Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Anniversaries: A Cake Philosophy

Basically this whole saving the top tier of your wedding cake nonsense is bull.  Yes, cake can keep well in the freezer--but for a few weeks, people, not 12 months.  You'll thaw it out, have a couple bites, go eugh, and then throw it away.  WASTE OF CAKE AND MONEY.


For Leah and John's wedding, I told them that we should eat all the cake (we did our best) and I'd make them another one when their anniversary rolled around.  John requested sprinkles, Leah requested lemon, so in the spirit of marriage and compromise I made them one with both.

Admire my gorgeous cake plate, ignore my dirty coffee table.

They were lovely and shared it with us--because let's be real, top tiers of cakes still feed a handful of people, it's a lot to eat by yourself.

So stop freezing your top tiers, people!  Spread the gospel: fresh cake tastes better.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cake testing and re-homing

After searching everywhere for a graham cracker cake recipe and eventually having to build one myself, you can imagine how ridiculous I felt when I opened up my Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and there was one staring at me.  I should have checked there first, Deb has everything.

I wanted to test out the recipe but didn't want to end up with an entire cake in my apartment (sitting there, taunting me).  I baked, filled, frosted, and decorated (when in doubt, cover it in ganache and throw sprinkles at it), then put it out to pasture on Facebook until a friend picked it up for another friend's birthday.

Smitten Kitchen's graham cracker cake, with milk chocolate ganache filling, vanilla Swiss buttercream frosting, and more milk chocolate ganache (salted this time) poured on top.  The sprinkles come out this time every year and they are some of my favorite things--little tiny leaves and pumpkins and yellow triangles I've never quite figured out.

Would've loved to eat it all myself but the birthday girl had two slices so I'm guessing it was okay.  Will be pulling the recipe out again for a wedding next month.  Fall baking is the best baking.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jon and Whitney Get Married (With Lots Of Desserts!)

Whew!  August was busy, sorry 'bout that.  A couple friends got married and put me in charge of the dessert table and things got a little out of hand.

This is only a portion.  The football helmets are important.

What started out as "we don't really want cake" evolved into "well maybe just a little cutting cake" evolved into what you see above (and below).  We ended up with a three-tier cake, caramel brownies (bride's choice), lemon bars (groom's choice), and popcorn cookies to go with the cinema theme.  The cake is lemon with lemon curd filling on top, chocolate with raspberry filling in the middle, and vanilla with vanilla buttercream on the bottom, all slathered with a truly absurd amount of vanilla buttercream and decorated with white and dark chocolate film strips.  (Those are a project for a different post.)

Popcorn cookies!  Don't knock 'em til you try 'em, they're actually fantastic.

Even though the wedding was held on what felt like the hottest weekend of the summer, everything got to the venue without incident, the chocolate transfers didn't melt (I was so worried about this that I brought ribbon to wrap around the base of each tier just as an insurance policy--didn't end up needing it, so now I've got some nice silver ribbon sitting around).  There were some little to-go boxes on either side of the dessert table for people to take home leftovers, but there weren't too many, which is how I know I did my job right.  I still have a firm no cupcake policy, but I'd definitely do the brownies or lemon bars thing again.  Good choices all around.

Photos by the team at Unveiled Studio, who were EVERYWHERE at this wedding and did a fast and fantastic job--they had photos up during the reception!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Raspberry Lemon Bridal Shower Cake

Let's talk about frosting, y'all.  (With some crappy cell phone pictures!)

Rule #1: You never have enough frosting.
Rule #2: Do you have some time?  Make some Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  Make some more.  It'll be worth having it stashed away.

So!  Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  It is delicious.  It starts out with egg whites (I use ones from the carton, because they're pasteurized and no worries about separating eggs) and sugar in a double boiler.  Stick a candy thermometer in it and whisk 'em up until they hit 160 F.

Once it hits 160, move it over to the stand mixer and whisk away.  You did wipe down all implements/bowls/whisks with lemon juice, right?  Just in case there was any trace of fat or oil on them?  Good.  Get the stand mixer going and walk away.

