Monday, September 26, 2011

Chocolate Kahlua Cupcakes and a Cowboy Hat Cake

So I don't have a new recipe for you, which is a little bit of a cop-out cause I haven't posted in a while. Bear with me.

I've been busy pretending I'm in college again. Which for me would actually mean recipe testing and baking every hour of the day, and I'd probably have 17 new recipes for you. So really I've been busy pretending I'm in college for the first time while I'm visiting my friends and going to alumni weekend. And you know what it's taught me?

I'd be really good at being homeless.

First of all, if I didn't have to primp for my job every day, I wouldn't feel the need to mess with doing my hair or wearing attractive clothes. Flannel=perfection. As long as I could bathe I'd be a happy permanent camper, and as I've mentioned in this post, give me a puddle and a bar of soap and I'll be just fine (Note: puddles can also be substituted for fountains). Also, I got some practice sleeping in my car and it was pretty cozy. You wake up and everything you need is right there! Jump in the driver seat and the world is at your gas pedal. So maybe I couldn't be street-homeless, but more of the live-out-of-a-car homeless type. Plus you start to learn which places have accessible outlets and bathrooms you don't have to buy anything to use.

Are you impressed yet? Why is that look of disgust on your face? I'm just saying, if it was between you and I being homeless, I might volunteer for the job (really, you should be thanking me...). The only problem, I don't think I'd be able to do this whole baking-blogging thing for very long, and that might drive me crazy. So I'll just continue being a non-homeless person (Thanks, parents, for letting me live here! Don't kick me out now!).

Speaking of the live-out-of-a-car homeless type, I have a friend that does this. Okay, so we're not like BFFs, but we hung out once. And by "hung out" I mean we went fishing at midnight. And by "we" I mean I didn't go there with him, we just happened to be doing the same thing at the same place at the same time. So I guess it was only natural that we struck up a conversation. Also, I suggest you listen to this song. It's only appropriate.

His name was Dave, and he was there with his friend Rusty and we had a great time. Until Dave showed me the laser pointer he found and figured out how to smoke stuff out of it. That's when I called it a night. To be fair, at first I didn't know I was basically intruding on his home next to the river. I thought he just needed to get out of the house and away from his wife for some prime time fishing. It was only when we parted and he said, "Okay well I'm gunna go take the truck back to the tracks now," when I realized. Then good ol' Rusty goes, "Yeah I'm gunna head home and go in the hot tub." HOT TUB?! Dave's gunna go sleep in his truck and you're gunna go home to your luxurious, bubbling hot tub? Dave didn't seem too jealous though. And by then I could slowly back away and disappear into the night. But not forever. The next morning on my run I saw Dave! "Hey, Amanda!" "Hey there, Dave!" And we never crossed paths again.

I wonder what Dave's doing these days. Well, I can't tell you that, but I can tell you what I'm up to. I'm  making cowboy hat cakes and cupcakes with Kahlua in them, and you can, too!

So what I should have done is take pictures of each step of this cowboy hat cake so you could just look at the process instead of enduring my awkward, incoherent babbling. But I didn' here goes.

The very first thing I did (a week ahead of time) was cut the brim of the hat out of chocolate fondant, and allowed it to harden into shape by placing it on top of, stay with upside-down cowboy hat. I had to do this step THREE times. Even though I set it out a week ahead, the fondant just wouldn't harden enough to support the cake. So two days in advance I made the same thing out of gum paste I dyed brown kneaded with chocolate fondant, and by God it worked. You can just skip right to that step and avoid all the stress and frustration, if you'd like.

I made two batches of chocolate cake batter so I'd end up with three cake layers and a dozen cupcakes. Once the cakes were cooled I brushed them with Kahlua and stacked them with ganache in the middle. Then I started hacking at it with a knife til it looked like the top of the hat! There's really no fancy method to do it, just have an idea of what you want to end up with and gradually saw off cake wherever you see fit. It's all going to get covered anyway so it doesn't have to be pretty! Take too much cake off? Just put a dab of ganache and stick some cake scraps on there to fill it in. It's fairly forgiving, just take your time!

