Posts filed under: ‘Frosting‘

Failure to Launch Part 1

Heres a great youtube video on how to make Italian Merignue Frosting– a slightly different method than Swiss Merignue.

I some how failed to post this yesterday which brings me to my choice of topics– failure!  Failure is a pretty negative word and Im not one to quit on a project so when it comes to a cake that I’m less than please with I at least try find a lesson in whatever went wrong. Whether its learning a trick  to stacking a cake better (cause the top tier toppled over in the car ride) or just delegating my time better on a project.  Below are some photos of beautiful cakes made by some culinary greats that I was inspired to recreate only to have less than stellar results, and a couple of tips on different techniques.

The cake featured above is by none other than Sylvia Wienstock. She’s been the queen of fabulous culinary works of art long before the Cake Boss picked up his first pastry bag.  She’s based out of New York City and her work is featured at every big New York Wedding there is.  She’s been called the Leonardo Da Vinci of cakes– a title you don’t just earn over night.  I used this photo as an inspiration for a cake I made this weekend for a friends birthday. Ultimately I didn’t spend enough time on this cake to render a mirror image of the photo which left me frustrated…and only escalated when the cake frosting melted everywhere in the car ride up. So here some advice on Italian or Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

Italian Meringue/ Swiss Meringue ButterCream is alot less sweet and so fluffy some people think its whipped cream frosting.  It is by far my absolute favorite frosting but there are some down sides when working with it

First– its expensive to make. 2 sticks of butter a dolop of milk or water and a bag of confectioners sugar will run you about $5 bucks and render a great simple buttercream– and you can easily cover an 8″ cake with it.  Italian or Swiss Meringue call for a 2-3 cups of sugar, 2 lbs of butter and at least dozen eggs whites only but really after all the time it takes to make this excellent frosting whose got time to use the yolks?  –Its almost double the cost of American Buttercream and it doesn’t go as far. The time you spend whipping and mixing rarely will cover and decorate more than a 8″ / 10″ cake.  Its also a little tricky to make– I’ve screwed it up and gotten soup plenty of times to know. Both under mixing and overmising can lead to a total waste of time and ingredients.

Secondly, It also doesn’t take color well. Food coloring tends to drown in the meringue, barely blushing from a scoop of color. You will eventually notice if you pipe with it, that the color comes out as the frosting heats in your hand but that completely unpredictable.  Its so soft at room temperature I tend to find that piping flowers is only easy for those who are beyond the novice stage of piping.

And it melts….and melts and melts.  In the refridgerator you’ll find the frosting binds up just like butter does, making for a firm surface to work on once your cake is frosted, and chilled, but just let that cake find its way into a warm car for delivery or sit in the sun light and you are looking are melty soupy madness in no time.  I reconmmend experimenting with this before deciding to go and whip up a batch for the next birthday party your invited to.

Why would you suffer through something so finicky?  Well because it tastes soooo good! When I was making Jamie’s Cake this weekend it was suggested to not knock myself out with a crazy design but rather bring a cake that was simple and tasted delicious.  I was pissed I had to run into the kitchen of the restaurant and try and doctor the sides of the cake I had already spent so much time on only to have to use a butter knife to try to fix my now botched cake.  And those beautiful fondant roses I made? Were now covered in frosting…. Strangely enough the cake was a hit!  I watched people lick their plates literally to get a few more tastes of the ohhh so finicky frosting.

I didn’t originally photograph this puppy out of disappointment, but found myself tagged in facebook later, so I figured why not post it– so hopefully I’m not the only one learning from my mistakes.


Add a comment May 31, 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

Chocolate Torte

I did some experimenting with some gum paste orchids– rather complicated for flowers but fun once you get the hang of it.  I’ll hopefully post a video in the future.  For now a recipe based on on of my latest cakes– Chocolate torte.  I realized only after doing this recipe that torte usually indicates that the cake contains ground nuts as opposed to flour…this recipe only has flour, but was a dense, rich chocolate cake all the same– not light and fluffly, but thats fine with me.


Chocolate Raspberry Torte


  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk, warmed
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine your dry ingredients: Sugar (yes this time its a dry ingredient), flour (sifted), cocoa (I used 1/3 dutch processed, 1/3 valrhona), cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Mix till combined and set aside.

