Sunday, May 29, 2011

Summer Plan of Action

Am I the only person who makes a summer plan of action? It's a habit I got into years ago, just making lists of things I wanted to do, books I wanted to read, goals to accomplish, things like that. I've already begun work on one of my "actions" 
And I got to cross something else off my ingredients list by using vanilla bean! One of my best friends gave some to me, and I was so excited that I smiled all day.

As you've noticed by now, (don't try and be polite, I can handle it) decorating isn't my strong point. I've seen so many desserts that are beautiful but taste like nothing but sugar and food coloring. And I'm not willing to sacrifice flavor for beauty. 

But....I'm beginning to realize that presentation does matter. If food looks wonderful people will be drawn to it. One of my goals is trying to find that medium where taste and appearance can exist harmoniously.

This cake finds itself in that happy place. Vanilla bean cake, sweet and fluffy, is enveloped by piles of buttercream roses. Me! Making buttercream roses! Never thought I could do that. But I can. And it feels great to see all that effort become something lovely.'s kinda fun. Don't you think this would be so pretty as a wedding cake? brain is getting distracted with cake dreams. I think my summer plan of action might just expand a bit. 

Vanilla Roses Cake
cake adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes


3 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (if you don't have cake flour, no worries. Follow this tutorial to get some in no time flat!)
1 1/2 Tb baking powder
1 Tb pure vanilla extract (or, a vanilla bean, sliced in half with the seeds scraped out. Don't you dare throw that pod away though. Stick it in a jar of sugar. Mmm.) 
1 cup plus 2 Tb milk
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter (aka 1/2 cup + 6 Tb)
1 3/4 cups white sugar
5 egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease two 9 inch cake pans. Sift together flour and baking powder. Stir vanilla into milk. 
2. With an electric mixer, cream butter on medium high. Gradually beat in sugar until mixture is pale and fluffy. Turn the mixer to low, add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with 2 additions of milk. 
3. In another bowl, with mixer on high, whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into batter in three portions. Divide batter evenly between pans, and firmly tap them on the countertop to release air bubbles. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through, until cake tester comes out clean (not too clean...otherwise it'll get dry). Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a wire rack to cool completely. Completely. Patience is a virtue. 

Mkay, now that the cakes are completely cooled it's time to prepare them for frosting. If you have never assembled a layer cake, check out this guide. It's not hard. Oh, I definitely only did two layers, but feel free to go crazy if you want. Frosting time!

Vanilla Buttercream
(This seems like a disgusting amount of sugar, but trust me, you need it. Those roses take a lot of frosting. Also, if it is hotter than 85 degrees, don't use butter. It will melt. Saboteur. Use all shortening instead. )

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup Crisco or other solid shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 cups powdered sugar (one 2 lb. bag)
6 Tablespoons milk

Cream the butter, shortening, vanilla, and salt together. Add the powdered sugar and milk. Mix on low speed until powdered sugar is mixed in. Mix on med. low speed for 10 to 15 minutes. When you can take a teaspoon of icing out and drop it on waxed paper and it holds it's shape and seems firm.....then your icing is ready to decorate with.

Do you know how to do a crumb coat? It's just a thin, messy layer of frosting to seal all the crumbs in. You're going to want to do one of those first. Sorry for all the links, but I'm going to direct you to the Rose Queen herself for the decorating tutorial. She can explain far better than I. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lamb Stew

I'm in this weird place where I haven't quite figured out what I'm supposed to be doing or where I am. My siblings are still in school for another week, while I'm prone to stumbling around the house in a sleep deprived stupor as I wait to hear back from potential employers.

Least I can do is make dinner, right? Stew conjures up images of chilly nights, huddled by a fire (possibly wearing a cape made of a blanket held around the shoulders with a binder clip. Cutting edge fashion right there) looking for something warm to eat.

