Search This Blog

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Caught up in a web of chocolate


We went out with Victor's sister and her husband last night to celebrate her birthday, so we wanted to bring a cake with us for dessert.  This is a chocolate cake with a whipped cream filling and covered with melted dark and white chocolate. 

I used Cool Whip for the filling rather than making my own whipped cream.    The concept came from a book I have entitled "The Essential Guide to Cake Decorating Guide" although my mom had made a similar cake for me when I was young.  When my mom made it, she used white icing with a chocolate web.  

The recipe in the book leaves the sides of the cake unfrosted, but I was unfortunately a little sloppy with the Cool Whip while filling the cake, so I had to do something on the sides to try to cover that up.   I was really happy with the top of the cake but the sides didn't look great.... I also think I may have messed up a little with the dark chocolate.  The recipe called for 2 oz of butter and 2 oz of dark chocolate.  I figured, a cup is 8 ounces, so 2 ounces would be essentially 2 tablespoons?  And since I have a block of chocolate, I just sort of eyeballed what I thought 2 ounces looked like.  However, when it was all melted in the sauce pan, it tasted too buttery to me, so I added some more chocolate.   Anyway, listed below is the recipe from the book, but feel free to improvise as I did. 

Victor did the dragging of the skewer through the chocolate to make the spider web effect.  I think he did a really nice job. 

For the melted dark chocolate: 
Melt 2 ounces of butter and 2 ounces of dark chocolate over a low heat until melted.  Remove from heat and let cool (somewhat).   

For the white chocolate (2 ounces): 
Place white chocolate in a small heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water until melted.   Remove from heat and leave to cool slightly.  Spoon the melted chocolate into a small piping bag.  Snip off the tip and pipe a small circle in the center of the cake.  Pipe another circle around it and then carry on until you have covered the top of the cake.   Before the chocolate sets, drag a skewer and repeat this process, making lines evenly spaced and working around the cake.  

After the cake was all assembled, I put it in the refrigerator to firm it all up which helped the chocolate set.   Given the Cool Whip filling, I would recommend storing any left over portions in the fridge as well. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Unintentionally crunchy Pumpkin Cake


When we carved the pumpkins, I thought I was going to be able to make pumpkin puree from what we scooped out of the insides. Turns out that pumpkin puree which is used in pumpkin pie, bread, cake, etc is actually from the inner walls of the pumpkin shell and needs to be roasted first. Since my pumpkin is a jack o lantern on display, I cannot roast and scoop him. So to make some pumpkin sweets, I went the old fashioned route of buying a can of Libby's Canned Pumpkin.

This cake was very moist and delicious but had a strange unintentional occasional gritty crunch. I think the crunch was being caused by sugar crystals that were not fully dissolved.  Given my past experiences of cakes not rising due to what I assume was my over beating of the batter, I was conservative on the beating step.  This may have resulted in the sugar not being given ample opportunity to really merge with the other ingredients. 

from www.cooks.com
Auntie's Pumpkin Spice Cake
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs (I only had 3, so I went with that)
2 cups pumpkin pie filling
1 cup applesauce (or oil for the traditionalists)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

Mix together dry ingredients. Add eggs, pumpkin and applesauce (or oil if using oil). Blend in nuts. **Grease and flour 2 9 inch pans. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

**I actually used a bundt pan, so my bake time ended up being 45 minutes....but I went with 30 minutes originally and then kept checking every 5 minutes after that.

The recipe was listed with a cream cheese frosting but we just went with Cool Whip again for the topping.

More gingerbread goodness

Unfortunately, we ate this whole cake and failed to take a photo. But it was really tasty and easy to make so I am posting the recipe anyway. I got the recipe from www.cooks.com and then substituted applesauce for the oil. We served it with Cool Whip and it was quite delicious.

Gingerbread Cake
1 cup applesauce (or oil)
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
3 eggs beaten
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnomon
3 cups flour
1/3 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients in large bowl. Place 3 teaspoons of baking soda in 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Immediately add to batter. Mix well. Pour into 9x13 inch pan (I used some olive oil spray on the pan). Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes at 325 degrees. Serve with vanilla ice cream or Cool Whip (do not use icing).

Carving Cravings



This may be a little off the baking topic, but I haven't carved a pumpkin in years. Last year I decided I wanted to carve one but I was traveling for work every week and never found the time. So, this year I bought two pumpkins so Victor and I could each carve one. It was fun and we were happy with the results but we probably pushed our pending carpal tunnel syndrome up a few years! Guess who did which pumpkin....

Actually, there was some baking involved in this effort. We saved the seeds that we scooped out from inside the pumpkin and roasted them in the oven with a little salt. Roasted pumpkin seeds are high in protein and fiber!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Come in for a bite...



Now that the air has turned a little bit crisper, it's time for gingerbread! I am also up to the letter G in my A to Z cookie quest, so it all worked out nicely.

Building a gingerbread house is a unique process. It's fun to put the concept together, work out the design, purchase all the accents, do the baking, assemble and then surprise yourself that it's actually staying together. Then after it's all completed, the question is: now what? How long to leave it on display? Do we eat it or give it away?

As is typical of all my projects, I had a few shaky moments. The right side roof started to bow inward when I was decorating. After baking, I had put all the pieces back in the oven for a while at 200 degrees to make them really dry and hard...but that last piece of roof only really got 1 hr in the oven and it remained a tiny bit soft. To make this bowing less obvious, I put the ghost peeps on the roof, cutting them so that they appear to be popping through the roof. That's the beauty of the gingerbread house: creativity in decorating can cover most problems.

There are a ton of gingerbread recipes out there, some more complicated than others. I saw some with eggs, some with whipping cream...I used a recipe from Cooks.com which worked out pretty well for me. I made 1.5 batches for the house you see above. I ended up having to do the front wall 2xs (the first one collapsed me when trying to get it off the baking sheet), so it's helpful to have a little extra.

Gingerbread recipe for Gingerbread House (http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,173,156176-249195,00.html)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar (I always buy dark)
1/2 cup molasses (I like Grandma's Dark Molasses)
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup water

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in molasses. Blend all dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Alternately blend dry ingredients and water into the butter/sugar mixture. The dough will become too stiff for the electric mixer, so the final addition of dry ingredients will need to be blended in by hand. Work dough until smooth in consistency.

When dough is easy to work with, you can roll it out. If you refrigerate the dough (as I did), give it 3 hrs to come to room temp so it can be easily rolled out.

You can either create your own house template using cardboard, or you can download one from the internet. I got my template from www.kingarthurflour.com.

