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Available Now: Carrot cake cookies!

Package of carrot cake sandwich cookies

Carrot cake cookies are everything you love about the dessert, down to the cream cheese filling, but in a snack portion!

Two boxes (update: Only one left!) of six carrot cake cookies are available for purchase today! $15/box + tax.

Local pick up only (Charlotte/Matthews, NC).

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Libby’s Pumpkin Roll

It’s mid-August. The school buses are back out and rush hour is back to its full capacity. It’s still hot outside and summer will be around for a few more weeks, but visions of pumpkin flavored goods have started to dance in our heads.

This year I decided to join in the pumpkin fun. A pumpkin roll is the first of two planned pumpkin treats that are new additions to the menu! For my first pumpkin roll attempt, I started with a recipe for the infamous Libby’s pumpkin roll (recipe is available on the label of the can of pumpkin).

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Libby’s Pumpkin Roll (1 roll = about 14 servings)

  • Cake
    • 1/4 cup powdered sugar (for the towel)
    • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
    • 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 2/3 cup (5.3 oz) pumpkin (I used an entire 15 oz can for my first experiment and the cake held together mostly fine)
    • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • Filling
    • 1 package cream cheese, at room temperature
    • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
    • 6 Tbsp butter, softened
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease and line a 15×10 inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Grease and flour paper. Sprinkle a thin, cotton kitchen towel with powdered sugar.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves in a small bowl.

Beat eggs and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into pan. Sprinkle with nuts. Bake for 13-15 mins or until top of the cake springs back when touched. Immediate turn cake onto towel. Carefully peel off paper. Roll cake and towel. Cool on wire rack.

Beat cream cheese, 1 cup of powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cooled cake. Spread mixture over cake. Reroll, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

First slice of pumpkin roll
Libby’s pumpkin roll
Pumpkin roll half
Pumpkin roll cake with cream cheese filling and rolled in walnuts.
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Ice Cream Sandwiches

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at making a traditional ice cream sandwich, but didn’t really carve out the time to do so. This week, a video from Delish.com came across my feed and I had to try it. They made red velvet ice cream sandwiches using a box mix. I had a box of devil’s food mix sitting in my pantry and some mint ice cream in the freezer and decided to give it a go.

This recipe takes almost no time on task to whip together. While my sandwich ends were more thin and cookie-like and less thick and cake-like, they made for a very tasty treat!

One thing to note, the recipe in the link has fewer details than the video. The butter should be melted. I creamed some softened butter for mine which may have played a role in the cookie vs cake texture.

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Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches (using a red velvet ice cream sandwich recipe)

1 box cake mix
2 large eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 gal ice cream, softened (apply as much as you like. I prefer a thinner ice cream layer, so I only used about half a carton)

Preheat oven 350°F. Line a large rimmed pan baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine mix, eggs, butter, and vanilla. Mix until evenly combined (mixture will be thick).

Spread the batter onto the prepared baking sheet. My batter was quite thick and I found it easier to drop globs on different parts of the pan and using an offset spatula to slowly work it around until there was a smooth and somewhat even layer of batter across the pan.

Bake until set (about 18-20 mins).

Let cool in the pan completely, then cut the cake in half across the middle to make two large rectangles. Spread ice cream onto one half and then place the second half on top to form one large sandwich. Freeze until ice cream is firm (about 2 hours) then slice it into bars (should yield about 12 depending on size of slices). Serve immediately.

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwich
Chocolate mint ice cream sandwich
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Black Buttercream

The elusive black buttercream. This has been my main experiment for the past month. Along the way, I made some awesome slate grey colors, some more bitter flavored icing, many many many cakes to use as vehicles for eating the experiments, and used lots and lots of gel coloring.

In April, I took a cake order that was going to be mostly black. The client gave the option of using fondant or buttercream and I opted for buttercream because guests would be more likely to eat and enjoy it. Having read several posts on blogs and in baking groups about working on black buttercream, I figured I would get it in only a couple of trials.

Trial 1 – Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC) is my current go-to for cakes. It isn’t very sweet, has great flavors, takes spices and colors well, and holds up well through various temperatures.

Black Buttercream Trial 1
First run of black buttercream (IMBC)

For this first run, melted milk chocolate, a small amount of black cocoa and some drops of Wilton black gel coloring were added to white IMBC. The chocolate flavor was delicious! The initial color result was a slate grey. Leaving the buttercream out overnight to darken only yielded a very slight change in shade. “Ok,” I thought, “maybe I didn’t add enough black.”

Trial 2 – another run with IMBC.

Black buttercream trial 2
Second run of black buttercream (IMBC)

Trial 2 had a lot more black cocoa, no milk chocolate, and more black gel color (this time I tried Americolor) than last time, but it still was not enough as I achieved exactly the same shade as I had in trial 1. The chocolate flavor in batch 2 was still good despite lacking the smoothness the melted milk chocolate added.

Black Buttercream Trial 2
Second run of black buttercream (IMBC). The slate grey color was fabulous but not the intended target.

There were many issues with the IMBC: the texture was getting thinner as I added more chocolate and gel and I was not satisfied with it, the flavor was very bitter and I was adding a lot of powered sugar in to compensate, and it was taking hours to mess with the color. If I was going to add so much powdered sugar, why not start with something very sweet, like American buttercream (ABC)? During my research, a recipe from Chelsweets kept coming up and I decided to give it a go.

Trial 3 – American buttercream via Chelsweets.com

Black buttercream trial 3
Black buttercream trial 3 – American buttercream via Chelsweets

VICTORY! Not only had I achieved black, but it came together really quickly and the flavor was very good! I had found my black buttercream.

