Monday, December 31, 2012

Yummy Chocolate Caramel Cupcake....... Who Knew?

Who knew this....
Could lead to this?

My brother called me out of the blue, which he often does, with a random cooking idea or ingredient he's learned about.  This time?  Making caramel out of Borden's Sweetened Condensed Milk.  So, of course, I had to try it.  Simply submerge an unopened can of the gooey goodness in a pot of boiling water.  Apparently, it is very important that the can be complete covered with water.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and leave it to cook for 2-1/2 hours.  Again... it is important to make sure the can remains submerged in water.  The results?  This yummy, gooey, rich, and cream goodness....

Sweetened Condense Milk Turned to Caramel

Once you've opened the can, make sure you remove it as it will go bad if you leave it in the opened can.  I scooped mine out onto some plastic wrap and wrapped it up (after, of course, some serious taste testing)...

Caramel wrapped in plastic wrap for storing
while it was yummy and decadent just eating it with a spoon, I've done some experimenting with this wonderful concoction...  My initial experimentation was a caramel buttercream (yum!) to top a caramel filled chocolate cupcake...


So here's the final result....  let me tell you, upon initial tasting the caramel buttercream is delish... serious goodness...  On top are some toasted pecans which really finish it off nicely.


To make the caramel buttercream, I added a sizable dollop to some vanilla buttercream I already had on hand.  If I had to guess, I would say I used a ratio of about  6 to 1.  Really, it's up to you and how much caramel flavor you want.  I was afraid the flavor wouldn't come through, but it really did.


And now the gooey goodness on the inside.  I was really pleased with how well the caramel piped into the center of the cupcake.... 


 

To fill the cupcakes, I used a filling tip (it's really long and has an angled/small hole in the end... perfect for piercing the cupcake but not making a giant hole)... I put some of the caramel into a pastry bag with the filling tip inside.

I'm calling this caramel experiment a huge success... now to decide... to share or not to share?  ;)

HAPPY BAKING AND DECORATING!

OH.... AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!  
May 2013 bring you many blessings.



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Gingerbread House - Edge Desserts Style!

Here's a holiday treat for you.  Just before Thanksgiving, I took my kids and my mom to see some Christmas lights.  The house that was featured on a local television station's facebook page so we thought we would go check it out.  We were there, with a television crew and about 20 other people.  This guy did an amazing job and it was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season!  Little did we know that same house/video light show would go viral....  It has been featured on CNN, NPR, The Today Show, and so many others.


https://sites.google.com/site/listentoourlights/
They can also be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ListenToOurLights.

While the featured song on the television station was a synchronized light show to "Gangnam Style".... it was about 30 minutes of pure magic.  Inspired by their amazing light show, we decided to do our own "Gangnam Style" gingerbread house.

Enjoy... and Happy Holidays!






Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Cookie - Packaging!

Who knew choosing just the right packaging for a cookie could be so challenging?  After multiple on-line searching expeditions... trips to the Container Store and "Make it Sweet"... I finally, finally, finally, landed on the packaging.... coffee bags.

Yes... after many hours and $$$ of searching and experimenting... the final decision was coffee bags.  The most cost effective, simple, easy to execute and store.... yet it took me what seemed like an eternity to get there.  So... here it is... in all it's glory.


I missed the obvious, even after making the final decision.  My friend Emily pointed out how perfect a coffee bag is... since, you know, the cookie has coffee IN IT and a chocolate covered espresso bean on top!  Doh ;)

My ignorance aside, it's quite brilliant in its simplicity, in that the coffee bags come in a variety of sizes to hold different quantities of cookies.  I can put the stickers and labeling on the bags ahead of time and they are ready to go!  They don't take up a lot of space when they're folded flat.... Plus... they are super cute, I think:)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Random Things From My Dad - Post #2

Another random assortment of goodies from my dad!

This time?  Capri Sun, sweet potatoes, walnuts, coffee, tangerines and a pomegranate:)  Love my dad:)


I'm fairly certain the sweet potatoes were given with an ulterior motive... sweet potato pie is my dad's favorite... I've never made one, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.  Anyone have any good sweet potato pie recipes??? 

Happy Baking and Decorating!

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Labor of Love

I made a cake for a very special lady... her husband was the coach of my son's t-ball team... plus their kids have been classmates with my kids since pre-school. A couple of years ago, she saw a photo of this cake I had made for someone else and said "I want THAT cake for my 40th birthday!"  She was so adamant and so excited about it.  She was 36.  I made a mental note to myself that I would make her that cake for her 40th birthday.

Yesterday, my kids and I attended that same awesome lady's funeral.  She was 38.  She was AMAZING... truly one of the most inspiring women I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  I made the cake for her as a tribute to her extraordinary spirit and unbelievable appreciation of her life and all things in it... the good and the bad.