Key step to make sure your gingerbread is sturdy enough to assemble:
After baking, leave pieces in the oven for about 4 hours (or over night) at 200 degrees. This will make the pieces solid and dry (like bricks).


Sunday, September 14, 2008

A treat from the soft coral capital of the world!

For the letter F, we have Fijian Cookies. These cookies are your basic ice box cookie (refrigerate the dough and then slice it down) which are always pretty low maintenance. Reading the recipe, it seemed very exotic: cream cheese, orange juice and coconut! Mmmm....They were good but the flavors mentioned were not as strong as anticipated once the cookie was baked.

Can you hear me now???

Ahhh...here we go: actual Elephant Ears! As stated previously, Elephant Ears are also known as Palmiers which is a French pastry/cookie. These are extremely easy to make if you use prepared pastry dough; if making pastry dough from scratch, a bit more complicated. I used Pillsbury's Recipe Creations (http://www.pillsbury.com/products/rolls/Refrigerated/RecipeCreations.htm) dough found in your local market right next to the Pillsbury Refridgerated Crescent Rolls. Two rolls of pastry dough come in the package. Just roll out the dough, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Roll the dough in from each side so that it meets in the center, resulting in a log. Slice the roll down into 1/2 inch slices. Places the slices on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 325 degrees. Cool on rack.

The Phyllo experiment

Back to my Cookies A to Z effort.....
For the letter E, I decided to make Elephant Ears, also know as Palmiers...but since I am going with the letter E, I will call them Elephant Ears here. After reading some recipes which called for pastry dough, I thought Phyllo dough would work...which doesn't make sense since phyllo doesn't rise at all. Anway, I unrolled some phyllo, spread some cinnamon sugar over it, rolled it, cut it down and brushed some melted butter on the top. I baked this contraption for about 15 minutes at about 350 degrees. What you see about was the result. It was tasty I guess, although extremely sweet, but not really what I was going for at all.

We all scream for gum free ice cream!

Dreyer's Ice Cream (aka Edy's on the east coast) had a banana walnut flavor this past summer. It was quite tasty, so we bought it often, especially when it was on sale. When not on sale it was $4.99 per 1.75 quarts which got reduced to 1.5 quarts by the end of the summer (the old, 'don't change the price but just put less in' trick that many companies such as Frito Lay and Wrigley's Gum also employed this summer). In addition to the price, I was a little concerned about eating too much due to all those ingredients listed on the carton which I am unable to pronounce. What are all of those gums?? I am sure they are added not only for "mouth feel" as they call it, but also to help ensure the ice cream does not lose it's creaminess while in transit from manufacturer to supplier to Ralph's Market. But what are these gums doing to my insides? If you make homemade ice cream, it's just fruit, cream and sugar...and none of those things are evil, right?

When I saw Cuisinart ice cream makers on sale over 4th of July weekend for $50, it seemed to make sense to get one. If we use it 10 times, it's basically paid for itself! We immediately made some lime sherbert using the recipe that came with the maker. It was tasty but a bit tart. Next time, I will cut back on the lime juice added. The next ice cream we made was banana walnut. The flavor was so good...like fresh bananas which makes sense because we USED fresh bananas! I made some to accompany Victor's Tres Leche birthday cake. The picture above really does not do the flavor any justice. In short, if you like ice cream, buy an ice cream maker. It's worth it in my humble opinion.

Banana Walnut Ice Cream (from Ice Cream Recipes )

3/4 pint milk or cream
4 oz sugar
3 ripe bananas (to puree)
Finely chopped walnuts (to taste...I probably used about 1/2 cup)

Puree bananas (we used our blender to do this). Add milk/cream and sugar. Transfer to ice maker and follow manufacturer directions. We let ours churn the ice cream for 20 minutes, adding the walnuts in the last 3 minutes of the cycle.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Third time's a charm!



The cake part of the Tres Leche cake finally turned out! The recipe called for a 9 inch springform pan. I only had a 10 inch springform which I was afraid to use for fear of another cake with no height. So, I used a regular 8 inch non-stick cake pan. This cake rose so much, that I was afraid it was going to drip over the pan on to the bottom of the oven or rise until it hit the heating elements on the roof of the oven. It did neither but it did rise enough to look like a giant popup muffin! Anyway, you want a light airy cake for this recipe so that the three milk concoction can be appropriately soaked up. Due to the "popover" appearance of my cake, it was necessary for me to do some trimming around the edges providing us with some cake tasting samples...also a good thing since this was the first time I made this specific sponge cake recipe and planned to serve it guests.

The cake is going to be drenched/oversaturated in the milk mixture. I included the first picture above (prior to frosting), to illustrate that it is necessary to use a little bit of a deep serving dish as the milk mixture will pool a little at the bottom of the cake. Oh, and I added a tiny bit of cinnamon to the milk mixture as well. When Victor and I had this cake at La Seranato on Pico Blvd here in LA, there seemed to be a hint of cinnamon which I liked.

Tres Leches from AllRecipes.com

1 cup of white sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
1 pint heavy whipping cream

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour bottom of 9 inch springform pan.
Beat egg yolk with 3/4 cup of sugar until light in color and double in volume. Stir in milk, vanilla, flour and baking powder.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Beat until firm but not dry. Fold egg white mixture into prepared egg yolk mixture. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 40 - 50 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes.
Loosen the edge of cake from pan before removing cake from pan (or removing sides of pan if using a springform). Cool cake completely.
Transfer cake to a serving plate which has some depth. Using a 2 prong meat tester or fork, pierce the surface of the cake many times, all over.
Mix together condensed milk, evaporated milk, and 1/4 cup of whipping cream. Slowly pour over cake allowing the cake to absorb the mixture. Don't feel obligated to pour all of the mixture over the cake if it seems like too much but do be generous as the cake is meant to be overly saturated with liquid (liquid will be visible around the bottom of the cake). Cover cake and refrigerate. Check the cake in about an hour or so and pour any remaining milk mixture if necessary.
Whip the remaining whipping cream until it reaches spreading consistency and spread over the cake. Feel free to garnish with fresh berries or cherries, etc. Keep cake refrigerated until serving.

I've got the Buttermilk Blues




Actually, I don't have the blues; these turned out pretty well.

After last week's Fluffy Yellow Cake, I had some leftover buttermilk. My "Cookie and Biscuit Bible" by Catherine Atkinson had a recipe entitled Buttermilk Cookies that I thought might be a good way to use it up. Although called "cookies", these were basically just biscuits. As is true for all biscuits, they are best if served warm with a bit of preserves or jam. When I first made them, we ate them fresh from the oven...but since there was no (healthy) way that Victor and I were going to eat 24 biscuits in one sitting, I threw the rest in the freezer. We have been taking them out here and there, warming them up in the toaster oven...and they taste just as good.

