Monday, April 4, 2011

The Cookie Monster

Let's just talk about how much I miss cookies.
Because it's a lot.

Never did I realize how much I ate cookies before giving them up for Lent. I would eat them here, I would eat them babysitting, I would eat them in my class, I would even eat them with a mouse. Seriously, it was a lot of cookies and a lot of eating leftover cookies from children.

I'm reading the cookbook my sister bought me entitled The Happy Baker: A Girl's Guide to Emotional  Baking. It's hilarious, wonderful, and soon you will see plenty of recipes from it posted.

Except that it has so many COOKIES! And I desperately want them.
Especially with titles like "Where have all the good cowboys gone cookies" and "Match Made in Heaven Dark Chocolate cookies" and "Tall Dark and Carmel cookies"

There are a few bar and brownie recipes that I'll make in my "Mollie needs a loophole for her sweet tooth". But for now, send some recipes my way that are not cookies.

- Mollie

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Birthday Sweetness

A whirlwind of finals, spring break, and new adventures in my life has left me with a lot to write and a lot less time to do it in. Therefore I will write now to tell you about the great baking adventures this first week of class has left me with.

My friend Caylie's birthday was on Tuesday. During spring break we had discussed playing board games Monday night and going out at midnight to celebrate her turning 21 at that exact moment with drinks and revelry. From that point on I was on a quest:  to make her a beautiful birthday cake.

I enlisted her room mate via facebook to help find out what kinds of cakes she enjoyed while I scoured the internet and my own supply of recipes for something fascinating. It came down to me agonizing over various options the Sunday beforehand with no clue as to what would be perfect. I came down to a funfetti, because it's bright, colorful, and fun just like she is. I also discovered a Whipped Cream Frosting Recipe that was a tantalizing combination of cream cheese and whipped cream that I had to try. Home made supplies in tow I was prepared to make the cake.

I found a site with some Google searching that showed how to make and box your own cake mix as well as make funfetti cake. This Smockity Frocks' recipe turned out particularly delicious, with a nice softness and a delicious I-can't-keep-my-fingers-out-of-it batter.
The Simple, but Delicious White Cake recipe:

  •   2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  •  1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To begin, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. I'm usually pretty terrible about actually sifting things, but I recommend it when you want light, fluffy cake.
Then it states to "cut" in shortening until fine crumbs are formed. While I had no idea what this was, the internet described it as a process to have the fat more separated than usual. I used a butter knife, but the internet again recommended a fancy cutting tool that is apparently pretty cheap. I just cut it up, pushing and mixing as I cut it, and kept playing with it until a crummy mixture seemed to be forming that fit.
Now add the eggs, milk, and vanilla and beat at low speed for 1 minute, and high speed for 2 minutes. Make sure you get all of it in there, so scrape the sides frequently. It recommends beating the egg whites separately for a lighter cake which I didn't try, but my cake was still very fluffy.
Now is the fun part! Dump in your sprinkles! I just shook in all sorts of oblong sprinkles, of all colors and seasons, but the recipe itself recommends 1/4 cup of oblong sprinkles. Either way it's important that they are OBLONG and not the little round ones, which will just make the batter weird colored and not pop as well when baking. Pour batter into your pan, I split it into two circular cake pans sprayed with pam, and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. The recipe itself calls for 25-30, but my sides were a bit burnt at 25, so I suggest keeping an eye on it once it hits 20 just to see how your oven handles the cake.

From here on out I got a lot more particular with everything I did. I followed All Recipe's Cake Frosting tips rather than just slopping everything together because I want to see the final piece as soon as possible. This means making sure the cake is cooled completely. I let mine sit in the pan for a while, removed it from the pan to cool even more, and then began to do what I think of as "cake shaving". This means trimming the top and bottoms of each layer of the cake to get off that brownish outside section, make the cake flat, and keep off that crunchier sections that may have baked faster. This is really yummy for the chef, especially if you haven't had dinner yet.
But before I did all my trimming and as the cake cooled, I began with the frosting recipe. This has gotten a lot of mixed reviews due to some people having problems with the cream and getting the wrong consistency. This is why you should ALWAYS read reviews to find out what changes the recipe might need. This led me to start by placing my medium sized bowl, the beaters, and heavy whipping cream in the freezer while I began getting the rest of the ingredients together.

In another bowl I placed 1 softened (8 ounce) package of cream cheese, 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar, 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. I used low-fat cream cheese and still came out with an amazing frosting, so feel free to be a little healthy in your fatty frosting. The important aspect is I didn't mix this bowl yet. I kept everything there without letting the mixer touch it. Instead I pulled out the heavy whipping cream, beaters, and bowl from the freezer (letting them sit there for around 10 minutes total) and began to work on that. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the heavy whipping cream into the bowl and beat until stiff peaks form. I've done this part with my mom before, so I knew what to look for, but if you don't feel free to google search for videos or photos. You don't want to beat past the stiff peaks aspect or it'll be a lot harder to have the right texture.

Now that the whipped cream has formed stiff peaks you can beat together the cream cheese mixture. It's okay if some of the whipped cream gets into this mixture from the beaters, but it can't be the other way around. If the fatty cream cheese sticks to the beaters when you're trying to beat the stiff peaks it'll be a lot harder - this is why I waited to beat the cream cheese mixture. Once it's beaten, fold in the whipped cream. Give it a taste or two and sweeten if you feel necessary. Remember though it'll get sweeter once in the fridge - which I didn't expect to happen.

From there I did a quick crumb coat, again following the Cake Tips to do a thin layer on the top of the first layer, placing the second layer on top, and frosting a thin layer all over the tops and sides to keep it all together and looking nice. This was placed into the fridge with the rest of the frosting to chill for a bit. Then I was able to pull out the cake and have some fun!
Here you can feel free to lob on large amounts of frosting and smooth all over. Make it tastey, smooth, and use the spatula to try and make the edges not so rough. This was a very tedious task, but fun once I felt I knew what I was doing. Once most of the frosting was on the cake and pretty well spread all over I used a butter knife with water on it to try and keep it smoother. This was hard since it was so small in comparison and left some lines on my cake, but for a first time at really working at icing a cake I felt good about it. From there on out I just enjoyed decorating it bright and fun for my friend. I wish I knew a better way to get the small rainbow ball sprinkles on the sides rather than shaking it at the cake like I did - hoping they'd stick right.
I don't think I'll ever be a writer for a cake company - my handwriting is too terrible, but it was fun. That's what counts right? Plus I used purple princess sparkle icing that had a glimmer in it that even caught their attention while cutting it. I thought that would be a little detail only I would enjoy, but it was noticed, which always makes you feel extra special.

The cake itself turned out light, fluffy, and sweet. I learned later from my friend Ashley that I should have tossed a drop of lemon juice in to really make the sprinkles pop inside the cake, rather than just random colors throughout.
This cake adventure was large and made me appreciate the simpleness of a cupcake. Yet it also made me want to learn the more extensive decorating techniques of making a cake. I think I'm going to play around with it much more than I usually do now that I have a basis of knowledge.

Most importantly though, Caylie got two cakes and was pretty thrilled with cake, birthday, and friends. And this is why I love baking.

- Mollie