Monday, April 23, 2012

Vroom Vroom! Racing To The Party!

My nephew's birthday was last week, and my sister had him a little family party over the weekend to celebrate. She asked me (on quite short notice) to bake him a cake. I hit Google for some ideas on how i could pull it off almost immediately. I came up with a vision in my head, and hit the internet for some new cake recipes. My BH&G cook book doesn't have a pound cake recipe, can you imagine? I knew the cake i made would have to be sturdy, and i worried that regular cake wouldn't take the abuse.

I found some promising looking pound cake recipes on this website. When i scrolled down and saw there was a chocolate variation, i was sold! Same recipe, just add chocolate? Score!

One of the best parts of this recipe it it called for two 9" cake cans, and i didn't have to convert a tube or loaf pan recipe into round pans. I'm not lazy or anything, i just didn't have time for all that nonsense.

I made it exactly as stated in the recipe in the original vanilla flavor. It's also important to use the wax paper or parchment paper circles in the bottoms of your cake pans and grease the bottoms and sides well. I use shortening on a paper towel to grease my pans. It's cheaper than using spray and vegetable oil spray leaves a nasty sticky residue on my pans no matter how many times i wash them which really tweaks me off.

I was impressed that these cakes came out so perfectly even that i didn't have to trim the tops or anything. I always have to trim the tops of my regular cakes, plus my oven sort of leans forward a bit. My husband hasn't gotten around to adjusting the legs on it. These cakes didn't even have that forward 'slide' to them which shows my oven does lean a few degrees forward.

I wanted to do another layer, and i had 12" round pans to use. I finally decided to double the cake recipe, and fill the pans evenly, and bake the same amount of time to the 30 minute mark and keep checking every 10 minutes, as in the original recipe.

I REALLY tested the limits of my 5 qt. stand mixer with this one. As i mixed the batter, and the level kept rising, my husband and i were debating on whether or not it was all going to fit in there and mix or not.

In the end, my mixer looked like this:

Then it was time to add the chocolate.

I divided up the batter and slid them into the oven and once again, they came out PERFECT. I am totally in love with this recipe now. Check it out.

Once all 4 cakes were cooled, it was time to wrap them and put them in the fridge. The recipe says cling wrap, but i didn't have cling wrap. I have aluminum foil.

See how studded the chocolate cakes are with bits of dark chocolate? Yum!

I use family birthday cakes as a way of having an excuse to do new things. Previously i had only made fondant to use for cutting out small decorative pieces on cupcakes, and once i did 24 cupcakes with 100% fondant tops. But that was easy peasy compared to what i was about to attempt. My goal was to cover the bottom 12" layer cake with fondant.

First i had to do a crumb coat or 'dirty ice' it as Buddy Valastro calls it. I slide pieces of wax paper under all my cake edges so i don't get icing all over my cake plate.

Then i added a nice thick layer of frosting that will go between the layers and finish off the top layer with a crumb coat.

I made a batch of fondant and added color and rolled it out large enough to cover the whole bottom of the cake. 

And then i realized i had a problem. My rolling pin is only a regular sized rolling pin and i do not have a large fondant roller. On my favorite cake show, Cake Boss, they roll their fondant around a large pin and then unroll it over the cake.

So now what was i going to do? I had over 20 inches round(ish) of fondant.

It was my son who came up with a solution. We laid sections of waxed paper over the top of the fondant and rolled the wax paper and fondant together around my rolling pin. And then we unrolled it over the cake.... backwards. That's right. Wax paper side down.

This is where i wanted to bang my head against the wall.

So we lifted it all back up off the cake and i smoothed out the frosting, and i took the fondant off the paper and rolled it out again. New wax paper over the fondant. Roll it back up.

We managed to get the fondant onto the cake this time, properly, but not without some tearing. I had to patch it all up and smooth it out the best i could. I was dismayed. And a little peeved. And i might have wanted to cry a little bit.

Hey, i never said i was perfect. But i took a deep breath and i thought... i will cover all that crap up with icing.

I also decided that the top layer would NOT be covered in fondant. It might look a little strange, half in fondant and half in frosting, but my sanity would remain intact, and that's really what's important.

