Friday, July 29, 2011

And now for something completely different...

I am working on a cake for Saturday and I don't really have time to spend on a REAL post today.  So, I am going to leave you with some cool sky photos I took on Tuesday of this week, when a thunder storm passed by without leaving any rain.  It turned from clear, bright blue sky to dark and ominous.  And the transition was spectacular.  I hope you enjoy the non-food photos.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Spinach and Pine nut Pesto

spinach, pine nuts, lemon zest ready for processing

Alright, I know that pesto is not what you'd call sweet, but it's OH so good.  Especially when the spinach is coming from our garden.  The basil pesto is a little too strong for me to eat straight on pasta, so when I tried this spinach and pine nut pesto, from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis, it was perfect.  (I like this book by the way and would recommend it.  Click on the pesto link to see the recipe on the food network site.)

I think one reason that I like this recipe is that it's lemony...and lemon flavored food seems cool and refreshing.  So on these hot days you don't feel like eating hot food and this refreshing dish is just right.  It's also good with pieces of cooked chicken mixed in with the pasta.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Chocolate Gelato or ice-cream

The heat wave continues and with temps reaching the high 90s for the past wk, I am NOT turning on my oven.  Our outdoor thermometer actually read 101 on the deck on Thursday.  So that only leaves one thing to do...ICE-CREAM!!!

Gelato is Italy's ice-cream.  During our trip to Italy a few years ago, we enjoyed small dishes of the creamy dessert while taking in the sights and sounds of the plazas.  Gelato differs from American ice-cream in that it generally has less cream and more milk - meaning that it contains slightly less fat.  But I doubt it makes that much difference with all the sugar that's added.  When making a chocolate gelato, high quality chocolate really does make the difference.  I have read this a number of times but of course I didn't believe it until I actually used good chocolate and was surprised by how fantastic it tasted.  It turns out all chocolates are NOT created equal.  Unfortunately, the higher the quality, the higher the price tag.  But I've also found that the flavors differ substantially between the various brands...And so it all comes down to personal preference.

When I made the fantastic tasting gelato, I didn't write down what brand of chocolate I used, so I'll just have to start making more to find it again. Today I am using Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Bittersweet Chips.  Now, the recipe that I found online some where years ago, calls for 2 cups whole milk.  But I don't have any whole milk so I'm using a can of evaporated milk.  I'm also increasing the amount of heavy cream...So in the end, this is probably more like ice-cream than it is gelato.

Here's my ice-cream maker.  The Deni Automatic Ice Cream maker.  Cute little thing, reminds me of R2D2 from the original Star Wars movies.  Yes I'm old enough to remember those movies.  I like it.  Although I find that the ice-cream is extremely soft even after letting it churn for the max recommended time.  So I have been wrapping it in a blanket and then putting the entire canister into the freezer for half an hour before transferring it to a new container.  It's still really soft but a little better.

Here's the recipe I used.
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons of cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 can (15oz) evaporated milk
5 oz semi-sweet chocolate, in small pieces
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Place the chocolate in a medium sized bowl and set aside.  In a medium saucepan, place the sugar and salt.  In a small bowl combine the cornstarch and enough milk to dissolve the cornstarch placing the remainder of the milk in the pan with the sugar.  Stir in the cornstarch and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil, stirring constantly.  Allow to boil for one minute, continuing to stir.  Immediately pour the hot milk mixture over the chocolate and allow to sit for 2-3 minutes.  (I cover the bowl with a plate to trap in the heat)  Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth.  Add cream and vanilla and stir to combine.  Cover with plastic wrap such that the wrap is touching the surface of the liquid completely.  (This is so a film will not form on the surface.)  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.  Transfer to an ice-cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions.
R2 wrapped in the blanket churning away.

This was usually thick before I put it in the ice-cream maker.  I can only assume it's because I increased the fat content by using evaporated milk and increasing the cream.  Maybe next time I'll actually follow the original directions and see how it's different.  It tasted great and helped to cool the family down.

