Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Darkest Chocolate Cake

I know I have been promising more recipes for awhile now. So, here is one of my favorites. It may seem a tad fussy and complicated, but it actually comes together really easily and it is oh so good! This is my own chocolate cake recipe. It is very dark, very moist, and full of chocolate flavor!

It is this recipe that I used to make the cupcakes that were on my treat table, paired with Chambord buttercream.

I have given you a chocolate cake recipe before. This is my newer and better version. It is also slimmed down a bit. An added bonus! As always, I recommend that you weigh your ingredients to get the most consistent results. If you do not have a kitchen scale or just don't want to weigh, please sift your flour into the measuring cup. Otherwise you will end up with too much flour and the recipe might not work for you.

Now with that word of caution, on to the good stuff! If you try making this cake yourself, let me know if you like it!

Darkest Chocolate Cake

1-3/4 cup (7 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (2-1/4 ounces) unsweetened cocoa, Dutched or a mix of Dutched and Natural (I use Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa)
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 cup (7-3/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons espresso powder
3/4 cup (6 liquid ounces) hot water (not boiling, hot tap water is fine)
1/2 cup (4 liquid ounces) canola oil
4 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, melted and cooled
3 whole large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup (4 liquid ounces) buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare one 8X3-inch round cake pan or two 8X2-inch round cake pans by greasing the bottom and sides with shortening and lining the bottom with a greased parchment paper round. Set the pan(s) aside.

Combine the flour, cocoa, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, salt and espresso powder in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with the paddle attachment for at least 30 seconds. Add the hot water and the canola oil. Mix on low until moistened, then on medium for 1-1/2 minutes. Add the melted and cooled chocolate and mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, extracts, and buttermilk. Add in three parts to the flour mixture, mixing after each addition first on low then on medium for 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. The batter will be thin.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 45 to 55 minutes (35 to 40 minutes for 2-inch high pans) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Remove from oven and cool in pan(s) for 5 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Last week, I had the pleasure of making this Snoopy cake for my daughter's friend, Sarah, who turned 5 on Friday. Happy birthday Sarah! Her mom, Carrie, is a fellow caker, so this was fun! Carrie sent me a picture of a cake that Sarah liked and I made it come to life, with just a few tweaks to clean up the design.

Snoopy is molded from rice krispy treats then covered in fondant. His ears, nose, eyes, and arms are also fondant. His collar and the Woodstocks are made from modelling chocolate. The details on Woodstock were done with an edible black marker.

The cake itself was chocolate with milk chocolate ganache (the bottom tier) and white (vanilla) with milk chocolate ganache (the top tier). Yum!

What a pleasure it is to make this cake for Sarah and her family! I hear they enjoyed it. That is, pardon the pun, the icing on the cake! :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Heart Cakes

I know, cheesy title, huh? But it fits!

I had an idea for a Valentine's Day design while I was working on Will's cake design. I drew it up and baked the cakes at the same time. Saturday I put it all together!

The cake is a 6-inch marble cake (chocolate and vanilla) with buttercream filling and ganache under the fondant.

Here is a closer look.

Stay tuned on Facebook for a giveaway very soon!

Hint...it has to do with this cake.

See you soon!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Clone Wars

We are immersed in the world of Star Wars at our house lately. Will saw the original movies this summer and there was no turning back. I have to admit, though, that they are pretty good and bring back some memories! Now Will is really into Clone Wars, which is a cartoon set between two of the newer movies and features Anakin and clone good guys. I confess I don't really know much about the series except that Will loves it.

My little guy turned 6 this week and asked for a Clone Wars party and cake. This was the first year we have thrown a birthday party for him with his friends. Wow - that is a whole other story!

On to the cake! I had a really hard time coming up with ideas for Star Wars or Clone Wars. The movies and cartoon series are all so character-based and I don't think I can do justice to figures that are people. I also can't really draw. The other alternative was complicated ships, which also seemed beyond my current abilities. (Check back in a few years or so, though, and I bet I'll be trying some!) I finally decided to do a clone trooper helmet. I chose Rex, who is a leader of the clones (I think).

Here is the finished cake.

Do you like it?

I also snapped some progress pics for you. This was a carved cake, so I thought you might like to see it in process.

I started with a 12-inch round (3 inches high) marble cake filled with dark chocolate ganache. I then carved it into the basic shape of the clone helmet. You can see at the bottom that I "glued" some extra pieces on to make the full curve of the bottom of the helmet. I used some of the ganache as the "glue." After I had the basic shape around the edges, I started carving the top - adding a curve to the top part of the helmet and cutting out spots on the "cheeks" of the helmet.

Here is the carved cake. It's a little hard to see all of the details on the top.

