Homemade Podcast Episode 11: Duff Goldman on Crispy Cookies, Cake Baking Basics, and Cooking with Kids
This week’s guest bakes dreams come true.
Pastry chef Duff Goldman considers himself a line cook who lucked out. Of course, those who have seen his dazzling, over-the-top cakes on TV know it’s more than luck. It’s talent. Even so, the “Ace of Cakes” star doesn’t believe his success belongs to him. Growing up Jewish, Goldman learned the importance of giving back through the concept of tzedakah. And he’s bent on using his good fortune for the greater good. Working with children and supporting philanthropies like No Kid Hungry speaks to this. His new show, “Duff Takes the Cake,” even centers on baking cakes for deserving groups.
Goldman spills all details of the show and other projects on this episode of Homemade. He and host Martie Duncan chat about the best buttercream frosting for a cake, Goldman’s own four-tiered wedding cake (which he made out of meat), and the grossest food he ever ate as a cooking show judge.
About Duff Goldman
Food Network first spotlighted Michigan native Duff Goldman and his Baltimore-based business, Charm City Cakes, in 2006. The “Ace of Cakes” star has since appeared on several other series, including “Duff Takes the Cake,” “Iron Chef America,” and “Holiday Baking Championship.” Goldman’s gregarious nature and knack for goofing off made an apt judge on Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship.” In fact, he’s releasing his first-ever children’s cookbook in September, Super Good: Baking for Kids. Goldman is also the author of Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cake, and Duff Bakes: Think and Bake Like a Pro at Home.
MARTIE DUNCAN Welcome to Homemade from Allrecipes. I’m Martie Duncan. On this podcast, we celebrate good food and the people who make it.
I don’t know about you, but I am totally addicted to TV baking shows. And my guest today is one of the best bakers you’ll find on television. He started out with Ace of Cakes and now has a ton of Food Network shows, including Duff Takes the Cake, where he and his team work around the clock to create some truly epic cakes.
Duff Goldman is so creative in the kitchen.
On his Kids Baking Championship show, he challenges the contestants to be just as creative and brave. He is absolutely amazing, and I am so tickled to have Chef Duff Goldman on the show today.
DUFF GOLDMAN Oh, thanks for having me. This is really fun.
MARTIE I appreciate it because I know how busy you are. You've got a new book coming out. You've got a new television show. You're consistently taping your competition shows, which I think have so encouraged kids to get in the kitchen and bake and cook. So, thank you for that. You're teaching a whole new generation about cooking.
DUFF Yeah, it's really nice. You know, like I'm on the road a lot, I’m, you know, constantly meeting people and, I meet a lot of kids, and it's just always amazing to me how many kids are like, "Oh, man, check out this picture, this cake I made. Or these cookies I made. Or, I made this thing for school, or I made a bake sale." It's just incredible. When I was your age, I was like I had a G.I. Joe and an Atari, you know?
MARTIE Well, I had to cook with my mom, and we had a big family. There were six of us. And my mother made everything from scratch. So I was always in the kitchen cooking with my mom. But she was more known for her baking than anything else. Her biscuits, rolls, pies. We had a pie or a cobbler every single day. We weren't allowed to have sweets from the store, but we had some kind of a dessert, homemade, every single solitary day.
DUFF When you grow up like that — because I did, too. Now, my mom didn't really bake that much, but she's a really amazing cook. She's really, really good. We ate at home, and she made everything from scratch. It was great. And then, like, I got to that age where, I went to friends' houses their parents would make dinner. And I was like, "You guys, eat this way all the time?”
DUFF It's like it was weird because all you know is awesome food. And then you get out in the world and you realize not all food is awesome.
MARTIE And not everybody, not everybody cooks at home either. I had so many friends growing up whose moms worked and they didn't cook. My mother went to work, but not until I was about 13. She worked only at home before that. And so every single meal was homemade.
But yeah, I have memories of going to my friend's houses and having also cooked some kind of strange and weird and wonderful things, too. Like I had a friend whose mom sent tongue sandwiches to school with her, and I always thought — and then for breakfast, that she would make mini meatballs. Like they didn't eat pork, so we had mini meatballs for breakfast rather than patty sausage or bacon, which I thought was amazing. I absolutely...
MARTIE And still remember it, you know, so.
DUFF Yeah. Yeah. That's great.
MARTIE I think a lot of those things when you're a kid, really stick with you, too. So what you're teaching kids now, I think will stick with them for a long time to come.
DUFF I think so. The nice thing about baking, too, is that I don't expect that every kid that bakes when they're kids grows up to be a baker. But the things that the kids learn while they're baking are the kinds of things that stick with them, you know, things like finishing stuff. That's a big one. You know, like, teaching kids how to finish a project.
It's not like they get bored, they kind of wander off and do something else. It's like no, man, when you're baking, you got to see it through. Baking for me, still to this day, is an exercise in mindfulness, being present and being there when you are mixing a pie dough and making sure that your butter's the right temperature and you're not melting it into the flour. Understanding that when you pull the cookies out, you need to pull them out before they're done because they keep baking when they’re sitting on the pan. All those little things that create great baking from mediocre baking. Those are the things that I think will sort of stick with them and the kids can apply that to everywhere, everywhere else in their life.
MARTIE Agreed, and I'll tell you what else. There are no greater failures that you will experience than baking. You will absolutely fail at some point.
