Monday, October 31, 2011

Quoth the Raven...

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Back in 7th grade English, we studied Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven. I'm not sure why exactly we spent so many weeks on it, but we did. Like all of Poe's work, it's a bit creepy and dark...perfect for Halloween! So with middle school flashbacks haunting my memory, I set out to create my The Raven, in honor of Mr. Poe himself and one of the most sugar-filled holidays of the year. Happy Halloween!

Quoth the Raven   [click to print]
Supplies Needed: 
One batch of cake ball mixture/dough (see this post if you need a refresher; I used peanut butter cake and chocolate frosting because I had it on hand, but I recommend red velvet and cream cheese frosting if you're going for creepy)
One batch of chocolate ganache (see this post for recipe)
2 small pretzel rods (not "sticks"!)
1/2 c. chocolate chips; melted, spooned into ziploc bag with corner cut off
Wax paper for work surface
Cooling Rack and Empty Cake Pan

  • Shape two wings, using about 1/3 to 1/2 c. dough per wing. Flatten to just over 1/4 in. thick throughout with the top of the wing (where the bird's shoulder will be) forming a 90 degree angle. Wing should be about 1/2 in. shorter than length of body. Gently press wings to sides of body, lining up tip of wing where body and tail feathers join together; top of wing should be about 1/2 in. below top of body. Smooth shoulder joints to join wings to body.

  • Flatten about 1 T. dough and cut two small triangles about 1-1/4 in. long and 3/8 in. wide. Line up triangles and pinch ends together to form beak. Chill in freezer for about 5 minutes.
  • Roll about 1/2 to 3/4 c. dough into a round head. Carve a slot about 1/4 in. deep to fit beak; coat thinly with melted chocolate. Remove beak from freezer and carefully insert into slot. Line head up with top of body. Place strip of dough at head and neck seam; smooth to join together. Place bird in freezer while you do next step.

  • Dip two small pretzel rods in melted chocolate and allow to set. Pipe two bird feet on wax paper and all to set. When legs and feet are firm, pipe blob of melted chocolate on base of feet, attach to legs and allow to set until firm. Carve two round slots about 1/2 in. deep near bottom of body for legs; squeeze small amount of melted chocolate into slots and insert legs. Chill in freezer about 15 minutes.
  • Remove bird from freezer. Transfer bird from wax paper to a cooling rack set over dish or cake pan; this is your glazing station. If ganache has hardened at this point, microwave at 15 second intervals until it's about the consistency of warm syrup. Carefully spoon ganache over entire bird. While ganache is still warm, use a toothpick to smooth and remove excess ganache from around wings and beak. Chill about 15 minutes or until ganache is set.
Source: Inspired by PhotoBasement

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Design It: Ah! Monster!

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Most monsters these days are creepy and bloody and mean. Not Fuzzbucket.

When I was little, this short, hairy, googly-eyed monster would follow me around everywhere. I'm not sure where he went when we weren't having fun together, but he certainly wasn't hiding under my bed since that's where all the alligators hung out, waiting to snack on unsuspecting ankles dangling over the edge of the bed during the night. And he liked ice cream and hopscotch and occasionally glowed in the dark. Yeah, my monster was pretty cool. 

And boy did he love a party! So be sure to invite him to your next Halloween bash or birthday party!

If you'd like to invite Fuzzbucket to your next Halloween bash, first bake your favorite cake in small round cake pans. You want a lot of layers here to give the monster some height. I used three 6-inch round cake pans and sliced each layer in half. You may need to double the recipe if you have a bigger cake. You'll also need two cake pop eyeballs. (Check out this post on Cake Pops for instructions.) For the monster cake, I dipped the back of each eyeball in colored dipping chocolate to create eyelids instead of drawing bloodshot veins to make them a bit more friendly looking.

So, bake cake as directed. Once cooled, fill the cake and give it a crumb coating. Allow this to set. And now for the fun part!

