Friday, December 28, 2012

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake

For Christmas, I had been planning on making German chocolate cake again, but after making it three times I was a little burnt out on that recipe so I decided to go with something else chocolatey. After a little bit of browsing, I found the perfect thing:  chocolate sour cream Bundt cake, adapted from a Williams-Sonoma recipe.

As always I made a few changes. I used self-rising flour, which didn't seem to make a difference. Also I thought we had more sour cream than we did, so I only used one cup, which is half a cup short of what is called for in the recipe.

Other than that, I followed the recipe closely. I pulled my cake out a few minutes earlier than it suggested because it was done already. (I suspect my oven has a higher temperature than it indicates, but I have yet to test this.)

I actually made this cake on Christmas Eve Eve, and made the ganache on Christmas Eve. It still turned out perfect.

Beautiful, isn't it? And it was delicious. My mom said it "cut like a steak". It was very rich, so some people topped it with whipped cream, but it was great alone, too. A small slice was enough sweetness for the day, that's how rich it was, but don't take that as a  bad thing!

The ganache was great because it was firm enough to keep its lovely drippiness overnight, but it was soft when you bit through it.

I highly recommend this recipe to everyone. Don't let the "sour cream" part disturb you - I hate sour cream and was a little put off by its inclusion in this cake, but you can't taste it at all. In fact, I'm not sure what exactly it does for the recipe, but it was delicious, so I'm not complaining.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Chocolate Marshmallow Penguins

It's late Christmas Eve - actually, being 12:10 a.m., it's technically Christmas - but I wanted to go ahead and post this since my son is asleep and God only knows when the next free moment will occur. This recipe was inspired by something seen on Pinterest.

Obviously, if you read this post's title, you'll notice I used marshmallows instead of strawberries. I did this because not too long ago I made a recipe using strawberries for a family function, and I didn't want to make something that might seem too similar. So, I used marshmallows.

These were simply dipped in melted chocolate, and the faces were drawn on with Wilton edible markers.

These were really easy and turned out yummy - not to mention totally adorable. I only used half a bag of marshmallows, so my batch yielded 22 penguins. It took hardly any time at all. The longest part was waiting for the chocolate to set, and even that didn't take long. If you're looking for something that will catch everyone's eye but don't want to put much effort into it, this is the recipe for you!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Apocalypse Cookies

As we all know, the world was supposed to end on December 21 (according to the Mayans), but obviously that didn't happen. Just in case, I made these zombie sugar cookies to celebrate.

I used a different recipe this time, since I am wanting to find one that holds its shape well. This time I used Sweetopia's. I used the same icing recipe from my Christmas cookies, though.

I made a few changes to the recipe. We only had four sticks of unsalted butter so I had to sub one half cup of salted. I'm not sure whether that makes a difference, but oh well. Also, with all the baking that's been going on around here, we ran out of all-purpose flour when I still needed a cup and a half. So I had to borrow a neighbor's, and it turned out to be self-rising. Again, I'm not sure whether this made a difference or not, but I figured I'd make a note of it.

I cut my cookies pretty thick, considerably thicker than the recipe advises, and I know that affected their spreading. My dough yielded thirty three cookies which I split into three batches. My first batch had fifteen cookies on the pan, which I didn't realize was too many until they began to bake. They baked for 16 minutes and afterwards I used a knife to separate them. They still held their shape well, they were just very fat zombies.

My second batch only took 13 minutes, but they were more spread out. My third batch only had six and they took ten minutes. This last batch was the thinnest of them all and they held their shape great.

To create the "ripped off limb" look, I simply took a knife and severed a leg here and an arm there.

These were my favorites. The left one in the bottom row is supposed to have his brain showing. I used a black edible marker to draw the eyes, mouths, and brain squiggles.
Congratulations on surviving the apocalypse, everyone!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Cookies

I tend to get ahead of myself when I think about baking. I have all these ideas and see all these awesome things on the internet that I want to try, so at any given time I have all the things I'm going to bake planned up to two months ahead. This isn't always true but most of the time, it is. I can't help it - I just get excited seeing all the cute recipes and decorating techniques and I want to try them myself.

This recipe is one of those planned months in advance. I've been wanting to decorate Christmas cookies, but every time I've made sugar cookies to decorate, instead of keeping their little ornament and Santa shapes they spread out in the oven and turn into horrible amorphous blobs. These are still tasty and frostable, but it's not what I wanted, and I KNOW it is possible to have a cookie keep its candy cane shape because it's all over the why can't I do it?

If you haven't noticed, I get on these kicks when it comes to my favorite bloggers. A while ago it was Brown Eyed Baker. Now, it seems that I've become infatuated by Amanda at i am baker. I just knew she'd have a perfect sugar cookie recipe, and I was right.

I followed both her recipe for the cookies and the icing - both can be found here. However, to ice them, I also used her decorating tutorial. (That's one of the reasons I love her so much - she offers so many awesome tutorials and makes it so easy!)

I only put one teaspoon of almond flavor into the cookie dough, and found it to be enough. Any more I think would have been overwhelming. After refrigerating the dough for one hour I had problems with it being too sticky, so I let it sit in the fridge until the following evening. It still stuck to my cutting board, so instead of using the cookie cutters I've been SO WANTING to use, I just molded my cookies into circles and decided I'd make do.

My dough yielded twenty-four cookies, plus a little extra dough that I may or may not have eaten. (You'll never know.) Each batch of twelve cooked for thirteen minutes. The cookies turned out great, not excruciatingly sweet but good enough to eat on their own without icing.