While the mixer is going, cut up some butter.

A lot of butter.  (This is for a ten-cup batch of frosting.)  Revel in the amount of butter you are using.  Delight in it.  Cackle while you're cutting it up.  It needs to be softened to room temperature before you can put it in the frosting (I have shortcutted this in the microwave at low power levels.  Use caution.)

Your meringue should be expanding rapidly at this point.  Once it's thick, white, shiny, and (most importantly) the bowl of the mixer is neutral to the touch, it's time to chuck your butter in!  One piece at a time, please.  This is a good task to delegate out if you have other people around.  Continue cackling.

Once all the butter's in, walk away.  Again.  If you come back in a few minutes and it looks kind of grainy, that's a good thing.  Walk away again.  Don't come back until it looks like the crappy cell phone picture above.  Add a pinch of salt and some vanilla and whammo, frosting!  It is not enough frosting.  It is never enough frosting.

Cake assembly time!  This is one skinny-ass half-sheet lemon layer with some frosting slathered on top and some whole raspberries studded into it.  Some days you just don't want to cook down the produce, and that's okay.

Then take your heart into your hands and flip your second layer on top of the filling.  (If you freeze it first, it'll be less floppy and panic-inducing.)  Crumb coat everything, using more frosting than you could possibly think you'd need.  It is not enough.

Between that step and the next picture several things happened.  I started piping on swirly roses in a haphazard and nonsensical pattern, ran out of frosting, decided they looked bad, scraped everything off, and started over.  Piped more swirly roses on in a much more reasonable fashion, ran out of frosting.  Made another (small) batch of frosting with the rest of the egg whites.  Tinted it pink, piped on more swirly roses, ran out of frosting again.  Went to the store, bought more egg whites, came back, made ANOTHER (medium) batch of frosting, tinted it pink, finished piping the damn cake.  Filled in any little gaps and stuck the whole sucker in the fridge to firm it up. Take it out of the fridge, take a picture, box it up, back in the fridge, and here we are!


So that was my weekend.  Delivered the cake today (it's for a bridal shower, can you tell?) without issue, always the MOST fun part of the process, and it's in good hands now!  

What have we learned?

NEVER.  ENOUGH.  FROSTING.  We're done here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Uber-Chocolate Father's Day Cake

My dad has been requesting a salted dark chocolate cake for a while now, so I decided to whip one up for Father's Day (what better occasion?).  Sweetapolita, as always, provided a beautiful recipe  that I shrunk and barely modified.  When (not if!) I make this again, I'd love to throw in some of the salted caramel buttercream in the middle to lighten everything up.  As it was, this was a big, gorgeous, totally delicious brick of a cake, with enough chocolate to kill a lesser human.  Dad loved it.  (This one also gave me an excuse to buy some fancy sea salt flakes, which were delicious and I'm going to put them in everything now.  I only wish I'd studded them around the sides of the cake as well as the top, to spread the flavor around!)

6" chocolate fudge cake with super-chocolate fudge frosting and sea salt flakes

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summertime Means Pie Time

So yesterday I was walking through Trader Joe's and for reasons that don't follow any semblance of logic, I decided I wanted to make a pie.  The peaches were like rocks but there were lots and lots of nectarines so I bought a few and some frozen pie crusts (I am not above using frozen pie crusts and you shouldn't be either...also I'm at my parents' house this weekend and am pretty sure they don't have any vodka around for me to make my own with.)

Anyway.  This pie is kind of a mess.  I rushed the thaw on the dough and completely wrecked it, to the extent that I had to ball it all up and chill it overnight before re-rolling it today.  Inspiration for this sucker came in equal parts from Smitten Kitchen's nectarine galette and a recipe for orange-nectarine pie I found on the internet.  I mooshed them together into some sort of hot mess pie/galette shindig.  Observe!

Let's be honest here: half the reason this happened was because I wanted to make something pretty out of fruit slices.

