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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Strawberry Sun Days of Summer

It's now August, and I'm still not in my new home. 😞 This makes me sad on multiple levels, not the least of which is the fact that I'm still dealing with the horrendous oven in my temporary digs.  You know, the one that shakes anytime I tiptoe within a twenty square foot radius. . . It had gotten so bad, that I honestly had sworn off anymore projects until I was safely and securely planted in my new home.  But. . . you know, the baking withdrawal was getting pretty seriously miserable.  It was becoming increasingly difficult to resist the thought of biting into a freshly made soft, springy, fine crumbed slice of cake, coated with a thick, rich buttercream.  To be quite frank, I had started dreaming of this mythical slice of cake. And in all seriousness, I haven't been able to find a local place that makes a slice of cake to my (admittedly high) standards.  My resolve finally crumbled completely when I ran across these little beauties at Michaels while browsing away my Saturday afternoon. (What? You know you go into Michaels just to look around, just because, not really to plan on purchasing anything. . . 😇) But really, how could anyone resist these?

Well, spoiler alert, I most certainly could not resist this little impulse buy.  And after I succumbed to that particular pressure, I figured I may as well fold completely and at least put my new favorite tools to use.

I even had the perfect recipe in mind.  A couple of years ago, I tried out this absolutely amazing four layer buttery, beautiful, sunny yellow sponge --  just stuffed to the gills with macerated strawberries and the most luscious creamy custard.  And of course frosted with about a pound of whipped cream.  It's the personification of summer -- in a cake.  I think about making it at least ten to fifteen times a year, but it's a task -- a two day process at minimum, and because I refuse to make a cake which isn't as pretty outside as in, an extra day for decoration on top of that.  So I usually pass.  But this time, I decided to clear a weekend and just get down to it.  So I did.

The recipe comes from Sweet Amandine, and can be found here.  Besides the fact that I didn't want to type up the entire recipe -- pretty much a novella in itself, I really just think everyone should read Jessica Fechtor's blog.  It's funny, and well-written, and if you need yet another reason, she herself is a pretty amazing story of resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. She suffered from a burst aneurysm while exercising several years ago, and managed to recover brilliantly,  pursuing a PhD at Harvard in Jewish literature (which maybe she has obtained by now?), and publishing her first book a couple of years ago. Really, she writes better than anyone I know -- and that's after suffering a blown aneurysm.   From my calculations, this recipe was published on her blog just about a year after that event. It's mind boggling -- and inspirational.   (Give it a moment for the page to load -- it's a little slow.  And if you love the recipe, you may want to print it.  You know, just in case the blog goes down after the book gets published.  Not that it will, I have no idea.  But just to be safe, you know?) I followed the recipe pretty much exactly -- just cut everything in half (Oh, except for the whipped cream.  I kept that the same.  Because, really, you can never have too much whipped cream.)   And use 6 inch pans instead of 9 in pans. If you use 6 inch pans, drop the cooking time about 5 minutes and just keep an eye on the cakes. And I also didn't refrigerate the cakes before splitting them.  Because I'm impatient.  But everything else, just the same.

I do have to share my own pictures though.  Because they are simply so gorgeous.  Is there anything better than fresh strawberries and custard in the summer? I think not.

You may be forgiven for thinking that this is a picture of the whipped cream and the macerated strawberries.  But it's not.  It's a picture of the strawberries, that is true.  But that fluffy cloud front and center? That's actually a meringue.  The integral part of the cake itself.

 And. . . why it looks like this when it bakes.  Isn't it beautiful? Look at that rise.  Even in my defective oven. . . which says quite a lot in itself.
Split. . .

Fill. . . 

Spread. . .

Stack. . . 

Stop to admire (you can squeal with delight -- this is a  no judgment zone.)
Crumb coat and refrigerate.

And then. . . DECORATE!!!! 

So, as already stated, it's summertime.  And what's more summery than a crate full of flowers? I have no yard, and no patio right now -- so my blooms have to be of the whipped cream consistency. Worse things have happened. . . first world problems and all.  And to be honest, I think I prefer fondant "wooden" crates to the real thing anyways.  At least I don't have to worry about bugs. . .

