April 8, 2010

On merging food with visual arts.

Posted in Links and Re-Blogs, Misc Musings tagged , , , , , , at 4:34 pm by Dani

A friend of mine recently introduced me to toxel.com, which is a fabulous website for killing time and general miscellaneous entertainment. A few weeks ago I shared with you guys a link to weburbanist.com. This is similar, but organized in a very different way, and I love it.

Today I opened up my RSS feeder and was thrilled to see that toxel had a new post up, and it was about cake! Have you ever watched Ace of Cakes on the food network? These cakes are like those from Charm City Cakes (which, in case you didn’t know, is the bakery that Ace of Cakes showcases). Check it out:

You can see the rest of the cake post here.

If you enjoyed that, maybe you’ll also enjoy this post, which is about food art creations.

I love food when it tastes good. But you know what I love even more? When it looks good too! Next time you’re making yourself dinner and have extra time to spare, try arranging your food the way the do on food competition shows; somehow your food will taste better. Presentation is 5 points, after all.

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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.

Cake

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!

March 23, 2010

On future posts, and also a correction.

Posted in Baking, Celebrities, Misc Musings tagged , , , , , , at 11:32 pm by Dani

First, and most important: I’d like to retract what I said about Gerard Butler being Irish. I just saw a commercial for him appearing on The Ellen Degeneres Show and they discussed that he is SCOTTISH. My bad. Still hot though.

Also, things I’ve already made, with posts coming soon:

  • Donuts (with bacon)
  • Chocolate and Cookie Dough Truffles

Also next week is passover, which means I’m going to be posting some passover-friendly recipes that are AMAZING, and in some cases family recipes. I know I’m going to be making a passover layer cake for my mommy’s birthday, which is going to be a complete experiment since passover cakes tend to be really dense (not at all suitable for layers). We’ll see how that turns out…luckily Costco has some really nice strawberries right now, so if all else fails I’ll make her something strawberry and she’ll be happy.

So stay tuned; there are some exciting things around the corner–I plan on posting the donut shenanigans on thursday.

If you’re looking for some internet entertainment (get your head out of the gutter, I didn’t mean THAT) I suggest you peruse this website. It has nothing to do with anything I’ve talked about on this blog, but they have some cool posts about art that’s going on right now, especially guerilla art and advertising. Modern stuff.

March 21, 2010

On layer cakes and Oreo frosting.

Posted in Baking, Cake, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , at 1:46 am by Dani

A few weeks back I was watching the Good Eats episode entitled “The Art of Darkness III” The first recipe he talks about is for Chocolate Ganache. I had never before realized just how simple ganache is! Just bring together equal parts chocolate and creme. That’s it. No really, I promise. Don’t believe me? Watch it yourself:

That is it; I was hooked. I had to make something with ganache and it had to be immediate. So I went out and bought some prepackaged cake mixes (I’m usually very anti cake mix but the need for instant gratification overpowered the distaste for shortcuts) in white cake and devil’s food cake, a box of confectioner’s sugar, a box of Oreos, Ghiradelli’s 60% Cacoa chocolate chips, and creme. This is the result:

Cake

I'm into making things pretty. I only wish the frosting went on smoother.

What you’ll need:

(2) 8 or 9 inch round springform pans

(1) Serrated knife

(1) Electric Mixer

(2-3) Heavy Duty ziplock bags

(1) Pair Scissors

(1) Knife to spread with

(4) Long skewers

(2) Cake mixes, and any ingredients called for on the boxes

(1) Package confectioner’s sugar

(Approx. 15) Oreos

(10 oz.) Chocolate

(10 oz) Whipping creme

(1/3 cup) butter, room temp

(Approx. 1/4 cup) Milk

Optional: Food Processor, small pot, mixing spoon

1. Prepare both cake mixes, baking each in one of the springform pans. Chill them in the refrigerator.

2. Combine confectioner’s sugar and butter with hand mixer on high, add milk a little at a time until the consistency feels right. I’ve talked about this process before, and you’ll see it again because I LOVE FROSTING.

3. Put 6 Oreos into a ziplock bag, and crush against the counter or with the flat side of a knife. As fun as beating up cookies can be, please refrain from being too aggressive. If the bag breaks it’s not so fun to clean this up.

4. Add Oreos into frosting and set aside. Do not refrigerate.

5. Ganache time. Chop up chocolate either with a knife or food processor. Heat the cream barely to a simmer, and pour it over the chocolate. Let this sit for 2 minutes. As Alton would say, “Just walk away.”

6. If using a food processor, pulse it 2 or 3 times, or until the creme and chocolate are combined completely. If using a spoon to mix, quickly stir until the same blend is achieved.

7. Lets return to the cakes. Use the serrated knife to even out the tops, and slice through the cakes parallel to the bottom of the pans, to create 2 thinner layers out of each cake. I used the Betty Crocker mixes, and they held together great.

