Friday, November 30, 2007

These are a few of my favorite things

This is one of my favorite things I have made recently...maybe ever:

It's not much to look at, but it tastes fantastic. It's an apple caramel trifle: layers of spice cake, creamy caramel sauce, ginger-cinnamon pastry cream, and caramelized apples cooked down so that they barely held their shape. Topped with whipped cream (of course). It is cakey and creamy and gooey and tastes just like fall. Love.


Ebony and Ivory

Chocolate cupcakes with a chocolate ganache filling, vanilla buttercream, and a tiny marbled sable cookie on top.

As an aside, almost all of the cupcakes I do for the shop are filled. I think it adds another layer of interest to have a complimentary or contrasting filling in a cupcake. (Recent favorites include vanilla cupcakes with a lemon curd filling and lemon-ginger frosting, and apple spice cupcakes with caramel filling and caramel buttercream). Plus, moist fillings keep the cupcakes from getting stale right away, which is no easy task. Dry little buggers. So filling + cupcakes = win.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pumpkin Pie, Shmumpkin Pie

Jason & I enjoyed our first Thanksgiving alone this year, which was seriously fantastic. Since I had to work the day before and the day after, we figured traveling or hosting would be too overwhelming. In addition to the obvious benefits of not having hosting duties (didn't shower till 2pm, yesssss) I was also free to NOT fix the usual Thanksgiving foods. I dislike pretty much all the "traditional" fixings--about the only things I usually enjoy at Thanksgiving are the rolls and the green salad.

No more of that! This year we had grilled salmon, quinoa pilaf, spinach salad with pomegranates, orange, hazelnuts and chevre, and salt-crusted rosemary potatoes. It was very low-maintenance and, best of all, I actually liked eating it. But the best part of throwing tradition out the window was the dessert:

Fudgy Orange-Chocolate Cake with homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Aaaaah! SO good. The cake was dense, slightly gooey, and darkly chocolatey with a citrus aroma and hints of cinnamon and spice. The ice cream was still soft and fragrant with real vanilla bean. I'm usually not a huge vanilla ice cream fan, but it was completely necessary in this dessert to cut the richness of the cake.

Fudgy Orange-Chocolate Cake
Makes one 6" cake

1 stick + 1 tbsp butter
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
zest of one orange
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. For best results, use a 6" cake pan with a removable bottom or a 6" springform pan. Place a round of parchment in the bottom, and spray the entire pan. Wrap two layers of foil around the outside of the pan to prevent water from the water bath from seeping in. Place a 9x9 pan in the oven and fill the pan with 1" of water, allow it to heat while you prepare the cake batter. (I like using a water bath, but you can omit that step and it'll still turn out okay).

Chop the chocolate in small pieces, and melt it with the butter in the microwave. Remove it from the microwave and allow it to cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, and stir in the flour, zest and spices. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate and stir until it's smooth. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the whites until they're stiff but not dry. Fold the whites into the chocolate and stir just until incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Place the pan in the prepared water bath in the oven, being careful not to get any water in the batter. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until set in the center. Remove from the oven and carefully take out of the water bath. Allow the cake to cool for 1 hour, then place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours. The cake is best served at room temperature, so bring it out of the refrigerator an hour before you want to serve it.

Very Vanilla Ice Cream

1 cup sugar
1 cup milk (I use 1%)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1.5 cup cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1 tsp vanilla extract

Begin by slicing the vanilla pod in half lengthwise, and use the edge of a knife to scrape the seeds from the pod. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, vanilla seeds, milk, and 1/2 cup cream. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture simmers and has bubbles at the edges. Add a cup of the milk to the eggs, whisking quickly to avoid cooking the eggs. Pour the eggs back into the saucepan, continuing to whisk so that they do not cook. Add the remaining 1 cup of cream and cook, stirring constantly, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (180 degrees on a candy thermometer).

Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour into a tupperware container and place a layer of cling wrap directly on top of the custard so a skin doesn't form. Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours. Pour the cooled custard into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.


Pancake or Death?

For breakfast on a lazy Thanksgiving morning, we had a Dutch Oven Pancake (also known as a Dutch Baby) with caramelized apples. I have very fond childhood memories of my mom cooking Dutch Oven Pancakes on special occasions; they were too unhealthy (all that butter! All those eggs!) to be an everyday breakfast.

Since Thanksgiving is, by definition, a holiday of excess, I decided Thanksgiving breakfast was the perfect time to indulge in a caloriffic treat.

Caramelized Apple Dutch Oven Pancake

4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
4 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a 10-inch cast iron (or other oven-safe) skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the apples and 1/2 cup sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid is evaporated and the apples caramelize--about 20 minutes. Turn the oven to 400 degrees.

While the apples are cooking, make the batter by whisking together the remaining 2 tbsp sugar, the milk, eggs, flour, and salt. Whisk until the mixture is smooth--it will be thin.

Once the apples are caramelized, add the vanilla to the apples, then pour the batter on top. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for 20 minutes, until puffed and cooked in the center. If it is not cooked after 20 minutes, lower the heat to 350 and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Serves 4 normal adults or 2 piggy adults. (Ahem)

To serve, invert the pancake onto a serving platter and sprinkle with powdered sugar.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Baby shower cake

Strawberries and cream cake for a baby shower, 12x24 inches. (And the berries weren't really black, somehow the color just came out that way).


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!


Semi-Sincere Flattery

I spent the entire day at work creating these fairly ugly cakes. It was a little depressing to slave over something I didn't design and didn't particularly like.

The worst (best?) part is, they're not even real. It's just styrofoam rounds covered with fondant and buttercream. They were for a photo shoot, and the client wanted them to look exactly like this picture:

We thought styrofoam would be easier and cheaper (the quote for real cakes on such short notice would have been astronomical) but in the end it was a huge pain cutting it to size, and it was more expensive than we thought it would be, so we probably ate the cost on this one. Live and learn.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Chocolate & Strawberry, Sitting in a Tree...

