Friday, September 25, 2009

A Note on Cake Decorating

Cake decorating isn't really my thing. I'd like it to be - I'd love to whip up stunning wedding cakes and beautiful fondant creations and birthday cake perfections - but I can't.

I've got some things down - I can spread some nice frosting, I've even covered a couple cakes in fondant, and I was pleasantly surprised by my wedding cookies.

But one thing that really eludes me? Writing. What birthday cake is complete without a beautifully scrawled message across? But somehow my skill is writing on cake are severely lacking.

So when I created my friend Alana's birthday cake I was determined to get it right. Her cake was another thing entirely - I won't bore you with the burned fingers, oozing filling or near-drop experience, but I will tell you about the writing.

I tried.

I failed.I tried again.Moral of the story? If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Sounds familiar, right? I used to think that it didn't really apply to cake decorating - that one shot was all you got. But with the right techniques, you can fix, hide, redo and cover your mistakes.

Or run to the store.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cinnamon Chocolate Bundt Cake

This cake is good. Really, really good. And it's pretty easy too.The flavor combination of chocolate and cinnamon is pretty unique, and it is so incredibly moist in a way that many chocolate cakes aren't. Plus the bundt shape makes it pretty and presentable.This is a technique you don't see much in cakes: boiling the fat with water, and then adding it to the dry ingredients. I'm not one to pretend I know the science behind it, but it really created a very moist cake.Though I love this cake the way it is, you could definitely play with the flavorings to create something different - changing spices and extracts for new combinations.

Tip of the Day: I think of baking times for cakes as a guideline. Whatever the recipe says, its important to keep an eye on your cake (but don't open the oven too many times!) looking for done-ness with your eyes, fingers and the toothpick test. Start looking ten minutes before the stated time, and adjust baking time accordingly.

Recipe: (from The Food Librarian)

1 cup water
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Bring the water, oil, butter and cocoa powder to a boil.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Pour in cocoa mixture.
Mix in the buttermilk, then the eggs one at a time, and the vanilla.
Pour into a grease bundt pan, and bake on 375F for 30 to 35 minutes.
Cool in the pan for 25 minutes, then invert on to a cooling rack.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Honey Cake and a New Year

This weekend is the Jewish holiday of Rosh HaShanah - which means the new year - and one of the traditional foods eaten is Honey Cake. Honey is used as an ingredient to ensure a "sweet new year."
Now, I confess, I don't really like honey cake. It just isn't my thing. But my brother loves it, and when I saw smitten kitchen's recipe for "Majestic and Moist Honey Cake," I figured I would give it a shot. With some substitutions.
Here's the thing though. The original recipe makes 3 loaf pans, or a 9x13" pan, or 2 8 inch get my drift. I really wanted to make a loaf for some inexplicable reason, and not only do I only have one loaf pan, but I am also bringing this on public transportation, and one loaf seemed like the right size for somebody who doesn't like honey cake.

So I did something bad. I cut the recipe by 2/3. It probably wasn't the best idea. It resulted in some 1/3 of a teaspoon of that and 6 tablespoons of this. And of course some fudging. But I was hoping it would be forgiving.
Another thing - the cake sank in the middle. It sank for Ms. smitten kitchen (OK, her name is Deb), and for many of her readers, and it sank for me too. After reading this I meant to decrease the leavening I used, but somewhere in the third-ing it never happened. But I don't really mind.
Anyway back to those substitutions. The recipe called for a few things I didn't have on hand. Like orange juice. However I did find some peach flavored grape juice in the back of my fridge. And in it went. And somehow, among the spices I've accumulated over the years - which include five containers of cinnamon, four onion powders and two paprikas - I have no allspice or ground cloves. I looked, I promise. So I upped the cinnamon a little and threw some nutmeg in instead. The recipe also called for some rye or whiskey, which I definitely don't have, so I just added more of the tea.

You'd think after all the questionable math and the eyebrow-raising substitutions this would be awful. I kind of thought it would be. But it really wasn't. Even me, professed honey cake hater, was impressed by the moistness and flavor of the cake. If you really hate honey cake, you're not going to love this, but it's certainly an improvement over any others I have. That's not to say that if faced with a piece of honey cake and a chocolate chip cookie, I wouldn't pick the cookie.

Tip of the Day: Small amounts of liquid in recipes can often be substituted with little problem (be a little more cautious with milk) - so try switching things out for new flavor combinations - orange and lemon juice, whiskey, brandy, tea - you never know what you can create.