She lost her third and final battle with cancer... she fought with such grace, courage and dignity.  Her smile was infectious and there's not a single person who met her that was not affected by her amazing spirit.  She inspired me to be a better mom, a better friend, a better sister, and a better daughter.  The world lost a bright and shining light but I'm certain heaven became just a bit brighter.

You will be missed, Dinora.  I am so blessed to have called you my friend.



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Random Things from my Dad

My dad showed up at my house today, unannounced, bearing "gifts"....  His thoughtfulness and generosity can, at times, be exasperating and frustrating.  Today, it was very endearing.  He brought me flowers... and not flowers in the cellophane wrapper from the grocery store, but a beautiful arrangement of flowers, in a lovely glass vase.


Why did he bring flowers?  My guess would be because a friend and fellow school mom recently passed away and my kids and I have been hit pretty hard by it....  He's not terribly demonstrative with words or affection, but  this is how he is able to show that he cares.  I'm also certain that he either had a coupon or it was a really, really good deal!

My dad is a man who is not without his faults (but who is, really?).... He is also generous to a fault.  He is a consummate shopper and is always on the lookout for a "good deal".  If he finds such a deal... and he  thinks that there's even the slightest possibility you want it, or could use it, you can bet he's going to buy it for you.

Along with the flowers, he brought wine and walnuts.  He knows I love wine and this was a particularly nice assortment.  The walnuts I use a lot during the holiday baking season, so I deem them a "necessity"....  This was one of the most thoughtful "random selection" I've received from my dad.  I'm sure there are many more to come, as there have been many in the past... some of them will make me smile... some that will leave me wondering "what was he thinking"... and some that I will just really grateful to receive because it means more of my budget is available for other things...

I hope everyone has a dad in their life that makes them smile from time to time and know that they are blessed....







Minecraft Cake - It's Easier than you might think:)





 If you have a child ages 6-12, you have probably heard of minecraft... a very good friend of mine asked me to make a minecraft cake for her 7 year old son's birthday.... I think the results were really cute and was relatively simple to create.... Here's a step-by-step tutorial of how to make a minecraft cake that looks like this...

First... a square cake is necessary... and it needs to be tall.... Not quite "a cube" but tall enough to create the illusion of a cube.

Next... ice the cake getting it as smooth and level as you possibly can.

  •  Tip:  I always freeze my cakes before I decorate them... even if it's just for an hour or so on the same day I bake them.  It is MUCH easier to decorate a cold cake than a room temperature cake!  Plus, if you freeze the cake while it's still warm you "lock in" the moisture:)
The entire cake is going to be covered either with "grass" or "dirt" so you don't need a perfectly, perfect final coat of icing... 

Now... THE DIRT:


  • I used Oreos that I had run through the food processor until they were, well.... like dirt!  I used two rows of the oreos, but I think one would have been plenty for this 8 x 8 square cake.
  • I used a large baking pan to cover the sides of the cake with the oreos... it was easy clean up and the unused oreo crumbs were perfectly usable for my next project (which turned out to be just a few days later!)

  • Depending on the softness of your icing, you may need to press somewhat firmly into the cake when applying the crumbs. 
  • When you are finished, tap the cake board a few times to shake loose any excess crumbs.


And... the Grass...

  • I did use three different shades of green for the grass... it created that pixeled effect from minecraft.  Here's a photo showing how I wrapped each color in plastic wrap.  I simply snipped the end of each color and put all the colors into one piping bag.  That way, I still had three different colors of leftover icing in the piping bag, rather than one, new, shade of green.
TIP:  Storing icing in plastic wrap is a quick and economical way to keep the icing fresh and easily load it into a piping bag when you need that color again - without using up your stock of decorator bags and couplers!
  • After piping the grass, I put the cake in the fridge so the icing would firm up.  After it was nice and firm, I used a large spatula to score the grid marks for the minecraft cake.  I spaced them about an inch apart in each direction.



The cake after scoring the 1" squares
  • To put "Happy Birthday" on the cake, I used a 1 inch square cutter and cut black squares of fondant for each letter, plus just a few extra.  The letters are the basic letter cutter set.  They are just under 1" in height. 
Here is the finished cake!


This was loads of fun to make and the birthday boy really enjoyed it.

Happy Baking and Decorating!





Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tie-Dye Cake - the Reveal!

The tie-dye cake was a success...  When I split the layers, it was absolutely gorgeous...

 
My client was so kind... she sent me photos of the cake after it was cut....
 

 
Here's the finished cake... fully decorated and uncut:)
 
 
The tie-dye effect on the cake itself iinspired me to create the tie-dye buttercream cut outs... look for the step by step post describing how I created these... so fun...
 
Happy Baking and Decorating!
 