The icing part was what took the longest, as you might have suspected. I feel as though I complicate things, that there is always an easier way to do things than the way I do them, but I'm not sure. Anyway, I ended up making about five batches of Amanda's icing. I was up until three in the morning icing them - I made twelve designs, two of each.

My winter cookies were my favorite. I think it's partly because of the nice blue/white contrast. Surprisingly, these were the first ones I did. Usually the first ones I do are the worst because I haven't settled into a groove yet.

And these are my Christmas cookies. My mint turned out the worst, so I slyly set it to the side so it wouldn't be in the picture so much. My tree was supposed to have a yellow star at the top, and the green "Ho Ho" cookie was supposed to have a candy cane on it, but doing that would have required another batch of frosting, and at three in the morning I was ok with settling for less. I had a little trouble with my red frosting running; that means I added too much milk. Can you see the little edible pearls in the picture? I've had them for a while and couldn't wait for an opportunity to use them.

All in all, I'm very happy with my cookies. They didn't turn out as shapes, but I think I adapted well and at any rate, they taste good, and that's the most important thing!

Banana Nut Muffins

This will be a short post - I just want to share the simple recipe I found for banana nut muffins. I don't have a picture because A, this recipe is so simple and I didn't really feel a picture was required - don't all muffins look more or less the same? - and B, they were all eaten VERY quickly. So instead of a picture of my own, I'm using one from the recipe's website.

The only variation I made ingredients-wise was instead of only adding a fourth cup of mashed banana, I added two whole mashed bananas. They were sitting around and were about to go bad so my mom asked me to use them for something, so here we are. The other change I made to this recipe was I made mini muffins instead of regular sized ones. It yielded twenty-two minis.

Because of the pan change, I had to adjust the cooking time. I cooked them in two batches since I only have one mini muffin pan. Each batch took approximately 13 minutes.

As I said, the first twelve were gone before I even put the second batch in the oven. The second batch lasted a little longer, but not by much. This is a delicious recipe and VERY simple, and it tastes exactly like a box mix - but better, of course, because it's homemade.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Oreo Cookie Truffles

This is one of the easiest recipes in existence - but it fools everyone! They think it's fancy and complex, because they're that damn good.

When I saw the recipe for Oreo Cookie Truffles, I knew we already had a thing of cream cheese in the fridge that would go bad soon if I didn't use it. I really owed it to the household to make these, or that would have been money down the sink, right?

Seriously, all this recipe calls for is one container of cream cheese, one box of Oreos, and two boxes of semi-sweet baking chocolate. That's it. For something that looks and tastes so great, it's hard to believe it's really so simple.

I ended up only mixing 31 and a half Oreos with the cream cheese, because I set four aside to top the truffles with, and my son was bothering me while I was making them so I gave him half of an Oreo. It turned out perfectly. I actually could have set less than four aside for the topping because I ended up having quite a bit left over. Maybe only two would have done the job.

They turned out perfectly, though! I dipped each ball in the chocolate using a toothpick, and covered the hole with the leftover Oreo crumbs.

The recipe said it would make 48 truffles, and that's exactly how many it made. Except two fell into the chocolate and I couldn't pull them out without them tearing apart, so it only made 46.

Let me tell you how good they were. I made them Tuesday night, and by the same time the next night, there were only two left.

I have seen and heard of several variations on this recipe. One I'd like to try would be the same recipe, except dipped in white chocolate. For Christmas, they could be topped with candy cane crumbs. Or I could dip them in white chocolate and drizzle dark or milk chocolate over top. Or I could dip them in white chocolate and draw on snowman faces with edible markers. So many possibilities! All delicious.

Hershey's Special Dark Truffle Brownie Cheesecake (and Minis)

For Thanksgiving, I was really craving something chocolate (blame it on the fact that I'm pregnant) so when I saw this recipe for Hershey's Special Dark Truffle Brownie Cheesecake, I HAD to make it. Look at all those delicious words put together. How could it be bad?

As I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before, I don't have a springform pan, so I had to use an eight-inch round cake pan to make this instead. I knew beforehand that might cause problems, but I didn't realize that it would significantly disrupt my plans...but we'll get to that.

My brownie layer cooked quickly, and rose to where it took more than half of the pan, not leaving much room for the cheesecake part. This left me with over half of the cheesecake batter. I whipped up a quick graham cracker crust, omitting the cinnamon, and pressed it into my mini cheesecakes pan. I poured the remainder of the batter into the wells and popped it in the oven alongside my truffle brownie cheesecake, not knowing whether either would turn out.

My truffle brownie cheesecake ended up looking pretty crappy, to the point that I didn't even bother to take a picture of it. I still lack pretty drizzling skills so the chocolate drizzles looked pretty lame.

The tops of my mini cheesecakes turned out quite poofy, so to alleviate that I topped them with dollops of leftover ganache from my german chocolate cake that I had frozen. I reheated it in the microwave, stirring often, until it was smooth then I put it in a decorating bag and, using one of my decorating tips, made pretty little stars on each one.

They ended up being the "main attraction", so to speak. My truffle brownie cheesecake, sadly, in addition to being ugly, wasn't all that great. The brownie part was overcooked. I suspect this had much to do with the location of the rack in my oven, which I've since fixed and haven't had any problems with. If this had turned out correctly, I suspect this would have been a great recipe. The cheesecake part was delicious. Paired with the graham cracker crust and adorned with the dark chocolate ganache, as in my minis, it tasted wonderful.