Buttermilk Cookies (Cookie and Biscuit Bible, p. 72)

1 1/2 cups of flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup buttermilk

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees and grease baking sheet (I used Olive Oil spray).
Sift the dry ingredients into large bowl. Rub butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Gradually pour in buttermilk, stirring constantly with fork until mixture comes together and forms a soft dough. Roll out dough to about 1/2 inch thick, then stamp out rounds using a biscuit cutter (approx 2 inches but whatever size you want to make them). Place on prepared baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Serve warm or cool to room tempeture.

There's always room for jello cake!

Since I had made 3 terrible cakes in a row (2 Tres Leches attempts and the culinary disaster-piece also known as the flourless chocolate cake), I really needed a baking ego boost.    Another cake that Victor likes is the classic "Jello Poke" cake (poke holes in the cake, pour jello over it and then refrigerate).  I have made this cake successfully multiple times in the past but always with a box cake.    

My inability to make a good scratch cake was really starting to irritate me. I was a mission to find a guaranteed-to-rise scratch cake recipe. I scoured the internet, googling such things "No Fail Scratch Cake" and "Easy Homemade Cake". Finally, I turned to the one source that admitted a good scratch cake is elusive: Cook's Illustrated magazine. I love this magazine because they will make a recipe several different ways in their test kitchen until they get the best results from a reasonable number of steps and easy to find ingredients. They also go into detail on why certain techniques must be used. This is essential for me as I frequently need to be convinced a short cut should not be taken. The March/April 2008 issue contained a recipe called Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake (I can't believe I forgot to try "fluffy" while googling!). I decided I would make that, poke and jello it, and then cover with Cool Whip.  

When making this cake, I did something that I rarely do: I (pretty much) followed the recipe to the letter. If the recipe said transfer to a clean bowl, I transferred; if it said to line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, I did despite the fact I knew my non-stick pan + greasing and flouring the pan would most likely be fine. The place I deviated was not using a stand mixer.     Yes, having one would make life easier, but the $350 price tag is a bit of downer....so I used my $20 Cook's (JC Penny) brand hand mixer. All of the hard work and attention to detail were rewarded by a nice fluffy yellow butter cake. It's then I realized I had no jello...however, I did have some gelatin sheets (can't remember what I had bought them for) and OJ.  I found a recipe on the web (which I modified) to make homemade orange juice jello, poured that over the cake and then (finally) covered with Cool Whip.     The cake you see above may look basic but it is the result of a lot of hard work, research and ingenuity! Luckily it did turn out as this was Victor's actual birthday. Recipes below....

Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake (Cook's Illustrated March/April 2008)

2 and 1/2 cups (10 oz) cake flour + extra for dusting pans
1 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 and 3/4 cups (12.25 oz) sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 and 1/4 sticks), melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, room temp
3 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used applesauce) 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, room temp

1. Adjust rack to middle of oven and heat to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 inch x 2 inch round cake pans and line bottom with parchment paper. Grease paper rounds, dust pans with flour and knock out excess. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, 1 and 1/2 cups sugar together in large bowl.  In 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, oil (or applesauce if you used that as a substitute), vanilla, and yolks. 
2. In clean bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment (I used hand mixer), beat egg whites at medium-high until foamy, about 30 seconds.  With machine running, gradually add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks form, 30-60 seconds (whites should hold peak but mixture should appear moist.  Transfer to bowl and set aside. 
3. Add flour mixture to now-empty mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment.  With mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds.  Stop mixer and scrap whisk and sids of bowl.  Return mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds. 
4. Using rubber spatula, stir 1/3 of whites into batter to lighten, then add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans.  Lightly tap pans against counter 2 to 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.
5. Bake until cake layers begin to pull away from sides of pan and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes.  Cool cakes in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.   Loosen cakes from pan with small knife, then invert onto wire rack and peel off parchment.  Invert cakes again (so the top is now up again) and cool completely on rack about 90 minutes. 

Orange Juice Jello (my recipe....modified from one I found on the web in a food chat room) 

1 and 1/4 cup OJ
4 sheets gelatin (note 4 gelatin sheets = 1 package of Knox powdered gelatin)
6 oz boiling water (1/2 cup + 2 oz)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
Soak gelatin sheets in cold water to allow it to "bloom".  Pour 1/2 cup OJ into heat proof bowl. Add gelatin sheets (remove them from the cold water first) to OJ and let soften for 5 minutes. Don't stir.  Add boiling water, sugar and stir until gelatin and sugar are dissolved.  Cool to lukewarm and then stir in remaining OJ and lemon juice.  Pour over cake (or into bowl if you just want the jello) and refrigerate.

Un pastel de tres denso

A few years ago on Victor's birthday, we bought a Tres Leches cake from a Cuban bakery in Burbank called Porto's (www.portosbakery.com). For those not familiar with Tres Leches, it's a light sponge cake soaked with a combination of 3 different milks: evaporated, condensed and whipping cream topped with either meringue or whipped cream. The cake is kept in the fridge, so it's a nice cold treat on a summer day.

When Victor's birthday was coming up this year, I decided to learn how to make the cake at home. The picture above is my first attempt...or my second. I am not sure as I made this cake twice this same weekend and it turned out exactly the same both times: extremely dense. I even went out and bought new baking powder before the second attempt thinking that my expired in 2006 baking powder just might be an issue...but no, it was the cook's technique which was letting the air out of the cakes! The recipe said to "mix" in the flour to this pretty wet egg/butter/vanilla mixture, so I thought using my electric mixer would be ok.  Turns out this method of combining the wet and dry ingredients seemed to over mix the batter and resulting in my incredible deflating cakes.

Here is a link to the recipe I used (http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Tres-Leche-Milk-Cake/Detail.aspx). I am not posting the recipe since the key to making a successful sponge cake (based on my experience SINCE this cake), in addition to not over beating, is separating the eggs which this recipe does not do. Luckily, this was a practice cake prior to his actual birthday, so I didn't end up ruining his day with this science experiment gone wrong.