My next challenge was trying to figure out how to frost the top layers and then transfer them to the top of the first cake.

My son is the one who came up with a solution once again! What would i do without him?

We decided to use an 8" cake pan as our icing base. Putting the 9" cake on top of it, i had just enough overhang that i would be able to lift it off of the pan and onto the cake when i was finished.

In the cake recipe, it says to take the thicker cake (we poured 1/3 of the batter into one pan and 2/3 batter into the second pan) and cut it in half with dental floss. Yea, i tried doing it with dental floss, but that was going to take a coon's age. My husband took a bread knife and sawed it in half for me while i was doing some frosting.


One layer of white frosting, and a second layer of frosting in blue, and we're ready to assemble a cake!

I had to get serious from here on out. I bought some Disney's Cars toys to put on this cake, so instead of putting the top cake in the very center of the bottom cakes, i slid the top cake back to the edge of the top of the bottom cake, so it kind of made a "mountain".

I wanted the cars to be racing up to the top of my mountain. So i had to devise a road or highway.

I used a Wilton's #47 tip, flat side up, to make the asphalt. I was stressing over the road coloring because it came out kind of uneven. That's when i realized i'd been using milk in my buttercream, which i never used to do. I omitted milk from the rest of my frosting, and i made a LOT of frosting with this cake. To make the yellow lines, i simply put some yellow icing in a Ziploc type bag and nipped the tip off with scissors.

In my previous blog for the Easter Basket cookies, i mentioned how much of a pain the grass tip was. Well, i bought a new one. The first one was crappily stamped, and some of the holes have bits of metal partially covering them. I used my new grass tip and some green icing and put shrubby grass around the highway on both side, and around the seam of the two cakes. It was a LOT easier this time.

I used a brown icing in a sort of desert-y color that fairly matched the color on the Cars toy boxes and i piped rock formations and hills and buttes all around the bottom layer of the cake.

Then i took a nice white buttercream and piped a bunch of clouds all around the cake. Some of them were in formations. I thought it was a nice touch. I also took the same icing i made the yellow dotted line on the road with and i piped in a couple road signs. I just took a bit of frosting and colored it black and piped the sign decorations on. I also put a finish line on top of the cake.

Then i added some rocks and grass to the top of the cake. And a cool Cars logo with his name on it. My writing could still use some work.

All that was left was to put the Cars on.

And it was DELICIOUS!!!

I was very happy with this cake, and everyone loved it! I have like 7 more requests for cake soon. I'm going to be getting a LOT of practice! =)

As a sidenote, you can of course substitute milk chocolate or chocolate chips in this recipe for the chocolate bits in the chocolate cake. Don't be afraid to try something slightly different if dark chocolate isn't to your taste!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bake Sale Magic

For years now, i have struggled with making the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie. Once in a great while, they'd come out just right.

"Just right" to me means a lot of things combined. I don't want cookies that are too dark. My old oven was notorious for uneven baking. Maybe because it was a piece of crap. I want my cookies to have just the right shape across the top. I don't want everything except the chips or nuts to be flat because they spread too much. I would even refrigerate my dough and still get them. I also don't want my cookies to be too cakey. I want just the right amount of chew, substance, and moistness. This is a very difficult combination for me to get.

You know how Soft Batch™ cookies look so perfect? Well, i wanted to get something close to that, visually, but without all the corn syrup and preservatives.

In fact, baking chocolate chip cookies has become such a frustrating endeavor for me, that i had almost given up.

My son came home earlier in the week and said his Art Club was having a bake sale this weekend, and he'd like to contribute. He asked if he could borrow my baking stuff. I asked him if he even thought he could bake. He said "Well, i thought i'd borrow you, too. You're part of the baking supplies! I can't do this on my own!"

Isn't he cute how he "asks" me for things? Teenagers are so much fun.

I thought all week about what i could bake. I thought about shortbread, but when i think bake sale, i always think about things with chocolate. I just so happened to have several bags of chocolate chip varieties in my freezer. I didn't quite bake as much through the holidays as i expected. He had already asked about Heath bar cookies. So i thought i would give chocolate chip cookies a whirl again and if i had to be up all night with a backup plan, so be it.