Next, I coated the sculpted cake in buttercream and set it in the fridge to harden a bit while I rolled out the fondant. Then I just covered the cake with the fondant, smoothed it out and cut the excess. I dyed some of the leftover fondant a darker brown and cut three really super long strips and braided them for the leather rope around the hat's base. And made the medallion looking thing that I painted with edible gold paint.

When you're sure the brim is hardened enough, the cake can be assembled. I put a bit of extra sticky fondant on the cake board to secure the brim in place. I did the same thing when attaching the cake to the brim. Actually that's untrue. I totally forgot to secure it all to the cake board which was really stupid of me. So I had to lift the whole finished cake up and then put the fondant underneath to attach it, which is also a frustrating step that you may skip.

The final steps were attaching the fondant medallion and braid with some melted chocolate (if you use chocolate candy melts it'll dry a lot faster), and painting the whole thing with brown food coloring to give it the look of leather.

With the cupcakes I just cut out a bit in the middle, brushed on some Kahlua and piped in some ganache. Then I put the cake back that I cut out and topped them with buttercream, a chocolate-covered almond and some cocoa powder. Done and done!

Thanks for putting up with my extra wordy post. I'll be sure to come up with more exciting recipes now that I'm no longer practicing being homeless and have an oven and the Internet within reach.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ice Cream Pie

Is it just me...
Caramel Chai

And I understand when I usually start a question with that phrase the answer is almost always "Yes." But hear me out.

Is it just me, or when someone tries to be nice and compliment you and asks, "Have you lost weight?" it does NOT feel like a compliment.

Here are the thoughts that go through my mind while I'm trying to smile and respond appropriately:
"I had weight to lose?"
"Maybe it's the oversized flannel and large bird's nest hair that's causing that illusion you're seeing."
"I'm fine today, thanks for asking!"
"Have you found it?"

Seriously, am I the only one who feels this way? I mean, I know the compliment-er is just trying to be nice and all. And if I were actually losing weight and was super excited about it, I might even muster up a real smile instead of a fake one.

Well what I'm getting at is, no one appreciates this backward form of a compliment (because I'm going to assume you feel EXACTLY the way I do). So if you were thinking of giving this kind of "compliment," you have been warned of the possible unexpected reactions.

To prove a point, let's eat some ice cream. No, let's eat some ice cream pie. Because adding a little extra butter and sugar will definitely show how serious we (WE!) are about this issue.

Now excuse me while I step off my soap box.

Banana Split

So.... ice cream pie is something I've been making for a while. It started a few summers ago where I'd make flavor after flavor, bringing them to work at least once a week. For the entire summer. That's a lot of ice cream. Well I've since slowed down from factory-producing to a more reasonable couple-times-a-season output, and it really couldn't be any easier.

The secret is the crust. I've been keeping this dear recipe to myself for years, and now I've decided to share it with you. I think it's even the first recipe I ever developed myself. You should be honored. It might not blow you away, but without it you wouldn't have real ice cream pie. I should charge you, really. But I won't.

Tips still welcome.

Ice Cream Pie
Original Recipe

2 cups ground sugar cones (approx. 1 12-count package)
6 Tbsp melted butter
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 pint ice cream
Any additional toppings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss first 3 ingredients together with a fork. Press mixture into a pie dish to form the crust. Bake for 7-8 minutes until slightly golden. Cool completely (put in the freezer for 15-20 minutes to speed this part up!). Allow ice cream to soften a bit, then fill crust with the ice cream of your choice and add toppings (my standards are chocolate ganache, caramel sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles, candy....the list goes on.......). Some combos I've done are caramel chai spice, Oreo fudge brownie, mint chocolate chip, creamsicle, banana split, vanilla fudge sundae...and about a million others!