Victor and I did eat some of each cake despite the fact it was like slicing into marzipan. I never bothered to put the whip cream topping on it...the 3 milk mixture you pour over the top (to which I sprinkled in a little cinnamon) was so tasty that we basically used this "cake" as an excuse to eat the soaking mixture.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Flourless, Tasteless and Wet Chocolate Cake for the Gluten Free Crowd



Grrrr...this was a disaster. I wanted to make a flourless chocolate cake for my boss' birthday since she has a wheat allergy. I found a recipe on Allrecipes.com that looked promising although I was a little nervous about the steam bath cooking method. Sadly, I also attempted making this the day after our wine tasting. Although I was not hung over, I didn't get to bed until about 2:30 am and then got up at 8 am so we could make a 9:30 am screening of The Dark Knight. When I finally settled down to start this cake, my eyes were already starting to close again and my head a bit fuzzy...which should explain the huge mis-read I made when it came to the key ingredient in the cake. The recipe called for 18 (1 oz) squares of chocolate (presumably the Baker's squares). I was working from a big hunk of chocolate, I just went with the number of ounces which I read as 1 oz. In reality, I should have used 18 oz of chocolate (i.e. 18 - 1 oz squares). So, my "rich, chocolate" cake had about 5% of the amount of chocolate it was supposed to have...and that steam bath cooking method? The water leaked into the springform despite me wrapping the whole pan in tin foil. What is the light, coffee-colored goo at the bottom of the cake in this picture? I have no idea...maybe like baked egg with a light cocoa flavor? Anyway, here is the recipe if anyone wants to attempt it. I am pretty sure I will never try this one again....I just read the recipe AGAIN and noticed a step I hadn't previously seen before: chill cake overnight! Oh well, I doubt that would have saved a cake missing 95% of the key flavoring ingredient.

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Flourless-Chocolate-Cake-I/Detail.aspx:
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white sugar
18 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
6 eggs

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Grease one 10 inch round cake pan and set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water, salt and sugar. Stir until completely dissolved and set aside.
Either in the top half of a double boiler or in a microwave oven melt the bittersweet chocolate. Pour the chocolate into the bowl of an electric mixer.
Cut the butter into pieces and beat the butter into the chocolate, 1 piece at a time. Beat in the hot sugar-water. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Have a pan larger than the cake pan ready, put the cake pan in the larger pan and fill the pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the cake pan.
Bake cake in the water bath at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 45 minutes. The center will still look wet. Chill cake overnight in the pan. To unmold, dip the bottom of the cake pan in hot water for 10 seconds and invert onto a serving plate.

Perfection!



This is a lemon cake I made for a wine tasting party that Victor and I held a few weeks ago. My luck with the scratch cakes (with the exception being the Sour Cream Coffee Cake) is hit or miss. I didn't want want to risk making a crappy, dense, flat cake for our party, so I made a box cake. As with all box cakes that I make, I substituted applesauce for the oil and "greased" the pan with olive oil spray rather butter or shortening. Both of these substitutions have never failed for me...and I think I actually prefer the cakes with the applesauce. They always seem moister to me than those made with oil. Since this was a wine tasting and people would be drinking wine and snacking on cheese and crackers, I didn't want to go with a heavy, super sweet icing on top of the cake. This glace icing is the same icing I use on top of the rolled/decorated sugar cookies...it, like the applesauce substitution, is another "no fail" move. The cake was just the right amount of sweet after all that wine.

Two (successful) experiments rolled into one chocolatey goodness...


Technically, in my cookies A to Z quest, I am currently on the letter E.   I have an E cookie planned but I was easily distracted, wanted to do some experimenting and ended up with another cookie which started with the letter C.   I could have lied and called these the "Everybody Loves Chocolate Shortbread" cookie or "Everyday Shortbread", etc but really, who wins in that situation?  So, Chocolate Shortbread...Victor bought me a cookie gun back in April that I was anxious to check out, I wanted to experiment with using some pressed dutch cocoa and I was wondering how to make a nice crumbly shortbread. The key to the crumbly shortbread feel it turns out is baking the cookies at 250 degrees for 45 minutes rather than the usual cookie heat/time of 325 degrees for 10 minutes.  These cookies, while maintaining the dry shortbread crumb were somehow fudgey at the same time.   The cookie gun performed splendidly as you can tell from the picture above.    The recipe is from www.astray.com/recipes (which cites 365 Great Chocolate Deserts). 

2 sticks of unsalted butter softened slightly
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 Unsweetened cocoa powder
dash salt

In medium bowl, beat together butter and sugar on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Add flour cocoa and salt.  Beat on medium until dough comes together about 2 to 3 min.   The recipes calls for the cookies to be rolled out on a floured board at this point, but I added to the cookie gun and just pressed out some shapes.  Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Refrigerate 1 hour if time allows.   Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees F.  Bake cookies 45 min or until firm.  Let cookies cool on pans 5 min then remove to rack completely.  Note that the low cooking temp is critical to the success of these cookies, so do not deviate on that aspect. 




Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I believe the children are our future, teach them to cook well and let them lead the way



My friends had their baby...a beautiful baby girl who is incredibly sweet, cuddly and adorable. I wanted to bring something with me to the hospital to say congrats. I recently heard on NPR that Los Angeles SoCal Edison are trying to ban those metallic balloons since they cause power outages when one hits an overhead power line....therefore I couldn't buy a bunch of those: I don't want to be responsible for even one non-functioning traffic light in LA! I had read online a bunch of new mother's discussing that while nursing they:
1. had the metabolism of a teenage boy
2. had to learn how to eat with one hand
3. craved chocolate chip cookies

Perfect! I like making cookies AND apparently new mothers like eating them (with little to no effect on their waistline). So, I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Although a pretty common recipe, there are some slight variations out there that provide subtle taste differences. The variation I used is as follows...it's basically the toll house recipe with a few tweaks.

Chocolate Chip Cookies (including KR tweaks)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla (I used Mexican vanilla)
2 1/4 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 bag of semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Cream the butter. Add the white and brown sugars and beat until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in eggs, one at a time, making sure to beat well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture gradually and beat until well mixed. Stir in chocolate chips. Refrigerate until firm. Drop onto cookie sheet and back 10-12 min.

Monday, July 14, 2008

88 bottles of beer on the wall...




My grandmom turned 88 this month, so I made her some sugar cookies to help keep her sweet ;) I used the same recipe that I had used for the heart cut outs but switched it up on the shapes. The rockets were heartiest of the cookies (i.e., no breakage while handling) although the palm trees were pretty cool looking. The cut out for the Pac-Man ghosts is actually a fondant cutter to make tulips...but since this is not a cake I can draw a stem on, they had to stand alone. Once I started decorating, it struck me that they looked like the Pac-Man ghosts.

The rolled out and decorated cookies always look nice when complete, but be prepared for a multi-day commitment. Let the cookies cool overnight before decorating. Once decorated, they must sit overnight again to ensure the icing is completely dry. Victor helped me with the decorating; he did a particularly super job on the rockets.

