Saturday, July 30, 2011

First Place!

In anticipation of this weekend's Kids' Cake Decorating Contest at the local county fair, my daughter has been practicing icing cakes and molding fondant over the past couple of weeks. She was so excited to enter this contest that I wanted to make sure she was comfortable taking the necessary steps to produce the cake she had envisioned - a beach themed cake with a sharky twist.. it was a great idea. She and my son are obsessed with all creatures of the sea, especially sharks. They are always asking me to put on Discovery or National Geographic documentaries about sharks, sea creatures, prehistoric sharks, etc. which is really quite ironic because I have a phobia of sharks. Whenever I put on one of these shows, I run out of the room for fear that I'll catch a glimpse of one of these large creatures, razor-toothed mouth-wide open staring at me through the TV screen.

At the fair, she battled against 5 other contestants ranging in age from 7 to 14. She was the youngest. And when I say battled, I mean it. These kids were focused, serious and unwavering in their quest for the winning cake.. including my daughter. I so enjoyed watching her work at her masterpiece for an hour. And here it is:

Ribbon or not, she's First Place all the way in my eyes...

I've always wanted to make a cake mimicking the flavors of the Indian sweets I love so much. Cardamom, pistachio and rose are the predominant notes running through these delicacies. The sweets themselves are quite heavy and I thought a cake would be a lighter way to enjoy them.
So, I made a pistachio cake using real ground pistachios and topped it with a rose-cardamom buttercream. It was luscious and the perfect westernized take on the flavors of Indian desserts.

I also made a batch of chocolate chip cookies using almond paste to make it a little more interesting. Not that chocolate chip cookies need to be made anymore interesting, but I like to try new things in the kitchen and I thought the chocolate/almond combination would rock. Because of this addition, these cookies have all the cozy homey-ness of a chocolate chip cookie with the classiness of a macaroon.

And here is the recipe, If you'd like to try it:

Macaroon-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes about 3 dozen 2 1/2" cookies)

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cups light brown sugar
3 oz almond paste
2 eggs
1 T vanilla
2 1/2 cups All Purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
12 oz chocolate chips (6 oz milk & 6 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate, or any combination you like)
3/4 cup chopped almonds (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350F. In an electric mixer blend butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the almond paste until combined. Then add the eggs, one at a time until incorporated. Add vanilla and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda. Add this to the egg & butter mixture until just incorporated. Make sure to not overmix your dough. Fold in chocolate chips and almonds, if you are using them. Scoop 1/8 cup amounts onto greased or parchment-lined baking sheet about 2" apart so the cookies have enough room to spread in the oven.
Bake in the center rack of your oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Careful not to overbake; you want a chewy center and a crisp edge. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Birthday

It's already mid-July and half of summer is over. As much as my kids can drive me nuts at times when they are home with me all day, I still love not having to share them with school, homework, and other activities that run our lives during the academic year. This week was super special because my kids wanted to celebrate my birthday by doing what I do for them quite a bit - bake a cake! They opted for a peanut butter cupcake with a chocolate cheesecake frosting. Mmm, peanut butter and chocolate - one of my favorite combos...
This was the first cake that the two of them baked from start to finish. They made the batter. My daughter wielded the Kitchenaid like a pro, adding the dry ingredients alternating with the wet, mixing until just combined. She scooped the batter into cupcake liners in an even, neat manner. She says she wants to own a bakery when she grows up and I believe it. I am convinced she will be a seasoned pro by 10. When the cupcakes were cooled, the kids wanted to decorate them, of course! The usual spread-the-frosting-on-with-a-spatula wasn't up to their expectations. So I had to fill a piping bag fitted with the requested tips. My son was cute, squeezing more frosting out of the back of the bag than the frosting tip! He did manage to get some out onto the cupcakes and declared them to be worms...... hmmm.. chocolate worms, I can handle. My daughter used a flower tip and made such beautiful swirls on her cupcakes! It was so exciting to watch these two kids having so much fun doing something I am very passionate about..

We ended up having a tea party and enjoyed these goodies along with a mini chocolate cheesecake and tea sandwiches.

Toward the end of the week, I made my hubbie a welcome-back cake to celebrate his return from a long trip. It was a vanilla Bundt cake with a layer of crunchy chocolate hazelnut filling.

Of course, we dug right into it before hubbie returned from his trip..... :-) Luckily, he understands..

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Boston Creme..

This week has been a quiet week in my kitchen. After last week's graduation cake, I decided to take a few days off and enjoy the summer with the kids. But by Wednesday, I was ready to get back in the kitchen and create something.. I have always wanted to make a Boston Creme Pie - two layers of vanilla cake sandwiching a layer of custard and topped with chocolate ganache.... Sounds heavenly. When I have donut, which is quite rare, I opt for the Boston Creme as well. I wanted single serve portions so I decided to make Boston Creme Cupcakes..

I thought a banana custard would work nicely with the chocolate ganache instead of the usual vanilla custard. I managed to make a custard from real bananas rather than banana flavoring and it was the perfect little surprise inside this delicious cupcake.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Celebration Cakes!

