Monday, March 31, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge - Perfect Party Cake


So, I am officially a Daring Baker! I completed my first challenge Easter morning but since I just got back in town today, the post is somewhat late (2 days to be exact). Thanks to all of my readers who have been patient during my absence. I had the honor of being Matron of Honor in my best friend's wedding so, duty called! lol

Anywho, this month's challenge was the Perfect Party Cake from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours. The recipe is for a lemon cake layered with raspberry filling and lemon swiss meringue buttercream. The recipe was right up my alley with the original combination of flavors so there was no desire to alter it. I must admit that after seeing last month's challenge of French Bread, I was kinda worried. Luckily, they chose cake this month! Woot!

Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250).

Words from Dorie
Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour (updated 25 March)
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

As stated above, I chose to keep everything 'as is' since I never had the cake before and after tasting it I'm glad that I didn't alter the recipe. The only alteration I made was toasting the coconut on the side of the cake and I made my own raspberry filling .

Raspberry Jam

1 bag frozen raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cold water
1 tbsp cornstarch

Combine raspberries and lemon juice in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until raspberries have broken down (if you prefer the filling without seeds, poor mixture through a strainer). Combine cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl then add mixture and remaining ingredients to the raspberries. Bring to a boil over medium for about 1 minute. Allow to cool completely before use.

I was fortunate enough to not have experienced any issues with the cake (other than adding one stick of butter too many). I loved the firmness of the cake and the subtle sweetness of the buttercream. This was my 1st time making swiss meringue buttercream and I must say that it is now officially my favorite (once you get past the thought of eating 3 sticks of butter, lol)!

The cake was a hit. So much so, that I have 3 requested orders for it! It makes me extremely excited that someone is willing to pay me to do something that I absolutely love doing! There were many other cakes sitting at the table, some store bought and others homemade but mine was the 1st to end in a mess of crumbs.

Thanks to Morven for choosing this awesome recipe! Dorie is awesome! I'm soo thrilled and can't wait for this Month's challenge!!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter "Eggs"

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

With boredom comes creativity, I suppose. Saturday afternoon was rather uneventful (the polar opposite of today, hence the late Easter post) so I decided I'd give these cake "eggs" a shot. I used the same cake ball recipe to create these. With these cake "eggs" being merely a thought in my mind, I was pretty worried about the outcome.

To make the "yolk", I used yellow cake mix and a little yellow food coloring to make the appearance more yolk like. Freeze the "yolks" for approx. 1 hour or until firm.

For the egg whites I used a white cake mix. After you have prepared the white cake mix, wrap the frozen "yolks" with a enough white cake mixture to fit right in the palm of your hand.

Dip them in white almond bark OR white chocolate and continue with the cake ball instructions as follows.

I had alot of fun with these. I didn't get the opportunity to take photos of the step by step process but trust me, these are a breeze so long as you follow the cake ball recipe.

Now, I know that Easter is basically over for most of us but once again, Happy Easter!

P.S. Am I the only one that thinks the last photo (above) looks like egg salad (below)?? lol

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chocolate Mint Cookies

So, what do you do when you have a leftover pack of Andes mints hanging around? You make Chocolate Mint Cookies, of course! Simply a chocolate cookie with a melted Andes mint chocolate on top, this is one of the BEST cookies I've ever had. Possessing every quality that I desire to have in a cookie (chocolate, chewy texture, chocolate, mint.....oh and chocolate) I should've known that I would fall in love with this cookie.

(Oh......the things you find on the

After seeing the picture of the cat up above, it should be of no surprise to any of you that me and the DH ate all of them. I was suppose to share these with a few co-worker's that actually put in a request for a batch...............Oops. Maybe next time!

To those of you that celebrate Easter, I hope you have a safe and happy holiday. Be sure to spend it with family and friends!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Hey, those brownies look like an Andes that looks like a brownie that looks like an Andes! lol

Over the weekend I became rather festive and decided to make Mint Chocolate Brownies with Green Frosting as an ode to St. Patrick's Day. The turn out? Yum! I only ate one of them (a girl has to watch her figure, you know!) and I made my DH take the rest of them to the j.o.b to share with co-worker's (they've now come to expect this, lol). We're nowhere near being Irish but that doesn't mean we can't celebrate!