The facts were these:

Four ripe-enough nectarines, halved and sliced but not peeled.
One pie crust, homemade or store-bought
About a quarter cup of orange juice
About a quarter cup of brown sugar
About a quarter cup of flour
One egg
Coarse sugar

Mix the OJ, sugar, and flour together.  Toss the nectarine slices in the mixture and chuck in your pie crust, either all willy-nilly or in a pretty pattern.  If you want to fold the crust over onto the filling to make a quasi-galette, I will not fight you.  If you want to put a top crust on, I won't fight you on that either (but your fruit won't get all deliciously singed on the top, so).  Brush the crust with an egg wash and sprinkle it with coarse sugar (or whatever sugar you've got).  Bake at 400 for about half an hour, or until the crust is golden brown and delicious and the fruit is just starting to char on top.

It is all sorts of delicious and is nice and tart--if your taste runs a little sweeter, sprinkle some more brown sugar over the nectarines before baking.  Lightly sweetened whipped cream would be perfect but I don't have any of that so I'll eat it straight and that's nothing to complain about.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

May Birthdays, Part 2 (aka There's A Hole In This Cake)

My dear friend Leah, whose wedding cake I did last fall, had a birthday a couple weeks ago and we're just now able to celebrate.  She requested a spice cake, which I've never done, so I spent a week or so figuring out what recipe I wanted to use--I ended up going with Rose Levy Beranbaum's white spice pound cake recipe from The Cake Bible.  Rose Levy Beranbaum is the OG of cake bakers and I've never had a cake of hers that wasn't fantastic--I hadn't made this recipe before, but I trust her implicitly.  She knows her shit.  The recipe calls for a loaf or bundt pan so I used it as an excuse to buy myself a bundt.  Please pause a moment to watch the relevant bundt cake scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Thank you for your time.

Anyway!  I clearly have no idea what I'm doing as far as frosting bundt cakes goes, so I slathered a mountain of cream cheese frosting over the top, swirled it to echo the shape of the cake, and covered it in sprinkles.  Like you do.

It ain't the prettiest thing going, but it was made with a lot of love and a new pan and plenty of sprinkles and it hopefully tastes a lot better than it looks.  That's all we can ask of birthday cakes.

Once again, Cait used her awesome photo skills to make my cake look awfully pretty, and I appreciate it a whole whole lot.

(Two days later edit: the cake was tasty!  I still need to learn how to frost a bundt but that's secondary.)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

May Birthdays, Part 1

Because life is busy and crazy and we are flexible people, we're doing two May birthdays backwards.  Cait's birthday, which is Monday, gets a cake this weekend, and Leah's birthday, which was last weekend, will get a cake at some later date.  People tend not to complain as long as celebrations are involved.

Cait requested a cake along the lines of John's epic sprinkle groom's cake, the leftovers of which ended up living at her house after the wedding.  As I still have sprinkles leftover from that whole undertaking, I was happy to oblige.

This is what I ended up with!  I forgot until the cake was already on the board that rolling a sprinkle cake requires a board the same size as the cake (in this case, a 6" board--this is on an 8") so I improvised and ended up with something still happy and colorful, with sprinkles inside and out.  The green things are Sixlets and the little colorful dots in the piped spots around the side of the cake are individual sprinkles stabbed in there.  The inside is funfetti cake with a healthy layer of vanilla frosting and sprinkles between the layers.  Happy Birthday, Cait!

edit: Cait is a much better photographer than I am and took some pictures of the cake on their lovely picnic table.  Here it is, looking much nicer: 

I like this picnic table's style.

You can see more of Cait and her husband's house projects, adorable dogs, and other fun things over at My Old Kentucky House.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Cake for my Mom

I have a totally fantastic mom, you guys.

Here she is in circa 1982, looking fly.

Here we are last weekend, geeking out at Phantom of the Opera.

She is great in every way and I try and remember that every day, but of course on Mother's Day I try and do a little extra.  Every year we go to a local garden center and buy plants--sometimes they make it, sometimes they don't, I'd like to think we have a little bit better than 50% mortality rate but nobody's really keeping track.  This year we went a few weeks early so she could get the plant of her choice, which was a good decision because this weekend is mostly 100% rain.

