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28 March 2013

Part of Your World

Assignment:  design a little mermaid themed cake for a client who is turning 30.
Challenge:  do so without it looking like a child's birthday cake.
Result:  an "under the sea" theme cake with nods to the mermaid.

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The shells and seahorses were made from white candy melts, while the coral was buttercream piped with different tips to give a variety of textures.  Oh, and though you can't see them, prince charming and his loyal sheepdog are present as well - just off to the right of phrase on the lower tier.

Though if mermaids or the sea aren't your cup of tea, there's always this toolbox cake:

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Complete with sugar cookie tools.  With this cake, you can have your cake, marshmallow treats, and sugar cookies, too!  And, who knows, you might just get the urge to tackle your "honey do list" or some other fix-it project you've been putting off.

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I'd recommend finding some heavier duty tools beforehand though.  These taste great, but aren't so perfectly suited for real-world application.

Course, if you'd rather do away with all the decoration and just get in touch with your inner chocolate lover, this cake is always an option - three layers of chocolate cake filled with chocolate buttercream and finished in the same.  

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I'd suggest a glass of cold milk to accompany.  Anyone in the mood for a late night snack?

Talk to you soon!
P.S.  Don't you just love the plate the chocolate cake is on?  What you can see of it in the photo, at least?  It belongs to the client I created the cake for - the pattern was beautiful!  Had a very vintage feel to it!

26 March 2013

Crisper Drawers


Do you know how to properly set the crisper drawers in your refrigerator?  If you're like I used to be, you just set the humidity selector to the middle of the range and call it good.  But, after today, you will do that no more!  You'll know exactly how to set the humidity - either high or low - to help your fruits and veggies last as long as possible.  And, I'll make it easy for you to remember.
  • If it rots quickly/easily or emits high levels of ethylene gas, it goes in a low humidity environment.
    • Things like:  apples, grapes, mushrooms, avocados, strawberries, etc.
  • If it wilts, it goes in a high humidity environment.
    • Things like:  leafy greens, spinach, lettuce, basil, green onions, cauliflower, carrots, etc.
  • Lemons, limes, oranges, etc. prefer a medium humidity environment.  If you only have two crisper drawers and one is set to low, the other to high, place these in the low humidity one.
See...I told you it would be easy to remember - if it wilts, choose high humidity; if it rots, choose low humidity.

Mmm...tasty!



23 March 2013

$40 Pies & My Peeps

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My Peeps:  Version 2.0 - sugar cookies!  Are you a fan of the ubiquitous Easter candy - those sugar coated marshmallows?  I love the idea of the them, but don't care for the taste of them, so when I stumbled across a set of Peeps cookie cutters, I knew they'd be joining my collection.  Now, I can have my peeps and eat them, too!

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Though I think next time I make them, I'll round the ears on the bunnies a bit more; they are just too pointy - they don't look "marshmallow-y" enough.  (Yes, I know marshmallow-y is not a word, but let's pretend it is today, mmmk?)  

Did you celebrate St. Patty's Day?  Maybe you found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?  There weren't any rainbows in my neck of the woods, so I opted to make my own.

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And, for added luck, I threw in a few four leaf clovers as well.

I also recently tried my hand at sculpting a tow truck and cars for a birthday cake.  I borrowed a toy tow truck from my nephew to use as a guide.  When he delivered the toy to me, my nephew of course asked what I needed it for.  His response when I told him, "Tow trucks are easy to build!  You just need to make a truck then add a crane and a hook."  He didn't take me up on my offer to let him do the constructing of the piece, though.  Hmm...

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As for the $40 pie - it didn't look very pretty, but tasted excellent according to A, who was the lucky recipient.  She tried to make me feel better by telling me boysenberry pies never look pretty - I'm not sure I fully believed her though.

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So, what made it a $40 pie?  Well, turns out you can't find boysenberries in any of my local stores.  Nor could I find them in the big city during one of my visits.  The only solution was to order the berries online and have them shipped - not the cheapest route - but it helped make A's birthday fantastic, so it was well worth it.  And, good news, I've got enough berries left to make another $40 pie!  Maybe the next one will turn out prettier...

Talk to you soon!

22 March 2013

Fresh Friday Vol. 2

Real Food Runner
I'm linking up with Katherine over at the Real Food Runner Blog again today!  Here's my three things for this week:
  1. Celebrating Saint Patty's Day with friends.  Complete with green mustaches, Irish Sunrises, and a few broken dishes.
  2. Exploring the world of allergen free cookies - not just dairy free, but also soy free and nut free.  In one cookie.  A challenge?  Yes.  Am I up for it?  You bet!
  3. $40 pies.  I'll go into the saga in a later post, but sometimes in order to make a birthday the best it can be, you just have to go to great lengths.  Even if the end result was less than beautiful...
What made your week great?  Or different?  Or exciting?  Feel free to share!
Talk to you soon!