In a small sauce pan heat milk– I only warmed it, don’t scald.  Melt butter– over the stove or via the microwave.

Lightly beat eggs. Add vanilla.

Slowly pour in warmed milk.

Add butter.

Add dry ingredients.

Mix until just combined. Bake (in 2 8″ pans-greased and floured) at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Finishing a chocolate torte can be simple– the cake is dense and sweet enough that fresh whipped cream and fresh fruit are perfect.  I went more on the choco-holic side of things.

To Finish:

Each layer will be about 2- 2 1/2″ tall.  I leveled both rendering four layers and iced with a raspberry butter cream (I added a teaspoon or 2 of raspberry extract and 2 tablespoon of raspberry jam.  Seedless is preferable– but I had trouble finding it, even in New York City.

**Careful when added jams or syrups to icings.  In my experience your frosting can get gummy and hard to deal with aka it starts oozing all over the place unpredictably. Between layers I spread raspberry jam.

A little trick to getting you icing super smooth.  With traditional buttercream (butter and powdered sugar) you’ll find that the icing “Crusts” or dries to the touch after about 10 minutes.  Sometimes it even crumbles a little. If you find that you have some spatula marks on your cake you can dip a metal spatula in warm water– don’t get the spatula too wet lightly swipe your spatula against the dry frosting and you’ll notice the marks melt away.  The finish of the frosting will be a little shiney — careful not to use too much water else the cake will look melted.

I finished the cake with Chocolate Ganache— which isnt too complicated to do, but I think is best described in a video…to come.

Chocolate Ganache

2 c semisweet chocolate

1 c-1  1/2c heacvy cream

Melt in a sauce pan over low heat stirring constantly.  Ganache should be cooled but still runny.  I also placed the cake in the freezer to settle and firm up a bit.  Place cake on a cooling wrack, on a large tray.

Pour ganache over the top of the cake letting it drip over the sides.  Push ganache over sides with spatula.  Give one or two passes around the sides of cake to smooth and make sure ganache has totally covered the whole cake.

The best thing about ganache is that if you allow it to cool a little longer its just like chocolate frosting– if you don’t want to pour it over your cake you and spread it like frosting or pipe it with a pastry bag. If it gets too cool warm it up in the microwave or roll the pastry bag filled with ganache between your hands until it softens enough to pipe again.

3 comments March 23, 2011

Fluffy Frosting

Not too long ago my boyfriend’s neice Trinity celebrated her 4th birthday.  This family takes cake very seriously which is why I love them sooo much.  For the small family party Trintiy’s mom and grandma spent a long night making a Tangled themed rapunzel castle cake.  A very impressive endeavour, considering all the wacky cake wrecks I made before taking a hobby class on decorating– and Trinity’s Mom and Grandma have never taken a class!

Cupcakes were the project for later that night as a birthday party with friends was set for Sunday, and the Tangled cake was all but devoured by family.  Ann  clued me in to a family recipe for fluffy frosting which she planned to decorate cupcakes with.  To my shock it actually contains flour.  Weird right! And by the way contains no marshmellow fluff.

Its pretty easy to make especially verses my (favorite) but labor intensive swiss merignue butter cream, but to be honest this won’t be replacing buttercream for me, definelty worth a try.

Fluffy Frosting

1 c milk

1/3 c flour

1 c sugar

1 cup shortening –yeah I know I hate shortening!! So opt for 1/2 c shortening, 1/2 c butter

1 tsp vanilla

In a small sauce pan combine flour and milk, and heat on low.  Make sure to stir constantly otherwise you will have what looks like mashed potatoes. 

The milk and flour will become thick and creamy. Remove from heat and allow to cool. 

Meahwhile cream sugar and butter/ shortening together.  Once your flour mixture has cooled down add it to the your sugar and butter and beat on medium/ high.

A word to the wise, this frosting doesn’t harden or dry, its always kind of gooey. But its good and not too sweet.  In fact I’m currently writing from a computer in a class I’m taking on social networking.  It seems I’m a little ahead of the curve already having an established blog, but I’ve got a thing or two to learn about all the  crazy ways to utilize the many social networks.

So tonight I wrote this post  from class and debuted this frosting on cupcakes I’ve made for class…


You can see how mushy the frosting is as my cupcake toppers slide off! But…its good!!