It took about a month, but I was ready to tackle the cake order. This cake order was big for a few reasons:

  1. First cake order for Casual Confections
  2. First bake in the bakery I’m renting space from, Baked Well
  3. First cake where I was trying to match a design
  4. Only my second decorated cake (you may remember the uterus babies as the first)
First Order for Casual Confections in Baked Well
My first official night renting space from Baked Well (Matthews, NC) for Casual Confections orders!

The order was for a Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC for the pages and lettering, and black chocolate ABC for the icing.

Death Note cake top view
Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC, black chocolate ABC
Death Note cake side view
Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC, black chocolate ABC

I did not stage any of the photos, just grabbed a few quick shots on the work table after a few hours of working without a/c, around the repair guy, and running into a few issues with the bake and decorating, I was very tired and needed to clean and close up. The black buttercream turned out really well. As it crusted, I was able to use a wet paper towel to smooth out the buttercream and achieve a leather cover look, which was perfect for the look of a well-worn journal.

Achieving black buttercream was definitely more of an adventure than I expected it to be, but I learned a lot of lessons along the way and now I can whip it up in almost no time!

Black buttercream tongue
Chelsweets was right. Her black buttercream colors your tongue, but not your teeth!

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Black American Buttercream via Chelsweets(makes 4-5 cups)

1 cup (217 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp (37.5 gram) heavy cream
1/2 tsp (2 grams) vanilla extract
1/4 cup (25 grams) black cocoa, sifted (I always ended up adding a bit more to get a deeper black)
1/2 tsp black gel food coloring (add more if the color isn’t quite the black you’re looking to achieve)

Beat the butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla.

Add in the sifted black cocoa and mix on low speed until incorporated (scrape down the sides and mix).

Alternate between the powdered sugar and cream, adding each slowly (the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, and the cream, a splash a a time). Beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the desired consistency is reached (add more cream for a wetter, looser buttercream, add more powdered sugar for a drier, thicker buttercream).

Once the frosting is fully made, add in a generous squirt of black gel buttercream and mix by hand with a rubber spatula until the frosting is evenly colored.

To allow the shade to deepen, place in sealed piping bags or an airtight container. Leave out overnight at room temperature or place in the fridge for several days.

*Check out the link for additional tips and nutrition information.

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Passover Apple Cake

My second Passover bake this year is an apple cake. Instead of regular flour and baking soda, this cake utilizes potato starch and matzoh cake meal. The recipe for this bake came from ReformJudaism.org.

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“The Absolute, Hands-Down, Best” Passover Apple Cake

Dough:
6 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 tsp potato starch
2 cups matzoh cake meal

Filling:
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 Tbsp lemon juice)
5 large Granny Smith and/or Braeburn apples, peeled and diced

Topping:
1/4 cup sugar
1-2 tsp cinnamon

Grease a 9″ spring form pan. Place parchment on the bottom of the pan. Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Beat eggs with sugar until blended. Add oil and beat. Sift together potato starch and cake meal. Add sifted items to the egg mixture.

For the filling, mix together the cinnamon, sugar, and lemon juice. Mix in the apples.

Put two cups of dough (or half the total amount of dough) into the pan. Spread evenly. Add the apple filling using a slotted spoon, leaving the accumulated liquid behind. Make sure filling is distributed evenly.

Put in the remaining two cups of dough. Spread evenly. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar topping (you won’t see this in my photo as I forgot this step and dusted the top after the cake was baked).

Place the pan on a cookie sheet since liquid may seep out.

Bake for one hour.

Let cool in the pan before releasing.

Unbaked Passover apple cake

Unbaked Passover apple cake (sans cinnamon sugar topping)

Passover apple cake
Passover apple cake sliced
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Passover Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Squares

Passover is a time of family gatherings which means it’s a great time for baking! The challenge with Passover bakes, though, is that they cannot have rising agents. That means that most cakes and cookies are out. For this Passover, I made two bakes. The first is a chocolate raspberry pecan square recipe from Esthero Design.

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Passover Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Squares

Dough:
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla sugar (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
2 cups potato starch
2 6oz bags of ground almonds

Topping:
12 oz chocolate chips (I went with milk chocolate)
8 oz chopped pecans
15 oz raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix the dough ingredients together.

Grease an 11″x17″ cookie sheet and press a piece of parchment paper onto the bottom. (Note: having some parchment paper hang over the sides will help with releasing the bars from the cookie sheet. Otherwise, you may end up needing to cut the bars on your sheet, which isn’t good for the sheet.) Press the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet, making sure its distributed evenly. Bake for 20 mins.

Take the dough out of the oven. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. The jam will get easier to spread as it is heated by the hot dough. Sprinkle the chocolate and the pecans over the jam.

Bake for an additional 25 mins.

Allow the squares to cool completely before cutting.

Note: squares taste great frozen!

Passover Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Bars
Uncut tray of Passover chocolate raspberry pecan squares
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Apple Strudel

Earlier this year, a neighbor expressed frustration at the difficulty she was having finding a good apple strudel in town. Not one to shy away from a challenge, I offered to bake her one and she jumped at the chance. SmittenKitchen’s recipe is one that I’ve had bookmarked for a while and I was excited that I was getting the chance to try it out. If you decide to give this recipe a try, be sure to read her comments and tips before you get started. I found them very helpful in understanding what I was getting into. This was my first run at apple strudel or anything like it.

