Saturday, April 28, 2012

Eh! Oh! Canada Go! - Canadian Cake

Oh, Canada! (you can sing it if you want to. I did). Canada is such a wonderful place, full of things like this:

Moraine Lake, Banff, found here
and this:
Kids playing pond hockey, from here
and this:
Skiing in BC, found here

and, oh! This! Pretty!
Banff Springs Hotel, found here

I didn't take those (I wish).

So. Canada, eh? (You knew it was coming, admit it. Eh?) Yes, Canada. I love the place.
My Dad worked in Calgary for a while when I was in college, and we visited him there. We got to go up to Banff, which I fell in love with immediately.
We also were lucky enough to go to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics in 2010, via Seattle. Seattle deserves its own story, but I can't post about it without throwing in a couple pics. Pike Place Market is like heaven for foodies, photographers, or, well, pretty much everyone. Seriously. Go there.
You can see this.

And this.

And this.

And this.

And this (yes, please!).

OK, that's enough. (I did take those ones!) I'll probably do a post for Seattle some day, even though I've never made anything there. Ate plenty though.

Anyway, I was saying that Canada is awesome. The people are wonderful, the scenery is breathtaking, and the winters are delightful. OK, I'm kidding about the winter part, but it really is a great place. 
But what on earth does it have to do with baking? Ahh, you want to hear about cakes and stuff. I see. Well, Cindy, a friend of ours, is from Canada, and she joined us here in Colorado last summer with her teammates from the Canadian Olympic Speed Skating team. I baked them a cake. Naturally. 

Cindy loves chocolate, so the first time she came to stay with us (two summers ago), we had a Canada Day celebration and I made a chocolate cake. This time though, I made Colette Peters' chocolate cake, which is To. Die. For. And by now, y'all know that I am cheesy enough to do the whole Canada-themed thing again. Canada/Chocolate themed, to be specific. Carved into the shape of a maple leaf (not as hard as I thought it would be, actually). Chocolate maple-leaf-shaped cake with chocolate buttercream, encrusted in M&Ms. Do you need a moment? I do.

I do need to say, these guys are great. They were all so friendly and funny, and incredibly talented. I feel so lucky that I can call Cindy a friend, and I hope that she and her teammates get the chance to come see us in Colorado again.

Here we all are, right before we devoured this cake in about 3 minutes flat.

And here's the cake again. It's the same picture from before. This was during my pre-blog days, so I didn't take about 8 thousand pictures of everything I make, hoping one will be halfway decent. You get the idea.

Wanna make the cake? You should. More than once, people who "don't like cake" have told me that this cake is delicious. (Yes, I know people who don't like cake. They are not included in my will.)
So do it. Here's the recipe.

Chocolate-Coffee-Whiskey Cake
Very slightly adapted from Cakes to Dream On, by Colette Peters ("Coco-Loco Cake")

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 3/4 cup hot coffee
1/4 cup bourbon
5 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, cut into small pieces
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 285° (the original recipe calls for 275°, but it worked a little better for me when I upped it a little).
Spray two round 8" pans with baking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl and set aside.
In another large bowl, combine the hot coffee (it must be hot for this to work), bourbon, chocolate, and butter. Cover (I just use a plate) and let stand for about 10-12 minutes, until everything has melted. When the chocolate/coffee/bourbon/butter mixture has melted, whisk in the sugar and let the whole mixture cool.
Whisk in the flour mixture in two batches, then the eggs and vanilla.
The batter will be runny, but don't worry, it's supposed to be.
Pour the batter into prepared pans and bake for 45 min or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. You may need to rotate the pans for even baking, depending on your oven.
Let the cakes cool completely in their pans on a wire rack.
Frost with Chocolate Buttercream.
I encrusted my cake with M&Ms. I had to go find bags of red and white ones, since white ones don't exist in a regular bag, and I was so not picking through a bag to get enough red ones. You can get specialty one-color bags of M&Ms at party supply stores or online. I turned them logo-side down (sorry Mars, Inc.) for a clean look. I think it's kind of a fun effect, and who doesn't like M&Ms?

