Archive for April 2011




No Sleep till Brooklyn

As always i found myself awake into the wee hours of the night to finish a cake, even though I had divided my time all week in preparation for this cake. I just like to take my time with my work and I also decided at the last minute to do all the birds out of fondant and not make them as cake pops.  After an all nighter…or two—I did watch the royal wedding the night before while i worked…I drove down to Brooklyn. I think Joe’s reaction was worth the lack of sleep.

More pics in the gallery.

1 comment April 30, 2011

Royal Wedding Cakes

I should be rolling Fondant for the 3 cakes sitting in my fridge..but I’ve found myself glued to the tv, because the big day is here!  Prince William and Kate Middleton will wed in just an hour. How exciting! A big fairytale wedding , a dashing prince and a commoner.

I love the fact the call Kate a “commoner.”  Meaning not of royal blood. I think thats what I like about this whole story.  Yes its got an incredible cinderella factor, but Kate Middleton wasn’t exactly sulking by the cinders when Wills came along.  Shes confident, smart, and chic. Captivating and charming– and they both look so happy.

And how dashing this young prince is! I’m loving the red Irish uniform not to mention Harry and his messy ginger hair!  How could you not be excited? Its gooey-heart warming to see all the world watching and celebrating in a lovely little love story and a happy moment in history.

And the anticipation over the dress, I’m curious!! But lets talk cake.  From what I know Fiona Cairns has designed a multi-tiered fruit cake decorated with flowers in keeping with the theme of their nuptials.  But now as I watch Diane Sawyer, and all the other anchors are talking about how Kate Middleton’s brother James, is in charge of the cake. In fact Mum Middleton began an event planning business in which she has been very successful. James Middleton as well as some of the other Middleton clan all work in the family business and that also includes cakes. Kate Middleton, princess and cake decorator?! All roads lead to cake!!

If you’d like to try to make a fruit cake heres my recipe, though I bet the royal wedding cake will have royal icing and marzipan as is traditional style for a fruit cake.

How about a fun wedding cake? Well I’ve been experimenting with Cake Pops, after purchasing Bakerella’s Cake Pops.  BakerELLA…hmm guess she beat me to that name, but all the same a good little book on how to make a fun little snack.  I decided to try mini wedding cakes for my cake pops.  Heres how I did it.

I baked a store bought box cake in a 13″x9″ pan. Once cooled I sliced it into quarters and began to crumple with my fingers until everything was tiny crumbs. As Bakerella suggests mix in 3/4 of a standard store bought frosting.

I then chilled the mixture in the fridge for easier handling.  If you are making good ole cake pops you would roll into balls and chill, but this time I decided to roll it out to about an inch thickness.

I used a variety of Wilton circular cutters to make 3 different size mini tiers. The “dough” is a little sticky so stacking the tier was relatively easy.  I chilled the assembled cakes in the fridge on a wax paper lined cookie sheet.

I melted wilton candy melts in the microwave.

With lolli pop sticks I dipped the sticks in the melted chocolate and then carefully inserted the chocolate end in the base of the mini cakes. I then used a block of foam to balance the cakes as the chocolate set.


Place the cakes in the freezer to settle up. Then dip one by one.  Getting the chocoalte smooth is difficult but I recommend shortening, Bakerella suggests vegetable oil too.


Tips: Make sure your cake pops are totally covered.

I used the left overs of the 3/4 of a can of icing to touch up the rather imperfect chocolate. I had fun piping rather sloppily little tiny decorations. These would be great at a bridal shower or even at a wedding reception.

Its now 6am and finally the dress has been revealed, tiara, train and all….GOREGEOUS!!!

Add a comment April 29, 2011

Hermits

I kind of SUCK!! Haven’t posted in more than a week!  Well no excuses.  Today I’m finally feeling ahead of the eight ball.  I spent a day off yesterday cleaning and organizing, spring cleaning is always so cathartic.  As I walked into apartment after work tonight I saw this lying in the hallway. I walked past it at first but quickly felt that nag to turn around as I always find needed inspiration in those cute fortune cookie slips. Inspiration in a cookie? Yesss!  This is why I bake.