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Stars and Stripes

Don't you all just love the summer?  So many reasons . . .dewy mornings before the onset of peak heat, or how about the lazy weekends by the pool?  Shades and shorts? Bikinis and cocktails by the pool?  So hard to choose. . . But my favorite would have to be the start of holiday season.  You know, the stream of long weekends that start around Memorial Day and don't end until New Years.  Little pockets of time to breathe between the hectic seemingly endless workweeks. Time to think, and read, and, well, bake!

Here's a treat to guide you into our next great American holiday -- Independence Day!  And *bonus* you have more than enough time before the big day to try it yourself.

This is the perfect cake for mid summer -- light enough to eat even in sweltering temperatures, and easy enough that you won't break a sweat making it either.  And just as importantly -- quite impressive to look at.

To start off, you'll need a 1/2 sheet pan. And the template from Sugary Winzy.  Full instructions can be found on her website (because it would be silly of me to copy the whole thing out here when she does it so perfectly there.)

I love this kind of dessert, because the design is baked right into the cake.  It gives it a really unique look.  And once you figure out the process, you can try all sorts of different designs.  Your ability is really only limited by your creativity (and your artistic impulse. So my ability is actually quite limited.  Luckily, there are a plethora of ideas on the internet if you do get the urge to try something new.)

The concept is actually quite simple.  The different designs can be accomplished by using different textures/weights of batter.  So you can pipe a design with a heavier batter without risking it moving around, even after you top with a lighter, more traditional cake batter.  Then you just bake the whole thing at once.

 To start off, you'll have to have the template printed and ready to go.  Don't forget that step! It's (arguably) the most important one of all!
 Use your heavier "paste" batter to pipe the outlines of the stars.  Then fill in the stars with the same batter. Freeze the piped batter to make it even more stable.
While you're waiting for the batter to freeze sufficiently, mix your colors for the rest of the paste batter. 
By the time you've gotten your paste to the perfect blue and red, your stars should be appropriately frozen.  Pipe the stripes using a flat tip (you may have to pipe two stripes overlapping to form one really thick stripe if your tip isn't wide enough, like I did.)
Then using a regular round tip, fill in rectangle with the stars so that you can't see the stars any more at all.  Make sure you do a nice, thick, even, layer.  If you miss any space around the stars, you'll have a gap in your cake. Freeze again until the paste is stable.
 Using your regular batter, fill in the entire cake. Bake.
When you take the cake out of the oven, it will just look like a boring old sheet cake.  But don't worry, a surprise awaits!
Cover the sheet pan with a kitchen towel.  Supporting the cake with your hands, gently flip over.  (You can tap the pan and say "abracadabra" if you'd like.  That's more fun if you have people watching you. . . )
Remove the pan, and . . . voila -- hidden design revealed! But. . . wait. . . that doesn't look quite right.
😨 😱 😫
Okay, don't panic.  More magic awaits.
Using another kitchen towel, flip the cake back upside down again.  (No abracadabra this time. . .I mean, unless you really want to. . .)
Roll the cake up between the two towels.  GENTLY.  You don't want your masterpiece to crack after all.  Even with the stripes going the wrong way. . .
So here's an interesting tidbit.  Did you know that cakes have memory?  Not the way that you and I do, but if you roll the cake up when it's still hot, it will retain that little bit of "stretch," and not crack when you roll it up with filling.  (Not quite the scientific explanation, but you get the point.)

You can unroll it after about half an hour.
Fill the cake with whatever you would like.  I went with a simple whipped cream and strawberry mixture.  More whipped cream than strawberries -- since, well you can never really have enough whipped cream -- am I right?? 😉

Roll the cake back up again (obviously, not rolling in the towel this time.)

Look at that.  The stripes are going the right way.


And you know what pairs perfectly with magic?
Fireworks. 🎇🎆🎉
And Independence.
And CAKE! 

So, all you patriots out there -- cut yourself a piece of this all-American cake, queue up the Star Spangled Banner, gaze up at the brilliantly lit night sky --
and celebrate the birthday of own dear Lady Liberty🗽 herself.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Celebrating Dads . . and Summer!

It's June.  Spoken as someone who was born in the Northeast, raised in the Midwest, and now continues to live here, let me just say: Thank God.  My digits are finally beginning to thaw.  And it wasn't even a bad winter!  I can just see all the real troopers out there in Iowa, Wisconson, and the Dakotas rolling their collective eyes at my fragility.  I mean, it's practically tropical out here in Ohio in comparison.  But yet -- it is June, and I am happy.  Another thing that brings me joy? The fact that I'm going to be able to spend Father's Day with my dad.  And in honor of that very special occasion, I'd like to share a cake from a Father's Day past.  A sprinkly vibrant concoction in honor of that special father-daughter bond.

