Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Halloween Birthday Cake

My nephew's birthday is in the beginning of November and every year I designate myself the official baker of his birthday party cake.  Last year he had a Fiesta! theme party (with Zumba!), so I made the Fiesta! cake.  The year before that there was the slightly disastrous Cupcake Penguin fiasco, for which I was only slightly able to redeem myself with the Iceberg Cake for our family celebration.  

This year he was having a Halloween themed party and I volunteered to make the cake again.  He informed me that he wanted a lemon cake, which I thought was a bit of an odd choice for a 10 year old, but I'm not going to ask anymore questions than I need to.  I had just gotten the Baked cookbook when he mentioned that he wanted a lemon cake and I thought immediately of the Lemon Drop cake from the book.  I then realized that making a three layer lemon cake with lemon curd filling and lemon drop boiled icing for a 10 year old's birthday party might be a bit much.  So, I decided to make the cake from the recipe, but not do the rest.  My nephew informed me that I could just decorate it with "a bat or something," which I thought was very kind of him.  

But, I didn't do that.  
Instead, I found this: 

and I became obsessed.

Now, I am well aware of my limitations and the fact that I refuse to use fondant and gum paste because it tastes gross (and is confusing), but I decided to throw caution to the wind and use the cake from the website as my inspiration anyway.

I made the lemon cake from the recipe and it came out magnificently.  I even used cake flour, because I found some in my cupboard.  I am linking to the dessert girl blog because she got in touch with Matt Smith from Baked and got permission before posting the recipe, which I dig.  Of course, I can't get Matt Smith to respond to anything I tweet at him, so it also makes me a little bitter.  

I made a regular decorator's icing using half butter, half solid vegetable shortening, lemon juice, milk and vanilla.  I discovered that if you follow a recipe, your consistency comes out a lot better.  I filled the cake with the decorator's icing as well as frosted it with it.  It's too sweet for me, but I figured it was going to be eaten by a bunch of kids who didn't belong to me, so I could get them as sugar-hopped-up as I wanted.

The cake was solid and took the frosting well.  I have to say that I was really happy with how the cake came out.  I worked my butt off and was on my feet for over two hours, but I've been doing so little real decorating recently that it made it worthwhile.

I put black cats and gravestones behind a creepy looking iron fence around the outside with some pumpkins and cobwebs, then on the top I put the lettering and a big cobweb and a little spider.  

It was a lot of fun to make.  I hear it tasted pretty good too!  

Here are some pics:


I think this is my favorite part.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Peanut Butter Pie and the Sweet and Salty Cake

I mentioned in my last post that I went out and bought this new cookbook giving me something to rave about on the blog for a while.  I bought it in part because of what Edd Kimber had to say about it, but more importantly because I ended up with two birthday celebrations in one day.  I had lots of creative plans for the cake for the birthday dinner I was going to, but once I heard about the Sweet and Salty cake, that settled it without a doubt.  The birthday we were going to celebrate in the afternoon didn't even know it was getting a cake until I saw the recipe for the peanut butter pie.  How could I see something called a peanut butter pie and NOT make it?  

The peanut butter pie with cookie crust, as it's called in the book, called for a chocolate wafer, sugar and butter crust.  I even got the cookies they recommended ( Newman's Own organic) because I was at Whole Foods anyway, and well, because I had a big crush on the cookbook authors.  I had also bought the Whole Foods Groupon, so I was good to go.  

I used my magic bullet to grind up the cookies.  It doesn't work quite as well as a regular food processor, but it did the trick.  They got mixed with the butter and sugar and put in the fridge.  For the first layer of the pie, I mixed together the semisweet chocolate chips and light corn syrup in the double boiler and the spread it on the bottom of the pie as directed.  The next step was to mix cream cheese (I used light), peanut butter (I used natural), vanilla extract (I used vanilla extract), and dark brown sugar together with the paddle in a stand mixer.  Then, you take that out, put it aside and beat up some cream until it reaches soft peak.  Then mix them together.  Then you try not to eat all of the filling because it tastes really, really good. Then you put the peanut butter filling in the pie dish with the cookie crust and chocolate layer and put it in the freezer for up to three days.  