Be on the alert for new opportunities. Well okay.  But wait its gets better.

Cake. CAKE!  Dan Gao. DAN GAO! There’s an important message here.

This last week in recap?  Well I watched my beloved Ranger’s lose their chance at a 2011 Stanley Cup, and lost a bake-off at work, but I also got some quality time with family for the holidays, and celebrated my little brother’s birthday.

In my family April is the month for celebrating birthdays, especially on my mom’s side.  My bother and cousin were born in the same year 16 days apart, April 6th and 22nd.  You couldn’t have found two happier grandparents than mine, whose birthdays are also both in April.  My aunt and uncle (my grandparent’s son and daughter) were also April babies along with a couple more relatives I’m probably forgetting.  Around Easter we usually got a cake to have for dessert, to share with all the family members that was celebrating birthdays within days of each other. I have a very distinct memory when I was young of piping cool whip with a plastic sandwich bag on one such cake, and this could have easily been the start of where I am today.

My grandmother would have been 86 this past April  2, and I can’t help but think of all the time I got to spend with her.  Being the oldest grandchild I have the most distinct memories of time spent with her in her kitchen.  Whether it was eating oatmeal (slow cooked over the stove) for breakfast, or canning homemade strawberry jam every summer, I’m almost selfish about how lucky I was to have the vivid memories of learning to cook with her. This past Christmas I spent time duelving into the pages of Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book, remembering all the recipes I made from this book in my grandmother’s cozy upstate kitchen.  The Hermit was one of them and I always remember my grandmother when I think of this cooky.  It’s perhaps a little out of season– you can see my pictures are from Christmas, but its a great cooky for an afternoon snack, or tea.

According to Betty Crocker the Hermit was the Best Cooky from 1880-1890.  Its sweet and spicy and perfect with coffee or for dessert.

Hermits

Ingredients:

1 c shortening (I used 1/2 c butter, 1/2 c shortening)

2 c brown sugar (packed)

2 eggs

1/2 c coffee

3 1/2 c all-purpose flour

1 tsp soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cinnamon

2 1/2 c raisins

1 1/4 c broken nuts ( I used pecans, walnuts are good too)

Sift flour and combine dry ingredients. Set aside. Mix shortening, (butter), sugar, and eggs thoroughly.

Mix in coffee. Add flour/ spice mixture.

Fold in raisins, and nuts.

Wrap with plastic wrap, or in wax paper. Chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Drop spoonfuls of cookie dough 2″ apart on the sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.  I usually press the dough out  a bit with my finger before baking.

Betty Crocker doesn’t call for it, but my grandmother always added a sweet glaze to her Hermits.  Mix 1-2 tbsp of milk to a cup of confectioners sugar, or enough to make a thick but runny mixture. Drizzle over your cookies and let dry.  Hermits are mildly sweet so the glaze isn’t a sugar overload.

Add a comment April 28, 2011

Coconut Macaroons

Another start of another week.  Last week concluded with a great once in a lifetime performance of Eric Clapton and Wynton Marsalis.  My parents ventured into the city and enjoyed the show and I got to sneak in a few times through the week’s rehearsals and performances to get my fill of New Orleans blues with the Master of guitar.  I actually had to work Sunday so I’m not sure if my week has just started or never ended. I will say in todays rain and wind I found myself downstairs at Bouchon Bakery hoping they wouldn’t be sold out of my favorite guilty pick-me-up. French Macaroons.

I’m currently obssessed with idea of making French Macaroons. For awhile I didn’t know there were 2 kinds.  The first: a ridiculously easy  could-make-them-drunk-and-blindfolded coconut macaroon, and then there is the explicitly difficult French sandwich cookie that is as beautiful to look at as they are to eat. Typically, the latter don’t have coconut, but could, in fact have coconut if you wanted. The trend with French macs are to color and flavor and fill them with pistachios, lemon curd, raspberries, peanut butter and just about anything else you can think of.

Both cookies have egg whites, and are soft and chewy and delicious.

But lets take the easy road first shall we?  Yes because my last French endeavour was not soooo successful, but more on that later.

