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Cake : Cake College


Baking a cake from scratch is definitely not a piece of cake for most people. It is, in fact, becoming a lost art.

But Mary Aqleh and Jim Ward, partners in Perfectly Sweet bakery in Eagle Rock, are determined not to let that happen. This spring, Aqleh and Ward inaugurated classes for the "baking impaired."

They keep the classes small--10 is the maximum--so participants can have hands-on experience. Ward demonstrates the techniques; Aqleh provides commentary, then assists the students as they practice.

It's a cozy scene as the students assemble, coffee in hand, around the big marble-topped work table that dominates the cheerfully decorated small bakery. The classes take place at night, so working folks can attend. Perfectly Sweet's first class of men and women included an attorney, an accountant, a legal secretary, a caterer who wanted to learn about desserts and a homemaker.

"People get really nervous when they think of scratch baking," says Aqleh. "What we do is take the mystery out of it. We have a ball."

The first class learned to make a basic yellow cake. This they turned into a fancy pate a choux cake, strawberry cake with basket-weave whipped cream frosting and a caramel-walnut roulade .

"There's nothing like presenting a cake to guests and knowing that you created it," Aqleh says. "It tastes delicious. It smells real."

In her eyes, failure is impossible. "There are no mistakes," she says. "It's just learning." The key to cake success is to follow a good basic recipe carefully and understand the importance of each step. For example, if a recipe calls for eggs at room temperature, don't use them straight from the refrigerator. Cold egg whites won't beat to the proper volume.

"I hate the fact that we are losing our techniques," says Aqleh. "We are trying to bring that (knowledge) back to the general public."

In July, Aqleh and Ward gave a pastry class that covered pie doughs, pate a choux (cream puff dough), rolled cookie dough and puff pastry. Their next cake class is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 16. Call the bakery at (213) 257-6963 for further information. Here are recipes from their first lesson.


"If you break it down into steps, this cake is very, very simple," says Mary Aqleh. Pate a choux, otherwise known as choux paste, is cream puff dough.)


1 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup flour

4 eggs, at room temperature

Apricot Jam

Basic Yellow Cake

Chantilly Cream

Place water, sugar and salt in saucepan over moderate heat. Add butter and bring to boil, stirring until butter is completely melted. Add flour all at once, stirring constantly. Lower heat and stir vigorously. Cook until mixture forms ball and comes away from sides of pan. Transfer to mixing bowl and let cool 2 minutes. Add 1 egg and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Repeat with each of remaining eggs.

On parchment paper, draw outline of 9-inch circle. Place parchment on baking pan. Fit pastry bag with large plain tube and fill with choux paste. Pipe ring of paste around edge of circle. Bake ring at 400 degrees 35 to 40 minutes. Cool 20 to 30 minutes.

Grease and flour large baking sheet or line with parchment. Place remaining choux paste in pastry bag and pipe cream puffs about 2 inches in diameter onto prepared pan. Bake at 400 degrees 35 to 40 minutes. Cool 20 to 30 minutes.

To assemble cake, apply thin layer apricot jam to 1 layer Basic Yellow Cake. Place choux paste ring on top of prepared cake. Trim off any excess cake. Fill ring with 1 1/2 cups Chantilly Cream. Top with remaining cake layer. Ice cake with remaining cream. Break cream puffs into bite-size pieces and use to cover top and sides of cake. Dust with powdered sugar. Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

766 calories; 446 mg sodium; 306 mg cholesterol; 50 grams fat; 71 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams protein; 0.11 gram fiber.

Basic Yellow Cake

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

5 eggs

3 cups sifted flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/4 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

In large bowl, cream butter. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs 1 at time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour and baking powder. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in vanilla. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans.

Bake at 350 degrees 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Turn out onto racks and cool completely. Makes 2 (9-inch) layers.

Chantilly Cream

3 cups whipping cream

6 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Whip cream to soft peaks. Gradually beat in sugar, then vanilla.


Piping whipped cream onto the cake in a woven design makes it look like a pretty basket. If this seems too challenging, just swirl the cream on like regular frosting.


2 cups whipping cream

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

Basic Yellow Cake

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