Monster Fuzz Buttercream Icing (aka Crusting Buttercream)   [click to print]
1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. shortening
6 c. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
3-4 T. milk

Green gel food coloring
Yellow gel food coloring

Whip butter and shortening in mixing bowl until combined. Add sugar, salt, vanilla. Mix on low speed, slowly adding milk, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach desired consistency. You want this stuff to be fairly stiff; try holding the bowl upside down over your head, if the frosting doesn't threaten to drip onto your hair, you're good!

Measure about 1-1/2 cups of frosting into a separate bowl and add yellow food coloring until it's blindingly yellow. Like the sun. Scoop into pastry bag. Color the remaining frosting bright green. Frost your cake with a thin layer of green buttercream (you only want monster skin to shine through that fuzz!) and scoop the remaining green frosting into a separate pastry bag. Fit your green pastry bag with a grass tip; I used the Wilton 233 Multi-Opening Decorating Tip.
Holding the pastry bag about 1 to 1-1/2 inches from the base of the cake, squeeze out a string of monster fuzz until it reaches the cake base. Gently press decorating tip into the thin frosting layer to attach fuzz. Repeat process until your first row of fuzz is attached.

Make a second row of green fuzz about 1-1/2 inches above your first, overlapping the first layer by about 1/2 inch. Next do one row of yellow fuzz using the same size decorating tip. Follow this by two more rows of green fuzz. Your final row of yellow fuzz will be mostly on top of the cake, with about a 1/2 inch overhang onto the monster body. To cover the top of the monster head with fuzz, squeeze out strings of frosting and attach in concentric circles, slightly overlapping each row until the top is completely covered.

I know your hand is tired and shaky now from squeezing that silly pastry bag for so long, but hang in there! The last thing you need to do is poke those eyeball cake pops into the top of the monster body and you're done!

Source: Inspired by Sugar Turntable and Shindig Diva

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jeepers Creepers!

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Ah! Who put those things in my fridge?! These cake balls and cake pops are sure to get you in the Halloween spirit! Bakerella has great step-by-step instructions on how to make all kinds of cake pops, but here are the basics:

Cake Pops and Cake Balls   [click to print]
1-13x9 Cake, baked and cooled
2 c. Frosting, any flavor (or 1 can store-bought frosting)
Lollipop Sticks
Cardboard box or styrofoam cube

Poke holes in box/cube to fit lollipop sticks. This will be your stand to allow cake pops to harden without getting a flattened side. Crumble up cake in bowl. Add frosting and mush together with the back of a spoon. Scoop out mounding tablespoons and roll into balls.

For Eyeballs...
White Chocolate Candy Melts
1 c. Chocolate Chips
Red edible ink marker

Melt bag of White Chocolate Candy Melts in deep bowl. Dip end of lollipop stick in chocolate and insert into cake balls. Allow to harden in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes. Dip cake balls into melted chocolate and cover completely. Place in stand and allow to harden. Melt chocolate chips and scoop into ziploc bag; snip off small corner and pipe pupils onto cake pops. Draw on bloodshot veins with a red edible ink marker.

For Mini Monsters...
Purple Chocolate Candy Melts
Green Chocolate Candy Melts
White Dragees

Melt each chocolate in separate bowls. For mini monsters on a stick, dip lollipop stick in chocolate and insert into cake balls. Allow to harden in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes. For mini monster cake balls, just skip the lollipop stick part. Dip half the cake balls in purple chocolate and the other half in green chocolate, being sure to tap off any excess chocolate and place on wax paper or in stand. Before they harden, give each monster two (or more) eyeballs by lightly pressing white dragees into the chocolate. Allow cake balls/pops to harden. Melt chocolate again and drizzle over each cake ball or pop until they resemble hairy beasties. You can do this using a fork or by filling a ziploc bag with melted chocolate and snipping off a tiny corner. Allow to harden.

For Skulls...
White Chocolate Candy Melts
Silicone Skull mold (for ice cubes)

This is probably the easiest and fastest version of cake balls ever. Press 1-2 T. cake ball mixture into mold. Allow to harden in freezer for about 10 minutes. Remove from mold. Using a fork, dip skull in chocolate and tap off any excess. Place skulls on wax paper and allow to harden.