The recipe called for a fudge sauce, which I didn't do since I was going to be serving the pie at the bar and that seemed awkward.  

The only bone I have to pick with the recipe is that it said the pie cut clean from the freezer.  I did not find that.  The pie itself cut fine, but the crust was frozen solid and was very difficult to cut.  It involved a lot of standing up and pushing down and accidentally projecting pieces of peanut butter pie across the table.  When I make the recipe again (and I will be making this recipe again), I will remove it from the freezer in advance by about an hour or so and let it thaw a bit.  Or use a better knife.  In either case, it was fricken awesome.

The Sweet and Salty cake was a total putchke, and totally, 100% worth every ounce of its pain-in-the-butt-ness.  I burnt two full batches of caramel before I finally got it right, and if I had to do that every time, I would.  This cake was that good.

It was my friend Josh's birthday and it was a big one.  I figured a big birthday needed a big cake.  A spectacular cake.  And a cake with footballs on it.  Josh is a big football fan, it seemed called for.  I'm not going to put the recipe on here since I'm a librarian and have issues with copyright, but since Edd Kimber doesn't seem to have the same issues (we'll see what happens when HIS book comes out), I'll link you to his page for it. 

It took me three evenings to prepare everything for the pie and the cake.  I made the pie in one night (it was pretty straight forward), and made the chocolate layer cakes the same night.  These layer cakes are very impressive, they bake evenly and are quite tasty.

I also attempted to make the caramel for the salted caramel and whipped caramel ganache frosting on the first night.  After burning two batches and setting off the smoke detector once, I gave up on that.  On the first night I did also pipe white chocolate goal posts and stitching onto chocolate footballs (I will admit, I went a little crazy on this cake).

The second night I finally owned caramel.  I discovered that I could not either wait for the sugar syrup to reach 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, nor wait for the syrup to be a dark amber color.  I had to take the pot off the stove right when the syrup began to turn golden.  It would then finish cooking in the pot off the stove and would get to the correct color.  I never got it to 350 degrees.  I also made the whipped caramel ganache frosting on the second night.  It wasn't coming together as well as I had hoped it would, which I blamed on the Trader Joe's brand chocolate I had bought (it's was cheap!), but I think it had to do with the humidity in the kitchen.  I popped it in the fridge and left it overnight.

The next day, after eating the peanut butter pie, I had to come home and put the cake together.  The ganache was, of course, completely solid because that's what happens when you put something made with butter in the refrigerator overnight.  I let it soften a bit while I mixed up the decorator's icing for the grass.  

When the ganache was soft enough, I assembled the cake.  I didn't find that the salted caramel absorbed into each layer of the cake as much as I'd hoped it would, so it seemed kind of soupy.  I had outlined the top of each layer with the ganache using a piping bag though, so everything stayed pretty contained.  I then filled in the circle I'd made with ganache on top of the caramel, sprinkled it with fleur de sel and put on the next layer.  When all three layers were assembled, I crumb coated the way they instructed me to and then finished icing and decorating the cake with the grass icing, goal posts, footballs, and white chocolate lettering.  I was a bit concerned that the icing was going to begin to melt again because of the humidity, so I asked them to pop it back in the fridge at the restaurant.  They took it out about a half hour before we ate it and it was the perfect consistency. 

All in all, that cake kicked ass.  It really was the perfect combination of sweet and salty.  I think it was worthy of the birthday number it was celebrating and quite honestly, all the steps and hours aside, I can't wait to make it again!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The New Cookbook

I have a confession to make.

I am cheating on Warren Brown (United Cakes of America).