The Coffee Cake challenge



Technically there was no overt "challenge" issued in this coffee cake challenge but, the gauntlet was definitely thrown albeit in a genteel "there is coffee cake in the kitchen" sort of way. Let me back up...one of Victor's co-workers brought a coffee cake in work that she made from a box cake. So, he emails me at work during the day about this cake, how good it was, etc. Hmmm...I wasn't sure how to interpret this news. Was the message, "hey, I know you make your little cakes and they're ok, but my co-worker made a really good cake that you might want to check out?" Or was it more, "hey, my co-worker made this coffee cake...how come you haven't made a coffee cake yet?" I went with the latter interpretation and considered myself served! I called up my mom to get her killer Sour Cream Coffee cake recipe and was off to the market. True to form, while shopping, I misinterpreted some of the ingredients and only bought an 8 oz container of sour cream. I knew the recipe called for a pint of sour cream, but late in the day on Friday, I simply forgot how many ounces were in a pint. I know it's a pretty basic thing to remember but, you know, sometimes after lunch, usually in the 4pm hour, my brain grows weary. Anyway, while making the cake, I looked upon my sour cream shortage as an additional bonus round challenge to see if I could still pull off a decent cake which I did (yes, I was proud of this one). Oh, and while mixing up the batter, I lost count on the number of cups of flour I had already added, so I think only put in 3 cups BUT it was still good! Below is my very tasty yet bastardized version of my mom's recipe.

*Note that this makes a ton of batter. It was at the top of the bowl by the end....

SOUR CREAM CAKE
1 Cup sugar
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
9 Tbsp. nuts
Mix and keep aside.

4 Eggs
4 Cups flour (I used 3)
1 Pint sour cream (I used 1 8 oz container of fat free sour cream and 8 oz of applesauce)
1 Cup butter (8oz) soft
2 Cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda

Cream butter & add sugar & vanilla, add salt & eggs. Beat at high speed. Add flour & baking soda. Add flour and sour cream alternately at low speed. Then beat approximately 1 minute at high speed. Shut off.

Grease pan.

Pour half of batter in pan, sprinkle half of cinnamon mixture onto batter. Add remainder of batter and remainder of cinnamon mixture. Cut through with a knife.

Bake at 350 for about 50-60 minutes.

Monday, June 9, 2008

When you get handed lemons....



I signed up for another 8 weeks of cake decorating but unfortunately the class was canceled....but I want to improve so I am going to keep on truckin'. Although I was learning alot of decorating techniques, I was growing weary of cakes with buttercream icing. Since the choice of cake and decorating is now mine, my plan is to scale back a bit on the decorating and concentrate on my baking techniques.

I decided to make a white jello poke cake from scratch. This cake was a white cake recipe taken from a cupcake recipe book I have (A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes by Dede Wilson).
Unfortunately, I wasn't making cupcakes. I wanted to make rectangular jello poke cake....so I figured I would just follow the cupcake recipe and pour into a 9x13 pan. I figured this plan would work since a box cake allows you to make 2 9-inch cakes, 1 9x13 cake or 24 cupcakes. What I didn't realize until I was pouring the batter into the pan was that this recipe only made 18 cupcakes. Grrr...that meant I didn't really have enough batter to make decent sized cake. But I am not easily deterred! I simply baked my barely there cake into a nice flat mini-cake. Once cool and out of the pan, I made the jello, poked the cake and poured the jello over the cake. Chilled that for a few hours while I pondered my next cake recovery move...I decided to cut the flat cake into 3 strips and then layered them with some whip cream in between each layer. As is typical with my desserts, it tasted good but was not very visually appealing (which you can verify for yourself by the photo above). It looks more like some sort of hero sandwich than a cake.

A Date with Destiny



Back to the A to Z cookie effort.....Date and Walnut cookies. The cookies bake up a bit cake-like and are quite tasty. It's an easy recipe but requires a lot of nut and date chopping. My poor pre-arthritic hands...but luckily I could console my aches and pains with a tasty date and walnut cookie at the end of my efforts.

From Cooks.com:

DATE COOKIES
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc)
1/2 cup butter
2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped dates
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat eggs in a separate bowl, then add to butter and sugar mixture. Stir.

Dissolve baking soda in 1 teaspoon very hot water. Add dissolved soda, dates, vanilla and nuts, stirring well. Finally, add flour and mix until well combined, about 45 seconds on medium speed of an electric mixer (or beat with a wooden spoon).

Drop onto ungreased cookie pans, parchment paper or silicone baking sheets. Bake at 350°F until cookies are lightly browned on edges, about 12 minutes.

Tee for two...



Since my cake decorating class is currently on hiatus, I wanted to see if I could challenge myself to come up with a cake design on my own for let's say, a golf tournament (Victor is holding a golf tournament in October). I made a yellow cake with the standard buttercream icing and a shit-load of green food coloring! The sand traps were made from ground up sugar cones. The "hills" were created by placing a cupcake on top of the cake and then building up an icing "hill" around it.

One issue I have with this cake is all the food coloring...but when you make a golf cake, pretty much everything ends up some shade of green.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

No, that's not Velveeta



*For cake decorating class.

The Teapot cake was my first foray into fondant. On the one hand, fondant is easy because you are just rolling it out with a rolling pin, placing it on top of the cake and then cutting away any excess. On the other hand, there are a lot of small "gotchas" such as:
- Fondant can be very sticky. When rolling out, be sure to have some extra powdered sugar on hand to keep both your surface and rolling pin dry. Note that some sites recommend using corn starch to keep the surface and pin dry but when making a decision, consider what is going to taste better to those eating the cake.
- Fondant can be very heavy. It is necessary to cover the cake with a "tacky" substance in order to get the rolled fondant to adhere to the cake surface. Our teacher had recommended a piping gel to use as an adhesive but it looked like vaseline which turned me off. I created an apricot glaze (few tablespoons of apricot jam and water boiled together to create a glaze) which was brushed over the cake prior to placing the fondant on top.
- Fondant is colored by placing a few drops of color gel onto a piece of rolled fondant and then kneading it in. This takes some time and some strong hands hence why this cake has only 2 colors. I predict my future fondant cakes will also be limited to one or two colors due to waning strength in my poor aging hands.

The morning after this picture was taken, the fondant had slid off the cake and was crumpled up like a cheap discarded suit.

The teapot's handle is a piece of a pretzel and the spout is a sugar cone (yes, that is a "Don't Mess with Texas" shot glass supporting the pretzel handle). All accents were done in royal icing. When it was all said and done, the fondant only remained on the sugar cone. So, clearly, I need a little more practice with medium. While ready made fondant can be purchased, I made my own because it has a better taste. The fondant recipe I used called for things like liquid glucose and glycerine, which are not exactly ingredients that one typically has in the cupboard. I am going to make marshmallow fondant for my next attempt (http://whatscookingamerica.net/PegW/Fondant.htm) and use buttercream as my adhesive. I'll keep you posted on my results.

