Wednesday, October 8, 2014

boom box cake

After D's puppy party, it was time for his sweet big sister to celebrate turning 8. They had a dance party, and her mom requested a cake that looks like a boom box. Of course, I immediately pictured the behemoth, black plastic and chrome, double-tape deck/AM-FM radio combo my friends and I used to drag to Seal Beach on the #42 bus. It ate DD batteries like they were going out of style, but we felt so cool listening to music as we lay out, competing for who could get the most tan (back when SPF 2 and Sun-In were still a thing).

I couldn't see making a black fondant cake for a little girl, especially when her mom said the party's theme colors were hot pink and turquoise. And I assumed she'd have no idea what a cassette tape was. So I decided to use the look of an old-school boom box combined with an updated iPod/iPhone dock that would look more common to a kid in 2014.

I thought the white iPod would stand out against the turquoise boom box. I limited the number of (fake) apps and used super-simple symbols to get the idea across. My kids recognized every one, so I knew I was in good shape. The iPod itself is actually cardboard covered with fondant, but everything else is edible. I used a skinny knife to make hash marks across the black speakers to resemble the mesh that covers the speakers. (Love that texture!) I kept the control buttons simple and recognizable as well. They are colored with an edible marker on white fondant.

That's exactly the type of antenna my boom box used to have - it pivoted and telescoped, but lay, clicked in, across the top of the box when not in use. And mine had a handle like this, too, for easy transporting to the beach and beyond.

The cake itself is made from a couple of 9x13 layers of chocolate cake. I cut the cakes in half the long way and stacked three of them up to get the right height. Inside, it was frosted with chocolate buttermilk frosting. It's helpful to stack the cakes and frost them (lightly on the outside) and then let them sit for a couple of hours to make sure they settle completely. Otherwise, you can end up with fondant that buckles if the cake settles afterward.

The cake was a perfect fit for the dance party. Rather than Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, I'm sure they were dancing to 1D and KidzBop, and I'm sure they had a blast!

Print chocolate cake recipe.
Print chocolate buttermilk frosting recipe.

puppy party

Remember the cute Thomas cake I made? Well, that cute little guy has now turned 4 and he was ready for a new cake! D has a lovey, a stuffed dog he's had since he was a baby. It's a light brown puppy with a lighter patch over his right eye, soft fur, and a black nose and black eyes. D's family was having a puppy party and wanted a cake to look like his beloved pup.

I wanted the puppy to be flat on the cake yet still have dimension. So I layered the fondant to have his ears tucked behind, his paws popping over the top of the cake and his body, and his nose and eyes standing out. I used a photo of the actual stuffed animal to get the dimensions and proportions right. I also made tiny slashes all over the face, paws, and ears with a paring knife to add texture to give the appearance of fur. I liked the depth it added. I used a lot of the same techniques on my niece's Honey Bear cake.

The cake is my favorite chocolate cake with chocolate buttermilk frosting. Delicious and well-liked by the partygoers.

Happy puppy birthday, D!

Print chocolate cake recipe.
Print chocolate buttermilk frosting recipe.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

old fashioned baby buggy cookies

One of my favorite ways to decorate cookies or cakes for special events is to take inspiration from the invitation. For this baby shower my sister hosted for her good friend, Angela, I piped royal icing on chocolate sugar cookies to look like old fashioned buggies. Here's the invitation:

And here are the super-cute cookies:

I packaged the party favors in clear plastic baggies with sparkly blue bows to celebrate Angela's gorgeous little guy (who, as of this posting, is 10 months old, so clearly I'm quite prompt in my blogging!) They live on the other end of the state, so I had to ship them. Luckily, with enough bubble wrap, packed vertically with no wiggle room, the cookies arrived safely.

Not only are the cookies cute, festive, and coordinated with the party decor, they taste delicious as well. And like all sugar cookies covered with royal icing, they stay fresh for 1-2 weeks, so they are the perfect cookie to ship for a long distance special occasion.