I am cheating on Warren with Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  They are the owners of Baked bakery in Brooklyn, and the author's of the cookbook Baked: new frontiers in baking.  Their cookbook is spectacular.  I learned about this cookbook from Edd Kimber's website.  He is the Boy Who Bakes and has his own cookbook coming out soon.  I got the recipe for Zivah's Grasshopper Cake from his website and discovered the other day that that recipe, among many others, actually came out of this book.  So, I stopped at my local, neighborhood independent bookstore on my way home from work (yay, indie bookstores!) and picked up a copy.  It is amazing.

Let me just list some of the recipes that are in this book:
sweet and salty cake and peanut butter pie, which I've now made.
Also, chipotle cheddar biscuits, pumpkin chocolate chip loaf, homemade granola, red hot red velvet cake (with cinnamon buttercream), lemon drop cake, coconut snowball cupcakes (coconut!!), ROOT BEER bundt cake, bourbon chocolate pecan pie, butterscotch pudding tarts, brownies (that are award-winning), shortbread, blondies with beer in them, monster cookies (with everything in them), and that's not even half the stuff!  Seriously, this cookbook is like a salivation monster.  And I don't even like sweets.

They also give adorable little suggestions, like about how to store stuff and easy decorations.  The pictures are gorgeous and the end papers are downright outstanding.
endpapers - it's deer!

I have only made two of the recipes from this book, but I am completely enamored.  I might even go to Brooklyn to see the bakery.  OK, let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

Well done, Misters Lewis and Poliafito, well done indeed.

Posts and pics from the Sweet and Salty cake and Peanut Butter Pie are coming up next.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Adventures in Canning

As the title of this post suggests, I recently went on an adventure in canning that was similar in extremes to Adventures in Babysitting.  No, it didn't have any blues-singing.  Or skyscraper-scaling.  Or guys named Thor.  Or babysitting for that matter.  OK, it wasn't really the least bit like Adventures in Babysitting, but it did have kids, and I had to get you to read it somehow!

Some backstory: When my oldest brother decides he's going to do something, he goes all the way.  This is the man who decided he wanted a wife, met a (lovely) woman, got engaged two months later, and was married about nine months after that.  He decided he wanted some kids, now they're on the fourth.  See, when he does stuff, he's all in, and he does it right.  So, last year, when he decided he wanted to can stuff (oh yeah, he's also my antithesis.  He's the country to my city, the tree to my telephone pole), he went out and got all the stuff he needed to can, and learned how to can all the way.  Therefore, when I decided to learn how to can, it wasn't just a pot on a stove for me, I went to the home of the master.  Besides, his kitchen is way bigger and way prettier.

Last year, I picked up some grapefruit marmalade at a farmer's market.  It was delicious; sweet and tart at the same time.  I haven't been able to find it anywhere, so I decided it was time to make it myself.  I also decided, since I was launching into the world of unknown cooking, that I wanted to pickle asparagus as well.  So, one weekend a few week ago, I went to my brother's house and canned stuff.  We canned just about everything that wasn't screwed down.  Of course, the only thing we didn't end up canning was asparagus, but that's because it's expensive in the fall and will have to wait until spring.

It seems, this city mouse learned, that pickling and canning are different.  I guess I really knew that, but it was clarified that weekend.  To make marmalade, you basically just have to make a big, sticky mess and then add more sugar than you ever want to see in one place (unless it's a Pixie Stick), and some pectin.  To pickle things, you need to cook them, typically in some sort of solution involving sugar, water, and vinegar.  To can things, you put them in fancy jars, clean their tops, put on lids and rings, and going against everything you've ever learned about boiling water and glass, you then dump the jars in a big pot of boiling water for a while and hope nothing explodes.

And you know what?  Nothing explodes!  It's like chemistry.  Or something.  In any case, it works.  And then you have pickles and jams and stuff forever!

We made grapefruit marmalade (which isn't really congealy enough), pickled green beans (which I don't love), pickled carrots, cauliflower and onions (which are awesome), and bread and butter pickles (which are super awesome, and a pain in the hiney to make).  The next week I went back and we made black forest jam (cherries and chocolate!), and apple, cranberry relish (yum!).