This year, of course, I am celebrating All The Things with cake, and this is no exception.  I made her a wee ladylike cake with some piped flower-type things for her sugary enjoyment:

You would not believe how many people at Trader Joe's were buying flowers. 

I love it when the little cakes fit in the little boxes.

What we have here: the world's shortest two-layer 6" Earl Grey Tea cake (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens via Sprinkle Bakes) with honey vanilla Swiss Buttercream frosting (which is just a standard Swiss Meringue Buttercream with less sugar at the beginning and some honey added at the end).  It was a little too short to do the roses all around the side but I like how it turned out with a wreath of the roses on top and some other random little piped bits scattered around.

I haven't tasted it yet but it did make the kitchen smell AMAZING, so there's that.

Edit: good cake!  The tea flavor came through nicely and I'll definitely use the base to experiment with other steeped flavors in the future.  Here's one more picture:

Friday, May 2, 2014

For a Non-Cupcake Blog, Here's More Cupcakes

Look what I'm springing on Jenna tomorrow!  Top to bottom, starting on the left:

Burnt sugar cake with salted caramel buttercream filling and brown sugar buttercream
Same as above, drizzled with more salted caramel
Burnt sugar cake with salted caramel buttercream filling and vanilla buttercream
Same thing but with more caramel drizzle

Chocolate mud cake (chocolate cake, chocolate buttercream, chocolate crumbs)
Chocolate cake, marshmallow filling, chocolate buttercream

S'mores (graham cracker cake*, toasted marshmallow filling, milk chocolate ganache) with brown sugar buttercream
S'mores with vanilla buttercream

Let's all wish her luck.  She's coming in the morning, so this is breakfast.  If there's a better way to start the day, I don't know what it is.

Edit: I forgot to mention that there are MORE cupcakes to the left of this picture, out of the shot.  Those included sweet potato and ginger cake with marshmallow filling and vanilla and brown sugar buttercreams.

Tasting went great, I sent both tasters home with nine cupcakes each and there are still more in my kitchen.  Someone help me, please.

Monday, April 28, 2014

This is Not a Cupcake Blog

...but they do tend to show up anyway.  Sometimes.

I've been cooking up all sorts of experimental flavors this week (my fridge is filled with all sorts of fun stuff), and I'll post something about those soon.  But sometimes it's nice to just make a batch of something without any guessing or weirdness that doesn't require any special purchases, and that's the story of these chocolate cupcakes.

These are Sweetapolita's Chocolate Birthday Cupcakes (there is NO BUTTER in that cupcake recipe.  I was horrified and checked it three times) with her whipped vanilla frosting--I'm normally not a fan of powdered-sugar-based frostings (blanket term: American buttercream) but this one is pretty damn good.  And it's almost completely hands-off as long as you've got a stand mixer.  Amazing.

These were taken to a potluck to accompany a hotdog bar.  All was right with the world.

(A note about cupcakes: they are not my gift.  I am finally getting to the point where I don't overfill the damn things, but that's really the best I've got.  I use them for cake tasting and when I need something quick--like this!--and that's about it.  Team cake for life.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cake in the Way Back Machine

Finally found a picture from Lauren's bridal shower, in July...2012?  That seems like a long time ago.  I might be wrong.  Anyway!  This was my first Cake For An Occasion and while my frosting technique has gotten better, the cake recipe is still solid.

(my picture appears to have broken, sorry!

This is Sweetapolita's Orange Ginger Carrot Cake, with the original white chocolate replaced with cream cheese frosting (with orange zest in it) at Lauren's request because she knows what's up.   That's a little candied ginger on top--I tried my best to make it curl and be pretty but it didn't do much other than sit there and be tasty.  Somehow we all survived even without photogenic baked goods (the horror, right?).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Spring Cake on a Whim

So here's how things go with me.

I see something--in this case, Sprinkle Bakes' really lovely Speckled Egg Malted Milk Cake:

Complete with phyllo nest.  Fancy!

...and I have to make it.  The cake is a play off malted milk eggs, which as it turns out are HELLA DIFFICULT to locate two days before Easter.  Learn from my mistakes, kids.