This recipe makes a very large strudel! I was easily able to stretch my dough out and roll up a strudel that was easily 20″ long and robust! It was so much strudel that I decided to offer it up in quarters. I offered my neighbor two quarters but she opted for just one and one quarter was plenty for 1-2 people. In the future, I will half or quarter the recipe unless I’m providing for a larger affair.

Make this recipe will have your house smelling amazing! The apple filling is mouth-watering. The aroma of the panko right before it’s ready is so buttery. The hardest part of making this dessert is waiting for it to bake and cool before you can dig in!
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Apple Strudel 

Raisins:
1/2 cup (180 g) raisins
2 Tbsp (30 mL) dark rum (I omitted this and just did straight raisins)

Dough:
1 cup + 3 Tbsp (150 g) all purpose flour (and more for dusting)
3 Tbsp (45 mL) neutral oil (I used vegetable oil)
1/3 cup water

Filling:
2 lbs (905 g) firm apples (around 5-6 apples) – this round I used Fuji apples and they worked well. Keep in mind that you may need nearly all of a 3 lb bag of apples since the sell weight includes the cores and skins which are removed
Juice of one lemon (or 2 Tbsp lemon juice)
1/3 cup (65 g) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
8 Tbsp (115 g) unsalted butter, divided (I ended up using another 4 Tbsp while buttering the baking strudel)
3/4 cup (40 g) plain, unseasoned panko
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar for dusting

Make the dough:
Place flour in a small or medium bowl. Add oil and water and mix with a spoon or your index finger until a rough dough forms (this happens quickly). Turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and knead for 10 minutes. After 10 mins, the dough should be soft and silky to the touch. (This dough was really easy to work with.) Form it into a ball and place it on the counter and upend the mixing bowl over it. Set aside for 30 mins.

Meanwhile, prepare the apples (I did this as a first step as it takes me a long time, roughly an hour, to prepare so many apples):
Peel, halve, core, and slice thin in one direction. Then halve and slice crosswise to create thin squarish rectangles of apples. Place them in a large bowl and toss with lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon. Add the raisins (and any rum left in the bowl).

Prepare the panko crumbs:
In a small skillet over medium-low heat, melt 3 Tbsp butter and add the panko and sugar. Stir to coat and cook, stirring frequently as they can burn quickly. Stir until crumbs are an even golden brown and very fragrant. Don’t let them burn. Scrape into a small dish and set aside.

Apple strudel filling
Panko and apple raisin filling for apple strudel

Heat oven to 400°F and line one large baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the remaining 5-9 Tbsp of butter in a small dish.

Place a clean pillow case, towel, or bed sheet (I went sheet) on a table or counter space. The sheet should be at least 24″x32″. The long side should be horizontal and closest to you. Lightly flour the sheet. Place the dough in the middle and sprinkle it very lightly with flour. Roll the dough in both directions until it’s 10″x13″ or as far as the rolling pin will take it. Make sure the dough is not sticking to the cloth. If it is, reflour the surface. Ball your hands into loose fists, put them under the rolled-out dough, and gently start stretching the dough using the backs of your hands. Alternate this with pulling the dough gently with your fingers to continue stretching the edges thin, too. If holes form, pinch the dough back together. Continue stretching until the dough is about 16″x24″.

Assemble:
Brush the dough evenly with about half of the melted butter. On the right side of the rectangle, a few inches from the end, spread the panko crumbs (crumble them first if they’ve been sitting for a bit) top to bottom in a thick line, leaving a little more than an inch margin at the top and bottom of the strip.

Wrapped strudel
Rolled apple strudel ready for the oven

Scoop the apples with a slotted spoon, leaving any accumulated juice in the bowl. Pile the apple mixture on top of the panko. Gently pull the right edge of the dough up and over the filling as far as it will go without tearing. Working carefully, use the sheet to roll the strudel up all the way. This can be done by pulling and lifting part of the sheet closest to the roll slowly so that the whole strudel rolls itself bit by bit. Place the parchment paper from your baking sheet at the edge of the roll and roll the strudel onto it. Ideally, the strudel will be panko-side down, but if it’s not, roll it again, carefully. Use the parchment paper as a sling to get it and the strudel onto the baking sheet.

Brush the strudel generously all over with some of the remaining butter. Bake for 15 mins, then brush again and return it to the oven, having rotated the pan. Repeat this once more, baking for a total of 45 mins. If your strudel leaks, don’t stress. It’s ok. Mine went the first 15 mins without leaking but during the second 15 mins, it sprung a leak. It still turned out fine.

Leaky strudel
Apple strudel sprung a leak

The strudel should be crisp to the touch and a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it cool for at least 20 mins on a cooling rack. Dust with confectioner’s sugar before slicing and serving.

Uncut apple strudel
Nearly 2 feet of uncut apple strudel

Note: handle the strudel as little as possible as it will begin to break and crumble if you try to move it or roll it too much after it comes out of  the oven.

Sliced apple strudel
Sliced apple strudel
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French Silk Pie Domes

Dome molds seem to be growing in popularity lately. You can use them to make domes or spheres using cake or chocolate or mousse. There are a multitude of combinations that the dome molds can be used for, so I needed to try them. I found a set of three silicon molds of different sizes on Amazon.

I wasn’t sure what my first experiment in the molds was going to be until I realized that Pi Day was coming up and I was planning on making a French silk pie anyway. Why not put it in a dome?

This creation resulted in two new challenges:

  1. Cutting out shapes from an Oreo pie crust
  2. Tempering chocolate without the aid of a chocolatier.

First things first. I had to find out whether my circle cookie cutter was going to be the right size. The circular disks of pie crust needed to fit within the sphere so that they would be covered. They ended up being a perfect fit for the largest mold! Now, it was on to pie!

