Monday, September 26, 2011

Then and Now

Though I've been baking for a long time, I've been actually decorating cakes now for about a year and a half. I thought this was a good time to take a look back and see how far I've come! I hope you all will enjoy this too!

The first cake I ever decorated, other than just spreading some icing on the top, is this one. It was for my son's 4th birthday. He wanted Spiderman, so I bought little plastic spiderman toppers and used one on the top of this cake. I piped on the spiderweb and I remember feeling so pleased and proud of the final result. Will was thrilled, as you can imagine. He is still my biggest fan and best supporter!

I got the bug for sure and have been doing a lot of decorating ever since! Here is another one of my first cakes (click here). This one is from the cake decorating class that I took at my local Michael's store. To be honest, I really hated the idea of putting clowns on a cake! They seemed a little creepy to me. But piping them was fun and I liked how they turned out. You can see from the sides of this cake that I still hadn't quite mastered the art of spreading and smoothing icing. See the crumbs? It makes me cringe a little!

Then I decided to try fondant. That was in June of last year for Kate's 3rd birthday. I really love (still!) how this one turned out. Click here to see it! Oh, I really fell in love with working with fondant!

Here are some of my more recent cakes. Can you tell a difference? I know I still have a lot left to learn. But oh what fun it has been moving from that spiderman cake and those clowns to some of these cakes! I look forward to many more years of learning, improving, and getting to share my cake creations!

My biggest cake so far. This was a 10-inch, 8-inch, 6-inch, and 4-inch separated by small styrofoam spacers and decorating with fondant. I made it this past spring just for fun and practice. I really love this cake.

I also love these little buttercream cakes that I've been doing. They are fun, classic, and beautiful. I'm anxious to try some of these patterns and techniques on some bigger cakes. These you've seen already, but here they are again!

I hope you've enjoyed this trip down memory lane with me! Thanks for reading along!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Raspberry Ganache Brownies

Doesn't the title of these brownies alone make your mouth water? These are wonderful! This is a recipe created by my sister, Amy, and they really are as good as they sound. Keep reading for Amy's post about these brownies and to get the recipe! Thanks, Amy, for sharing!

"At a bakery here in town, I heard the words raspberry ganache brownie and thought “yumm!” and of course, had to try to make them for myself. I started with Martha Stewart’s Double Chocolate Brownie recipe and just added my own filling. They turned out really well! These are rich so I cut the squares smaller than normal. I didn’t have one in the bakery that day (I chose the peanut butter one instead) so I’m not sure how they made theirs or how it tasted. But these are very good."

These are so easy to put together, but very impressive in the end. You can really wow people with these! It all starts with some beautiful chocolate.

All you do is melt the butter, chocolate, and cocoa together. Whisk until it is smooth and luscious looking, like this. (Forgive the background on this one!)

Whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.

With your mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla until it is light in color and frothy-looking.

Add the chocolate mixture first, blend, then add the flour mixture. Voila! The brownie batter part of this treat is done! Here is what it should look like:
Put half of this batter into the bottom of your prepared pan.

Now you are ready to make the raspberry ganache. Simply heat the cream, then add the chocolate and whisk to smooth perfection. Resist the urge to dip into it with a spoon or your fingers!

Warm the raspberries in a small saucepan before you push them through a strainer to remove the seeds and add the resulting smooth sauce to the chocolate mixture.

Now, depending on how juicy your raspberries were, you may have a thin or slightly thick ganache. If yours is thin, simply chill it a bit in the refrigerator or let it sit at room temperature until it thickens up. You will want to dollop it onto the batter in the bottom of your pan and spread it around without going all the way to the edge. Mine was pretty thin. I poured it on anyway because I was impatient and couldn't stand to wait for it to thicken! This is a rough pic, I know, but you can see what happened.

There was no controlling that ganache. It went all the way to the edge! And it was so thin that it was impossible to neatly cover it with the remaining batter. So, instead I just put the batter on the top and swirled it all together with a butter knife. It still worked! Check out the finished product, cooling still on it's parchment.

And, finally, all plated up!

I actually also scattered some fresh raspberries on top of the brownies and sprinkled it all with a bit of powdered sugar. But, I was in a hurry and forgot to take that one last picture! Sorry! It looked spectacular, though! You can trust me on that one!

Here is the recipe so you can impress all of your own family and friends! Enjoy!!

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Ganache Brownies

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Ganache filling:
1 heaping cup fresh or frozen raspberries
2 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
¼ cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a buttered 8-inch square baking pan with foil or parchment paper, allowing 2 inches to hang over sides. Butter lining (excluding overhang); set pan aside.

Put butter, chocolate, and cocoa in a heatproof medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water; stir until butter and chocolate are melted. Let cool slightly. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on medium speed until pale, about 4 minutes. Add chocolate mixture; beat until combined. Add flour mixture; mix, scraping down sides of bowl, until well combined.