Recipe: (from smitten kitchen)
Note: I am providing the original recipe, which fits in 3 loaf pans, 2 9-inch round pans, 2 8-inch square pans or 1 9x13" pan. In brackets are the quantities I used, for one loaf pan.

3 1/2 cups [1 cup plus 3 tbsp] flour
1 tbsp [1 tsp] baking powder
1 tsp [1/3 tsp] baking soda
1/2 tsp [dash] kosher salt
4 teaspoons [1 1/2 tsp] ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon [sprinkle] ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon [sprinkle] ground allspice
1 cup [1/3 cup] vegetable oil
1 cup [1/3 cup] honey
1 1/2 cups [1/2 cup] granulated sugar
1/2 cup [ 3 tbsp] brown sugar
3 [1] eggs
1 tsp [1/3 tsp] vanilla extract
1 cup [1/3 cup] warm coffee or strong tea
1/2 cup [3 tbsp] orange juice
1/4 cup [1 1/2 tbsp] rye or whiskey

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice (or nutmeg).
Make a well in the center and add in sugars, oil, honey, eggs, vanilla and liquids.
Whisk together until all ingredients are moistened.
Pour into well-greased pan(s) and bake on 350F following these directions:
Loaf pan: 50-55 minutes
9x13, 8 or 9-inch: 40 to 45 minutes
Tube or bundt pan: 60 to 75 minutes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cookie Cupcakes

I'm always looking to try something new, and when I stumbled across these cookie cupcakes (a cookie! But in a cupcake!) I just had to add them to my list.
This recipe has basically two parts - the batter, that goes in the muffin tins first, and is baked for ten minutes - then the filling, which is added to the half-baked cupcakes and then they're returned to the oven.
Now, the original recipe called for chopped walnuts, which of course I omitted, but I caved and added some chopped almonds (all we had in the house!) to 4 out of the 12 cupcakes. That is 4 less I couldn't eat.
These were pretty interesting and different- very heavy and dense - cookie like when you expect a cupcake, but great flavor overall.

I would know:
Tip of the Day: The quality of your chocolate (chips) can make all the difference in a recipe. Just as they say with wine, don't bake with chocolate you wouldn't want to eat. I recommend Trader Joe's semi-sweet chocolate chips for relatively inexpensive quality.

(from Bakin' Bits)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
6 tbsps sugar
6 tbsps packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup plus 2 tbsps flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I omitted)

Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.
Gradually mix in the flour, baking soda and salt.
Fill 12 paper-lined cupcakes about halfway full. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.
While they're baking, beat the brown sugar, egg and salt together. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.
When the cupcakes come out of the oven, drop the filling by rounded tablespoonful in to the center of each. Bake an additional 10 minutes.
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Cookbook and Reese's Peanut Butter Cake

I love peanut butter. Though I've mentioned how much I dislike nuts in baked goods (and peanuts are included in that), I still love peanut butter. But if you search on this website, you'll only find a handful of PB recipes. I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps because many of my close friends (with the documented exception of my friend Esti), and one of my brothers, doesn't like peanut butter, and when baking for groups I'm always mindful of allergies.

Well, when I got the opportunity to test out a recipe from America's Most Wanted Recipes - which recreates recipes from famous restaurants - and I was flipping through the book to select a dish to try, I immediately bookmarked Romanos Macaroni Grill's Reeses Peanut Butter Cake. Since I recently celebrated a birthday, I figured I deserved something I really liked.
Like many cakes that seem daunting, this one is really just a simple combination of three parts. The peanut butter cake, the peanut butter filling, and the chocolate topping.
This recipe created two 9-inch-layers which can either be left separate or combined into a layer cake.
To my surprise, this recipe was lacking in one thing: sugar. The filling has two ingredients, peanut butter and cream cheese. When mixed together, it is creamy and a little bit tangy but not very sweet, and I don't think I would have liked biting into it very much in the middle of my cake. So I added around 1/4 cup of sugar, perhaps a little less. I did it gradually, and you can adjust it to your tastes.

So I sandwiched the cakes together with the peanut butter and cream cheese filling, and then spread the rest of it on top.

Next came the frosting. Again, I felt it lacked a little sweetness, and added in a couple tablespoons of confectioner's sugar to get the right taste.

The chocolate glaze was also pretty...liquidy. I may have made a little bit of a mess.

