Monday, August 9, 2010

Cake Success!

As it was my baby's first birthday, I decided to attempt a multi-layer fondant cake. My only other experience with fondant was for my 3-year-old's birthday, and you may remember that it wasn't pretty.

But, you can't be truly accomplished unless you practice more, and with that in mind, I set out to create a fondant masterpiece.

After getting inspiration from my niece's birthday cake, a couple of online photos, and a few youtube videos, I was ready to get to work. This is what I was able to pull off.
Here's how I did it. Earlier in the week, I baked and froze two box cakes (one white and one chocolate), made marshmallow fondant, and gathered all the materials that I would need. So, when I got to the actual assembling and decorating of this cake, it took almost 3 hours (with clean-up). A waste of time? Maybe, but I chalk it up to acquiring a new skill, making something beautiful with my own hands, and delighting my daughters.

This bottom layer was the Devil's Food cake with chocolate ganache frosting. Must. Have. Chocolate. I cooked it in two 9-inch round pans. After the cake was frosted, I popped it in the fridge to set up while I prepped the fondant. When you make marshmallow fondant, it's just white and very easy to color. I bought actual cake decorator's gel in pink and aqua, not just the little food coloring squeeze tubes. Using a toothpick, you spread small amounts of the colored gel onto the fondant and then knead it to your heart's content. You do need to keep your counter covered with powdered sugar in order to keep the fondant from sticking to it, though.

I used little fondant stamps to make the flowers and then brushed the back of each flower with water for it to stick to the pink layer. When you roll out the fondant, the goal is to keep it 1/8th of an inch thick, but I didn't always get that perfect measurement. Well, I didn't measure; I just eyeballed it.

This middle layer was white cake with almond buttercream. It was cooked in a 6-inch by 3-inch deep pan. Then I just used a cake cutter to cut off the rounded top and then cut it into two layers.

To make the stripes, I used a pizza cutter and did my best to cut straight. You could use a ruler, but I couldn't find mine. I think the lines look straight enough, don't you? Again, I brushed the back of each stripe with water to make it stick like glue. Another tip to get the base layers of fondant to stick to your frosted cake is to use piping gel. I wasn't about to run out and buy some, but I actually had some on hand from my cake decorating class last summer.

For this last layer of cake, I siphoned off about 1/3 of the white cake mix and attempted to make it chocolate by adding cocoa powder, melted unsweetened chocolate, and milk. The batter tasted fine, but the finished cake was a bit...dry. As it was for the baby, I knew she wouldn't know the difference, but I was still sad that it wasn't a perfect cake for her. I actually cooked it in my ceramic butter crock so that it would be the right size to fit on top of the cake. I used a small round cookie cutter to make the circles.

Definitely a success. The cake looked great and tasted great too, even the fondant. Not many people care for commercial fondant, but I think marshmallow fondant is quite tasty, especially when you flavor it with butter and almond flavoring like I did.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fake Blondes

No, I'm not talking about my choice in hair color; I'm talking about a new dessert idea that occurred to me today. I give you...fake blondes...or double-decker brownies...or blonde-brownies...whatever you want to call them. Basically, we have a blondie cooked on top of a brownie--a perfect marriage of buttery caramel and fudgy chocolate in a ooey-gooey-chewy, thick cookie bar. I call them fake blondes because at the root of every fake blonde is some brown, or in this case, a brownie.

If I could bake myself into a dessert, this would be it. Two halves of my one self: buttery caramel on one side and rich dark chocolate on the other. This has got to be my favorite flavor combination. You may be a peanut butter/chocolate person or a mint/chocolate person or, heaven forbid, a fruit/chocolate person. (I rarely mix fruit and chocolate; that's like mixing business and pleasure.)

I've baked plenty of blondies before, and I've tried to jazz them up in a lot of ways: adding white chocolate chips or nuts, sandwiching them with chocolate ganache, serving them with ice cream, you get the idea. This is my favorite variation, hands down. These will definitely be a repeat in my house.

All you do is whip up some brownies, top them with blondies, and bake. I used recipes from the Williams-Sonoma Cookie Cookbook, in case you were wondering.

1/2 cup butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour, sifted
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and grease the parchment.

In a saucepan over low heat, combine the butter and chopped unsweetened chocolate. Heat, stirring often, until melted, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and, using a wooden spoon, stir in the sugar and salt. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir until well blended. Sprinkle the sifted flour over the mixture and stir until just blended. Stir in the chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared dish and spread evenly. Next, the blondies.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Sift the flour and salt together; set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter and brown sugar. Heat, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook about 1 minute longer; the mixture will bubble but not boil. Set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.

Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla to the cooled mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Sprinkle the sifted flour and salt over the sugar mixture until just blended.

