Monday, August 8, 2016

The Pissed-Off Leaf Beetle Cake

OMG - That cake is gross!!!

That is one pissed-off looking bug!

I'm not eating that!


So how should I respond when family members reacted this way to my latest cake?  My sweet, innocent little Iridescent Leaf Beetle cake?

My nephew wanted a bug cake for his girl friend's 29th birthday party.  That may seem like a strange request, but Kristen is big into bugs.  And not cute, cuddly bugs.  She likes her bugs, big, bad, and lethal.  She is going to school to be a vet, but she should be an Entomologist instead.

Here is the cake that got such horrified reactions....


Kind of creepy looking isn't it???

The real-life beetle actually has all those stripes of bright, neon colors, and strangely it is kind of pretty.  They even make earrings out of the iridescent shells.  So where did my cake go wrong??  (Please no cake wreak jokes.)   Maybe I added too many black accents?  Or is it the mouth?  The mouth is a little wide.  This was my first attempt at painting a cake, so it didn't come out exactly like I envisioned.  Sadly, none of my cakes ever come out like I envision. 


But in the end even the squeamish, bug-haters ate the cake. Chocolate on chocolate with chocolate sprinkles - what isn't there to love?


So how did it come together?  The carving of the cake was pretty painless.  I used 4 - 9" round cakes.  I had to piece some of the sections together, so I used lots and lots of chocolate icing to keep everything together.



Fondant went on next....


And then I started painting... and painting... and painting...


The legs of the beetle were my favorite part of the cake.  They came out pretty nice if I do say so myself.   I made them out of gum paste, and they were surprisingly easy to form.  It only took about 2 hours to finish all 8 pieces.  I really felt bad when I threw them away.


So in the end it was a successful cake.  I may not have gotten the reaction I had hoped, but at least everyone loved the taste.




Happy Decorating,

Carol





Saturday, July 16, 2016

New Toy for Cake Decorating - Cricut

I bought a Cricut machine to cut do-dads for my cakes, but before I work on expensive gum paste I have been practicing with inexpensive cardstock. And I have been having so much fun. The Cricut Design Space software is pain to work with, but if you a patient, and watch a bunch of YouTube videos, you can get things done. Here is a tag I made while learning how to use the software.


The lace tag shape and the script font are from the Design Space's “free” collection...



and the outline of the dress is something I traced in Corel Draw and then imported into Design Space. (The shape of the dress was inspired by a tag I saw on the web somewhere.  If I can find the site again I will post a link to her awesome card-crafting blog.)




I can’t wait to start designing things for my cakes and cookies !!!


Happy Crafting,

Carol
 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

4th of July Explosion Cake

I do so love to try out new things, and this 4th of July cake gave me lots of new things to play on/with.  As usual, some of the experiments worked out great and other not so great.


Experiment #1 

The bottom tier of the cake is my semi-failed attempt at freezing a fully fondant decorated cake.  I read somewhere that this was possible, so I wanted to give it a try.  I crumb coated the cake, and then covered it in fondant and added the red stripes.  I let the cake sit for three hours so that the fondant could dry, and then I carefully wrap the cake in plastic wrap.  After three days in the freezer I removed it and keeping the plastic wrap in place I let it defrost.  Once defrosted I removed the plastic wrap and found....

Welllllll.....

The cake itself froze just fine, but the defrosting caused some issue with the fondant (Wilton Preferred).   The fondant didn't crumble and the colors didn't bleed, but the texture of the fondant got very soft and very gummy.  And the plastic wrap I used to cover the cake left little marks all over the fondant.  Maybe I did something wrong.  Maybe I took the plastic wrap off too soon, or maybe I should have frozen the cake a bit before I wrap it in the plastic wrap???  Someone recently told we that I should have place the cake in a cardboard box instead of wrapping it in plastic wrap.

Who knows... anyway, I'm not going to freeze a fondant covered cake again.



Experiment #2

Now the inside of the cake was my attempt at the famous "Flag Inside the Cake" cake.


My "Flag Inside the Cake" didn't come out too, too bad.  The red torted layers were a little bit thinner than the white layer, but overall it looked pretty good.  I also tried adding little snow flake sprinkles to the blue batter hoping it would give the look of stars in the baked blue layer, but most of the snow flakes just sank to the bottom.  You can see a few poking out of the blue section, but I would have to call the snow flake experiment a flop.



But one thing that worked really well was using a 4" cookie cutter to cut out the interior of the blue layer.  Then I used the same cutter to cut out the red and white layers that fit perfectly inside the blue layer.  The instructions from the Land O' Lakes web page say to spread icing around the inner cut edge of the blue cake before you slip the white and red layers inside, but my cakes fit so tightly together that I couldn't fit any icing.