To boldly go where no cake has gone before



This is a triple chocolate cake with a standard buttercream icing that was made for a friend's birthday. Obviously, the friend is Star Trek fan...otherwise this design would have been an odd choice, no? Victor and I found a picture of the Star Trek insignia from the upcoming J.J. Abrams movie (scheduled for release May 2009) as a guide. I used a star tip (16 and 18) to do the yellow and black inside the insignia and then tip 48 to line it. A shell border was done around the perimeter of the cake using tip 22 with some yellow star accents between each shell (also tip 22). Victor did the lettering as anyone familiar with my handwriting can attest, it leaves a lot to be desired whether done in ink or buttercream...which is fine if you are going for that "I wrote this while intoxicated look", but for reasons unknown to me, that is not popular on birthday cakes.

Victor had a really good idea about lining the sides of the cake to look like the sleeves of the Star Trek crews' shirts but, sadly we ran out of icing...

A tisket, a tasket, a chocolate buttercream basket...


*For cake decorating class.

The basket of flowers cake was a french vanilla cake with a chocolate buttercream icing. Although this was first time I had made chocolate buttercream, it turned out well (so unusual for a first attempt!). To make the basket weave easier to see, the chocolate is actually two-toned (some chocolate brown food gel was added to a portion of the chocolate buttercream). Tips 47 and 48 were used on the basket weave. The rope border was done with tip 22. All flowers were from royal icing a few days prior.

The most time consuming part of this cake was making the flowers. If short on time, the flowers could be simply be made from buttercream at the same time the basket weave is being done....but the royal icing flowers hold up a little better.

The green leaves on the top of the cake were added last and done with tip 352; the leaves are buttercream. I should mention, the leaves were the downfall of this particular cake. I ran out of fresh buttercream, so I used some old stuff I had in the fridge. What's the big deal? it's just a few leaves, right? Well....even while piping the leaves on, I was picking up on some peculiar scent. Turns out the milk in that buttercream was starting to turn. After taking some photos, we had to throw the cake away. Yes, it sounds wasteful, but I couldn't risk making anyone sick.

The leaning tower of wedding cake


*For cake decorating class.

Ahhh...the wedding cake; where to start? It's a German Chocolate cake with buttercream icing and royal icing accents (butterfly, swans and lace). A 10 inch pan was used for the bottom tier and 6 inch for the top. This cake was very moist and delicious but visually was not worthy of much of a public outing.

I had high hopes for the wedding cake. The royal icing accents made ahead of time turned out pretty well. Things started to go off kilter right from baking step for the second tier. While baking, the 6 inch tier rose with an extreme slant on top. The cake was "leveled" prior to icing it...but I use that term lightly since once the cake was assembled, the top tier still had a scary slope to it. Due to Victor's brilliant photography, the slope is not that apparent in this photo. The slope wasn't as visible when the 2 tiers were NOT assembled...so, we took the cake apart and served to 2 different audiences! Voila!

Anyway, the lesson learned here was, the act of "leveling" really means making the cakes level...not just trimming some cake off the top for snacking.

Welcome to the jungle, baby Blixa!



This cake was made for a friend's baby shower. It is a mango cake with buttercream icing. I was a little disappointed in the actual cake itself: the mango flavor was a little too subtle and it was a bit dry. As for the decorations, I stuck with a simple design as to not overwhelm folks with food coloring. The baby feet were done with a small star tip. The drop flowers were done with tip 224. The border is C-scroll done with tip 22.

I considered asking Victor do the writing as his handwriting is much better than mine, but as this was for a close friend, I wanted it to be 100% my creation. Truth be told, there was also a bit of little tension between Victor and I during both the decorating of this cake. The tension was the result of feedback being provided what "could have been done" after something had already been completed. Input is always welcome during the creative process but is more helpful during the design phase than actual implementation. I was already stressed as this was my first cake for an actual event, so the Monday morning quarterbacking was ill timed.

The cookie pops in front of the cake are oatmeal cookies with dark chocolate M&Ms (which are heavenly). The pops were given out as shower favors and are described in more detail in the post entitled, "Hey Baby, wanna cookie?".

Molasses and Macaroons



And for the letter C.....

These cookies were made for Victor's mom's birthday. They are Chocolate Chip Molasses and Coconut Macaroons.

At our last Christmas party, Victor's sister brought the most amazing ginger cookies with chocolate chips in them. After polishing them off, I thought about these cookies frequently; my goal was to make them myself. Of course, asking her for the recipe would have been one way to guarantee that I made the actual same cookie. Instead, I scoured the internet for something that seemed similar. I found a molasses chocolate chip recipe that I thought would yield the cookie sought. But ginger does not equal molasses and therefore the resulting cookies, while very tasty and also highly recommended, were no where near the cookie I set out to make.

In Europe, the macaroon cookie is made from powdered almonds. Per Wikipedia, the macaroon actually originated in Italy but then was later passed onto the Jewish community in France, hence why they are mainly associated with French bakeries . The North America macaroon is a bit different. It comprised of coconut, sugar and egg whites and is generally a Passover sweet treat since they are unleavened. I tend to make some North American macaroons in the spring as the markets typically put coconut on sale around this time. I used a new recipe this year which, while tasty, was a bit too wet which resulted in the cookies spreading out more than usual.


Here is the Wikipedia link for more interesting information about macaroons:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macaroon

Here is a link to Paulette, a French bakery in Los Angeles which specializes in macaroons made from powdered almonds:
http://www.paulettemacarons.com/go/welcome.htm

I'm the belle of the ball!


*For cake decorating class.

The doll cake was a strawberry cake with a buttercream icing. As this is a fairly girly cake, strawberry (and therefore pink) cake seemed appropriate. So it's pretty on the inside as well....

To achieve the whole upside down triangle necessary our lady's skirt, the Wilton Wonder Mold pan was used. The doll actually comes in the Wonder Mold cake pan box. While the directions with the Wonder mold only instruct on how to make the doll cake, at my local cake decorating store (i.e. Gloria's), I found some instructions on how to use the Wonder Mold pan to make a sombrero, beehive, football, Christmas tree, etc. If you are not lucky enough to have a cake decorating supply store near you, I am sure you could find additional Wonder Mold cake instructions on the old internet.

The ruffles on the skirt are the real magic on this particular cake. The twist is that the ruffles are so easy to do: the tips (060 and 070) do the work for you! The bodice and upper part of the skirt were with a star tip. Drop flower accents were done with tip 224.