Chocolate-Strawberry layer cake, alternating layers of chocolate and strawberry sponge with contrasting chocolate/strawberry buttercream. This was a 9" for the shop:

This was a 6" birthday order. 6" cakes are the cutest! Everything is more adorable in miniature...

Chocolate-dipped berries, decorative AND tasty:


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hip to Be Square

12" Red Velvet cake with cream cheese frosting:

The car is a buttercream plaque. I'd never done it before and was pleasantly surprised at the results, although it wasn't perfect and I could definitely use more practice. I reinforced the back too much and it ended up being too thick to my liking, although my boss loved it because it looked 3-D.

10" Chocolate cake with chocolate-sour cream frosting. THIS is one I would make for myself. (I wouldn't mind being retired, either...)


Polka Dotted Love

I am still obsessed with polka dots. Et voila:

Max is a "creative, sophisticated" three-year old. No cartoon characters for our darling Max, no sir.

Neopolitan cake:

Six layers of alternating vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate cake and buttercream.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Drive-by Caking

Two quickies from work:

Banana Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting.

Triple Strawberry Cake. Strawberry cake and with berry buttercream, layered with strawberry slices. I seriously used 5 lbs of berries making the puree to put in the batter and buttercream. YUM.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Doctorate in Deliciousness

Poor neglected blog! I would promise to do better, but truthfully, you're second banana for the foreseeable future.

In actual cake news, I made a book-themed cake for my friend Nick's recent birthday. He's been reading gobs of books for his grad school exams, and he reached the obscenely old age of 29, so the "Growing Old Gracefully" book title seemed appropriate. He's not quite a Doctor yet, but I thought he deserved a promotion, since he is so old he's practically dead.

Top view. The cake was chocolate, with a chocolate-mint mousse filling, and a chocolate-mint ganache on the outside and between several of the layers. The "pages" were vanilla buttercream.

Side view. Writing on cakes is definitely my weak spot. I like how the book title turned out, but I kind of lost it towards the bottom. I think it's mostly mental at this point.

It's hard to see in the pictures, but the book "pages" were recessed about a half-inch from the "covers" on three sides. I did the cake in three sections: bottom cover covered with ganache, pages (layered and filled with mousse), covered with buttercream, and top cover, covered with ganache. In retrospect, this was probably unnecessarily complicated. I had visions of razor-sharp corners and glass-smooth frostings, but assembling all of the elements foiled these plans. (Also in retrospect: who cares?!)

Cross-section. The lighter sections in the middle are the chocolate-mint mousse layers. At this point I should mention that the cake was pretty darn tasty. Someone compared it to a Thin Mint cookie in cake form...the mint was a little more subtle, though.

Jason and the birthday boy! To give you an idea of the cake's size, it was a quarter-sheet and easily fed about 25 of us.
(Off-topic: maybe it is a requirement of grad school students to wear plaid button-ups to parties? PhD in Style!)


Friday, March 02, 2007

Dragon Cookies for a New Year

A few years ago, a friend of my mom's mentioned that she used to buy Dragon Cookies around Chinese New Year. She was having trouble finding them in nearby grocery stores, so my mom decided to make her some using a recipe from the Internet. Now, we are not Chinese, and I can't vouch for the accuracy of this recipe re. Chinese tradition or culture, but I do know we were able to find a few variations online, so at least we're not imagining the entire thing. Behold the mighty dragon:

Dragon Cookies are basically a variation of a butter spritz cookie, using tapioca starch and corn flour. I don't much like them; they're a little bland and very, very dry. We always add extra egg and/or milk, and they still end up with a dry, starchy aftertaste. We've made them for several years now (her friend is always very nice and claims to love them, despite their dryness) and we always have the same problems. This year was no different...after baking them off and choking down a few with milk, we had the genius idea of forgetting the original recipe and just piping a regular spritz recipe in dragon shapes. Brilliant! It only took us an hour to think of it! So that's what we did. Using this recipe and a star tip on our cookie press, we created adorable dragons, just in time for Chinese New Year.

First, the stiff dough was piped in a squiggly pattern:

Then they were given red eyes using a toothpick dipped in food coloring:

Ready to be baked! Only 6 minutes, please. No one likes an overcooked dragon.

Let's ring in the new year with a roar!


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Valentine's Day Cupcakes

Lately it's been alot of candy and not alot of cake (or death) at my house. I did take a brief break from all the confectionary-ing and made some cupcakes for a youth fundraiser. They were chocolate cupcakes with a filling of reduced raspberries (think very fresh preserves). Topped with either raspberry buttercream or whipped chocolate ganache.

Apologies for the terrible foil background--we'd put them in the foil-lined box before remembering to take pictures!


Sunday, January 21, 2007

About Candy...about time

A VERY belated announcement about my latest venture. I'm writing the new Guide to Candy. COME! Drool! Eat! Make candy of your own! Click on each link thousands of time so I become wealthy! And if you have computer skillzzz, post a link to my website on the Wikipedia Candy article! (Because, apparently, it's bad form to do it myself). You will be handsomely rewarded with loads of sugary treats.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Flower Cakes

I recently made two cakes for a luncheon honoring a baby blessing.

The yellow cake was a 6" butter cake. The decoration is buttercream around the sides, whipped cream on top, and buttercream accents around fresh berries.

The cake was 4 layers of butter cake and 3 layers of filling: strawberries and cream, boysenberries and cream, and raspberries and cream.

The pink cake was a 9" chocolate cake. Other than the cake flavor, it was the same as the yellow cake.

This one went quickly. Berries, cream, and chocolate is a very nice combination.