MARTIE No matter how much you follow the instructions or how perfect your ingredients might be, at some point or another, you're going to do it wrong. You're going to be distracted for a second, leave something out. I've made biscuits 400 million times. And occasionally, I'll look at the bowl and think, did I put the baking powder in or I didn’t?
DUFF Yeah, right?
MARTIE I wasn't paying attention. So I think it also shows you that it's OK to fail. Just do it again.
DUFF Yeah. Absolutely.
MARTIE We had Guy Fieri on earlier in the season, and he made a great point. He goes, "The first time you tried to ice skate. Could you do it?" You know, "The first time you tried to ride a bike. Could you do it?" The first time you try to make a recipe, it's not always going to turn out just right. And I thought that was great advice.
DUFF Yeah, absolutely, and I think baking will certainly teach you that. It is a great humbler of egos.
MARTIE It sure is. Hey, listen, I haven't seen you in a while, and I just wanted to say congratulations to you and Johnna on your marriage and your wedding. It was absolutely beautiful. That cake — I mean, that cake — it'll be one nobody ever forgets.
DUFF Yeah. Wait, which one? The meat cake or the one that was hanging from the ceiling?
MARTIE The one hanging from the ceiling.
DUFF Oh, yeah.
MARTIE I'm not sure I knew about a meat cake.
DUFF Oh, yeah. We had meat cake.
MARTIE You might want to explain that.
DUFF So we had a four-tiered meat cake. The bottom tier was meatballs. The second tier was meat loaf. The third tier was shawarma?
MARTIE Oh, I love shawarma.
DUFF Yeah. And the top tier was scrapple.
MARTIE Oh, my gosh. I know you're a giant scrapple fan.
DUFF Yeah, I love scrapple.
MARTIE I remember that from Ace of Cakes. I remember that, yes.
DUFF And then we iced the whole thing in mashed potatoes, so like, the shape of a wedding cake. And then we made roses out of bacon. And then the bride and groom on top were hot dogs, and their clothes were made out of deli meat.
MARTIE I bet you everybody listening to this podcast is gonna go Google that meat cake right this minute to see a picture of what that looked like. What a fun thing. That is a great idea. Hey, for people who don't know, tell us what scrapple is because I know you're a big fan.
DUFF Scrapple is like everything that they don't put in sausage. They add a bunch of spices and seasoning to it, and it comes in like a loaf. It's sort of like a pureed meatloaf. Cube. A block. And you slice it up real thin. It's got a really high fat content. And you slice it real thin, and you dust it in cornmeal and fry it in a pan, and it gets real crispy on the outside. And because the fat content's so high, it's just like liquid inside. It's just super moist. Heavily spiced.
It's a breakfast thing. You find it in like Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware. It's a Delmarva sort of thing. Northern Virginia? You can find it in other parts of the country. It's really prevalent in the mid-Atlantic.
MARTIE A minute ago, you said the magic word for me. You said cookies. And I know you are known for cakes. And we're going to talk about cakes.
But, your thin and crispy chocolate chip cookie is my absolute favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe of all time.
DUFF When I was making that recipe, I was like, you know, I love Florentines.
MARTIE Me too.
DUFF But I want something a little more American. And so I kind of took a Florentine recipe and just sort of used that butter-to-flour ratio and turned it into a chocolate chip cookie. The thing I love about that cookie is that it’s so much butter and so much sugar and so little flour that it actually becomes almost a confection in the oven, where that sugar starts to caramelize.
MARTIE Caramelized... yes.
DUFF It gets really crispy, it just gets this really incredible texture. I was in Israel and I was doing a baking class with a group of kids. They were like kind of at-risk youth. They went through a bunch of programs and this is kind of their last stop before they really go to big boy jail. And I was teaching them how to bake. And I made these cookies for them.
And I could tell they'd never eaten anything like it. It was just very different than Middle Eastern baking. And it was really, really cool. They really were like, "Wow, that was amazing." It's so different than a lot of the phyllo sort of based pastries that they were used to that I — I don't know. It made me feel good because like, all right, you know, you give somebody something they've never tried before and it can be really strange. And they were really into it.
MARTIE Those cookies are the best. If you've never tried them, y'all, here's the deal. They're crispy on the fringe like you like, and they have just the tinge of not really fluffy but texture in the middle, where most of the chocolate chips go. But the edges are just like — you snap almost like a potato chip. You know, they're crispy. I mean...
MARTIE So good and buttery. If you go, I think it's on your website, Duff.com, y’all can find that cookie recipe there. And let me tell you, it's a great one. We have millions of chocolate chip cookie recipes on Allrecipes.com. I mean, it is a haven of great chocolate chip cookie recipes. And I guarantee you, our fans there would find this one right up there at the top. It's amazing. Y’all try it.
DUFF That's great. That’s great.
MARTIE All right. So we have a lot in common. I don't know if you remember that we rode that No Kid Hungry bike ride together quite a few years ago now.
MARTIE Three hundred miles, y'all, for charity. We rode to raise money for No Kid Hungry to help kids who were at risk, especially during the summers when schools aren't open. And Duff and I, neither one of us bicycle riders really. I don't know how you got conned into that. I got guilted into it. I'm like, I don't even have a bike. I rented a bike. But boy, that was so fun. And I really applaud you for getting out there and doing that.
DUFF Oh, you know, it's really great. I mean, it's such a tight community. I mean, I've made friends through Chef's Cycle that I still have.
