Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cake Pop Winter Wonderland

I am a little lacking in the christmas spirit this year. I have no clue why, but it just doesn't feel christmas-y around here. I have the tree up, the candles burning bright, the oven is churning out goodies, Vince Guaraldi is playing on loop, and yet it is still not sinking in.  Perhaps thats how I ended up with pink and silver holly and christmas trees...

Maybe all I need is some snow, but the forecast here in Chicago is not cooperating with me on that front. From the looks of these pictures I took matters into my own hands and made myself a little snowy wonderland filled with cotton candy pink and shiny silver christmas trees. It seems as though I am only a few years away from a little christmas village taking over half of my living room. 
Thats not good. 

I figured since I was using gingerbread cake, that I should probably make some gingerbread people. I must say I had trouble deciding which would be less vulgar, to put the sticks in their heads or up their butts...heads it is. Now they look like a cross between the Michelin man and a tele-tubbie. Either way, they were tasty little buggars. 

Oh I also decided to go the more traditional route and make some green and red ones. 

But we can all agree the glittery pink disco trees are way more fun right?


Gingerbread Cake Pops with Caramel Buttercream
adapted from La Cuisine d'Helene
makes 2 - 9 inch cake layers

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted then brought to room temperature
3/4 cup dark molasses
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup whole milk

Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans and preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and ginger.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the molasses, sugar, and butter until well combined. Add the egg, and beat until combined.

Slowly beat in the milk and buttermilk. It will look like it has curdled, but don't worry, this is supposed to happen. It will fix itself when you add the dry ingredients.

In a few additions, beat in the flour mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Mix until just combined.

Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.

Let cool in pan for about 20 minutes, then turn out onto a baking rack and cool completely.

Italian Meringue Buttercream

4 oz egg whites
8 oz granulated sugar
2 oz water
12 oz unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup caramel sauce, room temperature

Place your egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. 

Heat the sugar and water in a small sauce pan over high heat. Using a candy thermometer, bring the sugar to a boil and continue cooking until it reaches 230 degrees F. When it hits that temperature, turn your stand mixer to medium to begin mixing the egg whites until they are foamy. When the temperature hits 240 F, remove from heat and slowly pour into the egg whites on a medium speed. As soon as all of the sugar is in, turn the mixer to medium high and mix until the meringue is cool to touch. Add the butter a few tablespoons at a time and whip until thick, which may take a few minutes. Pour in the caramel sauce and mix until combined. 

Cake Pop Assembly

To make the cake pops, see my original post HERE on their assembly. For the Christmas tree and holly shapes, I pushed the cake dough into a mini cookie cutter and then gently pushed it out. There is enough butter in the frosting to make this quite easy and not sticky at all.  Once the shapes are formed, chill them and proceed as you normally would for round cake pops. 

Happy holidays, whatever color your trees happen to be this year. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Art of Impermanance

For some reason or another, I have been putting off writing this post. Whether it's sheer laziness on my part, or the thought that I really don't want to write about food after working at the restaurant all week, I just couldn't get it started. Maybe it's the fact that I didn't want to just write another superfluous post about a wedding cake that I made for person a, and it contains a,b, and c, flavors, and it was this (insert difficult sounding adjective here) hard to make. Maybe it was the fact that I am feeling guilty that the person I made this cake for is one of my very best friends, and I haven't talk to her in far too long. Maybe it's because this was the last of the wedding cakes for the year, and I am sad to know there won't be any more for the next few months. So, here I am, holding onto the pictures in hopes that they will tide me over until the next one comes along.

But that's the thing about this industry, they are just pictures. There is no cake left (I sincerely hope not) to eat, or gumpaste flowers to swoon over, they are long gone. In my previous life as a product designer my art was permanent. It was sketched, modeled, and produced in various materials, such as plastic, metal, fabric. The sketches were filed, documents backed up, and finished products were sold to eager consumers. It's all still around in one way or another, but my new art is so much different. My new art is the epitome of impermanence and its been quite the adjustment.