Welp, as you can see by the pictures and title of this post, that's what I made. Maybe the college crazy hasn't worn off yet. This stew is lovely and simple. Tender chunks of lamb, cooked with melt in your mouth onions and potatoes. I first made this when I was like...11 or 12. So you can do it. While you're at it, find some nice, warm bread to serve with it. Maybe these?

Lamb Stew
from the Usborne Children's World Cookbook 


1 1/2 lbs stewing lamb, or neck and shoulder joints
1 1/2 lbs potatoes
2 large onions
dried thyme or mixed herbs
salt and pepper
1 meat bouillon cube
2 cups boiling water
2 Tb butter

1. Preheat oven to 325. Trim any fat off the meat and cut into 1 inch cubes. Peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices. Chop onions into small pieces. 
2. Put a layer of meat into a casserole dish. Sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper. Add a layer of onions, and then potatoes, sprinkling each layer with the herb mix. You should end up with potatoes on top.
3. Make the bouillon and pour it into the dish. Brush butter over the top layer of potatoes.
4. Put the lid on the dish and cook it for 2 hours. For the last half hour, remove the lid.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Swirly Snickerdoodles

Mm. I'm home. The home where it's common to have a dog on your lap at any given moment (like right now), where I can eat my mom's spaghetti for every meal if I choose to, or stay up all night reading in my own room. became home in a way too. I find myself referring to it as that now. And to be honest, at the beginning I never thought I would feel that way. Being a naturally introverted person (Very introverted. Have you taken the MBTI test? I got 100% introverted. Yeah.) , adjusting to the college setting was really quite difficult for me. But it just...happened. Gradually, I had places I could call my own, people I were comfortable with. 

It's nice to have more than one place to call home. What makes home for you? Do you have multiple homes?

Swirly Snickerdoodles
(I made these for my brother's orchestra concert reception. They're kind of a more grown up version of a snickerdoodle, extra cinnamon-y and crunchy. Lovely with a warm beverage.)


1/3 cup sugar
1 Tb ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 2/3 cup flour
1 Tb melted butter

1. In a small bowl combine cinnamon and 1/3 cup sugar, set aside. 
2. In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese and butter on high for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup sugar and baking powder, scraping sides as needed. Beat in egg and vanilla. Beat in as much flour as you can, then use a wooden spoon to mix in the rest. If necessary, chill dough until easy to handle (I didn't and it was fine)
3. Divide dough in half. Place each half between two pieces of wax paper, and roll into a 12x8 inch rectangles. Brush each with melted butter, and sprinkle two tablespoons of cinnamon sugar on each. Starting with one of the short sides, and using the wax paper to lift and guide, start rolling up your dough in a spiral. Moisten edges and pinch to seal. Repeat with other dough. 
4. Roll each...roll in remaining cinnamon sugar. Cover them and chill for 4 to 24 hours. 
5. Cut rolls into 1/4 inch slices. Place slices 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 8 to 10 minutes until edges are firm.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wanna See a Magic Trick?

Of course you do! Need to impress friends, family, or significant others? Blind them with the power of SCIENCE!
So here's what you need. A deepish plate, food coloring, Q-tips, dish soap, and whole milk, 2%, half and half, something with fat. 

Drop yer food colorings near each other in the middle of the dish. Then, take a Q-tip, dip it in some soap, and touch the colors...




So why does this happen? Dish soap contains stuff that's supposed to break down proteins and fats...substances found in milk. The soap also contains something called surfactants, which lower surface tension, making things more spready. The reaction between the soap and the fats and proteins, combined with the lowered surface tension, causes this swirly effect! 

This is fun to do with kids. And college students. Hope you enjoyed this little lesson in food + science!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Return of the Sun/Chocolate Almond + Salted Caramel Pudding Pops

Was making popsicles a big deal for you when you were young? I know it was for me. Breaking out the plastic molds (we had TWO kinds, a basic shape with a straw built into the handle for getting the slushy stuff out, and bear shaped ones. Fancy, I know) pouring watery lemonade into somehow tasted so much better frozen. 