2 comments March 9, 2011

Moment of Zen, Green Tea Cupcakes

So its been awhile!!  I should mention first and foremost Aunt Penny is doing well.  It was a little rough to be honest in the beginning but her spirits are high and things are good on the road to recovery.  I saw her last week in the hospital and she said she couldn’t wait to read the blog again soon and was so thankful for everyone’s wishes of good health.  So from Aunt Penny and Me thanks you for stopping in and thinking of her in the last few weeks, and sending all that good energy.

I’m finally starting to fit into a groove at my new job.  This is a pretty big transition for me consider I’d been working full time at my last job almost 9 years.  Its crazy when I think of where the time went?!

I started working at the Performing Arts Center as a college student, when the campus was in fact my home, and given the sheer time committment my job at the PAC required, my emotional investment was great.  I’ve been thinkng of all the great experiences and people I’ve come across in the years I spent there.  The growing I’ve done, both good and difficult.  One of the biggest parts or perks of the job was all the great performances.

Just last year The Performing Arts Center became the set of Black Swan.  Lincoln Center gets top billing of course, but truly every scene in the dressing rooms, backstage, on stage and the rehearsal areas in the film was shot at the Performing Arts Center.  Yes I saw (Academy Award winner!!!!) Natalie Portman, and Mila Kunis around the “dungeon” as all the PAC staff affectionately call the backstage areas where the offices are.  Can’t say I really had much interaction with actors, lets be honest I just took advantage of Craft Food Services, but nonetheless its a cool thing to have been around for.

One of my favorite performances was watching Savion Glover, tap dance, or hoof as its called, the several times he’s taken the stage at the PAC.  It has always been an inspiration to the part of me that spent so many years studying tap dancing as a kid.

I’ve seen groups like The B-52’s, Joshua Bell, Matisyahu, Chuck Berry, The Righteous Brothers, Regina Spector, and the Legend James Brown. And comedians like Kathy Griffin and George Carlin.  I’ve gotten to experiences some world class entertainment!!!

One of my favorite memories is of a young concert pianist by the name of Lang Lang (pronounced Long Long) who has performed many times at the Performing Arts Center.  Lang Lang is kind of a rockstar in his own right.  Hes in his 20’s, wears leather jackets, and pattened leather sneakers when he performs, so I think he’s trying to at least be himself, and both old and young people are always in attendance.  Hes also a total prodigy and a completely rare talent and has been playing since he was 3 years old.  And if you still don’t know who I’m talking about– he was part of the opening ceremony of the summer Olympics last year. OHhhhh that guy…

As time passes and my memories become more rose colored, I will still always recall how just about anything in theater can go wrong at the last minute. Its actually one of the things I liked best about my former job– having to problem solve at the last possible second.  Un/fortunately for me I’m pretty good at finding a remedy for a last minute crisis, and putting out fires and its taxing to say the least– always operating on full throttle but totally rewarding.

On more than one occasion I’ve found myself inside the theatre while Lang Lang was rehearsing.  The first time, I went in for a standard walk through of the theatre a few hours before the show.  I walked across the back of the first balcony as he rehearsed.  I didn’t know if it was Mozart or Beethoven.  But it didn’t matter, I took a couple moments to enjoy my secret concert.

The last night Lang Lang performed there was lots of chaos.  Between ticketing issues, technical issues, and lots of important people in the building, my staff and I were running all over the place.  Just as we were about to open the theatre to begin seating for the show, I stepped inside.  I was one of the few people inside the big Concert Hall.  It seats more then 1300 people.  I quietly moved inside towards the seats, the door shut behind me and all the noise and choas of people waiting to get in became quieter and quieter. As I stepped into the seats the melodic sounds of the solo piano grew.  Lang Lang was warming up, and I was the only person in the audience.

This moment didn’t last for more than a few minutes as my staff began to take their positions at the doors inside, but for a moment, a moment, a brief moment of zen, I sat captive in my last private concert, given by Lang Lang at the Performing Arts Center.

In reverence to the phase of my life that have ended and all the great things I learned, and to all the great things in the future….

Zen Green Tea Cupcakes

"E" for Ella, and Eccentric

This recipe is from my favorite (often referenced) cupcake cookbook: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World! by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero.

