Tag Archives: baking

How to Make an Easy Smash Cake

20 May

easy smash cake

Every birthday deserves a great cake, and first birthdays are no exception! Smash cakes have become so popular for 1st birthday parties, so when I was invited to a party for my friend’s 1-year-old, I knew I had to make an easy smash cake for the birthday girl. Watching a baby dig into a cake with their tiny hands, smearing frosting all over their faces and tasting the sweetness for the first time is magical. But since the cake is going to get demolished anyway, why spend a lot of time or effort? It doesn’t take much skill to make this fluffy, cute easy smash cake. To me, the soft colors and texture resemble a cuddly baby blanket.

The nubby texture is easily made by piping buttercream with a tip 233, also known as the grass tip. Watch how easy it is to decorate – well worth the time to see the baby dig in on her special day!

If you like this video, subscribe to my YouTube channel! I post a fun baking video every Wednesday and would love to have you!

How To Make An Easy Princess Leia Cake

28 Jan Princess Leia Cake Princess Layer Cake

Princess Leia Cake Princess Layer Cake

I love puns! I love them almost as much as I love cake, so when it was suggested that I make a Princess Leia Cake to play on the phrase “layer cake,” I knew that I had to do it. It was just to punny to pass up!

This is a silly, fun little project that anyone can bake. It’s a great tribute for Star Wars fans, for a Star Wars themed birthday or a movie viewing party. Please share this video with the Star Wars enthusiasts in your life – we all have at least one, right?

Easy Princess Leia Cake

In full disclosure, I have gone 36-1/4 years without seeing any of the Star Wars movies! How is this possible? The Star Wars culture is so permeating that even without seeing them, I know what a Wookie is, I know that Darth is Luke’s father, and I know all about Leia’s amazing hairdos. But tell me Star Wars aficionados, which movie should I see first? Where should I start? What’s your fave Star Wars film?

Please share this video, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and may the force be with you!

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Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Cake

29 Jun

Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Cake

Rainbow Cone, an iconic scoop shop on Chicago’s south side, has been serving up  tall cones since 1926. The Rainbow Cone booth is a staple at Taste of Chicago festival, giving their namesake ice cream treat fame well beyond the south side of the city.

There are 5 frozen flavors in a Rainbow Cone. Each one is scraped onto the next in a downward pulling motion with a utensil that most closely resembles a wide spackle knife. A finished cone showcases each sloping color of ice cream, proudly rising up to meet its name. So what comprises a rainbow cone? The combination of flavors is quite unique, and might surprise you:

Rainbow Cone

Photo courtesy of Original Rainbow Cone

It starts with a base of chocolate ice cream, followed by pretty pink strawberry, with signature Palmer House vanilla (vanilla with toasted walnuts and cherries) at the center, creamy green pistachio, and vibrant orange sherbet topping it all off. Does that sound weird to you? Does it seem gross? If you break it down a little bit, you’ll see that each flavor compliments another. Chocolate goes well with strawberry. It goes well with pistachio, and also with orange. Same thing with strawberry. It’s refreshing with orange, great will pistachio, and a natural with Palmer House vanilla. When you put them all together and take a big lick from bottom to top, getting a little taste of each flavor all at once, it works. It just works. I suspect that it goes back to each flavor being great with the other flavors in a one-on-one basis, but let’s not over think it. Maybe it just tastes great because it is so fun to eat an ice cream cone that looks like a rainbow. I took liberties and topped mine with whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles (what else?).

Whipped Cream and Rainbow Sprinkles

And what the heck is Palmer House vanilla, anyway? Well, the Palmer House is a stately and well-preserved old hotel in Chicago, and Rainbow Cone pays homage by mixing toasty walnuts and maraschino cherries into vanilla ice cream.

If your ice cream consumption spikes dramatically during the summer months, while your inclination to turn on the oven plummets, then this no-bake ice cream cake should be at the top of your to-do list. It’s perfect for summer birthdays, pool parties, outdoor meals, and even random Wednesday nights when it is hotter than you-know-what.

Slice of Rainbow Ice Cream Cake

It is not coincidental that I’ve posted this entry on National Pride Day. Love, respect, and ice cream! I’m off to the parade!

Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Cake 

This recipe is sized perfectly for an 8 inch round springform pan. If you use a larger pan, consider using a little more than 1 pint of each flavor, as the layers will be very thin. Also note that most inexpensive ice creams are largely air. Thawing them and then spreading them into the pans will cause the ice cream to lose a lot of volume, as the air is knocked out. Splurge for the good stuff for this ice cream cake – you won’t regret it!

12 Oreo cookies, finely crushed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 pint chocolate ice cream
1 pint strawberry ice cream
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup (about 1/2 of a 10 oz. jar) maraschino cherries, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 pint pistachio ice cream
1 pint orange sherbet
1/2 cup whipped cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
Rainbow Sprinkles

Secure the base and the sides of a springform pan by closing the hinge. Pour crushed cookies and melted butter into pan and stir until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan using the flat bottom of a pint glass. Freeze for 30 minutes.

While the crust is chilling, place chocolate ice cream on the counter top to soften. When ice cream is partially thawed, and somewhat pliable (about 30 minutes), gently spread it into an even layer over the cookie crust. Return to the freezer to firm up, at least 30 minutes.

Place strawberry ice cream in the counter top to soften. When ice cream is partially thawed and somewhat pliable (about 30 minutes), gently spread it into an even layer over the cookie crust. Return to the freezer to firm up, at least 30 minutes

Thaw the vanilla cream until it is somewhat pliable and then mash in the walnuts and chopped cherries with a spoon. Spread into an even layer over the strawberry ice cream. Return to the freezer to firm up, at least 30 minutes.

Repeat the thawing, spreading, and freezing process with the pistachio ice cream, and finally the orange sherbet. Freeze until completely solid, at least 3 hours, before cutting.

Just before serving, whip cream with confectioners’ sugar to soft peaks. Pipe onto top of cake and garnish with Rainbow Sprinkles and serve immediately. For clean slices, dip knife in hot water between each cut to warm blade, dry with towel, and cut ice cream cake.

DJ’s Summer Birthday Cake

11 Jun

DJCake1I am so competitive. Sometimes, it’s an admirable quality, pushing me to try a little harder or work a little longer . But a lot of times, it’s just plain dumb.

For instance, this past weekend I was riding in the car with my boyfriend and his parents. We were on our way home from an early birthday celebration for DJ. He and I are having another small celebration to commemorate the actual day, so as we were riding along, I asked him what kind of a cake he would prefer. Because, you know, I make cakes. Professionally. And it’s his birthday, so of course I would be making him a cake. Makes sense, right? Are you with me?

OK.

Without enthusiasm or humor, he requested an ice cream cake.

AN ICE CREAM CAKE.

I won Cupcake Wars, for Christ’s sake. And he wants to squander that kind of talent on an ice cream cake? Ouch, man!

Now, I love ice cream as much as the next guy. Probably more, actually. I’ve often fantasized about opening an ice cream business. I even put together half of a business plan for an ice cream truck before I realized that here in the Chicago,  I’d have only four solid months of sunshine and sales and eight long months of frigid destitution. Not my best get-rich-quick scheme, but you get the idea. I love ice cream.

But I’m great at cake. And this is the first year that we’ll celebrate his birthday together. I want to make him a damn cake! A real cake! CAKE cake. With ice cream alongside, if he wants.

DJ proceeded to say that he prefers ice cream cakes to regular cakes because regular cakes are all the same to him. They’re usually not bad, but they never “wow” him. And that’s fair, except that I’ve seen him happily horse down several pieces of cake now, some made by me.

DJ is a humor writer. His indifference to cakes is akin to me thinking that that all fart jokes are the same, and not only the same, but mediocre, to boot. (Just kidding though, baby. Your fart jokes are classic.)

So my nutty, competitive mind kicks into the spin cycle, and all I can think is, “I’ll show you! I’ll make you the best g*ddamn cake you’ve ever tasted or will ever taste again! And then I will never make you a cake ever again for doubting me!

