Saturday, December 24, 2016

Visions of Sugar-Cranberries Danced in Our Heads

Merry Christmas everyone! This post is for all of you out there who have been so busy thinking of innovative ways to position your Elf on the Shelf, that you totally forgot to make a Christmas dessert. Dessert sometimes gets pushed to the side in the quest for a perfect dinner menu and then before you know it, the crowning end to a sumptuous holiday feast ends up being a scoop of Haagen Daaz with some hastily cut leftover fruit.  Now is that right?  No.  Make sure to leave a lasting impact on your guests with a beautiful elegant dessert that will elicit small smiles of content every time they remember that amazing Christmas dinner. Here's a dessert that you can throw together in literally less than 15 minutes of active time.  Just make sure to make it early so that it has time to set.

Sugared Cranberries

2 cups Sugar
1 cup Water
2 cups Cranberries

Combine one cup of sugar with one cup of water.  Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until mixture is clear.  Simmer for a couple of minutes.  Set aside for 5 minutes.  Pour over the two cups of cranberries (in a heatproof bowl.)  Set aside for an hour.  (Meanwhile make the Panna Cotta below.)  After an hour, spread the cranberries onto a cooling sheet over a cookie sheet (to allow the excess syrup to drip out.)  Set aside for another hour or so, until dry.  Toss the cranberries in the residual one cup of sugar, bouncing them in your hands like dice, so that a thin coating of sugar remains on the cranberries.  Dry in a single layer on foil.

Eggnog Panna Cotta

1/2 cup Whole Milk
2 1/2 cups Eggnog
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 tsp Gelatin (Powdered)
1/3 cup Sugar
1/4 tsp Nutmeg (freshly grated is best)

Heat gelatin and milk gently over medium heat, stirring until the gelatin is dissolved.  Add the remainder of the ingredients and continue to heat until the mixture starts to steam and the sugar is completely dissolved.  Pour into six individual ramekins, cover with saran wrap (so that the wrap touches the mixture directly,) and chill for at least 3 hours.  When ready to serve, you can either serve directly in the ramekins, or dip the ramekins in hot water, run a hot knife around the rim and invert onto a serving platter.  Top with some sugared cranberries and soak up the compliments!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Fish Tale

I just got back from 5 glorious days in the Florida Keys.  Gorgeous, lazy days, filled with the the touch of ocean breezes and views of the never-ending sea.  I'm usually content to sit on a stretch of sand and stare out into the yonder for hours upon hours at a time.  But because we went down for my husband's birthday, I found myself on a fishing boat. Granted, I did more videoing than actual fishing, but it was an absolutely amazing experience to be in the middle of the ocean with nothing around except rolling waves in every tone of blue you could ever imagine.  It was humbling, really.  And breathtakingly beautiful.  So that was my favorite part of the trip.  Note -- it has nothing to do with fish. Because, confession?  Fish kind of freak me out.  Something about the scales, or the gaping mouths, or . . . something. But my husband? He looooves fish.  He loves to go fishing, he maintains two aquariums in our (tiny) apartment -- he is a fish aficionado.  So of course, for his birthday cake, I had to make it about fish.  For my loyal followers who've been with me since the beginning, you may remember that I did an aquarium cake at the start of the blog (it's not my best work -- but it's nice to see how I've improved over time.)  So, instead of repeating that theme, I decided to do a deep sea fishing cake. I went all in, and even dyed the cake blue on the inside.   It was a blue velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and a cheesecake mousse filling.  At his request, I stuffed the filling with Kit-Kats -- but it wasn't the wisest decision since the cake had to be frozen in advance.  The texture changed quite a bit -- so if you're planning on freezing cakes, don't put anything crispy in frosting and expect it remain that way after defrosting. . .

Yet again, the cake sunk. I now have a deep-seated fury against my oven, although I probably should redirect my anger at the floor.  The oven shakes when anyone walks anywhere near it (which in my apartment, is anywhere period) and I'm pretty sure that that's what's disturbing the process.  Easy fix in this instance.  I used the crumbs from trimming the cake and stuffed the middle hole with them.

Again, don't fill gooey stuff with crunchy stuff, freeze, defrost and expect everything to retain its original texture.

Tried an ombre look for the sides of the cake -- lighter blue at the top, darker at the bottom -- just like the ocean!