MARTIE You have a lot of philanthropy that you're involved with. So I applaud you for all of that. It's awesome to see somebody who's reached your levels of success to give back so warmly. And without any reservation, you just give.
DUFF The way I see it is, like, I'm a line cook that won the lottery. I'm no more special than any other cook out there. But, you know, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. And I've been insanely, insanely fortunate in my life. And I just figure, like, it's not mine, you know? So I better give it back.
MARTIE That's right.
DUFF And look, when the water rises, all the boats rise. I really firmly believe that, you know? I grew up in a really Jewish household. And the concept of Tzedakah was something that my parents, my rabbi, and my teachers you really instilled in us and made sure that we really, really understood that giving is something that is just part of what you do. It's part of just being a complete person and whether you have a dollar to give or ten thousand. People need help. You know? I need help sometimes.
MARTIE Me, too.
DUFF You know, everyone needs help sometimes. You spread it around, you make sure that you're putting that stuff out in the world because, you know, you got a choice. You're going to put energy into the world, you've got a choice of what you can put out there. And that's the one that I like to put out there. So it's good. It’s good.
MARTIE And you've got a big giant heart. So...
MARTIE And I think your dedication to kids cooking, all of that is very evident. You have patience. You're lovely with those kids. You're encouraging and sometimes a little tough love but in the most genuine and lovely way.
DUFF I try.
MARTIE What is the worst thing you ever had to eat on one of those baking shows as a judge?
DUFF Oh, man. The first season, this kid, Matthew, made hotdog flavored ice cream.
MARTIE You had to call him out, too.
DUFF Oh, yeah.
MARTIE Matthew with the hotdog flavored ice cream.
DUFF Matthew, you know who you are.
MARTIE Matthew, you can make ice cream for me anytime. Just not hotdog flavor, please. Oh, my God. That's awful. I thought I’d heard it all.
DUFF Yeah, it was really gross.
MARTIE I've had a judge a few things, locally. Luckily, I've never had to judge one on national television. But my face tells it all. I don't know how you keep that poker face cause some of that stuff can't be that good. But some of those kids are amazing.
DUFF Yeah, yeah. I mean, look, these kids are really incredible. I've never had anything that was, like, disgusting. I mean, even the hotdog ice cream was incredibly interesting. And really did taste like hotdogs. So it was well done. You know, like, he achieved his goal.
And like, nothing's like I've never had anything I had to like spit out or, you know what I mean? These kids are great. There are kids on the Kids Baking Championship that definitely would have gone farther than some of the adults in the holiday baking championship.
MARTIE I don't doubt that one single bit. Well, speaking of kids and kids baking, let's talk about your new book for a second. You've got a new book coming out in September. I'm excited...
MARTIE Because it's gonna hit right around the holiday. So it's a great gift that I'll give my nieces and nephews. Awesome. Thank you for that. No brainer. But it's called, um —
DUFF Super Good.
MARTIE I think that's great for a kid.
DUFF Because they say that all the time.
MARTIE Super Good Baking for Kids. It comes out September 29. Tell me a little bit about it.
DUFF I was really excited to write a book for kids 'cause I work with them all the time. You know, I work with kids at my stores, Duff Cake Mix, and I work with them on television. I do a lot of live events with kids.
And I remember, like, when I was a kid, I really liked things that were rich. Books and television and movies. I like stuff that really had a lot of depth to it. And where there were things to discover. And secrets to find and things that you can sort of hunt down. And maybe you were the only one that noticed, like, that little thing or this little thing.
And so I wanted to write a book that was really rich like that, that really had lots of angles and lots of layers and, you know, a lot of depth to it. When I decided to write a kid's book, I looked at a lot of kid's cooking books because I don't know how to write for kids. I was reading all these books and I was just thinking, you know, if I was a kid, like, they were a little simple or simplistic, I think. Not really pedantic, but I think they kind of assumed the lowest common denominator. And I'm a big fan of challenging. I like being challenged, myself. I like challenging the kids. I like challenging everybody.
MARTIE I think that's the only way to get 'em engaged.
DUFF It's how we grow.
MARTIE Yeah, they're gonna be bored in a second.
DUFF Totally, you know, and it's like, you have a cookbook that's just like, you know, making buckeyes. That's cool. It's good to learn how to make a buckeye. But there's not that much to it. I wanted to write some that was really like — that they would fail at, like we were talking about before. You know, things that would be a little more difficult that they would have to really concentrate to get it right.
I assumed a good amount of knowledge on the part of the reader. I mean, this is something that they're definitely gonna have to do with their parents. I mean, there's blowtorches in the book. There is deep frying in the book. There's a lot of sharp knives. And we talk about safety. We talk about how to do all those things correctly. You see those kids on Kids Baking Championship and they're using blowtorches and knives and...
DUFF All that stuff. And if they learn to respect their tools and respect the kitchen, then they'll be fine.
MARTIE I have a funny story along the lines of that. I wanted to have a party when I was 13. And my mom, being a great cook and everything, she goes, "Yeah, you can have a party but you have to cook the food. You have to clean the house before and clean the house after." I'm like, "OK, OK, I’ll do it." So she goes, "Well what are you gonna make?" And I just got out her, I don't know, Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook or whatever it was. Joy of Baking? I'm not sure. She didn't ever use a cookbook. But I took that red and white check cookbook out of the cabinet and I went through it. I'm like, I'm gonna make éclairs.