Source: Adapted and Inspired from Bakerella

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ah, Speed Dating...

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Let me just say, speed dating was a success tonight. Besides meeting a lot of really great guys in a matter of minutes, it unexpectedly spurred on the daydreams of my one-day-bakery. How, you may ask? For the conversationally impaired, our organizers started off the evening by passing out some "conversation starter" tips. I quickly skimmed through as I took my place on the outer circle of the speed circuit and my eyes fell on "What is your dream job?" Bad question for me because, oh my goodness, let me tell you, have I got big plans!

Cute glass-top cafe tables, brightly painted chairs, local artwork on the walls, a mile long order list for fancy cakes and a bunch of wonderful employees-in-training gaining on the job experience as they learn to manage their mental illness in the workplace. Ah! Sometimes I just want to scream, I'm so excited!

(me being so excited even though this angle makes my nose look huge)
But for now, I'll melt some chocolate and work on sculpting a miniature creature for an upcoming post. Okay, it's your turn to get excited! Ah!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Design It: Millipede Infestation

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I'm not into the gruesome, bloody Halloween scene, but this has gotta be one of the creepiest looking cakes I've ever made. It makes me kind of shudder thinking about some long, nasty, thousand leggy bug crawling all over something so delicious.

This design, inspired by I Am Baker, is another idea for your most perfect creepy Halloween dinner. Use your favorite cake recipe and filling to prepare a round layer cake. I used a chocolate cake with Pumpkin Pie Filling and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting. Whatever flavors you choose, it's most visually impressive with frosting in high contrast colors like white and deep brown or black.

The Millipede is made out of Chocolate Buttercream Frosting with enough black food coloring to make it good and dark. I used a Wilton #97 Petal tip to pipe a long ruffled body, just make sure you go slow as you squeeze to build up a fat body. For the legs and wiggly worm bodies, I used a Wilton #3 Round tip.

Monday, October 17, 2011

13.1 Miles? Done and Done.

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That's right. I am officially a Baltimore Half Marathon Champion! And I reached my goal to not only cross the finish line, but to do it in under 3 hours! Special thanks to Judy for our carb-load dinner the night before and an eggy breakfast sandwich at the crack of dawn.

And, ooh! Look at those awesome shoes! At first I was opposed to hot pink, but when it's combined with neon yellow, how could you possibly go wrong? They're totally 80-riffic!

Look how happy I am before we even started! It sure is a good thing we were hunching down so all our awesome running muscles would fit in the picture. And I'm sure we looked just as lovely after crossing that finish line, just plus a little more sweat.

Okay, fine. Besides emerging for bites of food and a few hours of church, I pretty much spent the rest of my weekend watching movies and sleeping. I think I earned myself a treat...or maybe that mixer!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Spooky Ghost Cake

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Remember those little ghost meringue cookies from earlier this week? Well it's time for them to creep out of the shadows and claim their rightful place as delicate toppers to a most deadly cake...

Ever since I got my 6lbs of deep chocolate cocoa powder in the mail, I've been up to my eyeballs in chocolate cakes and treats! Seriously, my eyeballs. And I'm not that short, either. I'm still experimenting to develop my go-to chocolate cake recipe, so this go around, just use your old stand by chocolate cake recipe and bake in round pans as directed. And remember, a box mix is fair game!

Once your layers are cooled, frost and fill with Almond Buttercream and smother top with Semisweet Chocolate Ganache, allowing it to drip down the sides of the cake. Gently arrange several of your ghosties on top of the ganache while still soft and drippy. 

Almond Buttercream   [click to print]
3 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. almond extract
2-3 T. whole milk

Combine sugar, butter, salt and extract in mixing bowl. Turn mixer on low speed and gradually add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until frosting reaches desired consistency. For this cake, you want the frosting to be stiff enough that when you lift the beaters, stiff peaks form. If it droops back into the bowl, it will be too soft to hold its shape on the cake. To fix that, just add a little more powdered sugar until it stiffens.

