Thursday, June 18, 2020

stuff i haven't posted: b's bar mitzvah 13th birthday rainbow cake

The boy! The boy turned 13. And had a bar mitzvah. And has accomplished all kinds of great growth this year. I am so proud of him.

His bar mitzvah was a week after his actual birthday, and we saved the big birthday cake until the Friday night before. (For his actual birthday, since we had to mark the occasion, he had three friends over and I made them some chocolate cupcakes with blue swirl frosting.)

This year, he requested a funfetti cake with rainbow frosting. There were about 50 of us for dinner, so I made a big, giant cake with rainbow swirled frosting and shards of stained glass candy as a decoration. It was hot out and apparently a little humid, because the candy began bending and drooping as the evening went on! Luckily, I caught some pictures early on so I know what it originally looked like, but - word to the wise - sugar is not your friend in humid weather!

The multi-colored frosting is fun to do. I piped stripes of frosting onto a piece of plastic wrap, twisted the ends into a tube, cut off the tip, and inserted the tube into a piping bag. The color distribution will be a little random as you squeeze, but it comes out really pretty.

I love how the candy catches the light!

To make the candy shards, I crushed up Jolly Ranchers and sprinkled them onto a silpat-lined baking sheet. I put them in the oven for just a few minutes (<5 a="" airtight="" an="" and="" around="" between="" big="" broke="" can="" candy="" checking="" colors="" container="" cooled="" get="" had="" humid="" i="" if="" in="" into="" it="" just="" layers="" melted="" not="" of="" or="" p="" paper.="" parchment="" pretty="" regularly="" s="" shards.="" sticky.="" store="" swirled="" tacky="" the="" them="" then="" they="" toothpick.="" until="" waxed="" when="" will="" with="" you="">

You can see the sugar pieces already starting to bend...

The funny thing about this picture is that Riley is next to Brenny in so many of his birthday pictures, up close and personal with the cake. His grin looks just like his dad, Kevin's, in this pic!

Happy 13th birthday, B!

stuff i haven't posted: new passover desserts!

Passover is notoriously not the best holiday for desserts. No one particularly loves the taste of matzah cake meal. Trying to bake regular sweets, but adjust the recipes to comply with the laws of kosher for Passover (KFP), is a recipe for mediocrity. And honey cake, a traditional Passover dessert, is just not my favorite.

It used to be that if you were a March or April birthday, you always crossed your fingers that your birthday wouldn't fall during Passover that year. With powdered sugar not being allowed, and terrible tasting cake mixes, it was pretty hard to approximate a "real" birthday cake. The box mixes have improved dramatically since I was a little girl, and with new laws on kitniyot, many people are now comfortable using powdered sugar. (Powdered sugar contains cornstarch, and corn was traditionally prohibited by Ashkenazic Jews, though those laws have been relaxed by some of the senior rabbis in the last few years.)

The best desserts are those that don't try to convert a non-Pesadicah recipe into a KFP recipe... they are just naturally compliant. In recent years, some truly delicious Passover dessert options have emerged. Matzah toffee, or "matzah crack," is a common one - this is matzah covered with a hot toffee that is baked on, then topped with a layer of chocolate, and it's delicious. Flourless chocolate cakes are naturally KFP and taste amazing. The teff brownies I made two years ago were delicious and naturally KFP. Meringues and chocolate-covered strawberries (or chocolate-dipped dried fruit) are KFP. Macarons can be made KFP. Cookies made with almond flour are delicious. So many choices!

Last year, I made some seriously amazing new Passover desserts. I really wanted to push myself to try something new instead of the same standbys.

These are chocolate swirl meringues. You make regular vanilla meringue mixture, melt chocolate and drizzle it over the surface of the mixture in the bowl, and then gently scoop and plop spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. The randomness of the chocolate drizzle makes these beautiful, irregular chocolate patterns, and the chocolate bakes on to the meringue. When you've used up all the chocolate, you drizzle another layer on and continue repeating until all the cookies are scooped.