This was a standard bulked up cake-mix cake.  The real fun came with decoration.  This is a great technique for any birthday or celebration cake.  And of course, for anyone who loves sprinkles.

Make sure the cake is on a cake board before frosting.  After frosted, pop another cake board on top of the cake.  Yes, on top of the icing.  Relax, it won't hurt it.

Then, depending on how messy you want to get your kitchen (and how long your countertop is) you have a couple of options.  You can either coat your countertop with sprinkles, making sure to cover a length at least as long as the circumference of the cake. (So for a six inch like mine -- 20 inches should be fine.)  Width should be equal to the height of the cake.

For those of you who are having a stroke right now at the thought of the millions of little sprinkles getting into every nook and cranny of your kitchen, here is the second way. (Which is the way I did it -- mainly because my husband also almost had a stroke when I told him how I planned to do it -- the first way.)

Fill the bottom of a large sheet pan with sprinkles.  Get the largest sheet pan that you have available. When you've coated the bottom of the pan, turn the cake on its side by gripping the cake by the two cake boards.  Then ROLL the cake from one end of the pan to the other.  Depending on how long your pan is, you may have to pick the cake up and redo whatever side hasn't been covered.

See, no muss, no fuss.  But, the other way would have been so much more fun. . .

Finally, place the cake right-side-up within the tray of sprinkles and dish them over the top.

I used some white fondant to shape 3D letters and put them on cutouts of daisies.

There you have it -- a fairly simple cake to make and enjoy with your dad.  I certainly enjoyed it with my dad!  And even though I don't have a cake ready for this Fathers Day, at least we can enjoy the memory of it together!

Friday, June 2, 2017

And They Lived Happily Ever After. . .

A couple weeks ago, I had the immense pleasure of attending my little brother's wedding.  It was a full-fledged Indian affair -- an almost a week long festivity, chock-full of vibrant colors, mouth-watering foods, and a near-constant atmosphere of delightful ebullience. A perfect celebration of love and a promising start to their "Happily Ever After."  It's really wonderful to attend a wedding of someone you love, while not actually being the one getting married. You get to fully immerse yourself in the experience, while experiencing not a bit of the actual stress.  Which is one of the reasons why, when asked if I would make the wedding cake -- I said 'no.'  It actually broke my heart a little.  Because if there is anyone in the world who I would love to make a wedding cake for, it's my little brother.  But after taking a moment to really, really think it through, I realized that: a) I didn't want to be responsible for the potential food poisoning of 300 people and b) I really didn't want to be the one that ruined the wedding if something horrible happened in either the composition, transit, or placement (or all three) of the cake. So I decided on a compromise.  I'd make a dummy cake.  Still a little stressful in that the final product would have to be as close to perfect as possible (and anyone who has read this blog over the past few years knows that that's not a given -- ever.) But at least it's slightly less stroke-inducing to transport sturdy styrofoam cake tiers over 200 miles than tender fluffy layers of cake (not to mention the sheets of slippery buttercream.) I also wouldn't have to worry about that food-poisoning thing. (I'm the type-A sibling, if anyone had any doubts about that.) And most importantly, I'd still be doing something special for my very special brother -- he sang at my wedding, and I had already resigned myself to the fact that I'd never be able to top that (if you've ever been unfortunate enough to hear me karaoke you would whole-heartedly agree) -- but this was something small that I could do at least.

The cake was to be in the "love-story" style.  It first was featured a year or two ago, and had become very popular, since the story of the couple can be (very briefly) told in the illustrations on the tiers. My brother and his fiancee (now wife) met while in college and dated when in medical school.  They got engaged during a post graduation celebratory trip while in Prague, and now were getting married.  Obviously, (very) abridged version -- but there's only so much you can fit on cake. The tiers were covered in a red fondant with a gold splash finish to go with the wedding colors, and, while love-story cakes typically use black Mexican gumpaste to create the story silhouettes, I went with white to create more of a contrast.   Lastly, were the almost half a dozen sugar flowers to crown the monogrammed top tier (made of about a million petals, give or take).

