Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Big Fat Kitchen Disaster

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Like most of you, I have a full-time, non-baking job. And (try to have) a social life. So in between work and other stuff, I rush home and test recipes. Well, I was anxious to start baking again after a brief hiatus and was quickly setting things on the counter for a berry cake, it is still (barely, sniff!) summer, after all. Milk, butter, measuring spoons, eggs and C-R-A-A-A-C-K!

Oops. Apparently when my mom said you shouldn't set eggs on the counter because they might roll onto the floor, she was serious.

So I laughed, snapped a few pics and moved on with my baking project. Really, what else could you do? After waiting impatiently for the cake to bake, I pulled it out of the oven and it looked amazing! My oven doesn't have a window on it, so you can imagine how painful it is for me to wait. I let it cool for a few minutes in the pan, then gently turned it out onto the cooling rack. The color was great and it smelled delicious but it looked like there was a small break so I lifted the cake to get a closer look and it slid right off that cooling rack. Yes, you heard me. My second kitchen disaster of the evening.

Oops again. I think my jaw about dropped to the floor and my eyes bugged out of my head. That cake looked so good! And if there wasn't a break in it before, I sure fixed that! I'll have to do some more testing and get back to you on that recipe...

Oh, cake, you dear sweet deliciousness, why do you taste so good? If I'd realized how much patience this whole baking thing required, I may have chosen another addiction, but it's too late to turn back now!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Oh hello, Irene

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Aunt Irene is the kind of visitor that doesn't give you much warning that she's on her way but you better be prepared! She wasn't very nice during her brief stay this weekend, dousing us with buckets of water and throwing sticks and leaves around with wreckless abondon. Okay fine, she wasn't nearly as bad as all those weather guys made her out to be, but the way the bread and water aisles in the grocery store were emptied, you'd think the world was going to end. But at least we'd die happy with our water and sandwiches!

And this guy sure wasn't gonna run out of TP...which he conveniently "borrowed" through the back door of our local Bank of America. I guess when you need toilet paper, you need toilet paper. Who am I to question a man going about his business?

So yes, the 8 hours we went without electricity was devastating. I couldn't check my email. I couldn't watch a movie. I couldn't turn on my bathroom light. I couldn't mix a cake (gasp!). But somehow we all survived. And now that my emotional state is returning to its baseline, I'll be back in the baking scene again tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BYOC: Vanilla Caramel Sauce

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(Bring Your Own Cake...or apple slices...or ice cream...)

Today a 5.9-ish earthquake rocked our city. Okay, so I think it started as a 5.9 in Virginia and then we felt it rumble along several states on the east coast. Here in Washington, DC, I thought it was our independent residents getting into zumba in the gym above the charting room, until I realized the noise was getting stronger and longer and the walls were kind of moving. So I ran out to check on our dear residents and the quake stopped. People were a bit shaken up but there wasn't really much damage throughout the area. Nothing at our place, really, my apt pictures were a little crooked and a few chimneys fell and the top of the spires of the Washington, DC Temple will need to be repaired, but nothing major.

And all afternoon I had traumatic visions of flattened cakes running through my mind. Just imagine the horror if I'd had a delicate butter cake slowly baking in the oven and another rude earthquake or aftershock came along? It would be nothing but a giant pancake!

So to save my sanity, I opted for something a little different this week, a delightfully creamy vanilla caramel sauce! This is great on top of apple slices and I'm sure on top of ice cream, I just unfortunately did not have any on hand at 10pm.

Vanilla Caramel Sauce

1 c. sugar
1-1/4 c. heavy cream
1/4 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Spread sugar in the bottom of a heavy pot, a stainless steel one is best so you can see the color of the sugar as you go. Turn the heat on to medium-high and start stirring your sugar. Allow the sugar to sit for a few seconds until you see it beginning to melt, then stir until it gets clumpy and it doesn't look like it's melting anymore. Let it sit for a few seconds until it starts melting and repeat. As the sugar becomes more liquidy, it will change in color to a shade of amber (dark yellowish). Now you want to stir fast and constant until those last clumps of sugar melt and remove from heat.

Slowly pour in half of the heavy cream, mixing constantly and quickly! (It was far easier for me using the buddy system; I stirred and my dear roomie poured the cream.) Stir until the cream is well combined and add the last half. Once this is incorporated, add the salt and vanilla, still stirring.

Keep refrigerated in an air tight container.

Source: adapted from Annie's Eats

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Hips Don't Lie

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It could possibly be that baking multiple cakes each week and having several taste-testing bites/slices has had a slight effect on my girlish figure. And unfortunately, my hips have decided to be painfully honest as of late and I think it's time to pick up that exercise routine again.

So in my ever-raging Battle of the Bulge, I've decided to set a lofty goal for myself. I will run the Baltimore Half Marathon this fall or die trying. Okay, maybe I'll skip the die part but my arteries will certainly have a pity party if I don't do something soon! And just so you know, running is not something I was ever very good at. I don't like sweating in public or having other people hear me pant like a dog as I scurry up the street. So, you may ask, why a half marathon? It just seems like the right thing to do. Or at least it did when I entered my credit card information on the registration page and hastily clicked "submit." But I see skinny jeans in my future!

And just in case intrinsic motivation is not quite enough, once I hit 8 miles I decided to reward myself with an awesome new pair of running shoes...and maybe a second pair of everyday shoes if the mood hits me (very likely). Two of the top contenders:

And once I actually run that stinkin half marathon, I will get myself a shiny new Kitchenaid to replace my currently moody little stand mixer.