Hi guys...! This post is a little late because I was very busy at the end of last week with my celebration cake.. But more on that later. Last week I made some brownies. Not just any brownies.. These brownies were special - they were dairy- and gluten-free! You must be thinking that they tasted awful but, although they were not "true" brownies loaded with flour, eggs, chocolate, and butter, they hit the spot. And they had a special ingredient... Can you guess what it is?

Well I am going to tell you because I bet you'll never guess: black beans! They were the substitution for flour and the result was chewy, chocolatey, *healthy* brownies... For the chocolate flavor, I used cocoa powder and some coffee to intensify the chocolatey-ness. My kids devoured them and I was a happy mom!
I love weeks when I have to produce a celebration cake. It makes me so happy.. :-) Saturday was my sweet sister-in-law's graduation party. Her graduation was no minor achievement. This girl graduated with accolades and scholarships aplenty and we are all so proud of her. I've known her since she was barely a year old and now she's off to college.... Sob, sob... (I feel so old)
I asked her what she wanted in her cake - I went through a bunch of flavors, fillings, and frostings and she came up with this: vanilla and chocolate. :-) simple and yum. So I made her a 3-tiered vanilla cake with a chocolate pudding filling frosted with vanilla buttercream. Her high school colors are gold and black, but she hinted that yellow is prettier than gold, so the entire cake was yellow with black accents. The top tier was a graduation cap.

There's a lot of planning that goes into making a cake like this starting with the design, then onto the logistics of the preparation and implimentation of this design. Then comes the week following up to the event, where each day is carefully planned so that nothing is left out. One missed step could be disastrous! There's the shopping list, making and freezing the cakes, preparing the filling, frosting and other coverings and decorations and finally the assembly. Assembly usually happens the day before the event and is the most fun of all. Fun... and stressful.... but slightly more fun which keeps me going.... :-)

This cake was different because I had never done a tiered buttercream-only cake. I usually make these cakes with a layer of fondant. There is more room for error in fondant cakes because you can cover up a boo-boo with fondant, smooth it out and it's perfect! Not the case with buttercream.... But I think this cake came out pretty well.

On Thursday, I had to decide how we would transport the cake - we were driving all the way out to eastern LI from Monmouth, NJ - an almost 2-hour drive. It turned out to be a 3 1/2 hour drive, but that's another story, entirely. I assembled the bottom two tiers and drove dowels through them, then glued the lower tier cake board to another larger cake board. All this for as much stability as my hubbie and I could think of. The top tier (grad cap) was boxed separately and the cupcakes were in their own boxes. I spent the entire trip (remember? 3 1/2 hours) bent over holding the cake on the floor of the car. So much for stability... Thanks, hun for driving as gingerly as you could - I know that was a stretch for you.. ;-)
It was all worth it in the end - my sis-in-law loved it and everyone at the party enjoyed it. That is, of course, why I do this... It's the icing on the cake.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

4th of July Cupcakes..

As promised, here are the pics of my Independence Day cupcakes. I made a red and blue velvet cake, topped it with chocolate ganache and then a swirl of swiss meringue buttercream. Swiss meringue buttercream is the "cream of the crop" of buttercreams. It's luxurious, silky, and not overly sweet like your basic American buttercream, although.... maybe I should have done a basic American buttercream for an American holiday weekend....? :-)
This was a perfect combination and biting into one was pure velvety goodness....

Happy 4th!

Hey guys! Today is the start of a lovely Independence Day weekend! The weather has been absolutely gorgeous! Barbeques, pool time, and lazy summer afternoons relaxing outdoors is what's on my mind. And of course, with barbeques comes dessert! ;-) We are going to one of our friends' houses today and they have a beautiful baby boy. He's been through quite a bit and he's only 6 months old! He's a trooper..! He's still nursing and like a lot of babies, his little tummy is not agreeing with certain foods. As a result, I needed to make a dessert that is egg- and nut-free. I thought long and hard and came up with these cookies - buttery little jewels that melt in your mouth. As if that wasn't enough, i sandwiched some of them with my homemade mango jam and the others with chocolate ganache. Mmmm...

Earlier this week, I had some nearly black bananas. I love when that happens - always makes baking something sort of a necessity. I mean, I don't want to have to throw away perfectly good bananas...! So I got adventurous and created a chocolate banana muffin with a peanut butter swirl. They were good and filling and we took them on our trip to Connecticut as a quick and easy travel food.

Upon our return, I started getting ready for the long weekend. I made some flag sugar cookies for another barbeque we are attending.

For the kids one morning, I came up with a spiced pear muffin. I left some bare and others, I frosted with some leftover coconut cream cheese icing I had made recently, that needed to be used up.  My hubbie loved these...

I also made red and blue velvet cupcakes dipped in chocolate ganache and frosted with a smooth and lovely swiss meringue buttercream. It's all about the red, white and blue this weekend! Here is a quick pic snapped from my Blackberry. I will be posting the nicer pics taken from my much better quality (not) camera by tomorrow morning.. So check back. The pics are much more impressive with the dual-layer velvet cake and all. Happy 4th of July!