I decided to use the French silk pie recipe I had made previously. It worked out really well and seemed like it would be a good fit for this experiment.

The crust was prepared following the recipe and instead of placing it into a pie dish, it was pressed out onto a parchment-covered baking sheet. I didn’t press it out too thin since I wasn’t sure how much the crust would break to begin with, but this crust held up pretty well and I definitely recommend pressing it out so that it’s not too thick. The thickness of my disks resulted in the crust being difficult to cut through with a fork. The crust was easy to work with after it had cooled a bit but wasn’t at the point of being completely cool. The butter was still soft, making the surface workable, but not so tough and crunch that it broke. Using the cookie cutter as you would with sugar cookie dough, I was able to get several disks out of the sheet. The leftover pie crust worked well as either a snack or was crumbled to use as a topping.

 

Setting the disks aside, it was time to try my hand at the chocolate domes. For this round of tempering, I used Baker’s milk chocolate baking bars. Now, tempering chocolate is a very frustrating process until you learn how the chocolate you’re using works. Even then, things like temperature and humidity (i.e., the weather that day) can destroy your process. Other details, like the % cocoa, the type of chocolate (milk vs. dark vs. white vs. semi-sweet, etc.), and the brand of chocolate all impact the way the chocolate behaves and the temperatures it prefers for tempering. In 2017, I took part in a tempering class offered by a local shop, The Secret Chocolatier. The class was fun and very informative and they send us home with treats we had made and notes for when we wanted to try this on our own. My notes sat in my binder for two years before I decided to try tempering again. I decided to use the temperatures on the notes as a guide, a place to start, since they had worked well before. The chocolate we tempered in class was a darker chocolate whereas the one I was tempering was milk chocolate, so I wasn’t expecting it to turn out perfectly.

To temper the chocolate, I broke apart two 4 oz. bars of Baker’s chocolate. This would give me enough to melt and enough to use as seed. I prepped my double boiler by adding a 1/2″ of water to the bottom and set the stove temperature so that the water was barely simmering. To melt the chocolate, I placed 1.5 bars into a metal bowl and placed that on top of the simmering pot. It didn’t take long for my thermometer to show me that I had the heat up too high as the temperature zoomed past the 115°F I was aiming for. Note: the process I am about to describe is not how to temper chocolate. Typically, if the temperature gets too high, it’s best to scrap the chocolate and start over. I decided to cool it back down and reheat it. After adjusting the burner temperature to low/medium-low, I placed the bowl back over the pot and got the chocolate heated to 115°F. Removing the bowl from the pot and placing it on a pot holder on the counter, I stirred the chocolate until it reached 88°F. Then, I added a piece or two of the remaining chocolate. This was error number 3. I had misread my notes from the chocolatier on when to add the seed. As soon as I realized my mistake, I popped the bowl back on top of the pot to reheat the chocolate to 115°F. Even when you temper correctly, there can still be a lot of this back and forth, so it’s always good to have extra seed chocolate on-hand. After getting the chocolate back up to 115°F, the bowl went back to the pot holder and, this time, I added a piece of seed chocolate immediately while stirring. The seed chocolate helps to bring the temperature down and get the crystals in the sugar to play nice. After adding two pieces of seed chocolate and stirring, the chocolate reached 88°F. It was time to pop the bowl back on the pot for a very brief stint to get the chocolate heated up to 90°F. After hitting that temp, the bowl was removed once more and the chocolate was ready to be placed into the molds.

Chocolate tempering prep
Melting chocolate and seed chocolate for tempering

At first, I tried using a silicon pastry brush I had on hand to paint the molds with chocolate. The chocolate and the brush did not get along. I have seen others use a paint brush instead of silicon to do this, so I will be looking into getting a small one of those for food purposes and future chocolate experiments. Since the brushing technique was not working, I used a spoon to place a good amount of chocolate in each sphere and rub the chocolate on the sides. Then, by lifting and tilting the mold, I worked on getting as even a coating as I could. Once satisfied, I turned the mold upside down to let the extra chocolate drip out (be sure to do this over a baking sheet or paper towel or some other surface that is the length of your mold). Once there was no chocolate pooled in the bottom of the mold, I set the mold aside to let the chocolate set. In my excitement, I used the rest of my melted chocolate to make solid chocolates in the smaller sphere mold. Only after I had started cleaning up did I remember that I should have probably saved some of that chocolate to re-temper and add a second or third coat to the large spheres so that they weren’t too thin. Since this was a rough draft, I decided to see how the thin spheres played out and made a note to make them thicker next time.

Filled chocolate molds
Hollow chocolate spheres and solid chocolate spheres in-mold

Once the chocolate spheres were set, I started popping them out of the mold. They broke apart at the edges since they were so thin and they were somewhat in temper, but they were still spheres!

Chocolate sphere
First try at a chocolate sphere

Now that both the pie crust disks and the chocolate domes were successes, it was time to make the pie filling! There was no variation on the filling. I made it the same way I had before. Once the filling was made, I spooned filling into each upside-down dome. It was surprising that the thin dome held the filling as well as it did! I was expecting it to break or collapse under the weight. Once I saw it held, I filled the dome up and placed a sphere on top. In my final concept, I would build these in the mold and then use some of the tempered chocolate to seal the dome. For this experiment, I skipped this step as I was more interested in seeing how the parts worked and how the different chocolates worked together. I placed the dome, still on its head, in the fridge for the pie filling to set. As soon as that clock hit the 3-hour mark, I had to pull one out! Holding my breath, I flipped the dessert over and it held together beautifully!

