Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Engagement Cake

My mom hosted a dinner for her recently engaged friend and asked me to make a cake for the party. Luckily, I had the day before off from work, so I drove down to Virginia Beach to help out.

It's just a simple vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, chosen by the bride-to-be. I've been testing out some new recipes, trying to find a favorite for this combo, but I'm not sure this is it. I'm getting closer with the frosting, but this cake was a little dry.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cake Truffles for a Tasting

I'm catering a baby shower in June, so a few weeks ago we had a tasting to finalize the menu.

These were the sample petit fours and cake truffles I made, using the baby girl's initials as a monogram.

They were a big hit, but for the shower I'll be doing them in a pink, white, and grey color scheme, which I love. It's feminine but still modern.

A shot of some of the savory selections: hot spinach dip, three different kinds of tea sandwiches, roasted shrimp orzo pasta, and artichoke crostini.

Thankfully, everyone loved all the food, and now I can't wait for the big event in June!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chocolate Birthday Cake

Sorry for the slight delay in posting. The past two weeks have been a little hectic, but look! Cake!

I made this for Dan's mother's birthday, which was yesterday. I of course, volunteered to make the cake.

And by volunteer, I mean made the decision completely unilaterally and only let everyone else know the day before to ensure there would be no duplicate cakes to embarrass compete with.

I really loved the way it turned out. I think it sort of looks like a flower basket with the little royal icing flowers on top. To get the look, I just piped dots of icing in a straight line down the side of the cake using a medium plain round tip. Then I used a small offset spatula to gently spread or drag each dot out to the side slightly. You work piping one row at a time, slightly overlapping the next row of dots over the tail you've just created with the spatula, until you've gone all the way around the cake.

I made the little flowers about a week ago with some leftover royal icing I needed to use up. Once they dry, you can store them in an airtight container for weeks and just pull them out whenever you need them. They're a little hard, but certainly edible.

I didn't get any pictures of the inside since I wasn't going to cut into it before the birthday girl could, but it was just chocolate cake with more chocolate icing as filling. Actually, the challenge with this cake was less the decorating and more the actual cake. Dan's mom is lactose intolerant and also recently gave up gluten, so I needed a gluten and dairy-free cake. There are definitely no shortage of gluten free vegan cake recipes out there, but I really didn't need to leave out the butter or eggs, just any milk or sour cream.

I'm (only slightly) ashamed to admit I actually used a cake mix. I was working on a bit of a time crunch and just didn't have the time to experiment with all the different gluten-free flours until I got the right flavor and texture combination I wanted. So instead, I used a King Arthur Flour gluten-free chocolate cake mix that I got at Whole Foods (and no, I am not at all being perked to mention either company. I can assure you, they have no idea I exist). It was really easy to mix up and came out really well- very moist, with a deep chocolate flavor and a nice fluffy texture. Honestly, no one would ever know it was gluten-free OR from a box.

The icing I did make myself, using this as a starting point since I needed to use cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate. But instead of the milk, I added additional melted butter as well as shortening. Unfortunately, I just kept adding until it looked right and wasn't really paying attention to the measurements (I am just so helpful today, huh?), but I'd say I added about an additional 4 Tbsp of melted butter and probably half of a cup of shortening, half of which was solid, and half I melted.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spring Flower Cookies

It snowed today. In March.

Snow in March just is not allowed. So, to help usher in Spring, I decorated these chocolate cookies with some pretty springtime flowers.

I used a technique called brush embroidery that I'm currently in love with.

When I first saw an example of this online, I had no idea how it was done. After some googling and a few youtube videos later, I felt pretty good about trying my hand at it.

If you're looking for a step-by-step tutorial, sorry, you're not going to find one here (yet). But basically, you're going to use a damp paint brush to brush out lines of royal icing to create the petal effect. I found this video probably the most helpful to learn the technique. And from there, I just looked at other beautiful cookies online and used those as inspiration for my own cookies.

I think they're fun and sweet, and a little girly. And definitely just in time for Spring!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cake

March means...


And St. Patrick's Day!

And most importantly, my birthday (which is actually also the first day of Spring)!

No, this is not my birthday cake- not enough chocolate. It's just a fun, pretty, fruity cake to celebrate the imminent end of winter and the beginning of Spring.