MARTIE She goes, "You're gonna make what?" I said, "I'm gonna make éclairs." Because I'd heard my dad — my dad was from New York. And I'd heard my dad talking about going to a bakery and getting éclairs. We never went to a bakery. I didn't know a bakery existed. So I made chocolate éclairs for my party, and they were awesome.
MARTIE And the weird thing is, is that my brother, who was maybe six at the time, the other day, we're on the phone and he goes, "I remember that time you made those éclairs." Can you believe that stuck with him all those years.
MARTIE And the weird thing is, is that my brother, who was maybe six at the time, the other day, we're on the phone and he goes, "I remember that time you made those éclairs." Can you believe that stuck with him all those years?
MARTIE But it just goes to show you how it can be foundational. Cooking, baking from when you are a kid. What did you cook when you were a kid? I know you say your mom's a great cook. What did you cook when you were a kid?
DUFF We would have fondue night once in a while.
MARTIE Oh fun.
DUFF Once every other month or so. But we would do a beef fondue. So we'd take the fondue pot and my mom would do a mixture of butter and oil and heat it up. And then she would cube all this meat, and then she would make all these different sauces. We had like a barbecue sauce and a curry mayonnaise. That was my favorite. A bunch of different sauces. She would do like a tamarind. And then we would get the big long fork. And you stick it in the thing and you cook it. And what I realized was that I liked when the meat would be crispy on the outside but still pink in the middle. I would put my meat in there and I would get it crispy on the outside, but it was cooked all the way through, and it was gray. So I'd be like, well, I want it pink in the middle. So I would leave it in for less time, but then it wasn't crispy on the outside. So then, what I figured out was that if I turned the heat up, I could make it crispy on the outside and pink in the middle. And my mom would get really mad because she didn't want the thing to be that hot, so I'd have to wait till nobody was looking and I would just inch the heat up. That was like how I figured out, like, oh, I can control the food that I'm eating. And my mom, she loves the television. We watched like Julia Child, and "Galloping Gourmet," and the "Frugal Gourmet."
MARTIE Oh, me too.
DUFF Justin Wilson.
MARTIE Me, too.
DUFF Remember Justin Wilson? God, I love Justin. "I guarantee..."
MARTIE Oh yeah. "Aiyeeee." Are you kidding me? I'm from the South. "I guarantee..."
MARTIE Oh yeah. I would run home from school so I could watch Justin Wilson. I loved all those shows.
DUFF Oh yeah. Yeah, they're really great.
MARTIE I mean, you said tamarind. We wouldn't have had tamarind in our kitchen for anything. Your mother was pretty adventurous then.
DUFF Yeah. She was a hippie.
DUFF She used to make sushi in the house. Like, he did a lot of cool stuff. And this is like in the '70s, the '80s. We were eating interesting stuff back then. And, you know, thank God she did. Hopefully, whenever we have kids, you know, I'm gonna feed them all kinds of stuff. Just because I want to make sure that my kids are adventurous in eating.
'Cause there's so many wonderful things that come with that, you know, in learning about cultures. I mean, my wife and I love to travel, love to eat. In every country we go, we eat all kinds of crazy stuff. And it's a really wonderful way to start to learn about a different people because you're starting out on common ground, you know? Everybody's got to eat.
MARTIE It is so true. And it is especially poignant at this time of life in the world. That — that is where I think our most common ground is, at the table. Breaking bread.
MARTIE People from everywhere can identify with sitting down at a table together and sharing a meal. I think that's why the Bourdain shows were so well received, besides of him, of course. But people were just so fascinated to see other cultures and how they broke bread and ate and welcomed a guest into their life.
DUFF Yeah, absolutely. And being in different places and understanding how people eat and seeing the ritual that happens around food and how things are different — I think is really telling when, in America, we go to the drive-thru and then we get some food and we sit in our car and eat.
MARTIE My friends from other places find that to be...
MARTIE The most ridiculous thing. They're like, "What do you mean?"
DUFF It's weird.
MARTIE "You have a meal in your car on the go? You need to sit at a table and eat."
DUFF It's weird. It is a weird thing. It's very American, just sit in your car and watch other people eat.
MARTIE Not even sit. Drive.
DUFF Yeah! Or that too, which is even worse.
MARTIE Yeah, terrible. I'm guilty.
DUFF But then you go to other countries, a place like Hong Kong, for example, where like, geez, every five feet, somebody is cooking something delicious. Or like Bangkok, same thing. That's an amazing city for food. I mean...
MARTIE It sure is. It truly is.
DUFF Just food everywhere. Everywhere. My wife and I, part of our honeymoon, we were in Thailand. And one of the things that we do in all the countries we go to, we like going to grocery stores because it's really interesting to see just the products that people are eating.
MARTIE It's true.
DUFF The different kinds of chips and the different kinds of candy and the different cuts of meat that you see in the butcher. And we went to a Tesco in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
DUFF And it was, I mean, massive, huge grocery store. These massive aisles. Their potato chip aisle was just amazing. I mean it was incredible. It was like a mall, almost, because like...
DUFF Within the store there was like...
MARTIE Different departments. Yeah.
DUFF All these other stores. Yeah. And there was a KFC.
DUFF And I was like, "Hey, let's get some KFC." You know, we're in Thailand. Let's get some KFC.