Traditional macaroons are delicious when homemade - the store-bought ones in the can are less good - but many people are not coconut fans. This recipe has coconut (I used good, unsweetened coconut), condensed milk, egg white, and vanilla, and the macaroons are tender and sweet. I made some macarons - these were strawberry, flavored with freeze dried strawberries that I blended to a powder - but I never have great success with macarons. They taste fine, but I always overthink them, and they never look as perfect as I want them to.

This is a meringue layer cake from a recipe by Sweetapolita. Three giant tiers of meringue (which, by the way, takes a really long time to bake when it is that big/thick and comes out pillowy and marshmallowy), topped with mascarpone whipped cream and then with rich, dark ganache. It was really hard to cut, naturally gluten-free, and absolutely delicious. I think next time I might make the ganache a little less firm, which would just mean slightly increasing the amount of cream. I would also make the meringue layers a little thinner, though I liked the softness actually. I would not have wanted a crunchy meringue in this instance. The cake was at least 7" tall, but at least it was fun to look at and tasty!

I can't actually remember (or tell from this picture) whether I made a crustless cheesecake or a cheesecake with an almond/sugar/matzah cake meal crust. Either way, it was sort of plain looking, so I topped it with some strawberries that I tossed with a little bit of sugar, which looked super pretty when I first put it together (see below) but got a little weepy as time went on and the sugar leached juice out of the berries (whoops). The cheesecake itself is just cream cheese, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest, so it's all totally compliant.

Finally, I made the Epicurious fallen flourless chocolate cake topped with mascarpone whipped cream. Yes, there were two desserts at the same seder with mascarpone and whipped cream as the main ingredients. However, this one was whipped cream enhanced with mascarpone, and the meringue layer cake above was mascarpone lightened with whipped cream. Sounds somewhat the same, but the proportions were different and the end results were pretty different as well. The cream cut the richness of the chocolate, and the cake itself is lighter and less dense than other flourless chocolate cakes. It is fun to have it puff up nice and tall right out of the oven and then fall about two inches. The fallen area makes the perfect space to blob on the mascarpone whipped cream.

I waited until right before dessert to add the mascarpone whipped cream for fear it would not hold up in the fridge well. However, I think it's stable enough that you could probably prep it an hour or two in advance (before you start the seder).

stuff i haven't posted yet: they put the Mo in MMoLCH

Our closest friends from temple have formed a group that hangs out socially and celebrates holidays together. As we started spending more time together, the kids decided we needed a group nickname, and one of them rearranged our last name initials to form MMoLCH. There are 20 of us, and the kids range in age from about 9 to 19. Whenever we have a group dinner or game night, which sadly we haven't since February, I typically bring dessert (which makes me very happy!). If it's anywhere near someone's birthday, which it often is, the obvious choice is to bake a cake.

Last summer was the younger Mo's sister's birthday. Double digits! She is a fashionista and a great soccer player, but closest to my heart: she's a chocoholic. I decided to go chocolate crazy on this one and just load it up with chocolate candies, including Rolos, KitKats, and Hershey Kisses.

At the beginning of the COVID19 crisis, her older sister turned 14. She had one of the very first quarantine birthdays. It predated the car parades and distance parties that have become common, but we still wanted to mark the occasion. I made a little 6" cake for their family to celebrate. This girl is bright and insightful and a good friend. Hers was the same chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and I wanted it to be an elegant and beautiful design, so I turned the top of the cake into a giant rose.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

close-to-copycat cheese board double chocolate cookies

I went to school in Berkeley, and I still remember the first time I discovered the Cheese Board's pizza. As a senior, I lived on Northside, on Oxford between Virginia and Cedar, which is not too far from the Cheese Board. We ended up there one day after class, and I just remember the individual-sized pizza had incredible dough, goat cheese, and lemon zest... and was out of this world. I had never had anything like it.

Since then, I have been to the Cheese Board many times, eaten many Chocolate Things and Cheese Rolls and Corn Cherry Scones. My sister-in-law bought me their cookbook, and I have used it many times.

This past visit to Berkeley, said sister-in-law, our collective five kids, and I went to the Cheese Board, stood in line for pastries, and made a picnic on the tiny tables outside the shop. To be honest, we scarfed everything down so fast, I went back in for a second round of goodies. On a whim, I bought a Double Chocolate Cookie, which I saved for our drive home, by which time it had broken into pieces.