My verdict:  I think I'll give this recipe another try in the future. Preferably, when I have a springform pan and when my oven is cooperating. I'm glad I was able to adapt to the situation though and saved the dessert table with my mini cheesecakes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rose Cake - Vanilla with Vanilla Buttercream

I am very excited to write this blog post. Out of all the desserts I've made, this might be the one I'm the most proud of. Not only does this cake taste awesome, but I'm really happy with the way I decorated it - and that's a first!

I recently discovered Bakerita, and she makes me feel lame because she's two years younger than me and her stuff is GORGEOUS and perfect. I have no excuse. But looking at her Fluffy White Cake, I was inspired and decided to try it for myself.

I only used her recipe for the cake. For the icing, I used this recipe.

The cake recipe called for cake flour, but I only had flour. Luckily, I had cornstarch. So instead of two and a half cups of cake flour, I used two cups plus four tablespoons of regular flour, and four tablespoons of cornstarch.

I used my horribly tiny sifter that holds only three fourths of a cup, but since this cake was for one of my husband's coworkers, I wanted it to be perfect.

I split the batter into two pans and baked them. One took 25 minutes, the other took 27, so keep a close eye on them.

While they finished cooling, I prepared the icing. I couldn't believe the recipe called for an ENTIRE two-pound bag of powdered sugar. The recipe said that it was VERY sweet (well, duh) but that was good because the coworker who ordered the cake specifically said he wanted sweet icing. I added just a tiny bit of Wilton "Sky Blue" Icing Color to make it more "manly", since it was going to a man and it was going to be covered in roses (lol - he said he didn't mind me practicing on it, as long as it tasted good). Also, after reading some of the comments I noticed a few people complained about the taste as a result of the shortening used, so I followed their suggestions and added just a bit of almond extract.

I used this frosting to make a crumb coat on my first-ever two-layer cake (yay!).

Not finished yet...

Since it was just the crumb coat, it didn't have to be smooth, as long as the cake didn't show through. I put this in the fridge for about ten minutes to make the rest of the frosting easier.

I used this tutorial for my rose decorating, and I couldn't believe how easy it was!

Looks professional, doesn't it?

It looks AMAZING, right? And it was SO EASY. It would have turned out even better if I'd been using a creamier buttercream, but I wanted the roses to hold their shape overnight since it wouldn't be until the next day that the cake would be delivered.

I don't like to sound like I'm bragging but I'm very proud of this cake. I did not get to eat a slice of it but a small piece fell off the edge while I was frosting it and I tasted it and it was very good. The batter tasted great too, and it smelled exactly like a box mix while baking in the oven.

This one is a definite success! I was very happy that my first attempt at both a two-layer cake and this decorating technique turned out so well. 

Divinity Fudge/Candy/Whatever You Want to Call It

I think I mentioned this in a previous post, but both of my parents AND one of my brothers have birthdays in November. This means a lot of baking. My mom got those lovely cheesecake stuffed strawberries - actually, that was my parents' joint birthday party, but when I found this recipe for divinity fudge, I had to try it since divinity fudge is my dad's favorite candy ever.

Oh, and I'm not sure what you want to call it - divinity fudge, divinity candy, or just divinity - I've heard it called all three and there were never any outraged retorts. So if I go back and forth between what I call it throughout this post, it's because of the ambiguity behind the name.

So first of all, I figured I might have problems with this recipe, since the only two things the blogger says you MUST have for this recipe to work are a dry day and a good candy thermometer, and I lack the latter. I used a meat thermometer, but it topped out at 165 degrees, and the temperature called for when making the syrup is 252 degrees. The needle on my thermometer kept moving upwards but the notations stopped at 165, so I had to eyeball it. I suspect I removed it from the heat before it was ready.

I also lack a stand mixer, so when the recipe told me to beat the mixture for ten minutes, I thought I would die. I was especially thinking this when, ten minutes later, my mixture had not lost its gloss and was not holding in stiff peaks. I mixed for another five or ten minutes (it seemed like forever) and finally I figured if it was going to work, it would have by now, so I went ahead and threw in the vanilla extract and chopped walnuts.

My batch only yielded seventeen divinities, which is probably better anyway since my dad is the one who'd be eating most of them and he's not a huge sweets fan. After letting them set in the fridge overnight, they had firmed up nicely on the outside, but the inside was still very gooey.

I topped each one with a walnut half.

I wrote them off as a mixed success/failure, given that they tasted great but their consistency left something to be desired...but the next day they had firmed up all the way through, making them perfect. My dad liked them and that's what mattered the most, anyway.

German Chocolate Cake and Cupcakes

If you've been following my blog, you'll notice that many of the cakes I make are for my husband's boss at work. He has a major sweet tooth and I sort of set up a deal with him in which I make him cakes and he gives me honest feedback. An inadvertent bonus to this deal is that all of my husband's coworkers get to see and admire my cakes, so I'm slowly but steadily building a reputation.

Anyway, my point is that today's dessert - German Chocolate Cake - is another one of those that went to him. The recipe is for a two-layer cake, but I wasn't ready to do that yet, so I made him a single-layer cake and made a batch of cupcakes for my family to eat.

This is a pretty labor-intensive recipe to follow, though not difficult. I didn't have many problems at all (and anyone who knows me knows that to be a feat). One problem I did have was with the filling. My son was running amok in the kitchen so I wasn't able to stir constantly for the first minute, thus resulting in a few "scrambled egg" bits floating around. I picked them out with a spoon, so it wasn't a problem really, just inconvenient.