MARTIE Thailand and Malaysia, there's a KFC every three feet.
DUFF Oh yeah, they love it. But the cool thing was, is that, you know, we went to KFC and it looks like a KFC, and they got the colonel and everything. And then, we got some spicy chicken, and it was different.
MARTIE Oh really?
DUFF It was not 11 herbs and spices. It was something else. It was Thai.
DUFF It definitely had it like a Thai sort of flavor to it. It was delicious. You know, it was great. But it was really interesting, you know, seeing people the way they shop. Like, when you go in that Tesco, for example, they had these massive bins full of ground beef, and people would take a plastic thing, and they would grab whatever beef they wanted and put it in their bag. And it's fine. It's fine. Americans like, I don't know, we get really freaked out about food. But it was fine.
MARTIE I go to Argentina quite a lot, the opposite end of the spectrum. You still go to the tiny little towns and you go to the butcher and then to the baker. And then you have to go to the guy who has the butter and then you have to go to the guy that has the fruit. You know, you go down the road of the whole town picking up all the things you need to cook. And one time, I had to cook Christmas for some guys from Malaysia, and of course, you know, they don't celebrate Christmas like we do. I mean, they don't celebrate Christmas. They're Muslim.
MARTIE And so I ask them what they want and they're like, "KFC." And so I made fried chicken in Argentina.
DUFF For Malaysians.
MARTIE Malaysian style. Yes. Malaysian style. And they absolutely loved that. It was like one of my biggest triumphs, I think.
We’ll have more with Duff Goldman right after the break.
Welcome back to Homemade. I’m Martie Duncan, and today I'm talking with pastry chef Duff Goldman.
All right. So, this is a cooking show. So I want to try to get some cake tips for home cooks. You've got a classic yellow cake recipe on your website. I think that's a great place to start. What are some of the biggest mistakes that home cooks will make when they are making just a basic cake?
DUFF The one I find the most is over mixing. People, they'll use a stand mixer. And people aren't scraping down the sides.
DUFF And they figure that "I'll just make the mixer go faster and that will get all the stuff off the sides," which it doesn't. It's just not the way to do it. Really, the way to mix cake batter is slowly, gently, and you got to scrape down the sides. Every time you add something to the mix when you cream the butter and the sugar, scrape down the sides. And then you add some of the wet, scrape down the sides, add some dry, scrape down the sides. You've got to do it every time. It takes two seconds. It makes a humongous difference.
MARTIE OK. So you brought up a good point and sort of a sore subject for me because I get this question all the time. You say cream together the butter and the sugar. What does that mean?
DUFF Right. So creaming the butter and the sugar, it is what it sounds like. You churn cream and that separates the curds and the whey. You get butter from that process. Then the butter is packed. And once it's packed, it starts to kind of align. All the protein molecules of the fat crystals and everything in that butter kind of aligns, and it sort of becomes set in its way. Butter is sort of — no pun intended. But butter kind of gets used to that stick form that it's in.
DUFF And you need to agitate it and mix it up. And you gotta break those sorts of proteins apart. You've gotta really get that butter used to the idea that it is gonna be part of a larger whole because you want everything in that mix to be homogenous.
So, when you're creaming together the butter and the sugar, you're taking the sugar and the butter, you're putting it in a mixer, and you're beating it together. You could beat it really hard. It's good. You'd turn the mixer up, and it's going to beat really fast, and what that's going to do is beat some air into your cake, which is going to help it rise. But really what you're doing is the sugar is a, like, an exfoliator, you know.
MARTIE Right. Grainy.
DUFF Yeah. It's grainy. And so it agitates the butter. It's like sand.
DUFF Just like you rub sand on your skin, you know, it kind of agitates.
DUFF So it's agitating as you're mixing.
DUFF What you're doing is you're mixing up that butter and the sugar. You're beating a lot of air into it. You're getting the butter moving and getting it out of its mode of thinking of, "I am a stick," and getting it to the point where now and you can start adding other stuff to it. Flour. Baking powder. Salt. Vanilla. Eggs. Chocolate. All those other things that you can be putting into the cake, the butter is now a lot more receptive to it.
MARTIE People always ask me, "Do you have to make the sugar where you can't feel it, so it's not grainy?" I'm like, "I don't think you can beat the grain out of it."
DUFF Yeah, because the thing about butter, unless it's really, really cheap butter, it actually doesn't have that much moisture in it. And so, you need moisture to dissolve the sugar. But once you add eggs to it — an egg white is 98% water.
So the sugar is not going to stay. So just because you can feel it after you've creamed the butter doesn't mean that you're going to feel it. Once you've made the actual batter. The sugar will be dissolved.
MARTIE Another thing that people will message me about, you say let the butter come to room temperature isn't that dangerous. Listen, I sometimes leave mine out overnight to get it...
MARTIE Yeah. There's no prob— And I go to other countries where they don't even refrigerate butter, anyway.
DUFF Right. Keep it in the cupboard.
MARTIE Yeah. I feel like it's OK to leave it out on the counter for a day and let it come to the...
DUFF It's not going to go bad. You can leave it out for a week. It's fine. It's fine. Especially with a cake. I like all of my ingredients to be the same temperature. When you have things that are different temperatures, they don't incorporate well. If I know I'm going to bake a cake the next day, I pull out all the eggs that I need and I leave them on the counter and let them come up to room temperature. Same thing if I'm making a meringue. You can't make meringue with a cold egg white.
