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.

stuff i haven't posted yet: jacob's bar mitzvah cookie assortment

One of our traditions used to be for friends to bring sweets for a dessert buffet at friends' b'nai mitzvah. I volunteered to help our friend Karen by putting together the buffet. We had a treasure trove of sweets! Multiple kinds of brownies, Oreo truffles, cookies... it was crazy delicious. I didn't get a good photo of the whole display, but here's one of the trays I put together with a few kinds of cookies/bars. These are brownies, jam thumbprints, and oatmeal caramel chocolate bars.

new baby

A new baby is on the way! This one belongs to the son of my parents' dear friends Marvin and Gayle and his wife. Alex and Meredith are expecting a baby in the next few weeks, and they flew out to CA so the Long Beach crew could shower them and wish them well. They haven't revealed the baby's gender, (or maybe they're going old school and they don't even know?), so I used peach and yellow tones for flowers, and I made little fondant creatures to match the super cute invitation. I was asked to inscribe the cake to match the sweet napkins the hostesses used.

The cake is confetti (vanilla cake with sprinkles), but obviously, I can't show you the inside. I was pleased that the jimmies didn't bleed into the batter, so they made for a nice speckled look.

Mazel tov and welcome, baby!

I used a toothpick on the chilled cake to lightly carve the letters, and then I piped over them. I was too nervous to do it freehand. They came out pretty close!

I had fun trying out a new brush technique (though I actually used spoons and offset spatulas of different sizes and shapes to accomplish the brush look). I thought it was really pretty and I would definitely try it again. I love the giant size of the flowers along the sides of the cake.

Monday, August 12, 2019

stuff i haven't posted: pretty pie crust (plus: a new pie crust recipe and peach-fig crostata!)

I can't remember how I came across Evan Kleiman's 3-2-1 pie crust recipe, but it's very easy and came out tasty and flaky - two of the things I look for most in a pie crust. According to her recipe, posted on the Gourmandise School website, it's a ratio recipe with 3 parts flour : 2 parts fat : 1 part liquid.

When I made it the first time, I had just seen @lokokitchen's pie crusts for the first time. They are so incredibly gorgeous and artistic! I was inspired to try to go beyond traditional design and I tried this easy twist method that worked beautifully. This was a peach pie, which is the epitome of summer for me.

This week, I was asked to make dessert for my mother-in-law. She happened to have some ripe white peaches and super-ripe figs, and one of her dinner guests is a fig fan. I have never had a peach-fig combo, but a short amount of research indicated that it is common enough and the flavors seem to complement one another. I made a crostata (or galette - basically, a pie with a hand-formed crust and no pie pan). It was ridiculously easy to roll out the crust; stir together sliced fruit with sugar, cornstarch, lime zest, lime juice, and vanilla; pour all of it out into the center of the crust; arrange the center slices nicely; pleat/fold the crust around the fruit, and sprinkle it with raw sugar. It baked for about 45 minutes until it was nice and golden brown, and I'm told it was delicious!

(Can you tell I like taking before and after pictures, in case the pie crust has a mind of its own while baking?)

Note that this time, I was lazy and made the pie crust in the food processor. I did not see as many streaks of butter as I would have liked, so I probably over-processed it, but I don't think it ruined the crust at all. Generally, I try to be conservative on how much I incorporate the butter. Result: you can probably use the food processor, but go easy and use a light touch!

Here's Evan Kleiman's crust recipe. (I confess to thinking it was Kleinman until this week. Apologies!) It makes a double crust (top and bottom crusts), or enough for two full sized crostatas.

3-2-1 Pie Crust
Makes enough for a double crust pie.
12 ounces flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces fat, chilled, cut into pieces (this can be butter, lard, shortening, or a combo)
4-5 ounces ice cold water

Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Cut the fat into tablespoon-sized pieces and add them to the flour; toss them around until they are coated in flour. Use a pastry cutter or fingers to mix the flour and fats together until you have a mixture of uneven crumbles, some as big as an almond and some as small as peas. Add the water and mix until it comes together. It's ok if it's shaggy as long as it generally sticks together.

Dump out the mixture onto a work surface. Use a bench scraper to gather the crumbs into the mass of dough. Use the heel of your hand to smear the dough away from you a third at a time, creating flat layers of flour/butter. Gather the dough back together, using the bench scraper to layer the smears on top of each other. Do this again. The dough should come together nicely, but you should still see pieces of butter.

Divide the dough in half and form into flat discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or as long as two days, or freeze the dough for later use.

Print the pie crust recipe.

ho-ho cake

Ho-Ho cake is a summer staple in our household. We typically make it at least once per summer (so far, I've made it twice this summer, and my sister made one for her pre-birthday BBQ last night). You can make it in any size bowl, and you can use any combination of ice cream flavors. It's simple and delicious and the whole is way better than the sum of its parts.

Ho-Ho cake is an inverted bowl cake. It's a little easier to make it if the Ho-Hos are frozen. In the absence of Ho-Hos, Little Debbie Swiss Rolls will do. We used to substitute Ding Dongs, since Ho-Hos weren't readily available in Southern California, but they just aren't as good, and the swirl from the Ho-Hos is the most visually appealing part.

I usually like to use two complementary flavors of ice cream and some hot fudge in the center. I usually use a medium sized bowl, which takes about 1 1/2 containers of ice cream (the not-quite-half-gallon size) and around one box of snack cakes. I went traditional with this summer's flavor combos: one was chocolate/dulce de leche, and the other was chocolate/mint chip.