Observe: our cake template.  Someday I'll figure out how to cover a cake in a crunchy candy shell.

Didn't have an occasion handy for making such a thing, and it's a lot weirder to bring an entire huge cake to the office than it is a plate of cookies or something, so I offered it up to Claire's family for their Easter get-together.  They accepted, and then her mom invited me to come along with the cake.  Can't say no to that.

I ended up malt-ing Smitten Kitchen's vanilla buttermilk cake recipe (my go-to) via a half cup of malted milk powder, which is pretty handy stuff.  Had to get some chocolate in there somewhere so I used a thin layer of ganache between the layers instead of frosting.  

Obviously, the best part of making this thing is speckling it--you make a paint with vanilla and cocoa and flick it onto your cake with a brush.  Since I figured this would make a huge mess I made a splatter zone with a beach towel, a hammer, and a couple nails.

I think it worked--I haven't found any spots on the wall.  Yet.

I want to do this to every cake I make, it's so much fun in a way that only terribly messy things can be.  Final result?

Obviously I had to stick a bunch of candy in this thing, you know me.

This ended up being a pretty sizable cake--three 8" layers plus frosting and filling.  Obviously this falls into the category of non-problems, but I'm going to need to source some bigger cake boxes.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The first birthday cake of 2014

...did not happen until March.  Need to line up some more late winter birthdays around here.

Dad requested "a chocolate layer cake, with maybe some coconut.  And can it look unusual?"

Of course, Dad.

(Chocolate cake with coconut cream filling, chocolate frosting, and Trader Joe's roasted coconut chips, which are delicious.)

Bake two square chocolate cake layers.  Stack them and cut off the corners.  Snack on said corners while making coconut cream filling.  Fill and frost, then go entirely overboard with the roasted coconut flakes.  Find a cake-themed card.  Eat the cake.  Help parents disassemble the rest of the cake and wrap and freeze all the pieces individually for later consumption.  I think it lasted the better part of a month, which shows remarkable self-control on their part.  Props, parents!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Other cakes of 2013

Bridal shower cake for a White Shower for Melissa, made in collaboration with our friend Claire, who delivered and assembled it like a badass.
Lemon cake, lemon curd, vanilla buttercream.
(Flower and ribbon both 100% inedible, please do not eat.)

Giant Little Debbie cake for my dad for Father's Day. 
Chocolate cake, meringue filling (mysteriously disappeared, whoops), chocolate frosting, ganache, white chocolate swirl.
(As you can see, stuck to the sides of the box like crazy, for maximum Little Debbie-esque realness.)

Birthday cake for Lauren, with orbiting satellite cupcakes.
Chocolate Octoberfest cake with brown sugar buttercream, candied pecans, and sprinkles.

Birthday cake for my brother.
Three layers of spicy carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and hand-picked red sprinkles from my large collection of multi-colored sprinkles.

Cake for my mom's surprise birthday party.
Vanilla buttermilk cake with malted vanilla buttercream and Whoppers.  Frosting was tinted a totally uncooperative shade of purple which refused to photograph correctly, but the cake (and the party) were both pretty good.

Wedding Cake 3: Leah and John

When the girl you've known since you were 8 tells you she's getting married, of course you offer to make her cake.  Duh.  This was my last wedding of the summer and I was in it and baking for it and that was quite the day.

150-ish guests meant I had a pretty good chance of feeding everyone without resorting to the (totally valid) sheet cake method, and I could let the bride and groom choose their own flavors for their own cakes--two households, both alike in dignity, yada yada yada.  As you can imagine, this led to a vast number of flavors for testing.

(This is not all of them.  This is some.  Thankfully it was also Leah's mom's birthday so I sent some home with them.)

We ended up with two very different, very lovely cakes, which I will now describe for you as they are inscribed on my memory until the end of time.

John's cake:
Bottom and top tiers: funfetti cake, filled with vanilla funfetti frosting, covered in vanilla buttercream, and rolled in sprinkles.  WITH SIXLETS AROUND THE EDGES, because we needed more color.
Middle tier: lemon cake, vanilla buttercream filling and frosting, with funfetti piping around the base.

