Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Funfetti cake with German buttercream

I am an equal opportunist cake lover. I love fancy high end cakes with organic ingredients, grocery store cakes with giant frosting roses, homely sheet pans filled with cake mix and canned frosting. They all have their merits. I don't play favorites, but I have to admit I was pret-ty thrilled when I got a birthday request for Funfetti cake. In terms of pure celebration, I'm not sure you can beat Funfetti.

I'll admit that I spent a hot second Googling to see if I could make a homemade version (you absolutely can!) but ultimately I decided that I wasn't going to risk ruining someone's 16th birthday for the sake of my own compulsions. Cake mix it was.


I did, however, allow myself some room for interpretation on the frosting.

german buttercream
{German buttercream}

Let's talk buttercreams. Standard American buttercream is just butter and powdered sugar, beaten together like crazy. There are people out there (I live with one) who feel that American buttercream is too sweet. Luckily there are plenty of other options. There is Swiss meringue buttercream, which I used for my sister's wedding cake. It uses egg whites cooked with sugar and piles and piles of butter. It is beautiful and glossy and people who hate American buttercream will often love it. I'm also a pretty big fan of the old school cooked flour frosting. I used French buttercream (egg yolks cooked with sugar) on the Barbie cakes with great success. But why do something you've already tried when you have a chance to make something new?

German buttercream starts with a pudding base and then you whip in plenty of butter, giving you a fluffy frosting with a texture similar to whipped cream and an almost ice cream like flavor. I used the recipe from BraveTart, my favorite place for professional dessert advice. As usual, she didn't let me down. This frosting was so, so good and it held up beautifully. One kid asked for seconds on the frosting. No cake. I mean, sure, maybe he's equally enthusiastic about Costco frosting but D is definitely not and even he kept nicking spoonfuls from the bowl.


As always, I started with a crumb coat and refrigerated till firm. Then I mixed a few handfuls of sprinkles into the remaining frosting (to simulate the Funfetti effect of canned frosting) and spackled on the outer coat with an offset spatula. To decorate, I just added a layer of sprinkles around the bottom edge of the cake and then a small burst in the center. Done and done.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Putting together the gingerbread house party

Last year I wrote this up as I was prepping and then never posted it because the party wore me right out. This year might be the first time in nearly three decades that we aren't able to have the party and that makes me sad, even though I realize that adding a big party on top of our move and some ongoing house renovations at my parents' place probably would be hard for everyone involved. Maybe we'll manage to pull it together but in the meantime, I'll try to be a gingerbread house enabler.

cookie cutters
{cookie cutters}

The beginning of December is generally very busy for me at work but luckily the baking can be broken up into parts that I can handle in the evenings after a full day. Here's how it went down last year.

gingerbread spices
{gingerbread spices}

We needed 12 houses so I planned on making 15. I always have a little wiggle room in the numbers. That way if you break a piece or have a house that comes together wonky you don't need to stress. If they all turn out perfectly, well, a decorated house can be a sweet surprise for a coworker, neighbor, etc.

Tuesday morning I measured four sets of the spice mixture, the baking soda + baking powder and the brown sugar. I set out the butter and the eggs. Three batches of dough will make the 15 houses I planned for and the extra one is for cookies, of course. Here is the dough recipe I use, which I love. The only issue with it is that the scraps of raw dough are so good that Dustin and I basically live on them all week and feel mildly disgusted with ourselves.

Tuesday evening when I got home from work I made all four batches of dough assembly line style so I didn't have to clean out the mixing bowl between. The recipe lists the flour in cups so for the first batch I weighed the flour I measured out (1 lb 13.5 oz) and then for the remaining batches I didn't have to bother with the measuring. Much faster. Each batch gets bundled in plastic wrap and refrigerated.

Wednesday - Friday I baked in the evenings. I always make a list and keep a tally so I know how many of each piece I have (for 15 houses it is: 30 roofs, 30 walls, 15 fronts, 15 backs, 15 doors). Once the pieces have cooled completely I put them in large ziploc bags. If you aren't putting the houses together very soon, you should do this. The gingerbread will pick up moisture from the air quickly and you end up with soft pieces that, while perfect for eating, are structurally unsound. This is also why you can't put the houses together too far ahead. Even a couple days of damp weather and everything falls apart. Once you get enough royal frosting on, the houses will usually hold up really well. We've had a few years where it was so damp that the roofs slid off, but that's rare.

