It’s not everyday you meet a baker so extraordinary she goes by the name “Cake Hero.” One look at the treats Melissa Torres has masterminded and you’ll understand why the name suits her. As owner of the online shop Cake Hero, Torres spends her days creating, baking, and decorating an abundance of sweet treats out of the comfort of her Greenpoint home. She bakes everything from candies to elaborate cakes that are specially ordered by a variety of clientele. In addition to baking for friends and family, Torres has designed cakes for the likes of Cartier, Nickelodeon and most recently Vogue.
I had the chance to ask Melissa a few questions about how she got started and how she caught such a major fashion magazine’s attention.
They sell gigantic and often tasteless strawberries all year round at the supermarket, but when the local farmers start wheeling and dealing these heavenly berries, I go insane. Often over $4 per pint, local strawberries seem pricey, but they are so worth it because they taste like they have been ripened in the sun not like they have been sitting in the refrigerator section of the produce isle. There are so many things you can do with these little treasures.
I have been on a jam rampage. Straight out of the 1970 Blue Ball Book of Canning, I make the trusted and true strawberry jam recipe, but I half the amount of strawberries and 1/4 the amount of sugar and it comes out great.
2 Quarts Crushed Strawberries
3-6 C. Sugar
1/4 C. Lemon Juice (optional)
Slowly bring ingredients to a boil then fast boil it, stirring often, for 40 minutes until it passes the jam test. Hot water boil for 10-15 minutes in sterilized ball jars.
I’ve had this recipe for Rainbow Cookies on my fridge since last year and decided to make it. Working my first job as a counter girl at an Italian bakery in Queens and accepting collect calls from the grumpy bakery owner’s son, who was in jail for idiotic low-level racketeering, gave me have a distaste for Italian pastries, with the exception of a few things: Pignoli Cookies, Rainbow Cookies & Cannolis (but only the cannolis that the nuns from the San Carlo monastery on Erice, a medieval mountain town in Sicily make. God is in them.) The rest of the Italian pastries can burn in hell.
Rainbow Cookies are pretty pricey per pound and if you’re going to buy them around Brooklyn I would recommend Fortunata Brother’s on Manhattan & Devoe.
Making the rainbow cookies seemed pretty pricey, too. It didn’t help that I had to buy 3 half sheet pans at $15 a pop from The Brooklyn Kitchen, plus 4 tubes of Almond Paste at $8 a pop! I definitely came home grumpy.
“I should have just bought them at the bakery,” I said as I laid the ingredients on the counter. But the process and the end result were worth it, plus we got between 150-200 cookies out of it.
I cut the recipe out of New York Magazine from the chef of Torrisi Italian Specialties, a great Italian restaurants down on Mulberry, the walls lined with Manhattan Special: my favorite drink, espresso soda.
If you plan on making rainbow cookies, make sure you have an entire day off plus a partner with good hand-eye coordination. I am lacking in that area and Jon, who is mechanically inclined proved, to have amazing cake layering and chocolate spreading skills. Had I tried to take this endeavor solo, I assure you these cookies would not be so pretty.
When it comes down to it, “it’s a lot of work, Jane,” as Nonna, my Sicilian Grandma would say. There are many steps: beating the egg whites for stiff glossy peaks, splitting one batter into three for coloring, baking three cakes separately until just underdone so they stay moist, cooling the cakes then layering them using orange marmalade as glue, letting them set then spreading warm chocolate on the top and bottom. Start as early in the morning as you can.
While getting closer and closer to chocolatey soft almond cookie goodness, I was giddy. I remember saying, “this sure as hell beats last minute christmas shopping.” In fact, making these cookies is what the holidays are all about: slowing down, spending time with someone you love, making something you love, then giving to people you love.” These cookies put a truer smile on faces than anything you can unwrap and rip a price tag off of.
12 large eggs, separated
2 2/3 cups sugar
24 oz. almond paste
8 sticks butter, softened
5 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. red food coloring
2 tsp. green food coloring
16 oz. orange preserves, heated and strained
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Preheat oven to 350. Beat egg whites in electric mixer until they just hold stiff peaks. Add ½ cup sugar, beating until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks, then refrigerate. Beat together almond paste and remaining sugar in mixer. Add butter gradually and beat until mixture is fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and beat until well combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour and salt and mix until just combined. Fold in egg whites. Divide batter equally among 3 bowls; wearing gloves,(1) whisk red food coloring into one and green into another, leaving the third batch plain. Spread each batter separately and evenly, about ¼-inch thick, onto 3 half-sheet pans, each greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake until just barely set, about 7 minutes. (2) When layers are cool, spread half the preserves onto the green layer. Invert plain layer over it and discard paper. Spread on remaining preserves, and invert red layer over it; discard paper. Wrap with plastic and top with a weighted baking pan. Refrigerate for several hours. Remove plastic and bring to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler, and (3) spread thinly on top layer. Chill in freezer briefly until firm. Cover with wax paper, place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet pan and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate and return to freezer until firm. Trim edges, slice, and serve.