Next came the ganache to support the fondant. The ganache is the same that I used between the layers. It creates a nice smooth surface for the fondant.

Fondant was next up. I was a little worried about the fondant going on smoothly over all of those little curves, but it went pretty well. I was very pleased with that part!

Here's a helpful hint - make sure your fondant smoothers are clean before smoothing white fondant! I accidentally got some of the ganache on mine when smoothing one side and didn't notice. That ganache then got smeared onto the other side of the cake. Doh! It took some doing to get it off and ended up leaving a little mark. Now I will always check that!

After the white fondant was on, I added the black and blue details in fondant. The hard part was the measuring and making sure both sides were even.

Another lesson I learned with this is that you can make fondant really black by painting it with black gel food coloring mixed with a little vodka. Another lesson I learned is that it takes absolutely forever to dry. At the party, kids were walking away with black streaks on their fingers and faces. And though I did all of this on Friday, that black is still not dry! And it is now Sunday! I don't think I'll be using that method again unless it is something I can paint well in advance and in a smaller area.

I would recommend buying black fondant if you need it. I like to make my own fondant, but you have to add a ton of gel color to get a true black. (The same is true for a deep red.) In the past, I've started with chocolate fondant to make black and that works a lot better. This time, though, I didn't want to make a full batch of chocolate fondant for just these accents, so I started with the white that I had. I added a TON of color and it was still only a dark gray, but clearly gray. In hindsight, I would have just used the gray on this cake instead of painting it to make it a true black.

I recently used Satin Ice fondant in black (sadly, all of it was used on my last cake and it is not readily at hand for me where I live) and it was wonderful. I think I will make a point of buying the Satin Ice for red or black projects from now on. It is a little pricey, but well worth it for these colors.

Finally, I needed to add some depth and shading to the helmet. I debated for a really long time with myself about this. I almost didn't do it. But the helmet needed something in the "cheek" areas and around the top and sides to really look like the clone's helmet. I decided to paint it on. This is the one part of the cake that I am not really happy about. If I had time and more fondant/cake/etc., I would have re-done it. But the reason I went ahead and tried this in the first place was because I knew this was a family cake and I want to learn new things. I think the first problem was using the gel color for this. I suspect that it would have gone better with powdered colors. The second problem was the brushes. I just don't have the right brushes for this. Third, my skills and knowledge of painting is limited! I am seriously going to start watching The Joy of Painting on PBS now. I actually love that guy anyway and I know that what I learn will come in handy in my caking future!

I am very grateful for opportunities to learn and grown my skills, though. How can we ever learn and get better if we don't try new things and if we don't fail, even a little, at some of them?

Overall, I am very happy with this cake. And Will really loved it. That is all that really matters to this mother's heart!

Stay tuned for another cake that I also did this weekend and will post about tomorrow. I have a lot of cakes and cake plans coming up, so come back often or, better yet, sign up for e-mail and each post will be sent straight to your inbox. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Weight Training

Like the new equipment? Do they look like the real things?

These are my latest cakes!

My amazing friend Erin just opened her own gym, FitMama, where she is offering boot camp classes, yoga, personal training, and more. I am so excited for her and she is such an inspiration! By the way, if you live in the Batavia-Geneva-St. Charles-Elburn area, check out her website and sign up for classes here.

Anyway, I offered to do a cake for her and she chose the opening of her gym as the occasion. Originally the cake was going to be a simple 8-inch round but I thought that was a little too boring. I wanted to come up with something that really truly suited the opening of a gym. Not the usual venue for a big cake, so I wanted to try to be really creative.

This is what I came up with and I think they turned out pretty great, if I do say so myself!

The kettlebell has the gym logo on it. I love the combo of the silver background and the pink logo.

The weight plate was added to make sure there was enough cake for everyone. Originally it was just going to be a basic round. But I wanted it to go with the theme and a basic round is a perfect weight plate!

These cakes were a challenge and a lot of fun!

The kettlebell is made up of 6-inch and 8-inch rounds of dark chocolate cake stacked with the larger rounds in the middle and the smaller rounds on the top and bottom, then carved to make the ball shape with a flat bottom. I filled and covered the cake with dark chocolate ganache before covering it with fondant. The handle is a wire covered in rice krispy treats and fondant, then secured to the cake with wooden skewers. The whole thing is covered with dark gray fondant and then painted with silver petal dust mixed with a bit of vodka. The vodka makes it possible to paint with the dust but then dries quickly leaving the color behind. The logo is cut from fondant.

I have to admit that I had a bit of trouble with the handle. I tried to cover it with a single sheet of fondant, but couldn't get it to work, so I covered it with three panels, one on the top and one on each of the sides. I had trouble hiding the seams. I definitely need to work on that! I think I could have gotten the single piece of fondant to work, but I didn't have enough time or fondant to keep trying it. Next time...