Yoda under the baby blankey


*For cake decorating class.

The baby blanket cake was a vanilla cake with buttercream icing. The cake is decorated in such a way that it appears that the blanket has been pulled up over the sleeping baby just leaving his head sticking out. In reality, there is nothing "under" the blanket. The body under the blanket look is simply achieved by a shaping a mound of icing for the body and then placing a plastic baby head on top. I hope I did not destroy the magic with that reveal....

The hard part ended up being finding a plastic baby head. Victor and I went to a number of stores but to no avail...and having to go to more than one store for anything in LA traffic is a tall order! We finally decided to just make a head out of sugar paste. Making the head, however, brought forth it's own challenge: achieving a realistic skin tone. Ok, that last challenge was more theoretical as we didn't even try to make a human baby head. Instead, we made a Yoda head..or something that was supposed to be Yoda....although he really did have a Homer Simpson like mouth.

Oh, those Irish eyes are smiling!


*For cake decorating class.

The Shamrock cake was banana cake with buttercream icing. I baked a 9x13 inch cake and then cut out the shape of the shamrock using a paper stencil given to us in our class. A cool thing about this cake is that we added 3 borders:
- one around the bottom perimeter using tip 47
- one ruffle around the top (green and white) using tip 88
- one zigzag (dark green) on top inside the ruffle using tip 48

There were 2 main concepts we were trying to master with this lesson:
- cutting the cake into shapes (and icing it without an overabundance of crumbs!)
- "striping" the pastry bag so that the icing comes out two-toned.

The striping is evident in the wild Irish roses on top as well as the top ruffle border. One thing to be mindful of when adding the top ruffle border is to really secure it to the top of the cake. I piped mainly around the cake's edge and parts of my border ended up falling off (although I repaired it for the photo of course!).

MORE easter goodness: The panoramic egg




After making the Easter basket out of royal icing, I was inspired to make a more traditional panoramic egg...one that was sort of sparkly from the granulated sugar and looked like one that my Grandmom had when I was young. I found some directions on the internet (https//www.cakesbyjan.com/panoeggs2.htm).

This was much easier and less time consuming than the royal icing basket made previously. For the actual egg part, you just need an egg mold, granulated (table) sugar, a few drops of water and 15 minutes...that's it! All of the accent decorations and bunnies were done in royal icing. If you look closely you will see that the bunny's face is a bit off...hence why no close-ups of the egg interior.

The cross-eyed bunny cake



*For cake decorating class.

The bunny cake was really easy to make. It was a marble cake with vanilla buttercream icing. The cake is just one 8 inch cake cut in half. The two halves were then stood side by side (with a little icing in between to hold them together). The ears were a Twinkie cut in half. The whole thing was iced with a 22 tip done in swirls except for the pink on the ears and tongue. Basic stars were done with tip 18 . The final touches were pink jelly beans for eyes, some dry angel hair pasta dyed brown, and some black decorating gel (for the pupils). Easy to make but a great presentation!

Easter goodness



*For cake decorating class.

This was supposed to be a panoramic egg. Our teacher had recommended that we buy an egg mold to cover in royal icing. Victor picked up an egg mold pan (it's like a cupcake pan with 12 little egg molds) for me that we thought would work, but....I couldn't use it. I needed to be able to cover the outside of the egg mold with wax paper and then pipe the royal icing over that. When the icing is dry, the wax paper is carefully removed. With my egg mold pan, I wasn't able to secure the wax paper to the egg. One of the only other things I had with me at class was a breakfast bowl. So, I covered that with wax paper and started piping a zig-zag pattern using tip 22.

This was the first time I worked with royal icing. It is quite temperamental. No hint of plastic can touch the icing without making it breakdown. I always work with reusable pastry bags which seem to be a cross between canvas and plastic. For royal icing, it is better to use a parchment paper, however, it is pretty hard (for me anyway) to create a pastry bag from parchment. Also, the coupler is plastic, etc, etc. Our teacher had warned us about how easily royal icing breaks down, so I was well prepared for widespread failure. It was actually going pretty well during class; I just needed to get it home to dry. I covered it with my handy cake caddy (ah...plastic...whoops) and headed home. In the short 10 minute, drive, the evils of plastic had destroyed my sweet Easter basket/bowl!

Since this project was scheduled for both the current and the next week, I needed something to take back to class with me the following Monday...so I made a new batch of royal icing and started all over again. This time, since I didn't have to do any transport, I was able to let the basket dry completely. I think it turned out rather well. The bunnies chicks and roses are also made of royal icing. The following week at class we assembled the stuff (basket in my case, eggs for the others in the class), added the grass and put in the roses, bunnies and chicks. This was a lot of work, I was really proud of how it turned out.

The wreath of roses...



*For cake decorating class.

This week, we learned the magical and mythical icing rose...and then made a whole cake around it! This was a classic yellow cake with buttercream icing. Two different types of roses were made: nail roses and on the cake, laying down on the side roses.

My initial roses made on the rose nail looked like little cabbages, but I am slowly getting better. The lay down rose is much easier to make: 1 petal, a backwards S on top of it, and then 2 petals on top to "close it"...trust me, you get a rhythm going. The full nail roses are on the top of the cake with the lay down roses on the vines on the side. Besides learning the rose, the focus of this cake was to learn how to do decorate on the side of a cake. Mission accomplished, I say!

It's all about the pressure control



*For cake decorating class.

This was probably my least favorite cake we made in class. It is supposed to look like an open book. First off, the basics: it's a chocolate cake with buttercream icing.

The standard recipe for buttercream is 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup shortening, 4 cups of icing sugar, a little milk and teaspoon of vanilla. I made the icing for the Sunflower cake using the shortening but I was a little skittish about it. I prefer to use as little ingredients as possible that were made in a laboratory. I had read that there was an organic shortening by a company called Spectrum. I found their Organic Coconut Oil but not the shortening. The coconut oil was in solid form like shortening, so I substituted that in for the shortening while making the icing for this cake. The problem was that the coconut oil "shortening" did not blend smoothly enough and I felt like you were biting into a little chunk of solid coconut oil. The fact that it was organic didn't really make up for the fact that I was biting into solid fat. So there was an issue with the overall feel of this icing.....

Then there is the open book cake design itself. It just turned out a little lame in my opinion. I did not use a "book cake" pan. I just did a 9x13 cake and cut out part of the top to make it look like an open book. Also, I had nothing to write on the cake. "Happy Rainy Winter"??? It was raining that week...but seriously, a cake to memorialize the rain? I just couldn't think of any thing say. I guess I could have written a message to Victor like "Thanks for taking out the trash every day!" or "Please pick up hummus at the store"....but I just wasn't thinking. As evident by the title of this post, the focus of this cake was practicing pressure control while doing "string" work, so "Happy Rainy Winter" with a stick figure woman holding an umbrella fit the bill.