I wonder if I will ever get used to watching my cakes be cut and completely disassembled in five minutes flat. Something that I put hours and hours into is destroyed in less time than it took to mix and bake just one of the many layers it contains. The consolation of course is when the client, be it your best friend or someone you've met only once, takes that first bite and an exstatic smile starts spreading across their face. This is when your nerves calm, and the heartbreak you experience from watching the knife stab through the intricate decorations starts to subside, and you remember this is what it's all about. In that one moment, you get to make someone really happy. They are celebrating something big, whether it be a birthday, wedding, baby or engagement, and they just ate something that will stick in their memory for years to come.

The satisfaction of that moment is enough, and it has to be to keep on going in this industry. Unless I start making styrofoam cakes and decorating my apartment with them...just kidding.

There were some new flavors in this cake that I just have to share with you. The groom is from florida and the bride requested that two of the tiers resemble key lime pie in some way. I went through a few variations and quickly found a winner. The cake is a richly flavored vanilla cake with buttermilk and lime zest, filled with key lime curd, and brought over the top with coconut buttercream. It was like florida on a plate, or so I was told, I haven't been to florida in years so I will reserve judgment.

Key Lime Cake
adapted from Bon Apetit
This recipe makes 2 fairly thin 9 inch rounds, I like to double it and make three thicker layers, I pretty much always go for a taller cake.

1 cup ap flour
3/4 cup cake flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 tbl key lime juice
1 tbl key lime zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line pans with parchment, and lightly butter and flour sides. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl between each addition. Add the lime juice, zest, and vanilla, and mix to combine. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, mix just to combine, scrape bowl. Add half the buttermilk, mix to combine, scrape bowl. Add another third of the flour, followed by the remainder of the buttermilk, and the remainder of the flour, scraping well between each addition.

Divide batter between pans, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until top of cake springs back completely when gently pushed with your index finger. Let cool in pans for about 5-10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely.

Key Lime Curd
adapted from Ina Garten
Makes about 3 cups, I add a little gelatin to this recipe when I use to to fill cakes. It makes it much more sturdy and you wont have to worry about it running out the sides of the cake (not that I have had that happen, I swear).

Zest of 4 limes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound butter, room temperature
4 eggs
1/2 cup key lime juice
pinch of salt
1 tsp gelatin
1 tbl water

Place sugar and zest in a food processor and pulse until zest and sugar are finely ground together. Place the sugar into a large, heavy saucepan, but do not place over heat yet. Whisk together the sugar and butter, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until completely incorporated after each addition. Add the lime juice and salt, then place over medium heat and cook until the temperature reaches 175 degrees F, whisking vigorously constantly. Remove from heat. Bloom gelatin in the water and let stand for about 5 minutes. Heat gelatin in the microwave  for 5 second intervals, just until it melts completely. Whisk the hot gelatin into the still warm lime curd. Transfer curd to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours, before using.

Coconut Buttercream

4 oz egg whites
2 oz water
8 oz sugar
12 oz butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 coconut extract

Place egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and begin whipping the whites on medium-high speed. Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and using a candy thermometer, heat the sugar to soft ball stage, or 240 F. The eggs at this point should  be voluminous and frothy. Slowly pour the sugar into the egg whites in a steady stream, while the mixer is on high.
Let the mixer run on high (I usually set it to one number below the very highest setting) until the mixture has cooled completely. Switch to the paddle attachment, and add the butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing on a medium-low speed. Once all the butter has been added, turn your mixer to high and whip for 3-5 minutes until frosting is light and smooth. Add the vanilla and coconut extracts.

Special shout-out to my mom for helping me with these cakes, and the over 100 cake pops that were made for this wedding, especially for helping me cut out each and every of the hundreds of fondant flowers that cover the sides of this cake. Thank you to Erica for taking all the lovely pictures, so that I didn't have to! Last but not least, congratulations to my best friend Heather, and her best friend Matt, you two are so incredibly lucky to have each other, and I love you both.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


One more wedding cake under my belt, and just a few days to recover before I start working on the next one. This cake came with a few ups and downs, and many lessons learned. I realized as I was putting the fondant on the bottom tier of this cake, that this was in fact the largest fondant project I had taken on yet. I haven't covered anything larger than a ten inch cake before. A pyramid, yes, but something this huge? Nope, not even close. For some reason it hadn't occurred to me until just that moment.

