April 3, 2010

On re-using gross bakery cakes that no one wants.

Posted in Baking, Birthdays, Bite-Sized, Holidays, No-Bake, Rescues at 2:51 pm by Dani

Note: There are a lot of words in this post. Don’t be intimidated–it’s just because you have 2 options.

I can’t take credit for most of this one. Credit belongs to the lovely blogger over at recipe rhapsody who got the idea from Bakerella. She blogged about these little cake pop concoctions and I just HAD to try it. But it’s Passover! Not to fear, ladies and gentlemen. I found a way around it.

Too lazy to click on the link? Basically, what she made were cake pops and cake balls, comprise of crumbled cake from a cake mix, and the frosting that you buy from the store. Mix them up and coat with chocolate. It looks amazing on her site!

Cake Pop

First, a little story:

Wednesday was my mom’s birthday, and it was also my sister’s baby shower. I had already made my mom an epic cake for the seder a few days earlier, so I didn’t think about doing it again on her actual birthday. Once the shower had already started, my two sisters and I decided that it was thoughtless of us not to have a cake for our mom, who after all threw a whole baby shower on hardly a week’s notice. So I was assigned the task of driving out to the nearest bakery we knew of that had kosher cakes (about 10-15 min drive). They had two options: one twice the price of the other. I was tempted to get the more expensive one because it was a flourless cake (YUM!). I resisted and instead bought the 7-layer cake (4 layers of passover sponge cake with 3 layers of frosting in between). It was one of those small 8″ rectangle cakes. Let me tell you, it didn’t taste very good.

So now, 2 days after the shower/birthday, we’re left with almost a whole cake that no one wants to eat. Which got me thinking–if the recipe for cake pops calls for cake with a heap of frosting, how is that any different from a pre-assembled cake comprised of cake and frosting? It’s not, that’s how.

Chocolate or Chocolate-Banana Cake Balls:

Please read the whole of the directions before you start. There’s two sets of instructions in there, and you don’t want to start working only to realize you have to start over.

Pre-Assembled Cake

This cake was not tasty at all.

1. Start with a pre-assembled 7-layer cake. If it’s a different cake you have, just make sure it’s got cake and frosting. It might even work if it’s cake, frosting, and something else. It might add a little special kick, so go for it anyway! Shave off whatever is around the cake. You can put it back in if you want later, so don’t throw anything out. If the cake has parts with sprinkles or toppings and parts without like mine did, just try to keep those parts separate.

Cake sans-outer frosting

It's looking kind of sad right now.

2. Put the cake into a bowl and mush it up with your hands, Thanksgiving stuffing style. Just keep mushing until it’s cohesive. I suppose this could be done in a food processor, but why make it dirty when hands are so much easier to clean? Just make sure you wash your hands with soap before you start. I found that my cake didn’t have enough frosting in it for the batter to hold together, so I added some of the sprinkle-less frosting that I removed in step 1 (not all of it–that would have been too much).

3a. When you’re done, form it into a ball. Refrigerate for about an hour. More or less.

4a. Remove from fridge. Roll into little balls, the size of which is totally up to you. I did about 1.5″ diameter for what I plan on calling “cake balls,” as opposed to “cake truffles.”


Take 1. Keep reading for take 2.

Steps 5+ will be the same for both methods, so see below for what to do now. But first taste it. If it doesn’t taste good, you may want to do the second method which you can read about below.

At this point I tasted it and realize that no amount of mushing could disguise the taste of the passover cake. Your cake might be different. I highly suggest you try it, and see how it tastes. If it’s good, you might want to leave it like that. If not, do this:

3b. Add 1 whole ripe banana. Keep mushing. It’s going to be softer than it was without the banana. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Remove from fridge. separate into chunks. Don’t worry about balling them. Put back in fridge for about 45 minutes, more or less depending on how much it warmed while you were working with it during this step.

take 2

Take 2. Don't worry about the shape. That's the next step.

4b. Remove from fridge, and ball (quickly!).

This is where the two methods converge:

5. Melt 12 oz chocolate in a bowl, carefully. If doing this in the microwave, stop nuking just before it’s all melted together. DO NOT OVERDO THE MICROWAVING.

6. Coat balls with melted chocolate. Sprinkle.

Careful with step 6, especially if you used the banana. I completely messed up a couple of balls until I found a good method.

Be really gentle because the banana makes the balls super soft. I used two spoons to dip the balls into the chocolate, roll them around, then extract them. Don’t stab, hit, or even gently poke the balls with the spoons. Pick them up from underneath ONLY. After you’ve extracted the ball, let it sit on the spoon for a few seconds until most of the excess chocolate has dripped off. Place the ball onto a cookie sheet lined with a sheet of wax paper (don’t forget to use wax paper. It’s very important) by inverting the ball onto the surface, and slowly taking the spoon off. Sprinkle. Don’t try to pick it up, please. Repeat with all balls, and place in fridge, as is. I hope you haven’t tried to pick up any you thought were hardened. If you did, you know that it won’t work.