Birthdays are for birthday cakes, so DJ is getting a true birthday cake this year, with simple flavors that I think he’ll enjoy. It’s not overly sweet, with a little nuttiness from ground almonds and almond extract. Fresh strawberries and whipped cream will glue it all together and keep it light and summery. It’s finished with a sprinkling of crushed almond tuile cookies for a bit of crunch. Maybe it won’t be the best cake he’s ever had, but even if it’s not, it will be a great memory of the first time we spent his birthday together.

This weekend, he gets his ice cream cake.  You better believe that it will be the best damn ice cream cake to ever come out of a freezer!

DJCake4

Summer Birthday Cake

Almond Chiffon · Whipped Cream · Strawberries · Almond Cookie Crunch

For the cake:
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Cut rounds of parchment paper and place in the bottom of two 6 inch round pans. Do not spray the pans.

In a large bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tarter with an electric mixer on high speed until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly add 1/4 cup of the sugar, and continue whipping until it is glossy and holds stiff peaks.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, almond flour, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt, discarding any large pieces of almond flour that won’t make it through the sifter.

In small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract. Stir the mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the yolk mixture to loosen. Fold in the remaining egg whites gently, until the mixture is well combined and there are no pockets of whipped egg whites left. Divide evenly into prepared pans.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or the tops of the cakes spring back to the touch. Cool the cakes for 10 minutes on cooling rack. Run a knife around the sides to loosen the edges of the cake and invert onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before filling.

For the cookie crunch:
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small chunks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl using a fork or a pastry blender, mix all of the ingredients together until the butter is in pea-sized chunks and the mixture is very crumbly. Spread into an even layer on the parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until the cookie looks lacy and the edges are very brown. Cool completely. Crumble into small pieces.

For the stabilized whipped cream:
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
4 teaspoons water
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 pint fresh strawberries, cut into small pieces + additional whole strawberries for garnish

In a small saucepan, stir together the gelatin and water until the gelatin is evenly moistened. Let it sit until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Cook over very low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally, to melt the mixture and dissolve the gelatin. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar to soft peaks. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the cooled gelatin. Continue whipping until the cream forms stiff peaks. Remove ¼ of the whipped cream and set aside. Fold the cut strawberries into the remaining whipped cream.

To assemble the cake, cut each layer horizontally into two. Fill each layer with 1/3 of the strawberry whipped cream. Run your spatula gently around the sides of the cake to clean up any whipped cream that crept out from inside the cake, and to very lightly coat the sides. the last cake with the plain whipped cream. Sprinkle the top generously with the almond cookie crunch and garnish with additional whole strawberries and a light sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar.

 

 

 

 

Almost-Homemade Biscuits

19 Jan

I’ve had a bag of Hidden Acre Farm’s Southern Snow Biscuit Mix in my pantry for a few months. It was a gift from a test kitchen freelancer whom I’ve worked with a lot. (Whom? Who? Who cares…there are biscuits on the table.) The possibility of a productive Sunday fizzled hours ago, and I’ve wanted to eat nothing but breakfast foods all day long, making it a perfect opportunity to test this stuff.

I don’t purchase many baking mixes. I make most of my baked goods from scratch. It helps me justify the $40K I spent on pastry school, you know? But this one came to me from a food pro whose family owns a pecan farm in South Carolina, where Hidden Acre Farm is located.  Plus, I give this woman a paycheck once in a while. She wasn’t going to give me bad biscuit mix.

There are only four ingredients listed on the packaging: winter wheat flour, calcium phosphate (an acid that is a part of baking powder), baking soda, and salt. Winter wheat flour is soft and has a lower protein content than regular all-purpose flour, making it ideal for tender, light biscuits.

Lots of southerners swear by White Lily Cake Flour for making biscuits. It is also made from winter wheat flour, like the Hidden Acre Farm mix. Southerners hoard White Lily though. It’s not sold nationwide, so we Yanks just don’t get it. I’d love to do some test kitchen experiments, using it to make biscuits  alongside this Hidden Acre Farms mix to see which flour reigns supreme.