It's light and sweet, and pink!

And because chocolate covered strawberries are the perfect indulgence (any time of year), I added some luscious dark chocolate ganache over top.

Don't you just love those drips? So seductive.

Strawberry Cake
Yield: One 2-layer 8'' cake; or One 3-layer 6'' cake

1/2 cup frozen strawberries
2/3 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
11 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
1cup, plus 3 Tbsp sugar
2 oz strawberry gelatin
2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease two 8'' pans or three 6'' pans with non-stick spray (or butter, then flour). Line the bottoms with parchment paper.
2. Thaw the strawberries in the microwave for a few seconds, just so they're no longer frozen. Puree in a food processor or blender and pour the puree into a small bowl or large measuring cup. Add the milk and vanilla extract and set aside.
3. Into a separate medium bowl, sift the cake flour together with the baking powder and salt and set this aside as well.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar and gelatin with the paddle attachment. Cream at medium speed until light and fluffy.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
6. Alternate adding the reserved strawberry liquid with the dry ingredients to the creamed butter. Begin and end with the flour mixture.
7. Divide the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans for at least 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Recipe Notes:
  • You can strain the puree through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds, but I skipped this step and hardly noticed them in the baked cake.
  • Be sure to grease your cake pans and parchment paper well with this cake.
  • This cake is on the dense side, as opposed to being light and fluffy. I really didn't mind the texture, but because of this, I wouldn't recommend using this recipe for cupcakes.
Strawberry Buttercream

4 egg whites
1 cup, plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter
3-4 Tbsp strawberry puree
Pink food coloring (optional)

1. If making the strawberry puree, defrost 10-15 frozen strawberries and puree in a food processor or blender. Set aside.
2. Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk continuously until the mixture is warm and the sugar has dissolved, about 3-4 minutes.
3. Immediately put the bowl back on your mixer with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed until thick and fluffy and the bottom of the bowl feels cool, not cold.
4. Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and start adding the butter gradually until all the butter is incorporated. Add the strawberry puree and food coloring last.

Recipe Notes:
  • I didn't add any food coloring to my buttercream (because I forgot), but I think it would look extra pretty with a little added color. 
  • I strained my puree through a fine mesh sieve so there wouldn't be seeds in the buttercream, but that was purely for aesthetic reasons. Leaving them in is perfectly fine too.
  • If your buttercream is soupy, place the whole bowl in the fridge until it is chilled, about 10-15 minutes, before returning it to the mixer to beat until smooth.
Chocolate Ganache

7 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

1. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl.
2. Heat the cream over medium heat until it just comes to a boil.
3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Shake the bowl gently to ensure the cream completely covers all the chocolate. Let sit for a minute.
4. Whisk the ganache until it is smooth and shiny. Allow to cool slightly. Pour over the frosted cake, allowing some to drip down the sides. You can smooth the top with an offset spatula.

Recipe Notes:
  • If your ganache cools before all the chocolate has melted, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water to re-heat it, and whisk until smooth.
  • You will have plenty of ganache left over (enough to completely enrobe the cake in chocolate if you want). Store it covered, in the fridge, and you can always reheat it for another project! Or just to pour over ice cream. Whatevs.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Landfill Cookies

Remember these cookies?

Well, I took things a little further this time.

I just couldn't help it! I'm mildly obsessed with all things sweet and salty.

And who doesn't want potato chips in their cookies?

These are basically my take on the consummate "Trash" or "Kitchen Sink" cookie, where you basically add everything you can find in your pantry to the dough.
I stopped when I got to the jar of olives.

But only because they expired in 2009.

Landfill Cookies
Yield: 18 cookies

4.25 oz (1 cup minus 1 Tbsp) cake flour
4.25 oz (3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp) bread flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
10 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
5 oz (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp) light brown sugar
4 oz (1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp) granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips, roughly chopped (or mini if you can find them)
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 3 graham crackers, ground)
1/3 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 tsp ground coffee
2 cups plain potato chips
1 cup mini pretzels

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
2. In a medium bowl, combine both flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and both sugars with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for 3-4 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. 
4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed to incorporate. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just barely incorporated. 
5. Add the chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, graham crumbs, oats, and coffee. Mix on low speed just to combine. 
6. Add the potato chips and pretzels, and mix on low speed to break them up and incorporate them into the batter.
7. Divide the batter into 2 oz balls and arrange on baking sheet. Use your hand and press down to flatten the top of each cookie. Bake 15-18 minutes or until the edges of the cookies just begin to turn golden brown. Remove baking sheet to a wire rack and leave the cookies on the sheet to cool completely.