You also want to prepare the cardboard bases for the houses ahead of time. The house footprint is fairly small but I aim for nothing smaller than 9x12", to give people some yard space to play with. Wrap each piece of cardboard in aluminum foil, secured on the bottom with packing tape.

The day of the party we cover the old table with aluminum foil and then lay all the pieces with windows out. Do this on a surface you aren't worried about. I've never noticed that it damages the finish of the table, but we use our giant holiday table that's already scarred.

I make the sugar syrup as described here and pour all the windows (note - on top of everything else last year my thermometer was reading too hot and as a result, my windows never set up. Sadness. I've edited that post to remind myself not to blindly trust the thermometer in the future - it takes less than 5 minutes to double check that the syrup is hot enough). Having two people pouring can be useful here, but it isn't necessary. You just want to do it quickly, to minimize the number of times you have to reheat the sugar.

The windows (should) set up quickly and in the meantime I get the kitchen ready for the gingerbread house assembly, as described here. Having a small island or table next to the stove makes this much easier. Pick one you aren't worried about or cover it well. Have your aluminum covered cardboard pieces handy.

gb 2010 blank house
{gb 2010 blank house}

Once the houses are ready we set them all out on the long table. If you have guests who take the house selection seriously, it helps to put out name tags so that people can claim their houses on a first come first serve basis and then your guests don't feel like they have to hover next to their chosen house the whole time.

I make a giant vat of royal frosting, mixing several batches and then combining them. I don't have a recipe on hand so I always end up doing a quick internet search when it comes time to make the frosting (should change that!). I use meringue powder + powdered sugar + warm water in whatever proportion you are supposed to use. I fill several pastry bags (aim for one per person, use couplers and put out extra tips so people can change it up easily) and set them in tall glasses with a bit of damp paper towel at the bottom. This keeps the frosting in the tip from drying out and clogging. When filling pastry bags, only fill 1/2 - 3/4. Keep it closer to 1/2 if you have small kids because it's hard for inexperienced people or tiny hands to handle overly full bags. It's also good to have a medium size bowl full on the table with a spatula.

We ask our guests to bring some candy with them and so we put out a bunch of empty bowls on the table. It's much neater than having bags of candy everywhere and it lets people see what's available. Some years there is a moderate level of candy hoarding going on, but now that we're adults we'll usually share if you ask nicely (actually, kids are way more willing to share because they don't understand how important it is that their houses look neat and symmetrical so they will just slap random candy everywhere if necessary. Amateurs).

Popular decorations:
Spice drops
Dots - my personal fave because I also love eating them
Holiday M&Ms
Peppermint candy in all forms - red and white themes are usually a hit, so having plenty of candy in that color range helps
Chiclets - surprise contender from a couple years ago, makes nice tiles
Shredded coconut is good for snow

I make cookies as well and usually set aside a batch to bake right before guests arrive, so that the house is completely filled with the smell of gingerbread. Having some little bags ready so that guests can take a small pile of cookies home is a nice touch and will sometimes prevent people from eating their gingerbread houses immediately. Technically, you are supposed to wait until Christmas Day to eat your house. I can't guarantee that all our guests obey.

You want food to balance all that sugar, so we have everyone bring an appetizer and set everything out on a table in the living room. We use the crock pot to make mulled cider. Spiking is optional, but highly encouraged now that almost all of our guests are way above the age at which you would expect gingerbread house decorating to be popular.

Please note - playing John Denver and The Muppets at least once is MANDATORY. Saying you are "sick of the album" or "don't like Miss Piggy's voice" is not an excuse and I'm not buying it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My very favorite gingerbread recipe

A sweet reader emailed me about my gingerbread house recipe the other day and I realized that I've never posted about it, which is a shame, because I found a keeper several years ago and I'd never even consider swaying.

gingerbread cookies
{gingerbread cookies}

I use the gingerbread house recipe from Martha Stewart and while I love her, I have issues with her site. The links change, recipes are edited or deleted and the site is hard to search and slooow. I can't be the only one who notices this, right?

