Sunday, April 29, 2012

Planning a Week of Baking

I find that most tasks in life are much simpler approached with a schedule. Producing multiple orders due within days of each other, raising two kids, and running a household warrants me to create a multitude of lists, each one coordinating, overlapping, and working towards the greater goal. The first thing I do when I encounter such a week is plan. This is the key to my sanity and so far it's served me well. Additionally, I don't sleep past the few hours my body truly needs for sleep and that helps a great deal too.
This week I had a couple of cakes, a dozen cupcakes, and over 50 decorated sugar cookie favors to make. The preparation of these cakes and cookies are broken down so I only do a few tasks a day spread out over a week, leaving the cake baking until the very end, since I like to have my cakes super fresh.

Thursday happened to be "Bring Your Child to Work Day," so my daughter was my sous chef for the day! Unfortunately, it's not all baking fun in a day in the life of me, so she assisted in folding and putting away a whopping four loads of laundry as well!

In dealing with fondant cakes, the preparations of the fondant and other decorations must be done days in advance to be ready to apply to the cake. One of my cakes for this week was a horse-themed cake for a little girl, Ella's, 6th birthday party. Everything I make for my baked goods is from scratch, so I prepared the fondant, horse applique, and daisies early in the week so they could set and dry. The cake was classic vanilla with chocolate buttercream. I created a bunch of daisy cookie favors for this order, too. Happy Birthday, Ella! I hope you have a fun and wonderful day!

My next order was for a communion. It consisted of a cake and cupcakes. The cake was a coconut cake filled with a pecan coconut filling similar to one you'd find in a German Chocolate Cake. It was frosted in a smooth white chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream. The design was a rose theme to coordinate with rose cupcakes which were chocolate cake with vanilla-flavored American buttercream.

My last order was for some smiley face and ticket cookies.

I know I've said this before, but as intense as these weeks prove to be, I really enjoy being in the midst of them - the planning, the preparation, the execution. I love it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Leelabean Cakes - My First Review

A few months ago, I posted about an adorable little munchkin turning one and the Lego cake I "built" him. His mother is an super-talented photographer who specializes in capturing amazing shots of children and babies. Her gift shines through in the gorgeous pictures that she takes, which you can check out at her website: Last year, our family had some face time with her and her camera and not only did the pictures come out amazing, we had such a great time! Carolyn's talent, professionalism, and kindness make her a true pleasure to work with. And although her focus is on babies and children, she managed to bring out the fluffy white marshmallow in my four-legged child, Lulu.

Carolyn has a photography/lifestyle blog as well and this week she posted a very sweet review on the Lego cake made by yours truly. Check it out here. Thanks, Carolyn and Jon, for allowing me the opportunity to make a cake for your very special day. I'm glad I could help put such a beautiful smile on Elliott's face.
As for not being able to let go of the Lego man... I know the feeling. Creating unique pieces for my cakes and having to discard of them is not easy. Just yesterday, my hubs threw out my son's shark cake topper that I had made for his 4th birthday. His birthday was in October. Mr. Shark finally came out of my refrigerator and spent the past week jumping from counter space  to counter space in an effort to prepare for his final dive into the garbage can, but I just couldn't get myself to do it. My husband didn't seem to have a problem following through. He's my go-to guy. :-) It was out of sheer necessity, though, as I have quite a few cakes to make this week and will need the highly prized real estate that makes up the innards of my fridge.
More on those celebration cakes to come in the next few days...!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chocolate Cake in Under a Minute

When I bake at home, I try my best to make the treats as pretty and presentable as possible so I can photograph them and put them up on this blog. So making cakes and other such goodies is no easy task. It's tedious work that will eventually result in a nice pic to show you all. Well, as nice a pic as I can take with my current point-and-shoot, but that"s a story for another time. :-)
Sometimes I just need a sweet fix in a matter of minutes. Do you ever feel that way? And I'm generally not too big on candy or cookies... I prefer cake. And we all know that cake is not a 5-minute job. Or is it?
I stumbled upon this recipe that promises a quick, chocolatey, hit-the-spot kind of cake that is made in a mug of all things, quicker than brewing a cup of tea! Preparation time: as fast as you can gather the ingredients from your fridge and pantry (I have a small kitchen, so maybe 90 seconds). Cook time: if you have a 1000 watt microwave, 20 seconds! Alright, maybe 1 minute, since you have to let it cool so you don't burn off your taste buds.
I made it and my, oh my. Chocolate cake in under 5 minutes..... PRICELESS.
Dust powdered sugar over it, drizzle it with chocolate sauce, or pair it with berries and whipped cream for an even yummier quick fix.