To make the ganache filling, heat cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until steaming. (You can also do this in the microwave. Just put it in for short bursts until the cream is hot. Be careful not to burn the cream!). Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. In another small saucepan, heat raspberries on medium-low heat until they are softened. Begin mashing them when they start to warm. Remove from heat and push through a mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Add the seedless raspberry puree to the chocolate mixture. Stir to combine. If the resulting ganache is thin, chill in the refrigerator or at room temperature until it thickens.

Pour half of batter into prepared pan; spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Drop dollops of ganache on top of batter. Carefully spread ganache evenly over batter leaving a 1/2-inch border. Place the remaining batter on top and gently spread over the ganache. There shouldn’t be any ganache showing through the top.

Bake until a cake tester inserted into brownies (avoid center and edges) comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet, about 35 minutes. Let cool slightly in pan, about 15 minutes. Lift out brownies; let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Hello all!

I just read an amazing write-up of a common complaint of scratch cakes - that they are dry. Jump over to the blog at Amanda Oakleaf Cakes (just click here) and read her analysis of "dry" scratch cakes. It will open your eyes!

Did you all know that many, if not most, bakeries and bakers use box mixes to make their cakes? This was a surprise to me when I started baking and decorating cakes. I have used a box in the past, before I really started reading and learning about cakes and cake recipe creation, but I very much prefer scratch cakes and ALWAYS bake from scratch now. And I use the highest quality ingredients that I know of and can get my hands on. Yes it costs a little more. Yes it's not as convenient. Yes it's a million times better and better for you. Box cakes are loaded with chemical preservatives and additives and oil. That is why they are so predictable. And why many bakers choose to use them.

But I truly believe that if you want to, anyone can make a good, consistent cake from scratch. You just have to learn the rules, which aren't really too hard, and pay attention to your ingredients (measuring and quality). Easy peasy!

The same idea goes into icing. Scratch is usually better. And usually not as difficult or scary as you think!

Oh, and while you are reading all about this on Amanda's blog, take a look at her cakes. They are truly, truly amazing. I cannot say enough about them! These are the cakes I aspire to! So, take your time and click through all of them. Enjoy the fabulous eye-candy that you see there! :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Triple Berry Pie

Hello everyone! I hope you're not getting tired of all these posts right in a row! This weekend, I was craving pie. So I made some! People are often afraid to make their own pies. They seem hard. Intimidating. But they really aren't, so if you're in the mood for pie, grab a few simple tools and get baking! I am convinced that anyone can make a really good pie. It may not be the prettiest thing, but it will be tasty if you follow a few simple rules of thumb. I'll share those with you below!

For my pie, I hesitated even sharing it with you because it did not turn out like I wanted it to. I doesn't look as pretty as I like it. And I underestimated the juiciness of the berries, so the inside is more like berry soup than a firm, easy-to-slice pie. But the taste is still fantastic! And it is possibly the best pie crust that I've ever made. So, here it is! Proof that your pie doesn't need to be pretty to please your family and friends. And, if it doesn't turn out perfect, it's not a big deal! Just learn from it and try again. And, in the meantime, enjoy your delicious pie!

Here you can see the juices dripping from my not-sealed-well-enough crust. Yes, you got it. It's not supposed to do that.

Do you see how my crust is droopy there at the edge? Well, when I pinched the top and bottom crusts together and folded it under, I just didn't seal it well enough. I also had a bit too much dough there and instead of turning inward, when it hit the heat, it drooped down over the outer edge and started to come apart a little, making a space for the juices to leak through. I am so glad that I thought to put a baking sheet under my pie for this one! Or I would have had a killer mess in my oven!

See this slice? Doesn't it look tasty? And that is homemade vanilla bean ice cream next to it! Yum!

You can also see how the filling is falling out. Some of that will happen with any berry pie, but it should hold together a little better than mine did. The juices from the berries were fantastic on the ice cream, though!

So, here is my recipe and some tips at making it better than mine! Last week, I found a really good pie tutorial on The Pioneer Woman's website. You can find that tutorial here. Many of my tips come from this, so check it out!

Triple Berry Pie

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Rounded tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/4 cup ice water

2 cups fresh raspberries
2 cups fresh blackberries
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/2-3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup flour (you could also use cornstarch or tapioca flour)
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Juice from half a lemon
egg wash for the top (one egg beaten with a bit of water)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut the butter into small pieces and keep it cold. Add to the flour mixture and cut in using a pastry blender, fork, or two knives. This can also be done in a food processor, but I do it the old-fashioned way by hand instead, mostly because I don't yet have a large enough food processor. Cut in the butter or pulse the food processor until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Add the ice water (not any actual ice cubes!) a little at a time, or drizzle it into the food processor, until the dough is moist but not quite all sticking together. Forget what you've always been told about the dough coming together in a ball. If you've reached that point, your dough is too moist! It should look a bit like wet sand and should stick together well if you grab some and squeeze it in your hand. Do all of this relatively slowly so you don't overmix your dough. That will activate the gluten too much and make your pie crust tough.

