Thursday, April 30, 2015

baby shoes for baby g

Nothing like a baby turning 1 to remind you it's time to post the baby shower cake pictures. (Oops. Though my posting tardiness is well-known throughout the land.)

From everything I hear - and my parents are friends with this boy's grandparents - this is the sweetest, bounciest, happiest baby boy ever. He sure is adorable and well-loved.

Before he was born, his family wanted to celebrate his arrival with a fabulous shower that included a cake designed to mimic part of the invitation. I took the baby shoes featured on the card and built similar, old-fashioned ones out of fondant, and then placed them on top of a Tiffany-blue baby shoe box. Since that wouldn't be enough cake to feed the whole party crew, the shoe box topped a giant chocolate cake filled with chocolate buttermilk frosting and covered in dark chocolate ganache. (That's become this family's signature cake!)

Here's the bottom half of the invitation:

And here are the fondant baby shoes, the shoe box, and the chocolate extravaganza:

Happy birthday to this sweet baby boy!

fondant baby carriages

Old-timey baby buggies are one of my favorite fondant items to make. They are really easy - they just take time to firm up, so you need a bit of lead time. (Here's a little more information on how to make them.) You can make any color combination, and I think they are adorable with stripes, polka dots, or even bows. For this baby shower cake, the parents-to-be didn't know (or didn't want to reveal!) the sex of the baby, so we went with yellow and white to keep the surprise. Sweet fondant flowers and giant buttercream roses finish off the cake.

Welcome, baby!

Monday, March 2, 2015

auction-winner's chocolate cake

I wish I lived in a world where there were always a cake on my counter, under a glass dome, so I could have a slice in the afternoon with a cup of tea. I understand that as a baker, I could probably make that happen pretty easily - but I'm not sure my waistline needs there to be a whole cake sitting in my kitchen on any given day.

Each year, our school auction features a "Treats" category of items homemade by parents at the school. French, Indian, and Persian dinners... trays of baklava, lemon bars, and layered jello... rustic soups, kale chips, and juice cleanses. It's all available to the highest bidder. One lucky duck takes home a certificate for a dessert a month for a whole year! Twelve parent volunteers step up to make one dessert each month for the winner. At the last auction, my friend Susie won, and I was one of the monthly bakers.

When it was my turn to bake for Susie and her family, I wanted her to have something simple, delicious, and homey... the kind of cake that can sit on your counter, under a glass dome. Her boys have nut allergies, so I was careful to stay far away from anything they couldn't eat. One-bowl chocolate cake with swirled chocolate buttermilk frosting and confetti sprinkles - elegant in its simplicity - seemed like just the right treat.

Susie, her husband, and their twin boys loved the cake. The gobbled up part of it and wisely stored the rest in the freezer. (I'd say they are watching their waistlines, too, but Susie is an amazing runner and her husband and the boys do karate, so I think they're all in excellent shape already.)

We'll be offering the dessert of the month item at this year's auction, so I hope everyone at our school is ready to bid high!

Print chocolate cake recipe.
Print chocolate buttermilk frosting recipe.

mommy to bee cookies

I love making baked goods to go along with shower themes. They have such cute invitations these days, with vibrant colors and adorable images, and it provides a lot of good inspiration for cookies and cakes. I made these cookies for a "mommy to bee" shower. (Get it?) The invitations were a white background with a goldenrod-colored beehive and a couple of bees flying about. So I made the cookies to match!

These are lemon-vanilla sugar cookies with royal icing. I presented them in cellophane bags tied with ribbons. With enough bubble wrap, I was even able to ship them a few hundred miles for the baby shower celebration!

Print lemon-vanilla sugar cookie recipe.
Print royal icing recipe.

missy's baby shower cupcakes

Last weekend, I got to meet the cutest, sweetest baby boy. His mama is a good friend of my sister's, and she is a sweetheart. I always have the best time talking to her. In addition to her many skills, she makes the most beautiful quilts. It started as a hobby, and her skills have just gotten better and better. I am always impressed!

Meeting Baby S, I was reminded that I haven't posted pictures of the baby shower cupcakes I made for Missy's shower. I was asked to keep the colors gender neutral (gray, green, and yellow, to go with the shower colors). Though I'll admit gray isn't my favorite color for decorating, the sleeping babies and t-shirts came out cute. I made a mix of chocolate vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting and fondant toppers.

Here's a sampling of the whole gang.

The yawning ones are always my favorites. Food safe markers make these easy. Just let the fondant faces sit out to dry for a couple of hours; it makes it easier to draw on them.

In real life, my son insists on wearing only solid or striped shirts. But in fondant, I actually like the stars the best.

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.