There is no more hesitation these days when someone hires me to make a cake or dessert table, I say yes of course I can do that. Whether its for better or worse, I rarely consider if I have the necessary time and means to do said project, but deep down, I know that one way or another I will get it done, and I won't stop or finish it until it looks and tastes exactly how I wanted it. If that means ripping two pounds of fondant off of a 15-inch cake tier because it has one too many wrinkles and starting from scratch at 2 am, that's what I will do.

As much as it interferes with my sleep schedule, and the cleanliness of my kitchen at times, it's the attitude I need to have in this industry. Yep, I can do that! Sometimes, the google helps, and sometimes I just jump right in and figure it out for myself. So here's to diving into the deep end, and hoping you make it out alive, and with a beautiful, and even more importantly, delicious, cake in hand.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sweet Corn Risotto

Before I say anything else, I have to say one thing. I am sorry, Mom. I know the second you read the title of this post, you cringed a little, but kept reading out of obligation as a mother to read each and every one of her daughter's blog entries in it's entirety.

You see, my mom loves sweet corn, as long as it's not in things. Corn in soups, salsas, salads, creeps her out. We all think she is crazy, and thankfully this is not a genetic trait she passed along to me. I love corn in anything and everything. Sometimes for dinner I will just eat a big bowl of corn with butter, salt and pepper with a fried egg on top. I love the crunch it adds to soup, the bright notes it adds to salads, and how amazing it is when smothered with cheese (trust me on that).

I have been seeing recipes pop up in the last month or so all over the blogosphere for corn risotto, and knew instantly that I needed to jump on the bandwagon. I read a few recipes, but none of them really grabbed me as much as the mere idea of sweet corn risotto, so I decided to wing it.

The extra effort of milking the corn cobs for the pulp and juices really adds a strong fresh corn flavor to the entire rice, rather than just stirring in some corn towards the end of cooking. The additions of garlic, pancetta, and chives didn't hurt either. I made a huge pot and can hardly wait to eat it all week long. There may even be some arancini (fried risotto balls) in my future.

Sweet Corn & Pancetta Risotto
serves 6-8

6-8 cups low sodium chicken stock
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 oz pancetta, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
4 shallots, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
4 ears fresh sweet corn
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chives, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Prepare the corn first. Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the cobs and place in a bowl. Be sure not to cut too close to the cob, you want just the soft crisp nuggets of corn. Then you want to "milk" the corn cobs. This basically means you want to squeeze all the pulp and juice out of the cob. I used my microplane to gently grate the cobs of corn over a bowl. After I went over the entire cob with the microplane, I quickly ran the back of my knife down each cob to squish out the rest of the juice. This can get a bit messy, so use a large bowl and wear an apron.

Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a large saucepan or small stockpot, then reduce heat to low and keep warm.

In a large heavy pot, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add two tablespoons of olive oil. Add pancetta and cook until most of the fat has rendered and starts to crisp. Add the garlic and saute for another 1-2 minutes, just until fragrant. Remove from heat, and transfer pancetta to a bowl and set aside.

Over medium heat in the same pot, melt two tablespoons of butter with two tablespoons of olive oil. Add the shallots and saute until tender, about 6-8 minutes. 

Stir in the rice, and let cook until the rice toasts a bit and becomes slightly translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it has absorbed, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. When wine is just about all absorbed, add the corn kernels and pulp and stir to combine.

Reduce heat to medium low, and add 1 cup of hot broth, stirring rice very frequently until broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1 cup at a time and stirring, until rice is just al dente. This should take about 30-40 minutes, and you may not need all the broth.