It was so good my one daughter actually tried licking a drip off the table. Yup that's Olivia in the photo to the right.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Strawberry Charlotte

A Charlotte is apparently a dessert made by taking cake or soft cookies and lining a mold or dish, then filling it with layers of custard or ice-cream...Repeating these layers until the container is filled.  I have a book called Cakes 1001 Classic Recipes from Around the World, that has a photo of a beautiful cake with layers of pound cake, vanilla ice-cream and fresh strawberries on the front cover.  Ever since I received this book as a gift a number of years ago, I've been wanting to make this cake...I just never had the time or occasion until now.  My mother-in-law's birthday was July 15th and the family celebrated together...And I got to make the cake!  Yippee.

The recipe for this Strawberry Charlotte called for the basic pound cake recipe.  The pound cake has 2tsp each of vanilla and almond extracts...I thought this was a little heavy on the almond, but the adults liked it as it turned out.  I made fresh homemade vanilla ice-cream, since I needed softened ice-cream and I had the heavy cream on hand.  I let the ice-cream "ripen" in the canister in the freezer for at least 30 mins but should have let it harden up a while longer.  When I cut into the cake at the party, much of the ice-cream had soaked into the pound cake slices. It tasted fantastic but it wasn't much to look at and didn't hold up when I sliced it.

It calls for white wine and kirsch to be drizzled over the pound cake slices, but since young girls were going to be eating this cake, I opted to make a simple strawberry syrup from the Confetti Cakes Cookbook.  Basically, I made the simple syrup recipe as described in the book and then pureed two good strawberries with a little water and added that at the end.  I tried a little on top of a slice of cake and it tasted fine to me.   Once there's layers of ice-cream and fresh strawberries piled on top you couldn't taste the syrup but I'm sure it helped make the cake moist.

The recipe told me to slice the strawberries in half but I sliced them into thinner slices, and I'm glad I did.  They were hard as rocks after being in the freezer for a few hours.

I think I would make a few changes to this recipe if I were to do it again.  I might puree the strawberries so you don't have to bite into what feels like stones.  I would let the ice-cream firm up a bit more before adding it to the layered cake.  And I'm on the fence about the 2 tsp of almond extract.  It seemed a bit strong...But people commented that they liked it, so maybe I'll leave it that way.  Not sure.

Anyway, here's the final product.  I tried to make it look like the cover photo.

Happy Birthday Eileen!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Easter Basket Cake

This summer is turning out to be really nice for swimming, but not so much for baking.  I'm glad I live in Western NY, because if it gets above 75 F, I'm not going to be baking.  So I still get to bake for most of the year, since our summer's are short.  Which is why I've been writing about all my past cake adventures.  I haven't turned my oven on in over a wk.  Which is making me desperate to bake something soon.  Being the practical engineer that I am, it just doesn't make sense to have the AC and oven running at the same time.  And since my kitchen and family room have LOTS of windows with a southern exposure, these rooms can get pretty hot without an oven at 350 F.

Anyway, back to the topic of Easter in July.  This past Easter I was getting back into cake decorating after being laid off from Xerox (downsizing strikes again).  I wanted to do something that would give me a chance to practice some of the techniques I had learned in the Wilton classes I had taken a few years back.  And I wanted to make Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese frosting.  It's my FAVORITE kind of cake.  It's Easter so the idea came to me...An Easter Basket (how original, I know).

I used the oval pan set from the Wilton Course 3 (back in 2006).  For the handle I decided to try a sugar cookie in a rainbow shape with popsicle sticks hanging out the ends.  I think I found the idea in one of the Wilton Yearbooks.  I had extra cookie dough so I had my girls cut out Easter cookie shapes and thought to include those in the basket as well.

I used the carrot cake recipe from the joy of baking website, which I LOVE btw.  And a cream cheese frosting recipe from Wilton (but I add 1 tsp of vanilla).  My cake came out tasty but tough, so I think I must have over mixed it...I really need to work on my scratch cake techniques.  I did a basket weave to cover the cake.  And for the handle I did a rope border technique.  I actually sandwiched two cookie handles together with frosting.  In hindsight, I think one cookie with frosting on both sides would have been plenty.  I dyed some shredded coconut green for the grass, added some bunny, lamb and egg cookie shapes and a few peanut M&M's to "fill" the basket.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cannoli Cake and Calla Lilies

Last August my parents had a mini "wedding reception" for my cousin.  Really, her wedding was an excuse to have a family reunion of sorts.  It was a casual backyard gathering of family who is scattered across the East coast.  My mom asked if I would make a cake for the party and I jumped at the chance.  I thought of it as an opportunity to see if I was capable of making a cake fit for a wedding reception.