I think it's smiling at me though.
In the end, I wanted a little neater look for the cake, so I filled it all in with more frosting, and did a little chocolate drizzel on the top. Perfect for every dessert, remember?
Overall the cake was pretty good, but really heavy. The cake itself was very dense - almost like the filling of a peanut butter cup - hard to eat a whole lot at a time. I also spent a while cleaning up after the glaze.

I think the idea of this cake is definitely one I'll try to perfect in the future,

Tip of the Day: Fillings and frostings will have very different consistencies at different temperatures. For most, room temperature will be ideal for spreading. Refrigerating will often make them much thicker and sometimes solid. When heated, many frostings will be pourable. Make sure yours is at the right temperature for your needs.

Recipe: (from America's Most Wanted Recipes)
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
sugar, to taste

1/2 cup water
4 tbsp butter or margarine
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Beat the butter and peanut butter together.
Mix in the brown sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well.
Add in the flour, baking powder and salt gradually, then the milk and vanilla.
Pour into two greased 9-inch pans. Bake on 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack. Cool completely.

Mix the cream cheese and peanut butter together. Add sugar to taste.
Spread over both cakes, and sandwich together. Refrigerate.

Bring the butter and water to a boil. Add the cocoa, sugar and vanilla.
Mix until smooth. Spread over top and sides of cake.

Friday, September 11, 2009

M Cake

When my friend Miriam had a birthday this summer, I didn't want to make a round or square cake. Boring! Instead, I whipped out my knife (or gingerly removed it from the drawer) and carved up my square cake into letter M.
(Portions of today's programming are brought to you by the number 7, and the letter M.)

I started with a square layer cake, and trimmed off the edges. And ate the edges.
Then I cut out a triangle from the top of the square, and the M shape into the bottom.

A lot of frosting and one candle later - celebration!
Now, hypothetically speaking, you could attempt this with any letter - but I lucked out here with the M, probably one of the easiest to do. An S would be more of a challenge to cut, and an A would certainly be difficult to frost. An L would be great, except you wouldn't have too much cake. What I really need, is to make a new friend whose name begins with Z. Any takers?

Tip of the Day: Your cake must be completely cool before frosting or it will all melt off. If you're in a rush and don't have time to let it cool on the counter, stick it in the fridge or freezer for a short while. But make sure you don't freeze it solid if you're planning on eating it right after!

Cake: (adapted from smitten kitchen)

2 cups plus 1 tbsp flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 1/2 tsps baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick ) butter or margarine, softened
1 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the vanilla.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in buttermilk (mix will look curdled).
Gradually mix in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Pour batter in to a parchment paper lined 8 inch square cake pan.
Bake at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool in pan ten minutes then invert on to wire rack.

Frosting (from smitten kitchen)

12 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsps sugar
1 1/2 tbsps light corn syrup
3 tbsp butter

Bring the cream, sugar and corn syrup to a boil over low heat, mixing until well combined.
Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until melted and smooth. Add in butter until stir until melted and combined. Let sit until comes to room temperature. Do not refrigerate before use - it will harden.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Cookie, A Wedding, A New Beginning

Last week, my friends Shiffy and Noam got married. And the weekend before the wedding, us girls got together for one last pre-wedding gathering to bond, talk, sing, and of course, eat.

So when my friend Miryam challenged me to create decorated cookies for the event, I accepted her gauntlet, even though I'd never done it before.

And so a very long day began...and ended with 80 pretty, frosted, delicious cookies.
Though I'm sure many of you have done this before, this was my first time, and I was a little nervous. The cookies have two components: the sugar cookie and the icing. Sugar cookies I've done before, and my trusty recipe came through again here. The recipe below should make about 100 heart shaped cookies - I used a 2 1/2" Wilton cutter.
I made mostly hearts, but I also made a handful of circles, and about a dozen "S" and "N" cookies - I really had no advance plan, so anything went!
The icing, however, was new. This type of icing is called royal icing, but why, I don't know. It is a simple mixture of egg whites, a small amount of liquid (I used lemon juice, but water would also work) and confectioner's sugar. A lot of confectioner's sugar. You can also add a little vanilla for flavoring (I didn't), but be careful with the amount of liquid in the recipe.

If you're not comfortable using egg whites in the icing, you can buy pasteurized eggs, powdered eggs or a product called meringue powder.