When the rice is at the al dente stage, stir in the pancetta, the rest of the butter, cheese, and chives. Add plenty of black pepper and salt to taste. Serve immediately, and if you have leftovers, its nice to have a bit of chicken broth in the fridge to loosen up the risotto as its reheating. Just a few tablespoons of hot broth can turn a sticky clump of leftover risotto nice and creamy again. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Duo of Fabric Inspired Cakes

The first wedding cake of the season is complete. It was a great warm up, simple, small, and bold, it got my piping hands geared up for the rest of the summer, that's for sure. I also completed my first ever baby shower cake, which was a total departure for me, tons of color and polka dots, buttons and flowers. While these two cakes are so, so different from each other, they have one thing in common. They are both derived, more or less, from fabric.

The wedding cake was a very specific request. The bride wanted something very simple, no flowers or hearts or any of that mushy stuff, but still wanted the cake to stand out and be bold and modern. She loved a paisley print cake she had seen online and had some fun colors to incorporate. Paisley can be totally overwhelming and busy, (think colorful 70's polyester shirts) but it can also be a striking motif when you restrain it a bit. 

I remember saying that I had been wanting to do a gray and yellow cake for a while, and now it seems like grey is the wedding color of the year. Each wedding cake I have slated for this summer has gray on the palette, and I couldn't be happier. I hadn't piped anything in a while, so it was off to a shaky start, but by the end I was a dot-piping machine. 

The second cake was for a friend of a friend's baby shower. The design for this cake was a cinch after seeing their baby registry. All of the baby blankets, quilts, and pillows have this multicolored pattern of fabrics around the edges and it was something they wanted to incorporate into the cake and cupcakes.

Having already picked out a name, the initials of the baby were placed front and center. This was such a fun project, though I always forget how difficult horizontal fondant bands are to get straight and even. I will never learn.

Between the color palette, and the patterns, not to mention the yummy lemon cake with raspberry buttercream, I hope this cake made the shower day a little extra special. 

Lemon Cupcakes & Raspberry Italian Meringue Buttercream
cake adapted from Bon Apetit Magazine
(This batter would probably be enough for 18-24 cupcakes, I only made 12 and baked the rest of the batter in a cake pan) 

1 3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (8 oz) butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
juice of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In your stand mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition, and mix each one in until completely incorporated. Add the vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest, mix well, and scrape bowl. 

Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, scrape, then 1/2 of the buttermilk, scrape, and repeat ending with the last 1/3 of the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated after each addition. Using a ice cream scoop, fill your muffin tins about 2/3 the way full and bake for 18-20 minutes until a toothpick entered into the middle comes out clean and the cake is just turning a light golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes, then remove from pan and let them cool completely on a wire rack. 

Raspberry Italian Meringue Buttercream

4 oz egg whites
2 oz water
8 oz sugar
12 oz butter
3 tablespoons raspberry jam
pink food coloring (if desired)

Place egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and begin whipping the whites on medium-high speed. Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and using a candy thermometer, heat the sugar to soft ball stage, or 240 F. The eggs at this point should  be voluminous and frothy. Slowly pour the sugar into the egg whites in a steady stream, while the mixer is on high. 

Let the mixer run on high (I usually set it to one number below the very highest setting) until the mixture has cooled completely. Switch to the paddle attachment, and add the butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing on a medium-low speed. Once all the butter has been added, turn your mixer to high and whip for 3-5 minutes until frosting is light and smooth. Add the raspberry jam and food coloring and mix to incorporate.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


My brain has been been consumed lately with thoughts of Minnesota. Until last weekend, I hadn't been home in almost five months. While I have made a great life in Chicago with my wonderful boyfriend and friends, a great job, and a cozy apartment, I still consider 'home' to be the blue house with the ridiculously steep driveway in Prior Lake, Minnesota. I wonder at what stage in life does your home become where you have settled and not where you grew up? Does it ever make the change? I am nearing my third decade in this life, one of which has been spent living in an entirely different state from all of my family and most of my friends, and my brain hasn't flipped that switch yet. After ten years of living away from many of the people most important to me, I find myself more homesick than ever.