I also omitted the rum in the syrup. I wasn't too sure about using just sugar water, but it worked and tasted fine. I don't like having alcohol in our house so when I make this recipe again for my brother-in-law's birthday in December, I'll more than likely omit it then as well, since it's not missed.

German chocolate cake isn't the most beautiful, but it sure is tasty.
The chocolate icing was DELICIOUS. I had a really hard time not licking the bowl. You can see my decorating skills haven't come very far, although I liked the little stars in the center. I'm still working on steadying my hand for piped edges.

The more icing, the better!

And these were the cupcakes made with the second half of the batter. Since I'd made one one-layer cake and one batch of cupcakes, the cooking time needed to be adjusted and I forgot to account for that, so they were SLIGHTLY dryer than I'd have preferred...but this didn't seem to bother my family, who raved about them. My mom took some to her coworkers and my brother's friends had some as well, and everyone said how awesome they were. I already mentioned how my brother-in-law wants one for his birthday now, too, after only seeing my cake - and my mom wants me to make one for Christmas as well. What have I gotten myself into?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cheesecake-Stuffed, Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Do you know what the number one repinned recipe on Pinterest is? Before I tell you the answer, let me make one thing clear. Do NOT discount the opinions of 700,000 Pinners (plus one more - me!). If that number tells you anything, it should be that THESE ARE GOOD.

The recipe in question is Cheesecake-Stuffed Strawberries from The Sweets Life. I added the chocolate-dipped part myself. I mean, chocolate can ONLY make things better. Except for onions. I imagine chocolate-dipped onions are pretty atrocious.

In the prelude before the recipe, she states that she made hers twenty-four hours ahead and they turned out fine. Since I was making mine for a joint party for my parents (both their birthdays are in November) and I was going to be busy before the party, I decided to do so as well.

I only used three tablespoons of powdered sugar, since I was planning on dipping the berries in chocolate and I didn't want them to be too sweet. Without the chocolate, I'd probably add more, but the way I made them turned out perfect.

I used Dolci Frutta melting chocolate to dip my berries in.

They were a hit at the party. Only two were left afterwards, and this morning when I looked in the fridge they were gone. My dad's already asked me to make a bigger batch of them for his work function next week.

My only complaint is the berries were not as firm as they were when I prepared them the night before. I suppose this is to be expected. I don't think I'll make them twenty-four hours ahead next time - maybe just a few hours ahead, so that they'll maintain their firmness better.

This recipe gets an absolute, hands-down A+++ in my book!

White Chocolate Skulls with Walnut Brains

So during the week before Halloween, I thought it would be fun to recreate something I'd seen on Pinterest. I didn't see a recipe for it, so unfortunately no link for that, but the construction was simple enough. Here's the picture that inspired me...

Chocolate skulls with walnut brains! Spooky.

I decided mine would be white chocolate, and I'd use pink-tinted white chocolate to glaze over the walnuts to look like a brain. The silicone mold I used was bought at Wal-Mart for ninety-nine cents and was supposed to be an ice cube tray, but I figured it would work the same.

If you've been following my blog, you may remember that I used to have trouble melting chocolate. I can now melt it perfectly fine, however I cannot temper it. I read somewhere that tempering could be achieved by melting a bit of the chocolate and then adding small chunks one at a time until it was all melted. I tried this, and it didn't work. The chocolate turned out tasty enough, but it had teeny-tiny crystalline particles which, while not altogether unpleasant, aren't what you expect when biting into a piece of chocolate; additionally, it melted VERY quickly and did not have that beautiful shiny exterior that chocolate is supposed to have.

Oh, and did I mention the trouble I had getting my skulls out of their mold? After pouring the liquid chocolate into the mold, I sat it in the fridge for five minutes and then brought it back out and let it set on the counter overnight. I had read somewhere (and I sure wish I could find the website I used for this information) that any longer could cause the sugar in the chocolate to adhere to the mold and make it stick. Well, the next morning I found that my chocolates had STILL not set. I finally got agitated and figured "to hell with it" and put them in the freezer. This solved the problem - they fell right out of the mold (with a little bending and twisting).

I sliced off the tops of their skulls right above their eyes and placed a small dab of pink-tinted white chocolate to serve as glue for the walnuts. Originally I'd thought walnut halves were what I needed, but as small as the chocolates turned out to be I only used a fourth on each skull. After letting that set for a moment, I used a small paintbrush to glaze over my brains.

See the rough surface? Boo.

In retrospect, I should have added more red food coloring to the chocolate. It looked pink enough in the pan and I didn't want it to look red which is why I stopped when I did. Hindsight's 20/20, though.

In conclusion, this is a VERY cool project that had lots of potential, though due to misinformation and lack of tempering knowledge it could have turned out better. I think I'll use a better mold next time, as well. Preferably one that's more three-dimensional.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Bread

After making my cheesecakes for the fall festival (see my last post), I was left with half a can of pumpkin puree. What to do with half a can of pumpkin? So last night I Googled "recipes using half can of pumpkin puree". I found lots of suggestions to mix it with mashed potatoes and things like that, but that didn't sound appealing. Finally I found something up my alley - Pumpkin Bread.

I hadn't planned on doing anything immediately but after reading the recipe I had to make it. Since it was on a whim I found myself lacking a few things, but I made some substitutions and alterations.

First, I used salted butter instead of unsalted.

