Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Strawberries and Cream (Cheese)

Is everyone ready for Christmas?! I almost thought I wouldn't make it; but right there at the end, my husband and I managed to pull out all the stops, and get the shopping done, gifts wrapped, tree up, and goodies baked.  Whew! Just in the nick of time.

For those of you who thought you got everything done, and then, just at the eleventh hour, realized that you're heading to a friend/family member/colleagues' place and you have nothing to bring, it's ok.  Don't panic, and for the love of God, put down that dusty bottle of wine.  Here's an elegant treat that you can whip up at the last moment. (Actually, the later you wait, the fresher it tastes.)

Strawberry Cheesecake Bites (modified from Pinterest, my new love)

Fair Warning: This is the lazy method (or panic-d method) of making this recipe.  You could make the cheesecake filling yourself. . . but why?  Just buy the tub from the grocery store and save yourself some time.

4 Packs of strawberries (the larger the berry the better)
Beautiful Berries
1 Tub Philly cheesecake filling
4 oz White candy disks
4 oz Semisweet chocolate
Sugar pearls

Snowflake Template from Tickle the Imagination
Fancy pastry tip (1M works best, but I hadn't run the dishwasher, so I ended up with a french tip instead)
Parchment paper
Melon baller (or a small spoon works fine, just with slightly more effort)


Prep a cookie sheet with parchment paper

Cored and Ready!

Cut the leaf part off of the strawberries, and core them, inserting the melon baller at the widest part.

Cut a small portion of
the tips off so they stand up straight on their own.

Heat the semisweet chocolate gently over a double boiler until fully melted and glossy.  Be careful not to overheat, or else the chocolate will look lumpy and charred.

Tacked to the Parchment
Dip the point of the strawberry  (which is no longer really a point, since you chopped that part off) into the warm chocolate mixture and place on the cookie sheet.  Wiggle it around a little, so that there is a small pool of chocolate that forms beneath the strawberry, binding it to the parchment.

Let the chocolate solidify for at least 15 minutes.  The longer the better.  If you have enough time, wait an hour.


Fit a large pastry bag with a fancy tip -- some sort of star tip is best.  Fill with the cheesecake filling.  Store in the fridge.

Lay the snowflake template on a cookie sheet.

Cover with parchment paper and tape down.  Fill a pastry bag with the candy disks.  Microwave on 50% at 30 second intervals until the chocolate is fully melted but not burned.  In other words, the moment the chocolate is melted, remove it from the microwave.  Twist the top shut so chocolate won't come out the wrong end. The bag will be very hot, so wrap it in either a paper or kitchen towel to be able to properly handle it.  Cut a tiny hole in the bottom of the bag and test on a plate or scrap paper to make sure that you can pipe a smooth steady line of chocolate.  If not, cut the hole slightly larger.  Make sure you don't cut the hole too big, otherwise it will be impossible to control the line of chocolate.  It's all about moderation, people.

Pipe over the outline of each snowflake.  If you are anything like me, your snowflake may look a little messy, but that's ok, just tell people that it's in the process of melting ;)

Press a sugar bead into the middle of each snowflake.  This is easiest with a pair of (cooking) tweezers.  Otherwise, if using your fingers, be very careful.

Let the chocolate harden completely.  This won't take long because the lines are so thin, but I waited about 15 minutes just to be sure.  Peel very carefully from the parchment.

So pretty!

My chivalrous husband

Ok, back to the strawberries.  Pipe a mound of filling into each berry.  I found that this works best if you first pipe a ring on the border of the strawberry, then pipe straight down until the cavity fills, and then finally pipe up into a pyramid, starting from the border and working in.  If you use the same filling that I did, beware, it is very, very firm.  I almost gave myself a stress fracture trying to squeeze it out of the bag.  Eventually, my husband took over. 

Place a snowflake on top of each strawberry.  Be very careful; if you exert too much pressure, the snowflake will break. Sprinkle with some edible glitter.

Carefully move each strawberry to your serving plate to display as you wish.  Some of the chocolate may not transfer completely (I think this may be a consequence of contact with the relatively moist strawberries.)  If the chocolate is still moist, press down slightly when placing on the serving tray to suction the berry onto the tray.  Store in the fridge.  Surprisingly, these transport remarkably well, so they are a great gift


Because who doesn't like cheesecake and chocolate?? And the crowning grace? Definitely the lush juicy strawberries. . . In the middle of winter,  it's like a tiny bright promise of hope that one day summer will return.  So take a bite and taste the sunshine.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Delicious De"light"ful Dessert

Is anyone else stuffed to the gills by now? And we still have two weeks until the New Year! Far be it for me to ever say no to a plate of delicious holiday fare, but I think I'm coming up on my limit.  Of course, that will never prevent me from indulging, but I think I'm going to lean towards some lighter forms of sustenance until the end of the season.

Here is a great little dessert that's enough to end the day on a sweet note, without feeling like you'll have to be rolled to bed.  I made it as a birthday treat for a friend, but it would be great to bring to a holiday party or as a homemade Christmas present as well.  Much better than fruitcake in my opinion!
(Does anyone actually eat that stuff anyways?)

Raspberry Lime Meringues Nests

3 egg whites at room temperature
(If you are ambitious, you can save the yolks for ice cream.  If you are me, then you'll dump them down the garbage disposal and pat yourself on the back for using the 'healthy' part of the egg, conveniently ignoring the sugar content in this recipe)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp Razzmatazz liqueur
Rose pink gel food coloring
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp chocolate extract
4 oz cream cheese
Lime curd
(You can make this yourself, but I buy Dickinson's every time I need a lemon or lime curd.  It's more shelf stable and tastes dee-li-ci-ous) 
Mint l


Stiff Peaks!


Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line a sheet pan with a Silpat or with parchment paper.  If using parchment paper, be sure to weigh down the edges so it doesn't move when piping the meringues.  Stability is key for this recipe!

Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and flavorings to soft peaks using a whisk attachment.  Color the meringue to personal taste. Slowly sprinkle in the sugar, 1/3 cup at a time until stiff peaks form.

Note the Leaning Tower of Meringue in the upper left corner

Fill a large piping bag with the meringue.  I fitted a Wilton 1M star tip to the bag to make it pretty, but you can even just cut a small hole in the tip of the bag and pipe that way as well.
Starting from the center, pipe outwards in a spiral to form a flat circle. Don't leave any holes, or you won't be able to fill the nests without leaking.  The diameter is personal preference.  I made mine approximately 2 1/2 inches.  Carefully, build a wall by piping circles (higher and higher) around the outer edge of the base.
You must make sure that your wall is 90 degrees to the base, or else your nests will start to lean.

Carefully transfer the sheet pan to the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, cream 1/3 cup sugar with cream cheese.  When fully incorporated, add the whipping cream, chocolate extract and remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and whip to stiff peaks.  Fill a pastry bag fitted with a Wilton 2D star tip with the whipped cream.

After the 45 minutes of baking time has elapsed, turn off oven and leave tray in oven 15 minutes more until the meringues are crisp and feel light. The base may still be a bit soft, but don't worry, it will firm up when cooled completely.

You can store the meringues within an air-tight container in a cool, dry place for up to a few days.

Spoon layer of lime curd into nest to cover the bottom, and fill 2/3 full.  Pipe whipped cream to fill the remainder of the nest. Then overlapping a small portion of the edge of the nest, pipe towards the center to create a pyramid of whipped cream.

Top with a couple of raspberries and a mint leaf. (And some edible glitter if you're like me and love sparkles!)

Now they're ready!  Again, makes a great gift.  And you know, you can always gift something to yourself. . . right? Just a thought! ;)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Birthday Cake, Take Two or Fish Food

It's been a while. . . I know.  Things have been busy. And by busy, I really mean too cold to accomplish anything.  This is how my life has been lately.
  1. Wake up in the dark (have I mentioned lately how much I hate winter?)
  2. Pile on layer upon layer of clothing until I resemble the abominable snowman.  Convince myself  that I'm warm.
  3. Have that delusion smashed to bits the second I walk out the door.
  4. Violently shiver until my muscles fatigue (around the time that I get to work.)
  5. Work
  6. Repeat the warm delusion, losing delusion, shivering into seizures on my way home from work
  7. Contemplate going to the gym to get my blood moving, but decide that my blood will be warmer burrowed under fuzzy blankets.
  8. Go to sleep and dream about tropical beaches and sunburns.
  9. Repeat
So in other words, I haven't really been that busy, just that lazy (and cold. . . did I mention cold?)  But with this past weekend, came the blessed appearance of 47 degree weather.

**Let me pause a moment while I digest the utterly depressing fact that I now think 47 degree weather is a gift.**

The heat wave was right on time actually, since it was my dear husband's birthday this past week. (I did rouse myself from hibernation long enough to make some cream puffs -- post to follow soon -- but nothing really exciting.)

I felt the need to celebrate. Because what is the best thing about birthday celebrations? (see previous post for hint. . . )  Birthday cake!!! (as long as the baker isn't mired in a sea of apathy as an unfortunate result of being frozen like a Popsicle.)

So I thawed, and I baked.

The darn thing took pretty much the entire day to make, and I don't want to write a saga to rival the Odyssey, so this will be a quick (relatively. . . it's all relative really, right?) post dedicated to the decorations   That's the best part anyways!

For those of you who are interested in what's on the inside -- chocolate cake, caramel buttercream. Pretty simple.  I made a stout cake using Guinness because I wanted to be fancy -- but honestly, my regular chocolate cake recipe is better.  I will share in the future. Or now if you can't wait and want to message me for it.

Backstory:  My husband is an aquarium aficionado.  As in, he has two in the house already, and, if he could, he would put one in every room.  I like fish and everything, but not that much, so we're capped at two for the time being.  But, I thought it would be fun to combine his hobby with my hobby and make him a sweet little fish cake.  As in fish on the cake, not a fishcake like the ones that are fed to little kids.  And as in confection fish, not real fish, because, ewww, that would be gross.

I really wanted to make a cake that looked like an aquarium, complete with glass sides (made from sugar) but I'm not quite Cake Boss level yet, so I settled for a cake that looked like the ocean. . . sort of. . .if you squint, maybe.

Frosting was easy -- buttercream with a lot of blue food coloring.  Remember!  Gel color for buttercream -- water based coloring will not work. (Honestly, this was the best cake to frost.  No smooth edges necessary, the messier the better to mimic the motion of water.)

I decided to make "waves" out of chocolate, swirling white and blue candy together to get a pretty effect.  Stick those onto the edge of the cake, and I really didn't have to worry about getting a nice clean surface.