Last weekend I jumped on the opportunity to make the drive to MN for the day, and for good reason. My Grandma turned 88 this month, and if that isn't a reason to eat cake (and eat six different kinds of pasta salad) I don't know what is. I knew it would mean a lot to Grandma B to have all her grandchildren (and many of her great-grandchildren) there for the surprise, and it would good for my heart to have a chance to spend a few hours with my family. It was a short visit, but grandma was successfully surprised, and getting to hug and catch up with my parents and sister was worth the eight hour round trip.

When my mom asked me to make a cake for the party, I was mulling over what kind of cake to make, knowing that I should use this to practice my fondant work a bit. All she had to say was 'grandma likes birds' and I knew instantly how I was going to design the cake. My grandparents on my mother's side ran and lived on a dairy farm until I was in middle school. There were cows and cats and dogs, and lots of birds. As long as I can remember, there has always been a multitude of bird feeders hanging outside my Grandmas windows. She could tell you the name of any bird that happened to stop by to graze, but I have a suspicion that hummingbirds were her favorite. I don't think I will ever forget the time one of my cousins drank the hummingbird juice in the refrigerator thinking it was kool-aid. It may very well be one of my earliest memories as a child.

It was such a good refresher driving through the bluffs of southern Minnesota, spending some time with my family, and celebrating with Grandma. She is a pretty kick-ass grandma, I can only hope to be like her when I turn 88.

This is my favorite chocolate cake recipe, which I have posted on here many times before. I wanted to do something simple with the cupcakes, but give them a little 'oomph' so I went with a italian meringue buttercream but added an entire vanilla bean. It's a simple way to give a ton of flavor and pretty little speckles to your frosting.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

4 oz egg whites
8 oz granulated sugar
2 oz water
12 oz unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
1 vanilla bean

Place your egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. 

Heat the sugar and water in a small sauce pan over high heat. Using a candy thermometer, bring the sugar to a boil and continue cooking until it reaches 230 degrees F. When it hits that temperature, turn your stand mixer to medium to begin mixing the egg whites until they are foamy. When the temperature hits 240 F, remove from heat and slowly pour into the egg whites on a medium low speed. As soon as all of the sugar is in, turn the mixer to medium high and mix until the meringue is cool to touch.

Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter a few tablespoons at a time. Whip at medium-high speed until thick. Split the vanilla bean in half, and scrape out the seeds using the back of your knife. Add to the buttercream, and mix until evenly dispersed. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Finding Time

I heard what they said. I didn't believe them.

They said once you make food your profession, you will no longer have the passion/desire/need to cook or bake in  your free time. You will lose a hobby. I thought they were crazy. They may have been right...but now I am fighting back.

I forgot for a minute that free time spent in the kitchen behind the stove stirring lemon curd, or at the counter kneading bread dough, is soothing for my soul, and good for my sanity. After long hours in a restaurant kitchen, I thought that curling up on the couch and ordering Thai food was the only cure for my exhaustion and my restlessness. I was so, so wrong.

Wednesdays are one of my days off, and this week I decided I wasn't going to waste it by "relaxing" or cleaning, or sleeping. Instead, I spent the day where I feel most at home (second only to my real home), in my little apartment kitchen, baking up a storm. At the end of the day, when I sat down to enjoy a creamy almond mascarpone tart with tangy apricots and crunchy almond brittle, I felt better than I have in a long while.

So when my mind plays tricks on me and makes me think that the last thing on earth I want to do is bake some more, I will remind myself that it's all lies. My career in the this field is dependent on trying new things, tasting new combinations, testing out new techniques, and if I ever lose the desire to do that, then I am in trouble. I don't like being in trouble.