*Note: This cake is notorious (in my world) for sinking in the middle. I do believe it is the altitude, as I made it once for a wedding in Fort Collins, and there was no sinking to speak of. If you live at altitude, try raising the baking temperature a tad like I do, or add a little flour (about a tablespoon per cup). You also might want to make the baking soda a scant teaspoon. Experiment. There are tons of websites out there to help you figure out high altitude baking. If you don't live at altitude, it should work fine.

To decorate this cake, you want to refrigerate it first. It makes it a lot easier to handle and frost. And if you intend to carve it, like I did for this cake, definitely refrigerate it if you don't want it to fall apart. Refrigerate it between crumb coating and the final coat of frosting too.
To carve cakes, you want to use a sharp serrated knife, and cut slowly and carefully. You can always cut more, but you can't cut less. Measure twice, cut once. Enough construction idioms? OK fine, but seriously, don't let carving be daunting. It's fun. The worse thing that can happen is, well, the cake falling apart. But then you can make cake pops!

For those of you who have read my blog before, closely enough to notice the mention of the disastrous stickless cake pops balls that marked my early foray into the world of cake pops...feast your eyes now on these sad little things. I have to say though, that if you ate one, you wouldn't give a rat's you-know-what about their appearance. My proof of this is that they were gone so fast I actually thought I had forgotten to put them out on the table with the other food.

Aaahhh, cake balls. You win this time.

And here's the Canadian Cake again. I know you wanted to see it a third time.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Has Sprung Cake Pops

Aaahhh, cake pops. The Everest of baking (well, not really. OK fine. Not even close. But they can be a little tricky sometimes...they have that pesky habit of falling of the stick and all that).

I have to admit, this is only the second time I have done cake pops. I did some tried to do some when we had the Canadian Speed Skating team here to stay (that's a story for another day), and those turned into stick-less cake balls (due to Battle Royale: Katira vs. The Lollipop Stick). I am happy to say that this time those darn sticks didn't even see me comin' (I know, I have no idea how to trash talk, especially not to a lollipop stick).

These ones were commissioned by a family friend for a birthday party. The flavor was to be chocolate,  (yay!) but she was brave enough to give me free reign of the design. Since Spring is finally making itself known here in Colorado, I quickly decided on spring colors, which evolved into spring flowers, which evolved into spring flowers plus bumblebees, which evolved into spring flowers plus bumblebees plus ladybugs. A little ambitious? We'll see.
(Ironically enough, it snowed the day after they were delivered. Thanks a bunch, Colorado.)

As it turns out, these cake pops were a wildly different experience than the first attempt, and I think they turned out pretty darn cute.

I used The Pioneer Woman's chocolate cake recipe (namely, The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.), but instead of chocolate frosting I used cream cheese. The reasons for this are threefold; first, it's rich, but not too sweet (at least the way I make it), and cake pops are all about one or two delicious bites of rich, creamy dessert. Second, cream cheese frosting is one of the World's Wonders. Or at least it should be. And third, I might be just a little, teeny, tiny bit obsessed with cream cheese frosting, and I will jump at any excuse to eat it off a spoon as a dessert in its own right.

OK, so let's get down to business. First, you need to bake yourself a cake. I did chocolate. Obviously you could use any flavor. A box cake would be fine here too.

Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake
You can find Ree's original recipe here.

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa
2 sticks butter
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 whole beaten eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. When butter is completely melted, add the cocoa.
mmmmmm, butter
mmmmm, butter and cocoa
(This is a heaping tablespoon of cocoa...)

When butter and cocoa is well mixed, add the boiling water. Stir well. Allow this mixture to boil for 30 seconds, and then pull off the heat.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the flour mixture in the mixing bowl.

