Monday, October 13, 2008

pumpkin cheesecake

I keep making the joke that, in my old age I can no longer handle extremes. And while it is truly a joke (29 isn't old!), my tastes seem to have changed quite a bit since those early twenty-something days. The big one is my taste in seasons (weather not, say, jerk vs. curry). Eight years ago I listed my favorite season as summer on every silly email survey I received. I loved a 95 degree day, sweating half to death in the shade, and our 80 degree Christmases in Miami at my grandmother's house. These days, anything over 82 has me running for air conditioning, and while I enjoy the heat for about a week or two, once October rolls around, I am quite ready for it to be over and done with. And so, Mother Nature, I ask you, can you please blow the summer heat far, far away and allow the crisp air of fall to have us reaching for our fashionable scarves and hats?

She (Mother Nature) had us fooled last week with rainy days and highs of 68 and I was so excited to begin my fall/winter baking with pumpkin and apples and the warm spices--cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice--that make me want to cozy up on the couch beneath a warm blanket, wearing my husband's sweats and socks, and watch a movie I know nearly each and every line of. And a fool I was, expecting this fall-like weather to stick around I made a delicious pumpkin cheesecake, drizzled with leftover chocolate ganache, that I've been munching on all weekend--even though the high today was 80, and tomorrow, 85, with not a crisp breeze in sight....*sigh*

Pumpkin Cheesecake
adapted from Paula Deen

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick melted salted butter

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For crust:
In medium bowl, combine crumbs, sugar and cinnamon. Add melted butter. Press down flat into a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.

For filling:
Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add pumpkin puree, eggs, egg yolk, sour cream, sugar and the spices. Add flour and vanilla. Beat together until well combined.
Pour into crust. Spread out evenly and place oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

birthday cake!

This week is one for a bit of reflection. See, my birthday was Monday and I turned 29--or as my good friend called it 'countdown to 30'. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think that 30 is old by any means. As a matter of fact, I'm actually looking forward to starting a new decade in life. It's kind of like moving to a different state or country where no one knows you and you can reinvent yourself. Once I am 30, I will most likely still be living in Charlotte, in the same house with the same husband, daughter, and dog, but it will be a new jumping off point, a chance to say 'this decade, I'm going to do it a little bit better.'
But as each day of my twenties quietly slips away, what I think I'm going to miss (or what I'm dreading will be gone in my thirties) is the sheer youthfulness of being a twenty-something. To be so fresh and new and excited about what's going to happen next; to be carefree almost (almost) to the point of irresponsibility. When I was 22 I faked colds to stay home and watch talk shows all day or to go shopping. My 24th birthday--I was a newlywed and spent 8 hours (literally) shopping for makeup and shoes, and having meals with my girlfriends. Sure, I went shopping on my birthday this past Monday--the daughter and I went to Target and got diapers.
Acceptance is a funny little demon for me. At 29 (or '363 days 'til 30'), I can honestly say that I'm happy with my life, however different it might be from, say, six or seven years ago. I'm married, I walk my dog, we have a play group, I cook meals, I'm in grad school and I love it. But every once in a while, I'll miss the 22 year-old me, living with my girlfriends and eating Chinese takeout. And it's times like these that I'll pack my newest girlfriend (the daughter) into the car, head to the nearest MAC counter and buy a fabulous eyeshadow in a color I will never need, but always wanted...

And here is my lovely birthday cake--I was so excited! It is a standard chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and raspberry whipped cream filling and a Swiss-meringue icing from Confetti Cakes Cookbook.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

positively scrumptious!