Mint Chocolate Brownies

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt

Mint Frosting
1/4 cup softened butter
2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 1/2 to 3 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
Green food coloring

Chocolate Topping
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter

1. Heat the oven to 350° and spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray. Place the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for about 45 seconds. Stir until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk sugar and eggs together. Add vanilla extract and chocolate. Stir in the dry ingredients until mixed thoroughly. Pour into baking pan, then bake for 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely.

2. To make the mint frosting, cream the butter and confectioners sugar. Add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until smoot. Add peppermint extract and tint to the desired shade with green food coloring. Frost the cooled brownies, cover, and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.

3. To make the chocolate topping, pour the chips into a microwave-safe bowl, add the butter, and microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes or until the chocolate melts. Stir until smooth. Pour the chocolate over the brownies and smooth it with a spatula. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until the coating hardens.

4. Bring the brownies to room temperature, then cut into squares.

The horrible disfiguring accident:

I know that most of us celebrated the holiday over the weekend so, Happy Recovery!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Strawberry Cake Balls AND Pops!

After seeing these little beauties over at Bakerella's fabulous site (and also at a local bakery) I decided I had to give these a shot. I didn't try them at the bakery so I wasn't sure if I was going to like them. They seemed to be all the rage in cyberland, however, for every 10 praises that I saw for them there was atleast 1 gripe or complaint. The main complaint was in regards to the texture of the cake inside of the ball having a gooey consistency. I will admit, that was some what of a turn off. Just the thought of gooey cake makes my stomach turn, lol. But after looking at the recipe, I couldn't really see how it would turn out gooey so I decided to ignore the naysayer's and give them a shot. I ended up making these on the fly so by the time I thought to snap pics, they were already covered in chocolate, lol. Since this was my 1st try, I kept it simple and decided to make strawberry cake balls (box mix). I'm not a big fan of box cake BUT I didn't have the time to whip up something from scratch. In this instance, Betty was my best friend.

My thoughts after my cake ball experience:

I loved them! The cake wasn't gooey at all but very moist. It seems that maybe those who felt the cake was "gooey" were more than likely expecting a more dry consistency of cake and weren't too fond of the extreme moistness of the cake. I definitely wouldn't describe it as gooey. I passed them around the workplace (a.k.a human test lab) and it was hit. The DH loved them and so did the family. I hope you love them, too!

Cake Balls (recipe courtesy of Bakerella)

1 box strawberry cake mix (cook as directed on box for 13 X 9 cake)

1 can cream cheese frosting (or whip some up from scratch as I did).

1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)

wax paper

1. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl (or pulse it a few times in a food processor).

2. Mix thoroughly with cream cheese frosting. (It may be easier to use fingers to mix together, but be warned it will get messy.)

3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls and lay on cookie sheet. (Should make 45-50. You can get even more if you use a mini ice cream scooper, but I like to hand roll them.)

4. Chill for several hours. (You can speed this up by putting in the freezer.)

5. Melt chocolate in microwave per directions on package or use a double boiler (the chocolate stays melted longer).

6. Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper until firm. (Use a spoon to dip and roll in chocolate and then tap off extra.)I also only melt a few pieces of chocolate bark at a time because it starts to cool and thicken. It's easier to work with when it's hot.

*any addendum's made by myself were highlighted in red.

My suggestions:

-Give them a try 'as is' and see if you like it (unless you are not a fan of cream cheese icing). If you don't like the consistency then try it with a buttercream frosting since it isn't nearly as creamy as cream cheese frosting.

-Get creative! There are soo many things you can do with cake balls so don't limit yourself (Cake Ball Gallery) . I can't wait to for my next go 'round with them.

- If you plan to put them on sticks. Place them in the freezer for about 2 hours and allow them to harden. If they are somewhat soft then you risk having them slide up and down the stick during the chocolate coating phase.

-After coating them in chocolate, continue turning them for a minute or so to avoid having chocolate running down the stick (I stuck my hand in the freezer while doing this and it hardened within 30 seconds).

Thanks for reading!!

*You can see these along with other beautiful food related photo's over at Tastespotting, one of my favorite sites!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Vacation Cupcakes

I need a vacation. I need tropical breezes, crystal clear waters and sand between my toes. Unfortunately, that's probably not going to happen any time soon. Prior obligations such as weddings and gainful employment have made it so that I can't drive down to Key West or Fly to Rio De Janeiro on a whim. Thus, leaving me with only one option: Vacation cupcakes. Delicious pineapple cupcakes with a citrus cream cheese frosting to be exact.........Mmmm. Or so I thought.