Experiment #3 

The top tier of the cake was made to look like an exploding fire cracker.  Surprisingly this part was really easy to make, and the top tier came out looking pretty good.

You start by cutting out circles of red white and blue fondant.  Also cut out a piece of wax or parchment paper the same size.  I used my trusty 4" cookie cutter.


Then stack the circles with blue at the bottom, the piece of parchment paper next, and then the red followed last by the white.  The parchment paper will keep the red from sticking to the bottom layer of blue.


Next place the stack of fondant round in the center of the cake, and then cover the cake and the fondant stack with blue fondant.  Note: This is a dummy cake and that is why the sides are so straight and the top edge so sharp.


Score the top of the fondant, cutting down to the parchment without cutting through it.


Carefully curl back the blue-red-white layer of fondant to make the explosion look.


When all the wedges are curled out, remove the parchment paper to expose the blue fondant underneath.


Next decorate with fondant stars, confetti, and streamers.


I also filled the depression with red, white, and blue Sixlets.  Those things are so good.


So all-in-all not too bad.  I learned a lot of things with this cake, and my family was impressed with the "Flag inside the Cake".


Happy 4Th of July everyone !!!

Carol

Friday, July 1, 2016

Zebra Bundt Cake that looks more like a Seahorse

My baking adventures always have a way of going off course, but even this one surprised me.

A few weeks ago my inbox was being bombarded with amazing images of Zebra Bundt cakes.  The cakes was formed by laying down alternating, paper thin layers of vanilla and chocolate batter that when baked formed arches that looked amazingly like zebra stripes.  The cakes looked so phenomenal I decided to give it a try -- but sadly the inside of my finished cake looked more like a seahorse than a zebra.  And a buxom seahorse at that!




I was so distraught. <sniff>  I thought I did everything right... <sniff, sniff>  I had thin layer of chocolate and vanilla, but when the cake baked all my thin stripes just disappeared.   I swear I had more than three layers of chocolate.  I though I had about ten or twenty or maybe even thirty.  




Oh well, my cake certainly didn't look like a zebra, but it did taste wonderful.  It was moist and light, with a fine, melt-in-your-mouth crumb.  And chocolate, lots and lots of dripping chocolate.





The recipe I used is a bit of a mystery.  It was pieced together from several different recipes, and according to the folks at work - It was the best marbled Bundt cake EVER!  

So take that you Zebra Bundt Cake pros.  Mine doesn't look as pretty, but it tasted damn good.

(In hindsight I guess I should have written down all the extra stuff I threw into the batter.)

Happy Baking,

Carol

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Jason's Graduation Cake

After a few starts and stops my nephew received his BS in Computer Science.  Way to go, Jason....

His cake was pretty simple in comparison to other cakes I've attempted.  The only thing that gave me trouble with the cap on top of the cake.  I just couldn't get it to look right.  I used a muffin to make the cap and it just wasn't the right shape.  I guess I should have used some rice crispy treats.



So congrats, Jason.  You DID IT!!!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

OEOO Stop #1 - Argentinian Alfajores

I was getting a little tired of baking the same stuff over and over again, so I decided to add a little international flare to my baking repertoire.  I'm calling my series "One Earth, One Oven - A World-Wide Baking Adventure", and ultimately I would like to bake a famous dessert from each of the countries on Earth.

According to the US Department of State (as of April 16, 2016), there are 205 recognized countries on Earth.  Alphabetically, Afghanistan is the first on the list and Zimbabwe is last; with 203 other places sandwiched in between.  That is a lot of territory to cover, so lets start baking.  I'm not going in an particular order and I just want to bounce around the list as an interesting recipe catches my eye.

First to be baked on my One Earth, One Oven - A World-Wide Baking Adventure is the:

Argentinian Alfajores 


Now what is an Alfajores?  Well, after baking it I can tell you it is something like a very tender, shortbread or sugar cookie that is slathered with dulce de leche and stacked to make a sandwich.  The cookie part of the alfajores is soft and it little bit crumbly.  It is tender and delicate, and simply melts in your mouth.  The recipe I used also included lime zest so the cookie had a mild, citrus-y tang.   And the dulce de leche filling --- Wow.  Dulce de leche is similar in taste to soft caramel and it is pure heaven.  Finally to complete the melody of flavors, the alfajores are rolled in sweetened coconut. 