I'm going to type out the recipe right here, in case the links disappear again. This recipe makes the very best gingerbread, for houses or cookies. It's spicy, easy to work with and quick to mix up. One batch will make enough dough for 5 small houses, using their template (really hoping that link never dies...) Our family used to make these enormous, absolutely gorgeous custom gingerbread houses and I cried a bit the first year I had to scale back to the small template. But as it turns out, most people find the smaller houses more approachable and kids are less likely to lose interest and run off halfway through the decorating. Serendipity?
Best Gingerbread Cookies (recipe from here, makes a ton of cookies, or 5 small houses) 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsulfured molasses
6 cups all purpose flour (1 lb 13.5 oz)
:: In a large bowl, shift or whisk together flour, baking soda and baking powder, set aside.  
:: In an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then beat in eggs and molasses.  
:: Add flour mixture in 2 - 3 parts, mixing on low speed until combined. To avoid a flour explosion, I wrap a dishtowel around the mixer to cover the opening of the bowl. If you're using a standard Kitchenaid, it will be pretty full here. Divide dough in thirds, shape into disks or rectangles and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least one hour, or up to a few days.  
:: Heat oven to 350 degrees. On a well floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8" thick. Cut out cookies (or house pieces). Place dough on ungreased baking sheets (I always use my Silpats, though). Pop the tray back in the refrigerator and chill for at least 15 minutes. This helps your cookies hold their shape better. Bake 15 minutes, until gingerbread is firm in the center but not dark around the edges. I bake a little longer for house pieces, because sturdiness is a high priority. I like my cookies chewier, so I bake them a little bit less. 

If you're making gingerbread cookies, you can leave them out at room temperature uncovered and they'll still be great for weeks* and the flavor is definitely improved if you can let them sit for at least a couple days.

If you're making gingerbread houses, let the pieces cool completely and then put them in ziploc bags until you are ready to assemble. You don't want them picking up any moisture from the air because it will make your houses less stable.

Last year I keep a draft post running while I prepped for the gingerbread house party, so that I could share it with you all because I sometimes get inquiries about GB house party logistics, which I take seriously. But then, for reasons mostly unrelated to gingerbread and entirely related to some family medical issues, the party ended up being very stressful for me and I just felt like I'd be a fraud posting about how awesome I am at throwing parties. Now that a year has passed I'm realizing that the post might actually be useful, so I think I'll dust it off and pop it up for you shortly. I'll make sure that it links to the various gingerbread tips I've given over the years, since they're currently scattered all over the blog.

* This will probably horrify everyone, but we almost always give out extra large gingerbread cookies on Christmas, cutely wrapped. A couple years ago I was getting out the wrapping supplies and found a cookie from the previous year in a gift bag. It still looked perfectly normal, so I ate a corner of it only as a test, for science. It tasted fine, and I didn't die. But I did throw out the rest of the cookie because I thought eating a year old cookie just seemed too desperate. I have a sweet tooth, but it hasn't come that yet, thank god.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The weekend, briefly

I feel like I spent most of this weekend in the kitchen and it shows. (Although I did go to LACMA on Friday evening for a second viewing of the James Turrell exhibit. I can't get enough. I'm scheduled for the perceptual cell in October. Eeek!)


saturday pancakes
{saturday pancakes}


layers, successfully removed
{layers, successfully removed}

soft balling it
{soft balling it}

fudge frosting
{fudge frosting}

a warm place in the sun
{a warm place in the sun}

evening pizza
{evening pizza}

the cake
{the cake}

We had D's brother over for the weekend and teenage boys mean CARBS (and mild attempts at art enlightenment, hence the LACMA expedition). Pancakes in the morning, pizza the entire rest of the day, everyday. I think I've finally mastered Nancy Silverton's pizza dough recipe and we're all benefiting. Except maybe my pants. Luckily they can't talk.

I was running low on yeast and desperate not to go to the store, so I coaxed the dough into rising by finding the sunniest spot I could, hence the mixing bowl precariously perched in the herb garden. It worked!

