Did you think maybe I’d just fallen off the edge of the earth?
Well, I didn’t. I’m here. I’m just not really cooking much. I mean, not anything terribly interesting. The littlest one is back on a very restricted diet and all kinds of supplements – we’re still trying to figure out what his deal is – and with all the end-of-school-year craziness and a new office, I’ve been feeling pretty good to just get ANYthing on the table. Some weeks are like that, right?
So, it’s cakes to the rescue!
In the midst of all of that other craziness, my mother and I took four weeks of cake decorating classes. We had a really fun time and we learned a ton of cool tricks. So…here you are…CAKES!!
I’m sorry to say that I did not manage to click shots of the finished versions of the flower and the cupcake – they were both quite lovely, though. I did get a shot of the Batsignal cake…which was a huge hit when I got home. Is there anything cooler than Batman to a 5-year-old? (And to certain late-30s-year-olds?)
As long as I don’t wind up on Cake Wrecks, I’ll be just fine.
After we learned cake basics we moved on to a whole host of other flower and border techniques…which we practiced on cupcakes. Who doesn’t love cupcakes? I mean, even me, who doesn’t really like cake all that much, will indulge in the occasional cupcake – they are just so cute.
For the final class we each had to do a layer cake utilizing a variety of the techniques we learned. Lucky for me and my mother, one of our dear family friends was having a birthday that weekend…so our finale cakes got to go to a party!
Had enough cakes yet? 🙂
I have. I promise that there will be real food coming soon.
I have some friends who like to give me a hard time about my from-scratch baking and the sometimes-semi-gourmet nature of my kids’ lunchbox contents. This post is for them. This past weekend was my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday celebration. And there had to be cake. My husband wanted to decorate a cake with our four-year-old…so they just needed a canvas. I had a box full of decorations and some fondant…so I handed over three layers of blank chocolate frosting…and somehow a monster truck came to be. And yes, the first “N” is actually a “Z” turned on its side. We ran out of “N”s. And the other “N” might or might not have gotten broken. My husband placed the letters and our son did the rest. Fondant. Cookie cutters. Sprinkles.
Oh, except for the border on the bottom of the cake – I might have had something to do with that. Now, some of these friends of mine might imagine I had a hard time with this being THE birthday cake. I did not. (OK, there might have been a brief flash of panic for just a few moments as those four-year-old little hands starting placing fondant…but it went away. Really.)
And there’s a good reason I wasn’t as concerned with the cake as I usually am. I’ve been a little busy with something else…
This was so much fun to make. Easily one of my favorite gifts I’ve ever given.
Months ago my mother-in-law was talking about some very old family recipes – things made by her mother and her grandmother – and she was expressing some concern that, one day, when she is no longer making them, no one will be making them.
So the simple idea to gather and save all the meaningful family dishes into one collection was born.
Family members sent in their recipes and memories about the dishes and the people who made them…and some great old family photos.
I made most of the recipes, photographed them and compiled everything with the family photos and memories. My husband had several weeks of eating food from his childhood that he certainly did not complain about.
Some things I learned or was reminded of:
1. Most of people’s memories were only triggered by the food – the actual recollection was about the quality time spent in the kitchen or around the table. Grandchildren told of playing with bubbles in the sink and about making what seemed like a thousand batches of chocolate chip cookies (not necessarily about eating them!)
2. There was a strong theme of love demonstrated through the daily ritual of food preparation…the idea that this line of women dedicated a significant amount of themselves to the very careful and loving feeding of their families. Every day. Every meal. For years. And years.
3. I recognized that in the menus from two and three generations back there was such simplicity in the food. They ate what they had. Some of the old recipes literally called for the “canned tomatoes from the garden” and the chicken and beef came from their own land.
4. It also got me thinking about what my children and possible future grandchildren would submit to a similar project. And then I started to panic about not having enough regular “favorites” in the rotation…about not having holiday must-have recipes cemented into the line-up…reconsidering the notion of taco night or pizza night just to throw in another possibility for childhood memories…but then again, I tend to overthink those kinds of things and panic for no real reason. I know.
Mostly, I hope, my mother-in-law saw it as an expression of appreciation for the thousands of meals she’s put on the table in front of her family. And, as my husband put it, that she feels honored for “perfecting the tastes and smells that would help us define ‘home’ forever.”