Once the dough has started coming together, divide it half. Place one half in the refrigerator (just keep it in the bowl for now) and place the other half on a large piece of lightly-floured parchment paper. Very lightly flour the top of the dough, then cover with another large sheet of parchment paper and roll it out to about 1/4-inch thick. Now this is the best trick that I found in the blog entry above. This prevents the dough from sticking and also keeps you from accidentally incorporating too much extra flour into your dough as you try to get it to not stick to your countertop. I've done that before! You know when you are rolling it out and you are afraid it will stick, so you keep adding more flour to the counter. And to the top along with your rolling pin. All of that extra flour throws off the balance of fat and flour in the dough and will make your crust tougher than it should be. This pie was the first I tried this technique and it worked like a charm! Like I said, the best crust I have made!

Once you have the first half rolled out, gently pull off the top piece of parchment paper. You will have to go slowly for this because it may act like it wants to stick a little bit. Use the bottom sheet of parchment to lift the circle of dough and turn it onto your pie dish. Gently peel off the other sheet of parchment and press the dough into the corners of your pie dish, being very careful to not trap air underneath the dough and to not tear the dough. I use my knuckles and never my fingertips. The dough should overhang the top edge just a little. Now place this into the refrigerator and pull out the other half of the dough. Roll the second half out like the first and, leaving it between the pieces of parchment, put it flat into the refrigerator.

Now it's time to mix the filling. You really can use any fruit for this and it would be excellent. The above is just a basic guideline and what I used to make this particular pie. A standard pie dish will hold about 6 cups of fruit/filling, so use that as your guide and use whatever yummy fruits are in season or that you have on hand. Just mix the fruit together with the sugar, cinnamon, and flour. Be gentle so you don't crush the fruit, especially when working with berries. The sugar amount that you use depends on how sweet the fruit is that you are using and how sweet you want the final result to be. I used about 1/4 cup for my pie because I wanted it to be a little tart. Just taste your berries and go from there. This is not an exact science, so play around with it! Same goes with the cinnamon. You can add whatever spices you like to the filling. Just pick some that compliment your fruit. Cinnamon is almost always a good choice. Nutmeg, used sparingly, is a good choice too. I like a little more cinnamon and some nutmeg in my apple pie. Finally, the flour is what will thicken the filling. Remember how loose mine was? Well, I didn't add enough flour. I used only 2 rounded tablespoons and that was clearly not enough for all of these berries. For other less juicy fruits, you can probably use just the two tablespoons and you will be fine. For these berries, I think I should have doubled the amount, so I put 1/4 cup in the recipe here. Again, this part is a little trial and error, so play around with it and know that if you don't get it just right, it will still taste delicious!

Once you have the filling mixed, pour it into your pie dish, filling the bottom portion of the dough. Dot the top of the filling with the butter. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the top to brighten the flavors of the berries. You won't really taste lemon in the final product, but it does bring out the flavor of the berries really well. You could also use a teaspoon of lemon zest.

Take out your second rolled-out pie dough disc and peel away one of the parchment papers. Using the other paper, carefully place your dough over the pie and filling, trying your best to line up the outer edges. Carefully and slowly remove the other parchment paper. Cut the edges (if necessary) so that they overhand the edge of the pie dish about an inch. Gently pinch the upper and lower crusts together, then fold the upper under the lower so that it lines up with the inner edge of the top of the pie dish. Pinch together once more. You can do a decorative pattern using your knuckles and fingertips (be careful not to tear the dough!) or just seal it with the tines of a fork. Cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape and brush the entire top with the egg wash to make a nice golden brown top to your pie. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes (some recommend thirty, but I'm always too impatient for that!) in order to make sure the butter and crust are good and cold before going into the oven. This will make your crust even more tender and delicious!

Place your pie on the middle rack of your oven and bake at 425 for around 30 minutes, or until the top is nearly golden brown. Cover the top of the pie with aluminum foil (lightly!) and turn down the oven to 375. Continue baking until the juices are bubbling, around 30 more minutes. But check it often - it could take as little at 20 minutes or as much as 40 depending on your filling. The foil will keep your top crust from browning too much and from burning. I also usually put a flat baking sheet on the rack below my pie to catch any juices that might spill out. Because I hate cleaning ovens!