Pour the batter over the brownie mixture, spreading it evenly. Bake until the center is springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool completely.

Run a small knife around the inside of the pan to loosen. Invert onto a rack, lift off the pan, and then carefully peel off the parchment paper. Cut into squares and serve with vanilla bean ice cream or not.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April Showers Bring May Flowers

My sister-in-law and I hosted a bridal shower for our sweet sister, and we had a great time putting on a springtime shower. I used a lot of recipes from previous showers, so I'll spare you all the details. I will, however, share one of the newer recipes that I used that has been well-liked.
Savory Ham Cheesecake
3 cups oyster crackers, crushed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup butter, melted
4 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups finely chopped fully cooked ham
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
1/3 cup snipped chives
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Assorted crackers

In a bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and butter. Set aside 1/4 cup for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture onto the bottom and 2 in. up the sides of a greased 9-in. spring form pan. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add eggs; beat on low speed just until combined (mixture will be thick). Add the ham, Swiss cheese, chives, basil, salt and pepper; beat just until combined. Pour into crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.

Place pan on a baking sheet. Bake at 325 for 60-70 minutes or until filling is almost set. Turn oven off. Leave cheesecake in oven with door ajar for 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer. Refrigerate overnight. Remove sides of pan. Serve chilled or at room temperature with crackers. Yield: 24-30 servings.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Baby Shower: Safari Style

It's that time of year when we do lots of showers. This was the first one of the season, for my good friend who is having a boy. I haven't done a boy baby shower in a long time, so I had to come up with food that was a bit more "manly." Okay, so it's not really man food since all the guests are women, but even still, it was fun to mix it up a bit.

We chose a safari theme, and so we used lots of cute animals (provided by my amazing sis-in-law) as table decor. Of course, we used the kind of animals that babies eat, not the kind that eat babies.Here's a view of the buffet line. Go ahead. Help yourself.Here's a view from the other side. I tried to decorate with baskets and tan/sage green for a color scheme. We served fresh homemade rolls with honey butter or garlic butter,chicken skewers in either a barbecue or Jamaican jerk sauce,a savory ham cheesecake served with crackers, fruit skewers flavored in a simple syrup and lime zest (thanks to another amazing sis-in-law), a fabulous green salad, zebra and tiger brownies, and white chocolate and orange flavored cake balls.

Delightful. Delectable. Delicious. Oh, how I love baby showers and all the yummy food. These showers are a lot of work, and yes, I probably should just buy everything ready-made at Costco. But, I love trying new recipes, and I hope these recipes are new for the guests as well.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

You may remember that I took a cake decorating class a little while back. The sole purpose of this class was to learn how to make cute cakes for my children's birthday parties.

Sadly, I must report that one class was not enough, because my most recent cakes so did not turn out as I expected. Then again, maybe the problem is that the creative genius in my head far outpaces what my hands can actually create. I have grand visions of how I think my cake might turnout, and it comes out mediocre at best. Oh well, at least my little girl liked her birthday cakes.

The Good
First, I made a cake for my sister's birthday. This one actually turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. She requested Better-Than-Whatever-Cake. (Yes, this cake has other names.) I myself call it Skor Cake since I don't think it even tastes all that great. Chocolate. Love it! Caramel. Love it! There must just be something about the caramel. It tastes like can, and I just can't get past that.

Since I had instructions to make this cake, I figured I might as well play with it a bit. Instead of a boring old 9x13 flat cake, I baked it in two 8-inch round pans. (Thanks, Audrey, for the inspiration on that one.)

I mixed the sweetened condensed milk and caramel like the recipe instructed, but I halved the milk, hoping it would taste less like can. I also let the caramel sit with the cake overnight, still in the cake pans.

When it came to get the cake out, it was a cinch since I used parchment paper to line the bottom of the pans. So, I had two perfectly round, rich, and caramel-soaked layers. That wasn't enough. I cut each layer in two, width-wise, making four total layers. The inside layers of the cake were put together with a whipped chocolate ganache, and then the whole cake was covered with whipped topping.

I only put the crushed Skor bars on the sides of the cake for visual effect, and then I used some melted chocolate chips and butter to write the words on the cake.

The Bad
For my daughter's birthday, I knew one cake wouldn't be enough. Chocolate was of course the answer, and I can usually turn out a pretty good cake. Too bad it was dry! I don't even know what happened. I tried to salvage it with lots of ganache, but even that turned out a little off. I was left with a slightly misshapen, dry, unexciting cake.

As a last ditch effort, I used the white chocolate to make it look like a spider's web. At least the focus shifted to the spider and not the actual cake.

Don't worry, I still helped myself to this bad cake.

The Ugly
This cake was supposed to be the big deal--the themed cake for the party. Somehow, I hoped it would turn out better.

