Friday, July 31, 2009

Wilton Method course 2 comes to an end...

I just finished the second Wilton course, which focused on flowers and the basket weave pattern for icing the sides of a cake. After having quite a bit of difficult throughout the course trying to get my roses to not look like Mr. McGregor's prize cabbages and making daisies with petals that looked full as opposed to knocking on death's door, this is what I came up with for the final project. The flowers are daisies, apple blossoms, and violets, and the birds are made from color flow.

I start course 3 next week. Stay tuned!

bakery review - nashville, tn

Mark and I spent a long weekend in Nashville this month, and thanks to Cupcakes Take the Cake, I found a listing for a bakery called GiGi's Cupcakes in Nashville. We were able to get 7 different cupcakes that day (since we passed on the carrot cake and the healthy power cupcake, and a mean lady in front of us stole the last "Miss Princess" cupcake).

Overall, we were impressed. We both enjoyed almost every type of frosting, even though we agreed it was unnecessary to pile so much on. I am of the school of cake thought where the cake is primary and the icing, simply a topping. Mark believes the cake is simply a vehicle to deliver icing to your mouth.

We tried the following: White Midnight Magic Chocolate Chip; Root Beer Float; Texas Milk Chocolate; Tiger Tails; Tiramisu; Wedding Cake; and Midnight Magic Chocolate Chip. They came in adorable green boxes.

Here are 6 (not including Wedding Cake). And the frosting falling off to the side was our fault - these had to sit in the car for awhile and seem to have relaxed in the bucket seats of our rental car...

The hands-down winner was Tiger Tails: yellow cake with raspberry filling, buttercream frosting, and raspberry coconut.

The combination of flavors was incredible. I wanted 6 more.

Coming in second was Tiramisu, I believe. It was a coffee and Kahlua flavored cake filled with cream cheese and topped with coffee and Kahlua frosting and Dutch cocoa.

This one was super moist. I was impressed with their cake, as often bakery cake dries out quickly - and I loathe dry cake.

As for the rest, we both agreed the chocolate buttercream was delicious, but the chocolate cake wasn't spectacular and tasted more like cocoa powder than chocolate. Root Beer Float was an unexpected surprise. The white cake was delicious as well.

All in all, we were both quite happy with the cupcakes, which turned out to be breakfast for the last few days of the trip. Make sure you hit up GiGi's the next time you're in the music city! And if you happen to be in front of me in line and hear me say I want a Miss Princess cupcake, I'd better get it this time. ;-)

sharing some cake love

Earlier this month, Sarah's little brother and sister (Brant and Robin) came to visit. I have known the two of them since they were toddlers who came to visit Sarah during Little Sibs Weekend in college. It was during those early meetings that Brant and Robin learned to call me Uncle Bobo, until recently when Robin discovered it was okay to call me Joanna. These guys wormed their way into my heart many years ago, so when they come to visit, I like to spend some quality time giving them the attention they deserve.

I decided to make chocolate cupcakes from semi-scratch (my way to describe a doctored cake mix to avoid Sandra Lee's term). I made a new frosting, which seemed to be a hit, out of chocolate syrup. 24 cupcakes in all. Sarah and I gave them free reign to decorate them however they pleased.

They each started with two "monster" cupcakes - in the silly feet silicone molds that Sarah gave me for my birthday a few years ago.

Time out for a taste. We had to replace Brant's spatula a few times...

Brant and his three spatulas continued to decorate.

Finished product? Pretty scary monster.

This one is just too cute. This is the same face I get when I get near a cupcake too.

Finished "monsters."

Some more monsters.

We decorated 24 cupcakes as a team.

Two of the best kids in the world with cupcakes. Doesn't get much better.

Part of the fun of baking and decorating is doing it with people you love. This is squinty me with the buggers.

And big sister Sarah.

Now that's what I call cake love.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

forget the photos

I made Samoa cupcakes for Mark's birthday party, as he requested. Things started out just fine. I set out all the ingredients, strategically placing Sir Sous Chef in the mix. (My Gramma F gave that to me to match my kitchen decor, and Mark suggested he make an appearance much like a garden gnome in many of the photos. So, readers, meet Sir Sous Chef.)

The cupcakes are made with a brown sugar butter batter. I got one photo from that step.

Make that two.

After the cupcakes have cooled, you carve a cone into the top, fill them with homemade caramel sauce, and replace the cupcake top. Add a layer of coconut cream, and then drizzle on caramel and bittersweet chocolate ganache before pressing more toasted coconut on top. Easy, right?

Um, no. The execution of this recipe is difficult to do alone - I would never have finished them without Amber. It took 5 hours to make 24 cupcakes. Mine ended up looking like a hot mess pile of coconutcaramelganachecupcake goo. And since I was elbow deep in mess and kitchen disasters, no more photos were taken.

But let me assure you, even if they were visually unappealing, after being refrigerated for 8 hours, they were a huge hit. Absolutely delicious. If you're looking to be gutsy with cupcakes, give these a try.

fortune cookies. without chinese takeout.

In celebration of Mark's 30th birthday, I decided to challenge myself with making homemade fortune cookies, complete with handwritten fortunes. I took photos while I made the first batch.

The batter is quite simple. Melt some butter in a saucepan.

Whisk in confectioners' sugar, an egg white, vanilla, and baking soda. It is a very small amount - deceivingly small.

Spread a tiny bit of batter into a thin circle on a piece of parchment paper. Only do two cookies at one time, because the cookie will quickly harden and you will be unable to bend it.