Leah's cake:
Bottom and middle tiers: Lemon cake, raspberry filling, raspberry buttercream frosting.
Top tier: Chocolate cake, raspberry filling, raspberry buttercream frosting.

(Guess which one is which)

I'm making another sprinkle cake this summer so I'll take you through the process then, but suffice to say it involves buying pounds of sprinkles and having the courage/stupidity to pick your (beautifully baked, beautifully frosted, perfectly smooth) cake up, turn it sideways, and plop it down in a pan.  It also involves a lot of profanity.  Stay tuned.

Photo by Jarron at Dei Gratia Photography, who was nice enough to take lots of cake pictures mostly for my benefit.

Wedding Cake 2: Haley and Seth

Haley and Seth are beautiful humans who had a dessert bar at their wedding that they let me contribute to--by which I mean that I needed to practice covering a cake in sprinkles and they indulged me.  Even though I just made a bitty cake that only had to get to Bowling Green, it managed to completely slide off its base in transit and ended up looking less pretty than it should have.  Thankfully nobody was paying attention because there was so much other great stuff going on, and I cunningly used neon-colored candy and sprinkles on the cake itself to distract from any imperfections.

(Lemon cake with ginger bourbon peach buttercream, rolled in sprinkles and topped with jellybeans, because we're all adults here.)

It is important that you note that the dessert bar banners said TREAT YOSELF.  This is vital.

Photo by the amazingly talented Carrie and Ganer of Sur La Lune Photography

Wedding Cake 1: Melissa and Chey

I ended up involved in a lot of weddings last summer, and I ended up doing cake in some form for three of them.  Melissa's wasn't the first one I volunteered for but it did end up being the first wedding I did, which was...an experience.  Several hundred people, three hours away, in a two-door Honda Civic.  No sweat.  After Melissa agreed to the rules (1. No fondant; 2. I don't have to feed everyone with one cake) I made some cupcakes, we picked out some flavors, I did some very bad math and things were rolling.

(The delightful real-life consequences of the Cupcake Permutation Chart, which is a real thing that totally works.)

As it turns out, you need a lot of cake to feed several hundred people.  A fridge full of cake, in fact.

We ended up with six half-sheet cakes (vanilla and chocolate, with vanilla or chocolate frosting) and two tiers for the show cake.  This is what I refer to as "a fuck-ton of cake."  Just in case I use that term again later.

I don't actually remember how I fit all this AND another person in my car.

Despite an impending storm of Biblical proportions, a little road flooding, some minor highway construction, and doing it all in a dress, all cake ended up where it needed to be, I got the show cake stacked up and piped with no issues, and then we set the whole thing on fire because it was the groom's birthday and these people do things right.

(Chocolate on top, vanilla on the bottom, vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream all around.  Can't argue with the classics.)

Photo by Kyle and Jennifer Stevenson of Stevenson Photo

Obligatory Introductory Post

A few years back, I realized that celebrations deserve tasty food, made with love, and decided to take things into my own hands.  It's possible that I was looking for a creative outlet to vent into, as I was halfway through grad school at the time (in something not cake-related).  It's also possible I was just tired of eating bad cake.  I started experimenting in a tiny kitchen, I bought too many pans, I bought a KitchenAid, I bought a cake freezer, and last summer I made wedding cakes for three friends and birthday, shower, and random it's-Tuesday-let's-eat-this-thing cakes for many more.  Some of those will be covered retroactively and we'll see where we go from here.

About me: I'm pretty much self-taught, I buy pounds of butter at a time, and yes, I do have a chest freezer in my kitchen that's filled with whatever I can't eat or pawn off immediately--everything from cake and frosting to ice cream, cookie dough, and whatever else won't fit in my other freezer.  There's a couple pounds of pulled pork and some biscuits in there now.  I don't believe in fondant, I do believe in ice cream cake, and that's all you need to know for now.

Up next: last year's wedding cake rundown.  Not for the faint of heart.