I decided to make a favorite recipe from the Cake Mix Doctor's book, Cannoli Cake.  It's basically yellow cake with a cannoli cream filling.  Honestly, I can't remember if I used a doctored mix or if I made the cake from scratch...But the cannoli filling was definitely home made.  And besides, I've found that most people enjoy the doctored mixes better than scratch - as long as they don't know it's a mix.  So far my scratch cakes are a bit dry.  I'm sure it has something to do with my technique, because I am capable of following directions even if I do make mess of my kitchen.

I did a crumb coating of chocolate buttercream and then covered the entire thing is rich chocolate ganache.  I had never made calla lilies before so when my husband gave me a bunch for my birthday (they are my favorite flower), I made sure to dissect one of them as it was fading so I could study the shapes and reproduce it.

I wanted the flowers to taste good and not just look good, so I made it out of candy clay, which is basically just candy wafers melted and mixed with some corn syrup.  I used a recipe I got from another of my favorite books, The art of chocolate by Elaine Gonzalez.  I didn't have the calla lily former set that is now available from Wilton, so I used all kinds of things around the house including shot glasses and rolled pieces of waxed paper.

It tasted great and looked pretty good. And it was definitely a learning experience.  In hindsight, I should have covered the base in something other than just foil, for that professional look.  It just seems like such a waste of an edible substance (I have a problem calling fondant food).  

If you have any suggestions on covering cake boards for a finished look that isn't "food", please drop me a line.  Or if you have any feedback don't hesitate to comment.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Stained Glass First Communion Cake

My neice, who is also my Goddaughter had her first communion earlier this spring.  My sister had a small family party to celebrate the special event and of course, I wanted to make a cake.  I thought about doing a traditional cross or bible cake, but felt that was cliche.  Also, I wanted something that would be more specific and unique to her.  Her father is a proud Papa, and he loves the artwork his two girls create.  He sent along a photo of something Erin, my goddaughter, had created as part of the first communion activities.  It was a felt artwork to represent her first communion.  She, with her mother's help, created a cross with "stained glass" behind it.  It was very unique and colorful compared to many of the other kids creations.  Can you tell I'm biased?

This is the photo of her artwork.

I decided to try to recreate this artwork in cake.  I made a two layer 13x9" vanilla cake with strawberry filling.  I covered it in a vanilla buttercream.  I used an unflavored Knox gelatin and used white grape juice to flavor it.  I split the gelatin into four 8x8" pans and colored each a different color.  I made a pattern of triangles for the glass and used a pizza cutter to cut the gelatin while it was still in the pan.  Then I tried to peel it out of the pan.  The first color came out great.  Nice and easy, giving me a false sense that this was going to be really easy.  To make a long ordeal short in print, the rest of the colors didn't come out of the pan that easily and it ended up looking more like broken stained glass.  I just piped a thin line of buttercream in-between the breaks and it actually looked fairly good.  Or at least not awful, which is what I strive for.

My family is Irish (among other things) and my sister is into Celtic crosses.  So I found a cross and tried to reproduce it in chocolate by piping it ontop of the pattern covered in waxed paper.  It didn't look as good as I wasn't flat and smooth, until I turned it over.

