Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fallen Leaves Pumpkin Cake

OK, I know it's the middle of winter (although you'd never know it here in Colorado with the weather we've been having). But here I am regardless, posting a pumpkin cake, since I don't want to wait 9 or 10 months to post it in the fall. It doesn't really matter, because it's a delicious cake for any time of year. Don't limit your pumpkin recipes to October, people.

It was the first grade team's turn in September to throw the birthday celebration for the staff. Somewhere around the 29th (OK, so maybe it was more like the 24th or 25th), we realized that we needed to get our sh...tuff together and plan something. We decided to put together a breakfast. The other teachers would be bringing quiche, fruit, juices, and other such delicious breakfast accoutrement. Far from being disappointed about the fact that the food would be served at 7:45 in the morning, I started planning a cake anyway. Who doesn't like eating cake for breakfast?

With October bearing down on us, there was no question of the cake being pumpkin. And the frosting? Cream cheese. Mmmmhhhhmm. I love cream cheese frosting (and have been known to put it on anything remotely logical). I knew I wanted to add a little something else, a little flair, if you will. That flair ended up manifesting itself in some fallen leaves in the center of the cake. I made them with gum paste and painted them with luster-dust-lemon-extract "paint." Finished off with some chopped pecans on the sides, the cake ended up a great success. The rest of the teachers clearly agreed, as it was polished off within an hour, and there were rumors of pieces being hoarded in classrooms, hidden behind stacks of ungraded papers. Rumors indeed. I don't think there was a piece left uneaten in the whole school after 9am.

Pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting. The breakfast of champions.


Pumpkin Cake
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups pumpkin puree (you can cook and mash your own, but canned is fine)
cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)
chopped pecans

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 lb cream cheese (room temperature)
2 sticks of butter (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar

Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Combine sugar, vegetable oil, and eggs in the bowl of your mixer or a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
Sift dry ingredients together into another bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the oil mixture, beating well.
Stir in the pumpkin puree.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes.

Beat cream cheese and butter and vanilla in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Add the sugar in 1/2 to 1 cup increments, mixing well in between. Beat until sugar is incorporated, then turn the mixer on high for 3 to 5 minutes, beating the frosting until it is light and fluffy.

Frost the cake layers, then gently press the chopped pecans into the sides of the cake.

If you are making the gum paste leaves, follow the directions on the gum paste package. I do not make my own gum paste (maybe one day I will, but today is not that day). I used tiny leaf-shaped cookie cutters to cut the leaves, and then used my Wilton gum paste tools to etch the veins in by hand. You could also do this with whatever you have in your kitchen; butter knives, toothpicks, etc.
I left the leaves to dry on an egg carton draped with tin foil. I made sure that the leaves were draped over the foil at random to create a natural look.

Once the leaves were dry, I mixed up some luster dust "paint" in fall colors. Some people use vodka, but I prefer to use lemon extract, as it also has a high alcohol content, and it smells lovely.
In hindsight, I should have colored the gum paste so that I wasn't trying to paint over white, but rather was just adding depth. Since I didn't think of this at the time, I had to use quite a bit of the "paint" to cover the white. This made some of the leaves kind of soggy, and they lost their shape. Some of the others stuck to the foil. And some of them did not end up with a natural-looking color.
In the end, I ended up with enough leaves that I liked to add a pretty little pile to the top of the cake.
I quite enjoy the final result, and I learned some lessons for next time.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chocolate Love Cupcakes

As promised, I now present the chocolate love cupcakes!
What started as an accompaniment to the Anniversary Rose Cake ended up being a bit of a show-stealer.

When I was planning for my parents' anniversary party I started to think that a single-tiered cake may not be enough servings for the anticipated number of cake-eaters. Rather than make a two or three tiered cake (too wedding-y) I decided to tackle another project instead. I already knew exactly what I wanted to do, based on an idea I had seen on cooking shows and (where else) Pinterest, and had always wanted to try. I wanted to top some cupcakes with words and pictures that were piped in chocolate (kind of like this).

