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.
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