Recipe Notes:
  • I used Cape Cod potato chips.  
  • Don't be afraid of breaking up the chips and pretzels when you mix them in. If you leave too many of them whole or in large pieces, the cookies will be crumbly and are more likely to fall apart (the pieces in the pictured cookies were actually still a little too large).
Recipe adapted from my go-to chocolate chip cookie and the Momofuku Compost Cookie

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Carrot Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

I can't believe it's been another week already. What the fudge? It feels like the days just crawl by and then BOOM, time for another cake.

I wasn't super excited to make this cake and I'm not sure why. Maybe because it seemed too traditional. Or because I just made a cake with cream cheese icing.

I also had a hard time finding a recipe I wanted to use. Fresh ginger? Too potent. Cooked carrot puree? Too much work. Crushed pineapple? I'm sorry, I know people are into this but I just can't get behind it.

I will say that carrot cake is very customizable according to your own personal preference. Think of it like a cup of fro-yo at one of those trendy self-serve places that are always overrun with kids hopped up on sugar popping up almost as fast as Starbucks.

Like your cakes nutty? Add walnuts. Want something fruitier? Add raisins. Need some more texture? Try coconut. And of course, there's always the option to mix and match.

Although I'm not a huge fan of nuts in my desserts, I felt like the cake just needed a little something extra so I went ahead and added walnuts. But honestly, no matter what you add or leave out, this cake can absolutely stand on its own. It's ridiculously moist, perfectly sweet, with just the right amount of warm spice.

Carrot Cake 
Yield: One 2-layer 8'' cake

2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 extra-large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 lb grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour (or grease with cooking spray) two 8'' cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, vegetable oil, and vanilla with the paddle attachment. Increase the speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt. Add half of the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture and mix on low until just incorporated.
4. Add the carrots and walnuts to the bowl and mix on low until just combined. Do the same with the remaining dry ingredients.
5. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer pans to a wire rack and allow cakes to cool completely before unmolding.

Recipe Notes:
  • This cake can be a little delicate to work with so if you decide to split the layers like I did, be careful when handling them so they don't fall apart.
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten 

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb cream cheese
5 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

1. Place the butter and half the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. paddle on medium speed until smooth and creamy.
2. Add the cream cheese and remaining sugar. Continue to cream until all ingredients are smooth and incorporated. Add the cinnamon and mix to combine. Frost cake immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Recipe Notes:
  • You can obviously leave out the cinnamon for just a plain cream cheese frosting. Or, get really crazy and try some different flavors. Maple, caramel, or crystallized ginger all sound good to me.
  • You want the icing to be soft and smooth, but be careful not to overbeat it or it will get very soft and hard to spread.
  • If using chilled icing from the fridge, return it to the mixer on low speed to soften it to spreading consistency.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dark Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Buttercream

I made it. Just under the wire, but I made it.

My third cake in as many weeks.

And for those of you counting at home, listen, I said every week, not every seven days; there's a difference. Relax.

Believe me when I tell you, this cake was worth the nail biting and butter-buying. The putting off, and putting off. Because this dark chocolate cake is sinfully delicious. It is dark and moist, rich and just absolute perfection, and will definitely be my go-to for chocolate cake or cupcakes from now on.

Even the color is spot on- so dark it's almost black. But don't let that scare you. The flavor is chocolatey but sweet, not at all bitter like a torte or flourless chocolate cakes can sometimes be. I particularly love the visual contrast of the deep dark chocolate cake with the light pink raspberry buttercream

I think people have funny ideas about buttercream, and we'll get to those in a second. For me, it has pros and cons.

Pro: You really can't ruin it, I promise. No matter what you do when you're making it, it will almost always come back together. See the Recipe Notes for all kinds of tips.