So, I'm a wee bit stressed out.
I am so stressed out that the mere declaration of the sentiment above gets it's own paragraph. (Which I'm pretty sure is grammatically incorrect--don't you need at least two sentences to constitute a paragraph)? But I digress--I'm stressed, and I tend to do that when I'm stressed. I have two exams next week, accounting on Monday and economics on Tuesday. I'm behind on the reading and working the problems and the study guide I ordered that was supposed to be here yesterday is now not arriving until October 6th--a week and a day after my economics test. Fabulous. And for those of you not living in the southeast, might I suggest you thank God or whomever it is you thank for the ability to put gas in your car, because North Carolina is out. I have a quarter tank of gas and every station within five miles of my house, well, to be country about it, 'ain't got none'. Fantastic. And finally, as usual, my daughter refuses to take a nap. Absolutely refuses to go to sleep without a knock down, drag out fight that lasts at least an hour. Perfect. It is not the gym, or cooking meals, or cleaning house, or studying that is the most draining part of my day--no--it's putting a 16 month old down for a nap.

So yesterday, I'm sitting at the computer (stressed) during the 10 minutes that I allow my darling daughter to whine and cry in her crib before checking on her, soothing her, then leaving her again to (please, God!) take a nap, and I read this post on the blog, Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. It is about how 'craptastic' things happen to everybody, not just you, but it is our reaction to that crappy thing that renders us positive or just plain draining for everyone else to be around.

And so, in response to my stressors I say: thank God I am able to go to grad school and have a husband who, after a long day of working two jobs, will come home and put our daughter to bed so that I can do school work. I say, take time to be at home while gas is scarce. Play with your daughter, your dog, and watch reruns of Project Runway on Bravo. And to my daughter--enjoy the fact that she just can't get enough of me!

On another positive note, here is a cake I did for a birthday. They wanted something very simple but told me I could make any flavors I liked--so I did. This is a chocolate cake with cinnamon flavored whipped cream filling and chocolate mousse buttercream. Let me just tell you, this cake was fabulous, every last bit about it. I'll also made some tarts that were so uber sweet I could just feel my teeth rotting. My husband said they tasted like French vanilla ice cream--I'll let you be the judge.

White Chocolate Mousse Tarts
adapted from Keebler

-1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
-6 squares (1 oz ea) white chocolate, chopped
-1/2 tsp almond extract
-2 cups whipping cream
-2 pkgs Keebler Ready Crust (mini graham cracker crust)

-Chill mixing bowl and beaters of a mixer in freezer for 10 minutes.
-Combine milk and chocolate--cook until chocolate melts
-Remove from heat and add almond extract. Cool to room temperature
-In chilled bowl beat cream on medium speed until soft peaks form. Fold into chocolate.
-Spoon into crust and refrigerate for at least four hours.

Friday, September 19, 2008

cookie cutter cookies

I love birthdays. Love, love, love them--and yes, my birthday is the one I love the most. Call me selfish, but it's the one day dedicated to just you--it's your day and I suggest you live it up! My daughter's birthday runs a close second as far as birthday rankings go because I'm a planner and she's at an age (1) that I can pretty much plan her little party in whatever girly way I choose. And trust me, at the tender age of 1, she is most definitely a girly girl. She already struts around the house carrying my handbags on her arm, loves combing her hair, and pretending to put lotion on her legs like mommy does. And so, when my mom asked if I would decorate some cookies for my little cousin's 7th birthday (she also happens to be as girly as they come) I was excited to play with purples, pinks, and of course, polka dots. (See recipe for cookies below).

A couple weekends ago, I was also asked to make a cake for a baby shower. They wanted a simple vanilla cake with lemon buttercream frosting--light and fresh tastes for summer, perfect. I was a bit nervous, however, because, ladies and gentlemen, I have never iced a cake. Not to the smoothness required for fondant accents, etc. but I was up for the challenge--and holy goodness was it a challenge! I cannot begin to explain how unhappy I was with icing this cake. Every stroke I made it just got worse and worse. Luckily, everyone at the shower loved it, but does anyone have any tips on icing a cake as smooth as possible. This soon to be birthday girl could really use your help...

The buttercream itself tasted fantastic and I have to say, I am now a firm believer in pure buttercream vs. buttercream made with a combination of butter and shortening. I found this recipe at another great blog Butter Cakes by Evan and added a bit of lemon juice and zest.