Honey Mascarpone Tart with Almond Crust, Apricot Compote, and Almond Glass
adapted heavily from bourke street bakery and epicurious
makes 1-9inch round, or 12 inch rectangular tart

Almond Pate Brisee Crust

400 grams (14 oz) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
100 grams (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
2/3 cup water, chilled
665 grams (1 lb 7 1/2 oz) all purpose flour1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract

Remove butter from fridge 20 minutes before mixing.

In a small bowl, combine sugar, water, and vinegar, stir to aid the dissolving of the sugar. Set aside in refrigerator for 10 minutes. Then, stir again to completely dissolve sugar.

In a food processor, pulse the flour and salt together a few times to combine. Add the butter, and pulse in one second bursts about 3-4 times until butter is cut in and evenly dispersed. You should have visible chunks of butter in your flour mixture, this is where the flakiness comes from.

Pour mixture into a large bowl and make a little well in the middle of the flour. Pour the vinegar water mixture into the well, along with the almond extract, and gently mix liquids into the flour with a fork. When liquid is evenly dispersed, dump dough out onto a clean surface and knead gently a few times, just until dough comes together in one cohesive ball. It may be a bit shaggy or falling apart, but that's okay, while it is resting the moisture will bind everything together.

Cut ball of dough in half and shape each half into a disc about 1/2 - 3/4 inch thick. (use one for this tart, and you can freeze the other half for later use) Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours, or overnight. Take dough out of fridge about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Place one of your discs of dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out to a 1/8 inch flat disc. Always start in the center of the disc and roll outward, turning the disc 30 degrees after each roll to get an even thickness throughout. If you are using a rectangular pan, you will want to roll out your dough into a longer strip instead of a round circle. Carefully move the dough to your tart pan and press evenly into all corners, pinching off the excess.

Dock with a fork (meaning poke a bunch of tiny holes in the bottom of the tart crust with a fork) and freeze for twenty minutes. Preheat your oven to 400 F. Place a piece of tin foil over your tart shell, pressing it down to fit the form of your tart, and fill with beans or rice or pie weights. Blind bake your tart for 20 minutes, flipping the pan front to back halfway through. Remove the pie weights and tin foil and bake for another 5-7 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Let cool completely.

Mascarpone Filling

8 oz mascarpone cheese
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sour cream, the sugar, and the honey and mix until incorporated. Add the mascarpone, lemon zest, and vanilla and whip until smooth. Spread evenly into cooled tart shell and chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Apricot Compote

4-5 apricots, pitted and cut into eighths
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons water
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (or use a vanilla bean if you have one on hand)

Place the apricots, honey, water, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer just until apricots are softened and starting to break down. Let cool for a few minutes then stir in the vanilla, or if you are using a bean scrape the seeds into the compote and stir in. You can use this slightly warm, or chilled.

Almond Glass

sliced almonds
corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place a pile of sliced almonds on a silpat lined baking sheet and spread them out into a single thin layer. drizzle corn syrup over the almonds, making sure to cover them all. This should be a light coating, it will spread and fill in any gaps while it is baking. Place in the oven and bake until the syrup caramelizes to a amber brown color. Let cool completely, then break into shards. Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring Has Sprung...or Popped?

A cake pop and a gin and tonic totally counts as dinner right? It may be a Tuesday night, but with a new job comes a new schedule and mid-week has become my weekend. It may have been apparent that I haven't updated here in a while and I have a good reason for that.

A whirlwind of a month and an amazing job offer that materialized out of thin air meant little time for sleep, free time, or even time to catch my sanity. Life is starting to settle into its new groove, but unfortunately my body and mind are lagging a bit behind. So on my Friday, all I want to do is curl up on the couch have a strong cocktail and enjoy a sugar bomb that is the cake pop.

When Easter rolled around this year, I found that I actually needed to think about where to go and what to make. The last two years, I have been out of the country, most likely underwater doing some scuba diving or laying on a beach on a tropical island. Sigh...not this year, I guess that's the price I pay for working in a restaurant kitchen. Instead, I was able to spend a lovely afternoon with my boyfriend's family and found an excuse to make some cute easter-y desserts.