All of this chocolate needed a whipped cream topping, so I sprayed some Reddi Wip (check out their coconut milk whipped cream option!) on top and sprinkled some of the crumbled pie crust. Time to cut in and see how this idea worked!

Chocolate silk pie dome
Chocolate silk pie dome reveal!

The milk chocolate dome ended up being a good compliment to the dark chocolate Oreo crust and the semi-sweet pie filling. A dark chocolate would work well, too. Surprisingly, the thin chocolate dome worked really well, too. It was fairly easy to break through while eating and held the dessert well. The two take-aways from this rough draft of a dessert were to make the crust thinner for easier cutting while eating and to make the dome slightly thicker so that it doesn’t break as easily.

This was a delicious success! And now I’ve worked out all of my panic and second-guessing in my first solo outing of chocolate tempering. It can only improve from here!

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Causal Confections Kids (CCK) – Chocolate Chip Cookie Halloween Cake

Baking with kids can be a lot of fun and very educational. It can also be a test in patience for the head baker. Finding the right terms and ways to explain measuring ingredients, why things need to be mixed a certain way, and what happens in the oven can be a challenge, but it is a great mental exercise and kids are typically fascinated to learn how things work. The absolute best part of baking with kids is seeing the look of pride, surprise, and satisfaction on their faces when they get to eat what they created.

This past week, a 3.5-year-old designed a cake with me. It started with a simple question: “Do you want to bake cookies this weekend?” After excitedly answering “yes,” I asked which type of cookie he wanted to bake. It was no surprise it was chocolate chip. They are his favorite to make. It escalated quickly from there. When all was said and done, the final design ended up being a devil’s food cake with orange-colored icing that has pieces of chocolate chip cookies in it. It typically takes me no time to whip each of these parts together, so I figured it would take a few hours, tops.

We compiled our grocery list and went to the store to get what we needed. We talked about why we were getting the smaller bag of sugar instead of the larger bag of sugar (storage), why we didn’t need marshmallows for this bake (any excuse to eat marshmallows is a good one), and the ways we need to be careful when handling a carton of eggs. After getting back to the kitchen, we prepped our ingredients, set out our tools, and selected our aprons (having at least two kid-size aprons around is great as it gives them a choice and they get to dress like you do in the kitchen). After selecting his apron, the young baker got a quick introduction on how to tie it around his waist. It will take some practice, but he loved seeing how easy it could be to tie something.

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We did this bake in three parts.

Part 1 – Chocolate Chip Cookies (soft batch recipe)

Chocolate chip cookies are a great first-bake for kids. The ingredients are easy and safe to work with, it’s more than four steps, and, for most kids, it’s a treat they love to eat. Flour and sugar are easy for kids to use to measure out ingredients and are easy to clean up if it results in a mess. While putting the dry ingredients together, it’s easy to talk to the young baker about ingredients that are safe to taste and ones that are not. For example, cookie dough that is just butter and sugars mixed together is safe to taste. Once the flour and/or eggs are added, however, the dough is not safe to taste. The flour and eggs can be unsafe to eat before they are baked or cooked. Speaking of safe to taste, a tradition I have when baking chocolate chip cookies with anyone is to pour out a few chips to eat before we dump the bag into the dough. It’s a special treat since the baker has not had a chance to sample anything in a bit while the dough was coming together and it’s a few small bites of chocolate. Yum!

This junior baker did everything for the cookies except for cracking the eggs (he decided it was too messy for him to do that day) and dealing with the oven (he’s not quite tall enough or his arms long enough to do that, yet).

For most cookies, and especially the soft batch, it’s a good idea to roll the dough into balls or mounds for them to bake properly. Some kids, however, struggle to roll a ball between their hands when they’re younger. This young baker decided that he was going to roll logs instead of balls. We did one full tray of logs and one full tray of balls so that we could gauge the baking time for the logs and have everything cook evenly. When we took the tray of logs out of the oven, we were excited to find that the logs had baked down to perfect dipping bars!

PHCA8298
Chocolate chip cookie logs or dipping bars

While the cookies cooled on our cooling racks, we did a quick clean up of the area and of the tools we’d need to use for our cake. At this point, the junior baker needed a break.

After a break watching some videos on his iPad and having lunch, we got back to work on part 2.

Part 2 – Devil’s food cake

For this bake, we kept it simple. We grabbed a box of Duncan Hines mix and doctored it. Doctoring a box cake mix can range from very simple to more complex. I like to keep it simple. Use the same measurements that are on the box but use milk in place of water and use butter in place of oil. Typically, I melt the butter to add to the mix, but this time, I tried creaming the butter first and then adding the other ingredients to the butter. Making a cake using a box mix is another great first-bake for kids, though it can be disappointing as there aren’t too many steps and it’s over quickly.

We poured our batter into two 9″ rounds greased with Baker’s Joy (this is my favorite non-stick baking tool outside of parchment paper). Once baked, we let the cakes cool in the pans before flipping them out onto the cooling racks.

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Two 9-inch rounds of devil’s food cake.

After another round of clean up and preparing tools and ingredients, it was time for the junior baker to take a good long break and for me to make the buttercream. This junior baker does not enjoy American buttercream as it is too sweet, so for him to really enjoy his creation, we decided to go with Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC). It’s less sweet, very creamy, and is easy to work with. Since the IMBC is basically boiling a syrup and whipping egg whites, there wasn’t much for this junior chef to help out with at this stage.

