A scientist-turned-pastry chef? Believe it. Marie Porter graduated from high school with plans to study the complexities of viruses as a virologist, and now she lists among her resume of accomplishments and recognitions entries in Rachael Ray Magazine, her own lines of caffeinated baking mixes (think Jacked-up Java brownie mix and Cranked-up Chai Blondie mix) and cake commissions for a A Klingon Christmas Carol.
Somewhere between constructing specialty-themed pastries and umpteen breathtaking wedding cakes for some of the luckiest brides in town, the three-year local resident has found the time to write not one, but two, cookbooks chock-full of her favorite dessert recipes, or what she calls “absolutely hardcore sugar art,” the formulas of which are meant to be shared, she says.
Porter still refers to herself as more of a scientist than anything. However in her early 20s, Porter found herself taking custom orders for wedding gowns, which then led her into the closely related floral business, where she created bright bouquets and arrangements for those special days.
Porter’s fate was decided when she voluntarily made a four-tier cake as a favor for an appreciative bride who was otherwise going to display a sheet cake at her wedding reception. The magnificent show-stopping cake was laden with daisies and caught the attention of wedding guests from near and far. It was at that moment that Porter realized she was in the wrong business. Two weeks later, she had her own confectioner’s kitchen.
“I’m Irish-Canadian, but I’m really Italian Grandma deep-down,” says Porter, describing her innate love for feeding people. She still combines this passion with her scientific skill-set, and Porter’s prior experience in graphic design and flower arranging have definitely helped her when it comes to color: “There’s a science to balancing flavors,” she explains. “I see baking and design as a science—the proportion and color.”
And colorful they are. Porter’s cakes come in all shapes and sizes, running the gamut from classic to out of this world (reference: her Darth Vader groom’s cake). On her website’s gallery, you can find stunning photos of traditional white wedding cakes covered in intricately crafted shimmering snowflakes right next to a cake of Homer Simpson snoozing on the couch.
Creating these edible works of art is no easy feat. Porter spends about three days in the kitchen from start to finish. The first day is spent baking, while she creates base fondant, carves and fills on the second and spends the greater part of the third day decorating.
Though Porter is slowly getting out of the cake-baking business, she isn’t abandoning her regulars. Instead, she’s decided to share her pastry prowess with the rest of us. About two-and-a-half years ago she decided to pen her own cookbook, with the long-term goal of creating a series of cookbooks for the public to enjoy. “I love experimenting and coming up with new stuff,” Porter says.
Spirited Baker is Porter’s first foray into the publishing world, and it centers on cake recipes using flavored and unflavored spirits and liqueurs. The first chapter, “Potent Potables,” teaches you how to make your own liqueurs (think white-chocolate chai cream), flavoring syrups and extracts. “People don’t think of making their own,” she says. And that’s exactly how she’s come up with many of her recipes—by trying something new, mixed well with a bit of happenstance. (Case in point: Her mango mojito upside down cake was the result of mint leaves that overtook her garden.)
Porter’s next book, Evil Cake Overlord, comes out this March and includes all of her cake recipes—even the custom ones for individual clients. The book shares the basics of working with fondant, along with her coveted frosting and filling recipes. After all, according to Porter, cake is just a vehicle for eating frosting.
“I’m giving up all my secrets,” she says with a laugh, only half-joking, but it’s all in the name of good cake.
Basic Boozy Panna Cotta
1 1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin powder
3 Tbsp. cold water
1/2 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup liqueur of choice
1/2 cup sour cream
Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in a small bowl, and let absorb for 5 minutes. Combine milk, heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan. Heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Be careful that mixture does not reach a boil. Meanwhile, microwave gelatin for 15 seconds or until melted.
Once milk mixture has come to a simmer, remove from heat. Whisk in gelatin until fully incorporated and mixture is smooth. Add liqueur and sour cream, whisking until fully incorporated and smooth. Pour into four greased ramekins or custard cups. Chill for at least 2 hours until set.
Tip: Almost any liqueur will work with this recipe, so experiment with your
Bananas Foster Upside Down Cake
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp. flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. rum
1 Tbsp. creme de banane
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2–3 large bananas, sliced
2 cups cake flour
1½ cups sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 (3½ oz.) instant vanilla pudding mix
4 large eggs
½ cup water
½ cup rum
3/4 cup butter, melted
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Liberally grease a 10-inch round pan with vegetable shortening. Cut out a 10-inch round of parchment paper, using bottom of pan as a template. Place inside pan, smoothing it out to cling securely to the shortening.
Combine melted butter, flour, brown sugar, rum, creme de banane and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Heat on low, stirring until well combined. Pour into prepared cake pan, spreading evenly. Arrange banana slices on top of mixture, and set aside.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and pudding mix in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and water, beating until smooth. Carefully add rum and melted butter, mixing on medium speed until smooth. Gently pour into prepared pan. Bake until golden or until knife inserted into center of batter comes out clean and cake springs back (about 50–60 minutes).