Leave the coated balls in the fridge for a good 30 minutes just to be sure, by which time you can easily remove them from the paper. I wish someone had told me all that before I started…It would have saved me a big mess.


You can tell I started with the yellow, and ended with the blue. I got the hang if it by the end. The blue and green ones are when I finally figured out to use wax paper and refrigerate.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about what happened with the shower: My mom didn’t even notice I was gone, and was totally surprised that we had come up with a cake out of thin air!


April 2, 2010

On my favorite Passover dessert.

Posted in Baking, Bite-Sized, Holidays, No-Bake, Recipe tagged , , , , at 10:47 pm by Dani

Actually, it’s my favorite desert ever. It’s from an Israeli cookbook, and yes folks; I’m going to translate the recipe for you. You should know that this is a big deal, since though I’m a native hebrew speaker, I can barely read the language.

So here it is, with a couple of my ammendments, and know this took me forever to read out of the book, but I do it for you:

chocoalte log completed

This is a picture-phone photo of the photo in the book. I swear, one day I'll get a real camera.

Chocolate Log:

8 matzahs

1 cup sweet wine (aka Manaschewitz)

200 grams unsweetened chocolate (just over 7 oz)

1/2 cup milk

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 cup sugar

1 tsp instant coffee

1/2 cup margarine (or butter, but the recipe calls for margerine), room temp

3 tbsp brandy (or orange liqueur, but I highly recommend using brandy)

You’ll also need aluminum foil.

1. Crumble matzah in a medium sized bowl. Pour wine in.

2. On low heat, melt the chocolate, milk, cocoa powder, sugar, and coffee. Remove from heat and immediately add margarine and brandy. Stir until margarine melts completely.

3. Remove wine from matzah, gently squeezing out the excess. Gently, people, but still effectively. You don’t want a watery product, nor do you want to crush the matzah too small.

4. Add chocolate mixture, and stir to combine. Be sure to coat all the matzah.

5. Separate the mixture into two equal parts. Grease 2 sheets of foil, about 18″ long each. Pour mixture onto foil in a strip, and roll it up in the foil. The cookbook says to refrigerate overnight, but I always stick it in the freezer instead. That way when you serve it, it won’t get all messy and gross by the time people get to it.

This is what it should look like going into the fridge/freezer

6. When ready to serve, remove from foil and slice into pieces about 1/2″ thick. Put each piece into a cupcake baking cup.

March 31, 2010

On passover pies and some baking gospel.

Posted in Baking, Holidays, Pie, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:06 pm by Dani

It all began saturday. I was babysitting for a family I’ve worked for before. Babysitting is a great gig–good pay, in cash, and (depending on how pleasant the family is) you get dinner out of it too. Sure, usually it’s the other half of the grilled cheese the kid wanted but didn’t end up eating, but still. And hey, I like grilled cheese.

Grilled Cheese

Yum. I mean, really. YUM.

I arrive at this home, and the mother opens the door. Once pleasantries were exchanged, we wandered into the kitchen where a huge paper bag was sitting on the table. She says to me, “You like to bake, right? [I assume she’s seen me facebook about baking] Well I made this really great almond pie and it was a huge hit. The recipe is on facebook, and here are all the ingredients.” I look inside the bag, and lo and behold: everything I need to make a pie! She included pre-made crusts (2 of them), almonds, sugar, corn syrup, and honey. She also said that before I leave I should take butter out of the fridge too. Wow.

Amazing, right? So thoughtful. Now I’m really excited to make this pie except….it’s passover! Crusts are NOT kosher for passover. Before I’ve even put my purse down I’ve started thinking about how to work around this. Sure, there’s corn syrup in the pie, but not all jews avoid corn syrup. And anyway, I can substitute honey or sugar water if I’m baking for a jew-crowd. But this crust thing was a problem.

Well, I figured the crust out, and my sister had a baby shower to which I could bring the pie. I had all the ingredients! The trifecta of baking is complete!

Lets review:


1. Have somewhere to bring the completed product. It’s no good making a beautiful cake if no one is going to eat it. Have some event to bring it to. Not that I’m not guilty of aimless baking from time to time…but this is why I LOVE holidays!

2. Have a plan (or have your recipe). Know what you’re going to make. This is especially true if you’re going to be making something up, or altering something to the extreme. For example, when I made my girl scout cookie cupcakes, I had it all written out. What frostings, what cakes, how many. Everything. I knew exactly what I was going to be changing before I stepped into the kitchen.

3. Have all the ingredients. If you’ve ever been in the middle of a complicated recipe and realized you were an egg short, you know. Never get caught with a missing ingredient once you’ve started. The only exception is if you’ve accounted for this in the planning stage, and you know that something is going to have to rest and you’ll have time to run to the store.