It was one of the best cookies I have ever had. Full of big chunks of dark chocolate. Rich. Just the right amount of crispness on the edges, yet still chewy, probably due to all of those chunks of dark chocolate.

I had to find the recipe. I looked everywhere online. I called and emailed the Cheese Board, who were super responsive but indicated that the recipe isn't published and it ain't gonna be. (Dang.)

In the meantime, I tried out a few recipes that seemed to be in the direction of what I was going for. This one was really very good, and I have made it several times since. I'd have to make it side by side with an actual Cheese Board cookie to know how close I've gotten, because right now I'm just holding it up to a memory. Either way, it is a very good cookie. They have melted dark chocolate as well as chocolate chips. Recently, partly due to COVID-19 chocolate chip limitations, I have been experimenting with mixing semi-sweet and dark chocolate (and even playing around with different sized chips) in cookie dough, and I am really enjoying how the combo makes for a more interesting taste. Some bites are sweeter or darker, and you get more of a chocolate hit if you get a larger chunk.

Though I am generally opposed to giant cookies, this one does really benefit from being made big - you get to experience all the different sensations of crisp and chewy and gooey when the cookie is larger. However, I have also made them "normal" sized and baked them for a shorter time, and they come out very well. This recipe also has an odd instruction about scooping the dough and then turning the scoop on its side - trust me and try it!

Double Chocolate Cookies:

stuff i haven't posted yet: my sister's birthday cake

This is just my regular chocolate cake with sprinkles shaped in an M, made for my sister's birthday. Nothing special or unusual. Except that my sister lives 350 miles away, and I made the cake as a surprise, and I was going to bring it up to northern CA when we went to visit over her birthday (yeah, last August). Sadly, my kiddo got sick and was not well enough to travel. We were so sad to cancel... plus we had a giant chocolate cake on our hands. I stuck it in the freezer and it made a very nice Rosh Hashanah dessert for the family a few weeks later. Thanks, Mer!

stuff i haven't posted yet: m cookies

When our friend Melanie became a bat mitzvah this past summer, I baked some pretty "M" cookies for her to give as party favors to her friends. I made brownie roll-out cookies covered in royal icing and wrapped each in a cellophane bag with a blue bow. They were so cute! I love that these are a great make-ahead cookie because the royal icing keeps the cookie fresh for a very long time.

stuff i haven't posted yet: h is 15. and sweet 16.

As usual, I'm so far behind in posting that she's now 16. Last year, she and a friend had a shared birthday party that started on 3/31 (her friend's birthday) and was a sleepover into 4/1 (her birthday).

This year, due to COVID-19, there was no birthday party and just a tiny cake for the three of us. Clearly, we are not related since she chose something non-chocolate (the horror!). It's actually a brown butter cake with dulce de leche frosting made from homemade dulce de leche. To be honest, I liked the cake much better last time I made it; this time, it had that sort of cornbread-like texture that I don't prefer. I want cake to be softer, with a finer crumb. This cake was improved by serving it at room temperature, but I would still like to improve upon the recipe to make it appetizing whether room temp or cold.

I thought it would be the perfect time to try the drip cake again with the leftover dulce de leche, but either my dulce de leche was too thin or my cake was not cool enough, because it ran straight down the sides. I have definitely not nailed this (probably overdone but still cute) trend. Oh well. It still tasted good.

Brown butter layer cake
Dulce de leche frosting, including directions on how to make dulce de leche in the oven

Here's hoping her 17th will be pandemic-free and full of friends!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

marshmallow flower cupcakes

I saw a super cute idea - probably on one of the IG baking videos the kids are always sending me - for using cut marshmallows to make flower-shaped cupcake toppers. You slice up regular marshmallows, leaving the exposed cut sides sticky, and then you press them into colored sugar. Each marshmallow slice becomes a petal.