The best thing about the canned stuff is that it's so pretty.  The worst thing is that I have no place to store any of it.  The jar lids also get sticky and now I have a fridge filled with jars of half-eaten pickles that I can't open.  I'll work on that.

Aren't they pretty?!

Stop 27: Florida Key Lime Pie

So here's a good thing to know about me for anyone who decides that in a fit of retribution they suddenly want to bake for me: I love key lime pie.  I know I go on and on about not being much of a sweets person, and maybe it's because the key lime has that tart limey flavor to its sweetness, but I would eat just about anything you could think of to make out of  key lime juice.  Pie, cheesecake, tarts, whatever you can think of.  In Florida, in the grocery stores, they make a mango key lime pie, and they just have it there, waiting to be purchased and eaten.  It's a good thing I don't go to Florida all that often.

Brown's recipe for Key Lime Pie, representing Florida, quite appropriately, was a pretty typical recipe.  It is also probably the recipe of his that I messed with the most.  I made this pie for a BBQ I was having with my cousins at the very end of the summer.  All summer I was on something of a coconut kick, which led me to purchase Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion (which is awesome), and spend many hours trying to find coconut-scented lotion.  Basically, I wanted to spend the summer smelling something like a beach mixed with a pina colada.

Because of my coconut kick, I decided to kick up the key lime pie a notch.  I made the graham cracker crust the way the book told me to, but I added some dried, sweetened coconut to the graham crackers and butter.  The pie was pretty basic, sweetened condensed milk, key lime juice (Brown recommended Nellie and Joe's and it did not disappoint - available at Whole Foods, btw) and eggs.  I left the custard filling alone.  What I messed with the most, was the topping.

Brown wanted me to top the pie with a meringue.  I refused.  For one thing, I don't like meringue.  For another, meringue does not belong on key lime pie, it's just not natural.  I think it was Brown trying to find something to do with the whites of the eggs that weren't used in the pie.  Whatever the reason, I went in another direction.  I made fresh whipped cream.  But I didn't just whip up some cream and sugar.  No, I whipped up cream, sugar, vanilla seed, coconut rum and key lime juice.  And I want to say right here and now, I would have bathed in that concoction.  It was DELICIOUS.

Then I toasted up some dried coconut and sprinkled it on top.  Seriously, key lime pie is probably one of the easiest things to make, and easiest things to make look really impressive.  If anyone wants this recipe, just ask.  It's worth sharing -- at least with my adjustments it is :-)

The pictures I took weren't the best, but here's the idea:

Next we're taking a diversion from the road trip and going on a canning adventure!

Stop 26: Hummingbird Cake

About a week after making the Cassata cake, my mother had a dinner party to go to for which she wanted to bring dessert.  She had some old bananas she wanted to use, and since I don't like bananas, and I wasn't going to this party, it seemed like a pretty good time to make one of the banana recipes from the book.  We decided to make the Hummingbird Cake from, well, to be honest, I can't remember which state it was, and I can't find the book.  I want to say it was South Carolina.

The hummingbird cake, which, by the way, has no given explanation for its name anywhere, except that it's super sweet, like the nectar a hummingbird drinks, was chock full of fruit.  It called for pineapple and bananas, as well as pecans.  A traditional hummingbird cake recipe calls for drained pineapple, but Brown switched his up to use dried pineapple.  I'm not really sure why, but dried pineapple is yummy.

This was another three-layer cake and it came together nicely.  The recipe called for a cream cheese frosting, and like many of the other icings I made over the summer, it didn't congeal quite the way we might have wanted it to.  It was a pretty hot, sticky summer, so that was probably weather-related.

I did not actually try this cake (because of it's banana-ness), but I was told it was good.  And very, very sweet.

I also have no pictures of it because I am currently failing miserably as a blogger.

Next Stop: Florida Key Lime Pie