I used a 1/2  teaspoon of allspice instead of 1/4 teaspoon of allspice, to make up for the 1/4 teaspoon of cloves that I lacked.

I panicked slightly when I saw that I had no baking soda, but I read somewhere that for every teaspoon of baking soda you need, use two teaspoons of baking powder. So since the recipe calls for one teaspoon of soda, I added two teaspoons of powder to the 1/2 teaspoon already called for in the recipe.

The last substitution I made was olive oil instead of vegetable oil.

I baked my bread for an hour, then added four or five minutes, and the toothpick finally came out clean.

The best pumpkin bread I have ever tasted!

It turned out BEAUTIFULLY. Originally, I was going to make icing to drizzle overtop (using the same icing recipe I used on my pastries), but the bread was sweet enough on its own with a bit of confectioner's sugar. It was moist without being squishy or dense, the outside was sweet and slightly crunchy - I just can't say enough good things about this recipe. Even after all the changes I made, it still turned out amazing. I think I'll just make it the same way next time!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Cinnamon Crust

Around this time of year, my town has a little festival celebrating the season and its harvest. It's corny, I guess, but it's something we all sort of look forward to at the end of the summer. There are vendors selling locally made items and lots of fried food being sold - fried Oreos, Reese's cups, and basically anything else you can think of that shouldn't be fried can be found fried at this festival.

There are a few events held around this time, too - various races and contests. One such contest is the Baking Contest. This was the first year I was aware of it and so I decided to enter.

One of the requirements for entering is the recipe must contain a fall fruit or vegetable - persimmons, apples, and of course, pumpkin. Since I wasn't sure of what I was going to be up against since this was my first time entering, I decided to go with something I had made before - Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Cinnamon Crust. Last time I made these, I didn't use this recipe, but I can't remember what recipe I used last time, and this seemed similar enough.

The only variation I made in this recipe was instead of freshly grated nutmeg, I used the ground nutmeg we already had in our cupboard.

I wanted something fancy to present my cheesecakes in, so I bought some brown PaperChef Lotus Cups. However, they did not all fit in my muffin pan, so since they were sturdy enough I just put them all on a flat baking pan to cook.

I cooked my cheesecakes for fifteen minutes at first, just because I'm paranoid about my cheesecake cracking as they have in the past. Then I put them in for five minutes. Then five more minutes. At this point they'd been in the oven for twenty-five minutes so I went ahead and pulled them out. In hindsight I probably should have left them in for just a few minutes longer, but they turned out fine enough.

A minute after pulling them out I placed a roasted pecan half on top of each one. (To roast, I placed them on a pan lightly sprayed with cooking spray, and left them in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about four minutes. I roasted a few extra just in case any burnt, and I'm glad I did.)

The finished product.

They turned out rather pretty, didn't they? I thought the baking cups made them look kind of small, but that wasn't much of a big deal. I put them on a pretty green plate to be festive for the contest.

I didn't get to taste one of my own cheesecakes until after the contest was over because when I made them last night, they still had to be refrigerated to set, and we were too rushed this morning. But when I finally got to taste one, I was happy with them. The cheesecake part itself wasn't particularly sweet, but the crust compensated for it nicely. The crust was delicious. Next time I make these I think I'll add some sugar to the cheesecake though.

In the end, I didn't win the contest, but I wasn't at all upset because the woman who did win made an AMAZING cake. It looked like a basket with leaves and pumpkins all over it, and if my cheesecakes had been chosen over that, I would have wondered who rigged the contest. Next year, though, I'll know what kind of talent I'm up against, and I'll be more prepared. ;)

I love fall.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cherry Danish Pastries

My grandpa's birthday is today, and about a week ago he mentioned that his favorite baked goods are Danish pastries. After talking to my mom I learned he digs cherry stuff too, so for his birthday I have made him cherry Danishes, according to this recipe from

First of all, when I read through this recipe for the first time, before I'd gathered my ingredients or anything, I knew this recipe might be beyond my skill level. That's probably not being modest enough, honestly. Still, I like to give myself credit, and I figured I wouldn't tell my grandpa I was making these so that if they turned out horribly and I had to throw them away, he wouldn't be disappointed.

It's not a necessarily difficult recipe to follow - the instructions are clear, and it's fairly simple in regards to ingredients - but it is labor-intensive, and a bit of haste is required when dealing with the butter/flour mixture...but we'll get to that.

So I started out by adjusting the recipe to make 12 servings, rather than 36. My grandpa has multiple health issues and, though I'm sure he'd love to receive 36 Danishes, I know I'd feel bad if he had a heart attack or something because of it. However, the adjustment was only made to the ingredients. The recipe remained for the original serving size of 36. In most recipes this wouldn't be an issue but this recipe calls for certain amounts of ingredients at different times, so I had to do a little math (which has never been my strong suit).

So here's what I came to. In step 1, it says to cream together the butter and 2/3 cup of flour. For my 12 servings batch, however, I creamed together the butter and 3 tablespoons plus 1 3/4 teaspoons flour. Figuring that out was relatively easy.

In step 2, it says to mix the dry yeast and 3 cups of the remaining flour. After doing some math, I figured out that I needed to mix 1 cup of my remaining flour to the dry yeast. That left me with 1 2/3 cups of flour for the rest of the recipe.

After kneading my dough, it became firm and pliable with about 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of flour still left over. Not wanting to make my dough too tough, I discarded it and left my dough to rise.