Hidden Acre Farm Biscuits with Butter and Raspberry Jam

It’s pretty hard to believe that White Lily, or any other flour or recipe, could top this Hidden Acre Farms mix. They came together in mere seconds, with just the addition of heavy cream. I brushed mine with a splash of melted butter before baking because I’m a sucker for a crunchy top that gives way to a soft, delicate inside. These are everything a homemade biscuit should be – tall, golden and irregular outside, and downy inside. They’re perfect in their simplicity.

My Google research isn’t finding Hidden Acre Farms mixes for purchase online, but maybe if we all like their Facebook page, and ask really nicely, that will change.  If you’re near Rock Hills, South Carolina, consider yourself lucky.  You can get your hands on this mix at Moments In Time and The Peach Stand. Stock up.  Send me a few. If you really want to make my day, throw in a bag of White Lily. Biscuits, for all my friends!

Coconut Macaroons

18 Dec

Coconut, particularly of the sweetened and flaked variety, is an all-or-nothing flavor. Either you love it, or you loathe it. Me? I fall hard into the “love it” camp. Next time you open up a fresh bag of shredded coconut, take a walloping teaspoon’s worth (see what I did there?) and place it between your gums and lower lip, Skoal style. Let it hang out there until you’ve sucked all of the sugar and taste out of it. Just a pinch gives you long lasting flavor, without the repulsive spitting or chance of mouth cancer!

Several years back, I worked at a bakery that made tiny coconut macaroons at the holidays. Still warm out of the oven, they were like crack to me, somehow chewy and dissolving at the same time. If that bakery had a dollar for every mini coconut mac that ended up in my mouth…they’d have a lot more dollars. And that is what is known in the industry as “shrinkage.” See how I’ve left the name of this bakery out of this post? That’s because I probably owe them some cash.

Coconut Macacoons with Dark Chocolate Drizzle

Coconut Macacoons with Dark Chocolate Drizzle

Once in a while, when I have a spare egg white kicking it in the fridge, I make up a batch of coconut macaroons. They’re deceptively simple little confections, requiring only a few ingredients, all of which are pantry staples, minus the coconut. You don’t even need to bust out your stand mixer for these. And hey – if you make them for a party like I did, and most of your guests end up in the “loathe it” camp, you get to snack on the the macs for days. Win!

Coconut Macaroons

3 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 bag (14 oz.) sweetened shredded coconut
1 oz. dark chocolate, melted

Preheat your oven to 325° F. Line 3  baking sheets with parchment paper.

Vigorously whisk together the egg whites, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl until foamy and well combined, and the sugar is nearly dissolved. Fold in the coconut, making sure that it is evenly moistened.

Drop rounded tablespoons about 1 inch apart  onto  the parchment-lined sheets. A small cookie or ice cream scoop works great for this, and makes perfectly rounded mounds.. Using a small ice cream scoop, drop the batter in mounds.. Bake the macaroons 1 or 2 pans a time for 15 to 20 minutes, or until macaroons are slightly golden. If you bake more than 1 pan at a time, rotate them halfway through for more even baking. For a toastier coconut flavor and a more golden appearance overall (like mine), add an additional 1-2 minutes to the bake time. Cool the macaroons completely and drizzle with melted dark chocolate.

Makes about 3-½ dozen mini macroons.

Aside

Brown Butter and Sage Squeezed Sables

18 Nov

It’s mid-November, and somehow my herb garden is still kicking, despite a few days of near-freezing temps in Chicago. My sage in particular is simultaneously taking over the herb pot and giving mother nature the middle finger.

Every year when the weather turns cold, I start scheming up ways to use up the last of the growth, but truthfully, most of the greenery perishes in the pots before I get around to making 27-herb medley pesto, or to freezing small amounts in ice cubes trays for later use. Hey, we can’t all be Martha Stewart.  But it’s really not a big deal. I get a lot of use out of those plants during the warmer months. At $2-3 per herb plant, I get more than my money’s worth, so I don’t feel guilty when I leave perfectly fresh herbs to die in nature’s freezer. But every November I do try to use up small amounts of the bounty.

These Brown Butter and Sage Squeezed Sables are one of those ideas. So much sage, so little time!

2013-11-16 10.30.50

There’s a lot more where that came from!