Cookie Cutter Cookies
(adapted from a coworker about 4 jobs ago and I don’t remember her name…)

-1 cup butter
-2 cups sugar
-4 eggs
-5 cups flour
-1/2 tsp salt
-3 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp lemon rind
-1 tsp lemon juice
Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together in small bowl. In a larger bowl, cream butter—add sugar and eggs. Add flour mixture then lemon rind and juice. Chill dough for 1 hour. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I think I might be the only one who still loves 'Holla Back Girl.' It might be the most ridiculous song about nothing, but as far as the nonsense music of summer goes, it still ranks pretty high with me. In any case, this post is not about Gwen Stefani--it's about bananas. Or, banana muffins. It's strange really how much I dislike bananas themselves. I have an issue with the consistency of certain foods like bread pudding, cream of wheat, and...bananas. It's just too mushy. However, a banana muffin with walnuts--I'll eat about 4 with breakfast and snack on them throughout the day. And so it was last Sunday......Every weekend I make a big breakfast (insert brunch) on either Saturday or Sunday. Last Sunday I was watching Food Network as I stood in the kitchen contemplating what carb to accompany bacon and scrambled eggs when a promo for Everyday Italian with Giada DeLauretiis came on and I remembered the fabulous banana muffin recipe with mascarpone frosting I had. Luckily, I had two very ripe bananas on hand and some left over walnuts from the batch of brownies I'd made a couple days before. Once these muffins were in the oven, I fried some bacon and scrambled eggs with onions in none other than--the bacon grease. There are only a few things on this earth worth carrying an extra (fill in the blank) pounds for and bacon and eggs scrambled in bacon grease are two of them. Sure, you'll need a triple bypass by the time you're 35, but still.

These muffins are surely to die for...and if you eat them with the bacon grease eggs, you probably will.

Banana Muffins with Mascarpone Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 ripe bananas, peeled and coarsely mashed

3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl to blend. Beat the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend. Stir in the banana. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Bake the muffins on the middle rack until the tops are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out with no crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Transfer the muffins to a rack and cool slightly. The muffins may be eaten warm or cooled completely and frosted.

To frost the cupcakes: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the mascarpone cheese and then beat in the honey. Spread the frosting over the muffins. Sprinkle with the walnuts.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

good girl brownies

This darling little face belongs to my daughter. She seems to come up quite often in this blog (and her birthday cake is the catalyst that got the blog rolling to begin with) and so I've decided to introduce them: Gabrielle, this is mommy's blog; blog, this is Gabrielle.

I realize I could have posted a picture with her smiling or laughing or banging two completely unrelated objects together (the other day it was a pen and a flip flop), but this picture embodies everything my little child is. The sassy eyebrow and the smirk--it is a face we see often, particularly when she's about to do something sneaky, has just done something sneaky, or is just plain being funny. My daughter makes me laugh.

Yesterday morning we were playing a game called 'I'll put your clothes into the drawer and you'll take them back out again.' I tried to show her how to put clothes back into the drawer and close it. Once accomplished, we both clapped and said 'yeah!' 'Yeah' was the only word I thought she knew until we put clothes away a second time, she clapped and said 'guh guhl'. I didn't quite understand it at first until she did, and said it again--Gabrielle was mimicking what my husband and I tell her so often when she when she's accomplished something, 'good girl!' I'm not the most sentimental person, but I was quite close to tears. That little baby's growing up.

And it got me thinking about praises a bit, how we should tell each other 'good job' more often. My mother is one of the most encouraging people I know and gives hugs because 'hugs give energy.' She reminds me to tell my husband how appreciative I am of him, because sometimes, in the daily grind, you forget to tell those around you just how fantastic they are.

Which brings me to some fantastic brownies! Courtesy of Joy The Baker , my husband and I indulged in some seriously delicious brownies last night--a la mode, of course--and, oh, were they worth every calorie (I even had a couple bites after breakfast this morning). Enjoy!

