Greener Sweets: ‘Less Impact Cake’ Part 1
That is… on the environment. In light of the “No Impact Man” documentary coming out this month, I have been taking the time to reflect on my own personal impact on the environment. I have always tried to take an eco-friendly approach to my lifestyle, though I must admit, it is not always easy or possible. I’m an avid recycler, support organic or earth-friendly products, use my reusable shopping bags, take public transportation or walk, etc. But mostly, convenience wins. As far as the cake business goes, I always felt that I didn’t have much choice in the way I did things. After all, certain things are “industry standard” or not available in organic form, etc. There were always excuses to be made. However, as I consider more and more, while not practical to put up solar panels on a rental unit, there are other possibilities of decreasing my (and your) impact on the earth as far as this cake thing is concerned.
Use Your Hands
One of the first things I can think of and something I have been doing of late, is mixing cake batter by hand. I know this sounds a little off for someone who is running a business and trying to make some money. However, I just decided one day that it was just easier to mix it up with a wooden spoon. Actually, when I first started baking from scratch as a teenager, I always preferred to mix by hand. The result is that I am never in any danger of overmixing (can be a problem with stand mixers) and I come out with a spectacular cake texture. It really isn’t very much more work and I now totally prefer it. If you have all your ingredients prepared, it’s really a cinch. Now, no one said I was going to whip egg whites stiff by hand. However, if you do have a heavy french whip and your whites at room temperature, it should cut out a lot of the elbow grease needed. One those old-fashioned hand-cranked egg beaters should help tremendously as well. Other things to make by hand: royal icing, American-style frosting
Another big area is to purchase local. Just visiting the farmers’ market more regularly and creating flavors from seasonal fruits would do a lot of good. You could buy local jams and fruit preserves. Butter made from local dairy farms are also available, though a little steep with the price. You could also purchase eggs and milk at the farmers market. That being said, practically all brands of eggs and most milk brands at the supermarket coming to you locally, so look for the “natural”, “cage-free”, or “organic” labels on the eggs and milk. Go for the cardboard carton. My personal favorite brand at the supermarket is Nature’s Yolk, which now does come in a cardboard carton at a lower price. Support great brands like King Arthur flour which is located in Vermont. Of course, remember to bring your reusable bags! If you want to take it to the next level, don’t use those plastic bags to group your produce together.
Buy chocolate from chocolate producers in the US, who buy cacao beans and make it themselves, or buy from a chocolate producer that buys locally in their country, makes the chocolate and then ships it here. I would say, in order to be as green as possible, avoid all European chocolate (I know, I know… their chocolate is some of the best). This is because they must import the beans from mostly Central or South American countries, then produce the chocolate and then ship it to the US. You could try the chocolate from organic beans, but so far, I have not been impressed with the flavor of this chocolate, whether the cacao or the chocolate makers themselves. Below are lists of high-end chocolate brands.
Some American chocolates: Scharffen Berger, Guittard, Amano, Askinosie, Dagoba, Theo, Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Waialua Estate, Ghirardelli
Some Latin American Chocolates: Santander (Colombia), Repulica de Cacao (Ecuador), El Rey (Venezuela), The Grenada Chocolate Company (Grenada), Pacari (Ecuador)
Some African Chocolates: Claudio Corallo (Sao Tome), Madecasse (Madagascar) -Please keep in mind that it is farther to ship from Africa.
Here are popular high-quality European brands (to be avoided): Valrhona, Michel Cluizel, Amedei, Callebaut, Hachez, Green & Black’s Organic, Caffe-Tasse , Mademoiselle de Margaux, Slitti, Cafe d’Or, Milka, Toblerone, Lindt European (they also produce some in the US, so read the labels)
Overall, try to purchase chocolate that is single-origin. That means just one source.
Fondant has become the industry standard, nowadays, in the designer cake world. Everyone loves the the porcelain-like finish on a wedding cake, or the smooth surface on a sculpted cake. However, I’m trying to kindle a return to a more old-fashioned and traditional approach to decoration- buttercream. I want to do different things with buttercream, not being done, to show that we don’t need fondant to be fancy or beautiful. One thing I have learned from this business, and that is that fondant does not look delicious. It looks beautiful, but can never make your mouth water, or your eyes scintillate with that desire to eat, eat, eat! Buttercream and old-fashioned cakes can! When it comes to the environment less is more. Manufactured fondant ingredients, whatever they may be, can’t all be good for the environment. Furthermore, there is the shipping and packaging to consider. So when it comes to being green, fondant isn’t very green. And when it comes to design, many times I find that less is also more. Other potential creative decorating components: royal icing, fruits, nuts, meringue, homemade marzipan and chocolate.
Check back in the coming months for buttercream cakes! In the meantime, I will be working a second part for even more environmentally-friendly ideas.