Also, I think it's easier to work with if you want a super smooth, pretty finish, which I always do. I am nothing if not a perfectionist.

Con: A little too buttery in flavor for me. But that's a personal problem preference. I think it's just fine with added flavors, hence the raspberries.

Oh, yeah, you're going to get raspberries seeds in your teeth. Handle it. Deal with it. Share with other people so they have to deal with it too.

Disclaimer: I'm about to go on a semi-rant about different kinds of icing. If this bores you, and you couldn't care less about icing unless it's on your fork on its way into your mouth, just skip the next few paragraphs and scroll down until you get to the pretty, pretty pictures. 

In my mind, this is a buttercream. It involves a meringue and no powdered sugar. And it may not be for everyone. It's not super sweet and is very, very buttery. Unless someone specifically requested it, I probably wouldn't fill and frost a whole cake with just plain buttercream.

Now, this is just my own personal opinion (although I know I'm not the only one), but a frosting like this one is not a buttercream. I would instead call it a "confectioner's icing" or maybe just "frosting." It's simpler and easier to make and I actually really love the super sweet, sugary flavor of it. I find it to be a little airy and soft though, which can be hard to work with.

At the bakery I worked at in New York, we frosted all our cupcakes with confectioner's icing. Sometimes people would come in asking if it was buttercream, and we would say no, it's just such-and-such kind of frosting (chocolate, peanut butter, etc.). Usually, this would leave the customer with a somewhat disappointed look on their face, like they weren't getting what they thought they should be, until they tasted it and realized it was delicious either way. Customers ordering cakes would do the same thing, requesting "chocolate buttercream," and we would explain that we could certainly use that, but it's not the same thing we use on our cupcakes and would cost slightly more due to the increased labor and cost to make it. Usually they would correct themselves, saying no, they wanted the same chocolate frosting they'd had on our cupcakes dozens of times before (and rightly so; it was the best from-scratch chocolate frosting I've ever had! I'm usually a die-hard fan of out-of-the-can chocolate frosting and I have yet to make a homemade version that compares!).

So why am I giving you a crash course in Frosting 101? First, because I think it's important to make the distinction. For one thing, they taste completely different. Often when people try a genuine buttercream for the first time, they don't like it because it's not what they're used to. Or, like me, they just don't like the very buttery flavor. So if I had someone request a cake with "vanilla buttercream," I wouldn't want them to take one bite upon delivery and look at me like I had ruined their birthday because I'd served them a cake that tastes like it has sweet butter spread all over it be disappointed that it wasn't exactly what they expected.

Secondly, to me buttercream is luxurious and gourmet. It takes a little more effort to make since it involves making either an Italian or Swiss meringue (vs. just putting butter and sugar in a mixer and creaming) and uses additional, more expensive ingredients. To me, all of this is justification for a bakery or cake decorator to charge a higher fee for using buttercream on a cake vs. confectioner's icing. The problem with labeling any and all frostings as "buttercreams" is the potential to deceive customers into thinking they're getting something gourmet just so they will pay more for it when in reality, the label and not the ingredients is what they're paying for. So if a customer requests Swiss Meringue Mocha Buttercream, that's what they're going to get from me. Because if I whipped up some butter and sugar, added coffee extract, and called it buttercream just so I could put a slightly higher price tag on it, I just wouldn't feel right about it, not only because it's deceitful, but also because I wouldn't be giving my customer exactly what they're asking for.

Thus endeth the longest rant about icing ever. Sorry to the 10% of you that got even halfway through before just scrolling down here. But look, cake!

Here, I cut you a piece.

Dark Chocolate Cake
Yield: One 3-layer 6'' cake

1 oz good-quality dark chocolate (60%), broken into a few pieces
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
2/3 cup boiling water
2 tsp instant coffee granules
1/3 cup whole milk
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
10 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease cake pans with butter and dust with flour (or spray with non-stick cooking spray). Lay circles of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan and set aside.
2. Place the chocolate and cocoa powder in a large heatproof bowl. In a small bowl or measuring cup, place the instant coffee granules. Pour the boiling water over top of the coffee and stir to dissolve, then pour the hot coffee over the chocolate and cocoa. Whisk until combined. Add the milk and whisk until smooth.
3. In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment, cream the softened butter with both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla with the last egg.
5. Turn the mixer off and add about 1/3 of the flour mixture. Mix on low just to combine. Add half the chocolate mixture and mix on low just to combine. Repeat, ending with the last 1/3 of the flour mixture.
6. Divide the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for at least 45 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the parchment, and cool completely before frosting.