I think I have found my new favorite cake pop flavor, and from the sounds of pure satisfaction coming from all who ate them, I think most are in agreement; banana cake pops are a winner. The banana lends a nice rich flavor without being overly sweet, the candy coating takes care of that. Combined with a buttery and once again, not overly sweet, italian meringue buttercream, the banana cake pops will definitely be making more appearances on my cake pop flavor roll.

Banana Cake
recipe adapted from the Food Librarian
(makes enough for about 40 cake pops)

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz., room temperature)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment and lightly coat with non-stick spray.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then the egg. Scrape the bowl down very well after each addition.

On low speed, mix in the mashed bananas. Add half the dry ingredients, and mix just until incorporated, then add the sour cream, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients, again scraping the bowl in between each addition.

Pour into your prepared cake pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, just until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or a finger pressed gently on the top of the cake springs back fully.

Let cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, then let cool completely on a wire rack.

Italian Meringue Buttercream

4 oz egg whites
8 oz granulated sugar
2 oz water
12 oz unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
1 tsp vanilla

Place your egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. 

Heat the sugar and water in a small sauce pan over high heat. Using a candy thermometer, bring the sugar to a boil and continue cooking until it reaches 230 degrees F. When it hits that temperature, turn your stand mixer to medium to begin mixing the egg whites until they are foamy. When the temperature hits 240 F, remove from heat and slowly pour into the egg whites on a medium low speed. As soon as all of the sugar is in, turn the mixer to medium high and mix until the meringue is cool to touch. Add the butter a few tablespoons at a time and whip until thick, which may take a few minutes. 

To make the cake pops, see this post for detailed instructions! Happy Spring!! 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Egyptian Lentil Soup & Chive Flatbreads

I feel like I should rename this blog 'The Cake and Soup Blog'. It seems as though all I have been working on lately is cake, and now that life is finally calming down, all I want to do is hibernate in my kitchen and cook up a big batch of soup. So this weekend, I had my first Sunday off in what seems like about a year, that is what I did.

I love ordering lentil soups from Mediterranean or Indian take out places, and for some reason I have only ever cooked with lentils once. This is just WRONG. So Sunday morning, with coffee and the latest issue of Food & Wine in hand, I hit up the bulk section at whole foods and set about to make a pureed red lentil soup (I also decided I needed two pounds of quinoa and wheat berries, my checking account shrivels up with fear whenever I even drive past whole foods).

Ingredients in hand, I made my way home and pretended it was actually cold outside. This soup is so comforting, smooth and creamy, with just a hint of heat, it almost made me believe it was winter. (Can you tell I am a little bitter about this sorry excuse for "winter" we are having here in Chicago??) Accompanied by some crunchy roasted chickpeas and some homemade chive flatbread, this meal will definitely be made again and again when I am in need of a little warmth.

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup
adapted from Food & Wine magazine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
2 large carrots, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon hot curry powder
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups red lentils (if you can't find red lentils, you can use a different color, you just won't have this beautiful color and it might change the cooking times)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot or dutch oven (as always I used my trusty 14-quart LeCrueset for this task since I made a double batch but an 8-10 quart pot will do) melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic and saute until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, and curry powder and stir to coat the veggies with the spices. Cook for a few minutes to toast the spices. Add the tomatoes and the stock and bring to a simmer. Season generously with salt and pepper and add the lentils. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes, until lentils and vegetables are very soft.

In a few batches, puree the soup in a food processor until completely smooth. Transfer back to pot and season with salt and pepper to taste. If you like it a bit more spicy, you can add a little cayenne pepper and more black pepper.

Serve with flatbread wedges and top with a bit of Greek yogurt mixed with lemon juice. I also garnished the soup with some roasted chickpeas and fresh chives. There are millions of recipes out there for roasted chickpeas, but basically just rinse and dry off some canned chickpeas (or my preferred name, garbanzo beans), toss them with a bit of olive oil and whatever seasonings you like, and roast them on a baking sheet in a really hot oven (400 F) until they are crispy. You don't need a recipe for that do you? No, you don't, I have faith in you. I just added all of the spices that I used in the soup along with some garlic powder and they were a perfect compliment to the creamy soup and tangy yogurt.