THE CAKE was surprisingly docile this year. Layers popped out effortlessly, the infamous fudge frosting came together with nary a complaint. I shouldn't have been surprised when everything else went pear shaped on Sunday and we were hit with a few family crises. Universe, you are a cruel mistress. But at least we had impeccable fudge frosting. That does help cushion the blows a bit.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


This could more accurately be called things we have eaten lately because I haven't been hauling my camera around as much. We're still getting used to each other although I think D just discovered how to change the focus settings and I think our relationship (with the camera) is going to improve dramatically. Stay tuned.

red velvet donuts
{red velvet donuts}

grilled cheese
{grilled cheese}

meyer lemon
{meyer lemon}

caramel, overcooked
{caramel, overcooked}


family barbeque
{family barbecue}

birthday desserts
{birthday desserts}

We haven't been keeping bread in the house much lately, which just makes the occasional grilled cheese sandwich that much better. Topped with avocados from the tree, which are particularly good this year.

D traded some of our avos for a Meyer lemon supply and we've been reveling in them. Meyer lemon juice and tamarind simple syrup cocktails. So good.

We had a family birthday party on Saturday, which justified a little bit of baking. I hadn't baked anything since the holidays, so it was nice to get back in the kitchen again. I made Deb's caramel brownies and her Meyer lemon tart. I overcooked the caramel like crazy so it was a danger to everyone's dental work but still delicious.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Key lime tart with gingersnap crust

Everyone has their birthday pie. I always pick lemon meringue and D always picks key lime. The first year I ever made a key lime pie for him I put meringue on it and let me just tell you that there are two camps of people - those who put meringue on key lime pie and those that believe nothing except whipped cream is appropriate. It was embarrassing.

I've since reformed but it's taken me years to track down just the right recipe. I tested out fancy recipes that have you make lime curd and strain it through a chinois. I've tested regular crusts and graham cracker crusts and some variations on each. The final winner uses the easiest filling (I swear - homemade curd doesn't taste any better than the tried and true version with sweetened condensed milk) and a crust that's a little out of the ordinary, combining gingersnaps and pecans.

key lime tart
{key lime tart}

Key lime tart with gingersnap crust (serves at least 8, filling recipe from here, crust recipe from here)

For the crust: 
2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 9 oz)
1 cup pecans (about 3.5 oz)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger (you can skip if you don't have it)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the filling: (see notes about doubling below)
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Key lime juice (fresh is great, but bottled saves time)
Zest from 2 small limes or 1 large

For the topping:
1 - 1.5 cups chilled heavy cream (depending on how thick you want it)
1 - 2 tablespoons sugar

Make crust: 
Preheat oven to 350F. Grind cookies, pecans, brown sugar and ginger in a food processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and process to blend. Transfer mixture to a 9" tart pan with removable bottom and use your fingers to press filling onto the bottom and around the sides of the pan as evenly as possible. Bake crust 10 minutes, until just set.

Make filling: 
Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl  until combined well. Add juice and zest and whisk until combined well. Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes (filling will set as it cools). Cool pie completely then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Make topping: 
Beat cream and sugar with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Spread cream on top of chilled tart with a spatula and smooth it out. Cover and chill until serving, up to several hours ahead. One cup of whipped cream gives you a nice layer on top but I like to go for the full 1.5 cups which makes the whipped cream layer nearly as thick as the filling layer. This is a personal preference, for sure.

Modification for 10" pan: The original recipe calls for a 9" tart pan but I don't have one. I use a 10" tart pan instead. There is plenty of crust for a 10" pan but the filling ends up being spread thin. Sometimes I just leave it thin and add extra whipped cream but I usually double the filling. The doubled recipe won't all fit in the tart pan, so I pour the little bit of extra into a ramekin and bake it alongside the pie for a quick treat. I use a full 1.5 cups of whipping cream for a thick layer on the 10" tart pan, but you could probably get away with using less. 