And the secret to the tender texture of the cookie, and what makes it different from shortbread or sugar or sandies, is a huge amount of cornstarch in the dough. Yep cornstarch.  Now I've used cornstarch by the tablespoon before, but this recipe uses it by the cupful!  The copious amount of cornstarch actually gives the cookie an odd kind of dry taste.  It is not unpleasant, just different.  And if the cookies are allowed to sit overnight, the cookie will start to draw moisture and flavors from the dulce de leche into the cookie itself.

So the cookie dough starts with sugar and soft butter that is cream till it is almost white in color (5-10 minutes), and then egg yolks, vanilla, and lime zest is added.





Next the mixture of flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and baking powder is added all at once.  It will take 5-10 minutes for the ingredients to fully combine, so don't get discouraged and think that something is messed up.  In the end the dough will look a little crumbly, but it will stick together when you roll it out. 





Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  I split the dough into thirds and rolled it between two pieces of parchment paper.  If you use the parchment paper you don't need to flour the surface to keep the dough from sticking.  If you look closely at the picture below you will see the little flecks of lime zest.



Bake in a 325 degree oven for 12-14 minutes.  Watch them closely and don't allow them to brown.   The cookies don't spread much, so you can place them close together on the cookie sheet.  Once they are cool, filling with the dulce de leche.  You can make your own dulce de leche by simmering a can of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath for a few hours, but at Wally-World the can of Nestle la Lechera was just 50 cents more than a can of condensed milk so I just took the easy route.

I used a star tip to pipe the filling onto the cookies.  As you can see I was pretty skimpy with the dulce de leche.  Next time I will use LOTS more filling.  The filling really makes the cookie.




And as a final step, the cookie is rolled in coconut. 




I also rolled some in nuts and also dipped some in melted chocolate and then sprinkled with nuts and coconut.  You can make these things as fancy or as plain as you want.

So what do you think of these Argentinian Alfajores??  Pretty sweet, huh?  I think this baking adventure is going to be a lot of fun -- and a little fattening...

Happy Baking,

Carol



Argentinian Alfajores

(adapted from Cooking with Books)

Ingredients


250 grams All-purpose Flour ( approximately 1-3/4 cups)
250 grams Cornstarch ( approximately 1-3/4 cups)
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
225 grams Unsalted Butter, softened ( 2 sticks)
150 grams granulated sugar (approximately 2/3 cup)
3 Large Egg Yolks
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1 teaspoon Fresh Lime Zest
13 oz can Dulce de leche
1/2 cup Coconut, shredded

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Sift together flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. Cream the softened butter and  sugar until very pale in color (approximately 5 minutes).
  4. Add egg yolks, vanilla and line zest, to the butter/sugar and mix until combined.
  5. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix until completely incorporated (5-10 minutes).
  6. Divide the dough into thirds, roll dough out to 1/4 inch thick, and then cut out using a circle cookie cutter.
  7. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  The cookies don't spread very much so you can put them close together.
  8. Bake for 12-14 minutes.  Don't let them brown.
  9. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before filling.
  10. Pipe the dulce de leche on the top of a cookie, and make sure you pipe close to the edge.  Place a second cookie on top of the piped dulce de leche and gently press the two cookies together.  You want the dulce de leche to squeeze slightly from between the cookies so the coconut can stick.
  11. Roll the cookie in shredded coconut allowing the coconut to stick to the exposed dulce de leche.
  12. Store in an airtight container.





Sunday, April 3, 2016

Seven Flavor Scones - Going wild with extracts

Have you ever wondered what a cake would tasted like if you added every extract in your pantry to the mix?  Would it be good? Bad? Or would it smell like heaven on earth?

I first tried this melding of flavors in the famous Five/Seven Flavor Pound Cake, and it was fabulous.  Rather than fighting against each other, the extracts combined into a fragrant symphony. I even converted my favorite pound cake recipes into a five flavor masterpiece.

Then I got the bright idea of making a Seven Flavor Scone, and you know, it turn out pretty tasty.


This particular scone recipe is the light, fluffy variety, almost cake-like in its texture, and I used seven different extracts in the dough.  The original Five Flavor recipe called for rum extract, but my rum extract had expired so I used two types of vanilla.  I also reduced the amount of coconut and pineapple extract jut because the coconut can overpower the other flavors and I didn't want my scones to taste too tropical.


Just out of the oven they are puffy and tender and nicely brown.  And when you lift the scone to your mouth you get a whiff of different aromas that both confuse and intrigue.  Does it smell like almond or vanilla or something citrus-y?  It reminds me of a bouquet of flowers.  Each flower has its own scent and together the various aromas smell heavenly.