Mm. This weekend felt so much like summer. It made me so happy to finally feel the sun on my face. And there was a music festival thing going on at school, so behavior like this was occuring: 
No, I don't attend High School Musical University (Well, almost...)
It seemed like good popsicle weather. I decided to do pudding pops (which kind of taste like fudge pops but better) instead of something icy and fruity, and they were, but also incredibly hot to make. Standing in the cramped kitchen over a makeshift double boiler maybe was a poor choice in May. You can modify this recipe and do any type of pudding (I went with Chocolate Almond and Salted Caramel) you want, but take the extra time to make it from scratch. It's so worth it. 

Chocolate Almond + Salted Caramel Pudding Pops
adapted from Endless Simmer

makes approximately 1 dozen pops
Chocolate Pudding
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 cups cold whole milk
  • 3/4 cups dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
Combine cornstarch, sugar, and whole milk in a bowl and whisk vigorously. Transfer mixture to a heat-proof bowl and place over (not on) simmering water for approximately 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pudding is ready when mixture coats the back of the spoon.  Add chocolate and stir to combine. Add almond and stir to combine.
Salted Caramel Pudding
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 cups cold whole milk
  • 1/2 cup salted caramel sauce (recipe follows)*
Combine cornstarch, sugar and whole milk in a bowl and whisk vigorously. Transfer mixture to a heat-proof bowl and place over (not on) simmering water for approximately 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pudding is ready when mixture coats the back of the spoon.  Add salted caramel and stir to combine.
*Salted Caramel Sauce
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons of heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoons of kosher salt
Add sugar and water into a saucepan over medium low heat. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Use a wet brush to remove any crystals that form on the side. Once sugar has dissolved increase heat to high. Now and then, using the handle give the pot a swirl to keep the mixture moving. Do not stir the mixture directly. The mixture will start to bubble after a minute. As the mixture darkens to a medium amber color, approximately 5-7 minutes, add the butter and cream to saucepan. The mixture will bubble wildly. Whisk to combine (bubbles will subside upon cooling). Add salt and stir to combine.
For easy layering place cooled pudding in a pastry bag or Ziploc bag and cut the corner. (Or just spoon it in. Uglier but easier). Pipe alternating layers of chocolate and salted caramel pudding into a small Dixie type of cup. Place cups in the freezer for one hour until the pudding becomes semi firm, then place a popsicle stick in the middle an continue to freeze for another 2 hours.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Choco-Coco Veganish Bars

College has prompted me to experiment with vegan baking a bit. Not because I'm vegan ( or even vegetarian for that matter) or trying to be healthy or something. Harharhar. Me, healthy. Anyway, it's because sometimes I run out of butter and eggs, and it's too inconvenient to pick up more. Plus, my hand mixer has met its untimely end. R.I.P, Little Buddy. 

So when the baking urge strikes....I have to get creative. Canola oil can be substituted for butter. Banana, yogurt, or applesauce are all fine binders instead of eggs. Keep in mind you can't make substitutions all over the place for every recipe. But generally it's fine in cookies and bars. 

These tasted nice. They can easily be adapted to be de-veganized or made to be actually vegan and not halfheartedly so. I'm pretty lax, since I'm not going to be bothered about vegan chocolate chips and such, or vegan sugar.

Also, I forgot to take a picture of my finished product, so here's this creepy thing that's been hanging out in our dorm's lounge! 

(This post is full o' obscure pop culture references!) 

Choco-Coco Veganish Bars 
adapted from Passion 4 Eating

makes a 8×8″ (20cm x 20cm) pan
  • 1 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 of a ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips 
  • 1 cup dessicated, sweetened coconut
Preheat oven to 350°F
lightly grease a 8×8″ baking pan
In a large bowl add the sugar and the oil and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.  Then add the banana and the almond extract.  Beat again until well combined.  In a smaller bowl combine the flour and baking powder until well mixed, then add to the sugar mixture.  Mix until well blended but do not beat it to death. Add the chocolate and coconut.
When all ingredients are completely combined, scoop batter into the baking pan.  Smooth it out, if the mix is a little dry press it evenly into the pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Cool slightly.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Blackest Forest Cake

I feel there are no signs of me getting my pictures anytime soon. But I'm not going to let that stop me from posting. I'll link to the site where I originally found this...delightful cake. 