Oreo Fudge Brownie

Well there it is, folks. You impressed yet? The least you can do is try it before SUMMER ENDS. So hurry up. And please excuse my iffy diner-quality photos. I won't even try to defend them, the ice cream pie makes up for it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cake

A wonderful day off from work! The sun is shining as summer comes to an end (gag), the birds are singing and the squirrels are plumping up for the colder weather that is approaching.


Well I do have the day off from work today, but it's because I'm sick. Other than that it's pouring and the birds are too depressed to sing because summer is ending...but I'm pretty sure the squirrels are still really fat. Anyway, I'm thinking it's a standard case of strep throat.

Let me tell you a little bit about the relationship between strep throat and I. That's right, we have a relationship.

Growing up, my year would not be complete if I didn't get strep throat a few times. Sometimes the smell of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or cement glue can bring someone right back to their childhood. Give me a whiff of liquid Amoxicillin and I'm 8 years old again, with a closed throat and only canned peaches to get me through (mental note: have someone pick up canned peaches on their way home from work).

Well I haven't gotten a good case of strep throat in a while, so I guess it's long overdue. Actually when looking for medicine in the cabinet last night, it had all expired somewhere between the golden years of 1991-1994. Yep, definitely still effective.

So don't mind me while I lay on the couch and eat soggy Rice Krispies all day. At least I can devote my day to blogging! No baking though....I don't think people would appreciate cookies laced with strep.

Sounds sketchy.

Since I don't have anything new I can make and share with you, I'll share a recipe from Valentine's Day a few years ago. Don't ask questions, just go with it.

I wanted to make a strawberry cake for this particular Valentine's Day. But when searching through recipe after recipe, they all contained Jell-O and food coloring and while I'm sure they're wonderful and tasty and beautifully pink, it just seemed....wrong. But I finally found one on another blog (Confections of a Foodie Bride--check her out if you haven't already!), and it was perfect.

Then I filled the cake with a quick strawberry jam, frosted it with a light pink vanilla buttercream, covered it in chocolate ganache, swirled in some white chocolate hearts and topped it with chocolate-covered strawberries. If that doesn't scream love, folks, I'm not sure what does.

Oh, and it sparkled. TAKE THAT.

Strawberry Cake
Adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride

2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 ¾ cups sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
12 Tbsp (1 ½ sticks) softened butter
1 cup pureed fresh strawberries
¼ cup room temperature milk
4 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and grease and flour two 9” cake pans. Add dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) to mixing bowl. Add butter and mix just until butter is incorporated and texture is crumbly. Add wet ingredients (milk, eggs, vanilla and strawberry puree) and mix to combine. Fold in yogurt. Divide batter evenly between pans and bake 25-30 minutes until toothpick inserted in middle comes out with no traces of batter, but not completed dry (should have some moist crumbs attached). Cool cakes completely.

Quick Strawberry Jam

1 cup chopped strawberries
1-2 Tbsp sugar (as much or as little as you'd like to get desired sweetness)
1/4 cup water (juice can be substituted)
2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tsp water

Add all ingredients to a saucepan over medium heat. Slowly bring mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Allow mixture to cook until liquid is reduced and thickened. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and put in the refrigerator to cool completely before using.

Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from Fine Cooking

1 lb. chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp softened butter

Place chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Heat heavy cream in a saucepan over medium heat just until it begins to bubble (not boiling!). Pour hot cream over chocolate and let sit, untouched, for 3-5 minutes. Slowly begin whisking chocolate-cream mixture until chocolate is melted and smooth. Add butter and continue to whisk until completely incorporated. Cool ganache at room temperature before using, just long enough so it's still able to be poured (if you let it sit overnight it'll become thick, perfect for frosting a cake).

For the pink buttercream, I just used the vanilla buttercream recipe I've mentioned before and added a few drops of pink food coloring to reach the desired color. For the chocolate-covered strawberries I used dark and white chocolate candy melts and went crazy with it!

To assemble the cake, I filled it by putting a layer of buttercream then topped it with the cooled strawberry jam. I frosted the whole cake with the pink buttercream, poured on the chocolate ganache, then used melted white chocolate to make the heart designs on top (start with just a dot of white chocolate then pull a toothpick through the center--voila!). Finally, I topped the cake with some gold luster dust (so it shimmered, obviously) and the chocolate covered strawberries.