I’ve made many different versions of green tea cupcakes and these take the cake (pun intended).  They are always super moist and fluffy.  And I think Oscar winner Natalie Portman would also appreciate the lack of diary and eggs.

You will need:

1/2 c soy yogurt

2/3 c rice milk ( I’ve used regular yogurt and buttermilk if you aren’t concerned about keeping these cruelty free)

1/4 tsp vanilla

1/3 c canola oil

1/2 tsp almond extract

1 1/4 c all purposed (unbleached) flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

3-4 tsp matcha green tea powder

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 c granulated sugar

Green tea powder can be a little hard to find. I’ve found it near the cafe section of Whole Foods.  Its what they use to make those yummy green tea fraps at Starbucks.  Its a little pricey, but let me mention its about $10 for a few ounces.  I’ve been to culinary fairs and festivals where its sold at $100 for a few ounces!!! So if you find yourself shopping online, don’t break the bank.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a separate bowl mix wet ingredients (obviously sugar doesn’t count this time) whisk soy milk and yogurt, vanilla, oil and almond extract until smooth. Sift in flour, baking soda and powder, matcha green tea powder, salt and sugar.  I recommend using only 3 tsp of matcha powder, unless you really love the flavor. Its great in more mild amounts, too much?? taste like sea weed if you ask me. Mix until smooth.

Fill lined baking pans 2/3 full. Bake for 18 min
utes approximately or until a tooth pick inserted comes out clean.

Vegan Cupcake Take Over the World recommends a Matcha Green Tea Glaze, but this time around I flavored a couple cups of Swiss Merignue ButterCream with a tsp of Rose Water, and 1/2 tsp of blackberry extract I found at specialty culinary store.  A little burgundy food coloring made for a beautiful and exquisite flavor profile.

3 comments March 7, 2011

Ugly Duckling

Finally!! This recipe has been a year in the making…

About a year ago I headed into work feeling like a million bucks.  I had a sweet new hair cut : a new chocolate brown coif with smart bangs in the front…I felt like I loosely resembled Angelina Jolie in her last movie Salt, well my hair did anyway.


Just when I’d believed I’d conquered all the awkward phases in life, I, by the afternoon, upon returning from the dentist, my teeth clad with braces, I was the spit and image of Ugly Betty…

My mom always said my (crooked) teeth gave me character, and over the next 11 months that followed I was miserable feeling all the bones in my jaw sway and shift. I ducked out of most pictures when someone said to say cheese, or just pursed my lips in what looked usually like a painful grimace.


I made this cake for my dentist to celebrate finally finishing my dental work!

Originally the estimate of time of how long I’d be feeling like a 5th grader was about 8 months though I secretly crossed my fingers that it might be as short as 6.  Not a terribly long time to suffer, though by August, then September, then Thanksgiving and Christmas there was no sign they were coming off even when my dentist seemed surprised at how quick my teeth were moving.  When you are 20 something and your jaw is fully formed, not to mention being an avid coffee drinker, not only does it hurt to have braces, but they stain and are just kind of embarassing.


Now a year later I COULDN’T WAIT to get them off!!!   My appointment was then pushed back due to the second, third or fourth heavy-duty NYC winter storm…but now FINALLY the braces are gone!! I think difficult experiences make us all a little better off, so FINALLY almost a year later 11 months and a week later I have a white very straight smile.

When you have braces you can’t indulge is candy, not that I am a huge candy person anyway, but i definetly learned my lesson with caramel over they year having pulled and tugged at the wires painfully when I forgot what was on the prohibited menu.

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes.

1 1/2 c all purpose flour

3/4 c dutch processed cocoa

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp baking powder

3/4 salt

2 large eggs

3/4 c butter milk ( I used 1 c soymilk with 1 tsp vinegar)

3 Tbsp vegetable  oil

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

3/4 warm water

Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda and powder, and salt.  

Add eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and water with an electric mixer on low until smooth.

Divide into cupcake cups and cook at 350 degrees.  Martha makes these as mini cupcakes, but I went full size.  Yields 18-24 regular size cupcakes.

By the way if you are saying chocolate and Salt?  Go to your local Starbuck’s and order a salted caramel hot chocolate. Mmmmmmmm!!  They are sooo delicious!!  And these cupcakes are much the same.