And some white frosting thrown in at the end to reflect the foaming waves (and the thrashing fish.)

Okay, everyone, here's where it gets exciting.  You would not believe the amount of research I did for this cake.  I checked out the most common trophy fish in the Keys, and found a ton of photos to use for reference when sculpting.
  Do you know what fish this is?  Looks kind of generic right now. . .

 Crazy how just adding some color to the mouth makes it so much more realistic!

 And a little more color. . . 

 And there it is!  It's a Mahi, for those who (like me) aren't so into fish.  Luckily this one's scales didn't freak me out as much as the real thing. For all of you who are wondering where it's tail is. . . patience, it will appear.

Gotta have something to take the goods home.  

And here is the best part -- seriously. . .
 Feet first. . .

 Some dental floss for the line. 
And how about those flip flops?

 He's starting to come together!

 Hahahaha, look at his expression! I love it.

Oh boy, he has no idea what he's in for!

 Wow, that's going to be one heck of a battle!  On our trip, my husband had to fight one fish for 15 minutes -- this looks like it's going to be a much, much longer effort! 

Spoiler alert -- he gets the fish.  And we get the cake!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Have Your Cake and Read It Too

OMG. . . everyone. . . I cannot even begin to describe how excited I am about this cake.  As the younger generation would say. . . SQUEEEEEEEE (if that's still a thing. . . I'm not sure -- as my recent birthday indicates, I'm getting more and more out of touch everyday.) Okay, deep breath. . . are you intrigued yet?

So, as I just alluded to, I recently celebrated a birthday.  I looooove birthdays (especially when they belong to me) and for the past few years I've taken the opportunity to make a really special birthday cake for myself. Kind of like a birthday present from me, to me.  Usually I tackle a technique that I've wanted to try for a while, and just needed a reason to do so. This year, I took this to the next level and made a cake that has significant personal meaning to me.

A lot has happened in the past summer. My husband and I decided to sell our house in the 'burbs and move back to the city.  After a little over half a decade with a thirty minute commute, we came to the conclusion that we'd always be city people -- and forgoing the space and the yard actually has yielded surprisingly few regrets.  It is a bit harder to bake in our tiny little transitional space, especially given my propensity for making huge messes, but our final spot should be just large enough for the two of us.  That's not to say that I don't miss anything about our house. My favorite room in the old place was my library.  I love to read -- I have ever since I was in grade school.  In fact, to quote Jorge Luis Borges,
'I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.'    

Have you heard of this Jorge Luis Borges? According to Wikipedia, he was an Argentinian writer, poet, and essayist who wrote popular short stories intertwining dreams, religion, and philosophy.  (I have to admit, I've never actually heard of him or read any of his works before, but I do so love his thoughts on libraries.) So to commemorate my birthday and pay a tribute to my lovely prior library, haven for my thoughts and dreams, I decided to make myself a mini library replica cake.  

(Yes! A library cake! Jump up and down with excitement along with me!)

I kept a lot of the details the same as the library in my old house, such as the wedding photo of myself and my husband during our first dance, hung over the fireplace.  A couple of things I changed a bit, just for fun -- things I may have done to my own library had we stayed there for a while --but the overall essence is strongly reminiscent of our old place.  In fact when I look at the cake, it takes me straight back to Saturday mornings in the study, curled up on my favorite armchair -- a new book, a steaming hot cappucino, and the delicious anticipation of a story about to unfold.  Mmmmmmm, like I said. . . I love books. . . and I love cake. 

Luckily for me, and to quote C.S. Lewis, 

“Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.”


Can that just be my motto for life?  It is pretty much the epitome of my hopes, dreams, and desires.  Smart man, that C.S. Lewis (and Jorge Luis Borges too -- I haven't forgotten about him.)

 I digress. Because of the way I decided to construct the cake, I had to pull out my very dusty math skills (the Pythagorean Theorem!)  Thank God for computers and calculators.  I actually had a headache by the end of the computations, and I have a feeling that the math wasn't even that hard to begin with.  My high-school self would be disappointed (or maybe sympathetic -- math was never my favorite subject.)  Anyways, the thought was that I'd use the square cake (8 in) to simulate the outside of the building, with a trapezoid (math!) cut out of the center, using the negative space for the floor of my library and the trapezoid cake sides as the walls of the library.  I found a picture of a library online which was pretty similar to my own previous library, helping me with the proportions of the walls and base.  I tried to make the cake 4 inches tall, which was a gross overestimation.  It only ended up being 3 inches in height which threw off some of the proportions of the decorations, but I managed to add some height with the fondant wall paneling used to cover the cake, so it worked out in the end.