Traditional Macaroons are popular at holiday time– I usually make a whole  truck load for holiday cookie platters, and if you have found yourself invited to Passover next week and boogled over the lack of kosher-esque dishes you can bring to dinner, macaroons are the way to go.  Featuring only egg whites (no dairy) they are usually part of Jewish holiday menus. I brought some a few years ago to a Passover dinner and they were a hit.

Coconut Macaroons, from one of my favorite books The Taste of Home CookBook

Ingredients:

1 1/3 c flaked coconut

1/3 cup sugar

2 tbsp all purpose flour

1/8 tsp salt

2 egg whites

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix coconut, flour, sugar, and salt.

Mix in egg whites and vanilla.  Make sure to combine well.

Drop on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until golden. 1 recipe yields about 1 1/2-2 dozen, so I typical double or triple it. Dip in chocolate if you dare. Use melted vegan chips if you are aiming for dairy free.

 

Add a comment April 13, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I have a number of colleagues who are foodies and I spent a fair amount of my “water cooler” chat discussing sweets and baking endeavours.  Today I gave some tips about icing a cake, later on the security personelle and I discussed pies and puddings.  Lemon Meringue came up and I realized I’ve never made one!! Dare I admit?! A study of lemon merignue is soon to come.

In this conversation I found myself thinking of my grandmother who was a decorated pie maker, in fact when she passed away her banana cream pie was mentioned in her eulogy.  Her birthday is this month so a banana cream recipe is in our sweet future.

Around midnight as I left work and I popped into a grocery store that was open late I found myself shocked and elated to find rhubarb on display in the produce aisle.  I searched high and low for this red-celery-looking-tart veggie all summer with few results.  Some grocers even looked at me funny when I asked for it.  Its typically in season when strawberries are, in May and June (in New York).  The few times I found it in the blistering summer months my motivation to bake Strawberry Rhubarb Pie did not last far past my trip home, and sadly the rhubarb usually spoiled before I got up the energy to heat up my kitchen in 90 degree weather.

This rare find of Rhubarb sealed the day for me. Lets talk pie!

As I mentioned my rhubarb went bad a time or two before I got around to cooking it.  Then of course it dawned upon me that perhaps a hot summer day isn’t always a pie baking day. But you don’t have to sacrifice your rhubarb.  Chop it up and freeze it! The last strawberry rhubarb I made was at Thanksgiving.

Yeah I know- no one is jonesing for reminders of cold weather or Turkey naps as its finally feeling like spring is here.  There were so many pies at Thanksgiving that my father joked that each of us could have one to ourselves.

Sure fresh fruit is always preferred, but using frozen fruit doesn’t change any of your preparations in making the pie. By the way I really like the freezer bags that ziplock makes– you can suck the air out of the bag and lengthen the life of your goods in the freezer–saving them from freezer burn.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Filling:

Rhurbarb, sliced

Strawberries, hulled and sliced (hulled means de-stemmed)

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 c cornstarch

1/4 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients.  If you are working with frozen fruit allow the fruit to thaw or warm over low heat before adding sugar and cornstarch.  Simmer all ingredients over low heat until thickened.  With frozen fruit you will be dealing with higher water content, so thickening might take a little longer. Remove from heat and refridgerate until ready to use.

Crust

This crust recipe came from SmittenKitchen and I absolutely love the recipe. Click that link because the pictures and instructions are GREAT!

2 and 1/2 c flour

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

2 sticks (8 oz) very cold unsalted butter, sliced into tablespoon sized pieces

1 c ice water

Add cubes to water and set aside.  Combine Flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl– the extra room is important for the mixing process.  Add butter and blend with your pastry blender– you can get these anywhere and if you want a blue ribbon in pie– you need one!  (I got a great one at Target that also included a pie server, and pastry wheel.

A key to a wonderfully flaky pie crust, as suggested at smitten kitchen is visible chunks of butter. By using a pastry blender you are layering the butter between thin sheets of flour– key to allowing the steam production (butter melts and emits steam that puffs the flour) rendering a flaky crust. Once the butter and flour are combined and appear to be almost chunky– the size of peas add water.