Chocolate Cake in a Hurry

(Inspired by PBS Food, Fresh Tastes)
Makes 2 servings

1 egg, beaten
1/2 t vanilla extract
2 t canola oil
1 T heavy cream
1 T flour
2 T cocoa powder
2 T sugar or sugar substitute
1/4 t baking powder
pinch of salt
cooking spray or 1 t canola oil to prepare the mugs

Combine the egg in a small bowl with the vanilla, oil, and heavy cream. In two mugs, use the cooking spray or brush the oil generously to coat the inside. Make sure to cover entirely with oil otherwise the cake will not easily slide out onto your plate (which isn't really a bad thing if you choose to eat it out of the mug). Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, sugar (or sugar substitute) and baking powder together with the pinch of salt. Then add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until no lumps remain. Divide the batter among the two mugs and place one mug in the microwave. Cook one cake at a time. Set your timer for 30 seconds but the second you see the cake rising up the side of the mug, take it out. It is ready. This will take approximately 18-22 seconds, depending on the strength of your microwave. Take care not to overbake the cake. Unmold the cake onto a plate as soon as you take it out of the microwave. Repeat with the other cake.
Sit back and try to enjoy this cake for a little longer than it took you to make it. :-)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Egg Hunt Fun... and a Bunny!

This past weekend, as has become tradition in our household, we hosted an Egg Hunt & Brunch the day before Easter. The weather couldn't have been better and the weeklong preparation was relaxing and fun, since the kids were on Spring Break and helped me out quite a bit.

This year we broke away from the norm by having two simultaneous hunts - a traditional egg hunt for the younger kids and a more challenging scavenger hunt for the older ones. The scavenger hunt was a blast with the kids really getting into the clues and the search for the Easter loot. It's definitely something I'll be doing again in future years.

When I host parties, I love to put out a party spread - lots of goodies and bite-sized morsels of delectable indulgences. For this spread I made homemade smores, mini cheesecakes topped with strawberry and blueberry sauce, a strawberry yogurt bundt cake (the recipe can be found here, with a changeup of berries) with freshly whipped cream, warm cream scones with maple and blackberry (made with my homemade blackberry jam) butters, and mini spring cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. I also made a frittata with red peppers, mushrooms, sausage and fontina and mini hashbrown cups to accompany it, because you can't just have all sweets. Or can you?

Homemade Smores
Mini Cheesecakes
Cream Scones
Spring Cupcakes
Strawberry Yogurt Bundt with Whipped Cream
Mushroom, Pepper, & Sausage Frittata with Fontina and Hash Brown Cups
"Bunny Crunch" - White Chocolate-Covered Popcorn
This year, Easter brought a super-special surprise for us. After the eggs were found and the treats were enjoyed, I brought out a newborn bunny by the name of Luck E. Bunny, the E. standing for Easter, of course! He quite literally showed up at our front door just the day prior - a special gift from the Easter Bunny himself, I suppose. A bunny this year... What next? It's going to be hard to top this one.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Happy Birthday, Hubs!

Earlier this week, it was my hub's birthday. He said he didn't want anything for his birthday and that he wasn't thinking much about it this year, as is the case as we get past 30, it seems. But I didn't want to let his birthday go entirely under the radar so I baked him a cake. What am I saying? I always bake cakes - any chance I get! And birthdays are my favorite occasion to bake for, naturally! My hubs gave me full creative directorship. But he's tricky. He's a very vanilla and chocolate kinda guy. He likes things simple, too simple at times, perhaps, though in our 18 years together he's definitely come a long way. We always dispute his foodie-ness. Agreed, he loves to eat. But will he go for anything, the more creative and unique flavors, the better? I'm not too sure about that. So picking flavors for his cake and trying to stay away from the basics while not being overzealous with my choices is a little tough. But I love a challenge.

I decided upon an espresso banana cake with walnuts for a nice textural note. The filling was a whipped caramel one that I jazzed up with a sprinkling of toffee crunch. The entire cake was then enroobed in a lovely dark chocolate coffee ganache. It's so important to use good quality ingredients. They make such a huge improvement to the end product that once you've had it, it's hard to want to use anything less than the best. I am specifically talking about chocolate here. Chocolate chips purchased at the grocery store are a great and easy ingredient to use in cakes or confections. They produce a reasonably good result and are cheap and easily to obtain. When you use high quality chocolate instead, the flavor and texture of your dessert become so much smoother and embody a purer chocolate taste. The ganache in this cake was the best I'd ever made thanks to high quality ingredients and I'm not turning back.
The espresso in the cake offered a depth to the banana flavor rather than a full-on coffee hit. Subtle. The whipped caramel filling brought a creamy lightness to the otherwise flavor-rich cake. Lovely. The dark chocolate ganache was like a mouthful of edible bliss.. Entrancing. All three components together - Birthday Cake Perfection.

I am always trying to come up with great flavor combinations, in hopes that someday I can showcase them in my own bakery. This combination is a winner and will definitely turn up in some form of cake or cupcake at my bakery.
Happy Birthday, hun! Wishing you a year of sweetness...!