Most recipes tell you to whip the cream immediately before serving, but who wants to be in the kitchen right before dessert? I generally whip the cream and spread a thick layer on the tart in the morning and then pop it back in the fridge. I haven't had any issues with this. That last picture was taken with a leftover slice of pie two days later and the whipped cream is a little beat up but still delicious.

birthday pie
{birthday pie}

Friday, November 2, 2012

Barbie cake - adventures in fondant

I've never used fondant and I've always been scared of it. We made a trial Barbie cake a couple weeks before the party and I just did the bodice with buttercream. Terrible, terrible idea. The bodice looked okay initially, but it's tough to pipe on a doll and as soon as the cake came to room temp we had issues. It smeared if you looked at it wrong. There wasn't any way to keep the hair out of the way and synthetic hair + buttercream is supremely unappetizing.

test barbie
{test barbie with buttercream bodice}

I spent a lot of time researching fondant options in cake decorating forums and it seems Duff's fondant is superior taste wise but might be a bit soft. Wilton fondant is middle of the road. Serious cake decorators seem to like the Satin Ice fondant which I didn't even see at Michael's. I went with Wilton because it had the smallest package available and I figured the taste was completely inconsequential since I didn't anticipate anyone attempting to eat the bodices (spoiler - no one did, so we were safe).

barbies ready to party
{barbies ready to party}

There are a million fun looking fondant tools but I couldn't justify spending money on them. We just sprinkled powder sugar over a cutting board, rolled out lumps of fondant with my usual rolling pin and went for it.

experimenting with fondant
{experimenting with fondant}

Fondant tips from a completely unqualified person: 

Roll it out with powdered sugar. Cut it with a sharp knife. Start by draping it around the bodices so you can get an idea of how it feels to work with it. I didn't have a template for the tops, so we just winged it, basically cutting squares and then trimming them with a knife.

If you want to color it, gel food coloring works best and you can just dip a toothpick in the gel, then smear it on a lump of fondant and knead it in.

You can make ruffles without any fancy tools. I just rolled the fondant out, cut a few strips and then used the wrong end of a paintbrush as a tiny roller. If you run it along one edge of the fondant it creates a ruffle effect.

Attach the fondant to the bodice and to itself using clear alcohol (i.e. vodka). Just dip your finger or a paintbrush in the alcohol and lightly brush it over the surface.

If you want to use food color spray, it's best to cut the shape first and then spray it and let it dry before attaching it.

I made the gold bodice using some luster dust that's been kicking around my kitchen for well over a decade (if we were going to eat it, I might have worried about the age, but whatever). Any cake decorating store should stock it. To use it, just mix it with a few drops of clear alcohol and paint it on.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Barbie cake!

The makings of a quadruple Barbie cake. Because we are all about fulfilling long delayed childhood dreams for those we love. Also, we like a baking challenge.

quadruple barbie cake
{quadruple barbie cake}

We bought a Wonder Mold, three extra doll cake picks, one small package of white fondant. Optional: decor of your choice - we picked out silver food spray (because how could I resist?) and some sparkles and I already had some gel food coloring. This is all cheaper if you strategically use Michael's coupons but in hindsight I'd probably just order everything online because three trips to Michael's (my personal hell) in one week nearly unhinged me.

I picked out our recipes. This would have been much faster if we used cake mix. Normally, I have nothing against cake mix in a time crunch and if you make your own frosting most people will never know. The Barbie cake dilemma is that the ratio of cake to frosting is way off. You have a big slab of cake with just a small outside layer of frosting, so I was concerned that the cake mix taste would be too prominent.

I made a master shopping list.

D and I brainstormed decorating ideas and came up with some sketches. We spent waaaay more time talking about these cakes than any sane couple ever would. We're firmly united in our love of ridiculous projects.

I made a schedule:
Tuesday night - bake chocolate and red velvet cakes.
Wednesday night - bake semolina and coconut-lime cakes, make french buttercream frosting.
Thursday night - re-whip french buttercream, make cream cheese frosting, make chocolate glaze, frost all cakes, make fondant bodices and set aside.
Friday - transport (rock solid from the overnight refrigeration) cakes out to the desert, stick the bodice picks in at the last minute.

