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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Stained Glass Stories (and the BEST cake ever baked)

My cousin is visiting this weekend! Yay!! Excuse me while I go do a happy dance.  We planned this trip months ago and I've been looking forward to it ever since. I just love it when she visits; our life views so closely align that entertaining her is kind of like entertaining myself -- just as easy, but twice the fun.  To put it briefly, we both find joy in good food and relaxation (and just maybe some reality TV, if the show is right -- like FLIPPING VEGAS --I'm looking at you super-tightly-wound-Scott and flighty-spendthrift-Amie!) So when she visits, we literally spend the majority of time sitting in front of the fireplace, snacking on a variety of foodstuff and musing about life.  The fireplace thing is sounding especially wonderful -- particularly given the bout of winter mix (which by the way is no where near as magical as it sounds) that's supposed to hit my  lovely part of the country. And to make life even better, my brother and my future sister-in-law are joining in on the fun! It's going to be a good few days.

Of course, in anticipation, I've been baking up a storm.  Some successful (which you'll see over the next few weeks on the blog) and some not-so-successful (which shall never again see the light of day. . .) but the crowning glory is going to be my cousin's birthday cake. (Okay, so her birthday was actually almost a month ago, but I haven't seen her since then! So belated, yet still birthday, cake it is.) Not to toot my own horn or anything, but this cake is so good that when I offered my husband a replica cupcake to QC (the batter made enough for a cake and a few extra cupcakes -- winning!), he literally harangued me for the next 16 hours asking for more. Including at our dinner party that night, when he tried to offer up the residual cupcakes -- by then frozen, and several short of the number of guests.  Awkward. . . (Although, to be fair, he's been pretty sick, so I'll give him a pass.  Mental status changes due to dehydration or something like that. Or. . . he's been driven mad by how good my cake was. . .hehehe. . .)

 Chai Spice Cake with Butterscotch Chips,
filled with Banana Cream
and
topped with Maple Cream Cheese 

Cake

1 Box Butter Golden Cake Mix
4 Eggs 
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
3 Tbsp Chai Spice Mix (from King Arthur Flour
1 tsp Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract
7 Tbsp Softened Butter
1/2 Cup Milk 
1 Small Package Vanilla Instant Pudding
1 16 oz Package of Butterscotch Chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
Add all ingredients except the butterscotch chips to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Blend for 30 seconds at the lowest speed to combine.  Increase speed to medium and mix for 4 minutes. 
Toss butterscotch chips in flour and then fold the chips into batter, 1 cup at a time.
Pour into greased pans (I used a 3 inch deep, 6 inch diameter cake pan and a jumbo muffin pan.) Bake for 65 minutes. 
Cool in pans on racks for 10 minutes, then flip out of pans to cool completely.
When completely cool, split cake into two layers and core the cupcakes.

Filling

1/2 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Banana Cream Instant Pudding Mix
4.5 oz Sweetened Condensed Milk
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
2 tsp Maple Chips 

Whisk water, pudding mix and condensed milk together until well combined.  Cover with plastic wrap (wrap touching pudding) and refrigerate for an hour.
Whip the cream to stiff peaks.  When the pudding has been sufficiently chilled, fold the whipped cream into the pudding mixture.  Refrigerate, overnight if possible. (Reserve the maple chips for later. If you have the larger chips like these, crush into smaller pieces/powder before use. Honestly, these look super gross -- but my chips were smaller and looked less like tiny corks, and more like, well, chips.)

Frosting

16 oz Cream Cheese (softened)
2 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
2 tsp Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract
1/2 tsp Maple Flavor
1/2 Cup Butter (softened)

Combine cream cheese, butter, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat at low until well combined (so that powdered sugar doesn't fly everywhere!) Add the remaining ingredients and beat at medium-high until fluffy and well combined. Refrigerate until needed.