Chocolate Ganache   [click to print]
3/4 c. chocolate chips (milk or semi-sweet)
2/3 c. heavy whipping cream

Measure chocolate chips in small mixing bowl; it should hold about 4-6 cups to allow for stirring room. Heat cream in saucepan until it begins to get frothy. Immediately remove from heat and pour over chocolate chips. Allow mixture to sit for two minutes then stir until well combined and smooth. Allow ganache to cool about 15 minutes or until it is the consistency of thick molasses and mounds slightly when dropped from a spoon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Who ya gonna call?

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Remember those spooky stories Mrs. Withers the Librarian would tell in the darkened library in elementary school as Halloween crept closer? Remember her cackly voice and the cobwebs draped from the ceiling and the glowing skeletons lining the walls? And the record player howling in the backround? It was enough to scare an 8 year old, that's for sure!

You probably won't need the ghostbusters to handle these little ghosts, but they sure are cute and tasty! Serve them plain or try them with a chocolate and almond garnish, you won't be sorry!

Ghostly Almond Meringues   [click to print]
2 egg whites, room temp
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
3/4 c. powdered sugar, sifted
silver dragees or other tiny round candies for eyes

1 c. chocolate chips, melted
1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted and crushed

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Prepare pastry bag or ziploc bag with half-inch round opening. Make sure your mixing bowl and beaters are very clean and free of soap or grease, or else your egg whites won't beat properly...or at all.

Beat egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and extract on medium speed until frothy with a bit of volume. Slowly add the sugar, with the mixer still running at medium speed, over the course of about 1 to 2 minutes. The mixture should look smooth and white at this point.

Turn the mixer speed up to medium-high and continue beating until the mixture is thick, shiny and forms stiff peaks. It will kind of look like marshmallow fluff, but without all the air bubbles. It may take 15-20 minutes to get to this point.

Gently scoop the meringue into your bag and squeeze your ghosts onto the parchment paper. The meringue should be stiff enough to hold it's shape as you pipe. I found that it was easiest to move in small circles to form the ghost bodies, similar to how you would frost a cupcake. You want the base of the meringue cookie to be about 1to 2 inches wide. Add eyes.

Bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour. Open the oven door an inch or two and continue to bake for 30 minutes. At this point the ghosts should no longer be sticky or wobbly when touched. If they still are, just leave them in the oven until they aren't. Turn off the oven and leave them until they come to room temperature.

They taste good now, but to make them even fancier, dip the base in melted chocolate and crushed almonds. Enjoy!

Source: Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

How Come You Taste So Good?

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I'd like to claim that my addiction to all things sweet is of recent onset. But that would by lying and I just don't do that (family, please contain your laughter and judge-y looks) least not about anything serious. I am a sugar junkie. I love to eat sugary treats, I love to look at pictures of sugary treats, I love to bake sugary treats and I love to pawn sugary treats off on unsuspecting friends. Really, it's a wonder I have any teeth left in my head at all.

When your roommate has to make a sticker chart to track her progress on cutting back to only one serving of your delectable baked goods per day, it may not be such a good sign. And since I have about five cakes sitting around my apartment at any given time (table, counter, fridge, freezer, my stomach...), I decided I better think of a few ways to thin out my own blood sugar levels while I still fit into my pants. Here are a few of my favorite ideas to make baking a little more worthwhile:
  • Drop off some dinner and dessert for a stressed out friend
  • Stop by an elderly neighbor's for a chat with some cookies and milk
  • Wake up your family with the scent of fresh hot cinnamon rolls
  • Donate cookie mixes in jars to a women's shelter
  • Organize a bake sale for a local charity
  • Teach a baking class at a residential center or nursing home
The thought really does count for something here, everything doesn't have to be homemade to matter. Just step back and look at your talents and abilities. There are so many ways we can enrich the lives of other people around us if we'll just take a little time to care!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Creepy Crawly Cookies

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I can't believe September is over already and we're already into the holiday season! And yes, Halloween most definitely counts as part of that. I'm so excited! I already know what I'm gonna be for Halloween, but I can't tell yet. Shh, it's a secret! 