Decision number one: cupcake flavor? Chocolate. Duh.
Decision number two: frosting flavor? Chocolate. Duh.
(OK, I'm not some kind of cake flavor snob, I just thought the chocolate cupcakes would look nice in contrast with the white cake and not get ignored, poor little things).

So here we go. I baked up a bunch of chocolate cupcakes (as it turns out, way too many, but it wasn't hard to convince people to take some home) and frosted them with a delicious double chocolate cream cheese sour cream frosting (triple threat people! Sweet, rich, creamy, and tangy). Instead of doing a typical cupcake swirl with that pointy little top, I mimicked the rose cake and did each cupcake with a single chocolate frosting rose. They turned out pretty...well, pretty.
A note about this frosting: It was pretty stiff at first, but rather than thin it out with cream, I just jumped right into piping the roses. It turns out this was the right choice, as after the first couple cupcakes, the frosting softens a lot from the warmth in your hands. The first few attempts left a lot to be desired, but once it softened it was a dream to pipe with. Very smooth.

But, back to the inspiration for the project in the first place: the piped chocolate decorations.
While the cupcakes were cooling (those that my Gram didn't eat straight off the cooling racks, frostingless and all), I melted down some semisweet chocolate. I poured this into a piping bag with a teeny tiny round piping/decorating tip (you can use Wilton's #1 or #2 round, depending on the thickness you want). You could also just snip the tip off a parchment decorating cone. Yep it's that easy. Chocolate, piping bag, steady hand, and you can write whatever you want (insert mischievous laugh here).
Some people trace the design onto parchment paper first, I just kind of went for it straight onto the parchment paper. The lesson here? You will get to snack on all kinds of "ruined" designs that turned out very un-pretty.
So anyway, I just kind of tried a whole bunch of different things, and I ended up loving the little scripted "love" toppers, the little hearts, and a couple of "30"s that turned out OK. I left these to cool and harden, crossing my fingers that they would peel off the parchment as promised, and went to ice the cupcakes.
I won't leave you in suspense. They peeled off with no issues at all (save the ones that I had piped too thin). It's a simple as peel gently and place onto the frosting. Voila.

In very uncharacteristic form, I found myself putting the lovely little chocolate toppers onto the cupcakes with plenty of time left to shower and get ready for the party. Before leaving the room, I separated the "not party display material" cupcakes from the ones that made the cut, told the hovering cupcake 'testers' (my visiting Grandparents) that they were free to gorge themselves on the less attractive cakes, and threatened all within hearing range with a painful death if they touched the other ones before the party.

They were a hit. I think for some of the party-goers, even more so than the rose cake. Oops. The understudy is sneaking up on the headliner. Oh well, they are, like, 17 kinds of chocolate. Who doesn't love that?


Ina's Chocolate Cupcakes.
I found this here, but used a different frosting (recipe to follow).
And yes, you will notice that there is almost as much cocoa powder as flour in this recipe. That may or may not have been one of the deciding factors to try this recipe...I am also a believer in using coffee in chocolate cake.

12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp.
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temp.
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, shaken, at room temp.
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temp.
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good quality cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F
Line cupcake pans with paper liners (I used pretty gold and silver metallic ones. The less sturdy regular paper ones didn't hold up as well).
In the bowl of your mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment) cream the butter and the sugars on high until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes (don't skimp on this! 1 minute is not enough. 2 minutes is not enough).
Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs one at a time, then add vanilla and mix well.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee.
In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.
In the mixer, on low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk and ending with the flour.
Don't overmix here! Mix until blended, finishing up by gently folding with a spatula if need be.

Scoop batter into pans. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for about 10 minutes in pans on racks, then turn out onto racks to completely cool before frosting.

Annie's Eats' Triple Chocolate Cupcake Frosting
I found this here.