With the hot cake still in the pan, carefully level the top by cutting off the dome over the edge of the pan. Allow cake to cool for about 20 minutes before turning cake out directly onto serving plate.
Dark Chocolate Cherry Cream Liqueur
1–1½ cups fresh or frozen cherries
3 cups vodka
1 cup heavy cream
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
4–6 oz. good quality dark chocolate chips
If using fresh cherries, wash fruit and gently pat dry before pitting and chopping. If using frozen cherries, allow to thaw only slightly before chopping. Place prepared cherries into one large clean mason jar, or divide among two medium-sized jars. Cover with vodka, and cap the jars tightly.
Give the jars a quick shake once a day or so for 2–3 weeks. Once desired flavor strength is achieved, strain spirit through a fine mesh sieve and discard the fruit.
Combine heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan. Heat to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add chocolate, stirring until melted and completely incorporated into cream. Remove from heat, allow to cool.
Pour cooled cream mixture into a blender or food processor. Add about 1½ cups of infused cherry vodka, beat/blend on high for about 2 minutes to emulsify the mixture. Taste. If desired, add more infused vodka, and blend again.
Pour liqueur into a clean bottle, store in fridge. Use within one month, giving bottle a good shake if any separation occurs.
Blood Orange Truffle Torte
2½ cups cake flour
1 cup cocoa
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. salt
3½ oz. instant vanilla pudding mix
1½ cup Water
1½ cups butter, melted
2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
Blood Orange Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
5 egg whites*
1 cup sugar (NOT powdered!)
1½ cups (3 sticks) Unsalted butter
2–3 tsp. blood orange essential oil
Orange food coloring, optional
Blood Orange Ganache:
12 oz. good quality dark chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1–2 tsp. blood orange essential oil
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°F). Liberally grease two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable shortening, or spray with baking spray.
Combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, salt and pudding mix in a large mixing bowl. Add in eggs and water, beating until smooth. Carefully add melted butter and vanilla to the mix, mixing on medium speed until smooth.
Divide batter among prepared cake pans. Bake until golden and knife inserted into center of batter comes out clean and cake springs back, about 45–60 minutes. Allow to cool 10–15 minutes before turning cakes out onto baking rack to cool fully. Ideally, allow to cool to room temperature, wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Allow cake to sit overnight.
Mix egg whites and sugar in a very clean metal mixing bowl, and place over a pot of simmering water on your stove top. Whisk occasionally until it hits 160°F (72°C) on a candy thermometer.
Move egg mixture to your stand mixer, and whip on high (using the whisk attachment) until stiff peaks form and mixture is relatively cool. While waiting, cut up the butter into chunks.
When meringue has reached the stiff peaks stage, switch to low speed, and add the butter a chunk at a time, continuing to mix until fully incorporated. Once butter is fully incorporated into the mix, turn speed back up to high, and whip until you have a smooth buttercream. It will go through some weird stages before this point, soupy and maybe curdled. Don’t worry! It will come together! Add blood orange essential oil and food coloring, if using. Continue to mix until well incorporated.
* Be VERY careful when separating your eggs. Even the slightest speck of egg yolk in the whites will prevent this frosting from properly whipping up!
Place chocolate chips into a glass mixing bowl, and put aside.
In a small saucepan, combine heavy whipping cream, essential oil, butter and sugar. Heat to a boil; remove from heat. Pour hot cream mixture into bowl of chocolate chips. Let sit for 3-5 minutes. Starting in the middle of the bowl, slowly start stirring the chocolate and cream until all of the chocolate is melted and the cream has disappeared into it; it should be smooth.
Cover with plastic wrap, allow to cool to room temperature. Using a stand or hand mixer, whip for 2-3 minutes until fluffy.
To assemble cake:
Remove plastic wrap from cake layers. Carefully slice the top off each round, leveling the surface of the cake. Carefully cut each cake in half, horizontally, for 4 thin rounds of cake in all.
Place one round of cake on cake plate, spread with a thick layer of chocolate ganache. Top with a second round of cake, spread with a thick layer of blood orange buttercream. Top with a third round of cake. Spread with a final thick layer of chocolate ganache, and top with remaining layer of cake. Smooth out any frosting or ganache that may have bulged from between cake layers.
Chill for 30 minutes before frosting sides and top of cake with remaining buttercream. Serve at room temperature.
Note: This cake gets VERY hard when chilled. Always serve cakes at room temperature! Our cake was pictured with a thin chocolate fondant, which is not included in the recipe. To learn more about fondants, check out Marie Porter’s latest cookbook, Evil Cake Overlord, on sale March 2011.
For more info or to purchase a copy of Porter’s cookbooks, visit her website.