The figurines on the cake were made from modeling chocolate.  There are several medias that you can use to make edible figures: Fondant, Gum paste, and Modeling chocolate.  My media of choice is modeling chocolate.  As far as I'm concerned, fondant and gum paste may be theoretically food material, but I find the actual taste of both so off-putting, that they may as well be inedible. Modeling chocolate tastes like, well, like chocolate! And there's nothing wrong with that.  Another plus with modeling chocolate is that it doesn't harden when exposed to air like fondant does, so there is a lot more time to play around with the dough to make the figure absolutely perfect.  There are trade-offs of course--life is about compromise after all.  Because modeling chocolate stays soft for longer, it's harder to use food safe markers to decorate since it's easier to tear the clay.  Also, the warmer it gets the more easily deformed it is, so it's very important to handle sparingly and then once perfect, don't touch it! I left it at room temperature to dry for several days, but you can also harden in the refrigerator.

Here's how to make modeling chocolate:

Use a 5:1 ratio of candy melts to corn syrup.
*If you are looking for a pure white clay, be sure to use bright white candy melts

  1. Heat candy melt in your microwave at 50% in 30 second intervals until the chocolate is creamy and without any lumps.  Make sure not to overheat, or the melts will burn.
  2. Add the corn syrup and fold the chocolate into the corn syrup from the outside of the dish to the center.  When perfectly combined, it will look slightly curdled, but well mixed.
  3. Turn out onto cling wrap and wrap tightly.
  4. Set aside for two hours.
  5. After the break, knead into a smooth shiny chocolate clay ball.  It's beautiful.  It was so pretty that I forgot to take pictures and just started playing with it -- so sorry about that.
I'm not so good with the artsy stuff, so I followed this post to design the fish. (By the way, this blogpost should really be sponsored by Pinterest, since all the decoration ideas came from that fount of knowledge.) Since the post was written in Russian, I got really lucky that the blogger took many self-explanatory photos . . . unlike me.  Again, sorry -- my energy burst didn't extend to my camera as much as it should have.  But check out her post, it makes the seemingly complicated job of making a 3D fish from clay very easy.  Since I used chocolate and not real clay, it wasn't as simple as just pinching the multiple components together to make them stick.  But it wasn't much harder.  When working with modeling chocolate, just keep a small bowl of melted chocolate (I used 1 candy disk) and a toothpick around, and paint the clay with melted chocolate where you want another clay piece to stick.  Hold the two components together until the chocolate dries (about 15-20 seconds.)  Because, again, my energy burst was limited, I elected to color the fins with food markers instead of using additional pieces of candy clay to color them.  The leaves were much easier to make, I just rolled out the clay and cut out oblong shapes that looked leaf-like and scored the veins onto them.

 The idea for the waves came from Iced Jems.  Check it out; her cake looks awesome, and I was thinking, well, with blue and white, the swirled pieces will look just like waves! 

This is how you do it --

Set up two cookie sheets, lined with either Silpats or parchment paper.
  1. Melt one packet of white candy disks in a bowl and one packet of blue candy disks in a separate bowl. Now, you have to work quickly, because the candy solidifies in a hot second.  (Get it? Hot second. . . haha. . . it's not a blogpost without at least one bad joke. . .)
  2. Take a tablespoon of white chocolate and spoon it onto the parchment paper.  
  3. Move the chocolate around with the spoon until you have a fairly thin, round, even, layer of  white chocolate (or imitation white chocolate in this case.)
  4. Spoon a ring of  melted blue chocolate around the white.  Note: I drew all of the circles and rings before I started to manipulate the chocolate, but because that took a while, some of the chocolate had already started to solidify before I wanted it to, so in the future, I would probably do each piece to completion individually. Also, this would probably be easier to pipe onto the parchment than to spoon.

  1. Draw a knife through the chocolate starting at the edge of the blue chocolate, through the white chocolate and all the way to the other side blue chocolate. Keep swirling the colors until you get the design that you like. Don't overwork the chocolate though, or you will just get an even light blue color throughout.
  2. Repeat the process until you have as many pieces as your heart desires (or until you run out of chocolate.)
  3. Let sit until dry -- this only took about 10 minutes for me, but be patient -- try to move the chocolate too early and it will be ruined.

  4. After dry, use a knife warmed by running under warm water to cut a straight edge.
  5. Stick the pieces of chocolate onto your frosted cake with the straight edge down.  The buttercream   should keep the chocolate adhered to the cake but if you are having any issues, you can stick the chocolate pieces onto the cake using  a small amount of melted chocolate as an adherent on the back of the chocolate piece.  Hold against the cake until the adherent is dry.

And here is the finished product:

 So, again, not really Cake Boss quality, but I'm learning, so I call it a win (and besides, mine was way less expensive -- do you know how much he charges for those things?!)  Our fish, however, weren't so appreciative; I kept holding a figure up to the aquarium and they kept swimming away with alarmed looks on their faces.  (Oh yes, fish have expressions, you just have to look closely. . .)  Luckily my husband got a kick out of it, and we got to eat cake, (and I was temporarily warm) so ultimately a success!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rosy Posy Birthday Cake

I love birthdays.  Especially my birthday.  Some people think it's odd that I still get excited about my birthday since I'm in my mid-30's; in fact some people think (and have actually told me) that once you reach your teenage years, it's unseemly to look forward to your birthday. ?! (Note: Although I try to be a tolerant person, these aformentioned people are not among those I would call friends. . .some ideological differences are too great to look beyond.) But I do love my birthday. And what's the best part of a birthday. . .BIRTHDAY CAKE (of course)!  And I just happen to have to good luck to bake.  (Does anyone see where this is going?)  I'll just come out and say it:  For my birthday, I baked myself a birthday cake.  A significantly greater number of people than the group mentioned above thought that this was odd.  But no! It makes perfect sense!  I love my birthday; I love birthday cake; I happen to be quite picky (although I prefer to think of it as having very high standards); and I love to bake.  Hence, I should make my own birthday cake. And I did.  And it wasn't bad, if I must say so myself, although it took a long time.  One of the disadvantages of baking as a hobby is that it has to be scheduled around all of the other time-consuming necessities of life, so I snatched an hour here, 30 minutes there, multi-tasked my head off, and 3 days later. . . had my birthday cake.  Time-consuming, but very satisfying. . . and, honestly, where else was I going to find a rosy-posy triple tiered white cake filled with luscious white chocolate ganache and juicy raspberry preserves and topped with the most delicious creamy, nutty pistachio buttercream?
Like I said, I'm picky. . .