Line a bowl with two strips of plastic wrap (leave a little overhanging the edge). Take the ice cream out to soften a bit on the counter. Slice the Ho-Hos thinly using a serrated knife, which helps to keep the chocolate edges from shattering. Line the bowl with sliced Ho-Hos, placing the end pieces with the chocolate facing the inside of the bowl so the outside will look uniform. You can cut some of the slices in half to fill in any gaps. Next, start spooning the ice cream in to the bowl. I typically will do a layer of one flavor, then a layer of the second flavor. Pack it down gently so there are no air bubbles. After the second layer (about halfway full), spoon in some hot fudge and spread it around, but try not to go all the way to the edge so it doesn't ooze through. You can sprinkle in any leftover Ho-Ho crumbs as well. Continue spooning in ice cream until you reach the top of the bowl. Fold the overhanging plastic wrap over the top of the ice cream and freeze it for several hours or overnight.

To serve, open the plastic wrap and invert the bowl onto a serving plate. Remove the plastic wrap, and it's ready to slice into wedges!

stuff i haven't posted: girl scouts end-of-the-year cake

Fun with sprinkles and ombre-swirled frosting...

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

stuff i haven't posted: 40th birthday celebration

This client, for whom I've made many cakes over the years, is a pretty incredible woman. She is smart, accomplished, and beautiful. She is raising three great kids. She is a doctor, a cancer survivor, and is writing her first book. As she rang in 40, she wanted to celebrate with a cake that highlighted all the symbols, colors, and aspirations that are important to her. Her cake was busy, but it reflected her diverse interests and key facets of her life. I hope she knows she is handling a very full plate with a tremendous amount of poise.

stuff i haven't posted: may the peace be with you

First communion celebrations aren't exactly my area of expertise, but I love helping families celebrate their important events, especially if they can give me guidance on getting the symbols right. This one was particularly fun because the theme was a little... non-traditional. See if you can guess:

Yep, the mom of this little guy gave him a Star Wars first communion. Pretty awesome, huh? I was asked to make the cake resemble warp speed, and it was really fun to try to accomplish that with frosting.

stuff i haven't posted: the girl turns 14 at the trampoline place

My girl is almost 15... she is growing up way too fast! Last year's party was celebrated at the trampoline place. First there was bouncing, jousting, the foam pit, and dodge ball; then we had pizza and cake. She requested marble cake with funfetti and ombre frosting. I can't remember if the big, loopy flowers were my idea or hers, but I loved them and the bright colors of the frosting. I actually piped the flowers onto parchment and refrigerated them, then transferred them onto the cake with an offset spatula. That is a really fun way to pipe flowers!

stuff i haven't posted: 80-51-12

Our friends have a very special day in their family: their grandfather, father, and son all share a birthday! Last year was a big one for grandpa, who turned 80, and the family got together to celebrate. I was tasked with making something festive in gold and black, and here's how it came out:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

stuff i haven't posted: 50th anniversary party

This was the year of 50th anniversaries! My own parents celebrated 50 years in July, and my friend Melissa's parents celebrated in March. Melissa and her family hosted a big party at their house, and I made them a dessert buffet with three tiny treats in mini angled cups with teensy tasting spoons: strawberry shortcake, rich dark chocolate pots de creme, and key lime tartlets. They were all very cute and delicious, and I thought the flavors complemented each other nicely and gave a good variety. It was really fun helping with a piece of the party, and Melissa decorated beautifully with old family pictures clipped up (like on a clothesline) and strung around the house.

I had to play around with the amounts and do quite a bit of "cake math" to try to figure out how much to make in order to get about 35 of each dessert. As I noted below, the strawberry shortcake made a lot of extra cake, probably because my dessert cups were so tiny in diameter and height.

Strawberry Shortcake Parfaits (This made a LOT of cake! I think we used the extra for a trifle. Yum.)
Chocolate Pots de Creme (I have made this recipe before, as written, with the caramel layered on top of the chocolate, but for this event, I just made the chocolate and scaled the recipe up)
Key Lime Tartlets (I got key limes for the sake of authenticity, which they sell at the Northgate Market near my house, but be prepared to juice limes for a while! I got to use my new manual citrus press juicer, but we're talking 60 or 70 limes. Also, I tried candying thinly sliced key limes as a topper, but they were just way too sour, and the rind was way too tough. I ended up with an old standby: candied (regular) lime peel, and it worked great.)

Happy 50th anniversary, lovebirds!

stuff i haven't posted: chocolate flower cake

Just my usual chocolate cake with chocolate buttermilk frosting, but a pretty, two-tier version frosted to look like a flower on top. The benefit of bringing a huge cake to someone's house when a lot of other people also bring dessert: the hosts get to remove and freeze for later the entire top tier!

stuff i haven't posted: go! cubs! go!

Cubs cake for a big baseball fan on his 8th birthday!

I baked the cake in two bowls, and then assembled them into a globe shape. Red frosting piped through a tiny, size 1 piping tip was an easy and quick way to make laces. I first used a toothpick to sketch out the seam, and then piped along the line. The logo is fondant and a lot of concentric circle cutters. I cut the U, B, and S freehand. (Thank goodness for the internet!) Happy birthday, Domi! (And yes, I'll be posting your 9th birthday cake momentarily!)

stuff i haven't posted: princess cupcake cake

I am often skeptical about cupcake cakes (where a bunch of cupcakes are frosted together into one shape), but when a friend asked me to make this one - and sent a picture of exactly what she wanted - I thought it was adorable. The little fondant bow and tiny flowers and necklace were just so sweet. And the princess in question was turning 5, which is just the perfect age for a princess cupcake cake!