All in all I'm fairly pleased with how it looked.  But of course something always goes wrong.  I finished the cake the night before the party...Late.  I had to be up early because I had agreed to french braid Erin's hair.  After the communion service I went back to my house to pick up the cake and my family to bring them to the party.  I get the cake out of the fridge and open the cardboard box...There are puddles of liquid sitting at the base of the cake.  I think something in the buttercream frosting was reacting with the gelatin and making the gelatin weep.  I freaked out a little...Then just sopped up the liquid, took this photo and closed the box.  It was fine.  It tasted good and everyone liked it.  My niece thought it looked cool and that's what mattered.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dragon Cake

My kids (twin girls, 2.5yrs old) LOVE the movie How to train your dragon!  When we first bought it, they watched it over and over and over again, at least once a day for a month.  (Usually they would only watch parts of the movie, I like to limit the amount of TV they watch each day.)  I am currently reading Debbie Brown's Gorgeous and Gruesome Cakes for Children book.  And I search for Debbie's cake images on the web quite often.  I came across her baby dragon cake and knew that I had to make a version of it for my kids.

Now I don't own the Debbie Brown's Magical Cakes book, which I believe this baby dragon came from, and I've never even looked at it... so I was making it up as I went along.  Checking the web images and just winging it in general.  My dragon is not a great rendition, but it's not that bad either.

I used the butter sponge cake recipe from Debbie's Gorgeous book and the proportions for her dotty dog recipe.  I filled it with chocolate ganache, following the recipe from The Confetti Cakes Cookbook, by Elisa Strauss & Christie Matheson (another good book).  I even used the ganache to crumb coat the cakes.  Then I found a chocolate marshmallow fondant recipe on the forums site.  It was quite soft.  Very pliable...Almost too much.  But I'm going to say that it's my fault....I'll have to try that recipe again and see if I get the same results.  The chocolate marshmallow fondant tastes like Tootise Rolls.

I had some leftover chocolate clay from another cake and used that for wings, nostrils ears and eyes.  I actually used a sleigh cookie cutter to make the wings.  They looked a bit like butterfly wings...So maybe I'd use a different shape for dragon wings the next time.  I had some leftover white MMF from the bassinet cake and used that for the eyes and horns.

My kids liked it and could figure out that it was supposed to be a dragon.  So I'm happy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bassinet cake

We went over to a friend's house for a 4th of July get together.  The hostess is very pregnant with their first child.  So I thought I'd bring a small baby themed cake.

 This is supposed to be a bassinet.  I haven't worked with fondant in a while, because I think it tastes so badly.  Well, really for me the problem isn't so much the taste as it is the texture.  It's a little like chewing gum and I'm not used to that texture being associated with cake.

Anyway, this is a butter pound cake filled with vanilla buttercream frosting and then covered in marshmallow fondant(MMF).  This is the first time I've made MMF so it was interesting.  The green fondant is Wilton's rolled fondant tinted green and I pressed a pattern into it in an attempt to make it look like a quilt.  I tinted the remaining buttercream yellow and added some stripes and lace for more detail and to distract viewer so they wouldn't notice my mistakes.  Did it work?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Carmel Pecan sticky buns: Using broiche dough

OMG!  These are SOOO Good.

Back to the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook for another use of broiche dough.  When I made the father's day coffee cake, I had to freeze some extra dough.  Flipping through the book I found this recipe and knew my dough was destined to become sticky buns.

The recipe consists of the carmel topping which includes softened butter, brown sugar and a little salt all creamed together.  Spread that on the bottom of your 9" round baking pan and sprinkle a few pecan halves on top.

Then for the bun filling is more softened butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and white sugar.  It also called for chopped and toasted pecans - that was today's forgotten ingredient.  Maybe I should change the name of this blog to "Clutz in the Kitchen"...Since I can't seem to complete a recipe with full success.
Anyway, roll out the broiche dough in a rectangle shape about 1/8" thick.  Spread the the filling on the rolled out dough and then roll it all up jellyroll style starting at the long end.

Now I did all these steps the night before.  I rolled the filled dough up in some plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge and went to bed. The next morning, I unwrapped the dough, cut it into 8 slices and arranged them in the dish I prepared the night before.  The consequence of this is that the rolls flatten out over night and they don't look pretty in the pan prior to baking.
But don't worry...They rise and expand in the heat of the oven and bake up nicely.  Take them out of the oven after the allotted time or when they're golden brown and the carmel topping is bubbling up around the edges.

While the buns are still HOT, run a knife around the edge and turn them out onto a serving plate.  Doesn't that look fantastic?  Lord knows I LOVE this book.