But since I'm sure you're dying to know, here's a hint: I have a history of awesome. Two years ago, I was being eaten by a snake. Then last year, I was a Tornado. And that's my sister being a cute flower.

So while you wait with baited breath to find out how I will be cleverly disguised this year, get excited with some Halloween deliciousness!

I decided to start off this sugar-filled season with one of my all-time favorite treats. Gummie cookies. You may recognize them as no-bakes, but in my house they were always Gummie Cookies. My mom's gramma always made them and everyone called her "Gummie", hence the name. These aren't just any ordinary Gummie Cookies, though. These are creepy, crawly Halloween Gummie Cookies. Oh, yeah, these are spiders!

Before you make the cookies, you'll want to make the spider'll need a few packs of Pocky Sticks, found in the Asian/Ethnic section of the grocery store or online, and 1/2 bag of chocolate chips. Each box of pocky sticks makes about 6 spiders, each spider having 8 legs. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave in 15 second intervals, stirring between nukes. Once the chocolate chips are melted, put them in a ziploc sandwich baggy and snip off a small corner. This is your glue. Cut pocky sticks diagonally in half and glue together with a dab of melted chocolate. Allow legs to harden.

Gummie Cookies   [click to print]

1/2 c. butter (or margarine)

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 c. peanut butter
4 T. cocoa*
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
3-1/2 c. oatmeal (quick)

Melt margarine. Add all but oatmeal. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Stir in oatmeal. Drop on wax paper (or cookie sheet). *Note: If you prefer plain peanut butter gummie cookies, my personal fave, just leave out the cocoa powder!

While cookies are still warm and soft, insert 8 previously assembled appendages into each body and chill. Add eyeballs; you can use candy eyes or little dots of brightly colored frosting. Here I opted for the frosting peepers. Eat up before they crawl away!

Source: Inspired by Not Martha

Monday, October 3, 2011

Baking a Difference: Food for Good Thought

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Ooey, gooey cinnamon rolls to welcome a new neighbor to the hood. Piles of buttery, chewy (reduced sugar!) cookies for your lonely elderly neighbor. Birthday cake to let your friend know you remember and care. Hand-crafted, decadently rich baked goods practically scream, I love you more than the three cups of sugar and the pound of unsalted butter coursing through my slowly constricting arteries!

But some bakeries take it a step further. They are creating opportunities for growth beyond the waistline. They are "Baking Opportunities." In this posting mini series, we'll focus on bakeries with a conscience and what they're doing for our communities across America.*

So let's dig in with Food for Good Thought!

When and where was your bakery founded?
Food for Good Thought was founded in 2008. We began baking with individuals with autism in subleased kitchens, churches and the OSU Food Industries Center at The Ohio State University. We are now in our own space at 4185 North High Street in Clintonville, OH.

Who was your inspiration?
The concept of Food for Good Thought emerged while Dr. Audrey Todd was considering the probable limited future employment opportunities for her nonverbal son with autism. Following one of her son’s interests, cooking and baking became skills that her son was able to learn. Before her son developed an interest in cooking and baking, he was placed on a gluten-free diet due to significant digestive problems; as a result, some problematic neurological behaviors also diminished in intensity. From this experience, Dr. Todd created a company that provides supported employment and gluten-free foods to individuals with autism as well as other consumers with dietary sensitivities.

Who do you serve and what training do you provide?
We serve individuals on the autism spectrum who are approaching adulthood or in adulthood. (For additional info on autism, check out Autism Speaks.) Participants can be trained in a wide range of skills, including baking specific (or all) products, cleaning, dish washing, building maintenance, labeling, computer work and packaging. We also provide vocational rehabilitation for those who wish to work outside of the bakery in the larger community. 

What keeps people coming back for more?
All baked goods in our store are Gluten Free and people keep coming back, not only because it is good, but a lot of customers like to support our employees and mission. We have been told a number of times we “have the best Gluten Free Pecan Pie ever” and our cakes are continuously ordered for special occasions.  
Note: Photos in this post are property of Food for Good Thought and are found on their website or facebook. 

*Know someone "Baking Opportunities" in your community; please let us know!
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