So, while on a trip to BAMM (Books A Million) I wandered over to the clearance section and perused the selection of marked down cookbooks. After deliberating for several minutes, one of my choices was a book simply titled, Cupcakes by Susanna Tee.

One evening, I decided to look through the book and see what it had to offer. After looking through nearly 40 pages of less than stellar cupcake recipes I came across what seemed to be the perfect "Tastebud Vacay": Tropical Pineapple Cupcakes w/ Citrus Cream Frosting. I decided that I would make these on Wednesday since I had a half-day at work (woot!) and enjoy a mini-vacation on my couch. Yeah right.

This is what came out of the oven:

(take note of their location.....the trash)

It turned out to a be a horrible, dry , mis-measured mess. I followed the recipe exactly and I ended up with pineapple biscuits. No.Thank.You. So, back to the drawing board* I went (I refuse to be defeated). I found a few pineapple cupcake recipes but due to my indecisiveness, I decided to just "wing it". The end result was a moist, delicious pineapple-y piece of heaven.

Pineapple Cupcakes

2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup crushed pineapples (drained)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup pineapple juice
2 eggs (separated)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, mixing thoroughly. Add milk, pineapple juice and all dry ingredients, beating until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites until they began to form soft, shiny peaks. Fold egg whites into mixture. Fill cups 2/3 full and bake for approx. 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean. Allow to cool (in the pan) on a rack for atleast 10 minutes.

Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting (courtesy of Cupcakes by Susanna Tee)

4oz. Cream Cheese, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tsp butter, softened
1 tsp lemon juice
grated rind of 1 lemon rind

Mix butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add lemon rind and juice. Sift confectioner's sugar into mixture and blend well.

I had to make a few changes to the frosting so that I could use it for piping. Here's what I ended up with!

(Cupcakes awaiting shuttle from lavish resort to local beach)

(Cupcakes relaxing oceanside)

(Cupcake soaking up a little sun)

(Cupcake posing for random photo op)

Yes, I'm a dork. I know. But, I had soo much fun doing this! :o)

* Drawing Board b.k.a The Internet (lol)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Pear Spice Cake

I made this delicious little piece of heaven last night for dessert after dinner. It's a melding of recipes that I found online then tweaked to create something that appealed to what I was looking for. Here goes:

Flour, sugar and spice (and everything nice, lol)

All ingredients

Blended ingredients

Pear layer

Cooling down

Out of the pan

.......with powdered sugar

Glazed perfection

Apples or Pears (or a combination of the two) can be used. I chose to use Apple Pears (also called Asian Pears). They weren't very sweet, although, since this was my first time ever trying them, I'm not sure if they're supposed to be.

*sidenote: I am a HUGE pear fan. I didn't even know this pear existed until my visit to Walmart earlier this week. I ate one and wasn't too thrilled with it's flavor so I decided to cook with them instead.

Anyhoo, this cake is perfect for the winter/holiday season. I honestly couldn't see eating this during summer months. I'm a firm believer of cooking according to the time of the year. My husband loved it and has now added to the top of his favorites list along with his mother's Chocolate Cake w/ Peanut Butter Frosting (Watch out, Mom! I'm gaining on you! lol).

Pear Spice Cake

3 pears or apples (cored and sliced)
2 oranges (zest 1 orange)
2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil (you may substitute Vegetable oil. Canola is a personal preference of mine)
4 large eggs
1 tbsp. baking powder
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp Jamaican Allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350F.
Grease and flour a bundt cake pan or spray pan with a nonstick cooking spray (preferably one that has flour). Set aside.
Beat eggs in a large bowl until blended then add the orange zest and juice from both oranges to the eggs using a hand or stand mixer on a low setting. Mix well.
Add all dry ingredients (spices, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt) and mix well. Keeping mixer on a low setting, add oil and vanilla. Mix until blended thoroughly.
Add 1/3rd of the batter to the bundt pan then add a layer of sliced pears. Repeat this process being sure to end with batter. You should have atleast 3 layers of pears.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours (or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean). Cool in pan for about a half hour before removing.


Use about 1/4 cup confectioners sugar for dusting (this way you can serve the cake immediately after removing it from the pan).

You may also top it with a basic Vanilla Glaze. The cake must cool completely before adding glaze, otherwise it will melt.

Vanilla Glaze

1 cup confectioners sugar

2 tbsp. half and half

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix ingredients well and let stand for 5-7 minutes. Drizzle on top of cake with a spoon.

As I stated earlier, this was one of my favorite recipes. Next time I think I may add some pecans or walnuts.

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