Chive Flatbreads
adapted from Food Network

2 packages instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 1/2 cup lukewarm water (aim for 90-100 degrees or just around body temperature, it will activate the yeast, don't go too hot or you can risk killing the yeast)
1 teaspoon oil or non-stick cooking spray

In a food processor, combine yeast, sugar, flour, and salt, pulse to combine. Slowly stream in the water while processor is on and mix just until a ball starts to form. Turn dough out onto a clean surface, and knead with the heels of your hands until the dough forms a nice elastic ball. This will probably take at least 10 minutes, so be patient. When the dough is ready you should be able to gather it into a tight ball and when you press your finger in, the imprint should spring back. If the imprint does not spring back at all, keep kneading. When the dough is just about ready, knead in the chives until thoroughly mixed in.

When the dough is fully kneaded, spray a glass or metal bowl with non stick cooking spray or coat lightly with oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn over a few times to coat. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel and place in a warm area for about an hour to rise. It should double in size. You can tell if the dough has sufficiently rested when you poke your finger into it and the imprint stays and does not spring back at all.

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and punch it down to get all the excess air out of it. Cut the dough into about two ounce pieces and gather each piece into a ball. Place each ball under a damp towel while you are working on the rest, this will prevent them from drying out and forming a skin, plus it will give the gluten time to relax and make it easier to roll them out. When all the dough has been portioned and shaped, let rest under the towel for 10-20 minutes. After they have rested, heat a dry grill pan over medium-high heat. Take one or two of the piece (depending on how big your grill pan is) and roll each out to about 1/8 inch thickness (pretty thin). I had two ounce pieces and I rolled them out to be about six inches long by four inches wide. Place each flatbread on the grill pan and grill until it starts to puff up, then flip to cook the other side. It takes about 3-4 minutes total per flatbread if you have your pan hot enough.

Store in an airtight container for just a day or two. If you don't plan on eating them all within a day or so, put the remainder in the freezer as there is no fat in these breads and they get hard a chewy very quickly. I got about 15 flatbreads out of this recipe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I promise that this will be the only post title this year that references a David Bowie song...

Another January has rolled around, and yet again I find myself in a complete state of change. Pastry school is complete, I officially put in two weeks notice at my serving job, and work at the bakery has exploded (in a good way). In about a week I will be working just ONE job for the first time in a few years, no balancing schedules, no classes, no homework, no job searching, I can finally breath a sigh of relief.

More importantly, I will finally have some free time back in my life. Time to spend with the ones I love, time to spend on myself, and time to spend in the kitchen. MY kitchen. My blog posts no longer will be dictated by what I was making that week in class, or what I was able to snag from the community shelves at school (though I will miss that benefit).

With all the craziness of finals and the holidays, somehow I still found a bit of time to make a few cakes for freelance clients and thought I'd share them with you now.

The first one that you see in the post was actually my final project for pastry school. We basically had free range on our cake, it just had to be 3 tiers. I have lusted after the gray and yellow color scheme for quite a while now, and jumped at the chance to finally use it on a cake.

This next cake was made for a dude. I had never made a cake for a guy before, and his mother who bought it for him asked me to make a 'manly' cake. I have a tendency to put flowers on everything so this was a tricky one. I decided to go with a neutral color theme and try out the plaid trend that I keep seeing everywhere. Overall, I think it was a success, he wasn't embarrassed to be photographed with it at dinner, and enjoyed eating it even more.

Lastly, a very special request. This cake was for a golden birthday (dude cake #2). The birthday boy and his wife apparently have some inside joke about hostess cupcakes, I didn't press for information, but so much so that they served the treats at their wedding. I was asked to make a giant golden hostess cupcake. So that's what I did.

Here's kicking off a new year. New goodies, new topics, new experiences, new routine, new directions. Happy 2012 everyone.

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