It’s been about five years. On some days that feels like yesterday and, on others, it seems like a different lifetime.
Generally, I am celebrating this new phase. In addition to a little panic about how to make childcare and budgets work. On top of the worry that there won’t be enough clients soon enough to make this whole thing happen. And the little voice in the background which keeps asking, “How in the world will you be a sometimes-stay-at-home mom, a wife and a working marriage and family therapist who needs to market, build a new practice and do continuing education while still finding a way to get dinner on the table, keep the mountain of laundry to a minimum, run a local non-profit, get to the gym at least once a year and occasionally read a book?”
Of course the answer is that a ton of people do it every day, and some of them even make it look easy. Surely, I’ll be able to figure it out.
And, if not, there’s always cake.
Oh, and here’s the recipe for this one. I made this for a birthday party for a family friend…she likes mint and chocolate. OK, I must go make a list of all the other things I should be doing instead of talking about cakes.
The first year we were married, I made this cake for my husband’s birthday. Yes, that’s homemade lemon curd and it was divine.
And here’s another cake I have toyed with making just because it looks so impressive:
I’m not sure what it says about me that I want to make this cake in spite of my serious aversion to coconut. But I digress…
This year when I asked our almost-four-year-old what kind of birthday cake he wanted, he seemed confused by my question. I clarified, “Well, you can have chocolate or vanilla cake or we can do one of those ice cream cakes or you could even have a great big cookie cake…you know, for your birthday party…what kind of cake do you think you’d like?”
He was still a little confused when he answered, “I want a birthday cake.”
“I know sweetie, but what kind?”
“The birthday kind, mom. You know, the red one.” He seemed irritated to have to explain this to me.
I had to chuckle just a little.
For the last couple of years my husband has requested a red velvet cake for his birthday and now, apparently, birthday cake = red velvet cake.
There are worse things.
Perhaps another birthday tradition has begun.
Two years ago, it was a train. And yes, that’s on the back of a large cutting board. I really need a large platter.
This year’s birthday theme was monster trucks. So we had a red velvet cake with tire tracks across the top, of course.
And this year I bought a cafeteria tray to use for the cake. Again, the platter issue. I know, I know, I could cover a big piece of cardboard…but, I have just a little bit of a thing for cake stands, so it’s really hard for me to slap a cake down on part of an old box. If I had an absurd amount of kitchen space, I would own this:
and also these:
OK, so maybe I think about cake stands too much. But, I was happy with my red, plastic, cafeteria tray because, aside from the fact the cake wouldn’t fit, monster trucks don’t really belong on these fancy things, anyway. Oh and also this one:
There are more things about birthdays to post…like cupcakes that get sent to classroom parties and also my theory about a birthday breakfast celebration. But, for now, I give you red cake.
The key to this recipe is the cocoa powder and the amount of red coloring. Do not skimp on the red coloring. And yes, it is TWO of those little bottles. That’s what it takes to get a deep red color. Anything less and you’ll wind up with a wimpy, pink-looking cake.
16 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs in large measuring cup. Mix cocoa with food coloring in small bowl until a smooth paste forms.
2. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as necessary. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half of buttermilk mixture and beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl as necessary and repeat with half of remaining flour mixture, remaining buttermilk mixture, and finally remaining flour mixture. Scrape down bowl, add cocoa mixture, and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir. Scrape into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes then turn out onto rack to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.
3. For the frosting: With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in vanilla and salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.
4. When cakes are cooled, spread about 2 cups frosting on one cake layer. Top with second cake layer and spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 3 days.
And for some fun, try these Steel-Magnolia-inspired variations:
Mardi Gras…been there? I haven’t. And I think I’ve missed my window. At this point, the thought of braving crowds of drunken, half-dressed people battling over beads doesn’t really sound that fun. But I’ve gotten old lately. There is the thing about the fabulous food, though…for that, I might still go.
Does a plastic baby in a cake mean anything to you? If not, you can read all about it here. I have been wanting to make one of these cakes for a long time. My husband’s family is from Louisiana and I’m always interested in the food of that region – in fact, I have a gumbo post almost ready to go. So, I found it funny when he looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talking about when I said I was going to stick a little plastic baby into a cake.
It is a cake, but it starts out like bread…like doughnut dough actually. And it has yeast in it, so it rises, too.