This icing is used for decorating cookies because it dries to a beautiful, shiny, hard finish - and you can add as many detail and layers as you want.

The basic recipe (below) can be thickened with more sugar or thinned with more water as needed.

Oh - and a word on food coloring. Gel food coloring is preferable, as it won't thin out your icing the way that liquid coloring will. Apply a little bit of the coloring at a time with a toothpick to the icing. And, as you know, when it comes to food coloring, less is more. You can always add color, but you can't take it out. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

My first try, I used the icing straight out of the recipe, and spread it on the cookies with the back of a teaspoon. This was the result.
My second try, with the blue icing, I thinned it out a little first with some water, and it spread out more evenly. As with the color, less is more with adding extra liquid. Even a drop of water will make a difference when mixed in

Another side note:

Actually, preface to the side note. Where did a first time cookie decorator gain all these tips? Youtube of course. Search for "cookie decorating" on the popular video sharing site, and you will be entertained for hours. That is, if you're entertained by watching people decorate cookies.

Back to the side note: There are many different ways you can put that first coat of icing on your cookies. The back of a spoon is one of them. You could also use a small paintbrush, or you could use a piping bag to pipe a line around the edge of the cookie, and fill it in with a squiggle of the icing, using a toothpick to nudge it into place.
I used every method imaginable with these cookies, and with almost a hundred to experiment with, I had a lot of trials and a few errors.

Now, I know in the past I've told you that ziploc bags and a hole cut in the corner work just as well as a piping bag - but not here. You can still use the plastic bag, but proper icing tips are essential.

As are these:For those of you who don't know, this is a coupler. To use it, you place one end inside the plastic bag, and then place the icing tip over the outside, and screw the other end of the coupler over it. This does two things. Firstly, it gives the icing tip stability, and it also enables you to switch tips without moving the icing to a new bag. For those of you who are interested, I alternated between a #2 and a #5 tip for the decorating.

Let's just say, by the end of the day, I had a dining room table covered with cookies, bowls of icing, used toothpicks, plastic bags, icing tips and food coloring. It may or may not have looked a little something like this.
After you have put the first layer of icing on, it will start to harden immediately. As will any bags or bowls of icing you leave out for too long. After about a half hour, you can add more details to your cookies, but check with your finger that you have that smooth, shiny finish first.

You don't have to give every cookie a first coat, however, and I left some without. But all the cookies got a decorating touch. Swirls, dots, lines, squigglys, and some writing - I was having fun. I stuck with three colors of icing: pink, blue and white. Practically no two cookies were the same.
The one thing that went bad during my deluxe cookie decorating bonanza, was the photography. By the time I was done, daylight was long gone, and no matter how hard I tried the photos didn't come out how I wanted. Forgive me?
After I delicately arranged each and every cookie on the platter, ate the few that wouldn't fit (about 75 of the original 90 baked cookies made it to Shiffy's house), I delivered the cookies.

The next day, at our gathering, I couldn't believe every last cookie was finished before the end of the evening. Unlike the elaborately decorated cookies you can get in the bakery, these were truly delicious as well as pretty. And hard to resist.

So I tried a new technique, Shiffy and Noam are beginning a new life together, and a new school year is just starting.

While I'll no longer have the time now that I'm back in school to spend an entire day on cookies, I'm sure there will be many more firsts, both in and outside the kitchen, ahead this year.

Tip of the Day: If you're worried about your cookies coming out well or you're a newbie like me, always make a handful more cookies then you need, so you won't be too worried if a few aren't perfect (and the ugly ones taste just as good!).

Sugar Cookies:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter or margarine
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
4 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

Beat together butter and sugar until light and creamy.
Beat in eggs and vanilla.
Gradually mix in flour, baking powder and salt.
Shape dough into 4 balls and wrap in wax paper and refrigerate overnight (or freeze for a couple hours).
Lightly flour your counter or surface, and roll out dough 1/4 of an inch thick.
Cut out as many shapes as possible with a cookie cutter.
Transfer shapes to ungreased cookie sheet.
Reserve the trimmings for rerolling.
Reroll the dough and the remaining dough as many times as necessary.
Bake the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10 to 13 minutes at 350F, without letting them get brown.
Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Royal Icing:

3 egg whites
3 teaspoons lemon juice
4 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted

Beat the egg whites and lemon juice together.
Gradually add in the sifted sugar on low speed until smooth.
Use immediately or cover and refrigerate or it will begin to harden.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes

While I do love frosting, sometimes its nice to have a cupcake with just a little decoration.
These chocolate, chocolate cupcakes are just the thing, really simple and without that big mound of buttercream on top.