Part 3 – Italian Meringue Buttercream

For this cake, I halved the recipe I used in the pull apart cupcake cake (link above). It ended up being a nearly perfect portion! After adding the butter to the mixture, my buttercream wasn’t coming together. Having made this several times now, I was a big confused and just kept whipping. It took about 10 minutes for me to realize that I had only prepared and added half the amount of butter I needed! I quickly grab a stick from the fridge, throw it on a plate, and send it spinning in the microwave for a couple of 10-second rounds to soften it. After adding the second stick of butter, the buttercream came together quickly and beautifully! Phew!

A few years ago, a dear family member had given me a set of measuring spoons that included a pinch, a smidgen, a dash, etc. They’re an amusing gift for most but are extremely useful in my kitchen! For IMBC, I use these to measure out and add gel food coloring.

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Measuring spoons for smaller measures.

The junior baker wanted the buttercream to be orange. I did not have orange color (on purpose) and asked him which two colors we could combine to make orange. This is an easy way to work color lessons into baking. As he excitedly stated “yellow and red,” we grabbed the correct bottles of gel coloring and decided which order to add them to the buttercream. Once the colors were added, we set the mixer to run and watched as the yellow and red streaks started to combine into a light orange. Bouncing up and down with excitement, the junior baker proclaimed the color to be perfect so we stopped the mixer and grabbed our cookies. This was the moment the junior baker was waiting for. We crumbled the cookies into the buttercream. As we crumbled, we talked about the differences in adding big pieces vs. smaller pieces vs. crumbs. He decided for chunks instead of pieces. We added 3-4 cookie logs to the batter and folded the chunks into the buttercream.

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Orange-colored IMBC with chocolate chip cookie chunks.

Now for the new challenge, spreading the buttercream with large cookie chunks across the cake without ripping up the cake. Junior baker did a great job of spreading and our cake handled it very well.

Once the cake was iced, it was time to enjoy!

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Sliced chocolate chip cookie Halloween cake

We asked the junior baker what he was going to call his cake. He proudly proclaimed “Chocolate chip cookie Halloween cake because it’s orange and black!” and so the dessert earned its name.

The cookie chunks ended up working really well with the icing and the cake for flavor and crunch. The bake ended up taking us all day instead of the few hours I itiniall thought but it was well worth it. This cake design was definitely a success and the junior baker has told everybody who would listen, including a very nice lady at the deli counter in the grocery store, about the cake he designed and baked.

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Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese IMBC

This is a longer post than usual due to all the parts and adventures that came together to make this cake.

If you’ve ever perused the site Cake Wrecks, then you’re likely familiar with the naked mohawk-baby carrot jockeys. A friend and fellow fan of Cake Wrecks only ever had one request if she ever had a baby shower, and that was to have a naked mohawk-baby carrot jockeys cake. When the time came to plan the shower, she didn’t hesitate to ask me to create an homage to this cake for her. Her only direction was to change the carrot decorations to fish. How could I resist such a request?!

This bake presented many challenges for me. This would be my first carrot cake, first cream cheese icing, first time piping on a cake, first time trying to create fish, and first time transporting a decorated cake 2-3 hours away! Why is the transportation a challenge? Cream cheese icing of any type (American, Swiss, or Italian buttercream) is very soft which means that it needs to be kept in the fridge to hold up. Of course, the day I was traveling to the shower was going to be one of the sunniest and warmest days we’ve had in a while. After some quick research on recommendations on transporting cakes, I grabbed two large blue ice packs from the freezer and placed them in baggies to prevent them from getting the cake box wet. I placed each ice pack into an insulated grocery bag and then placed each end of the cake box into a bag. This created a make-shift cooler and it worked! The cake made it to its destination with no melting! Shout out to The Butcher’s Market of Charlotte for their awesome insulated bags!

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Make-shift cooler using two insulated grocery bags and ice packs.

Back to the cake. I decided to go with one of I Am Baker’s carrot cake recipes as it gets a lot of positive feedback and had a bunch of ingredients I would not have thought to have include in a carrot cake. For the cream cheese icing, I knew I wanted to utilize an Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC) since it holds up well and isn’t too sweet. Frequent contributor to my recipes, Ginger Barragan of Moonlight Bakes Bakery, shared her recipe for incorporating cream cheese into any meringue buttercream.

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Carrot Cake via I Am Baker

2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup (250 g) vegetable oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 3/4 cups (352 g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt (I always omit salt)
1 cup raisins
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
2 1/4 cups finely grated carrots (6-8 medium sized carrots grated)
1/2 cup pineapple, can be from a can (crushed) or freshly diced

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Prepare baking pan(s) by buttering generously or coating with baking spray (I strongly encourage using parchment paper).

Beat the sugar, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a mixer until it is light yellow, about 3 mins.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Double sifting is recommended.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly and gently add in the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. This can be done by hand.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the raisins, nuts, carrots, and pineapple.

Divide the batter equally between the pans. For 2 7-inch rounds, bake for 55-60 mins or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean. A few crumbs is what you want for a moist cake. All to cool completely on a wire rack.

Some notes:
I made a 9 x 13 sheet cake instead of rounds to mimic the original cake and for serving size. A good baking time for the sheet cake was 30-35 mins.

This is how my first cake came out:

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Carrot cake crumble

So what went wrong? So many things.

  • I used pre-packaged shredded carrots instead of grated, so the cake did not have the right consistency to stay together.
  • I cut up pineapple rings into slices instead of using crushed pineapple.
  • I did not drain my pineapple slices after they had been sitting in my prep bowl, so more liquid was added to the batter, making the cake very moist.
  • I did not use parchment paper so, despite greasing the pan well, the center of the cake stuck.
  • I flipped the cake way too early so it was still warm and soft and came apart very easily. I had noticed the edges were sticking and got lost in trying to loosen them. Note to self: just leave the cake alone until it is cooled!