8. Pile up the cakes while the ganache it is still warm and liquid-y. Pour about 1/4 of the ganache over the center of the bottom layer, and spread it around, avoiding the outer 1″. Place the second layer over this, and repeat with the 2nd layer, then again with the 3rd. Over the 4th layer also add ganache, but this time spread it all the way out, and also coat the sides of the cake.

Cake Innards

Cake Innards

9. Use the 4 skewers to stab the cake from the top all the way through, evenly spaced, to keep the layers from sliding around as the ganache sets.

10. Refrigerate for a few hours, or until ganache is stiff and cake is solid.

11. Now you can frost the entire cake with your Oreo frosting, and use the rest of the cookies to decorate. I suggest filling a plastic bag with the frosting and cutting of 1/2 inch from the corner, and using this to pipe the frosting over the cake before trying to make it smooth with a knife, and putting the leftover frosting in the last bag and cutting off a much smaller tip to decorate. This is how I decorated, but you can let your imagination run wild.

Top of cake

Stay tuned for my next layer cake: Mommy requested one for her birthday, which happens to be passover. Should be interesting.

March 19, 2010

On themed parties and cupcakes.

Posted in Baking, Cake, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:02 am by Dani

This past weekend, a good friend of mine celebrated her 26th birthday with a little blast-from-the-past party: kindergarten themed! Of course, little ol’ me volunteered, well actually insisted on making the deserts. My original plan was a layer cake: plain yellow cake with chocolate ganache and strawberries. I made 1/3 of a batch of yellow cake to see how it would taste, and was heading out to the market to purchase chocolate, when I saw the cutest little girls in green vests outside my market. That’s right, it’s GIRL SCOUT COOKIE SEASON.

Girl Scouts

Adorable

What a better way to celebrate childhood than with some girl scout cookie themed cupcakes! So here was the plan:

4 types of cupcakes, each in the theme of a girl scout cookie:

  • Tag Along: Chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting
  • Thin Mint: Chocolate cake with mint frosting
  • Lemon Chalet Creme: Yellow cake with lemon frosting
  • Shortbread Trefoils: Yellow cake with sugar vanilla frosting
Cupcakes

Completed Cupcakes

First, the cake. For the yellow I used Paula Deen’s basic 1-2-3-4 cake recipe. This cake recipe is a standard, crowd pleasing southern cake that every Louisiana grandmother makes for her grandchildren’s birthday.

I love Paula Deen’s desserts, even if they are a little butter heavy. This, however, I do not endorse:

But, I digress.

Lets talk cake first:

This is Paula’s recipe. Just a few notes: I made this cake twice, and it seems the key to a moist and fluffy texture is to (1) sift the flour once before you measure it (make sure you sift directly into the measuring cup) and then once you’ve got your 3 cups, sift it again. Also, (2) 6-8 minutes is a minimum creaming time in my opinion. I creamed the butter alone for a good 5 or so minutes with my hand mixer, then for at least 10 more minutes once I added the sugar. THIS REALLY MAKES A DIFFERENCE. Don’t be lazy. My shoulder was only burning a little by the time I finished, but it was worth it (if anyone wants to buy me a stand mixer for my birthday, I’d basically love you forever). Also, I added a little almond extract. I couldn’t taste almond, per se, but it gave it a little indiscernible kick. I poured the batter into a cupcake pan, filling each hole about 2/3 of the way. Cupcakes always cook faster than cakes, so I checked on the cupcakes at 10 minutes, and every few minutes afterwards. Check by inserting and removing a toothpick from the center of a cupcake. When it comes out clean you know it’s done (about 15 minutes cooking time total) and you can remove the cupcakes and let them cool.

Trefoil Cupcake

Trefoil Cupcake = White cake + sugar vanilla frosting

For the chocolate cake I used the recipe on the Kroger Baking Cocoa can. I am personally a big fan of recipes that are found directly on the products. There is an exception: recipes that refer to each ingredient according to brand. It irritates me on principle, and I try to steer clear of these. But the recipes where the only brand is the product on which the recipe is found tend to be great. The makers want to really highlight their ingredient, which means the recipe will taste great, and since the recipes are meant for the average every day grocery shopper they tend to be really simple. So here it goes:

Chocolate Lover’s Cake:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

2 cups sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 sticks margarine (I used butter, also 2 sticks usually means 1 cup, in case your sticks are differently sized)

1/4 cup Kroger Baking Cocoa

1 cup water

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

Blend sugar and flour in a large bowl (I sifted them together). Combine 2

sticks margarine (I used butter), Kroger Baking Cocoa and water in a saucepan: bring quickly to a boil. Pour over flour mixture and mix well. Add buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and baking soda, mix well. Next pour into the cupcake pan, filling each about 3/4 of the way, and baked for about 15 minutes. Do the same process with the toothpick, and be careful not to over cook any of these cakes.

Thin Mint Cupcake

Thin Mint Cupcake = Chocolate cake + mint frosting

Now you’re ready for frosting!