It worked out pretty well, but you probably won't be surprised to hear that we were up until 2 am on Thursday night. If I'd been able to take a half day off of work it wouldn't have been an issue, but I wasn't about to tell my boss I needed time off to make an enormous Barbie cake.

Here are the ladies and the recipes I used for each of them.

coconut skirt
{coconut lime cake with a french buttercream crumb coat under the lime glaze, decorated with coconut flakes}

cream cheese ruffles

french buttercream scallops

chocolate with sprinkles
{double chocolate cake with chocolate glaze frosting, gradated sprinkle effect}

Recipe notes: 

Everything was a single batch except the chocolate frosting which was doubled. The cake mold holds 5 - 6 cups of batter, which meant some of these cakes had more batter than I could use. I filled the mold 3/4 full each time and if there was leftover batter then I poured it into little ramekins and baked them for snacking. Cake fuel!

We've made the coconut lime cake from Smitten Kitchen before so we knew it would be good. I think next time I might want to try subbing in some coconut milk for the buttermilk. I love coconut, so I can't get enough. I did a crumb coat with some of the french buttercream I made for the lemon rosemary semolina cake, then drizzled the lime glaze over it and then just packed coconut flakes on top.

I'm not a huge red velvet fan but it's always a crowd pleaser so I searched for a recipe online. The one I used was very moist but had enough food coloring that I could taste it in the finished product and it squicked me out. I'd probably make it again but I'd cut down on the food coloring by 3/4 and see if it was still red enough to give the effect. The cream cheese frosting that goes with the recipe (scroll down to see it) is good and all I did was add a little splash of lemon juice for extra tartness and slightly less powdered sugar. It made the frosting a bit soft, but I'll take taste over structural integrity any day. I was going for this ribbon effect but I didn't have anything even closely resembling the right tip, so it turned out a little wonky. It didn't help that it was 100 degrees out and I kept having to stop and stick everything in the fridge to cool down.

The lemon rosemary semolina cake was very, very good and will get added to my binder. It isn't very sweet and is slightly reminiscent of cornbread. The rosemary is just a hint of flavor, I might even up it next time. This cake doesn't need frosting at all, but if you have to frost it then Brave Tart's faux French buttercream is a good option. The frosting is rich but not very sweet. If you aren't a fan of butter, you won't like it, but it paired really well with the simple cake. I generally make this Swiss buttercream, which uses egg whites. The French buttercream uses egg yolks and the taste ends up being almost like ice cream. Like Swiss buttercream, it must be eaten at room temperature. If it's even the slightest bit cold, all you taste is butter.

The double chocolate cake remains the only chocolate cake I'll happily devour with or without frosting. I used the emergency chocolate frosting recipe and they paired perfectly. It was the simplest one to decorate because I just used an offset spatula to slather the frosting on and then added sprinkles.

And here is a rather grainy cell phone picture of the ladies in action that night. We bought sparkler candles, placed one on each cake and crossed our fingers that we wouldn't end up with any flaming Barbies.

quadruple barbie cake!

Adventures in fondant coming tomorrow ...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Emergency chocolate frosting


It wasn't my month for cake. Prior to the cake disaster of 2012, I made a yellow cake and decided to attempt the notorious fudge frosting spur of the moment. But because it was impulsive, I didn't have all the right ingredients. I was low on sugar, so I skimped a bit. I was out of baking chocolate so I used semi sweet. I stirred the entire time because I didn't want to deal with cleaning out a really messy pan. I'm sure you can see where this is going.

It was an epic failure. I gamely attempted to rescue it with a 30 minute beating, then a splash of milk, then I tried adding powdered sugar to make it a buttercream. Not happening. It was grainy and wouldn't set up. I cursed for a while and then stuck it in the fridge and went to bed, under my theory that sleeping fixes everything.

In the morning, I still had a perfectly good yellow cake that needed frosting. A night in the fridge hadn't improved the fudge. I was out of white sugar completely. I only had salted butter. I needed to leave the house in less than an hour and I was starting to feel like an idiot for not just making birthday cookies instead - so much less fussy!