19 March 2013

It's Sunk


It's every cake maker and baker's nightmare...the cake sunk in the middle.  Good news - it's most likely still edible, it'll just require more trimming to level, which will result in more wasted cake.  But, the question is, what caused the cake to sink in the first place?

While there are many possible culprits, here are three of the most common:
  • Over beating/over mixing the batter.  This is especially easy to do if you use a stand mixer!
  • Underbaking.  A toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake should come out completely clean, if it doesn't, the cake needs to bake longer.
  • Oven temperature fluctuations.  This is most commonly caused by opening the oven door too early/too often during baking.  Leave the oven door closed! At least until the suggested baking time is nearly completed.
Mmm...tasty!



12 March 2013

Oven Multitasking


You're planning a dinner party and have several dishes to bake, but your oven is on the smaller side.  Can you bake the sponge cake with the garlic chicken?

Not unless you want the cake to taste and smell like the chicken - delicately flavored sweets shouldn't be baked with pungent savory dishes.  Also, avoid baking sweets alongside anything savory that might splatter, i.e. roast or ribs, since the splatters will potentially affect the flavor of every other dish in the oven.

You can, however, bake strong flavored sweets (i.e. chocolate cookies, brownies) with mild flavored savory dishes (i.e. macaroni and cheese).  Just be sure to switch the position of the dishes in the oven halfway through the baking time.  

If you're in doubt about baking a sweet item with a savory item, err on the side of caution, and don't bake them together.  It may take longer, but the dishes will stay true to their own flavors.

Mmm...tasty!


07 March 2013

Brownie Cookies

I admit it - I'm a fan of multitasking desserts.  You know those desserts that combine two or more of my (your) favorite things.  In this case, it's brownies and cookies.  Not to mention chocolate - lots of chocolate.

While these don't turn out perfectly round, that's easily forgiven.  Depending on how long you bake them, you can have a nice fudgy center or cake-like center; I personally lean toward the fudgy alternative.  Served with a glass of cold milk, they are nearly irresistible.

Be warned, don't try to substitute the dark, bittersweet chocolate for semi or milk, the experience will be ruined.  And I wouldn't want that to happen for you.  Also, try substituting different types of chips for the chocolate chunks - a divine option is peanut butter chips.  Trust me.  Oh, and don't forget the milk!

Brownie Cookies
Printable Recipe
Adapted Taste of Home Magazine

Yield:  Approximately 18 cookies
Bake:  350°F for 11- 13 minutes

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Ingredients:

  • 2 2/3 cups (16 oz) bittersweet chocolate baking chips (minimum 60% cacao)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chunks or chips
Preparation:
  1. In a large saucepan, melt the bittersweet chocolate chips and butter over low heat, stirring until completely melted and smooth.  Remove from heat; cool slightly.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and instant coffee until blended.  Whisk into chocolate mixture.
  3. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt; add to the chocolate mixture, mixing well.  Stir in the chocolate chunks.
  4. Drop by 1/4 cupfuls 3 inches apart onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.  Bake at 350°F for 11-13 minutes or until set.  Cool on pans for 1-2 minutes; remove cookies to wire racks to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.
Notes:
*Batter will spread, don't skimp on the 3-inch distance.
*If you have an ice cream scoop handy, use it to scoop the cookies.  Saves time and mess!

Happy baking!

06 March 2013

Grandma's German Chocolate Cake

Nope, I'm not sharing a recipe.  My apologies.  Rather I'm sharing photos of this German Chocolate cake I created last week.

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It was just a small cake - only served about 12 - but I was nervous about how it would be received.  See, it was for a friend's grandmother who was celebrating a significant birthday, and who loves German Chocolate cake, yet hadn't had a homemade one in about 10 years.

My concerns:
#1:  This is a grandma who knows how to cook and bake.  My cakes are yummy, but we all know that grandma's (or mom's) cooking is for some reason ten times better than our own.  Would it live up to her standards?
#2:  How best to decorate the cake, yet still keep it traditional?  I didn't want to stray too far from the "norm" since it'd been 10 years...such difficulty.  (German Chocolate cakes always present and interesting decorating challenge for me.  Am I the only one who experiences this?)
#3:  There would be another cake at the party.  Would my cake stand up well against the other, differently flavored, cake?

And, the results:
#1:  It was reported that grandma loved the cake.  So much so, she partook of two pieces.  Woo!
#2:  You can see how that turned out from the photo above - simple, yet sticking to the traditional chocolate and coconut pecan icings.
#3:  I'm happy to report, my cake held its own!  Yay!

And, for the record - I'm always concerned about how my cakes will be received and that they will live up to the client's standards.

Talk to you soon!

05 March 2013

Cheesy Conversion


Fresh grated cheese is the best choice for most cheesy dishes, but you can't always remember how big a block of cheese you should buy to equal the cups called for in your recipe.  Those days are over!  The texture of the cheese does make some difference, but as a general rule 3 to 4 ounces will yield one cup grated.

If you decide to measure the grated cheese, put it in a measuring cup and tap it against the counter; don't pack it down firmly.

Mmm...tasty!