White Chocolate Ganache

Super simple.
Rules of Engagement:

  • Use a 3:1 ratio by weight of white chocolate to heavy cream.  (I used 9 oz chocolate: 3 oz cream, but I made too much)
  • Use good white chocolate.  (I used Callebaut) 
(Sidebar-- have you ever seen anything as beautiful as a gargantuan untouched hunk of creamy white chocolate?)
  • Heat cream until just simmering.  
  • Pour over white chocolate
  • Mix to melt
  • Let sit until firm. 
My ganache firmed up within a couple of hours, but the timing will vary depending on the quality of chocolate, the temperature of the kitchen, etc.  Whip with a beater when firm but not hard.

White Cake, adapted from King Arthur's Flour 
(makes three 6 inch round layers)

2 3/4 cups Cake Flour
1 2/3 cups Sugar
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
3/4 teaspoon Salt
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) Unsalted Butter, almost melting in consistency
4 large Eggs Whites plus 1 whole large Egg at room temperature
1 cup Whole Milk
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 teaspoon Almond Extract
1 teaspoon Coconut Extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, standard. Grease three 6-in round pans and line with parchment paper.  Set aside.   Sift the cake flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Mix for a couple of minutes at low speed with the paddle attachment until completely blended.  Add the butter and blend until the mixture resembles damp sand.

 Add the egg whites, one at a time, for one minute per egg white, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the bottom of the bowl between each egg.  Add the full egg last.  
In a small bowl, mix the extracts with the milk and add slowly, in thirds, while still beating to the mixing bowl, being careful not to splash.  Between each third of milk, beat mixture for one minute. 
Pour into the three prepared dishes; weigh each dish to make sure that an equal amount of batter is in each, ensuring equal sized tiers.
Bake for 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.  The cakes should rise significantly; check with a wooden skewer in a couple of places within each cake to ensure evenly and fully cooked cake.

Meanwhile. . .

Pistachio Italian Buttercream, adapted from King Arthur's Flour
(makes enough to frost and decorate a 3 tiered 6 in layer cake, with enough extra to practice making buttercream roses. . . or to eat straight out of the bowl ;) )

Ode to Buttercream:  

oh buttercream. . .
whatever form you may take 
whether swiss, italian, or french 
each separate
yet together in inspiring despair, in the very recesses of my soul
i cry, i scream, i wish to tear my hair out
to throw offending bowl through the window, 
the shatter of glass mimicking my tortured heart
but in the end, you are the best of the best.  
no other can compare.  
the depths of my hatred for you are only exceeded by my love 
it is a thin line indeed. . .

Take a moment to appreciate my bad poetry. . .

But really, buttercream is the worst (and the best!); every time I make it, something different happens.  It's so moody.  Last time I made this buttercream, it turned out beautifully.  So easy and delicious, and. . . this time?  No. Not so much.  But I digress.
Sugar Syrup:
1 1/4 cup Water
1/2 cup Sugar

8 Egg Whites at room temperature
1 tsp Cream of Tartar
1/4 tsp Salt
1/3 cup Sugar
1 cup Water

6 sticks Unsalted Butter in 1 in cubes
1/4 cup Hi-Ratio Shortening
1 1/2 Tbsp Vanilla Extract 
1/4 cup +2 Tbsp Pistachio Paste
Combine sugar and water for sugar syrup in small saucepan.  Stir briefly to dissolve sugar, then heat to 240 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine all of the ingredients for the meringue, except the sugar, and beat with a whisk at medium to medium-high.  The mixture will get foamy and then opaque and white.  Sprinkle in the sugar and increase the speed to high.  Whip until stiff peaks form.

 While the stiff peaks are forming, make sure you keep an eye on the sugar syrup.  After the mixture reaches 240 degrees, but before it reaches 250 degrees, take the pot off of the heat and slowly pour into the stiff meringue mixture, along the side of the bowl, so the sugar syrup does not get caught in the whisk and start to spin sugar strands. 
Whip at high speed for approximately 20 minutes at which time the mixture should be no warmer than 80 degrees Fahrenheit; then add the butter.  This is very important.  Do not add the butter until the mixture has cooled to the specified temperature -- otherwise you will get buttercream soup.  It helps to wrap an ice pack around the base of the bowl.

Buttercream is very finicky.  If the mixture is too hot, like I mentioned above, when you add the butter, it will melt -- leaving you with an oily, soupy mess.  If it's too cold, the meringue and the butter will not combine and you will have a chunky, nauseous disaster. Both of these things happened to me within the same batch of buttercream.   Sigh. . . see ode to buttercream, above.  

The mixture was was running around 89 degrees F, but I had already been whipping for so long, that I just gave up and added the butter -- which then promptly melted into the oily mess referenced above.