Mix gently to let the mixture cool.
In a separate measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, the beaten eggs, the vanilla, and the baking soda.

Add the buttermilk mixture to the mixing bowl and mix until incorporated.

Pour into a sheet pan (P-Dub uses ungreased for this recipe, so I gave it a shot. It worked. Came out beautifully).

18x13 works great. If you use a different size, adjust baking times accordingly for thickness.
Bake at 350° for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.

Making The Cake Pops
Here's where the fun starts!

What you need:

  • 1 baked cake
  • 1 recipe cream cheese frosting (or a frosting of your choice)
  • lollipop sticks (you can get these from pretty much any craft store)
  • candy melts in chocolate, dark chocolate, red, yellow, and white (the Wilton ones work great)
  • something to stand the pops up in (floral foam works could try using an upside down egg carton - I forget where I heard that advice - but it doesn't work nearly as well as the foam as the pops tend to tip over. People sell cake pops stands online, but floral foam or styrofoam works fine)
  • piping bags and tips in various sizes as needed to decorate (if you don't have these, you can use ziplock bags with the corners cut off and toothpicks)
  • wax paper
  • baking sheets
  • a cookie cutter with a relatively straight edge (or a curved edge if your pops are just needs to match the side of your'll make sense in a minute) or a small sharp knife
  • chocolate jimmies and small chocolate chips
  • black edible ink marker
  • yellow paper in two shades (I used scrapbooking paper, but any stiff paper will do)
  • scissors
  • glue or tape
  • something to display the pops in; I used a small galvanized bucket with floral foam inside (more on that later) and a mason jar stuffed with moss

How to actually do it:
Your cake needs to be completely cooled before you start working with it.
Crumble the cooled cake into a bowl. Yes, you can do it. It's kind of fun actually, taking a freshly baked cake and deliberately destroying it.

Gently crumble it with your fingers until it...kind of looks like this:

Mix in the frosting. Add the frosting in little bits. Don't get too enthusiastic at first, or your cake pops will be too wet. You want the mixture to be wet enough to form balls, but not too tacky or they won't hold their shape.

Gently form the cake/frosting mixture into balls (for the flowers), oval-ish balls (for the bees), and ones (for the ladybugs). Put these on a baking sheet covered in wax paper.
Like this!
See those ones on the right? Normal round ones for the flowers. The ones in the middle? The bees. The ones on the left? The ladybugs. I would say you should probably only look at the one on the bottom left for the ladybug example though. Or maybe the second one up.
Put these in the fridge or freezer for at least 15-20 minutes.

Starting with the sunflowers:
Melt a few chocolate candy melts in a small bowl.
Dip each lollipop stick into the chocolate, and then gently insert into the cake balls. You want the stick to go about halfway into the ball.

Stand the cake pops in a foam block (notice that I was still using the egg carton thing here. I recommend you use floral foam or styrofoam) and pop (pun intended) them back in the fridge or freezer.
(While you're waiting, pour some chocolate jimmies into a small bowl.)
Now melt the rest of the chocolate candy melts. Be patient when you're dealing with chocolate and/or candy melts. Melt them slowly, stirring frequently, either in a double boiler or at 30 second intervals on low in a microwave. To dip the pops, the melted chocolate needs to be a few inches deep. You can either do this in a narrow bowl or a glass.
Dip each pop into the melted chocolate. You want to do this in one smooth motion, covering the cake ball completely. Very gently tap the stick against the edge of the bowl/glass to assist the excess chocolate in dripping back into the bowl. If you don't let the excess drip off, the pop will be quite heavy, and the coating might not be able to support itself (it might fall apart).

While the chocolate is still wet, dip the top of the pop into the jimmies.

Stand the pops in foam to dry.

To finish the sunflower pops, you will need to make the petals. I drew rough sunflower shapes (I'm not an artist, OK?) in two sizes and cut them out.