A good blogger would have a nice shot of how much the dough rises before it gets rolled out and shaped. I do not. But here it is rolled out into long rectangles with a cream cheese filling smeared across it.
It would be better to roll out the whole thing into a long rectangle, fill it, fold it over and then form it into a circle. However, I don’t have 3 feet of counter space to allow for that, so I had to do it two sections and piece the circle together. It’s a little uneven. We’ll live.
Milk brushed over the dough before it is baked helps give it that pretty golden color. Eaten at this point, it tastes kind of like a cream cheese danish..not exactly a pastry, not quite like cake either. But we aren’t finished. This still gets a glaze and sprinkles. Yes, I said sprinkles. Oh, and a baby inside. I bet you’ve never had a doughnut with a baby inside.
A better blogger would have a lovely shot of the glaze being poured and spread and of the sprinkling and of the baby insertion. I do not. But I did manage to take a photo of it after it was all finished and cut into pieces. I tasted one piece and then I promptly wrapped it up and asked my husband to take it to work with him…or anywhere else that was out of my house. Otherwise, I would be eating king cake for breakfast and lunch and dinner. It had to go.
Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about this traditional (dare I say tacky?) color combination:
Cajun king cakes are traditionally,deep fat fried as a doughnut would be. They are topped with sugar granules in the official Carnival colors of purple, green and gold. The purple represents the passion of Christ, the green represents hope and the gold the rewards of leading a Christian life.
It has become customary in the New Orleans culture that whoever finds the trinket must provide the next king cake.
If you are feeling inspired to create a little Mardi Gras spirit, you can find the full recipe here, which is Emeril’s by the way. Be warned, though, you aren’t supposed to bake this cake after Mardi Gras Day…whenever that is!
So tonight we are going to a friend’s house for dinner. And this is one of my favorite ways to have a dinner party – semi-pot-luck. (As long as the people we’re doing it with sort-of know their way around the kitchen!!) They are handling the main dish and a side…and we’re bringing another side and dessert. No one has to work too hard and chances are you get to try something new…and, like tonight, we get to meet new people, too.
On to dessert – Sticky Caramel Mini Cakes
I love these because they are easy and they taste like cake made from caramel. I’m taking them plain with an assortment of ice cream (ginger, pistachio or chocolate fig) and a big bowl of fresh berries for garnish. Oh, and caramel sauce, of course.
Aren’t they super cute?
Yes, there’s a special little cupcake pan (silicone) that I adore which turns just about any cake batter into these little gems. Love it.
How would you take your mini caramel cake… with ice cream and berries or ice cream and sauce or sauce and berries…oh, the options!
Sticky Caramel Mini Cakes
Butter 1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup
Pecans 1/2 cup toasted (I consider these optional)
Flour 1 1/2 cups
Baking Powder 1 teas
Salt 1/4 teas
Brown Sugar 1 1/4 cups firmly packed
Vanilla 1/2 teas
Preheat oven to 350. Prepare cupcake pan with butter/flour or cooking spray. Melt butter in microwave (about 90 seconds) and set aside to cool slightly. Finely chop pecans and combine with flour, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Set aside. To cooled butter add brown sugar, eggs and vanilla and whisk well until smooth. Fold butter mixture into flour mixture until just combined – don’t get crazy here and overmix.
This amount of batter makes one dozen of the floral cupcakes. Bake 20-22 minutes or until the edges are turning golden. Remove from oven and let cool about 5 minutes before inverting pan.
Serving idea: arrange five banana slices in a circle in the center of each plate. Drizzle plate with caramel sauce (recipe to follow.) Top with one cake. Garnish with powdered sugar and fresh berries.
Heavy whipping cream 1/2 cup
Sugar 1/2 cup
Light corn syrup 1 TB
Water 1 teas
Vanilla 1/2 teas
Microwave cream on high for 30-40 seconds until hot – set aside. Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a saucepan and cook over med-high heat until sugar dissolves (about 4-5 minutes.) Reduce heat to low and continue stirring (wooden spoon is best, I prefer bamboo) until syrup is honey-colored. (An easy way to check color if your pan is dark is to dribble a little drop onto a white paper plate or napkin.) When honey color is achieved, remove from heat and stowly add warm cream, stirring constantly. (Mixture will bubble dramatically.) Add vanilla and salt. Let cool about 5 minutes before serving.
OK – now on to make my infamous Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes…yes, yes, I’ll be back.