Recipe Notes:
  • If buttering and flouring your pans (instead of using cooking spray), be sure to tap out any excess flour so it doesn't leave any white residue on your finished cakes.
  • I would really recommend using high quality chocolate for this recipe, not chocolate chips. They contain stabilizers and additives that can diminish the chocolate flavor.
  • Don't worry if you don't like coffee. You won't taste it in the finished product but it enhances the chocolate flavor very subtly.
  • I used a scale to divide my batter. Each of my three 6'' pans had 350g of batter in them. 
  • This amount of batter will also make an 8'' two-layer cake. In this case, each pan should have 525g of batter in it, and they will bake for the same 30-40 minutes as noted above. It will also yield about two dozen cupcakes. I can't be sure of the baking time, but I would start with about 15 minutes and go from there.
Adapted from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Raspberry Buttercream
Yield: Enough buttercream to fill and frost a 2-layer 8'' cake or 3-layer 6'' cake

4 egg whites
1 cup, plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into chunks
1/2 pint fresh raspberries, crushed
Pink food coloring (optional)

1. Fill a pot with about 2'' of water. The pot should be large enough so that you can create a double boiler with the bowl of your electric mixer. Bring the water to a simmer.
2. In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Place the bowl over the pot of simmering water. The water shouldn't touch the bottom of the bowl. Whisk the egg whites by hand constantly until the mixture is warm and the sugar has dissolved, about 2-3 minutes.
3. Transfer the bowl to an electric mixer with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels warm, not hot, to the touch.
4. Keep the mixer on medium speed and add the butter pieces gradually. Once all the butter has been added, the buttercream should be thick and smooth. Add the crushed raspberries and food coloring, if using, whisking to incorporate.

Recipe Notes:
  • Instead of dirtying another tool, I just hold the whisk attachment to my mixer and use that to whisk the egg whites and sugar while over the simmering water. 
  • I use my fingers to test the mixture in step 2. It's ready when the mixture feels warm but not hot enough that it will burn your fingers, and if you rub your fingers together, you shouldn't be able to feel any sugar granules. At that point, the mixture is ready for step 3.
  • If you'd prefer to use a candy thermometer the egg white mixture is ready when it reaches 130 degrees F.
  • Once all the butter has been added, if the buttercream appears curdled, just keep whisking on medium speed and it will come back together.
  • If your buttercream is soupy, the butter may have been too soft, or the meringue was still too hot when it was added. Just chill the bowl in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. Return it to the mixer and continue to whisk until thick and smooth.
  • If your buttercream looks chunky and broken (sort of like scrambled eggs) you might have added the butter too late, or it was too cold. You have two options: Switch to the paddle and just keep creaming the buttercream on medium-low speed until it looks right. This could take a while so be patient. It will come together. The other option is to heat the bottom of your bowl. If you have a little creme brulee torch, use it! Or, a gas stove will work too. Just heat the bottom of the bowl over the flame for maybe 10-15 seconds.  It's fine if some of the buttercream melts; that's what you want to happen. It will reincorporate into the rest of the icing. Then, keep creaming with the paddle attachment on medium to med-low speed.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Valentine Heart Cookies

How about some sweet hearts for your sweetheart? They fulfill all the Valentine's Day requirements:

Something sweet? Check.

Heart-shaped? Check.

Chocolate? Check.

Pink and Red? Check.

Easy to share? Double check.

Make them! Share them with your boyfriend. Or your mom. Or your friend! Or just make them for yourself. You deserve something special too. Whatever you do, have a very Happy Valentine's Day!

I'm sorry I can't actually give you the recipe for these chocolate roll-out cookies though. I tried out a new recipe and it was very difficult to work with. It was too dry and crumbly, which made it a pain to roll out. But I'll keep working on it and get back to you!

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