MARTIE Well, not if you want a mile-high meringue, you don't.
DUFF Yeah. Yeah. You got to have a warm, you know, got to have a warm. Eggs are fine. They don't go bad sitting on the counter. They don't go bad at room temperature. The thing about eggs — most countries don't refrigerate their eggs, right? I mean, how cold is it in a chicken's butt? Right? It's not refrigerated up there.
MARTIE I go to my neighbors, and believe me, it's 100 degrees in there.
MARTIE So yeah they're definitely not refrigerated before they come to your house.
DUFF No. But what happens in the way that we deal with eggs, in America, they're really well washed. And when you wash an egg, there's a coating on the outside of an egg that makes it so it's fine sitting out after it comes out of the chicken. But once you wash that away, then you do have to refrigerate 'em or you start...
DUFF Getting bacteria and stuff. But they're fine for a day or two. They're totally fine at room temperature.
MARTIE Duff, you know, everybody wants moist cake.
MARTIE That's everybody's goal. But nobody ever seems to get it. What is the key to getting a moist cake?
DUFF Oil tends to make a more moist cake than butter, especially with chocolate cakes. Chocolate cakes that are 100% butter, chances are it's going to be dry. If your fat source is oil, then you're going to have a much more moist cake. It's sort of like when you look at the two fats, butter and oil, when they're at room temperature, which is how you're supposed to eat a cake. Look at how different they are. Butter is kind of like this solid thing. It's sitting there. And oil is liquid. So that oil, being the fat in a chocolate cake, is going to be a lot more moist sitting at room temperature.
Now, my simple yellow cake, which I think I know which one you're talking about. That one, I believe, is butter. That particular one is one of my favorites, because to me it tastes exactly like Betty Crocker Super Moist, yellow cake. It's like Twinkies and Betty Crocker. And that flavor is what we think of when we think of like a yellow cake. I mean, that's the flavor you want. So I wanted to create that texture and that flavor, which is the thing that we as Americans love.
My favorite cake in the world is yellow box cake mix with the cheap frosting out of the can, the chocolate frosting, and nonpareils, the little tiny sprinkles. That's my favorite cake. I could eat that cake every day for the rest of my life and be totally fine.
MARTIE I hate to tell you my favorite is the Hershey cocoa yellow cake with the cooked, you know, like the old-fashioned grainy chocolate icing.
DUFF Oh yeah.
MARTIE That's my favorite.
DUFF Yeah. That's good.
MARTIE Well, my second favorite would definitely be caramel cake. Miss Betty Wheeler made the world's most delicious caramel cake. I never got that recipe. I am so sad about that. But my goodness, it had that — I think she put it on hot or at least warm grainy caramel cooked icing.
MARTIE Man. That was...
DUFF A lot of times that grainy texture from a cooked icing comes after the fact.
DUFF Yeah, yeah. So you cook those icings down and they usually really smooth. But then the sugar starts to crystallize. And that's when you start getting that kind of that texture.
MARTIE I love that.
DUFF I think cake is better on the second day. I think cake is like stew. I like cake that's been sitting around for a little bit. I think it tastes better. I think it's more moist. The flavors marry. I think it's good.
MARTIE I think you're right.
DUFF The other thing with that yellow cake, that recipe that we're just talking about, that I think is super, super, super-duper important is if you can, go get some cake flour. It makes a big difference. If you use all-purpose it's going to be a little chewier, where if you're using cake flour it's just going to be fluffier and a little more tender. The other thing about the flour is absolutely 100% must, must, must sift it.
DUFF You're aerating the flour, you're getting rid of all the lumps. You're going to mix it for less time because you've sifted it, which means you're going to activate less of that gluten. It's just, across the board, is going to help make a better cake.
MARTIE I have the sifter that my mother has always had in her kitchen, and I remember stand there sifting and sifting thinking, "It's never gonna be a cake!" But now you can use like— I use like the little handle kind. You know, like just a little sieve, sort of but very fine-mesh sieve and sift with that and it takes a second.
DUFF I use a tamis.
MARTIE Oh really?
MARTIE Tell everybody what that is.
DUFF So a tamis is a flat screen. It looks like a basically like a tambourine, almost, but instead of a drumhead, it's got a screen on it. So it's round and it has a screen. You dump all your ingredients in there and you take a bowl scraper and just take your hand and just kind of mix it all up in there, and it sifts through the mesh that way.
So I take a piece of parchment paper and put it flat on the counter and then dump all the ingredients into the tamis over the parchment paper and then scrape it, so it all falls down onto the parchment.
MARTIE What a good idea.
DUFF And then with the parchment, you don't take the flour and put it in a bowl. When you're mixing, you can pick up the parchment from the corners and you create like a little envelope. And that way you can really get the flour into the mixing bowl, and you're not making a mess. When you go bowl to bowl, it doesn’t work.
MARTIE It's hard to get it in there.
DUFF It's hard.
MARTIE Because there's only a teensy bit — I always think, Kitchen-Aid, make that bowl bigger so I don't have to dump half of it on the floor. So now, I've got a great tip.
DUFF Yeah. Take that parchment.
MARTIE Oh great. Thank you.
DUFF Yeah, pro tip.
MARTIE Yeah. Thank you. These pro tips are why we're here. So, for your classic yellow cake, what is the icing that you would recommend to go with that?