Wouldn't you know it... my cookies came out PERFECT. Of course, since i don't get to eat them, they would be. That's how the universe works.

I made Heath Bar Chocolate Chip Cookies for my first batch, and the second bath were what i will just call Chocolate Chip Combo Cookies. I added both white and semi-sweet chips into them.

Now for pictures. So you can drool.

Heath Bar Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Chocolate Chip Combo Cookies!

All packaged and ready for the bake sale!

Now, for the recipe.

I did adapt the recipe for chocolate chip cookies from my Better Homes & Gardens cook book.

This is not my base recipe. I didn't invent it. I just tweaked it. I'll write the recipe out as written in the book, but add my 2 cents in parenthesis.

1/2 butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening or veg. oil (i adapted this to use 1/2 cup applesauce instead)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

The recipe calls for 1 12-ounce package of chocolate chips and 1 1/2 cups chopped and toasted (optional) nuts. But i think that's a lot. And i didn't want nuts. So i added approximately:

For the Heath cookies i added:
1/2 bag (or about 3/4 cup) of Heath Bits
1/2 - 3/4 bag of chocolate chips (i had a partial bag and i just dumped it all in)

For the Chocolate Chip Combos i added:
1/2 - 3/4 bag of chocolate chips
Approximately 1/2 bag of white baking chips

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large mixing bowl beat the butter and shortening (applesauce for me) with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat until mixture is combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour. Stir in chocolate chips and, if desired nuts. (I beat in everything with my stand mixer. Best small kitchen appliance ever.)

Drop dough by rounded teaspoons (i used a small sized ice cream scoop which i read estimates about 2 Tablespoons but i didn't fill it all the way) 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. (I advise against using ungreased cookie sheets. I prefer to line all my cookie pans with parchment paper. It will save you mega amounts of frustration. Seriously.) Bake for 8 or 9 minutes or until the edges are light brown (i took mine promptly out at 8 minutes but ovens vary). Cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

We taste tested them (of course) and my husband was over the moon, my daughters were begging for another, and my son will probably buy some of our own cookies at the bake sale. I have to admit, i was rather impressed with them myself.

I think i will make a whole new batch of the Heath cookies today. Not that i need them. But i want them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Peeps Sunflower Cake - Cute And Simple

On Easter Sunday, i invited my whole family (including in-laws) to dinner.

I wanted to have a nice dessert that was kid-friendly, because between my sister and myself, we have a half dozen kids running around.

My wrist still isn't taking a whole lot of action without me paying for it the next day, so i decided to make a Peeps Sunflower cake. I've seen it on the internet for the past few years, and i just thought it was so cute!

I used a standard yellow cake recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cook book. It's my husband's favorite cake color/flavor. (You can use any cake you would like for this.) Honestly, it didn't come out too yellow so next time i make one i need to look for a new recipe. I've been using my cook books more than the internet for recipes lately because sometimes internet recipes just don't come out right. It's not always the case, but i find myself having to tweak more recipes i get from the web... and when i need to bake something and don't want to screw it up, i know my BH&G book won't fail me.

I went for a chocolate frosting. I used the butter icing recipe from my book as well, and i think next time i may try something different, like a cooked icing.

I did one coating with a thicker icing, and i made another batch of icing a bit easier to spread for the finishing layer.

I used semi-sweet chocolate chips and patterned them out in circles, just like a sunflower.

When it was time to put the Peeps on, i used some extra frosting to cement them onto the cake a little better.

It was really cute and my family loved it! My teenage son loves Peeps, and he got a real kick out of it.

My only complaint is that it was difficult to get the Peeps on there and make them look ROUND. Maybe i should have tacked them down with toothpicks or something. Oh well, Sunflowers are perfect either, are they? Haha.

Easter Basket Cookies (Or Bird Nests. Whatev.)

Now that the Easter hoopla is over and the kids are back in school (finally!), i can get this ship underway!