Old School Fudge Brownies with walnuts and chocolate chunks

1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup butter
2 Tablespoons strong coffee or water
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate bar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan. (I used a 9-inch round cake pan.)
Combine butter and cocoa powder in a small bowl, and place over a pot of simmering water. Make sure that the simmering water down not touch the bottom of the bowl. Add the coffee or water and stir to melt the ingredients.
In a medium sized bowl whisk together the eggs and the sugar. Add the vanilla extract. When the butter and chocolate have melted and come together, slowly stir the chocolate mixture into the sugar mixture.
Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine. Fold in the nuts, saving a small handful for the top of the brownies if you like.
Pour the batter in the pan, sprinkle with chocolate chips or chocolate chunks and remaining nuts. Bake for 18-25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cut into bars.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

girls night in

Sometimes the only thing better than a girls night out is a girls night in and last night the U-City Itty Bitties were all about it. What is U-City you ask? It is the playgroup the daughter and I have attended for about a year now. Last night was the first official girls night in and it's amazing (actually, hilarious) what happens when you get a group of hot mommies together sans babies. The world becomes a lighter place--throw some great food, red wine and khalua and cream on top of that and we've got a party (and a few rather wasted ladies, I might add). The night was a much needed treat for me and a great way to end the summer. Fall semester begins tomorrow and it's back to books, accounting, and economics--the two subjects that absolutely make my head spin with confusion. But there's always the image and the memory of the cutest little cosmopolitan cookies and chocolate cupcakes I made for girls night in to get me through the mind-numbing number crunching. The best cupcake frosting I've ever tasted once again comes from the Confetti Cakes cookbook (see book to the right) and chocolate cupcakes from The Cupcake Bakeshop .

Thursday, August 21, 2008


As the fall approaches and all the kiddies (to include this big kid herself) enjoy the last few days of freedom before school begins again, I seem to be learning lessons at every turn. First, a lesson in patience, of which, I have none. Not even after 15 months of being a mother have I acquired a never-ending supply of paitience. My daughter was on par with everything regarding her development with one exception: her teeth. Until about three weeks ago, she was the biggest, toothless baby for miles. All of a sudden her four front teeth are emerging and she is just not having it. She's cranky, she's whiny, she's crying--I'm cranky, I'm whining, I'm crying. Lesson #1: get over it. Sometimes things just suck. It will pass. Lesson #2: things don't always work out the way you plan them. What's the saying? 'If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.' Well let me just tell you, I've got the good Lord rolling! I'm a planner to a fault sometimes and when things don't quite work out I throw an inner (and sometimes outer) hissy fit. This week I worked on a cake for the staff at my husband's school. He is a technology something or other at a high school and I attempted a two-layer cake (bottom layer- 10" square and top an 8" round) for the staff retreat. Well, something about the bottom layer just didn't sit right and it sunk in the middle which proved disastrous when I put the top layer on. Fortunately, the top layer worked out fine and I sent the cake along, a day late, but still happy with the results. The cooperating layer was the fabulous vanilla cake recipe from Confetti Cakes (see book to the right) with a strawberry filling and vanilla buttercream by Wilton. This weekend's venture is cupcakes and cookies--I have a new martini glass cookie cutter I've been dying to try. This time, I'll try not to plan so much, but, until then, here's the recipe for strawberry filling:

Strawberry filling

-1 pound of clean strawberries; quartered

-3/4 cup of sugar

-2 tablespoons of cornstarch
-The juice of half a lemon

1. Place the strawberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the strawberries burst and start to look like jam. Remove from heat and squeeze half a lemon. Cool completely to room temperature.2. Put the strawberries in a food processor and pulse until small pieces of strawberry remain. 3. Move strawberry filling to a bowl and cover. Refrigerate a couple of hours.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