There are (theoretically) ways to fix this.  One involves placing the bowl into an ice bath and mixing until the buttercream forms properly.  Want to see what happened when I did that?
   This Happened:

So gross.  At this time, I was unhappy.  Really, really unhappy, and wondering how much it would cost to buy buttercream straight from a bakery.  But I persevered. 
The disgusting mess above happens when your mixture is too cold.  Which is actually not as hard to fix as a too hot buttercream.  Ready?  Here's the secret:  Take (for this amount of buttercream) a full water glass of the congealed/watery butter/meringue mixture and heat in the microwave until melted. Pour a glass of wine. Add the melted mixture to the bowl.  Take a generous swig of wine.  Beat the mixture at high speed. Practice breathing until it happens.  What happens, you ask?
This Happens:
And that, my friends, is buttercream. (Italian in this case, but they all work pretty much this way.)  Add 1/4 cup pistachio paste and the vanilla extract to taste, and take a deep breath.  The hard part is done.
(At sometime during this debacle, the cakes should have finished baking.  Set them on a rack to cool. )
Because I'm a sucker for layers, I torted the each layer once cooled (fancy way of saying 'slice in half.')  A bread knife works beautifully for this. If the tops of the cakes have domed, slice them down until flat. Fill a pastry bag without a tip with a small amount (1/4 cup) of white chocolate ganache. Cut a small hole at the tip of the bag. Heat 1/4 cup of raspberry preserves in the microwave for 20 seconds.  The preserves should be loose enough to easily spread, but not so loose that they are liquid.  If you overheated, no worries.  Just wait a couple of minutes and they will firm right up again.

Now, the fun part.  Place the first cake half, cut side up on a 6 in cake board. Pipe a ring of white chocolate ganache around the cake, leaving just a little space between the edge of the ring and the edge of the cake.  Spread 1/3 of the preserves inside the ring.  The ring of ganache will prevent the preserves from seeping into your frosting on the outside of the cake. Place the other half of the first cake, cut side down on the first half.  Press down gently to even the top, but not too much (!!) or else the preserves will leak out the edges. Spread 1/4 cup white chocolate ganache evenly on the surface.

Repeat with the remaining 4 layers; however, once you have placed the very top layer on top of the stack, do not top with ganache or preserves.

Instead, spread a very thin layer of buttercream over the entire cake, just to cover the surface and give you a even decorating surface.

Then, decide how many colors you want to decorate with.  I happened to see a cake with orange, yellow, pink, and purple that looked particularly good (and unexpected -- who would think that orange and purple would go together??), so I decided to use 5 colors (including green for the leaves.)  I pulled out 5 bowls of approximately equal size and divided the frosting.  Then using gel food coloring (because liquid will cause the frosting to break, and after all the work that frosting took. . . well. . . perish the thought), mix up your colored frosting.  Go slow, because a small amount of gel coloring goes a long way, especially if you use Electric colors by Americolor. Prepare 5 pastry bags either with individual tips or couplers if you are planning on using the same tip (which is cheaper but so much more of a pain.)  Use a closed star tip for the roses and a leaf tip (duh) for the leaves.  The most common closed star tip is the Wilton 2D, but I wanted a smaller rose, so I went with an Ateco 26.

(So easy I almost don't want to give it away) 

With your tip at a 90 degree angle to the top of the cake, pipe a small mound straight up, then move the tip in a circle (either clockwise or counterclockwise works.)  Make sure you keep the circle tightest at the center and then gradually looser as your "rose" expands.  This is almost foolproof.  The only way to mess it up is if you make your circle too loose and the layers don't hug each other.  Then it does look kind of silly -- but this is pretty much the easiest piping technique out there.  (And millions of times easier than making real piped buttercream roses.  The top is the easiest to do -- the sides are slightly trickier, but as long as you keep the circles tight, you will have no problem. (Get the theme here?  Keep the circles tight.) The warmer the buttercream gets, the messier the roses will look, so refrigerate the bags as needed to keep cool. 
I interspersed the roses randomly and filled in gaps with leaves, but my husband suggested that it would have been easier if I had a pattern in mind.  He was correct (and, more importantly, had the right to gripe since I recruited him to make the process go more quickly.)  But I did like the randomness.

The leaves are slightly more tricky.  I'm still honestly not sure how to do it -- I just kind of kept experimenting until I had a few that turned out ok.  My technique (which probably is not actually the right technique) was to hold the long end of the tip more parallel to the cake than perpendicular, squeeze while keeping the tip in place, and then after getting a small amount of frosting built up, quickly pull the tip outwards while relaxing pressure on the bag.  The leaves were not the prettiest part of my cake (my husband said that they looked like lizards), so maybe don't use my technique. . .

The overall product turned out pretty well though -- 
I'm not ashamed to say that I'm pretty proud of my creation. . .
(props for the cake banner do go solely to the husband, though)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Three day guide to Croissants

It has been a sad couple of weeks for the baker in me.  I've recently run into a slew of dismally disappointing (yet nevertheless time-consuming) projects.  The worst part?  The dishes look amazing. . .until I actually take a bite, that is.

Example 1: Tomato Tart with Roasted Garlic and Chevre

Doesn't that look mouth-wateringly delicious?  Well, you're just going to have to take my work for it. . . it wasn't.  It had the flavor profile of day old bread.  Sad. . .

                                                                             Example 2: Apple Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

No sadness with this one, just anger.  It doesn't seem right. . . it looks so gooey and cinnabun-y and.  . . and. . .gooey!! And it was. . . dry, and congealed, and, well. . . and, just not worth my time.  The only good thing about it was the time that I didn't have to spend at the gym after not eating it.

There's more, but I won't torture you with more dishes that look amazing and taste awful.