I recently spent 2 months in a splint and brace due to a broken wrist and surgery. For those long weeks, i realized how terrible it is to have your mobility cut down. Unfortunately, it was my dominant hand, so i did a lot of ordering pizza and drive-thru. It sucked big-time.

As Easter approached, i was very eager to get back to feeling like my old self again. I spent a lot of time on Pinterest while laying broken on the couch. While diddling my time away re-pinning really neat things, i got some inspiration of my own.

I decided to make some cookies. I had seen some links on Pinterest where they made ice cream bowls using the bottom of a muffin tin and cookie dough.

I grabbed my mini pan and made some of Alton Brown's sugar cookie dough. I used a round cookie cutter and cut my dough out, and draped and shaped the dough around my muffin tin cups. I went every other cup around the edge, because otherwise the cookies would have touched and welded together as they baked. Also, I advise against using any of the inside cups, as the finished cookies pop off easier around the edges.

I did not grease my pan. I thought about it. But i baked 3 test cookies on my dark nonstick pan to see how it was going to work out first. All pans are not created equal, so test yours before you fill a whole pan full of cookie dough.

It worked well. I used a butter knife to pop the cookies off my pan. I held it flat under the bottom of my cookie and gently lifted until they came off.

I made some royal icing and a grass tip for the first cookie. I wondered if the icing was going to be too soft, and it really was. It wanted to meld back together  bit. You know how royal icing is. So i made a batch of buttercream icing for the rest of them.

The grass tip was kind of a pain in the butt. I had never used it before, and it kept getting clogged. I used a toothpick to poke into the holes when it got bound up, but by the time i was done, i was pretty annoyed. I don't know if there's a secret to using this tip or not. I guess practice makes perfect.

I will say that PMS and baking do not go well together. For my first baking project out of my brace, it was a rather frustrating endeavor.

But they were cute! I used little mini Cadbury eggs (my favorite Easter candy). I call them Easter baskets, but they kind of look like bird nests to me. I wasn't about to attempt putting handles on them or anything.

For something i kind of came up with on my own, i think they came out very cute. I was pleased.

You can find Alton Brown's cookie recipe here. I used the butter icing recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cook book. I don't know why it calls it butter icing when most websites call the same icing buttercream. It's the same basic recipe you can find anywhere. I think the cookie dough was perfect. It baked up very firm and solid instead of crumbly. I always worry about crumbly cookies if i am going to do more to them than bake them. It's impossible to ice a crumbling cookie.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pull Up A Seat!

Welcome to my blog. I am not new to blogging, but i am new to putting myself out there in "public", which is what i call the greater internet.

I have wanted to have my own baking blog for a long time now, but i convinced myself that with all the other blogs out there, maybe i didn't have a lot to offer. But then i realized that i do. I am always learning, and maybe my photos don't look like they came out of a studio, but everyone has to start somewhere. I have always enjoyed baking. Back when my son was young and i was still in my final days of being a teenager, i used boxed mixes and canned frosting, and that was good at the time. I've evolved since then into doing all my cakes from scratch and working my way up the ladder into more complicated things, but i always remember that's where i started.

I am not going to say i have not sort of gotten snobby about boxed mixes and canned frosting... i think all of us who venture beyond the realm of Duncan Hines kind of get that way, but i will say right out of the gate that if a boxed mix compels you to bake a cake for your family, then that's still a good thing. I think canned frosting tastes like... (how do i say this nicely?)... crap... (hey, that IS nice)... but it's an okay place to start.

I wish all my baked goods came out perfect. They sooooo do not. I'm still trying to figure out why i can make the same damn recipe for oatmeal cookies and have them come out slightly different every single DAMN time. They're always GOOD, but they're not always the SAME. But that's where i think i have something to offer. Experience. The occasional failure. Some good old fellow frustration. And then when something comes out perfect, i can share how freaking excited i am.

Anyhow, i hope you find something good here. Once i get started anyhow. I'll be adding to this thing shortly, but it's late, and i'm tired. I baked a pretty cute cake for Easter, so i'll get that up as soon as i have some free time where i am not yawning.

Glad to have you along for the ride.