Print chocolate brownie roll-out cookie recipe.
Print royal icing recipe.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

different ways to arrange cookies

Part of the fun of serving baked goods is arranging them prettily on a plate. It's best to work with a variety of cookies with different colors, textures, shapes, and/or sizes. I love using old-school paper doilies, but I confess to hating how it looks once the plate is half-empty and the doilies are left with greasy spots and crumbs (ick). It's perfectly fine just to place the cookies directly on a pretty plate (or even a really plain plate, letting the cookies speak for themselves.) You can make great arrangements in concentric circles, building towers, or stacking cookies in sections by type. When I do circles, I like to intersperse a couple of cookies of one type with one or two of another type to add visual interest. Here are a couple of ideas using chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, magic cookies, and salty-sweet butter pecan cookies.

"i do!" cupcakes

The embossed fondant hearts complemented tender vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting. They were perfect for our friend's teacher's end-of-the-year-pre-wedding celebration at school. I loved the look of black and white for the wedding, and I thought they came out simple and elegant. I brushed just a bit of luster dust over each topper to give it a bit of shimmer in the right light.

Print cupcake recipe.
Print vanilla frosting recipe.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

embossed fondant hearts

Dear little blog,

I apologize for ignoring you. Here's an embossed fondant cupcake topper to tide you over. In the famed words of ABBA, "I do, I do, I do, I do, I do."


Thursday, May 8, 2014

simple pleasures are the best

Our good friends' cutie-pie daughter turned five (5!) and wanted to share a celebration with her TK classmates. I was asked to make very simple chocolate cupcakes with brightly colored vanilla frosting. No pink, please. And under explicit instructions, no sprinkles, either. (I believe the teacher feared for non-human critters who might feast on any left-behind sprinkles in the classroom - ick!).

These cupcakes were colorful and festive and fun. Super simple, yes. But perfect for 4- and 5-year-olds gobbling up treats at the end of the school day!

cakes for papa and kasey

Every year, my kids' school has an auction that raises a sizable portion of the annual budget for extracurricular activities (art, PE, music, computers, etc.). I participate on the committee by overseeing the database, but I also donate items. My favorite things to donate fall into the homemade treats category. This year, a dozen of us donated a year's worth of desserts; each of us is baking the winner dessert once a month. Five of us donated 5 Mondays' worth of soups; each of us made and delivered soup to the winner. I usually also donate baked goods to order.

Last year's winner asked me to make a cake, and then ordered a second cake as well. Her family was having a double celebration: her father's 85th birthday and her niece's 21st birthday. I made Papa's cake chocolate with large roses (I wanted it to be simple and elegant but not too girly, naturally!). For Kasey, I made a lemon cake. I kept the decorations very plain but then added a huge, fluffy fondant flower accompanied by a couple of fondant roses; nice and sophisticated for a grown-up birthday. These were recipes I've used many times before, so nothing new to report here, but I loved being able to put together something special to add to their family celebration.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

christmas (or anytime) wreath

After ogling blog post after blog post of twisted wreath breads for what felt like ages, I finally baked this Christmas Wreath. I was so excited to try it! We were headed to a potluck brunch at a friend's house, and it felt like the perfect hostess gift - something they could easily put out on the table or save to eat later (though selfishly, I hoped they'd share it so I could taste it!). Sara Kate Gillingham has written reverently about her family's Christmas morning tradition that involves this bread, but for me, the clincher was when my old friend from Bologna, who now teaches cooking classes in England, shared a recipe using nearly the identical shape and technique!

First, look how pretty it is!

Now let's talk about the taste. It is a just-barely-sweet bread, and it is actually much breadier, perhaps drier, than I had imagined. I expected the consistency of a coffee cake, like a king cake, but it's pretty true to its yeast dough origins and not as soft as a brioche. Both my friend's recipe and Sara Kate's are for a slightly more sophisticated palate, and I simplified the filling and just used dried cranberries plumped in a little hot water. Ottavia's is filled with raisins and chopped, candied orange peel; Sara Kate's with a mixture of dried cranberries, almonds, and lemon zest that also sounds delicious.

What appealed to me most was the way you achieve the shape. After mixing the dough and letting it proof, you roll it out into a large rectangle, brush it with melted butter, and sprinkle on the filling of choice. Next, you roll up the dough tightly. Here's where it gets interesting: using a thin, sharp knife, you cut the snake in half lengthwise. Keeping the cut edges up, you twist them together, then bring the ends together, leaving a hole in the center, to form a wreath. My only quibble with the way it turned out is that I thought the layers would look more distinct. Next time perhaps I can roll it more tightly so there are more internal layers; then, when I dissect it, it will have more striations.