To finish:

Salted Caramel Filling

2 1/2 c granulated sugar

2/3 c water

1 tbsp light corn syrup

3/4 c heavy cream

2 1/2 tsp sea salt

Combine Sugar, cornsyrup and water in a sauce pan.  Stir and heat on high. Stir until the liquid becomes clear. Once sugar mixture has become clear stop stirring. Use a pastry brush to wash down sides of pan occasional.  Clip a thermometer to the side of the pan or if you have a larger candy thermometer, make sure to really cover the bottom of the thermometer in the sugar so to ensure an accurate reading and swirl occassionally.

When sugar reaches 360 degrees (be patient it can take a while) remove from heat.  The color will begin to caramelize.

Add cream slowly and stir.  Mixture will bubble and spatter is you are not careful.

Add salt.  If you don’t use caramel shortly after making you will need to re heat to soften.

Dark Chocolate Frosting

3 sticks unslated butter at room temperature

1/2 c confectioners sugar

pinch of salt

1/4 c + 2 tbsp dutch processed cocoa

2/3 c boiling water

1 pound good quality semi sweet chocolate

I used callebut chocolate and semiesweet morsels. Melt in a double boiler, or carefully over low heat to melt. Set aside and allow to cool, but not harden.

Combine cocoa and boiling water. Whisk until dissolved. Cocoa will become like a thick mousse. Allow to cool.

Cream butter, confectioners sugar, and salt. Add melted chocolate and beat on low.  Add Cocoa mixture until frosting is smooth and combined.

To assemble Dig out a bit of the center of the chocolate cupcakes.

Pour a few teaspoons of caramel into the center. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.

Pipe the chocolate frosting on top and devour!

2 comments February 10, 2011

Christmas Cake, Black Cake, Fruit Cake, Voodoo Cake Call it what you will!

I love how in just about any borough of New York City all you have to do is walk 3 blocks in any direction and you’ll find yourself in a completely different neighborhood.  For instance in my neighborhood you’ll find mostly hispanic, namely Dominican folks.  A few blocks north you’ll find a predominantly Irish neighborhood.  The differences in population from block to block may not be as stark in all parts of the city like Little Italy and China town, but all the same I absolutely love the fact that these small cramped islands we all share make us tolerate each other even accept each other and help us to build our little niches in each community.

Thus this cake recipe became very interesting to me as I’d gotten this same recipe from some very diverse students.  Some of my students come from the Caribbean.  And I’ve been fortunate to taste many versions of a cake they hold dearest in their Heritage.  Black Cake. Black cake is a rich, dense Fruit cake that take lots of preparation: soaking fruit in wine for weeks even months, and repeatedly dousing your baked confection with rum.  Traditionally Black cake is then covered with royal icing, and finally a layer of almond paste, or marzipan rolled out over the top.  This cake is a feat to make, and master and it is delicious, and that’s not just the rum talking.

To see other pics of this Black Cake click on "Specialty" in the Gallery.


Then I realized how cool it was that this gem of the islands was also held in great esteem on a very different island…England.  Of course this seems like no revelation considering how the West Hemisphere was discovered, explored, and conquered by an array Europeans. So no, Christmas Cake, (as the Brits call), being a shared tradition, wasn’t that big of a surprise after all.  But I still relish in the fact that food brings people together.  It’s the reason I write this blog really.  And when it comes down to cake, well you couldn’t think of a better food that is iconic of celebration.  So with one year coming to an end and another beginning I’d like to dedicate this recipe to anyone who aims to live, rather Celebrate life, and all the great things that make us unique and all the wonderful and tasty things we share.

I made this cake for the first time, as a grooms cake for friends of mine who were getting married, See the drum cake under “Weddings” in the gallery.  Murielle a native of Haiti wanted a grooms cake that would be special for her soon to be husband Paul.  I carved the cake into a drum, and modeled after one of Paul’s hand drums.  I think myself a good baker but was nonetheless intimidated at the thought that it would be eaten by a crowd of wedding guests who would be well versed in black cake.

Murielle later gave me the report that she and Paul not only loved the design and the delicious cake, but that it was devoured by their guests who loved it and refered to it as Voodoo Cake.  This recipe originally came to me by a former student Deborah Levine.  Its been somewhat modified.