Putting it all together

The easy part! Pipe a ring of cream cheese frosting around the edge of one cake layer.  This will prevent the filling from seeping out, since it's a looser filling than a traditional buttercream.  Fill with the banana cream.  Sprinkle maple chips on the cream filling and top with the second cake layer.  Frost with the maple cream cheese.  (At this time, I froze the cake, to be decorated the day before serving.  To defrost, leave in the refrigerator overnight and then at room temperature for a few hours.  Fondant the whole thing and it's a blank canvas, ready for embellishments!) 

Now the fun part!!!! (Not that baking isn't fun, but it's just so much more fun to decorate.)

I recently puchased these really nifty mesh stencils from evilcakegenius.com.  How awesome is that name, by the way?  I wish I were an evil cake genius! But I seem to be more of a generally nice cake amateur.  Doesn't seem to have the same ring, somehow. . . Ahh, well, we all need to have something to aspire to. . .

Anyways, back on topic.  These stencils almost seem like magic -- they appear to be solid, but when you use them, you see the very fine, beautiful lines which appear white on the actual stencil.  It's gorgeous -- and a God-given for people like me whose innate artistry is, well, nonexistent.

To use the stencil: Dilute white petal dust (make sure it's the edible kind -- Wilton sells this) with a bit of vegetable oil until it's runny, but not liquidy.  I know that's a weird distinction, but it should be a viscous fluid, not like water.


Place the stencil on the cake in the desired location and pin into place with some straight pins (mine have pearls, because. . .pretty!) Spread the mixture over the stencil evenly using a spatula or bench scraper to remove all the excess possible.  Then, carefully, so as not to smudge, remove the pins and then the stencil.  Repeat as needed.  You probably won't need to apply the mixture to the stencil every time; the residual paste should last for at least a couple of applications.

 



So lovely, right?! Now at this point, you can even leave it like this.  Maybe with a little luster dust to make it sparkle? Or you could use a colored dust to begin with to have a pretty two color scheme.  But I chose to go a different route.





Trace the white outline that you just made with black royal icing.  Don't get scared -- I know it doesn't look so great right now.  You probably are thinking "why didn't she just leave it????" (I certainly was at time. . .)

But never fear, it does get better.





When the whole cake has been traced out to your desire, take a moment and clear off your work surface.  Find a position where the cake is comfortably at eye level.  This will probably mean that you will be sitting down.  Trust me, for the sake of your sanity and your muscles, you don't want to be hunched over the cake.

Take a few different complimentary colors of gel food coloring and put a tiny bit of each in four separate prep bowls.  Dilute with a drop or two of high proof alcohol (clear, so probably vodka.)

Take a fine bristled paint brush and lightly paint each figure to your desire.  I used pink and yellow for the sort of flower looking shapes, and some green around them for leaves.  (My husband came in at the time and looked dubious to say the least. . . He didn't have faith, but I did. . .)



Finished it off with a coat of blue color to fill in any blank space (which there was a lot of -- blue was the background color, so it was to be expected, I suppose.) It took a long time.  But it was actually really calming.  Isn't coloring supposed to be good for you?  Sort of the same thing, although much harder on my upper back.  Remember what I said about not wanting to be hunched over the cake?  Yeah -- I was really happy that I'd done some focused shoulder stretches at the gym that day. Reaching the end, I freehand piped some irregular shapes with the remaining royal icing, so the whole cake looked somewhat fragmented.  Because my piping skills aren't so wonderful, there were a bunch of places where the royal icing wasn't flat -- so to finish off, when the icing had set a little, I pressed a clean paper towel on top of the cake and patted firmly, which helped to flatten the icing lines a little.





And there it is -- a stained glass cake; not quite as grand as the beautiful walls of glass in those gorgeous cathedrals, but more personally gratifying. And much more palatable of course.  Now all that remains is to sit in front of the fireplace and eat it!
 



Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Go Bananas for Banoffee



I've been on a meringue kick lately.  Probably, in part, because I've also been trending towards lighter desserts. Not at all because I've fallen out of love with cake. . . on the contrary, it still remains my favorite food.  But, I've been enjoying the rich heavy foods of winter so much, that, by the end of the meal, I'm, well, sort of stuffed.  Not enough to totally forgo a sugary ending, but enough that I'm craving something a little more toned down.  Hence, the meringue.  And it doesn't hurt that the "wow" factor is great, for relatively little effort.  Here's a good one to try:

Banoffee Meringue Roulade

Banoffee, for those of you who are unaware, is a British version of banana pudding, with the word arising from a combination of banana and toffee.  Toffee to me has always been those sweet brittle bits of crunchiness, but apparently it's just another word for caramel.

Meringue

1 cup Almond flour
1 cup Sugar + 2 Tbsp Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Cornstarch
6 Egg Whites
1 tsp White Vinegar
1/2 tsp Almond Extract
1 cup Sliced Almonds


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Whip egg whites in a stand mixer at high speed using the whisk attachment.  When soft peaks form, slowly pour the cup of sugar into the egg whites in a slow stream.  Whip at high speed until stiff peaks form.  (I tend to let this go for a while -- like 7-10 minutes-- since I've never actually managed to over-whip egg whites.)

While the meringue is forming, combine the cornstarch, 2 Tbsp sugar, and almond flour in a small bowl and mix until well combined.

After the meringue is stiff, beat in the vinegar and almond extract for about 30 seconds.

Brush a little of the meringue mixture in each corner of a 1/2 sheet pan.  Fit the pan with parchment paper, making sure the paper rises above each edge of the pan.  Press down to stick the parchment to the meringue mixture.


Fold the almond mixture into the meringue in three parts.  Make sure that you combine very gently -- you do not want to deflate the mixture any more than necessary.  When done, spread the mixture evenly within the sheet pan.  Coat with the sliced almonds.



Put the pan in the oven and immediately decrease the temperature to 275 degrees F.  Bake for 40 minutes, until the top is firm and brown.

While the meringue is cooking, make the filling.




Banoffee Filling

13 1/2 oz Heavy Cream
4 1/2 oz Mascarpone Cheese
  2 tsp Vanilla Extract 
1/4 cup Confectioners Sugar 
3 Tbsp Lemon Juice
2  Bananas, sliced 
1 can Dulce de Leche 
Cinnamon
Powdered sugar to decorate
Beat the cream and sugar together until soft peaks form.  Add the cheese and vanilla extract and beat until smooth.  While the mixture is forming, toss the banana slices in the lemon juice.  This will prevent them from browning.   Microwave the dulce de leche up for 45 seconds to one minute in a microwave safe bowl.  It should be spreadable when finished.  Set aside.

When the meringue is done cooking and is completely cool, quickly and carefully flip onto your work surface.  Some of the meringue will break off (hopefully just at the edges.)  Trim to desired size.

Spread the dulce de leche in an even layer along the meringue, reserving a bit to decorate the top, and leaving a 1 cm margin of bare meringue on each side.  Top with a layer of whipped filling, and then finally, with the sliced bananas.  Sprinkle with cinnamon.
 



 Depending on whether you want a long skinny roll, or a fat short roll, roll the meringue (again, carefully!) along either the long edge or the short edge, using the parchment paper to assist you, and ending with the free edge on the bottom.  It will crack. This is normal. When completely rolled, use the parchment paper to transfer to your serving dish.  Tear the excess parchment out from under the roulade.


Drizzle the residual dulce de leche over the top of the roulade and sift powdered sugar over it.  Refrigerate to firm the dish up.

Yummy!  Can't you just taste the dulce de leche drizzles. . . mmmmm.  Even my husband loved it and he is assuredly against meringue (I can actually see his heart drop when I tell him I'm making it.)  But, I mean, really -- sweet bananas and ooey-gooey dulce de leche with that crispy, chewy, meringue? What's not to love!