 

Baking by Weight - The BEST thing I learned in pastry school



In 2008, I completed a Culinary Pastry Arts program here in Austin, TX.  I learned a lot about baking breads, cakes, pies, custards, pastries, etc.  And while expensive, the education was invaluable.  My absolute, number one, best "take away" was learning to bake by weight, rather than using cups, tsp., TBSP., etc.   There are so many reasons I prefer this method and why I encourage other bakers to do the same...

BAKING BY WEIGHT VS. TRADITIONAL MEASURING

  • Less Clean Up - when you bake by weight, you don't have numerous measuring cups, spoons, and bowls to clean.  The ingredients go from their original container directly into the bowl you need them in.

  • More Accurate  - This is true especially for ingredients like, flour, brown sugar, shortening, peanut butter, etc.  If you reach your measuring cup into a container of flour, rather than scooping the flour into your measuring cup, you are going to have significantly different amounts of flour.  With weight, there is no room for error.  Also... how many times have you been making something that called for several cups of flour and found yourself saying "Wait... was that 3 cups or 4?"  With weight, there isn't the incessant scooping, leveling, and counting of cups.

  • It's Easier to Increase or Decrease a Recipe - When a recipe calls for 2-2/3 cups flour, and you want to divide that recipe in half.... well now you have a problem and will most likely do some "guessing".  It's a lot easier to divide or multiply your quantities when they are in lbs., oz, or grams.

  • Consistency - When you measure your ingredients by weight, there is no room for subjectivity.  7.5 oz is always 7.5 oz.  No matter how you get that ingredient into the bowl!
  • More Even Division of Cake Layers, Pie Crust dough, Rolls, etc. - If you make a recipe using weight, you can add up the total weight of all the ingredients and therefore, know exactly how much batter or dough you have.  If you have a total of 2 lbs - 8 oz of cake batter, and you want to bake three cake layers, you simply divide the total number of ounces (in this case - 40 ounces) by three.  You would need roughly 13.3 oz in each cake pan to have nice, even layers of cake.

  • It's Faster! - eliminating the "middle man" of the measuring cup allows you to put together a recipe much faster... and the clean up is faster too!   I also find that it is much easier to remember a recipe by weight than cups.  


WHAT YOU NEED

A Scale....
 When choosing a scale, look for one that goes up to at least 10 or 11 lbs.  As you continually add ingredients, plus the weight of the bowl, some recipes can get pretty hefty!  Also, make sure it can measure pounds and ounces as well as grams.  Having the option of 2 decimal places is also nice.  I use an Escali scale.... it has worked for quite some time and I have not had any problems with it.  The batteries last a really, really long time as well!

 



A calculator...
 

So don't be afraid to give it a whirl!  Once you make the adjustment, you'll be hooked... I promise:)  

Happy baking and decorating!








Monday, December 3, 2012

Tie-Dyed Buttercream Cutouts

The tie-dyed cake was a big hit!  It turned out really nice (if I do say so myself).... I was so inspired by the batter, I decided to try a similar technique with the buttercream... check out the results....






I was inspired to create tie-dyed buttercream cut-outs.  I had never heard of such a thing, and had obviously never done it, but I thought "what the heck".... so I decided to give it a try.

First I tinted buttercream and dolloped it onto a wax paper covered cookie sheet.  I tapped the cookie sheet (quite hard) on the counter to get the buttercream to settle and flatten as much as possible.





I took a toothpick and swirled the icing together to create a tie-dye effect.



Next, I put another sheet of wax paper on toop of the buttercream and smoothed it flat with a fondant smoother.  I put the sheet in the freezer so it would get good and firm.  NOTE:  I used a combination of Swiss and American buttercream... I don't think this would work with just American buttercream alone.  Shortening doesn't get as firm as butter when it's cold, and there is a LOT of butter in Swiss buttercream (yummmm.....).

Isn't it gorgeous?  I was on pins a needles at this point... it was so beautiful, but if the cut outs didn't work, then there was a waste of time and buttercream.... plus I still needed to decorate the cake in some way....

I found that metal cutters worked better than plastic (the plastic is too thick and the buttercream was more prone to stick to the plastic).

I carefully removed each cut out and placed it back into the freezer.  I needed them to be good and cold before handling them to place on the cake.  I think they're so fun and so pretty....


I would absolutely use this technique again... A couple of notes... I think using Swiss buttercream alone would cut better and cleaner, plus remain firm enough to handle for a longer period of time.  These cut-outs were in and out of the freezer a LOT...

Second note?  They really did need to be thinner... next time, I would pipe the buttercream onto the wax paper.  I think I would have more control over the thickness of the final product. 

This project has really set my mind on a creative tangent... when the holiday season is over, I am certainly going to try some of my ideas.  Like, for instance, a tie-dye wrapped cake???? Sounds cool doesn't it?