I've been dreaming of this cake since I first laid eyes on it. It looked...mysterious, if you can call a cake that. And, totally out of my baking league. But I thought about it for months. I found myself staring longingly at its picture. Longingly. I longed.
These have nothing to do with the cake but they are beautiful. 
When I recently purchased some black cocoa, this cake dream started to become a reality. I made it. It was labor intensive. Also, the most deep, delicious, fragrant chocolate cake I've had in a long time. I'm not a cherry person, so I switched it out for a raspberry reduction. It was a good choice. 
Here's the moment you've all been waiting for...yah!

Oooh. Aaah. Stephanie is an absolute genius. This make made me realize that I'm capable of making nice, pretty things. This summer, I've been given permission by my sister to make all the desserts for her graduation party. And if all goes well, perhaps others will allow me to cater for their events? I can dream, right? 

Recipe recipe time ^_^ 

The Blackest Forest Cake tweaked from Desserts for Breakfast

Blackest Forest Gateau
makes one 2-layer 9" cake. For suggestions on other sizes, see the tips below the recipes.

for black chocolate cake:
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/3 cup black cocoa powder
2/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tspn salt
1 tspn baking powder
1 tspn baking soda
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
1 cup boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease, flour, and line the bottoms of two 9" round cake pans.  If desired, line the cake pans with bake-even strips.
2. In a mixer bowl, combine sugar, flour, black and Dutch-processed cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Mix to combine.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the beaten eggs, vegetable oil, and milk.  Stir to mix.  Then, with the mixer on low, pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Mix on low until evenly distributed.
4. Pour the boiling water into the batter and mix on medium low until smooth.
5. Divide the batter between the two cake pans.
6. Bake for 35-45 minutes.  When a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out cleanly, the cakes are done.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

for dark chocolate ganache:
3 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
2.5 oz. manufacturing or heavy whipping cream
1 Tbspn butter
1 Tbpsn Godiva chocolate liquor, optional

1. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl and set aside.
2. In a saucepan, heat the cream and butter just until simmering.
3. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate.  Let sit for a minute or so.
4. Whisk the cream into the chocolate until smooth.  Add the liquor, if using, and mix until thoroughly combined.
5. Spread a thin layer of ganache on top of both of the cooled chocolate cakes.  Let set for at least two hours, or an hour in the refrigerator.

for raspberry filling:
1 cup frozen raspberries
4 Tbspn sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tspn cornstarch, sifted

1. In a nonreactive saucepan, saute the raspberries on medium high until they begin to release their juices.
2. Add the lemon juice, sugar, and sifted cornstarch to the raspberries, making sure to whisk to combine the cornstarch.
3. Stirring constantly, bring the contents to a boil and simmer until the raspberries have reduced and are thickened, about 5-7 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Set aside.

for mascarpone whipped cream:
1 cup mascarpone cheese
4 cups manufacturing cream, or heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup powdered sugar

1. Combine the mascarpone cheese and cream in a bowl.  Whip until soft peaks.
2. Add the powdered sugar to the cream, continue whipping just until you reach stiff peaks.  Be careful not to overwhip!  Use immediately.

1. Spread a layer of mascarpone whipped cream on the prepared ganache-chocolate cake.
2. Top the whipped cream with the raspberries.
3. Place the next layer of cake on top of the raspberries and whipped cream.
4. Frost the outside of the cake with the remaining cream.  Decorate with chocolate shavings, chocolate trees, fresh raspberries, or a dusting of powdered sugar/cocoa powder, if desired.
5. Store in the refrigerator.

To make what I made (2 two layer 4 inch cakes), half the cake and whipped cream recipes, and bake in two 4 inch round pans. Slice the cakes in half, and fill as directed.