Switch the pastry blender out for a spatula and start to pour the ice water over the dough. You may need some additional water, though I found that the 1 cup was adequate. Fold with the spatula, then knead with your hands for a minute, no more. Once combined wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  This recipe makes enough for a double crust pie, or 2 single crust pies.  Its ideal to split the dough in two and wrap separately. Refridgerate for at least an hour prior to rolling out.  You can also freeze it if you are planning to use in the future.

Rolling the dough:  If you’d like to save on the mess factor feel free to lace two large sheets of plastic wrap on the counter and roll. I, however, don’t mind making a huge mess.  Flour your clean countertop.  Knead dough to warm slightly, making the dough easier to work with.

Shape into a circular mound.  Start by placing your rolling pin in the center of the dough.  Work evenly out to the top and bottom of the dough, then side to side.

I typically just pick the dough up and rotate it 90 degrees.  (roll top to bottom, then rotate 90 degrees, and  repeat.) This ensures that the dough isn’t sticking– re flour if you need to, and its not as awkward with your arms.  The dough will receed slightly as you roll it but be patient.

To determine if the dough is big enough to cover your pie plate. Set the plate (face down) lightly in the center of the dough to measure– there should be 2-3 inches around the perimeter of your pie plate.  Some folks fold the rolled dough in quaters then unfold in the plate, or you can lightly flour the top surface of the dough, then roll the dough around your rolling pin, unroll across the plate.

Work dough into corners of plate. Cut excess crust at pie plates edge (save and reuse in the future).  Patch any holes that might have torn.

Fold and pinch edges around pie plate. Use your index finger to push dough in between the knuckles of your index and middle finger on your opposite hand.  Fill with filling.


Roll second part of dough.  Thickness for both dough layers should be about a 1/6- 1/8 of an inch. I have misplaced my pastry wheel so instead I used a Wilton Ribbon Cutter and Embosser. It can be a little cumbersome to put together, but it allows you to cut 2 ribbons at once that are even and uniformly measured.  In this case I used the 3/4 inch embossers, with the crimped edge cutter. Make sure you stack enough spacers so that the spacers stop just past the inside piece.  Tighten washer and end cap.  The cutter should roll easily though its tight enough that the cutters and spacers don’t waiver. Use your index finger to press on the washer to steady the ribbon cutter as you roll.

Attach ribbons at the edge and weave ribbon pieces over and under one another.  *You can vary your lattic top appearance by weaving the lattice tightly together, or loosely apart, and of course you can cut the ribbons thicker or thinner.

Paint, using a  pastry brush, with and egg yolk and a tsp or 2 of water.

Bake at 350 for 60 minutes.  The pie is done when the filling begins to bubble. Its always a good idea to place a cookie sheet beneath a pie with a fruit filling so that any bubbling fruit does not bubble over and set off your fire alarm.

Add a comment April 6, 2011

Butterflies in Royal Icing

Finally its really starting to feel like spring, even though newscasters threatened there would be snow last week.  Thankfully they were mistaken.  The Museum of Natural History here in the city has a really cool live butterfly exhibit going on currently.  I’m planning on getting over there soon, but from what I can see its alot like the Bronx Zoo’s year round exhibit which I had fun visiting not too long ago.

The Butterfly House in the Bronx Zoo is a really peaceful place to spend the day, especially in late fall or early spring when you don’t have to contend with crowds. I’d suggest not going on the weekend if you want a quiet day to yourself.  Its a few bucks extra for admission for the Butterfly Hut, but worth the cash.  Aside from the Flutterbies, there is a really beautiful pond filled with massive coy fish and even some birds that all reside in the small hut.

 

Inspired by these spring creatures heres simple way to make your own butterflies with royal icing.  Though the technique is little more than tracing, it will take a number of days for the butterflies to dry.

First you need a recipe of Royal Icing. Royal icing was actually what my first post was about. Heres a different take on Royal.

This time I used dried egg whites.  I didn’t have extra eggs laying around, but I did have powdered egg whites.

I used 3 Tbsp mixed with 1/2 c of water.  I whisked to help dissolve the egg and let it stand for about 5 minutes.

Start whipping and slowly add 2 c of powdered sugar.