Black Cake

2 cups butter

2 cup white sugar

9 eggs

1/4  Barbancourt Rum (Adding rum is optional and the original recipe called for white rum.  I HIGHLY recommend getting your hands on WONDERFUL Haitian rum called “Barbancourt” Pronounced: Bar bahn Coo in french. )

1 tb lime juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tb almond extract

1 grated zest of lime

2 pounds chopped dried mixed fruit

2 cups red wine + apprx 1 bottle red wine for soaking

1 cup dark molasses

2 1/2 c all purpose flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground all spice

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

pinch of salt

At least 3 weeks ahead of time soak dried fruit in wine.  Typically dark and golden raisins, prunes, cherries and currants are used.  I highly recommend that whatever dried fruit you choose– you choose fruits that don’t contain sulfites as a preservative.  It’s slightly more pricey, but I the preservatives added to dried fruit has a distinct flavor (YUCK) and in my opinion is TOTALLY UNNECESSARY!!!  The point of drying fruit is to preserve it!  In the health food aisle of most stores you will find organic dried fruits in many varieties.  I used Mangos, Pineapples, Papayas, cherries, cranberries, raisins, prunes, figs, blueberries– well just about anything I could find.  I think the sweet tropical fruits like papayas and pineapples add to the flavor of the cake.  Chop or just rip the pieces of fruit with your fingers and cover with red wine of your choice.  I think Layer Cake is a great wine, especially for cake making– I’m a fan of the Primitivo, or the Pinot Noir.  Seal in a large tupperwear container and let soak at room temp for 3 weeks or more.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and Flour 2 9″ round baking pans.

In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and add rum, lime juice, lime zest, vanilla and almond extracts. Blend fruit in a food processor. Stir in soaked fruit, wine, and molasses.

Sift dry ingredients: flour, baking powder salt and spices. Fold batter and pour into pans.

This batter was sooo fluffy and light, mousse like.

Bake for 80-90 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center come out clean. Cool for 10 minutes and then remove from pan and place on cooling rack to cool complete.

Brush on additional wine or Barbancourt rum after baking.  I’m not a liquor drinking but if you are anything like me you might enjoy a small glass of Barbancourt on ice.  Its got a hint of vanilla about it and is an excellent i to a rum cake.  Continuously brush rum a few tablespoons at a time.  Soaking cakes with rum in colonial times allowed cakes to be preserved throughout long journeys– especially overseas.  I’ve had some students assure me that a black cake can last years…though I haven’t tried it myself.  Paul and Murielle tell me they brush rum what they have left of their voodoo cake and plan to have it on their first anniversary.

Traditionally black cake is covered with royal icing. Add a tsp of glycerin to a recipe of royal icing to keep it from hardening.  Roll out marzipan just as you would with Fondant– dusting work surface with powdered sugar, and cover cake.  This is all a bit too sweet for me so I just go with buttercream.

I made a black cake this week for a holiday party in the costume shop at work, hence the buttons, notions, and other sewing accoutrements.  It was a big hit!

4 comments December 10, 2010

Dulce De Leche Cake

I came across this blog as I was researching a recipe for Dulce De Leche Cake.  Spork or A great blog with all sort of entrees and desserts, breakfast and appetizers.  As I was cruising around the site I realize that me and this other fine foodie have a few things in common– both dog owners, we both studied theatre in College, and we both live in NYC and know all too intimately the trials and tribulations of living (and cooking) in the city that never sleeps.

The Empire State Building, from a Manhattan Roof Top

I sometimes wonder how many New York City foodie bloggers there are out there on the internet dealing with their tiny cramped kitchens as they document all their food loving experiements.  New York is a wonderful and tough place to live.  This all of course got me thinking about what my experience has been like living and coping, and coping with living in New York.  I still think after 6 years (where did time go?) that I’m not an expert enough to write any sort of  comprhensive guide to NYC but I have some of my insights.  I probably wouldn’t have made it through that first summer sublet if it weren’t for my first roommate and a copy of NFT Not for Tourist and An Actor Prepare’s… to Live in New York City I might still be upstate.

1. If you want a decent sized apartment for you dollar– go to the North Bronx.  I’ve got a gigantic (especially by NYC standards) apartment.  2 bedroom and the price aint terrible.  Amenities: public transport to NYC and Westchester, the Bronx River, which has tons of bike paths and is quite beautiful, subways  and the metro north can get you to midtown in 30 minutes at peak hours.  Of course when your living in the North Bronx you might as well live in Albany in terms of feeling like the city.   Riverdale, Norwood and City Island are all great spots, but you can also find some good deals in Brooklyn and Queens, with a similar commute and more of a view.