So, hence the hiatus in blog-posts.  I didn't really want to post an enormously long missive about how I did this, and then did that, and then voila! doesn't it look great?! and then, oh yeah, it was actually massively disappointing.  But it's ok, I pulled myself together. . . if at first you don't succeed and all. . . and last weekend I made a batch of (thankfully) beautiful, successful croissants.

This recipe is from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

(by the way, Bouchon Bakery Cookbook: I love you.
You never disappoint me. . . unlike some online recipes which shall remain nameless, see above )

Note: This recipe is very time consuming.  Count on doing something to contribute to this dish on at least 3 consecutive days.

Butter Croissants 
Day 1

Prepare butter block.  Place butter between two sheets of parchment paper and pound into 6 3/4 x 7 1/2 in block.  Work quickly with chilled butter; it will get harder to control as it melts. Wrap and refrigerate.

For the poolish: Mix instant yeast, water, and flour together. The mixture will be wet.  This is your poolish. Cover and leave at room temperature for 12 to 15 hours. There should be bubbles and cracks within the mixture when it's ready.

Day 2

Combine flour, yeast, sugar and malt powder in mixer with dough hook.  Mix gently for a few seconds.  Pour  water around poolish to loosen and add to mixing bowl. Add butter and mix.  Sprinkle salt on top of dough and mix until fully combined. Add water sparingly to keep mixture moist.  (The recipe says to not use all the water, but use as needed. . . but I always end up using it all.) Mix for 20 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface (not floured.)  The dough should roughly be in a rounded mass. 

 Pull the dough inferiorly and fold over towards the middle, then do the same superiorly (like you would fold a letter.  Do the same with the right and left side.  Place in greased bowl, seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for one hour at room temperature.

Line a quarter sheet pan with parchment paper.  Remove dough ball from bowl and pat into a 10 x 7 1/2 in rectangle, making sure to work any gas bubbles to the edge and then out of the dough. Transfer to the sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 20 minutes.

Prepare a lightly floured work surface.  Also, prepare your rolling pin.  I cannot stress enough how helpful a heavy (marble) rolling pin is.  I used to use a simple wood pin, and my muscles would ache for days after working with laminated dough.  Seriously, the last time I made croissants, I had a fine tremor in my hands until mid-way through the next week -- I was convinced that I was developing early Parkinson's (not a fun few days.)
Now, with the marble pin, easy-peasy.  If you do use a marble rolling pin, refrigerate -- this has the added benefit of allowing you to roll for longer without heating the butter up within the dough.  

Lightly flour your hands and the rolling pin.  Roll out your dough to a 16 x 7 1/2 in rectangle.  


Lay the butter block on top of the dough so that the long side of the butter lies along the long side of the dough. 

                                                 Fold the short ends together and pinch shut.

 Now, time to use those muscles (at least if you're using a wooden pin.)  Roll across the dough parallel to the seam, to relax the dough.
 Flip so that a short end faces you and roll out perpendicular to the seam into a 22 x 9 in rectangle.  The dough stretches a little on its own because it's so heavy, so to assist in lengthening, it's good to "fluff," meaning to lift the ends in an short up and down fashion, like "fluffing" a cotton sheet, to slowly release the dough from the board, and then to "flip" from rolling the front side to rolling the back side.
Fold like a letter and place the dough back into the sheet pan, with the opening on the right, like a book Freeze for 20 minutes. Repeat the steps above two more times.

For Turn 4, the final turn, roll the dough to 24 x 9 in. Cut in half so you have (2) 12 x 9 in rectangles.

 Look at those layers!!!

Place in a greased sheet pan, with a piece of parchment paper between the dough. Freeze for 20 minutes.

Now (finally) the dough is ready to use.  But if you're anything like me, it's somewhere around 4 pm and you don't want croissants for dinner.  So,  place the dough in the refrigerator until the next morning. (Or you can keep in the freezer for longer and defrost in the refrigerator (tightly wrapped) the night before you want some buttery goodness.

Day 3   
Whenever you are ready to use the dough, remove one sheet from the fridge and roll out (on a lightly floured surface) to 19 x 9 in.  Trim the long edges to 18 in and the short edges only until straight.  Cut into 4 rectangles and then each rectangle into two long triangles. Pull the point of the triangle to make a really long triangle. Tuck the 2 points of the triangle from the short end of the triangle inward, and then roll towards the 3rd point.  (I confess, I roll the scraps too; this recipe is too time-consuming to waste anything.)  

Place on a parchment paper lined sheet pan, tucking the tail of the dough underneath and pushing down slightly on the rolls so they don't unroll in the oven, and brush with an egg wash.  
Repeat until you are out of dough.  

Preheat oven to convection 350 degrees
Proof under a cardboard box for 2 hours. (See why I don't do this all in one day?) 
Brush again with a layer of egg wash.  Lower oven temp to 325 degrees and immediately bake for 35 minutes.
The tops should be golden brown and the middles cooked completely, so you get that satisfying crunch initially, followed by pillowy softness.

And here you have it, the culmination of 3 days of hard work and anticipation. . .

And*** they tasted delectable***. . .

 Enjoy with a creamy cappucino for best results!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Luscious Limey Pie

It's August.  Really, it is.  This is it -- the Dog Days of Summer -- the days spent sprawled out (if we are lucky) in chilly air conditioned sweetness, or (if we aren't) under the forgiving cyclical breeze of a ceiling fan.  Days where the blistering bone-chilling temperatures of January almost seem like a welcome respite from the sweltering unmitigated hotness that is August in the Midwest. And it's during those sticky, slow days, when the air is so thick, that you swear you can actually see it -- its during that kind of a day that your soul needs lime pie.  Light, fluffy, and sweet, this is the pie that cries "summertime and the livin' is easy." And most importantly, it's sufficiently tarty to cut through the worst of late summer lethargy. Lime Pie is the pie of August.