Happy Valentine's Day! ....I mean, Happy Day After Labor Day! Hope it's a good bring me some peaches.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cinnamon Bun Cake

This restaurant nonsense has taught me a lot of things. Before this job, going to a restaurant as a customer was the only point of view I had experienced. Now that I'm on the other side of things, boy have my eyes been opened.

#1: There is chaos behind the scenes while you sit and enjoy a nice meal, and hopefully you have no idea that sometimes we're all screaming inside.

#2: You never get used to the pain of wearing heels for hours on end. Ever.

#3: Sometimes little old ladies come in and adopt you as their grandchild for a few hours. It's cute, really.

#4: Even though we work at a restaurant, we don't eat all day. So when you jokingly ask "Hehe would you like to sit with us?" The answer is: "I'll move you to a bigger table that has an extra seat."

#5: People are PICKY. I don't know if this is how most people work, but when we'd go out to eat growing up we'd take the table we were given and not think twice about it. I'm telling you, no less than 50% of the people that come in request a different table. I've gotten a palm to the face, straight out "NO," snarls, evil stares, and people who just move when I turn my back after I seat them. Is this how it always is? IT'S A TABLE, PEOPLE. They're all the same. No, you're date won't look less Alf-like if you put them in the lighting over there. Sorry, I'm holding grudges.

#6: If you do get a chance to eat, it has to be something bland. Because people don't appreciate coming to a restaurant and smelling their future meal on your breath.

They would probably appreciate if your breath smelled like Cinnamon Bun Cake, though. And that, my friends, is something we can make happen.

So this cake was made for my dear friend/cousin/neighbor/wing-man/copilot for her birthday. I made a similar cake for my brother's birthday a year and a half ago, and she's been requesting it ever since. And so with some changes to the original cake, this cake was born. It's got cinnamon swirl cake, cinnamon bun filling, cinnamon buttercream, streusel crumbs, and more cinnamon bun filling on top. Needless to say, I rarely get to eat my cakes, and I'm very glad I got to have a piece of this one!

Cinnamon Swirl Cake

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 ½ Tbsp cinnamon
3 cups flour
1 ½ cups hot milk
¼ cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp turbinado sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9” pans. Cream butter and sugar. Add condensed milk and mix well. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla and vinegar. Whisk dry ingredients together. Alternate adding dry ingredients and milk until just combined. Divide batter evenly into pans. Combine ¼ cup of brown sugar, turbinado sugar and cinnamon. Swirl cinnamon-sugar mixture into batter and bake 30-35 minutes. 

Streusel Crumbs
Adapted from Sugar Cooking

6 Tbsp butter, almost completely melted
1 cup flour
½ cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together until texture is crumbly. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle extra cinnamon on top. Bake for 7-8 minutes until slightly golden. Use a spatula to break in to small pieces before completely cool. 

Cinnamon Bun Filling

1/4 cup (half a stick) butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Melt butter and sugar together. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Let cool before adding to cake.

For the cinnamon buttercream, use the typical vanilla buttercream recipe and add as much cinnamon as you'd like (I used about 2 teaspoons). 

Maybe next I'll come up with a garlic cake and eat it before work. And then people will want to get away from me and quickly as possible and just sit wherever I tell them. And then I'll get promoted to boss of everyone because I come up with such innovative problem-solving ideas. 

We've got the baking bug in my family. My cousin Gina made some pretty outrageous root beer cupcakes this weekend, among many other things she's made in the past (which unfortunately I don't have a picture of). Shout out to my cousin Kaitlynn who made these cupcakes! Would you believe she's in fourth grade?? Pretty freaking impressive if you ask me. And let me tell you, they were goooood. Reese's peanut butter brownie cupcakes and strawberry cupcakes with white chocolate chips. Holy. Cow. Keep up the good work, champ!