So if you have lots of different extracts in your pantry - give this light fluffy Seven Flavor Scone a try. 

Happy Baking,

Carol



Seven Flavor Scones

(adapted from Dorrie Greenspan's Cream Scones)

Ingredients


2/3 cup heavy cream, cold
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/2 teaspoon extract and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon butter flavor
1/4 teaspoon  coconut extract (optional)
1/4 teaspoon pineapple extract (optional)
1/4 teaspoon rum extract (optional)

2 cups all-purpose flour (I used White Lily)
2-6 tablespoons granulated sugar (use 2-6 tablespoons depending on how sweet you like your scones - I like them sweet so I use 6)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces and chilled

2 tablespoons coarse sanding sugar for sprinkling on top of the unbaked scones (optional)

Directions

  1. Center rack in oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cut the butter into tiny pieces and place in freezer to chill.
  3. Using a fork stir the egg into the cream and then add all the desired extracts and the lemon juice.  The lemon juice will activate the backing soda and give the scones more lift and airiness.  Place the cream mixture in the refrigerator to keep it chilled.
  4. Whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Drop in the chilled butter and use your fingers to break up and coat the pieces with flour. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture is pebbly. 
  6. Reserve 1  tablespoon of the cream mixture.  This will be brushed onto the top of the scones before baking.
  7. Pour the remaining cream mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a fork until the dough just comes together.  Use a spatula to turn the dough 8 or 10 times.  It will be wet and sticky.
  8. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.  Divide the dough in half.
  9. Working with half of the dough at a time gently flatten the ball and fold the flatten disk in half.  Turn the dough disk 1/4 turn.  Flatten the dough again and then fold in half.  Turn the dough and flatten and fold again.  You want to fold the dough a total of three times.  This folding action will help the dough rise.   Perform the same folding method with the second half of the dough.
  10. After the final fold, pat the dough into a rough 5 inch circle.  Cut into six wedges.
  11. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the dough with the reserved cream mixture, and then sprinkle with the coarse sanding sugar.  Note: at this point the dough can be frozen and baked at a later time.
  12. Transfer the dough to a baking stone or pan, and gently separate the wedges.  
  13. Bake the scones for 20-22 minutes, or until the tops are golden and firm.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes before serving.  If baking from a frozen state, add 2 minutes to the baking time.





Monday, March 28, 2016

Chocolate Biscuit Cake - Third time's the charm

I ran across a recipe for Chocolate Biscuit Cake and I had to pause...

Chocolate covered biscuits? An image of chocolate dipped Pillsbury Grand Biscuits popped into my head. I thought about it for a second and finally shook my head. I couldn’t imagine steaming, flaky, buttermilk pillows coated with chocolate.

Then I had a DUH moment. The recipe was talking about British “biscuits” and not American “biscuits”. (A British biscuit is more like a church American cookie.) I mentally replaced biscuits with cookies and started to drool. I love chocolate, I love cookies, so the thought of the two combined into a cake was like something out of a dream.


I ducked into my pantry and finding all the ingredients on hand I decided to whip one up… and 24 hours later I had something resembling a sad, lumpy, lopsided Chocolate Biscuit Cake.

First off, the actors in this tragedy…



The original recipe called for biscuit cookies such as Burton’s or McVitie’s. I’ve never heard of those brands so I used some packets of Lorna Doone cookies that were left over from Halloween. I also didn’t want to experiment on a full size cake so I cut the recipe in half.

So first step was to line a mini load pan with plastic wrap, and then prepare the chocolate ganache for the cake.

Pour a thin layer of ganache into the pan.


And then top the melted chocolate with a layer of cookies. I wanted a high ratio of cookies to chocolate so I broke up the Lorna Doones and fitted the pieces into every available space.


Next pour a layer of chocolate on top of the cookies, and then more cookies. Continuing layering until you run out of chocolate or space in the pan. Loosely fold the ends of the plastic wrap over the cake and refrigerate for 4 hours.


Once the cake is set, remove it from the pan, unwrap and remove the plastic wrap, and place it top side down on a wire rack.


Next melt the chocolate for the cake’s outer coating. The original recipe called for a dark chocolate ganache coating, but I decided to try white chocolate instead. I though the color contrast would give the cake a little more visual pop.


And, sadly, this is where I ran into trouble. My ganache just wasn’t soft enough so I ended up spreading it on the cake like frosting.  Not pretty.  Refrigerate the unwrapped cake for at least 12 hours. 