This is August, but not that August.  At least for us in central Ohio, this August has been more reminiscent of cool autumn days spent hiking and apple picking than those spent laying around in a hot summer haze. . . and of that I (at least) am grateful.  But it doesn't mean that we should miss out on the sweet relief simply because we don't have to endure the torture that normally predicates it.  So make the pie. . . and enjoy it. . .it tastes delicious regardless of the temperature outside.

This one pan recipe is courtesy of my very fabulous friend Rachel, whose ability to cut down on the dishes is only one of the many things that I admire about her.

Lime Pie

One sleeve of graham crackers
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon


One can sweetened condensed milk
4 limes
4 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 in pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Crunch up the graham crackers with hands or a rolling pin while still inside the sleeve.  (Genius, right?  This was Rachel's idea)

 Pour crunched up graham crackers into the prepared pie pan, breaking up any larger pieces that got missed the first time around.  Add the melted butter and sugar to the pan and mix thoroughly, then pat firmly and evenly into the pie pan.  Bake 10 minutes. 

During this time, combine the egg yolks, condensed milk, and juice from the limes and mix until smooth.  You will know that the filling is ready to be baked when it thickens slightly. Pour the mixture into the baked crust and pop back into the oven for 15 minutes, or until the top is slightly wobbly, but set.  Cool on counter-top for a couple of hours and then in the fridge for at least another couple hours, but preferably overnight.

There it is, smooth enough to slice through the hottest day of  summer. . . or the coldest, as the case may be!  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Too many chefs in the kitchen make. . . a pretty fantastic cake!

You know that old proverb? The one that goes "Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth"? Well, they obviously haven't been cooking in my kitchen.  This particular cake (another stunner from the always reliable Bouchon Bakery Cookbook) took the joint efforts of three people to construct.  (Actually, if I were to be honest, my husband did most of the grunt-work for this project. . . maybe 60% if I had to quantify exactly.)  But what can I say, I have a (somewhat justified) fear of hot stoves (and really, to be functional, a stove has to be hot).  Knowing that, it probably won't be too much of a stretch to understand my fear of blow-torches (compounded by a vision of what my insurance agent's face would look like after being hit with yet another claim within a week of my last one.)  Hot stoves. . . blow-torches. . . I'm getting ahead of myself.  I know, this is a baking website, but for the second entry in a row, there is no baking involved.  It's somewhere around eighty to ninety degrees out, my last electric bill (due to overuse of my AC) was high enough to become the topic of conversation at a recent dinner party, and I am simply not interested in intentionally driving the temperatures in my home up even more by utilizing the ovens.  So, I've moved to chilled desserts for the time being. That's not to say that there is no excessive heating involved.  I did have to use the stove a bunch and the blow torch heats to. . . are you ready for this?  2700 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, there are four digits and no decimals in that number.  Do you blame me for getting a bit squeamish around this particular kitchen tool?  But at least it doesn't heat the entire house up the way that the oven does.  And the final project is this beautiful, delicate, chilled dessert, perfect for a hot summer night. Another plus for this recipe -- it can be made in stages.  4 to be exact, on up to 4 different days.  Great when trying to avoid breaking a sweat in the pursuit of dessert perfection.

Crepe Cake, from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

Day One:  Pastry Cream


Egg Yolks
Vanilla Bean
Custard Powder
Butter at room temperature
Orange Zest

So, as always, I will not give the exact proportions of ingredients to avoid a copyright violation, but I do have to mention that to make this recipe (cream and crepes) took 13 eggs.  THIRTEEN EGGS.  Does anyone else find that absolutely outrageous?  When grocery shopping, I picked up a dozen eggs, thinking that I could make the cake, use a few for omelets,  and have several left to keep in the refrigerator for a week or so.  Needless to say that didn't happen. . .(well. . . I guess it did, after I emergently picked up the second carton. . .)  

But I digress -- back to the pastry cream. . . 

  • Mix the seeds from the vanilla bean along with the egg yolks in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment at medium low.  
  • Reduce the speed to low, add the sugar, then whisk at medium until the mixture is pale yellow and thick (about 3 minutes).  
  • Reduce the speed to low again, add the custard powder and mix to combine.  
  • On low, add the milk and mix for a minute or two. 

  • Pour the mixture into a saucepan, sufficiently large to allow stirring without splashing.  
  • Mix with a spoon or spatula on medium heat until the mixture starts to thicken.  You will typically see small clumps at the bottom of your utensil at this point.  
  • Switch to a whisk and stir vigorously, making sure to get the sides of the pan, until the mixture is the consistency of a thick paste (slightly thicker than paper mache glue).  It is essential not to overcook, otherwise your cream will be thick and lumpy. 
  • Transfer the mixture into a fine sieve and force through into a large bowl.  Again, the bowl should be large enough to allow for aggressive stirring without spilling.
  • Add the butter and whisk until the mixture is smooth. 
  • Whisk in orange zest. 
  • Set aside to cool.  
  • Once cool, cover with plastic wrap, ensuring that the top of the wrap is directly on top of the cream, to prevent a "skin" from forming, and place in the refrigerator.  The cream can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.

How beautiful is that color?! Just like sunshine. . .