When your pie is bubbling and golden brown, remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack. Resist the urge to cut into it right away because no matter how much thickener you used, it won't be quite set right out of the oven and you want to give those juices a chance to settle down just a bit. So, wait around 10 minutes or so if you can. Serve in big slices with ice cream! Enjoy!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Leaf-Tip Cake

I almost forgot about this one! I thought I had shared it with you all, but as it turns out, I forgot. Sorry! I know you are dying to see it! :)

Remember when I told you about MisoBakes? She is an amazing cake designer and blogger who had the idea a few months ago to do a series of cake-decorating challenges. The participants have to use only one specific piping tip to pipe a buttercream design onto a small white or off-white cake. This is my second month participating and I am loving it!

For August, the challenge was to use a tip typically used to make leaves out of buttercream icing. We had to use this icing tip to pipe green icing onto a white or off-white 6- or 8-inch round cake. I had the honor of picking the challenge, so I was really excited to do it! Even though I picked the challenge, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do until the day before the challenge cake picture had to be sent in! I think maybe I picked a hard one! Oh, did I mention we couldn't do any leaves?

Well, this is what I came up with. I did little "c" shapes (or smiles and frowns if you want to look at it that way) kind of linked together and repeated all over the cake. I was really pleased in the end with the color and the design. It has texture and there are two different shades of green in there, which adds a little depth and interest to the cake.

I repeated the pattern all along the top, ending in the center. If a space of the white underneath was still showing, I just piped a little dot in the space to fill it in. You can hardly even see where I did that, so I think that worked well!

You can really see the color difference in the top view.

This cake, for those who are interested, was chocolate with vanilla buttercream filling and frosting. I ended up giving this one away to a friend. She is eating for two, so she needed it more than me! :)

To see the other entries in the challenge, check out the Miso Bakes Project here. (Notice that Miso is now posting the challenges and entries on a blog separate from her own cake blog.) Next month is another tricky one, so stay tuned!

Peach Cheesecake

Doesn't that look good? Last week, my sister, who is also an amazing baker and cook, asked me to test her new peach cheesecake recipe. Let me tell you, it is awesome! It was a nice change of pace from regular cake. And a wonderful way to use some of those tasty peaches that are perfect this time of year!

I wanted to give you a little look at what I've been doing since I haven't posted any cakes lately. But, unfortunately, I can't share it with you because Amy isn't finished with it yet and is going to enter it in a contest. Wish her luck!

In the meantime, here is an idea I can share with you for a tasty and easy little peach snack. Take a peach (or two) and peel and slice it. Put it in a small microwave-safe container. In a separate small container, mix together a pinch of cinnamon, a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar, and some quick oats. Mix this with the peaches and microwave for a minute on high. Then you have a quick little serving of peach cobbler! Top with whipped cream or ice cream and enjoy! You can do this with apples, too. And play around with it - try adding a little vanilla or a touch of cream.

I also have some tasty treats coming up. Today, I'm baking a triple berry pie. This is new to me, so I hope it turns out! If it does, I will share my recipe and method. I also have two guest posts from my sister - two absolutely wonderful brownie recipes that you will all just swoon for. Trust me on that!

Have a wonderful week!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Triple Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Cookies!!!!! It was about time I made some cookies. So tasty. So easy. So chippy! Okay, so maybe that's not really a word, but it should be! And if it was a word, it would certainly apply to these babies. They are chock full of semi-sweet chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips. Yummmmmm-y!

I've always loved Oatmeal Scotchies and I knew I wanted to make something with butterscotch. But I wanted something just a little bit different, so I threw in some extra chips and voila! Triple Chip Oatmeal Cookies.

Here is the recipe! Since I took this recipe from the bag and adapted it, I don't have the weight measurements for you on this one. Sorry! Next time, I will have my act together a little more and find the weights. :)

Triple Chip Oatmeal Cookies (adapted from Nestle's Oatmeal Scotchies, on the back of the butterscotch chip bag)

1 1/4 cup self-rising flour, lightly spooned and leveled
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, whisk together the self-rising flour and the cinnamon. Set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter with the sugars and the vanilla until the mixture is lighter in color and looks a little fluffy. Add the eggs and mix until combined. Stir in the oatmeal and the chips.

Grab a few for yourself and your kids too! Don't they look good??

I think they also look pretty in this little ball jar. This would be a great kitchen display - a whole row of jars filled with pretty chips. Not sure I could keep my hands out of them, though!

Scoop or spoon onto parchment-lined baking sheets. I used a tablespoon-sized scoop. This ensures fairly evenly-sized cookies and is easier than using your hands or a spoon, though you could certainly use those instead.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then move to cooling racks and cool completely before storing in an airtight container. I store mine in a freezer bag in the freezer and they stay fresher longer. This is a trick I picked up from my very talented sister. They thaw so quickly and always taste like they were just made. And it's a good way to hide them from the kids! Not that I do that.... :)