Upon pulling the cold butter sheets out of the fridge to fold into my dough, I found myself having to scrape the butter off of the wax paper rather than it coming off in the nice, simple sheet it was supposed to be. Still, this wasn't a big deal as I just spread the butter mixture around with a knife. To me there seemed to be a LOT of butter - when I pressed the edges to seal in the butter and rolled over it with my pin, butter oozed out the edges. I tried as well as I could to keep it contained but there was just so much, I had to let some of it go. The butter coated the cutting board I was using as a surface and got all over my rolling pin, a problem I somewhat remedied by placing a sheet of wax paper between the dough and my pin.

The butter seemed to be absorbed by the dough during its thirty-minutes stints in the refrigerator, at least some of it was. It was still pretty buttery when I got it out to place the filling. For filling I used Smucker's Cherry Preserves. It took me a minute to figure out how much to put without putting too much or too little. Then I folded over two corners to make it pretty. And for a final touch, I brushed them with egg whites for a nice shine.

How they looked before they went into the oven.

Beautiful, right? Wrong. The heat of the oven must have made the butter too slippery or something, because when I pulled them out of the oven (after 8 minutes), they looked like this.

How they looked when they came out. Blurghh.

I was about to damn the whole project but my mother, always an optimist, convinced me to press on. In the end I'm glad I did, but at the time I was rather depressed.

I added a bit more preserves to each one, hoping to save at least a few of the least-crappy looking ones for my grandpa's birthday. But then I remembered the icing.

This recipe, which I found simply by typing "danish pastry icing" into Google, made perfect icing. To apply it to the pastries, I cut the tip off a gallon baggy and drizzled it back and forth across each one. For such a simple recipe, this icing is tasty - and totally saved my Danishes!

See for yourself.

I was so happy. They still didn't turn out the way I expected them to look, but I'm not complaining - at least they turned out somewhat pretty.

Not too bad, after all.

As for the taste, we took one of the ugly ones and split it amongst ourselves. I thought the pastry was bland, especially for all the effort I'd put into it. It wasn't very flaky either, although that could very well be directly linked to my skill level. Oh, and something else - the recipe specifically said NOT to grease the pan, so I didn't - but the bottom of a few of the pastries stuck to the pan.

We'll see how my grandpa likes them. I'll update this once I have his expert opinion.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dunkers

So my husband has been out of work with a kidney stone. He's been feeling really low for a while so when he asked me to make him cookies, I could hardly refuse. Even though he asked me at two in the morning.

So I used My Baking Addiction's recipe for Cookie Sticks. I omitted the peanut butter and peanut butter chips since I don't like peanut butter cookies and added a bunch more chocolate chips.

These didn't last long.

They turned out nicely, a little tougher than I prefer my cookies but not crunchy by any means. I'm just weird and like my cookies and brownies gooey. :)

As you can see, the cookies being cut into strips made dunking into milk much easier and convenient. My husband was pleased.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Frosting

My son recently turned one, so for his birthday I decided to go with an UglyDolls theme. Their website is here, if you haven't heard of them - they're super cute and I've been a fan for forever it seems like. I got one of the stuffed animals when I was in high school and when he was born, he seemed to take a liking to it. I knew before he was even born that I wanted to do a monster theme for his first birthday party (yes, I'm one of those moms who plans everything out years in advance...) but until about two weeks before the party, I didn't know I was going to focus specifically on UglyDolls.

Anyway, my point is, I baked his cake from scratch and arranged the creature called "Big Toe" in fondant on top of it. This is Big Toe -

 I assume he is called Big Toe on the basis of his shape?
- and this is my cake.

Not quite as spectacular as I had envisioned, but oh well - it was for a one-year-old.
I used this recipe from Sweetapolita for Fluffy Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting. As always, I made a few variations, although I didn't make as many this time.
It is supposed to yield an eight-inch two-layer cake, and I made it instead as a 9"x13" sheet cake. The second variation I made was one of convenience - the recipe for both the cake and the icing calls for sifted flour and confectioner's sugar. However, the only sifter I have barely holds a cup, so it's ridiculously time-consuming to sift so much flour. I'm hoping someone will gift me with a decent-sized sifter this Christmas - hint hint.
So in lieu of sifting, I whisked the dry ingredients for a good while, hoping it might help my cause. I knew this would affect the fluffiness of the cake, and I was right. The cake was denser than most cake but not in an unappealing way.
In my opinion, the icing was a bit too buttery tasting. I followed that recipe exactly, substituting vanilla extract for the vanilla bean as the recipe advises. It just tasted too buttery to me.
Here is a close-up of the fondant Big Toe (that sounds kind of gross).
Cute, right?

I used Wilton fondant, color mist, and icing colors to create this little guy. He was thicker than I'd planned but it was my first attempt at fondant and I was feeling kind of stressed about the party being in an hour. The color mist, though convenient, had a rather unsavory taste that I wasn't too keen about. But it served its purpose of turning the fondant blue. For the nose, I rubbed on some red icing color. I did the same with the black bits.

I made a separate cupcake for my son to eat/destroy, so here's a picture of that.

His cupcake, on his cool robot plate.
We put a few blue sprinkles on it for decoration and then plopped a big "1" candle in it.
The cake went over well, only one piece was left over and it was devoured shortly thereafter. It seemed to be a hit, but next time I'll hopefully have a nice sifter, so it will be even better.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Golden Butter Cupcakes with Almond Flowers

This is another one of those posts that I will use to focus on my decorating, rather than my baking. Using a picture I clipped out of a magazine a while back, I made a batch of cupcakes and decorated half to look like flowers, using sliced almonds. These were made for a Labor Day party.