I dug through my cookbooks and found a recipe that met my narrow requirements. I had to use salted butter and semi sweet chocolate, but it didn't seem to make any difference and it came together in less than 5 minutes. I had low expectations. Glaze is not frosting, I say. This may have changed my mind. It set up in the fridge and created a satisfying layer on the top of the cake and it will definitely be part of my kitchen arsenal from now on.

I knew I didn't have enough to frost the entire cake, so I drizzled the glaze over the top while it was still hot, letting it drip down the sides. Then I let the remaining glaze chill for 20 minutes, whisked it up and spread a thicker layer on top of the cake.

Ridiculously quick chocolate glaze (recipe from Dorie Greenspan's wonderful book, makes ~ 1/2 cup - you'll want to double or triple for a layer cake)

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or semi-sweet)
3 tbsp unsalted butter (I used salted, actually)
3 tbsp powdered sugar

:: Put everything in a bowl or glass measuring cup and microwave, stirring every 30 seconds or so until melted. Don't let it get too hot! If it boils the butter will separate and the frosting won't get thick. It should come together quickly (there can still be a few unmelted pieces of chocolate and they'll melt as you whisk) and once it's hot you just need to whisk it till it gets smooth. Use immediately if you want the glaze effect or let it cool a bit if you want it to be spreadable.

:: If you don't have a microwave, you can just place your heat safe bowl over a pot of boiling water or use a double boiler. Just be careful not to let steam or water get into the bowl, because water is the enemy of chocolate. I don't use the microwave much, but I'm always grateful to have one when I'm working with chocolate.

I used my pathetic grainy fudge for the interior of the cake, but now I wish I'd just made more glaze and used it as filling as well.


Bright confetti can help disguise a multitude of sins.

I used this yellow cake recipe and I'm a fan. I didn't have buttermilk and it was totally fine.

Friday, August 17, 2012

For your Friday ...

To everyone who has ever cried in frustration over a cake recipe and wondered why it only happens to you ...

cake disaster
{cake disaster}

It just happens. Oh, maybe the other side is better, say you?

cake disaster
{cake disaster}

Nope. That was the side that avalanched right off in the fridge and I just ended up packing it back into place.  Tears were shed.

I've been making this cake annually for over a decade. I have no idea what I did wrong this time. Luckily it was still delicious, if extremely humbling to my baking ego. On a brighter note, the frosting, which is usually the issue, cooperated beautifully even though I made a triple batch in one go.

I'm just going to pretend it looked like the 2009 version instead. That was a good year.

the cake
{the cake}

This time last year we were deep in wedding preparations and I had to get a storebought cake and almost dropped it. I think my mom's birthday might be cake-cursed.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lemon debutante cake

lemon curd
{lemon curd}

I normally put recipes up here when I use them, because I normally have notes and tweaks and clarifications and I like to be able to look back at them.


I will not be posting Miette's recipe for the Lemon Debutante Cake here. I'm sorry. Mostly because it is so incredibly long and detailed that it would pain me to type it out and partly because the instructions are so exhaustive that I have nothing left to say. If you are looking to get a crash course in cake baking, the Miette cookbook is a great source. They walk you through it all step by step, which makes the recipes look intimidatingly long but is probably useful if you've never understood why you need to do a crumb coat.

lemon debutante cake
{lemon debutante cake}

It was incredibly good. It took a lot of time. You will need an instant read thermometer. You MUST measure out all your ingredients in advance and have them ready and waiting. Please consider all those factors before diving in.

You have to make a curd and a simple syrup before you even get going on the cake. The cake itself requires you to use a double boiler to cook the eggs and you have to melt the butter into the milk and everything needs to be at the proper temperature before you start combining things. The buttercream uses the European method, so you need to beat hot sugar syrup into egg whites. My cake fell in the oven and wasn't terribly cooperative and I was cursing while I got it out of the pans and I swore I wouldn't recommend anyone else make it.

But the cake was so roundly enjoyed that I can't bring myself to steer you away from it. I will just recommend that you avoid starting it at the end of a 10 hour workday. Come to it fully rested and everything should go just fine. And maybe don't bother trying to split the layers, because it really wasn't necessary.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Simple, fast

Way back in November I made a birthday cake for D's mom (the same one I made last year) and it was looking plain. I didn't have enough frosting left to do anything fancy. I didn't feel like reprising the walnut decoration I did last year. So ...