Day 2: Crepe Batter


Vanilla Bean
Butter, melted then cooled
Grand Marnier
Of note, this is a wonderful crepe batter.  And very super duper easy to make.  Like child's play really.  Keep it in mind for as an all purpose 'easy, but looks fancy and hard' breakfast.

  • Combine the eggs, milk, flour, sugar, salt and Grand Marnier in a blender. Blend briefly to distribute ingredients. 
  • Add seeds from vanilla bean and blend again, briefly, to combine.  
  • While the blender is running, drizzle the butter in. 
  • Strain into a container and refrigerate until ready to use, and at least overnight.  The batter is good for at least a couple of days in the refrigerator. The batter will be runny.  This is normal, and actually good for a crepe batter.

Day 3: Final Touches
(Making the Crepes and Diplomat Cream 
and Constructing the Cake)

Diplomat Cream 


Whipping Cream

  • Take pastry cream from fridge and let warm slightly.
  • Whisk until smooth.
  • Whip cream until soft peaks form.
  • Whip in pastry cream until smooth and set aside

 Crepes (courtesy of my husband)

  • Take batter from fridge and whisk briefly to combine.
  • Heat a 10 inch frying pan or a crepe pan on the stove at medium.
  • Wet a paper towel with canola oil until barely damp and wipe pan.
  • When the pan is hot, ladle slightly over 1/4 cup of batter onto the center of the pan and immediately swirl the pan around to completely cover the surface.  This must be done quickly because the batter starts to harden almost immediately.
  • After approximately 15 seconds, lift the edge of the crepe with a spatula and slide your hand under the body of the crepe.
  • Flip and cook until golden. 
  • Transfer the hot crepe onto a parchment paper or Silpat lined baking sheet. Once cool, the crepes can be stacked to save space.
  • Repeat until the batter is done. 


  • Line a 10 in cake board with plastic wrap.
  • Place the most visually pleasing crepe on the board, face down. 
  • Spoon or pipe 1/3 cup of cream onto the middle of the crepe.  
  • Carefully spread the cream to the edge of the crepe.  Try to keep a thicker layer of cream at the edge of the crepe when compared to the center.  The crepes themselves are naturally thicker in the middle, and this step will prevent a domed cake. 
  • Top with another crepe.  
  • Repeat the process, ending with an uncovered crepe on the very top layer.  Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight to chill.

Day 4: Serving and Eating (finally!)

  • Remove the cake from the refrigerator and unwrap.  
  • Flip the cake onto your hand, and slide onto a serving platter.  
  • Sprinkle the top of the cake with a handful of sugar and use a blow-torch to caramelize the top of the cake to a rich golden brown. (This was again done courtesy of my wonderful husband, who managed to perfectly crisp nothing but the top of the cake, saving our property and appendages from any damage.)

This is when I got ambitious and decided that I wanted to try some fancy plating techniques.  So after watching a couple of YouTube videos (which made the whole thing seem almost laughably easy), I figured I could quickly decorate the cake plate before serving.  Because I did not have any dessert sauces on hand to make fancy artwork, (and after the 4 day endeavor that was this crepe cake, I had no desire to make a sauce,) I decided to warm a couple of jellies of contrasting colors and use those to decorate.  This was a terrible idea.  Don't ever do this.  

I recently (read: at the moment that I needed it) found that I don't own a funnel.  Spooning hot jelly into a squeeze bottle with a very small opening, without a filter is almost impossible.  Luckily, one of my dear friends who was visiting for the weekend, and who happens to possess infinitely better fine motor skills than I do, was kind enough to do this for me.  (She also introduced me to a pie which can be made in a couple of hours with one bowl and no motorized equipment.  That will be the next blog post.  And a welcome relief.) 
 Meanwhile, I spilled hot jelly on my jeans, since I did not realize until that very minute that hot jelly is more liquid than gel(ly) (get it, haha.) It was red, of course (the jelly, not the jeans), and I was frantically attempting to scrub it out, while watching my husband blow-torch the cake (and, I admit, trying to micromanage the whole thing). Next problem -- one of the jellies that I chose to use (apricot), happened to have all of these little pieces of fruit scattered throughout.  Good for taste-buds, not so much for squeeze bottles with tiny openings.  Thirdly, (I know, the problems kept mounting) when I tried to work with the jellies after piping them onto the plate, they smeared and clumped all over the place, since, (and if I had thought about this AT ALL before attempting, I would have realized that. ..) sauces and jellies are two totally different textures.  

Oh well, in the end, I just gave up and piped small raspberry jam circles around the plate.  Not as pretty as I had imagined, but definitely not as hideous as my initial attempt. And the cake was delicious and light and airy and everything that a summer dessert should be.  I ate it crepe slice by crepe slice to maximize the length of enjoyment, which may have defeated the purpose of making it a cake, but it did taste delicious. And the jelly came out of my jeans, so all's well that ends well!

***Since I know that 95% of people out there will decide that this is way to much work (not to mention, too many eggs) for one cake, I've formulated a life-hack for this recipe.  Here it is:

Crepes: Can be bought from Kroger.  I think that they are sold 4 or 5 to a pack, so you will need a few packs.
Cream: Make 2 packs of instant vanilla pudding.  Mix with cool whip (vanilla pudding:cool whip is 2:1)
Construction: No way around this.  You will have to stack and spread just like in the original recipe.
Topping: Just sprinkle some sugar on top.  It won't have the pretty caramelized look, but you will still get the crunch and the sweetness.

I think that the next time I make this cake, I'm definitely going to try this alternate version.  If you beat me to it, let me know how it turns out!