This was a task.  Because of all the tiny little components, I made the cake over the period of a month.  But I enjoyed doing it, so it was a pleasant task.  The cake itself, sadly, was a little bit of a disappointment.  Of course, none of my projects every proceed perfectly smoothly, but the way the cake baked was seriously frustrating.  I had baked it leaving very little margin for error with the cook time, completely forgetting that I was using a new oven, and right up against the deadline of a meeting that I could not miss.  Consequently, I was hunched in front of the oven staring through the window, willing the cake to bake faster than my analytical brain knew possible.  To make a long story short, I tested it way too early, poking a hole into the still cooking middle and causing a result remarkably similar to an inverted volcano.  The second the skewer went in, I heard the small hiss of air and the instantaneous deflation of the, until then, gloriously puffed up cake surface, and my stomach sank right along with the cake.  Luckily, with some extra filling, I managed to straighten the surface, although the slices did look a little wonky when cut. 

I am somewhat of a glutton for punishment, so I'll likely make the cake again to see if it works out with a proper baking time.  I'll publish the recipe regardless, so if anyone wants to try the adjusted baking time out before I get to it, let me know how it works.

A couple of notes.  You can make your own salted caramel sauce, but I just used ice cream topping to make it easier.  Same with the caramel simple syrup.  I had some in the pantry since I  purchased several simple syrups as a gift for my husband to use when making cocktails (so yes, admittedly, it was more of a gift for me than for him -- but it backfired since he never used them.)

And yes, I did use two pounds of chocolate.  It is decadent

Caramely goodness

Upside down cake!

There's that math. . .

Drawing straight is harder than it looks.

Don't worry, I saved all that cake. . . no way is it going to waste!

print recipe

Baileys Chocolate Cake with Caramel Filling
Ultra rich chocolate cake with a hint of Baileys and Caramel. Totally Decadent.
  • 1 cup Unsalted Butter
  • 2 1/2 cups Sugar
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 cup Dutch Processed Cocoa
  • 1 cup Baileys Liquor or Baileys Coffee Creamer
  • 1 cup Water
  • 2 3/4 cup Flour
  • 2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Espresso Powder
  • 1 cup Mini Chocolate Chips
  • 2 1/2 cups Rich's Bettercream
  • 1 small package Caramel Instant Pudding
  • 2Tbsp -1/4 cup to taste Baileys Liquor or Baileys Coffee Creamer
  • 1 lb Caramelia Chocolate Feves
  • 1 lb Dulce Chocolate Feves
  • 3/4 cup Heavy Cream
  • 2 tsp Fleur de Sel
  • 1/4 cup Corn Syrup
  • 1 cup Salted Caramel Sauce
  • Salted Caramel Simple Syrup
1. Spray a 3 in deep, 8 in square pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom with a piece of parchment paper and a flower nail in the center.2. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in large bowl. Whisk until combined.3. In a Kitchenaid Mixer, cream room temperature butter and sugar together at medium speed for 10 minutes.4. Add eggs, two at a time until fully incorporated. Scrape down bowl as necessary.5. Boil the water. When boiling, mix in cocoa powder and espresso powder until fully incorporated.6. Warm Baileys slightly and add to cocoa mixture.7. Alternating dry and wet, add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in 4 parts, and the cocoa mixture to the sugar mixture in 3 parts, starting and ending with the flour mixture.8. Fold in chocolate chips gently, so as not to deflate batter.9. Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.10. Meanwhile, heat the chocolate over a double broiler until fully melted.11. Dissolve corn syrup and fleur de sel over medium heat into heavy cream. Bring to a boil. 12. Combine with melted chocolate and mix vigorously until combined.13. Let sit at room temperature for several hours, or a couple hours in the fridge until thickened.14. Still while waiting for cake to complete baking, combine Bettercream, and instant pudding and whip until soft peaks form.15. Add Baileys to Bettercream, to taste. Set aside until cake is ready to fill.16. When cake is baked, torte and spray layers generously with salted caramel simple syrup.17. Build a dam around the bottom layer surface, and top with salted caramel sauce and Bettercream filling.18. Frost cake with whipped ganache, using upside down frosting technique.19. Enjoy or freeze as desired.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1 8" square cake