DUFF Uhh, chocolate. Chocolate frosting. Yeah. Like, a butter-based chocolate frosting, sweet and chocolaty and smooth. Like a fudge frosting's really good. Not like a classic chocolate buttercream. More like the thicker, gloppier, more viscous chocolate frostings. Like you would find, you know, when it was your birthday and you would bring a cake to school and your mom made you like a 9 by 13. One of those. Like, that kind of frosting.
MARTIE Frosting it seems to be something that people have a harder time mastering. People want to know what's the difference between a Swiss buttercream and an Italian buttercream, and how do I know which one I should use? So what do you say to that?
DUFF Swiss buttercream, French buttercream, and Italian buttercream. Those are meringue-based buttercreams. When you say French, Swiss, or Italian, that's referring to what kind of meringue are you starting with?
French meringue is cold, so you whip the egg whites. And as they're whipping, you gently add the sugar until it becomes a meringue. With a Swiss meringue, you heat the egg whites and the sugar together just until the sugar dissolves and then you whip it. And then an Italian meringue is you cook the sugar to medium crack or hard crack.
DUFF And then pour the hot sugar into the whipping egg whites.
MARTIE Now, I really like that one the best. But down here in the South, where I'm from, you know, we have a Southern buttercream too, which means we use Crisco.
DUFF Yeah, right. So that's American buttercream.
MARTIE To stabilize it because it's so hot.
DUFF Yeah. Yeah. So an American buttercream is you know, you got Crisco, powdered sugar. You know, you can add butter if you want. That is a classic. Now I'm not knocking it. I love that stuff. But like, when you go to the grocery store and you get that frosting that's like — it's like kind of crispy on the outside.
DUFF A little bit? Because all that sugar is kind of crystallized. That's an American buttercream. With the meringue-based buttercreams, there's sort of different times that you should use the different ones. I personally cannot taste the difference between a French, a Swiss, or an Italian. Some people say they can. I can't. That's just me.
MARTIE I'll eat a slice of any one anybody wants to give me.
DUFF But there's different times when you're supposed to use those. So French buttercream, you whip up the meringue and then you start adding butter to it. Let it fall. Keep whipping it. It comes back, and it would be a buttercream. That one's the easiest to make because you're not heating anything up. It's really fast. A French buttercream is the one that's really good for most of the cakes that you're going to make.
MARTIE Most of the cakes.
DUFF Most of your — yeah. Most of your wedding cakes, things like that. It's going to be fine as long as the cake's going to be inside, climate controlled. Everything's fine.
MARTIE But if it's not, then...
DUFF If it's not.
MARTIE Then you've got a problem.
DUFF Yeah, if it's not, you need a more stable buttercream.
DUFF So, when you start heating those egg whites, that's creating stability in your finished buttercream.
MARTIE I got it.
DUFF So you can make a Swiss meringue. That's when you heat up those egg whites and dissolve the sugar in there. That’s gonna be more stable. And then if you're gonna be — a buttercream cake that's gonna be outside in July, make an Italian buttercream when you heat that sugar. Because that's gonna be your most stable and least likely to start to sweat.
MARTIE Duff, while we're talking cakes, tell us a little bit about your new show, "Duff Takes the Cake."
DUFF Oh well, "Duff Takes the Cake" is really fun. So everybody remembers "Ace of Cakes."
MARTIE Of course.
DUFF Really fun show. Really, really kind of goofy. And those are those are the shows I really like making the most. I like making things on TV for people. I enjoy the process of bringing people into our world and being like, "Hey, we're gonna make something fun. You're going to come along with us. It's going to be really great."
MARTIE I think it's so helpful. I've been in the wedding industry for more years than you've been alive. And I think it's so helpful for people who are in the middle of a big event, whether it's a wedding or an anniversary, birthday or whatever, to see what you have to go through to get these cakes. You're like, how to make one, and I think I read somewhere you say you like to — instead of "make dreams come true," you like to "bake dreams come true."
DUFF I don't know if I ever said that.
MARTIE I feel like I read it somewhere, or I made it up. Maybe I just make that up for you, my friend Duff. 'Cause you're — but anyway, I think that it's so crucial that people understand what has to go into their dream. You know? It's a lot.
DUFF Yeah. Yeah, one of the things I love is when I meet other cake decorators and they thank me for educating people that don't understand what goes into these cakes, because when they see — we're making these cakes on TV. And I'm not saying we're making 'em right. We kind of go the long way around sometimes when we're making these things.
But you're right. People see what goes into this and they start to understand, like, you know, who in their right mind would spend $700 on a cake. It's a cake! that should be $29.99. So a lot of times, you know, people would see something on television, and then they go to their local shop like, "Hey, I want to make this cake. My budget's 50 bucks." And they're like, "Go back, re-watch that episode and you tell me if you think I could do that for 50 bucks."
DUFF Get out of town. I think that's really good.
MARTIE So it's sort of like "Ace of Cakes," reboot.
DUFF Yeah. The thing about "Ace of Cakes." It's really great. But the problem is when you're trying to run a business and have a TV show right in the middle of it, those two things sometimes don't have the same goal.
The TV loves it when we mess up and drop cakes, but our customers don't. So, when they wanted to bring "Ace of Cakes" back and I was like, "Listen. We can. But do me a favor. Let's have it in a studio. I'll get all the people from 'Ace of Cakes' to come back and we'll all make cakes on there and still be goofy and funny and all of us messing around, being weirdos. But this way it's not in my actual bakery messing up my business."