2.Parking and Street Cleaning.  If you have car in the city make sure its a compact car else you will lose precious hours of your life to seaching for parking.  You’ll also need to get a grip in the street cleaning dates and times.  Most neighborhoods you are permitted to double park for the hour, hour and a half of street cleaning, but DON”T Oversleep or forget to move you car back else you will find a ticket whihc cost about the same as a surf and turf dinner.   Should you get a ticket, pay it as soon as possible else (and i know from experience) they will find you and tow away your ride.  Call 311 if you have questions about street fairs, street cleaning, subway closures.  They don’t always have an answer but ca at least point you in the right direction.

3. Make a point to do the Touristy New York City things, preferably when you first get here.  Statue of Liberty, at least one broadway play, The Met –museum or Opera, Yankee Stadium, and dare I say Magnolia.  After you’ve done the “Sex and the City” bus tour, and are feed up with hanging out in Midtown, Make your own adventure to find what will soon become your Big Apple Favorites.  I once played what I called “whatever bus comes next.”  After spending some time at the Cloisters I decided to take “what ever bus comes next.”   I was in Inwood (northern most Neighborhood in Manhattan) and decided I would use my metro card fun pass (unlimited subway/bus pass) and let the City take me where it would.  I decided I wouldn’t request a stop but rather decided to get off randomly, when someone else requested it.  I ended up walking the last leg of the New York City Marathon– Spectators route on the runners all day long from their windows, even stop to clap on the streets– what amazing support.  Then I purused through the Conservatory at Central Park, before meeting up with some friends for Indian food at a great restaurant on 108th– The Indian Cafe.  Other times I’ve snuck into the Natural History Museum, or climbed up the Shakespeare castel in Central Park, or randomly run into in Robert DeNiro in Little Italy.  The best times I’ve had were typically unplanned so, get a fun pass and go get lost.

My best friends on a downtown Manhattan rooftop

4. New York City like anything in life is all about who you know.  So make friends.  I’ve been to Broadway premiers and Penthouse rooftops all from having made friends with some really cool people. It can be hard to break through that tough New York exterior that just about everyone has, but your sure to find good connections that will lead you to your next job or opportunity or at least a good party.

5. Keep your head up, because New York will kick your butt!!!  Whether you’ve got crazy weird roomates (I had one who stole my security deposit, and then turn around and try to sue me later–seriously!) shady cheap landlord who turns off your heat to save himself money, or totally unfair parking tickets– this is all part of the rhythym of the city.  If you really want to be here you’ll find a way to cope with the lack of space, abundance of noise and learn to love it, and if not you’ll have some good stories to bring back home withyou.

So how about that cake.  I made this for a coworker who originates from Ecuador.  As far as neighborhoods go I live in a predominantly spanish area and I love comparing recipes and learning new aways to approach cake, or Bizcocho.

The cake is a version of a white cake, without as many eggs.  It cooks up light and fluffy and evenly for the most part.  You’ll notice you won’t spend alot of time leveling this puppy.

The filling is dulce de Leche, cooked the easiest way– by boiling sweetencondensed milk (see my previous post)

And the Frosting.  I originally went with what SporkorFoon suggested: a caramel frosting from Paula Dean, but I found generally that it was too sweet and pretty runny, so I oppted to take all that gooey caramel and add it (slowly) to some Swiss Merignue I had already made.  It  kicked up the flavor just enough without killing the consistency.  I drizzled what was left of the caramel over the cake, and add some melted chocolate in a way Jackson Pollock would appreciate– I was inspired by this photo of Dulce De Leche cake on Technicolor Kitchen.  I love food photos!

Dulce De Cake from Spork or

2 1/4 cup cake flour ( I used all purpose)

1 c whole milk

6 large egg whites at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 3/4 c grandulate sugar

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter softened

Combine milk, egg whites and vanilla in a small bowl.  mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a stand mixer on low speed.  Add butter and mix until crumbly.  Add 1/2 of egg-milk mixture into flour mixture. Mix at medium speed for 90 seconds.  Add last of egg-milk mixture and beat for 30 seconds.  Scrape bowl and mix for 20 more seconds.  Don’t over beat.