Then I traced the larger one onto one shade of yellow scrapbooking paper, and the smaller one onto another shade. Cut all these out.
(I didn't use that orange for anything, by the way)
Hands cramping yet? If you have a cricut or some other handy-dandy-shape-cutter-outer, awesome. I don't.
Tape or glue the smaller flower onto the larger flower (try and line it up so the petals are kind of alternating, like below...). Poke a hole in the middle for the lollipop stick.

When the chocolate has dried on the pops, slide the petals onto the sticks. Ta-da! Sunflower cake pops.

Now for the bumblebees:
But first, a disclaimer. Sometimes often I forget to take pictures of each step of the process. I'm working on it. It's a twelve step program (of which I only have a couple pictures). Anyhow, please excuse the almost complete lack of pictures of the steps to make these bee and ladybug pops. Consider it an opportunity to exercise your own artistic license.
OK, the bumblebees...
Use the same steps to assemble and dip the pops as explained above, except this time you are using yellow candy melts. Let the yellow coating dry.
For the stripes, melt some dark chocolate melts. Using a piping bag and a small round tip, drizzle the chocolate across the backs of the bees. Allow this to dry.
For the antenna: dip a chocolate jimmy in the yellow candy melts and hold in place for a few seconds.

For the stinger: with a toothpick, add a little of the melted yellow melts to the bottom of a tiny chocolate chip. Hold this on the bee's tushy for a few seconds.

For the face: draw a face with a black food marker (like I said, I'm no artist). You could also do this by piping chocolate onto the pop. Or you could ditch the whole face part in general if it creeps you out to put faces on your food.
For the wings: Trim the white candy melts with the cookie cutter (or a little knife), like so (notice a rare appearance of a process picture here):

Dip the edges in yellow candy melts and hold them against the sides of the bees until partially set (translation: until they don't fall off when you let go). As you can see from the final product, I still have a little ways to go in the neatness category of this particular step.
And there you go! You have little edible bees! Holy moly those are cute.

The Ladybugs:
I have a soft spot for these ones. I think they turned out incredibly cute. It was one of those rare moments in my life where I have an idea and it actually turns out as well as I dreamed it. Yes, dreamed it. I dream about cake. Like, all the time.
Assemble and dip as above...but with red.
When the red is dry, dip the head end of the bugs into melted dark chocolate melts (and here we have another sighting of the rare process picture).

Using a piping bag and a small round tip, draw the line down the back and the triangle part on the...rear (obviously I know tons about the technical terms referring to ladybug anatomy). Add the spots.
Using a toothpick, add little white candy melt dots to the face for the eyes. Before the white dries, put a little brown or black sprinkle in the middle. Alternatively, you could let it dry and then dab on some melted chocolate.
There you have it. Would you look at those?! For heaven's sake. So precious!

Bringing it all together:
To display pops, you just need something to put them in that is not going to allow them to jiggle around too much or fall over. As I said earlier, floral foam works great. Just stick them in and you're done. You could also buy a stand or make your own by drilling some little holes in a piece of wood. You can be as simple or as fancy as you want.

However, I found this bucket at Michael's and thought it would make a cute display. To make it cake pop compatible, I cut floral foam into a circle to fit about one inch below the top of the bucket.
Like this:

Then to hide the foam, I put some Spanish moss on top.
Like this:

(You can buy all this stuff at Michael's or Hobby Lobby).
Then you can just poke the sticks into the foam.
Unfortunately, not all my pops fit in the bucket. Apparently I am visually-spatially challenged and can't judge things like that for the life of me. So I put a couple extra into a mason jar stuffed with some of the moss. It worked OK, but they weren't super secure.

Well, if you have made it this far, congratulations. If you read the whole thing, thanks for your support, and I hope you didn't miss any birthdays or important meetings. If you just scrolled through and looked at the pictures, I kind of understand, but pretend you read it, and never tell me you didn't.
Here's your reward for reading it all....more pictures of cake pops! What? You already saw them at the beginning? Fine. Here they are again.