14 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
9 oz. cream cheese, at room temp.
9 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp.
3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
6 Tbsp Dutch-process cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sour cream

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or (carefully) in the microwave. Set aside to cool until barely warm.
In the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on med-high until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
Gradually mix in the confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
Beat in the chocolate and then the sour cream.
Continue beating until smooth and well-blended.
Try not to eat it all before you frost the cupcakes.

Enjoy the chocolate and feel the love!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jalapeño Cheddar Cheese Puffs

Oh, the Broncos. While I am a Vikings fan by birthright, I do have a certain fondness for the Broncos, having lived in Colorado for over ten years now. On Saturday the Broncos played in got slaughtered in the playoffs against the New England Patriots. Sad day. Except for the food and drinks, those were pretty great.

We watched the game at my friend Elyse's house, and we were invited to bring an appetizer to share. I, of course, planned well ahead, shopped for gourmet ingredients, and made a spectacular show-stopping dish that could have appeared in a magazine. Ummm, no, not really. What actually happened is that by the time I got all my other things done (including watching people throw fruitcakes), I had neither the time nor the motivation to go to the grocery store. Instead, I scoured that great and wonderful cookbook I like to call the internet, and found a nice simple idea that used things I already had in the house.
I found a recipe for these yummy looking little cheese puffs, made with a choux pastry and cheddar cheese. All I needed was water, butter, flour, eggs, cheese, salt, pepper, and thyme. Check. What else could I put in it to kick it up a notch? Jalapeños! A staple in my kitchen. Check. No need to go to the store, and we would have what would hopefully turn out to be a delicious little snack.

I had not made a pâte à choux before, but having seen Ina, Paula, and several of my other Food Network friends do it many times, I felt confident that I could pull it off. As it turns out, it really was simple, and the results were delicious. An added bonus is that these are easily adapted based on what you have in your pantry - no cheddar? No problem. Use gruyère, asiago, parmeson, manchego, or whatever you have on hand. Don't have jalapeños or don't like them? No problem! Omit them or use something else.
Experiment. Let me know what you put in yours in the comments!

The cast of characters...

Jalapeño Cheddar Cheese Puffs
Original recipe by Elise from Simply Recipes, found here, adapted by Katira.
Makes about 2 dozen puffs.

1 stick butter (8 Tbsp)
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 cup (4 oz) grated sharp cheddar cheese 
3/4 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp chopped pickled jalapeños (I would at least double this next time...)
freshly ground pepper

**A couple notes about the ingredients**
You can substitute another kind of cheese if you don't have or don't want to use cheddar. 
Feel free to add other ingredients, such as bacon or other herbs.
If you do happen to like jalapeños, you may want more than the recipe calls for. The jalapeños were very subtle, and I like a little more kick.

*Preheat oven to 425° F
1. In a medium sized saucepan, add the water, the butter, and the salt. Bring to a boil over a high heat. Watch this carefully, you don't want to boil away too much of the water.

2. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the flour all at once. Stir rapidly - it will thicken very quickly and form a ball of dough that should pull away from the sides of the pan. Continue to cook the flour mixture for a couple minutes, stirring constantly.

3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, stirring to allow the dough to cool evenly. You want the dough to be warm for the next step, but not hot, as the eggs will cook. At this stage you can add the dough to your mixer if you will be using it to mix in the eggs.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring after each addition until the eggs are incorporated into the dough. At this stage, the dough will become smooth and creamy.

5. Mix in the cheese, a few grinds of pepper, and the thyme.

6. Separate the dough into halves (this is only necessary because I only put jalapeños in half in case people didn't want them. It turns out this wasn't necessary for two reasons: first, they didn't end up spicy with only a tablespoon anyhow, and second, I forgot to keep them separate once they were done, so it was the luck of the draw once they were on the plate). 
Add jalapeños to one half of the mixture.

7. Here you have two options. You can spoon the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, or you can pipe them, like I did. In the interests of a quick and easy cleanup, I opted to simply snip the corner off a freezer bag rather than use a piping bag and tip. Your call either way. Point is, at this stage, you need to get small, roughly walnut-sized balls of dough onto the baking sheet.
I also used my finger to smooth out the little peak from piping the dough so that it wouldn't burn. You will want to wet your finger slightly to do this so it doesn't stick to the dough.