beachy keen

I honestly can't think of anything better than lying around poolside (or seaside if you like), beneath an umbrella with a cold beverage in one hand and a frivolous magazine in the other--can you? That is how the dear husband and I spent a few days last week in Daytona beach at the fabulous Shores Resort and Spa to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. Seems like only yesterday I was a (skinny) girl of 23 in a big white dress holding a lovely bouquet of roses to marry a man who would later confess that, due to an eye condition, I was nothing but a big white blur coming down the aisle--he could barely see anything. But, one house, dog, and daughter, two lost wedding rings (his, not mine), and five years later, here we are, just kicking along and making this married thing look easy. All jokes aside, my husband is one of the most caring, selfless, and kind people I have ever met and I love him dearly for it. He is wonderful when it is least deserved...and most of all, he just loves me.
But now, to the cake! The cake was for my father's 54th birthday and was supposed to be reminiscent of his youth as a twenty-something living in California. First, let me say this--Florida and fondant are NOT very fond of each other. The humidity was ridiculous and the fondant let me know with every crack and disobedient fold it made. Not to mention I covered and decorated this cake in record time (for me, anyway) with four children--yes, four!--2 years old and under running around at a family get together. I finished the cake literally one minute before my dad walked in the door. Happily, he seemed pleased--and happily, I left him the next day with my daughter as my husband and I drove, sans responsibilities, to the beach.

Spice Cake recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, New Cookbook

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs

In a bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Add buttermilk or sour milk, butter, shortening, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed until combined. Beat 2 minutes on high speed. Add eggs and beat 2 minutes more.

Pour batter into a greased 13x9x2 in pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 12 servings.

Monday, July 28, 2008

how sweet it is... be loved by cake. And yes, as a comfort eater, I do honestly believe that food (desserts in particular) have a very special love for the person partaking of them. Am I a bit looney? For sure, but you can't tell me that a piece of cake has never made you feel good...or perhaps I am the only one. My husband and I have a dessert just about every weekend. At his request, this weekend we had a dessert that did not include chocolate. I was rather stumped because just about everything I bake involves chocolate in some way--icing, filling, etc.--but he did not want even a cousin or uncle to chocolate hovering around his dessert. Okay, okay. I get it--no chocolate! I began sifting through my favorite blogs and found a recipe for Sweet Almond Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Mascarpone Icing on The recipe was taken from Sweet Melissa's Baking Book and let me just tell you-- it. was. delicious. I don't think I have ever loved a non-chocolate dessert so much. Chocolate should really be jealous--and worried! I might just have another lover on the side...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

hats off

So, I have to thank Elisa Strauss for publishing the book Confetti Cakes (see link in previous post or 'books to love' to your right) because without this book, I could not have made my latest fondant creation, an open hatbox cake. My mother-in-law was in town this weekend to attend a friends fashion party. Since I hope to start a business and need the practice, I asked if she would like a cake. After much drawing and planning I came up with the idea of a hatbox and got busy purchasing everything I would need. I made the tissue paper and bow three days in advance while on conference call with my girlfriends who very politely asked that I stop crumpling parchment paper--nobody could hear anything I was saying. Thursday morning my daughter and I ran to the grocery store for last minute ingredients and then I proceeded to bake (using the vanilla cake recipe in Confetti Cakes). I will not bore you with the details, but the first cake was a total disaster! I don't know the science of it all, but the baking pan I used was 3 inches deep and while the outside was cooked, the inside was pure mush. By the time the inside was cooked the outside was burnt. Fabulous. Trip to the grocery store for more ingredients. Vanilla cake: take two. Much better. Friday morning my mother and brother-in-law were on board for watching my darling one-year old while I faught with, I mean, decorated, the cake. I am not the greatest slicer of cakes and so some troubles ensued. Luckily, I was able to cover some of my slicing mistakes and all was well. Covering with fondant was also not the best--I rolled it too thin and you could see through a bit to the cake. Lesson learned--when directions read 'roll to 1/4 in. thick' it means 'roll to 1/4in. thick', not 'roll until fondant is transparent!' At the end of the day, however, the cake turned out fantastic and everyone was more than pleased with it. Sure, it has it's little flaws, but the big picture, well I was pretty darn proud of myself. It was certainly the hit of the party until, of course, my one-year old and all of her cuteness stole the show. But that's okay, I guess--I made her too!