The recipe called for 12, but I only got 11 out of it. Guess mine were a little too big.
They baked up with beautiful domes, nice and high which I like. Flat cupcakes are boring.
To decorate these, I used my trusty chocolate frosting (recipe below), and a ziploc bag. That's right, just a plastic bag. Sure, I have fancy decorating bags and tips and couplers and all that stuff, and I do use them, but really, for something like this, a plastic bag with the tip snipped is all you need.
This is also a great tip to give a finishing touch to almost practically any baked good - what couldn't be improved by a chocolate drizzle?Tip of the Day: If you're all out of toothpicks and you need to check if your cake or cupcakes are done, press gently on the dome. It should be firm, and spring back within a second or two.

Cake (from Food and Wine)

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tblsps cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Melt the butter, oil and water together. Add it to the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt, and beat together until well mixed.
Add the egg and beat until incorporated.
Mix in the milk and vanilla. Pour the batter into 12 cupcake tins lined with paper cases (I got 11). they should be about 3/4 full.
Bake on 350 for about 25 minutes.

Frosting: (from smitten kitchen)

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tbsp heavy cream
3/4 tbsp sugar
3/4 tbsp light corn syrup
1 1/2 tbsp butter

Bring the sugar, corn syrup and cream to a boil.
Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted.
Add butter and mix until melted.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Airplane Cake

The Troublesome Trio met again a few weeks ago before we departed for different corners of the world. What better way to celebrate than with Airplane Cake?
Sarah, Ariel and I (seen before in Cow Cake, Chocolate Ganache Bars and Cupcake Cones) met up before Sarah took a trip to Kazakhstan, (she's since returned) and Ariel went to Copenhagen for the semester (follow her travels at Ariel Abroad), and I....well I stayed in New York. Clearly I'm not well traveled enough to be friends with these two.

Which is why I brought cake! After deciding that an airplane cake was the way to go, I spent hours googling other airplane cakes, before deciding on my plan of attack. I've never made a carved cake before, so I was a little nervous.

I started with two plain old 9 inch rounds. You can see the recipe I used below.
I froze my layers for a while before starting, because it makes all the carving and slicing easier, as well as reduces crumbs when frosting.

Oh my god, a naked airplane!
This was the first coat of frosting, called a crumb coat. It gets all the possible crumbs stuck down, to prepare it for the second coat.
I never quite got the coverage I wanted, even with several coats with refrigeration in between. I probably should have used a better quality frosting (this was canned), plus its harder with white than chocolate or another color.
After I was satisfied with the multiple coats. Now, decorating isn't really my thing, although I've been getting more practice at it lately, so I'm sure most of you could do better than my misshapen windows. And this was the better side.

Now all that's left is to clean off the cake board! Some people would rather cover the board with strips of parchment paper and pull them out afterwards, but I'd rather have to clean the board then have them in the way.
Let them eat cake!
We're really great at posing for pictures. Some may say we have a gift.
After spending so much time on a cake, it is sometimes hard to cut into it - but Sarah didn't have that problem!
Airplane cake guts. It was delicious.

Tip of the Day:
If you don't have a cake board that is the size or shape you need, just cut it out from a large piece of cardboard and cover it with heavy duty foil. Just make sure your cardboard is strong enough to hold your cake and won't buckle.

Cake: (from smitten kitchen)
4 cups and 2 tablespoons flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 1/2 tsps baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sugar
2 tsps vanilla
4 eggs
2 cups buttermilk

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the vanilla.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in buttermilk (mix will look curdled).
Gradually mix in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Divide batter between two parchment paper lined 9 inch round cake pans.
Bake at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool in pan ten minutes then invert on to wire rack.


Trim the two 9 inch rounds so they are flat and even.
Slice one exactly in half, and sandwich the two halves together to create a double layer semi-circle. Trim the top of the semi circle so it is flat.
Attach it to your cake board with a dollop of frosting.
Cut the remaining round in half as well.
Cut one of the halves in half again. Each 1/4 of a cake will be a wing of the cake.
Arrange them around the body of the plane, and attach with frosting.
Cut a tail shape out of the remaining cake and attach it to the back of the plane with frosting.
Cover the whole cake with frosting - you will probably need two layers. Decorate as desired.