8. Bake at 425° F for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350° and continue to bake for another 15-20 minutes, until puffed up and lightly golden. Do not open the oven door while baking.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Great Fruitcake Toss!

OK, so in all fairness, I didn't actually do anything for this post. I didn't make anything or fix anything, but I did go to Manitou Springs today to watch people launch old fruitcakes with pneumatic guns, catapults, trebuchets, and their own two hands.

So first things first. I like fruitcake. I can't honestly say that I have eaten a lot of it, as I only eat it at Christmas time at my Grandmother's house, but her fruitcake really is delightful. It is kind of like a spice cake with bits of dried fruit. What's not to like? Apparently for a lot of other people, there's plenty not to like. From what I have heard, most fruitcake is dry, dense, and rather tasteless. And sometimes it has those strange looking neon cherries in it that make you wonder if you are going to end up with super powers when you're done eating. So rather than eat it, the Manitou Springs-ians (Manitou Springs-ites, Manitou-ans?) decided about ten years ago that instead, people should bring the fruitcake they have been ignoring on their kitchen counter to a park for an amazing spectacle of sportsmanship in which they see who can throw or launch the despised Christmas delicacies the furthest. Thus the Great Fruitcake Toss in Manitou Springs was born.

The crowd backs up in preparation for the device launch contest.

There are several categories in which aspiring fruitcake champion hopefuls can compete for eternal glory (actually a free t-shirt, but whatever)...
There is a Kids Toss with 3 age groups, a Fruitcake Toss with a 1lb fruitcake limit, a 60+ Toss for the mature ones among us (can you say that about someone throwing a fruitcake?), and a Standard Weight Distance Division, where people hurl 2lb fruitcakes.
You can even rent a fruitcake if you don't have your own.
After that, there is a fruitcake launch. This is when people get to use the devices in which they have spent a huge amount of time (and probably money) creating something to throw fruitcake across a field for a surprisingly large amount of spectators. There are catapults, trebuchets, and slingshots. They fling very large, very heavy fruitcakes farther than the length of a football field. Seriously, you don't want to get in the way of one of these flying cake-cannon-balls.
The giant pneumatic cannons and air guns compete in a separate competition. One of those teams today launched their cake far enough to disappear over the mountain ridge to fall somewhere out of sight near the horizon (that is only a tiny exaggeration).
After all that talk of how you need to stay out of the way of these dangerous projectiles, the teams then don helmets and protective eye gear, and launch more fruitcake from their device...and try to catch it. No joke. As far as I can tell, no-one was seriously injured, which is just as well, because that could take some explaining at the hospital ("No Doctor, I'm not intoxicated, I really did get hit in the side of the head with a speeding twelve-pound-two-month-old fruitcake").

It was a funny, entertaining, and slightly strange way to spend a beautiful, unseasonably warm January morning, and you will probably see me again next year (accepting the prize for the women's standard-weight hand-toss division. That's right, training starts tomorrow).

Parting words from the event announcer? "Thanks to all these folks for coming out and watching an event that is complete nonsense!"

Don't sell yourself short, my friend, there's something to be said for a little bit of nonsense now and again.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Anniversary Rose Cake

The finished cake at the party.

So this morning I woke up and I was presented with some choices. It's Sunday. I could:

A) Clean, do some laundry, and prepare for the upcoming week in general
B) Be the studious graduate student that I am and work on my first of several Capstone presentations that is due tomorrow
C) None of the above

Naturally, choice C prevailed, and my eyes are now flicking back and forth between my computer screen and Chopped on the Food Network (do you watch that? If not, you should).

**Updated information: What follows in the next two paragraphs might not make sense, since my blog has undergone renovations since this post went fill you in, the background of my blog title banner used to be a rectangular close-up photo of the frosting on this cake. It was awesome.**

As I browsed through my repertoire of time-wasters on the internet, it was brought to my attention (by myself), that someone might look at the banner of this blog and think, what exactly is that?