I took the night to think through what went wrong and to decide whether to try a different recipe and whether to do rounds instead of a sheet cake. Not one to let a recipe beat me, I woke up the next morning determined to tackle the same cake. Once a new batch of ingredients were in-hand, it was time to try again. I grated my carrots using both the large and small sides of the grater and did a small portion of diced carrot pieces to incorporate different levels of carrot bites in the cake, I drained my crushed pineapple, and I put down my parchment paper. When I opened the oven to check on whether the cake was done, I could see the difference. The cake had risen more and was no where near as damp as the first bake. I left my cake in the pan on the cooling racks until it was completely cooled. When the cake was ready to be flipped, I placed a large cutting board on top of it. Using a cutting board for the flip gets the cake on a good surface for trimming and moving in and out of the fridge for storage.

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Carrot cake attempt number 2 with trimmed edges.

Once on the cutting board, I moved the cake to the fridge while I set up to make the buttercream. Cooling the cake makes it easier to cut with fewer crumbs. Once cooled, I trimmed all four edges to get a smoother rectangle shape. Then, back into the fridge it went while the buttercream was made.

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Cream Cheese Italian Meringue Buttercream (using the IMBC recipe from Yolanda Gampp and the cream cheese incorporation from Ginger Barragan)

8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
8 oz powdered sugar (start with 4 oz and then add to taste. I used all 8 oz.)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups meringue buttercream (Yolanda Gampp’s recipe makes 6 cups, so you will have extra if that is the one you use)

Blend the cheese slowly with the paddle attachment or hand mixer until soft, scraping the bowl frequently.

Sift sugar and add to the cheese (I did not sift and it came together fine). Blend until smooth.

Blend in vanilla and buttercream.

After making the buttercream, portion it into different bowls if adding color.

 

Before piping, though, I took the cake out of the fridge, placed a cake board on the top of the cake, and flipped it. After taking the cutting board off the top of the cake slowly (the carrot cake is moist and stuck to the cutting board surface and I didn’t want to rip off the top by moving too fast), I was able to shift the cake around to center in on the board. I used an offset spatula to do a thin layer of icing all over the cake and the sides. This is known as a crumb coat. After coating, the cake went back into the fridge for the crumb coat to set. While it was setting, I colored some of the buttercream.

I added Wilton red no-taste icing color to a portion of the buttercream with the intent of making pink fish. The pink color came out great! The fish, however, did not. Not only did I approach the piping with only a rough idea of how to pipe fish (make one large blob – large enough for the plastic mohawk babies to sit on/in – of icing with a large piping tip and then use the same tip I used to make teeth in the sarlaac cake to make fins and tails) but I did not practice and had no experience in working with cream cheese icing. It gets softer the more it hangs out in the piping bag as you squeeze.

After taking the cake out of the fridge, yet again, it was time to slather on the white cream cheese buttercream. Add as much icing to the cake as you prefer. Some people prefer a larger ration of icing to cake while others prefer a thin layer of icing relative to cake. After smoothing out the edges, corners, and sides, I decided to add a border to the top and bottom just to jazz the cake up a bit. Here is where you start to see where the buttercream began to soften in the piping bag and some of the definition from the piping tip is lost. There are also some obvious areas where the piping was inconsistent. Since this was an homage to a Cake Wreck, the imperfections just made the cake even more perfect.

Then it was time to pipe fish. Oh, the pink fish. Someone described them as Seussical but to me, they ended up looking more like uteri than fish! How perfect for there to be naked mohawk babies popping out of pink uteri? The accidents with this cake really came together to create a more perfect cake for the recipient than I could have planned. Before placing the naked babies in their new homes, I realized I had a lot of white space left in the cake and figured I’d give writing a try. I was pretty pleased with how well I wrote out “Critter.” Critter is the nickname the couple came up with early in their pregnancy and it stuck. Since it was a fun cake, I decided to go with the nickname instead of the baby’s name or the more traditional “It’s a Girl!” or “Congratulations!”

So, with all of the trial, error, mistakes, and happy accidents, the cake was complete and the cake arrived at its destination in perfect condition!

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Cannoli Filling and Pastry Cream

Pastry cream is not something I’ve had on my to-bake list, but finding the right recipe for cannoli filling has been. I grew up having cannoli from Long Island, so the bar has always been set pretty high. Last year, I took a stab at making a cannoli filling using a recipe for cannoli dip. As you may recall, it was more of a learning experience than a dining experience.

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Failed cannoli dip filling and failed ganache

For my second attempt at a cannoli filling, I tried a recipe by Ginger Barragan of Moonlight Bakes Bakery. Since her recipe utilizes pastry cream, I ended up adding it to my to-bake list. King Arthur Flour is a great source for recipes, so I decided to give their pastry cream a spin.

Having watched shows like Chopped and the Great British Bake Off, making pastry cream had become a bit intimidating. It seemed too easy to ruin the cream and end up with inedible scrambled eggs. The one piece I kept forgetting about was that they were working against a clock. It is easy to see how one slip up can ruin the whole batch, but overall the process was simpler than expected.

Since these experiments were for the filling and the cream, I decided to bake and torte a single devil’s food cake as a vehicle for eating the results instead of going whole hog with fresh pastry. Those challenges are for a later time.

While the cannoli filling isn’t where I want it to be, it is very tasty and a great place to start while honing in on the right ingredients and proportions. I highly recommend giving both of these recipes a go.