It's a cinch to color sugar: place a quarter-cup or so of sugar into a sandwich bag, drip in a bit of gel food coloring, and rub the sugar around in the bag until the color is evenly distributed. I chose orange just because it looked summery. I piped orange frosting onto the cupcakes as a base for the flowers and then started laying out the petals in a circle, slightly overlapping. I made an inner, smaller circle, then piped in a dab of orange frosting to hold it all together, and covered that with some sprinkles.

I'm pretty sure the tutorial used mini marshmallows, but I think that would have taken forever. As it was, each marshmallow flower took about 10 slices of marshmallow, which I think equated to about 2.5 marshmallows. A little time-consuming, but quite easy and very fun for a year-end party.

stuff i haven't posted yet: maya turns 15

Quick! If I post this now, I can squeak in under the wire before she turns 16 in a few weeks! One of H's oldest friends (she of the silly face cookies from her 7th birthday) had a much more grown up, elegant celebration for her 15th. I was asked to make something really simple and beautiful. She is purportedly allergic to chocolate, and yet, it's obviously not too serious...

Happy 15th, Maya, and I'm looking forward to helping you usher in 16!

Friday, February 28, 2020

stuff i haven't posted yet: ronnie's 70th birthday

My aunt is very dear to me. She lives three hours ahead, so I often call her while I'm out walking, and it's always so nice to catch up. We share interests in reading, movies, theater, traveling, and more, and I enjoy hearing about her latest adventures. Last February (yeah, a year ago), she turned 70, and we celebrated with a weekend staycation in LA with my parents, my sister and her family, and my aunt. We visited the Skirball, had a great Italian dinner, and I made her this cake with fondant roses:

Roses like these are really quick to make. You can do them in a lot more detail and roll the fondant paper thin to achieve a more realistic petal thickness, but you can do a quick flower, roll it fairly thin, and still come out with a pretty look. You make a cone-shaped center and about 6-8 round leaves (just use a circle cookie cutter). Then you start by holding the cone and wrapping one circle/leaf around the it. Line the edge of the circle up with the bottom of the cone. The next circle/leaf overlaps it just a bit, and you keep adding the leaves, overlapping with the one you just finished. As you go, you can gently pull the leaves out to make a more open rose, or you can leave them closed for a rosebud (which probably only needs 4-5 petals). At the end, I usually pinch or slice off the bottom of the rose and leave a flat bottom (imagine you just broke the flower straight off the stem), and that works nicely to place on the cake.

Note: those are vanilla seeds in the frosting - they taste great but always look icky. The cake was lemon with lemon curd and vanilla bean frosting, if I'm remembering correctly.

stuff i haven't posted yet: chocolate pecan pie

Pie or cake... the age-old question. For me, the answer is almost always cake, but there are a couple of pies that float my boat. Chocolate pecan pie is one of them... even though it breaks my "nuts should not interrupt chocolate" mantra. It's ooey-gooey, rich, and has just a hint of alcohol flavor (another thing I usually hate in desserts). I can't really explain why it works, but it does. Each Thanksgiving, we go through the list of what we're going to make. My mom and I are always eager to try something new, but since you have to make everyone's favorites, there aren't any items you can skip, and there's not really room to add any dishes. Dessert is one place where I seem to be able to play around a little... pumpkin cheesecake one year, pumpkin pie the next. This time, I was able to sneak in the chocolate pecan, and it was definitely worthwhile!

It's always so pretty before it's baked, when the crimping is still perfect.

The nuts got a little dark, but the crust was a nice golden brown.

(It looks like the pie is sitting directly on the counter, but it's actually in a glass pie plate!)

The recipe is from David Lebovitz, so really, you can't go wrong.

Print chocolate pecan pie recipe.

stuff i haven't posted yet: boy-o turns 12 (16 months ago)

Yep, the boy is now nearly 13 1/2, so it's probably time to post his 12th birthday cake. He specifically requested swirled frosting in blues and purples and greens, so this was right up his alley. (Right now, I'm even blanking on what we did for his party and what flavor the cake was inside. I think it was marble, but I wouldn't lay money on it.)

I spruced it up with some simple piping and brightly colored rock candy, which has awesome crunch. Actually, these blues/greens/purples are my favorite colors, and I really enjoyed swirling the frosting to meld the colors just a bit while leaving some distinctive sections as well.