After all of that even, I still managed to break a petal off of one of the flowers while transporting the cake to Michigan (which my perfectionist husband, insisted -- no really -- insisted I fix -- even though it was in the back of the cake, and no one at all would have seen it.  I mean I have 20/15 vision, I made the thing and I freakin' didn't even notice it!) And then in an entirely unexpected twist of fate (as they always are,) the rear window in my Jeep decided to independently roll itself down and refuse to go back up.  Not sure how many of you have driven in Michigan but the expressway may as well be the Michigan International Speedway since everyone thinks they're driving for NASCAR. (Including me -- I mean, don't get me wrong, MI drivers are the most skilled best-est in the world and I love them, but this just wasn't the greatest time.) But in spite of the wind tunnel that was my car, the cake managed to get to the venue unharmed.  And I got to celebrate the fantastic event that was the wedding, while focusing all my energy on admiring the lovely bride and groom!

Courtesy of Rosy and Shaun Wedding Photography

Monday, May 8, 2017

It's Not a Party Without Cake

Alright my friends.  This post is for all of you who swear up and down that you can never do one of my projects in your own kitchen because they're too complicated, or take too much time, or require too many tools that you don't have access to.  This project? This one, my friend requires only a grocery store, a craft store, and Etsy.  I know you have access to all of those.  Intrigued yet?

I thought you would be! So, I recently had the pleasure of attending two bachelorette parties.  And you know what?
Yup, from the lips of the cooking Goddess herself.  If Julia Child said it, who am I to disagree?  Of course, there had to be cake. Normally, I would make the cake myself.  But if there's anything I fear more than a party without cake, it's making everyone deathly ill by food poisoning -- and with the fact that the cakes would have to be made in advance, then taken across the country on airplanes with questionable climate control, and then stored without refrigeration in desert and subtropical climates. . . well, I didn't feel up to that kind of pressure.

Here's the secret.  Lean in, and listen closely.  Ready? Okay. . . it's Giant Eagle.  Okay, okay, don't get too disappointed.  No judgy eyes.  The grocery store cake may not be the sexiest pastry out there, but it's just the base.  The foundation.  And -- I know that every single one of you out there has access to a grocery store cake.

Here's where the magic comes in.  It's in something called a frosting sheet.  You know what a frosting sheet is, even if you don't think so.  Ever see (or enjoy) one of those cakes with someone's picture on it? That's a frosting sheet!  It's basically a very thin, compressed sheet of frosting that you can print on.  I've used it in the past, both for the wine bottle cake and for the library cake.  It's perfect for small details and artwork. And it's so very perfect for sprucing up a generic grocery store cake.  And it can be custom ordered from Etsy (for less than $10)! Okay, so now you know what you need from the grocery store and what you need from Etsy.  Lastly -- the craft store.  Just get cake decorations.  Sprinkles, sugar pearls, cake sparkles.  And some structural things -- edible glue, and gumpaste.  But if you're feeling really frugal, you can even skip the glue and the gumpaste.  More on that later.

As I mentioned, these cakes were for bachelorette parties -- so I did a little bit of a Google search and downloaded a couple of darling pictures of bustiers.  I sized them in Word (it's amazing what you can get done in Microsoft Word) and sent them off to Etsy.  Less than a week later, I had itsy-bitsy frosting sheet bustiers in my hands.

The process:

Roll out a piece of gumpaste just larger than the size of the graphic.  Then use a sharp knife to cut out the picture and set aside.  You can use scissors too, as long as they are small enough for fine detail.

Take the backing off of the frosting sheet and put a thin coating of edible glue on the back. If you don't have edible glue, you can use water. Place the cut out picture on top of the rolled gumpaste. Let it sit for about 10 minutes to dry.

Now comes the decorating. Paint edible glue on the details that you want to bedazzle. Generously coat the area with sequins, sparkles, etc, and then gently shake the gumpaste to remove the excess.
Carefully dip one side of the sugar pearls in the edible glue and place on the picture where desired.

Now, finally, cut the gumpaste along the edge of the picture.  Give yourself a little bit of a border to avoid irreparable damages to your piece of art.

After drying, the image should stiffen up.  Place on a bed of cornstarch to avoid any sticking until you place on the cake.

When the cake is ready, place the cut-out onto the cake and press gently to adhere it to the frosting.

And right there -- is the best looking grocery store cake you'll ever see.  😍