After a few minutes in the oven, pull out the cookies and place a fortune inside. Fold the batter (it burns your fingers - these cookies take some sacrifice) over a bowl and hold in place to form.

You will notice two things in that photo. Number one, there are broken scraps of cookie in the bowl. Number two, that's an engagement ring on the left hand. And it's not mine. It's Amber's. She's getting married next August (time out for a little squeeeee!). And she's also a fantastic sous chef.

The batter and cookies in the preceding photos didn't actually make it to Mark's present because they didn't harden up as I wanted them to. It turns out that I made the cookies too thick - they have to be thin to crisp up like the cookies you get at a Chinese restaurant.

So I got up the morning of Mark's birthday and made a new batch. And this is how they turned out.

I packaged them up in Chinese takeout boxes. You can also notice my greasy fingerprints on the lid. Go figure, my camera takes a good photo when you can see the evidence of the box being manhandled. Or womanhandled, I guess.

They were pretty delicious. And I think they touched his heart and his stomach. Mission accomplished.

my first ice cream cake

Here I go again with the catch-up posts. About a month ago, I made a Smores ice cream cake ( icebox cake) as part of a weekend of relaxation. It was mostly made from store-bought ingredients and then layered (sounds like Sandra Lee, a bit).

We start with a graham cracker crust and a layer of fudge in a 9 inch springform.

Next, mix softened chocolate ice cream with almonds and marshmallows.

Layer that in the pan and freeze. Follow it up with a layer of fudge topping and another layer of vanilla ice cream. (I obviously got lazy with the photos here because the next one is of the top of the cake, being layered with marshmallows.

The recipe called for it to go in the broiler for a few minutes to toast the marshmallows. I thought that instead, it would be a perfect opportunity to use my creme brulee torch (courtesy of Anthony @ Christmas).

If you ever make an icebox cake, I would recommend really giving it time to set - perhaps leave it in the freezer overnight - before serving. It makes it not slide into a hot mess. The next day, we were able to cut a slice.

A great dish for a summer evening. Or a summer breakfast. :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

foodie lit roundup 2

I have plenty of projects to blog about. But go figure - I left my camera on my desk at work. So my one evening free to update has been halted by my lack of photos.

Rest assured, they are coming. So instead of projects, I will use this opportunity to update you on the foodie lit I've been reading.

#1. "Let Me Eat Cake: A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder & a Pinch of Salt" by Leslie F. Miller

I was utterly enamored by this book when I started. It has much to teach even those of us who have been "into" cake for quite awhile - because it's about cake on many different levels. Ingredients - I learned about Sweetex, a Crisco-like shortening that many bakers use in "buttercream" frosting to eliminate that scrape-the-roof-of-your-mouth feeling that many frostings induce. Cake history - I learned about the history of regional cakes in the U.S. Food memoir - I learned about Leslie Miller's family and her own passionate love for cake.

Leslie is the furthest thing from a cake elitist in some respects. She eats a cake from Safeway's bakery with the same gusto as one from a boutique bakery like Charm City Cakes or Fancy Cakes by Leslie. (Here I am vastly different. I hate cakes from Giant Eagle and would probably sacrifice a great deal of things in order to eat a piece of Charm City pumpkin chocolate chip cake.) However ironically, it is this proletariat cake mentality that actually makes her just as much as a cake snob as those of us on the Charm City side. She paints Duff Goldman as an immature frat boy with a puffed up ego and swagger that doesn't match his product. While this may very well be true, as obviously I have not met Duff or any of the other staff members at Charm City, to paint what Duff and so many others do with extreme cakes as inferior to what is made in small town bakeries or grocery stores simply because he receives a great deal of publicity for it is rather childish. Plus, we all know what happens "when professional cakes go horribly wrong." When it comes down to it, is it really necessary to have good cake people and bad cake people? Read the first 75% of this book, but don't be afraid to jump ship when the tone becomes cranky. I wish I would have.

#2. "The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City" by David Lebovitz

If you love food and if you are at all interested in Paris, you must read this book. It is beautifully written with hints of humor and fantastic recipes for everything from ice cream to pork ribs interspersed throughout the text. Lebovitz is a respected pastry chef and ice cream expert (Mark and I tested his chocolate peanut butter recipe this past weekend and it made me forget Ben and Jerry's even exists), but the book doesn't read as yet another tale of life in Paris through the lens of food. His tales tell of the difficulty of acclamating to life in Paris (he moved after the death of a beloved partner) and mention food as part of the daily discoveries he had to make regarding everything from painting his new apartment to buying linens or drinking chocolate. This book was charming yet realistic. Read this one the whole way through. It was worth my library fines. (Also check out his blog (link to left) and his ice cream book - "The Perfect Scoop")

#3. "The Language of Baklava" by Diana Abu-Jaber

I happened across the name of this book in a New York Times article about leftovers of all things. I started it on the plane en route to Nashville, and had two thumbs way up by page 12. Even Mark was reading over my shoulder at one point and commented on how engaging her writing style was - he read one sentence and ended up reading pages. This book was a cool breeze through a genre that can have a tendency to stagnate with recycled stories. Abu-Jaber writes stunningly about growing up in both America and Jordan, with an American mother and a Jordanian father. I have never read a food memoir that focused on any culinary tradition beyond America, France, or Latin America until I started this book. I felt like I was swept away into another world, at once enticing and mysterious. I know virtually nothing about Arab-American culture, and this book was illuminating. I look forward to reading another of her books in the near future. If you like food literature at all, go straight to the library or bookstore, grab this book, and devour every last page of it. Perhaps baklava needs to be on the menu in the near future...