I made colored sugar (since I wrote that post, I have never again purchased decorating sugar - love it) and cut out a quick balloon stencil on wax paper, sprinkled a bit and it was done. I drew the strings on with a toothpick dipped in a bit of food coloring. It doesn't look bakery-level professional, but I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lemon ginger cookies

I made these cookies last weekend for my cousin's wedding. The original recipe makes thick cookies that you  slather with a lemon buttercream. Perfect showstoppers for a wedding, but it's hard to justify a buttercream sandwich for everyday eating.

cookies, stacked
{cookies, stacked}

The cookies by themselves on the other hand? They are perfect for an afternoon treat. The addition of almond meal makes the texture delicate and the flavor almost wheat-y. They're more lemon than ginger, though, and I'm a ginger addict. I think in the future I might try finely chopping crystallized ginger and adding it to the mix. You can double this recipe in a stand mixer with no problem at all.


Lemon ginger cookies (makes 18 if you're going for 3" cookies - original recipe from here)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely grated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted, ground (I used 4 oz of TJ's ready made almond meal, which is amazing and a huge time saver)

:: Mix the flour, salt, ginger and cinnamon in a large bowl and set aside.

:: Whip the butter and powdered sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on high (I usually get this going and then measure out the rest of the ingredients).

:: Stir in the lemon zest, vanilla and almond meal.

:: Stir in the flour mixture. I found that it worked best if I used the mixer on low speed to incorporate most of the flour, but I had to finish it by working the dough by hand briefly. The dough is fairly dry but it rolls out beautifully once you refrigerate it.

:: Divide the dough in half and shape into discs. Refrigerate about one hour, to make the dough easier to handle.

:: On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disc at a time to just under 1/4" thick (this is pretty thick, especially if you're used to rolling out 1/8", which is more standard) and cut your preferred shape. I used 3" scalloped edge circles. Set aside the scraps and then repeat with the second disc. Gently knead the scraps into a ball and roll them out to get a few more cookies. I only did one re-roll, although you might be able to eke out one more without affecting the texture too much. We just opted to eat the scraps instead.

:: Bake the cookies in a 325 degree oven for about 14 minutes, until the tops are firm and the bottoms are golden brown. You don't want to overbake them as they'll start to taste burned quickly. The original recipe suggested 20 minutes, but that was way too much for my oven (the little stack you see in the top picture is overbaked!). I would start checking at 14 minutes and add extra time if necessary.

These don't have any eggs - that's not a typo (trust me, I checked the original recipe about 20 times to convince myself I wasn't messing it up when I made them). They really don't need them. I was worried about the dough being cohesive enough, but it really does come together. Promise.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Around here

The edibles are slowly being stocked.

gifts, accumulating
{gifts, accumulating}

Teeny tiny glittery tags are being made. *

mini glitter tags!
{mini glitter tags!}


I finally got a chance to use the message in a cookie cutters that I got two years ago (my set is old, and I can't find anything exactly like it online to link to, sorry!). The verdict - fun, but sort of hard to get the hang of it. I think I'm improving.

gingerbread cookies
{gingerbread cookies}

cookie messages
{cookie messages}

Also, practicing being nice to myself. I'm not going to get everything done and that's fine. There won't be a ton of genius gifts this year and that's fine. I attempted to go buy a man's shirt yesterday and got so overwhelmed by the color choices and the crowds that I walked out of the store and went straight home and decided to re-watch Harry Potter instead. And that's fine. Actually, it's more than fine.

Because let's be honest - a long (self imposed) to do list and an overabundance of parties is hardly a hardship. Suck it up, lady.

* I've mentioned before that we have a glitter ban in effect around here and yes, it is still in full effect. But we are also both pro-sparkle, so solutions must be sought. These tags are in compliance because they are made out of purchased glittery metallic paper that doesn't shed. I think I need to go buy more, quickly. The tiny tag punch is an old Martha Stewart one, I have no idea if they still make it, but it's perfect for when you don't want to have to write anything except the person's name.