Don’t know what a sable is? It’s a simple French butter cookie, pronounced sah-bleh, with emphasis on the first syllable. It’s named for it’s delicate, sandy texture, similar to shortbread. Sable dough is usually rolled out and cut into shapes before baking, but rolling out sandy cookie dough can be a mess. There’s no clean way to lightly-flour a counter top. It gets everywhere, and sometimes that fine, but other times you just don’t want to deal with that chaos and clean up. Enter the squeezed sable. No rolling, no cutting, no mess. If you’re super brave and don’t mind finding random bits of cookie dough in the tiny crevices around your kitchen for the next month, you could even do the squeeze-shaping with your kids. Doesn’t that sound like a great time?

These sables are a direct take off of Clothilde Dusoulier’s Roasted Flour Squeeze Cookies. Her brilliant recipe riffs off of a traditional sable by roasting the flour, which imparts an unbelievably rich, nutty quality to the finished cookie. If you haven’t tried baking with roasted flour, make haste to your kitchen. You’ll be amazed at how easily it amplifies the flavor of cookies and cakes.

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Unroasted All Purpose Flour

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Roasted All Purpose Flour

When I think of sage, my mind immediately jumps to browned butter. Those two simple ingredients make a hell of a flavor statement, so I started wondering how they would translate into something sweet. These sables already have a nutty back note from the roasted flour, but browning the butter took it to a whole new level. This cookie dough smelled of toasty pecans, walnuts, and cashews with nary a nut in site. Do people develop nut allergies later on in life? Because if you know a nut-lover with a life-threatening nut allergy, these cookies could fill that nutless-void in a beautiful way.

And as for the backyard-harvested sage? I sprinkled a tablespoon of the chopped leaves into the butter and let them infuse into the butter as it browned. All of the roasting and browning, along with the fresh sage and a hefty pinch of crushed sea salt puts these cookies in that gorgeous gray area, where sweet and savory meld together. This is a really delicious cookie/biscuit hybrid to be eaten on it’s own, but could also easily round out a cheese plate. And if you squint a little bit these rustic beauties kind of look like seahorses. Just a little added bonus!

It’s  worth noting that you don’t need an electric mixer or food processor for this cookie recipe, as all of the mixing can be done by hand with  pastry cutter. Double bonus!

Brown Butter and Sage Squeezed Sables

Brown Butter and Sage Squeezed Sables (not fried seahorses)

Brown Butter and Sage Squeezed Sables

adapted from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Squeeze Cookies, originally from Chocolate & Zucchini

 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
1-1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed sea salt
1 egg yolk
3-4 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and 1-2 cups of cold water, so that the ice cubes float. In a small saucepan, cook butter and sage over a medium-low flame until the butter browns and there are small dark brown flecks at the bottom of the pan. It will smell very nutty. Submerge the hot pan in the bowl of ice to stop the butter from cooking. Stir butter occassionally while it is still fluid to speed up the cooling process. Chill until the butter is completely solid.

Spread flour into a thin layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast in the oven without stirring, until the flour has gone from white to a sandy color all over, about 30-35 minutes. Cool the flour completely. You won’t use the oven again for a while, so decide if you want to keep it on or turn it off until the cookies are ready to bake.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the roasted flour, sugar, and salt until they are thoroughly incorporated. Cut the cold butter into 1/4 inch chunks and add to the dry ingredients. Use a pastry cutter to incorporate the butter and dry ingredients, until the mixture is coarse and the butter chunks are smaller than peas. Shaking the bowl gently from time to time will force any remaining large chunks of butter to the top so that you can cut them into smaller bits. Add the egg yold and 3 tablespoons of milk and stir the mixture together until everything is well combined. Squeeze a bit of dough in your hand. If it holds together easily, you are ready to form the sables. If it crumbles instead of holding together, add an additional tablespoon of milk and stir until just combined.

Squeeze 1-2 tablespoons of dough in your fingers to form 2-1/2 inch long cookies. Place the cookies about 1-1/2 inches apart on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate the sheet for 1 hour, or until the cookie dough is chilled and firm.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the sables for 16-18 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Gently transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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