Pour into 2 greased and floured 8″ or 9″ pans and cook for 25 minutes.

Paula Dean’s caramel frosting can be found here or

Melt 1 stick of butter, 1 c brown sugar (dark is called for but I only had light– to each their own), and 1/3 heavy cream in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved.  Move to a heat proof bowl add 1 lb (2 cups) powdered sugar.  Add more sugar for a stiffer consistency.  I allowed the frosting to cool then slowly stirred it into some fluffy swiss meringue I had made previously.

Cool for 10 minutes, remove from pans and allow to cool completely.  Level you cakes. Be sure to pipe a dam around the edge so you dulce won’t leak threw. Fill with Dulce de Leche, stack and Frost. Decorate as you’d like!

Add a comment November 16, 2010

Love’s Labour’s Leche

Today is the last day to vote for my friend Chrissy!! So go to this site and clickity click! VOTE!!!

Speaking of races the New York City Marathon was this weekend…Did I mention Chrissy is a Marathoner? Just another reason to VOTE!!! Anyway I have yet to even complete a 5K.  Marathons are grueling from what I can tell and you must be just about nuts to participate. With the time it takes to train, not to mention the lack of refined sugar you can consume… for me at least it’s not in my immediate goals.

So I start thinking about what I could accomplish in say 3 hours.  For an elite athlete, you could get from Staten Island through Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, to the finish line in Manhattan.  I decided instead to have a little race of my own, at the stove.   Dulce de Leche a gooey delicious caramely filling/ frosting.  Its sooo GOOD!!!  But if you choose to actually make it– you should plan to set aside a marathon’s worth of time…standing at the stove.

So this afternoon I attempted to simultaneously make Dulce de Leche the traditional way and the easy way.  I figured it would be good to contrast and compare.  I was pretty dissappointed with the traditional way of boiling milk and sugar.  Three hours after continuously stirring milk and sugar over the stove I’m pretty sure I burned it…BUT I was truly impressed with the easy way to achieve this finiky filling.

I found all sort of ways to make Dulce de Leche on a fellow foodie’s blog. What’s for Lunch, Honey? Five ways to make Dulce de Leche?!– I’m impressed!!  So if you are like me and want to try the traditional way and challenge yourself try the first recipe.  I can’t say I recommend spending all that time, considering my result came out craptastic! but for all I know I skipped a step, having lost my focus continuously, mind-numbingly stirring.   I do know that next time I need this sweet South American filling I will opt for the second recipe.

From What’s for Lunch, Honey?

Dulce de Leche

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Small sauce pan with simmering water

Peel label from can.  Pop holes into the lid using either a can opener or bottle opener.  It is imparitive that you place holes in the lid, else the can will explode!! You can remove the lid completely, but be very careful not to spill the milk or get water inside the can.


The first pan is the traditional method, the second the easy way.

Place the can in a sauce pan 3/4 full of water.  Bring the water to a simmer.  Keep the heat on Low/Medium heat.  If you’ve kept the lid intact, save for the holes, you’ll notice that some of the condensed milk will bubble up.  This will stop after about 15 minutes and shouldn’t spill over.

The water level should remain at about 1 -2cm from the top of the can.  Don’t let it boil over of course, again just a gentle simmer.   As the water boils it evaporate of course.  Continue to maintain the water level by adding water to the pan as it boils down.  Simmer for 3 hours to achieve a thick gooey Dulce de Leche.


Remove from water with tongs or a pot holder. Open the can and you will have a thin layer of thin milky cream, just beneath a thick gooey Dulce de Leche. Mix until smooth. Though its a long time, you aren’t chained to the stove, like you would be if you were going for the traditional version.This can be used a filling, or even a frosting if you choose.

UP NEXT: A cake to compliment this finger licking good sweet, a give away– should Chrissy make the top 20, and a cupcake recipe by the weekend!

Also if you have any thoughts to add about making Dulce de Leche, share them in the comments!  What’s your favorite method to make it?– Any time savers so as not to stand at the stove stirring for hours? Share! share! VOTE!!!

2 comments November 11, 2010

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The Cake Eccentric

Sugar, Frosting, and Fondant: an artistic exploration of Cake and other Sweets