivy said...

Sorry your cake didn't turn out well the first time but the second idea you had was genius. You reminded me that I have made a couple of Swiss rolls I made and have not posted them.

NĂºria said...

Bravo for you girls!!!! What an effort... 16 hours are a lot!!!! I doubt I would have the patience, maybe after the first try I would have gone to the bakery and buy one!
You must be really proud of yourselves with the fantastic result!

Anonymous said...

Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang, now that is one hell of an ordeal! It turned out great in the end, though!

Deeba PAB said...

BOY O BOY...LOL...poor Giz thrown out of inverting duties. That was quite an ordeal; good for you guys that you carried on! Thankfully bits & bobs worked out later. And the mitzvah boy & Kodi are too too cute!!

Adam said...

Now THAT was quite the adventure :) It's too bad your problems kept snowballing, but at least the cake didn't go to waste, right ? I was actually going to attempt a roll this week, but now I'm kinda scared :)

The finished product does look awesome though, very professional. I wonder why the first cake kept cracking. Any tips before I attempt my own roll tomorrow?

Anonymous said...

You guys are so awesome! What a beautiful celebration cake!

What a great idea.

glamah16 said...

Great save with the jelly rools. The Perfect party cake never fails.I hate it when you have the deadline and anything that can go wroing will. But in the end it turned out beautiful. Justin sure is lucky.

kat said...

Despite the problems you had the final result was wonderful!

Helene said...

You guys did an amaxing job on the cake! I can appreciate the work and dedication!

Cakebrain said...

Hehe...I've had my share of cracked cakes, flopped cakes and reinverting disasters. I think your final product in the end was great and that's what matters!

Proud Italian Cook said...

The cake turned out awesome!

PG said...

Adam - I think our major mistake was overcooking the cake. Since the cake has to be pretty thin in order to be rolled, be careful about how long you cook it. I also think we kept the cake rolled up in the towel for too long. I'd limit it to 15 minutes next time. Also, check out the link I gave in the post - they have some tips there.

Bunny said...

I think you 2 came shining through with your alternative idea in the jelly rolls! It was a beautiful cake! You guys must have been exhausted after 16 hours!! I have my own bo bo to show you (hee hee) my first attempt at apple dumplings! wait till you see them!!

Elle said...

What a labor of love! Lucky boy.
The final cake is gorgeous! Clever to use the already made rolls for the ends. Dorie's recipes usually work out well & it looks like this time it was true again. 16 hours!!! Wow.
Love the photos of your dog, too.

grace said...

what an undertaking! the final product is spectacular, and i'm sure you learned quite a bit along the way. good for you for persevering! :)

Julia said...

I am so impressed! Congratulations! Even if the first jelly roll didn't work out (I've never had success with that either), you persevered, came up with ingenious alternatives and in the end it looks great. Yasher Koach.

Anonymous said...

Aww! I'm glad it worked out in the end. That was SUCH a great idea for a cake! I LOVE it!

Darius T. Williams said...

I'm Protestant...but it doesn't matter, I'd still be celebrating with you guys eating that cake!


OhioMom said...

Giz and Psychgrad

Congrats on your perseverance in creating this wonderful cake, loved the "Torah" shape idea. Very clever.

Alls well that ends well :)

Vera said...

Giz, the cake turned out beautiful after all :) Jelly rolls are temperamental :) I think it happened to everyone, at least once.

Kodi is adorable!

giz said...

Vera - thanks - to be fair, I think Psychgrad did the bulk of the cake. She has far more patience than I do both in icing and also in writing.

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Wonderful job with the cake ladies. Cake rolls are supposed to be easy but they can go sadly wrong too.When we made one for the Daring Bakers I had read that you need to brush on a sugar liquid to make the cake more pliable before you roll it. Just a thought for next time:D

Julia said...

Hi Psychgrad,
A friend of mine is teaching a bouche de noel class, and I went to her house today to watch (and take pictures) while she did a test run. She had to make a roulade too... I related your challenges and she mentioned that you might have had too much sugar in your cake recipe. She didn't pre-roll the cake and rolled it when it was completely cooled. I'm putting together a post with all the pictures and will let you know when it's up. She made it look so effortless, I would almost be ready to give it a whirl

Jersey Girl Cooks said...

Very nice! What a way to redeem yourselves!

PG said...

bellini valli - thank you for the tip! We need all of the advice we can get!

Julia - that would be absolutely awesome. I'll definitely check that out.

Ruth Strong said...

I'm well impressed! you put a lot of work into this masterpiece!

Sorry to see you had a few problems along the way.

Nikki @ NikSnacks said...

Is it OK to tell you that I laughed long, loud, and hard at this? I feel as if I should be offering kind words of encouragement, advice, or something useful. Alas, all I can offer is a virtual pat on the back and a knowing look, that I've messed up a cake or eight in my short lifetime, too.

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