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3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
4 large egg yolks*
4 Tbsp (1/4 cup) butter
1 cup heavy cream (optional)**

*if you’re looking for something to use the egg whites for, try Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC).

Before starting, set up a bowl with a strainer in an ice bath (place the bowl into a larger bowl, add water and several ice cubes between the two bowls, keeping the inner one dry).

In a medium saucepan, stir together 2 1/2 cups of milk and all of the sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch, flour, and egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup of milk.

Whisk some of the hot milk mixture with the yolks to temper them. This keeps the yolks from turning into scrambled eggs when you add the simmering milk.

Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the remaining simmering milk. Doing this through a strainer will prevent lumps later. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, with a whisk, until mixture thickens. Once the cream comes to a full boil, stop cooking immediately or it can curdle and separate.

Remove from the heat and strain through a fine strainer into the bowl set in an ice bath. Stir in the butter and vanilla extract (I sliced the butter so it melted faster and mixed more easily). ***If you would like to flavor the pastry cream, do so here*** (See King Arthur link for flavoring suggestions)

Cover the cream with a piece of plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool.

Will keep covered in the fridge for up to five days before it begins to weep.

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Cannoli Filling via Ginger Barragan

3/4 cup pastry cream
3/4 cup ricotta cheese (depending on brand, your cheese may need to be strained through cheesecloth overnight. A dry ricotta like Kraft Polly-O (my favorite!) can be used immediately.)
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 Tbsp mini chocolate chips (I used more than 1 Tbsp. add to desired density of chips)

Stir pastry cream, ricotta, and powdered sugar until well-combined. Mix in chocolate chips. Chill for 1 hour before filling shells or using in cake.

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Cannoli filling in a torted 9″ round of devil’s food cake.
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Surprise Inside Cake – Pinky the Ghost

A surprise inside cake looks simple enough. It’s a cake of any flavor with a design or different color cake inside of it. One complaint I’ve seen pop up in a lot of conversation about surprise inside cakes is that the design typically ends up dry since it’s baked twice. Having baked one now, I can see how easily that can happy but I also see room for tweaks to prevent that from happening.

For this experiment, I kept the cake simple so that I could focus on trying my hand at the technique. To figure out my approach, I checked out cakes by i am baker and My Cupcake Addiction. I love the colors in My Cupcake Addiction’s love heart cake and may try that as a rainbow surprise in a future surprise inside cake. For my first try, I opted to use a ghost cookie cutter to make Pinky, one of the Pac-Man ghosts.
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Surprise Inside Cake

1 box of white cake mix
1 box of devil’s food cake mix
coloring gel

Prepare one box of white cake mix either by using the instructions on the box or by the modified box method substituting melted butter for oil and milk for water. Add desired color (in this case, I added red with a dab of black to get a muted pink color). Line a cookie sheet or sheet pan with parchment paper and pour batter onto pan. Bake at 350F for 23 mins (or as described on the box).

Place a piece of parchment paper on a cutting board large enough to place the cake on. When the cake comes out of the oven, place the paper and cutting board on top of the cake and flip it so that the cake sits on the board. Lift the pan and peel off the parchment paper that is now on top. Pop the cake on the board into the freezer for 10-30 mins to firm up. This will help prevent the cake from crumbling as much when you use the cutter. Select a cookie cutter for your design and make sure it’s small enough to sit in the cake pan you’re using for the final cake. My ghost cutter ended up being slightly taller than what I needed it to be. Remove the sheet cake from the freezer. Flip the cake over again and remove the parchment paper. Trim the top of the cake with a knife to remove the browned part of the cake and reveal the brighter colors underneath. Use the cutter to cutout shapes from the sheet cake. Cut the shapes close to each other to maximize the number of cutouts. Any extra make tasty snacks.

Arrange the cutouts on the same cutting board and pop the board back in the freezer for at least 30 mins (I did 30 but will let them freeze longer next time to better prevent the moist batter of the second cake from soaking into the cutouts).

Prepare the second box mix as above (either via the box or modified). Using a rubber spatula, place some of the batter on the bottom of a greased and floured bundt cake pan and spread it out to cover the bottom of the pan. My Cupcake Addiction suggests a half inch of batter. Bake this layer of batter at 350F for 7 mins.

Take the pan out of the oven and immediately spread a layer of raw batter on top of the baked layer in the pan. The new batter will thin out quickly since it’s going on top of hot cake. These layers of cake and batter will help to hold the cutouts in place. Take the cutouts out of the freezer and start placing them in the pan. The top of the cutout should be in the bottom of the pan (remember, the cake is upside-down in the pan). The cutouts can be arranged close to each other or with lots of space in between depending on how your want your slices to look. A more spaced out arrangement will result in not knowing whether you’ll get an all devil’s food slice or a slice with a surprise design when the cake is served. If you do a more crowded arrangement, leave some space for batter in between. Don’t press them together too tightly.

Place the rest of the batter into a large piping bag. Cut a wide tip at the bottom. Using the bag helps to get the batter between the cutouts and between the cutouts and the edges of the pan. Pipe the batter into all the sections around the cutouts. After filling the sides and in between, pipe the batter on the top of the cutouts to cover them. Since my ghost cutouts were a bit too tall, my batter did not completely cover them. I used a rubber spatula to try to coat exposed areas of cutouts with batter to encourage the cake to cover them all. When done, tap the pan on the counter a few times to get the batter to fill any gaps. Bake at 350F for 33-35 mins (or as long as directed on the box). Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 mins before flipping it over. The cake should release easily. When ready to serve, cut slices and enjoy the surprise image inside.