the cure-all: chocolate chip cookies

Sometimes, there is no other cure for an ailment but a chocolate chip cookie. Something about it just heals my whole heart when I take bite after bite, and I just can't get enough of that chewy texture and warm chocolate. Last week was a little rough--I was incredibly frustrated and feeling a bit down. I wanted a cookie so bad (so bad!) but said 'no, we're trying to lose some weight. No cookies.' Then day two of frustration came around and all I could think about were chocolate chip cookies. It was a morning, noon, and night obsession. And finally, on day three when I just couldn't take it anymore, I made my favorite chocolate chip cookies that are more than worth the few extra pounds I'm carrying and by the end of the evening, life was definitely a whole lot sweeter. These cookies are adapted from Giada De Laurentis of Everyday Italian on Food Network. It is her recipe for Amaretto Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches , however I just bake the cookie portion and it is, by far, my all time favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. They are so moist and chewy in the middle with just a little crunch on the perimeter. For me, it's all about the almond extract that adds that *umph* of flavor and sets this cookie above the rest. I haven't tried the complete sandwich (which, take a look at the recipe, it sounds delicious), but I'm sure I have a frustrating day or two ahead of me and chocolate chip cookies with an ice cream chaser sounds pretty good.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

not so vanilla...

My style of dress is quite simple, classic even, generally with a pop of color or something ultra modern in the form of a shoe, handbag, or maybe even jewelry. My closet is full of clothes I could wear today, or even ten years from now and still look fresh and 'in style'. Fussy--no room for it in my wardrobe. Over the top--no thank you; it's just not my style. However, when it comes to food and sweet goodies, bring on the fuss! I like a brownie full of nuts, with ice cream and caramel syrup. A cake? Chocoloate with chocolate chips and chocolate icing- I want more, more, more. So it was a bit odd to me when I was drawn to a vanilla cake recipe. I really just don't do vanilla, but something in my giddy little taste buds kept saying 'bake it, eat it, love it!' The approach was much like the classic style of dress with a pop at the shoe, giving birth to vanilla cupcakes filled with almond flavored ganache, and topped with buttercream icing and fondant accent. Check out Confetti Cakes for the vanilla cake recipe (I made it with four whole, large eggs vs. 7 egg whites). For the ganache: one part heavy cream to one part chocolate (I used plain old nestle chocolate chips), with two teaspoons almond extract--or however much your tastebuds desire. I love the way the cake turned out, extremely soft and light considering I included the egg yolks. I especially had fun with the stamps to make imprints on the fondant accents. The stamps can probably be found pretty much anywhere, but I bought mine at Target--and while your there, why not swing by the jewelry section and buy a lovely pop of color for summer?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

got milk?

...because you'll most definitely need it with these cookies--and I don't even like milk! Last night I whipped up these rocky road cookies. And, oh, honey! They are fantasticly delicious. One of the moistest cookies I've ever had. Unfortunately, I can't remember where I scored the recipe, but here it is:

Rocky Road Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 ¼ tsp baking soda

1 ½ tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

3 large eggs

3 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp instant espresso powder

1 ½ cups chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup marshmallows (leave them in big chunks, that will prevent them from melting too much)

Preheat oven to 375F.
In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, or in a stand mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and espresso powder. With a wooden spoon, mix in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips, marshmallows, and walnuts.
On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, drop tablespoonfuls of the dough about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool 1 to 2 minutes on baking sheet then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Note: To make the Chocolate Rocky Road Cookies, replace 1 cup of flour with 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder.

I realized at the last minute that I had overlooked the espresso powder and made it without. Really, these cookies made my evening...and part of my breakfast, snack, and dessert... Enjoy!