Happy birthday, boy-o!

stuff i haven't posted yet: nintendo switch cake

Fun with fondant... a giant Nintendo Switch cake!

OK, I actually really dislike working with fondant, mostly because i find it intimidating. I feel like I've gotten the cake/frosting underneath so perfectly smooth, and it still ends up looking lumpier than I intended. Perhaps if I practiced more...

My favorite part about this cake was trying to make the buttons and controllers as realistic as possible. That always requires a little creativity, which is fun. The first set were way too small given the giant size of the cake, so I remade them to try to scale them better.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

mahjong brownies

In the past two years, after much urging from my mom, I finally learned to play mahjong... and I absolutely love it. It is social and fun, you can choose to make it as competitive as you want, and it requires a sharp mind and the ability to pivot. My mom has been playing for many years, and she has taught me a few times, but I really think you can't learn by playing with a helper-partner; you need to experience making your own choices in the Charleston and deciding between multiple hands on your own in order to fully "get" how to play. Since I only sat in occasionally, I never committed to it in a way that allowed me to be completely responsible for my own hand. Once I started playing with my girlfriends, though, I was totally hooked. Now I call my mom every time I have a great win or work through a beautiful hand. (This week, I tried a closed, singles and pairs hand. I didn't win, but I had a whole hand of bams: two birds, two twos, a three, two fours, two fives, two sixes, and two sevens. Had my friend Melissa not been hoarding my last three bam, I might have won! It was a really cool hand.)

Anyway, the point of this blog is baking, not mahjong. BUT my mom and her friends threw a mahjong fundraiser lunch the other day, and she asked me to make mahjong brownies to serve for dessert. What a fun assignment! I played around with piping frosting through tiny tips versus food-safe markers, and I decided food-safe markers would be more accurate and give me more control. I made about 40 "maj tiles" out of fondant, let them dry for a day to firm up, and then got to work with my computer close at hand. My new set of double-sided markers - with a fine tip on one end and a brush tip on the other - were totally awesome to allow for detail work. I wanted an assortment of bam/crak/dot, jokers, flowers, and winds, and I relied heavily on Google images to look very closely at the specific details of the Chinese characters. If you've played maj, you know that there are all different sorts of fonts and characters in different sets. For example, some red dragons just look like a spear with a rectangle (the one I chose to draw), whereas others look like an actual dragon (which is beyond my drawing capabilities). Jokers come in all forms and fashions, but most of them are too complicated for me. Hallie suggested drawing joker hats, and I thought that was a super cute idea.

The first one dot I drew was a little murky - not my best work - but I got better as I went on. In particular, I loved how the flowers and winds and craks turned out!

I'm not sure what hands I could make with this...

As for the brownies themselves, I used Steffi's brownies and my friend's frosting recipe, which tasted good and was essentially just serving as glue. (I didn't expect anyone to eat the fondant tiles; they were just for show.) At the same time, I had made a different batch of brownies with a different frosting, and the kids agreed that Steffi's brownies, paired with the other frosting, which is from a Hershey's frosted brownie recipe, was the ultimate combo.

Brownie frosting (enough for a 9x13" pan)
6 tablespoons butter, softened
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (you can apparently also use honey)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups (8 ounces) powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons milk

Beat together butter, cocoa powder, corn syrup, and vanilla. Add powdered sugar, and add milk as needed. I used between 3-4 tablespoons, all told. Beat to spreadable consistency. Spread on brownies. If you frost while the brownies are warm (not hot), the frosting may be a bit darker and may melt a bit; cool completely before serving. I waited until the brownies were totally cooled, and my frosting was quite light in color.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

stuff i haven't posted yet: miami dolphins

My son has played flag football since first grade. He'll be playing this fall again. Last year, his team was led to victory by their amazing coach and father of one of his best friends. They were undefeated! Best of all, B and his three best buddies got to play on the team together. Here's to the Miami Dolphins!

Martha Stewart one bowl chocolate cupcakes; vanilla bakery frosting in turquoise, orange, and white; fondant footballs.