It's really a lovely bread, and I can see how both the orange peel or the cranberries make it a perfect winter treat; they are such cold weather flavors! I'm sure you could fill it with any flavor combo you like (I actually think almond paste and cranberries would be even nicer!), so perhaps I will try that next time. This definitely deserves a "next time!"

Holiday Breakfast Wreath with Cranberry-Almond Filling or Raisin/Candied Orange Peel Filling
Makes about 12 servings

1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (about 110F)
1/2 cup warm milk (about 110 F)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cardamom powder (I omitted this)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
3 1/2 cups (14 7/8 ounces) flour

Cranberry-Almond Filling
3/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries, soaked in 1/2 cup brandy, other liqueur, or hot water
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup (1 3/8 ounces) flour
3/4 cup finely chopped blanched almonds
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon lemon peel
1 teaspoon almond extract


Raisin-Candied Orange Peel Filling
3 ounces raisins
3 ounces candied orange peel, chopped
2 ounces butter, melted

Sugar Glaze
1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoons cardamom powder (I omitted this)

First, make the dough. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let it foam up for a minute or two. Blend in the milk, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom (if using), eggs, and lemon peel. Stir in two cups of the flour, a cup at a time. Beat for two minutes. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a soft, workable dough. You may not use all the flour.

On a lightly floured board, knead the dough until smooth, about 5-10 minutes, adding flour if needed to prevent sticking. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the cranberry-almond filling if using. Drain the dried fruit of its liqueur and reserve the liqueur for another use (or have a swig). In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and knead it just to release any air bubbles. Roll it into a 9x30" rectangle. If you are using cranberry-almond filling, crumble the filling over the dough to within 1" of the edges. If you are using raisin-orange peel, brush the dough rectangle with the melted butter, then sprinkle with raisins and orange peel to within 1" of the edges. Starting on a long side, tightly roll up the dough, pinching the edge against the loaf to seal it. With a thin, sharp knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise. Carefully turn the halves cut side up. Loosely twist the ropes around each other, keeping the cut sides up.

Transfer the twist to a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat and shape it into a wreath. Pinch the ends together to seal. Let it rise a second time, uncovered, in a warm place, for about 45 minutes or until puffy.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. While the wreath is baking stir together the ingredients for the sugar glaze.

When the wreath is finished baking, transfer it to a cooing rack. Cool for a few minutes, and then drizzle the glaze over the warm wreath.

The wreath can be eaten immediately, or it can be prepared up to two days in advance, cooled completely, and wrapped tightly in foil. Store at room temperature, and then reheat at 350 for 10-15 minutes, drizzling the glaze just before serving.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

honeybear cake for my beautiful niece

My littlest niece recently (ok, Thanksgiving weekend) turned 2. She is so delicious, with the softest cheeks you can imagine. Her favorite toy buddy is Honeybear, her lovey, who goes everywhere with her, so we thought it would be fun to make a Honeybear cake with the bear peeking over the edge of a giant vat of honey. 

Here's the bear:

And here's the cake:

And here's the delighted girl with her two buddies together!
I hand-cut Honeybear out of fondant using a template I sketched after looking at a picture of the real lovey. I used a few brown tones for his paws/face and head/ears, though it was hard to get them perfect; the brown food coloring often looks too pink, and I'm not quite sure how to get that golden tone, even though I tried variously adding gold and yellow food coloring. Anyway, I cut out a flat bear and layered on the muzzle, nose, and eyes. I added some texturing, hitting the fondant gently with the back of a small knife to look like fur. The paws were kept separate because I wasn't sure where Honeybear was going to perch. I left the fondant to dry for several days so it would be sturdy enough to stand up without caving in. Although it would have been cute to press the bear to the back of the cake, like he was climbing up the jar, I knew the fondant would slide down, so I just inserted it into the cake about an inch from the edge. (The frosting around the edge was fairly thick, and the fondant needed to be jammed more into the cake than into the frosting; it kept trying to lean backward.) Anyway, it stayed upright as long as it needed to, and the birthday girl loved it.

The cake was chocolate - my family is a chocolate family - with vanilla frosting. Perfect for a 2-year-old family party! Happy birthday, A!