I used a box mix for these cupcakes - Betty Crocker's Super Moist Golden Butter Cake Mix. I made 24 cupcakes using the box's directions, but I ended up only decorating 13 for the party. Once they had cooled, I began decorating.

For the plain ones, I used Duncan Hines' Frosting Creations. If you haven't seen these, they are very cool. They offer all types of flavors - bubblegum, cherry vanilla, mint chocolate, orange creme, and several others. I used chocolate almond. Thus, I had seven chocolate almond frosted cupcakes. Still six to go.

For these six, I frosted them with Duncan Hines' Cream Cheese frosting. Then I took two bags of sliced almonds and, by sticking them into the frosting in concentric circles, created flowers.

Aren't they pretty?
You may notice that, in the very middle, I have placed almonds with the skin still intact on one side. This creates a distinct center that helps the illusion of a flower. 

The whole batch.
These went over well, though I think some people were afraid to bite into the ones with almonds. They do look rather spiky! ;) They are more for accent than anything, really. I was happy with the way these turned out. 

Chocolate Cake with Buttercream Frosting

It seems like there is always something going on with our family.

Once again, I have fallen behind on my posts due to circumstances outside the blogosphere. Illnesses in the family have slowed down my baking so luckily there's only two posts I need to catch up on. Hopefully I'll be getting back in the groove soon.

Today's post comes to us from My Baking Addiction (if you couldn't tell, I've fallen in love with her).  The recipe is aptly named The Best Chocolate Cake. I'd have to agree.

I did not use black cocoa flour, and instead of buttermilk I used regular milk. I made this cake on a whim - my mom's whim, actually. She was craving something chocolate so that's how this all began. Anyway, those are the only variations from the recipe. Now, I am not a coffee fan, but the coffee complemented this rich cake wonderfully - not too overwhelming.

I used one 13x9 pan in which to bake my cake, and it turned out beautifully. Now, if you look at the bottom of the recipe, you'll see her recommendation for icing - chocolate buttercream frosting. I followed this suggestion.

Again, I substituted milk for the cream in this recipe. Also, the first time through I did not see where she plainly stated that melted butter would NOT work in this recipe - it must be softened, not melted. I think this is where I went wrong.

My frosting turned out delicious, but runny. After it set it was better but still not the thick, luscious icing you see depicted on the recipe page.

It sort of pooled around the sides.
This cake paired with this icing was very rich, but not too sweet due to the addition of coffee. I really wish I had noticed the caveat about the butter, because then it would have been perfect. But oh well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tie-Dye Cupcakes

My key lime pie bars might have been the prettiest thing I've made so far, but the subject of this post is definitely the coolest. Betty Crocker's tie-dye cupcakes weren't hard to make, but they did take a little time. Now this recipe is member-exclusive, so if you haven't already signed up for BC's email list, you can do so here.

I followed the recipe's suggestions for colors:  red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Each color was in a separate bowl, so as you can see, this is a recipe with some clean-up involved, as well. Totally worth it though!

So awesome.

They came out of the pan looking awesome already. As you can see, I used white baking cups so the colors could be viewed through the side.

The hardest part was the frosting, and even that wasn't necessarily difficult - just time-consuming. I realized too late that I was out of gallon baggies so for a moment I thought I'd have to frost them the plain, boring way - but then I remembered that my awesome cousin just gave me a bunch of Wilton cake decorating stuff. I took a disposable icing bag and a few icing tips. The recipe calls for a #6, but I used a #14 since I didn't have a #6. As it happened, the #14 was way too small - it took me forever to ice each cupcake, so when it came time to refill the bag, I switched to a #36. Much better.

Definitely the coolest thing I've made so far.


I forgot to mention that I made these for my husband's work meeting. One of his bosses said these cupcakes were the coolest thing he'd ever seen. Everyone who had one had great things to say. And at the end of the meeting, there were none left! Good thing I had taken a few aside for my family the night before.

DC Cake Pops

So today's post is the saga of my DC cake pops. DC, in case you aren't aware, is the comics company that does Batman. I used Betty Crocker's Extra Moist White cake mix. So, like a few of my other posts, this is more about decoration. I coated them with white chocolate mixed with food coloring and decorated them with Betty Crocker's Decorating Cookie Icing.

Cooling, while stuck into styrofoam blocks.

I only have 18 cake pop sticks, and I ended up making about 30. My husband and I improvised and came up with a solution for the other 12 - we'd put them on straws. BAD idea. The cake pops were much too heavy for the straws but I had no other option. We reinforced them by folding straw pieces in half and putting them inside the straws, and that helped - but they were still very top-heavy.

The next problem I encountered was the cake balls were too heavy to be dipped into the white chocolate. They came off the ends of the sticks, even though I had "glued" them together with melted chocolate and let them cool. So I ended up having to "paint" each cake pop, resulting in a totally NOT smooth surface, as I had envisioned.

Again, this is white chocolate, even though it looks like icing. Ugh.

I suppose I am something of a perfectionist, not because everything I do is perfect - definitely not that - but because when I imagine something, and then it turns out differently, I become very agitated. When the chocolate coating on my cake pops did not turn out smooth, I just about gave up on the whole thing. Childish, yes.

But I did end up finishing what I'd started. I used toothpicks to apply the icing and in the end, things turned out alright.