I used a frosting sheet to have my wedding photo printed as well as a quote from Hugo to go over the bookshelves, and to line the study with wallpaper.  I did this in the past with my husband's wine bottle cake, but I used a different vendor this time -- InkYourSweets. It's interesting -- the previous frosting sheet I used with the wine bottle was ultra thin -- like if I blew on it, it would tear.  It worked well for that project because it made the label look oh-so-authentic, but in general I prefer the sturdier sheet that I got from InkYourSweets.  It was much easier to work with. 

The beginnings of the bookcase

The fire in the fireplace is made from wafer paper, dyed with powdered food color, and the fireplace grate is made from thinly piped chocolate.  The ladder is pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate. The rest was a lot of fondant, and a lot of experimentation, and some hand-painting to make things look just so.  

Look at all of those books!

Things are coming together!
Piping hot cappucino -- one of my favorite details!
Can you feel the heat from that crackling fire?

I used fondant paneling to line the walls of the library.  The "outside" panels are imprinted with a brick texture, and I added a door and a small doorstep with some greenery as well.  

Trying to get everything to stay straight!


Making my mini-me (and the super comfy couch!) was one of the most fun parts. . .

The headless baker. . .

Can you see the resemblance?
I kind of wish I had used play-doh more as a child -- my sculptures may have been a bit better.  Regardless though, the more I played around with the dough (no pun intended) the better my little decorations turned out.My mini-me still looked slightly reptilian -- I think I did something weird with the forehead/nose junction, but I can't quite figure out what. . . but otherwise everything turned out pretty well.  And absolutely everything (well except for the tree trunks for the porch trees, which are toothpicks) is edible!

Makes me want to curl up with a book and a cappuccino. . . and probably a piece of cake as well!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Summer Storms and Blueberry Clouds

I'm a seasonal eater.  I like rich, warm, comforting food in the winter, and light, delicate flavors in the summer. This, in spite of the fact that our summers, with their frenetic winds and bursts of torrential precipitation, frequently are dark and glum as a mid-November grey-out. We just (thankfully) exited a one- week-and-counting run of continuous sheets of unrelenting rain.  (Not quite as bad as the ones that destroyed my entire back yard a few years ago, but still. . .) Smack dab in the middle of a stretch of storms that radio djs in my college town used to refer to as 'those thunder-boomers' to unfailing and vehement eye-rolling by myself and my friends.

But regardless of the likelihood of flood warnings, I eat strictly by the temperature on the thermostat.This drives my husband crazy, since I go through a six month stretch every year of not wanting anything to do with sushi (incidentally, one of his favorite foods,) because it doesn't hit that necessary temperature threshold during those frigid, icy months. (He insists that room temperature doesn't mean cold -- I counter that room temperature most definitely does not mean hot.) That's why today's post may seem like a bit of an aberration.  Marshmallows, for many, conjure up dreams of cozy nights by the fire, sipping steaming cups of cocoa, while pillowy mounds of snow climb the outer windowpane.  But while I would never turn down a cup of sweet chocolate piled high with marshmallows in the dreary depths of winter, marshmallows also speak of spring and summer -- sunshine and light.  And even though those days of sunshine and light are sometimes more like weeks of darkness and clouds, when infused with the fresh flavors of juicy, ripe fruit and heavily scented flowers, these little cushiony cumulus delights are a treat meant for sultry, sunny, (but sometimes stormy) summer days.

Blueberry Clouds, two ways

First, the Blueberry Balsamic goodies:

 Fluffy and gorgeous in the bowl. . .

Add some blueberry goodness to kick up the color and the flavor. . .

Pour (with some difficulty) into the pan -- make sure it's oiled!

Admire. . .

Smooth. . .

Dust. . .