When the chocolate is set, cut into 1/4” slices and serve…


Or try to serve.   When I tried to serve the cake problem #2 emerged.  Sadly as the cake started to thaw, I found that the bottom stuck to the plate. Very messy, and the brown slick left on the plate wasn’t very appealing. Taste-wise this Chocolate Biscuit Cake was pretty good but not great. The Lorna Doone cookies weren’t as rich and tasty as I had hoped, and the chocolate kind-of overpowered the cookies. So I decided to try the cake again and this time I decided to use some of my favorite tea cookies: Walker’s Pure Butter Shortbread.


So same process: layer of chocolate followed by layer of cookies.

But when I got to the final layer I realized I didn’t have room for another layer of the ultra-thick Walker cookies so for the final layer I used some left-over Lorna Doones.  And to solve the sticky cake bottom situation I crumbled up some Lorna Doones and gently pressed them into the liquid chocolate.


After allow the cake to chill for four hours, the final step was the white chocolate ganache. This time I decided to try Ghirardelli White Melting Wafers, but again I messed up because the Ghirardelli white chocolate just wasn’t thin enough to flow smoothly. (I really need to stop trying shortcuts and make a truly flow-able chocolate ganache.)


So my second attempt at the Chocolate Biscuit Cake solved one problem, but introduced two new problems. The cookie crumb base I added to the cake worked out great; it kept the cake from sticking to the platter and made it easy to serve. But using the Walker cookies didn’t work out so well. The cookies were much too thick to cut with a fork, so my taste testers had to hold the cake in their fingers and bite out big chunks with their teeth. – Not very genteel-looking as you can imagine.

The Ghirardelli wafers were also a bust. After refrigeration the coating was too thick and brittle so it shattered into pieces as I cut the cake. It was messy. Very messy.

So for my third attempt I went back to the Lorna Doone cookies, I used the cookie crumble base, and I (finally) used a pourable white chocolate ganache.   But I still wasn't satisfied with the look of the white ganache because this time I made it too thin.


So after the white chocolate ganache chilled for a few hours, I melted more of the Ghirardelli wafers and used a knife to spread it on like frosting.

In the end I learned to appreciate the chunky, rustic look of the cake, and because this time the Ghirardelli layer wasn't super thick t seemed to slice without breaking and shattering.



So the third time was kind-of, sort-of a success.  And everyone who tasted it loved it!  It turned out to be a great Easter dessert.





Happy Baking,

Carol





Chocolate Biscuit Cookie Cake


(adapted from Tea Time Magazine’s Chocolate Biscuit Cake)

Ingredients


4-5 oz Lorna Doone cookies (or other English-style tea biscuit cookies)

6 oz milk chocolate morsels

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract



White Chocolate Ganache

4 oz white chocolate morsels

3-1/2 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

and/or

Ghirardelli White Melting Wafers


Directions


Line a mini loaf pan with plastic wrap and set aside. I used a 5-1/2 x 3-1/4 inch pan.

Place milk chocolate morsels in a heat proof bowl and set aside.

Place 1/3 cup cream and 1/2 tablespoon butter in a bowl and microwave until hot but not boiling. Pour over milk chocolate morsels. Let sit for 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract, and then stir until the morsels are melted and the mixture is smooth.

Pour just enough melted chocolate mixture to coat the bottom of the pan. Layer whole cookies on top of the chocolate. Use broken pieces of cookie to fill in any large gaps. Pour another layer of melted chocolate. Continue layering until the pan is full. End with a layer of chocolate.

Crumble about 4 cookies, and scatter the crumbs on top of the last layer of chocolate.

Cover the crumb layer with the tails of the plastic wrap and gently press the crumbs into the melted chocolate.

Refrigerate in pan until the chocolate is hard, approximately 4 hours.

Remove cake from pan, uncover the cookie crumb base, and place crumb side down on a wire rack. Place rack on a baking sheet covered in some parchment paper. Completely remove the plastic wrap from the cake.

Place white chocolate morsels in a heat proof bowl and set aside.

Place cream and butter in a bowl and microwave until hot but not boiling. Pour over white chocolate morsels. Let sit for 1 minute, and then stir until the morsels are melted and the mixture is smooth.

Pour the White Chocolate Ganache over the top of the cake allowing the ganache to drip down the side. Use an offset spatula to smooth the ganache over the cake.

Refrigerate, uncovered for at least 12 hours before serving.

If also using the Ghirardelli White Melting Wafers allow the white chocolate ganache to chill for 4 hours before adding the melted wafers.

To serve use a sharp, un-serrated knife and cut into 1/4 inch slices. When cutting press down with the knife rather than sawing.