I keep thinking I probably shouldn't point out the faults of any of my cakes because maybe no one but me would notice. But that's not really what this blog is about. I want you all to see behind the scenes, so to speak, and share my struggles as well as my successes. Plus, when I go back and read about this in the future, I want to be sure I remember where I started and how I've grown.

I digress.... Let's talk about the weight plate cake! It is red velvet with cream cheese Swiss meringue buttercream under black fondant. The numbers are cut from white gumpaste then also painted silver. Oh my goodness, this cake was soooo good! Just thinking about it makes me crave that cream cheese buttercream! So much better than powdered sugar based cream cheese buttercream! Yum!

One of my favorite parts of this whole project is the board underneath the cakes. It is covered with fondant. I simply kneaded the three colors I had been using - white, dark gray, and pink - then rolled it out and "glued" it with shortening to foamcore board. I glued a ribbon to the side to finish the edges. I really love how the colors came together! I truly believe that a fondant-covered board gives a more professional look to any cake. A lot of bakeries sell cakes on foil-covered boards or simple cardboard with a metallic finish. I love the look of a board that coordinates with and enhances the cake rather than detracts from the cake's design.

Well, I hope you enjoyed seeing my fitness cakes! (Is that an oxymoron?) Thanks for stopping by and taking a look!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My New Toy

My husband managed to surprise me for Christmas this year.

He doesn't usually do that.

And I'm a little hard to surprise.

It was fantastic! And so much fun.

He got me a new toy for my kitchen. I had been talking about it, but definitely not with the expectation that he would get it for me! The object of my desire? A new red 7-quart Kitchenaid Professional Series Stand Mixer from Williams-Sonoma. Kitchenaid just came out with this version of their stand mixer, which has always been a tried and true kitchen tool. I have a red 4.5 quart already and I've put it through it's paces for years now. And I still love my little one. But this new one is oh so cool!

I had seen it on different blogs and entered many giveaways for a new one. I never win any of those things. But it's always fun to enter and wish for one!

This year, my wish came true, though not because I won one of the contests.

Want to see my new kitchen friend? Here she is....

Isn't she pretty? I do think she needs a name, though. Got any suggestions?

In the picture above, you can't quite appreciate exactly how big the new mixer is. Here is a pic of my new and old mixers side-by-side.


I look forward to making many more cakes and cookies with my new mixer! And I look forward to sharing them all with you!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Christmas Sugar Cookies

Happy New Year!

I know that it's after Christmas now, but I'm a little behind in my posts, so I'm showing you iced Christmas sugar cookies. I did these the day before Christmas, then I did some more last week because I loved it so much!

This is the first time I've tried piping icing onto sugar cookies. Do you like them?

In the past, I've frosted with a knife and then put sprinkles on. That is also fun, but I always get a teensy bit bored with it. Piping has seemed too intimidating.

This year, I decided to try it after seeing a wonderful video tutorial on piping lines from Sweetopia. If you haven't heard of this site, you should definitely check it out! I guarantee you will end up spending a lot of time there. Just remember to come back!

Here is a link to the tutorial I mentioned. She makes it look so easy!

Also check out her link to the "10-second rule" to determine if your icing is the right consistency. I've had problems with this in the past and this rule saved me. So simple and it really works!

Here are some close-ups of some of my cookies.

Now these did take a long time to do. I thought it was fun. After awhile, I started to have a problem coming up with new things to do, so I repeated a lot. But I thought they looked really nice when finished. One of my favorite designs was the simple snowflake on the round scalloped-edge cookies.

These weren't just good-looking, they were fantastic to eat too! I used a recipe I found on another blog I love, Sweetapolita. Her blog is also fantastic and you should all definitely check it out. You will love it! Click here for her sugar cookie recipe and instructions for handling the dough. I followed all of these instructions and they worked perfectly. All of the chilling helps the cookies to not spread or lose shape when they are baking. It all makes for a much prettier cookie in the end!

To Sweetapolita's recipe, I added a quarter teaspoon of almond extract. I also used about 5 drops of lemon oil instead of the lemon extract, but only because I already had lemon oil and did not have any lemon extract. The result was delicious! Honestly, I couldn't stop eating them!

I used royal icing leftover from the gingerbread houses (see this previous post). I just added some water to thin it a little and used the "10-second rule," above, to find the right consistency.

I hope you enjoyed seeing my cookies! These would be good for any holiday, just modify the shapes (circles work for everything) and design. So, you can make them now even though Christmas is over! I'd love to see what you come up with and hear how these worked for you!