Print the chocolate cake recipe.
Print the vanilla frosting recipe.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

buttercream flowers with carrot cake

Recently, our neighbor asked me to make a carrot cake for a birthday party she was throwing for her good friend. I used my favorite carrot cake recipe. It's so flavorful and goes so well with the slightly tangy-but-sweet cream cheese frosting. My neighbor asked me to decorate it with pink and purple flowers, so I decided to try out the buttercream flowers I'd seen on My Cake School.

One of these days, I really want to make a double-barreled cake (twice as tall as a regular cake) so I can do some kind of cascading design down the side. This cake was just a standard height (they only needed to feed about 15 people), so I cascaded the flowers across the top and side of the cake. I'd also love to try all-white flowers at some point; I think the white-on-white would look very elegant.

It was fun to try my hand at different shaped flowers, and Melissa's tutorial made it really easy to learn how to pipe them. I strongly recommend piping more flowers than you need in case one falls apart when you try to adhere it to the cake. You're really limited only by the size (height) of your piping tips. For example, I could only pipe a really low rose (see above) with the small size rose tip I have.

I used white pearls for the centers of the flowers. Silver dragees are nice, too, or other-colored sugar pearls. The flowers are piped onto small squares of parchment, placed on a cookie sheet, and refrigerated until firm. Then it's really easy to peel the parchment off the back and press them gently to the side (or top) of the cake. Obviously, you don't want to handle them too much, or they will warm up and get smushed. If the flowers won't stick easily on their own, pipe a dab of frosting onto the back of the flower and then gently press it onto the cake.

The cake was a hit and as always, I enjoyed trying something new! I would definitely be willing to grab some more piping tips and play with buttercream flowers again.

Print carrot cake recipe.
Print cream cheese frosting recipe.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

bridging to juniors

My girl has had quite a ride with the Girl Scouts of America. She and 11 friends started as Daisies, moved up through Brownies, and this year, they flew up to Juniors! The girls had an official bridging ceremony with the rest of our unit (all the troops in the area), but they celebrated at their first meeting of the school year with a private party. And what's a party without cake?

I made a really simple, homey vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, a rainbow bridge, and the Brownie and Junior symbols. They gobbled it up, so I guess they liked it!

I am proud of their accomplishments as a troop, and I am glad my Bug has this special group of girls she can count on for support and friendship.

Print vanilla cake recipe.
Print chocolate buttermilk frosting recipe.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

are you my mummy?

Every Halloween, our school has a carnival with a cake walk. I like to do something fun and different every year. Last year was a Kit Kat cake (frosted with chocolate, surrounded by standing-up Kit Kats, and laden with M&M's). This year, I made a cute little mummy.

Underneath the fondant wrapping is a chocolate cake covered with chocolate ganache. I fashioned a body-like shape out of a 9x13" cake. The scraps were used to add dimension for the arms and feet (I glued them on with frosting, then spread ganache right over them). And the eyeballs are simply blue and white fondant with a food-safe marker used to make the pupils. I know they're not scientifically accurate, but they're cutely creepy.

I rolled out white fondant to about 1/8" thickness, cut it into somewhat regular strips, and laid them at angles across and around the "body." Anywhere there was a gap, I covered it with another strip. It's an easy project because it's so inexact. It doesn't matter if the fondant appears torn; in fact, it adds a little texture.

I never got to see who won the cake, but hopefully it gave them a good giggle before they devoured it!

bruce and wayne's wedding

Last week, I had the honor to cater dessert for a very special wedding. The grooms are in their 60's and 70's, and they are close family friends of my client. After 37 years together, with the overturn of Proposition 8, they decided to make it legal with a beautiful ceremony and evening celebration. What a treat to be part of such an important day! The grooms requested cheesecake - we opted for two flavors - and we decided to add an 8" cake so they'd have something to slice and taste together.

I think this vertical piping looks elegant and clean.