Cut. . . and eat!
I struggled a little with the decision to share the following recipe, aka Hidden Treasure Marshmallows, because they really didn't turn out the way I had wanted.  The good part about these marshmallows is that they are made in mini-muffin pans, so they do look pretty much exactly like little cumulus clouds!  But that was where the success story ended. Essentially, these are jam-filled marshmallow, but my jam oozed out of the side of the marshmallows so they ended up being not-so-hidden treasures, and sticky to boot.  I think if I had made a slight well in the marshmallow after piping the tin half full and only filled that well with jam, these may have been more of a success.  And, the jam wouldn't have overwhelmed the delicious yet delicate flavors of the marshmallow itself, which it most certainly did.  So here's the picture of how not to do it. . .

Again, you can see the jam dripping off the side of the marshmallow, so the additional marshmallow on top didn't seal it in the middle properly.  You live, you learn. . .

And for the complete recipes, below. . .
(As much as I wish I could take full credit for these recipes, they were both modified from already-pretty-tasty-original recipes by (1) Bakers Royal and (2) Savvy Eats)

print recipe

Blueberry Balsamic Marshmallows

Just like biting into a ripe blueberry -- if blueberries were cloud-like, that is.
  • 1/2 cup, 1/2 cup, 2 Tbsp +1 tsp Water
  • 2 teabags Jasmine Tea
  • 3 packets Powdered Gelatin
  • 2 cups White Sugar
  • 1 1/8 oz, 1.5 oz Freeze Dried Blueberries, blended to a fine powder in a food processor
  • 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
  • 3 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
  • Zest from one Lemon
  • 2/3 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp Cornstarch
1. Using a food safe brush, lightly oil all inner surfaces of an 8x8 casserole dish.2. Bring 1/2 cup of water to boil and then steep the teabags for 3 minutes.4. Let the tea cool slightly and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.5. Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the tea and let sit.6. Meanwhile, combine the other 1/2 cup of water, maple syrup, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.7. Continue to heat, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F.8. Slowly pour the hot mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer along with the balsamic vinegar, first mixing on low until combined, and then on high for 10 minutes until white and fluffy.9. Meanwhile, combine the 1 1/8 oz of blueberry powder with the 4 Tbsp and 1 tsp of water until a paste like consistency.10. Add the blueberry mixture to the marshmallow mixture and beat on high for another minute.11. Fold the lemon zest in with a spatula.12. Using a slightly oiled spatula, spoon into the prepared dish and smooth the top as much as possible.13. Let sit in a cool area overnight.14. The next day, combine the remainder of the blueberry powder with the powdered sugar and cornstarch and mix well.15. Cut the pan of marshmallow into 5 strips, and then cut each strip into 5 squares. (It is best to use an oiled serrated knife and a sawing motion.)16. Dip each side of the marshmallow into the blueberry sugar mixture until the surface is not sticky.
Active time: Inactive time: 12 hours Total time: Yield: 25 large marshmallows

print recipe

Hidden Treasure Marshmallows
If done properly, these little beauties hide a gem of jam right in the middle -- a tasty surprise!
  • 2 Tbsp Powdered Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Cornstarch
  • 1 cup divided in 1/2 cup portions Water
  • 3 packets Powdered Gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cups White Sugar
  • 1 cup Light Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • from one lemon Zest
  • 1/4 tsp Fiori di Sicilia Flavoring
  • 1/2 tsp Almond Extract
  • 1/3 cup Blueberry Preserves
  • to grease pan Oil
1. Using a pastry brush, coat the mini muffin cavities with oil.2. Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment.3. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining water in a saucepan and heat at medium, stirring until the sugar has fully dissolved.4. Stop stirring and heat without disturbing until the temperature reaches 240 degrees F.5. Pour the syrup into the gelatin mixture, slowly, with the mixer on low. The sugar mixture is very hot! So make sure you don't splash.6. Increase speed to high and mix for 10 minutes. In the last minute, add the extracts/flavoring.7. When done mixing, fold in the lemon zest.8. Scoop into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.9. Pipe each mini-muffin cavity half way full and use the back of a spoon to create a divot in each marshmallow. 10. Only just fill the divot with jam, and then continue to pipe marshmallow into each cavity until full.11. Let sit for a few hours, then remove each marshmallow from the tin and roll in a mixture of the powdered sugar and cornstarch.
Active time: Inactive time: Total time: Yield: 25 mini muffin sized marshmallows

 In all their summery glory. . .