Well, that, my friends, is in fact a close-up of the frosting on my very first "Rose Cake". I don't know who invented this particular frosting rose technique, and for all I know, real chefs have probably been using it for eons. I, however, was a frosting rose virgin until I decided to try it for my parents' 30th anniversary party.

(Before you get your blood pressure up, I do know that these are the cheaters' version of frosting roses, but I think they are quite pretty...even prettier than the more realistic ones if you ask me...and it's my blog, so you don't even have to ask...but I digress...)

Some time in 2011, Chelsea, of the tollisnest **her blog is now called Fluff That Nest** (I don't think I will be mentioning her in every single post, but so far so good!), introduced me to Pinterest. Holy buckets, y'all! If you need another way to spend hours and hours of your time on the web, get on over there! I am completely obsessed. Anyhow, over on Pinterest, I stumbled across this stunning cake by i am baker. I repinned it immediately, and vowed to one day learn how to do that.

An occasion quickly presented itself. My parents, my beautiful, wonderful parents, celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in November 2011. I decided to throw them a little soiree, and what better occasion for a pretty, white, rose-covered cake!? I checked out the rose cake tutorial (which can be found here), and thought..."I think I could do that!"Amanda at i am baker assures the reader that it is a very simple technique and guess what? She was right! As it turns out, it was super simple and so pretty!

I made a carrot cake (from a secret family recipe, so sorry, no recipe will be posted here for that), since my parents had carrot cake at their wedding and it's a family favorite. Any flavor cake would be fine. I think it goes without saying that if you have carrot cake, you have to have cream cheese frosting. The rose technique works better with a good crusting buttercream, but I was locked into the cream cheese. I think it turned out alright nonetheless, don't you?

The gist of the roses is this:

  • You must crumb-coat/dirty ice the cake before you do the roses, otherwise you will get little dark patches and see the cake through the gaps in the flowers.
  • For each rose, using a 1M tip, start in the center of where you want the flower to be and slowly twirl around two or three times (depending on how wide the flower needs to be), keeping the spiral tight to look like a rose. 
  • Do the sides of the cake first. Depending on how tall you make it, you may want a single row of roses on the sides, or you may want two. I did one. If you do this, you just want to make each rose as wide as the height of the cake.
  • When you do the top of the cake, do the center rose first. Then do a ring of roses around that one, and then another around those ones, etc. until you reach the edges.
  • When you are done, you will have small spaces in between roses (you know, with them being circular and all...). You can fill in these spaces by going back and making a little swoop of icing in the same direction as the adjacent rose.
  • Viola! You have yourself a rose cake!
I think my next rose cake adventure will be like this one...

**Last annoying little update...I did have a next rose cake adventure (a few actually), and I am pleased to say that my "Girly Cake for a Baby Girl" project exceeds the expectations I had for myself when this post originally went live. Frosting roses are easy and fun y'all!!**


The cake poses in front of a wedding portrait of my parents...

My parents cut their cake. Yep, we made them do it like at a wedding, with everyone watching.

Stay tuned for a post on the chocolate cupcakes that also made an appearance at this party...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Here we go!

Well, here I finally am, starting a of my dearest friends has been bugging me to get my baking projects out there where people can see them, love them, want to buy them, and ultimately invite me to bake a wedding cake for a famous actor or the first family, resulting in my subsequent fame and wealth.
Or something like that.

(And here comes the plug - check out her blog! It's awesome!

In any case, I am going to be posting baking, cooking, and DIY projects that I think were particularly successful (or even very unsuccessful, as sometimes that can be even better entertainment, let's be honest).
And all jokes aside, I do bake for weddings, showers (bridal, baby or otherwise), birthdays, random occasions for which I can justify eating six cupcakes, etcetera, etcetera.

I hope you enjoy visiting and reading. Please leave comments - I would love to hear your feedback!