DUFF You know, because I still sell cakes for a living. That's what I do. You know?
MARTIE Yeah, I mean, I've had people tape me doing a party before. And I finally would just have to say, "Listen, let's make a fake party because somebody is going to do something that won't work for TV. So let's do a pretend party." And then I think people get a lot more out of it and then nobody's gonna be disappointed. My customer, my client, nobody's gonna be disappointed when we have a failure. But, you're right, the TV loves drama and a failure.
DUFF Oh, they do. They do. And one of the other nice things about "Duff Takes The Cake" is that most of the people that we're making cakes for could never afford the kinds of cakes that we're making.
DUFF And so instead of picking the clients, every single cake on "Ace of Cakes" was for a real paying customer. People would call. They'd want a cake. We'd call them later and be like, "Hey, would you mind being on TV? They would like your cake."
With this, we're picking who we want to make cakes for. So, they're real events. They're real things that are happening. There's a STEM program where all these high school kids are making robots. And so we make a cake for those guys. We just made one for a whale watching company in Orange County. I love whales. I thought this would be a super fun way to get a free whale-watching trip for everybody. So we made ‘em a cake. And it works out.
But the nice thing is we approach people and say, "Look, we want we want to make you a cake." But the catch is, we get to make whatever we want.
MARTIE Yeah, that's wonderful. I think —
DUFF Yeah, it's great.
MARTIE Who doesn't want a cake? I would love if somebody showed up at my house with a cake. That's awesome.
DUFF Yeah. Right? And I've got to tell you, just so you guys know, I use Allrecipes, all the time.
MARTIE Oh, my gosh. Me, too, I love it. It's awesome. And you have the community who tells you, I mean really. You get the good and the bad and the ugly. They tell you all of the problems or the successes that they've had.
MARTIE They tell you all of the problems or the successes that they've had.
DUFF Yeah. And I read it.
MARTIE And how much they love the recipes. Me too. Every one of them.
DUFF I learn a lot from this website. I really do. I use it all the time. I really trust it.
MARTIE Same here.
DUFF I love FoodNetwork.com, don't get me wrong.
MARTIE No, me too. But I think the nice thing — Food Network.com is a community of chefs. Allrecipes is a community of cooks.
DUFF Yeah. And people are like, "Hey, I tried this recipe. I, you know, added a tablespoon more sugar. I did this. It came out better." It's really nice to read all that stuff. Some of my favorite cookbooks that I have are church bake sale cookbooks.
MARTIE Yes. Community cookbooks from churches, church lady cookbooks. Yeah. I've got a giant collection of them.
DUFF Oh man, I bet you do. Because the thing about those is, you're getting, like, Mary Sue from, you know, Guhuh, Illinois. And she does one thing.
MARTIE That's it.
DUFF She makes some turtle brownies. And that's what she makes. And she is the best in the world at it.
MARTIE And nobody else better show up with turtle brownies.
DUFF But like she — you know, she is great at it. She's been making these things. Her mom was making those things. That recipe is going to work and it's going to be amazing.
MARTIE Yes, it is true that Allrecipes is like a massive community, just like that, of people from all over the place who know that Mary Sue's recipe —-
MARTIE Is the best. And they talk about it and they rate it and say what's good. And that's one of the things I love the most about it.
DUFF Yeah, it's really great. So thanks. It's a great resource.
MARTIE Well, thank you, Duff. And again, thank you for being our guest on the Homemade podcast. We have absolutely loved learning for you.
DUFF Thanks for having me.
MARTIE (in studio) Duff Goldman’s new show on Food Network is "Duff Takes the Cake" and don’t forget, his new cookbook, Super Good, comes out in September. You can keep up with everything Duff is doing at Duff.com, that's Duff.com, and on Twitter and Instagram at @DuffGoldman. You can also find plenty of his videos on YouTube.
I am really excited about our next episode of Homemade because we have Rachael Ray in the house. And we taped the whole thing from her house.
RACHAEL RAY My first day at school, I took a book. The teacher took it away because the other children didn’t know how to read yet. And they took away my sardine sandwich.
Rachael It was in a bag at lunch and I took it out of the bag and everybody made fun of me because it smelled. I went home hysterical crying. And my grandfather basically made fun of me and said, "You have 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a brain." He made me count my fingers and count my toes, knocked on my head, and said, "What's in there?" I said, "My brain". He said, "Well, you have ten fingers, ten toes, and a brain. What are you crying about?"
MARTIE You do not want to miss it. We talk about growing up surrounded by Italian, Cajun, and French cooking; ideas for how to use those fresh summer vegetables; and her favorite rock bands. Her husband, musician John Cusimano, joins us as well and we had a blast.
Subscribe to the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. And let us know what you think. Please rate this podcast and leave us a review if you get a chance. I’d really appreciate it.
And don’t forget, just like Duff said, you can find thousands of recipes, meal ideas, and cooking how-to’s from the world’s largest community of cooks at Allrecipes.com. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
This podcast was recorded in Birmingham, edited in Atlanta, and can be found wherever you get your podcasts.
Homemade is produced by Allrecipes with Executive Editor Jason Burnett. Thanks to our Pod People production team: Rachael King, Eliza Lambert, Tanya Ott, and Maya Kroth.
Thanks for listening! I’m Martie Duncan, and this is Homemade.