First off, I tried to color the fondant using food coloring. I was going for brown, but what I got was peach. I knew it would be tricky to get the color just right, but I didn't want to buy the actual brown color. (Hello. If I want something to look brown, I'll just use chocolate, thank you very much.)

So, I ended up with the peach fondant, but luckily it was mostly covered by the crushed graham cracker crumbs. I had trouble getting it to stick to the fondant, even though I brushed the whole cake with sticky sugar water. The first layer of crumbs looked great, but I tried to add another layer. Not great.

Finally, after being a bit discouraged about how it turned out. I let it sit overnight without getting a picture of it. The next morning, I came down to find that my daughter had already been downstairs and left her mark on the cake--a series of finger poke holes in the side. Gah! It was already ugly enough.

Surprisingly, a lot of people liked this cake. The inside was a funfetti cake with rainbow chip frosting (a yummy alternative to chocolate). I thought everyone would just peel off the fondant layer with the crumbs in it, but I think most people ate it. (Yes, it is edible. The fondant is just marshmallows.) I guess it must have been a good flavor combination.

In summary, I have a lot more learning to do. Maybe I'll get it down by the time the kids are grown. At least it always turns out better than store-bought cake (unless we're talking about Costco's American Chocolate Cake.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Deluxe Triple-Chocolate Cookies

I stumbled across this recipe from the Pillsbury Bake-Off Finalist Recipes (yes, I submitted a recipe, but no, it wasn't chosen). Since I had everything on hand, I decided to give them a try, and I was not disappointed. The original recipe called for peanut butter in addition to the hazelnut spread, but I just doubled the hazelnut spread and omitted the peanut butter. (My husband is not a big fan of peanut butter and chocolate.)

The only sad thing is that these cookies can dry out rather quickly, so you must also eat them quickly. Please eat them. Do not let these wonderful cookies go the way of the trash can if they turn out like hockey pucks. For this reason, I only made a half batch, and yes, we did eat them quickly. Cookies don't last more than a day or two at our place.

Deluxe Triple-Chocolate Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup hazelnut spread with cocoa (Nutella)
1 cup milk chocolate instant hot cocoa mix (dry)
2 cups flour
1 cup oats
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. On low speed, beat in hazelnut spread and dry cocoa mix until well blended. Stir in flour, oats, salt, and baking soda until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips.Using a small cookie scoop, drop 2 inches apart onto cookie sheets. Bake 9-12 minutes or until edges are set. Cool 3 minutes; remove to cooling racks. Store tightly covered.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oooh, Aahh, Rugelach!

I definitely did my share of holiday baking this year, what with three kinds of candies, three kinds of cookies, and dinner rolls. It's been a busy time in the kitchen, but oh so fun.

Usually, the big focus is on all the chocolate candies that we turn out: toffee, turtles, and fudge. We do some cookies, like Mexican wedding cookies or snickerdoodles, but we're never as excited about them as the candy. Maybe that's just because we all love chocolate so much.

For the past couple of years, I've been wanting to try rugelach (pronounced rug-a-lock), a kosher Eastern European treat, not that I'm Jewish or Eastern European. If I wanted to stick with cultural tradition, I'd limit myself to stroofils (an Italian dessert of deep fried dough balls covered in honey, walnuts, and sprinkles). And then again, I only eat stroofils because they are cultural tradition. I don't actually crave them or think about them at any time other than Christmas. (I'm still trying to figure out the best way to incorporate chocolate into them. Chocolate sauce instead of honey? Chocolate sprinkles instead of colored ones?)

In any case, I stumbled upon rugelach in my cookie bible--a beautiful full-color cookbook made up of just cookie recipes. Did I mention that cookies are my favorite dessert? Sorry, I digress. This year, I finally decided to give it a go, especially since I was cooking for my Christmas party.

Albeit, there is absolutely no chocolate in these cookies, I thought they were wonderful. The cookie itself is made using cream cheese, and the filling can be made with anything from jam to nuts. Mine called for honey, walnuts, and lemon zest--not that I can get excited about any of these ingredients, but the combination was fabulous.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, divided
1 cup ground toasted walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
powdered sugar

Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl. Beat butter, cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest in a large bowl about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour mixture. Beat at low speed until well blended.

Form dough into three 5-inch discs; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets; set aside.

Combine walnuts that have been toasted and ground in a food processor with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon; set aside. Combine honey, remaining 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl; set aside.

Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 10-inch circle. Keep remaining dough refrigerated. Brush with 1/3 of honey mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup nut mixture. Lightly press nut mixture into dough.
Cut circle into 12 triangles with pizza cutter. Roll up, jelly-roll fashion. Place cookies 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with 2 remaining dough pieces and filling ingredients.
Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Let cookies stand 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Store tightly covered.