Almond Pie

Almond Pie


4-5 sheets matzah

1/3 cup butter, softened

3 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp brandy

1. Preheat oven to 350. Run matzah through a food processor with brandy. Let sit for 5 minutes.

2. Add cocoa and sugar, and mix using food processor. Matzah should be pretty fine, at this point. More coarse than matzah meal, but fine enough to press into a crust. Add softened butter and process until the texture is consistent throughout.

3. Grease an 8″ or 9″ pan, and work the mixture into a crust. it might crumble a little–that’s okay as long as you work it until it holds together. If it really refuses to hold together, add some more butter, just beware adding too much butter prematurely.

4. Bake 10-15 minutes.


1 pie crust

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup*

1/3 cup butter melted

1/4 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup sliced almonds toasted

*For passover, 1/2 cup corn syrup can be substituted with 1/2 cup honey or you can heat 1/2 cup water and dissolve 2 tbsp sugar into it. Either way. Just remember that you also have 1/4 cup honey in the recipe, so if you go the honey route it’s a total of 3/4 cup honey.

1. Leave oven at 350 degrees. Mix eggs in large bowl with whisk. Stir in sugar, corn syrup (or substitute), melted butter, honey, and almond extract. Mix well with whisk. Stir in almonds last.

2. Pour mixture into crust. Bake 45 minutes.

3. Optional. Decorate with whipped cream!

Note that during the rest of the year, a pre-made crust will work just fine. I don’t usually use pre-made crusts unless I’m in a rush, but soon I’ll post cookie crust directions! You can make your own graham cracker crusts and it’s really easy.

March 30, 2010

On salvaging failures.

Posted in Baking, Cake, Holidays, Misc Musings, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:36 pm by Dani

This is the story of a cake. This is the story of an inedible, nasty cake. This is the story of making a bad cake good. This is a cake rehab story. So it goes.


My mommy’s birthday is on Wednesday, so for the passover seder sunday night (we did it a night early) she requested I make her a layer chocolate-strawberry cake. Easy thing for her to ask for; not so easy for me to produce. I spent days trying to find a cake recipe that worked, but when sunday came around, I had nothing. So I used the recipe on the potato starch box, which was a very last minute decision. It was also a complete failure.

It was extremely dry. I took a bite of the pre-assembled cake and I ran straight for a glass of milk, resisting the urge to drink straight out of the carton. My throat was on FIRE. I DO NOT recommend this recipe. I know I know, passover cakes are always dry. Well, use the boxed mix then. Don’t waste your time on a from-scratch cake that’s going to be gross anyway. Or if you have a great passover chocolate cake recipe, leave it for me in a comment.

“So,” you ask, “what did you do? Time was running out, you needed a cake, and all you had was a dry, spongey, brown block. How on EARTH did you salvage this atrocity???”

I couldn’t help thinking about the mexican favorite: Tres Leches cake. It is the polar opposite of my dry, gross, THING. What makes it unique is that a mixture of evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream is poured all over the cake, super saturating it.

Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake. This is wet, not moist.

Drippy cake was not what I wanted, and condensed milk kind of freaks me out (it’s goopey!), so I did this to save the cake:

1. Combine approx. 1/3 cup whipping cream with 1 cup non-fat milk (or alternatively, 1 1/3 cup whole milk)

2. Fold a 2 layers of paper towel in half, twice, to make a cloth thats 1/4 the size of a standard piece

3. Cut cake so that it will be layers, each about 1/4″ thick

4. Soak paper towel in cream/milk. Squeeze out enough cream/milk so that it’s no longer dripping, but still saturated

5. Dab each layer with saturated paper towel. Don’t skimp, but don’t go overboard either. Make ganache and spread between layers. Skewer to keep stable.

If you’re unsure about the cutting into layers, ganache, or skewering steps, read this post. I talk about the basics of layer cakes. But, for those who are too lazy, I’ll do a quick, concise review at the end of this post. But first: frosting!

I had a multitude of fresh strawberries (and also a lemon tree) so I made Fresh Strawberry Frosting:

1 box confectioner’s sugar

1.5 tbsp unsalted butter

3 strawberries, chopped fine

1 tsp lemon rind (Your’e all thinking, I can just leave about the rind. Don’t. Trust me, it’ll be a million times better)

1/3–1 cup milk/cream/water

Combine all ingredients except milk/cream/water. Beat on high, slowly adding milk, cream, or water until the texture is smooth, yet thick. Tastes like candy! Yum.

In the end, no one knew my cake started out as a big hot dry mess. It wasn’t drippy, and the ganache helped to keep all the milk from sinking to the bottom. From epic failure to success: that’s what I call a good day.

Keep reading for layer cake basics. Aka, click me!