Starting in upper left and going clockwise:  Flash, Superman, Green Lantern, Batman.

Batman was my favorite, and Green Lantern turned out horribly, but I was so frustrated by the end of this project that I didn't even care enough to fix it.

Overall, I'm happy with them. This was my first attempt at cake pops and I ran into several obstacles, but next time, I'll know how to handle them. Although, it'll probably be quite a while before I try these again - the process was quite frustrating and kind of burnt me out on them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Key Lime Pie Bars

The last few posts have been horribly out of order chronologically, but this marks the point at which things start running the right way along the timeline again. Sorry for any confusion!

So this post's recipe, Key Lime Pie Bars, was made for a Fourth of July party, that was in fact held on the third. The recipe comes from a blog called My Baking Addiction, another blog I recently discovered and fell in love with.

Let me begin by telling you this recipe turned out BEAUTIFULLY. My favorite part of it was the crust, which was awesomely simple but some of the best I've ever had. Only four ingredients in the crust:  graham crackers, sugar, butter, and - surprise - coconut. I usually hate coconut, but this crust made me realize I'd better rethink that.

Now, the recipe calls for key lime juice, three fourths of a cup. It recommends using pre-squeezed juice, but I couldn't find any, so I bought a bag of key limes instead. I asked my mother how many I would need. She said probably three or four. So when I bought the bag of key limes, and it contained about twenty, I thought, "Damn - what the hell am I going to do with all these limes?!" Ha.

It took every last lime to reach that three-fourths line on my measuring cup. I had also used a few of them for the key lime zest, and this is when I realized that I had forgotten to buy a new grater since I loathe the one we have.

The recipe says the bars should be in the oven only 5 to 8 minutes, but mine were in there quite a bit longer and turned out fine. I was waiting for the pinhole bubbles and it took much longer than 8  minutes for them to appear.

The key lime zest did not throw off the smoothness of the bars at all, as I suspected it might. The tart key lime bar perfectly balanced out the sweet graham cracker and coconut crust. Instead of garnishing mine with coconut, I topped some with strawberry halves, others with blueberries, and each one got a dollop of Cool Whip.

I made a pretty little sign for the party.

I can't stop drooling over that crust.

Festive, aren't they? They were a hit. :)

Easter Basket Cookies

Anti-chronologically, we have gone from Father's Day to Mother's Day, and now to Easter. I had no idea I was so out of order. Wow.

This recipe is one of Betty Crocker's. It's simple, but the finished product is awesome - and everyone who saw them complimented them.

The first problem I ran into while preparing these cookies was after they came out of the oven. I must not have let them cool long enough - either that, or I didn't spray enough PAM into the pan. Either way, the bottoms became separated from the top. Some, we were able to "glue" together with icing. Others I was forced to abandon and eat myself - it's a painful job, but somebody had to do it. ;)

The orange one here is one of the ones we were able to save.

I pretty much followed the rest of the recipe exactly, except for one bit - instead of using small ribbons for the basket handles, I used pieces of Twizzlers that I had untwined. I filled each basket with a bit of dyed-green coconut for the "grass", then gave each a few mini chocolate Cadbury eggs. The result was adorable.

Aren't they cute?

A single cookie, for your viewing pleasure.

I couldn't conclude this post without mention of my other Easter creation. They are devilled eggs, made to look like chicks. I did not follow any recipe for these, but I did get the idea from a Google search. I don't remember the website to give credit, though I do know they were featured on Rachael Ray's show. 

Mini Cheesecakes Topped with Fruit

Since the last couple of posts and the next few are me playing catch-up, I'm kind of falling out of chronological order. Example:  Last post was what I made for Father's Day, and this post is going to be about what I made for Mother's Day. I know, I fail.

For Mother's Day, I made mini-cheesecakes with chocolate crust, topped with fruit. I had a lot of batter left over, though, so I also made a regular cheesecake. That one had a pre-made graham cracker crust and was glazed with chocolate, then topped with fruit. The recipe I used for the cheesecake is the one on the side of Philadelphia cream cheese, which I can't find the recipe for online to provide a link, but if I do in the future, I'll definitely post it.

My last experience with cheesecake bore the same results as this one. My cheesecake cracked on top. I know that means it's been overcooked. I'll just have to stare through the oven window the last few minutes, I suppose.

That damn crack.

My mini cheesecakes also cracked. UGH. At least the crack in the big one could be hidden by chocolate.

My awesome mini cheesecake pan.

A close-up of the crackage.

After cooling, I glazed the large cheesecake with Duncan Hines' Amazing Glaze. If you click on the link and look at the picture, I can promise you that is NOT what it looked like. It did not flow out; it did not harden into a lovely, smooth surface. No, it had to be smoothed manually with a spatula. But that could have been forgiven, if the glaze tasted amazing. It didn't. It tasted more like sugar than chocolate. I regretted using it. My last visit to the grocery store, while perusing the baking supplies aisle, I saw that Kroger had it on clearance. No wonder.

Again, I apologize for the unsightly yellow hue. I have no idea why my camera does that.

Still, the large cheesecake ended up looking nice.

My mini cheesecakes turned out perfect - other than the cracked tops, of course. They did not taste overcooked at all, let me assure you. Their chocolate crust was a nice accompaniment to the tart fruit they were topped with.

The ones in the back topped with just chocolate were for my grandmother, who's allergic to anything with seeds.

This recipe is definitely a make-again. If you are unable to find the Philadelphia recipe for original cheesecake, any similar recipe will do.