Monday, July 7, 2008

to cupcake, with love

Oh, how I love, love, LOVE a cupcake. And it is with great apology that I posted about my sugar cookie project this weekend and not about the darling devil's food cupcakes I made yesterday. So sorry little cupcakes. It will never happen again.
So yesterday I made devil's food cupcakes using a recipe from chokylit's blog with vanilla buttercream icing, filled with almond flavored chocolate ganache, and decorated with fondant flowers. But first, let's talk about this ganache. I was so excited about the ganache I couldn't stand it. And me being me, rushing into things the way that I do, did not give the ganache enough time to thicken and piped a liquidy mess into the cupckaes. Biting into the pretty little cake, there was no filling to be found. It had all just seeped, deep into the chocolately goodness that was the cupcake. Luckily, I have left over ganache and will either use it to glaze a cake or fill more cupcakes later this week. Much like the cookies, my piping was a bit out of control at first, but got better as I went along. The fondant flowers turned out so cute though and sat perfectly on top of a dollop of buttercream. Every girl needs that lovely accessory to complete her outfit, and these lovely, chocolate ladies got just that.

school's out for summer...

...And I am LOVING it! I just finished a 5 week, accelerated statistics and probability course (which, I might add, I got an 'A' in) and finally have time to start baking again. Two whole months without school--I'll be a heifer and a half with all the baking! So I got right back into it with my first project: wedding and baby themed, iced cookies. My best friend's sister just had a lovely baby girl, and a good friend from college recently turned 30 (ahh!) and got married and I wanted to send a little something--not to mention, get some practice in before I jump into starting a (very) small business. Next to ice cream, cookies are probably my favorite little treat. Why not share the love? With the help of my favorite food blog and the book Confetti Cakes by Elisa Strauss (great for fun and trendy ideas) I flooded my first batch of cookies. The end result? Not half bad for my first time around. It was a lot harder than it seemed--but isn't that always the case--and piping the perimeter of the cookies was particularly challenging. A steady hand is quite necessary. My lettering could also use some practice. Again, steady hand = necessary. I also made a custom cookie for my newly 30 year old friend. He's a kindergarten teacher by day and a dj by night so what better design to make than a turntable cookie. That's right, a turntable. Here, I 'glued' two square cookies together with royal icing, iced the cookies and covered in fondant. It was actually easier than flooding cookies--let's keep hope alive with the piping on cookies. If I can conquer statistics, piping cookies has to be right around the corner...

Monday, June 23, 2008

first things first

Let's talk about fondant--or my attempt to decorate with fondant for the first time. Teach this horse how to find water and I'll drink for years--I'm the queen of jumping online and finding a tutorial for just about anything. Enter stage left: cake decorating. My daughter celebrated her first birthday in May and I had determined from December that I was making a cake covered with fondant. It was a bit daunting, but I sat for hours and sketched a cake I thought my daughter could look back on one day and say, 'what'd you do all that for--I didn't know a cake from a door knob.' I studied (seriously) tutorials on youtube, and watched Ace of Cakes constantly. (Not that I'm even in the same hemisphere with those people; their cakes are ridiculous). After several trips to Michael's and my new favorite how-to book, Celebrate with Fondant the cake was a success. The top tier is french vanilla and the bottom tier is layered french vanilla and marble cake. Both tiers were iced/filled with chocolate buttercream icing. The dots and flowers are also fondant. Ah, my first fondant covered cake for my first child's first birthday...I hope, one day, she'll love it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

what's in a name?

I never thought I'd do it, but, here I am...with a blog. What a strange, little, four-letter word. Say it three times and it sounds like...well, it could never sound like praying. More like a fog horn or a serious head cold or sinusitis. But I digress--I'm here and I'm blogging, and about my newest obession: cake decorating! Actually, cakes, cupcakes, cookies and a general love of desserts all around. It's not that I love baking so much, but I do love projects and pretty things, and there's just nothing prettier than an iced cake or plated dessert. (Although, some peep-toe pumps are enough to make me salavate--ooh! or the perfect oversized handbag). Last night was my first attempt at a strawberry shortcake, courtesy of Martha Stewart . The shortcake was a little crumbly but I don't think I let it cool long enough. I also prepared the dough in a blender because I don't have a food processor. Not the smartest move because now, someone has to clean this, and honey, dirty dishes and I just do not get along. I didn't have a lemon so I used a little bit of orange juice to bring out the flavor in the strawberries. In the end, it was all well worth the mess in my kitchen; the recipe turned out pretty fantastic and makes a great, light, summer dessert. Mmm, strawberries and that sounds like praying.