Mix for 7-10 minutes.  Separate into small bowls and color with food coloring. Thin some of your icing to thin consistency adding 1-2 tsp water per cup.  The icing should not hold shape when its thinned– meaning it slowly settles to a smooth surface as you mix or pipe it but its still thick. Make sure when storing to seal tightly with plastic wrap as royal icing dries quickly.

You now need a template to trace.  I sketched one of each wing on to tracing paper and folded it in half and retraced to get a carbon copy of the matching wing.

If this all sounds too complicated check out Peggy Porshen’s Pretty Party Cakes or Beautiful Cakes: Irresitable Cakes and Cookies. This project is included in both books though teaching the Wilton Method is what actually inspired me to make butterflies this way.  Both Peggy’s books have wing tracing templates in the back of the books and her work is so beautiful you won’t be able to resist the ideas inspired by these publications.

Place your tracing paper on a cookie sheet, under a sheet of wax paper (not parchment– your work will stick if you use parchment and most likely break) With medium royal icing colored to your choosing, trace the out line of the wings. Fill in with thin royal icing. Set aside to dry– can take up to 3 days though it can go faster.

Once the wings are dry fold sheets of wax paper (2-3″ squares) and set inside folded index cards. Pipe a thick line of royal icing on crease of wax paper.  Slide matching wings into line of icing, resting the wings on either side of the index card.  Allow to dry balanced on a cookie sheet, or large cardboard egg carton.

Make sure butterflies are completely dry before removing from paper.  Keep in a cool dry place out of light — as colors will fade.  Butterflies will last for a couple months.  Keep free from humidity– a.k.a don’t store in an air tight container as you may find your butterflies will melt if temperature becomes warm and humid.



1 comment April 4, 2011

Old School Strawberry Cupcakes

I say old school, because if you are anything like me I’m sure you recall the kids whose parent made a big deal out of their birthday and sent in tons of cupcakes into school on their special day for the whole class. Growing up in my little town this meant white cupcakes slathered in loads of super fluffy white frosting from Schuyler Bakery, and if you happened to the birthday guy or gal– your cupcake was particularly huge and piped with a giant pink or blue rose. the only other thing as good as having  a giant bakery-made cupcake in front of you was if your mom make you these:

I was always jealous of the kid whose mom sent him in to school with none other than cupcakes in a cone– the very best of both worlds–cake, that looks like ice cream.  Flavor and execution. Obviously my long harbored jealousies have thrust me into my current cake obsessed life.  To be honest I think I tried to make these once in junior high and the tray of uncook cupcake cones toppled in the piping hot oven and I never tried to figure it out again… until today.  See this weekend I’m missing out on another birthday tradition– My little lady friend Aela, has just turned 7, officially yesterday, but the party is this weekend. And for the first time in 4? 5 years?… Well I was there when she first made her worldly debut– and for the first time ever, I won’t be showing up with a crazy cake in hand ready to steal the birthday girl’s thunder…Perhaps that a good thing.

All the same Aela is one of the various inspirations for this site so I feel pretty down not celebrating yet another caketastic birthday. So here is Martha Stewart’s recipe for Strawberry Cupcakes from her book Cupcakes, with the baking variation of making  them into ice cream cones.

2 3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 c cake flour (I totally skipped this and just used all purpose)

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/4 c sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3 egss, + 1 egg white

1 c milk

2 c fresh chopped strawberries** (I blended mine to a fine puree in hopes of achieving a really pink cupcake. Chunks or puree its up to you)

Start by creaming the butter and sugar.  Add one egg at a time, mixing thoroughly after each egg.  Add vanilla.

Sift in flour, alternating with additions of milk.

Fold in chopped strawberries or puree  and pour in.

If you are really hoping for a very pink color you will need to add food coloring as strawberries tend to fade especially after they’re cooked. Or just leave ’em be.

I used a mini cupcake tray and the regular size waffle cones fit perfectly snug in the tray.

Add your batter just to the rim. And bake at 350 degrees.

Y0u can of course – do it the old fashioned way. Adding the frosting of your choice (Strawberry buttercream below)

Or Dark Chocolate Frosting with sprinkles.

Couldn’t resist the temptation!

3 comments April 2, 2011

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