Not so sure I'll go with the hot pink mixer, but color is good and I sure would love a glass bowl! But seriously. New shoes and the mixer of my dreams? Who wouldn't wanna run for that?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Peanut Butter Overload

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Deep down inside, doesn't everyone need a little more peanut butter in their lives? Okay, fine. Maybe not people like Sarah who claim to be allergic to those darling little nuts. But for the rest of us normal people, a jar of that creamy and/or crunchy nutty buttery stuff is always stocked in the pantry. A sometimes dangerous thing, but oh so delicious.

So it's my coworkers birthday this week and she's basically in love with peanut butter and most especially Reese's Pieces. This cake was designed with her tastebuds in mind...we'll find out tomorrow if it truly satisfied her PB-cravings!

[UPDATE: This cake didn't last long around the office, so I think it was a success!]

Peanut Butter Overload
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. peanut butter
4 eggs

1-1/4 c. flour
3 T. potato starch, packed (if you can't find potato starch, you can substitute cornstarch, it just might slightly affect the flavor of the final product)
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt

1 c. half and half
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Cream together sugar, butter and peanut butter on low speed until pale-ish tan and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure to incorporate well between each addition.

Whisk together dry ingredients in a separate bowl. In another bowl, whisk together liquid ingredients. Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients to creamed mixture, in a total of 5 additions, beginning with dry. After ingredients are combined, beat on low for about 20 seconds.

Line bottom of 9" round baking pan with parchment paper; don't spray sides of pan. Pour batter into pan and bake at 350 for 55-65min. or until done.

The cake was filled and topped with chocolate peanut butter ganache and smothered in cinnamon cream cheese frosting. Garnished with crushed Reese's Pieces. Yummers.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Half Dozen: Edible Blogs

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Maybe you don't actually wanna start chomping down on your computer screen, unless you're one of my adorable yet trouble-making one-yr old twin nephews. But the food and dessert you'll see as soon as you click on one of these links is sure gonna make you wanna try! These are just a few of the foodie websites I've absolutely fallen in love with recently...enjoy!

Monday Musings: A Contest!

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So I've been blog-stalking my new friend Kathryn at The Sugar Turntable for the last several weeks/months and she recently hosted a contest. My sister and I decided to be co-competitors in our first ever edible contest and it was a lot of fun! I designed and created a Pina Colada cake and my sister designed the photo shoot. Needless to say, the cake was a natural poser. And we won an honorable mention! Woot woot!

Doesn't this cake make you drool? Coconut is one of those flavors that I always felt like I had to be in the right mood to enjoy, but this cake changed my mind! Two layers of rich, buttery coconut cake sandwiching a sweet pineapple filling, frosted with a light pineapple buttercream. And to top it off, a bit of toasted coconut and slices of fresh candied pineapple! Oh, man, that extra "test" coconut cake is yelling at me from my freezer right now...I should probably share that with someone soon or I will be wearing it on my hips!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fat Tuesday: Figs

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I remember my mom telling me about picking figs from the trees in her backyard growing up in Arizona and just sucking the fresh fruit. It turns out there's a fig tree in the park across from my new apartment, so basically my backyard, and they should be ripe by the end of august! The more I thought about those figs, the more ideas I had. Doesn't a fig and date combo sound delicious? And because I lack patience, a few days after I found out about that little tree, I made a quick trip to the grocery store to buy just a few before our local figs are in season.

This cake doesn't have the traditional fancy pants american presentation with rich frosting and gooey filling, just a nice big blop of fresh whipped cream on top, and it sure is delicious! Oh, and the figs add a unique sweet flavor, too, so don't skip those even if they're hard to find! You'll want to chop at least 5 for the batter...and maybe a few more to taste while you work...

Date and Fig Spice Cake
(adapted from A World of Cake)

1 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
5 eggs

2 c. flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves

3/4 c. half and half
1/4 c. water

1 c. dates and figs, chopped
1/2 c. pecans, chopped

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure eggs are incorporated fully before adding the next one.

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl and whisk together. In another large, separate bowl, combine liquid ingredients and whisk together.

Slowly alternate adding dry ingredients and liquid ingredients to creamed mixture in about 5 additions. Gently stir in dates/figs and pecans.

Line bottom of 6" or 8" squaring baking pan with parchment paper, spray sides with nonstick spray and pour in batter. Bake at 350 for 45-55min.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fat Tuesday: Fast and Fancy!

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We all have those days where we just need something tasty and fancy real fast. Here's your quick sugar fix! For added flair, I garnished mine with turbinado sugar crystals (coarse grain sugar) and crushed walnuts.

(PS...I know it's Wednesday again, but I finally got internet set up at my new apt this afternoon and I'm back on track! Woot!)

Brown Sugar Crunch Torte
(Betty Crocker Ultimate Cake Mix Cookbook)

1-1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1-1/2 c. vanilla wafer crumbs
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. butter, melted
1 box German chocolate cake mix
1-1/3 c. water
1/2 c. oil
3 eggs
8oz whipped topping

Mix walnuts, cookie crumbs, brown sugar and butter in large bowl. Spread about 3/4 c. walnut mixture in each pan; save the rest for later.

Prepare cake mix as directed on box, using water, oil and eggs. Pour slightly less than 1-1/4 c. batter over walnut mixture in each pan; spread evenly. Refrigerate remaining batter.

Bake about 22 min at 350 until done. Remove cake from pan and allow to cool on rack, walnut side up. Repeat with remaing walnut mixture and batter to make 4 layers. Allow layers to cool completely.

Fill each layer and top of cake, walnut sides up, with about 3/4 c. whipped topping and enjoy!
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