Smart fellas: they are chocolate lovers, so while the outside decorations corresponded with their invitation and event colors, the inside was four rich chocolate layers filled with creamy chocolate mousse. The ribbon design with cursive initials mimicked the wedding invitation, and the grooms requested their names and the wedding date underneath. I used white candy melts to pipe the letters onto parchment. They are so delicate, I was afraid they would either snap or melt, so I piped about half a dozen of each. It was a wise choice, as a few of them bit the dust as I tried to transfer them; I was really grateful to have extras! I used an offset spatula to gently lift and transfer them and simply laid them on top of the fondant, using just a tiny dab of corn syrup on a paintbrush to act as glue and make sure the letters wouldn't slide around.

We decided on plain cheesecake with candied lemon peel and pumpkin cheesecake with a cream cheese-caramel swirl. It felt seasonal, and I liked the look of having two flavor options.

I have posted the cheesecake and candied lemon peel recipes before. The pumpkin cheesecake recipe is from the 1993 Thanksgiving edition of Bon Appetit, and I think my family has made it every year but one of the last 20! I made 1 1/2 recipes and baked it in a 9x13" pan following the same basic formula as the other cheesecake (which also bakes in a 9x13). I started it at 475F for 8 minutes, then reduced the heat to 200F and baked it for 50 minutes, and then turned off the oven and left it in for another 50 minutes. The pumpkin cheesecake has a little more volume than the plain, and it needed just a little longer. I probably baked it for 60-65 minutes and left it in the oven for 65-70 minutes. As a note, 1 1/2 recipes made just a little too much batter for a 9x13, so I had a little batter leftover (and made a few mini-cupcake-sized cheesecakes that baked for about 18 minutes).

Tasting the two side by side, I was surprised to find that I preferred the pumpkin cheesecake. It is much creamier, and in comparison, the plain cheesecake was a bit dry. I also think I would add a bit of melted butter to the crust for the plain cheesecake. It would hold together better and provide a little more flavor. And I would not skimp on the Whole Foods (or at least Trader Joe's) vanilla wafers; I used a different brand (not 'Nilla Wafers) and the others are superior.

Cheesecake needs a day to sit and develop the flavor in the fridge, which makes it a great "do ahead" recipe for parties. I sliced the cheesecakes into about 2" squares and placed each piece into a silver cupcake liner (following the wedding color scheme). Make sure to wipe the knife after each cut to keep the lines very clean and smooth!

For the cake, I made the Martha Stewart chocolate cake and regular vanilla buttercream. The chocolate mousse filling came from a very simple recipe I found here, though I admit to some temperature confusion. This recipe - and several others I saw - call for folding whipped cream into a melted chocolate mixture, but I wasn't sure how much, if at all, to cool the melted chocolate before folding in the cream. The recipe didn't mention it, but the heat from the chocolate definitely melted and deflated the whipped cream a bit. I ended up whipping it a little more before refrigerating it (which I think was probably not strictly necessary, but gave me more confidence it would turn out okay). After several hours in the fridge, it had set up nicely and ended up being thick enough to stand up as a cake filling. With more time to experiment, I might look for other recipes or play around with the temperatures a bit. Here's the recipe for the record.

Chocolate Mousse

1/2 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 cup (2 ounces) powdered sugar
1 cup (6 ounce) chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar

In a medium saucepan, combine powdered sugar and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Add chocolate chips and stir over low heat until chocolate chips are melted and well-blended. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and set aside. (The recipe doesn't say so, but I feel like it couldn't hurt to cool it to just warmer than room temperature. You don't want it too cold, or the chocolate may seize when you fold in the whipped cream, but too warm and it will melt the whipped cream you're about to beat.)

In a large bowl, beat the remaining 1 1/2 cups heavy cream on medium speed. Gradually add sugar. When all the sugar has been added, increase speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form.

Fold about 1/3 of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to lighten ("temper") it. Then fold in the remaining whipped cream, but do not overmix. Refrigerate for several hours before filling cake.


Bruce and Wayne have already shared nearly four happy decades. I was honored to help make this special day a little more memorable, and I wish them many more happy and healthy years together!

Print chocolate mousse recipe.

Friday, October 18, 2013

PTA founder's day cake (or: what to do with a lot of spare cake)

Once upon a time in February, I had a lot of extra cake on my hands. Three, 12" round layers, to be exact.

Luckily for me, our school was celebrating PTA Founder's Night. And what better way to celebrate than with a giant cake that will feed 50 people?

I quickly frosted it with delicious chocolate frosting and ran it over to school. Voila!