Happy baking and decorating everyone... I hope you enjoyed my buttercream experiment... I know I did!


Fast Forward Video - 30th Birthday Cake for Doug

So I thought it would be fun to make a video of the entire cake decorating process.  This is a first attempt (sorry for the "funky town" music background, but my choices were limited).

It's a super-fast forward video of this cake:



Still working on the technical aspect of it, but I thought this would be a fun way to show what goes into making a cake like this.... 

On a side note, all you Alabama Fans out there... look for a tribute to the Crimson Tide at about 4:28.... I was decorating this cake during the 2012 SEC Championship game...

Ejoy!


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tie-Dyed Cake:)

I just love it when someone asks me to do something I've never done before.  My client's daughter is having a rainbow/tie-dyed theme party.  She asked if I could make a "tie-dyed" cake...    Here's the teaser.... batter in the pan!





I'll be sure and post more pictures once the cake is complete... I have to admit... I'm a bit giddy:)

Some tricks for this effect?  Knowing the approximate weight of your batter helps... I knew I needed to divide my batter into roughly 6 - 8 ounce portions.  I chose the colors purple, orange, yellow, blue, pink and green.  I used the Ameri-Colors "electric" colors whenever it was an option.  Nothing but vibrant colors here:)

I dolloped the batter by spoonfuls throughout the pans trying to somewhat evenly distribute the colors.  When I was finished, I tapped the pan on the counter to make it "settle" into an even layer... then I took a small knife and zig-zagged it through the batter.... first up and down.... then left and right.  Not too much!  I think it would have made the colors muddled.

Can't wait to get a picture of it being sliced into!

Monday, November 26, 2012

First Birthday Girlie Mouse Fun:)

Oh my... twice in one week I got to make cakes for teachers' and their kiddos.  This was actually for two teachers at my kids' school - both mom and dad are teachers... kindergarten and fourth grade.  I was also blessed to have had the opportunity to make their wedding cake three years ago as well.... still trying to locate the photo of that cake!  I do remember that it was a disney themed cake complete with mickey and minnie cake topper.... I thought it would be fun to incorporate a similar theme in their first daughter's first birthday cake....


And of course, no first birthday is complete without a "smash" cake.... I wanted to keep the smash cake simple and with no fondant.... here's the adorable result:)


Happy Baking!

It's a Prairie Dog!

I feel so blessed every time I'm asked to make a cake for one of the teachers at my kids' school... especially when it's one of my kids' teachers.  This was for my daughter's third grade teacher - her daughter wanted a prairie dog cake.  Nothing else mattered so long as there was a prairie dog peaking out of a hole:)


I tried something I've never done before and I was pleased with the results.  When making something three dimensional that is relatively small, either fondant or cereal treats is the way I would normally go.  In this instance, however (since I was already carving away some of the cake for the hole) I decided to use the carved out cake and make a "cake ball" filling using the cake and icing.  It makes kind of a dough-like substance and it's fairly easy to manipulate into a specific shape.  After shaping the cake ball filling into a prairie dog... I simply used the grass tip for the fur and fondant for the ears, eyes, and mouth.  I think he's pretty cute:)



Happy Baking!  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What's on Your Thanksgiving Menu?


I find it so interesting to learn what is "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner at different people's houses.  I'm not sure at what point in time in my life I learned that not everyone considers the same dishes "traditional" in their house.




We grew up with basically the same meal.... Turkey, cornbread dressing (no stuffing at our house!), mashed potatoes, english peas, and rolls (specifically, the brown and serve rolls you buy in the grocery store).  And who can forget the jellied cranberry sauce?  While we have refined our menu over the years.... The jellied cranberry sauce has been replaced with homemade cranberry relish (courtesy of my brother and his new-found "chef" abilities), and  fresh baked rolls (from yours truly).... the menu has remained basically the same throughout the years.

I'm certain I owe an apology to whoever hosted the first Thanksgiving dinner I attended where the dinner was not what I was accustom to.  I can't remember where it was, but  I know there was some kind of dressing that seemed somewhat gummy and obviously had no cornbread in it whatsoever....  no cranberry sauce of any kind... and I could not imagine who could have a Thanksgiving dinner without proper rolls! 

Desserts at our house have remained a constant as well.  While we don't always have the same dessert, it is always some combination of pecan pie, German chocolate cake, and sometimes pumpkin pie.







So what is traditional at your house?  Is it something with chestnuts, stuffing, sweet potatoes?  Whatever the menu is at your house, I wish you a very Blessed and thankful time with your family and friends.  Enjoy the feast and community and appreciate all that is beautiful and good in your world!  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

How to Make a Flaky Pie Crust

So the holiday season is upon us and the baking frenzy begins.  Here's a tutorial that shows you step by step how to make a flaky pie crust:)  




Monday, November 12, 2012