The cake journey begins with a simple sunflower



*For cake decorating class.

This was my first cake for the cake decorating class that I am taking. The class is 8 weeks long and is held at Gloria's Cake and Candy Supply shop in Culver City. Each week, the teacher presents us with a design and directions on technique...but she encourages creativity so we are allowed to venture off the path since after all, it's our cake, right? In this blog, I will differentiate which cakes were made for class so it is clear that while I decorated the cake, chose the colors, etc the overall design was provided to me by our instructor, Helen Rodriguez.

This cake was two 8 inch cakes layered with buttercream icing. Victor and I affectionately call these cakes "The Frisbees" or the "Discus Cakes". The cakes just didn't rise. I have no explanation. This was the first (and incidentally last so far) time I used cake flour rather than self rising flour in the cake. Was the cake flour past it's prime? Maybe. Or did I over beat the batter? Maybe. It's been known to happen. Regardless, this cake ended up being two flat hard-ish cakes with a lot of icing. But the focus is the decorating, right? I thought the sunflowers came out pretty good given it was my first cake decorating effort.

Hey baby, wanna cookie?



NOTE: These cookies are a deviation from the A through Z cookie effort.

These are oatmeal cookie pops with dark chocolate M&Ms. These were made as favors for my friend's baby shower. I think these turned out well for being an 11th hour creation. Let's start at the beginning....

We had planned on cookie pops from the start. I bought a few different cookie cutters to try: a stroller, baby bottle, baby foot and teddy bear. I decided to go for the teddy bears and then ice them the green and purple (the shower colors). Things went awry from the very first batch. The whole cookie pop idea wasn't working on the cutout cookies because the cookie simply was not thick enough. I had placed the stick between the bear's legs (seemed logical), so not only did it look like the bear had a stick up it's butt, there was a lump in the crotch area. So, I scratched the lollipop concept and just made the teddy bears. I iced some of them green and some purple with a simple icing glace that hardens. The colors matched in the invitation, but were less than enticing. Then there was the little issue of hardness. The recipe that I used makes the HARDEST cookies. Once you ice them, they soften up but it takes a few days. The night before the shower, they were still hard as rocks, so I had to go into Kitchen McGyver mode. What have I got? Butter, sugar, oatmeal, M&Ms....and there you have it: Oatmeal cookies with M&Ms. Now, since I was doing basically a drop cookie which is thicker, I could use the sticks I had gotten to make pops.

The teddy bears were finally soft enough to eat when I got home from the shower. They were quite tasty but I couldn't risk someone breaking a tooth.

Why do you wear that stupid bunny suit?



NOTE: These cookies are a deviation from the A through Z cookie effort.

These are a standard sugar cutout cookie with a glace icing (see previous post) and some jimmies and decorettes. I made these for Easter to send to both my family and Victor's. The cookies were good. The recipe used made the cookies puff up more than the recipe used for the heart cookies, but these cookies were soft enough to eat immediately.

I wanted to make some evil looking bunnies as I had just been watching Donnie Darko.

Once more with feeling...



NOTE: Not part of the A through Z cookie effort.

These heart cutouts were a sugar cookie with some orange zest. Some were decorated with tempered semi-sweet chocolate and others with an icing glace. I really enjoyed the ones with the icing! When these cookies first cooled, they were super hard. So hard that you would be worried about breaking your teeth. Some people may have thrown them away right there for fear of hurting their loved ones...but I decided to icing them and see if they softened up. And soften they did! I have made these cookies a few times now and it's always the same: super hard the first 2 days and then they soften up and are quite tasty.

Recipe from The Cookie and Biscuit Bible by Catherine Atkinson.

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
grated rind of orange (or lemon)
pinch of salt
2 2/3 cups of flour

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream butter until soft. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Gradually stir in egg and egg yolk. Add vanilla, rind and salt. Stir to mix well.
Sift flour over the mixture and stir to blend. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in clear plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
On lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough until 1/8 in thick.
Stamp out shapes or rounds with floured cookie cutters and place on a non-stick baking sheet.
Bake for about 8 minutes or until lightly colored.

For the decorating glace (covers 24 cookies):
1 cup icing sugar
a few drops of vanilla
1 tbsp of hot water
food coloring

I typically end up adding another tablespoon of water to the glace as the recipe as is comes out a bit thick.

We're all bananas for bananas



For the letter B, I made banana cookies. These cookies were an oatmeal cookie with mashed bananas. They were a soft cake like cookie. No disasters with the banana cookies...they were tasty, "healthy" (ah, somewhat I suppose) and were eaten up quickly!

Banana Oatmeal Cookies
. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
. 1/2 cup white sugar
. 1/2 cup brown sugar
. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
. 1 teaspoon salt
. 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
. 3/4 cup butter
. 1 egg, beaten
. 1 cup mashed ripe bananas
. 1 3/4 cups rolled oats

DIRECTIONS
. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.
. Cut in butter until almost no lumps remain.
. Stir in the egg and bananas; mix well (I used electric mixer here).
. Finally, stir in the oats. Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for approximately 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are browned. Remove from pans immediately to cool on wire racks.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Starting with A...



In January when I first came up with the idea of starting a blog, I decided to work through the alphabet making cookies. I was just coming out of a joyous holiday baking season was desperately looking for an excuse to continue making cookies. Also, I figured it would get me out of the rut of making the same old cookies every time.

The cookies selected for letter A are Austrian Jam cookies. This is basically a shortbread cookie rolled in chopped almonds. The center is pressed down and bit of jam is placed in the imprint.

Austrian Jam Cookies

1/2 cup butter 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar 2/3 cup chopped almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup strawberry or raspberry jam or preserves
1 egg yolk

*Cream together butter and sugar. Add in vanilla and egg yolk. Continue to mix until light and fluffy. Stir in flour until completely mixed. Roll in ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for approximately 2 hrs.

Pre heat oven to 300 degrees.

Measure out dough in about 1 inch balls. Roll the balls in the chopped almonds and place on cookie sheets. Using your thumb, create an indentation on each cookie. Fill each indentation with jam/preserves using either a teaspoon or pastry bag.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. Remove from pan and cool on rack.

*Note: It is important that the butter and sugar be creamed and the batter light and fluffy prior to adding the flour, otherwise, batter will be very crumbly. My batter was somewhat crumbly, so a bit of milk was added prior to the refrigeration step.