Pinteresting Baking: 4th Birthday Treat

Yeah….so…..the 35 weeks of baking hit a hard wall.  I cannot even explain it, but I literally could not bring myself to blog.  I was and still am baking and I usually remember to take pictures, but sitting at the computer and editing images and then writing about the experience seemed so daunting and add to the fact that time just would not stop.  But I am not the one to give up.  I am just tweaking or adapting the plan.  I have lost track of the weeks and have had several weeks without baking so I will just bake when I can and post when I remember.  With the holidays coming up, I suspect there shall be a great frequency of posts.

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My son’s 4th birthday was in August and, true to my rule of “only one”, he did not have a party.  We had our dessert ceremony as a family or four plus the in-laws and went on a mini-trip planned with the munchkin in mind (The rule of “Only One” is that only one kid gets a birthday a year and the other gets a trip or a day of their choosing-from meals to some fun location).

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This dessert was so fun to make.  It’s a Neapolitan cupcake!  Basically a chocolate layer and vanilla layer of cake and a strawberry frosting on top.  My layers did not come out as defined as the picture from the original post and when I removed the cupcakes from the oven, you could see the chocolate bubbled through the vanilla.  The bonus, is that the frosting covered it up and it tasted delicious.

I guess I can say this was just a fun dessert with a cherry on top.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 9 – A Sophisticated Strawberry Cake for A Sophisticated 7 Year old

I did not take many pics of this one so I will also attempt to spare you the long, drawn out, wordy blog, but don’t get too comfortable with this format.  For my 9th Pinteresting goodie, I chose to make a cake for my son’s actual birthday.  Again, I will be posting his party sometime this week.  He loves strawberry desserts so what better treat than to create a delicious Strawberry Cake with an even more irresistible Brown Buttered, Roasted Strawberry Buttercream Frosting.  Oh yes, you heard me right, roasted strawberry and, at this point, you are likely not surprised that the butter has been “browned”.

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For this cake, I actually combined two different recipes with the frosting being the sole inspiration for the cake.  My son liking strawberry desserts was a cover-up I must confess.  The roasting of the strawberries was exactly what you imagine….heavenly.  First you toss the fresh strawberries in brown sugar and I don’t know about you, but strawberries are probably the most beautiful fruit with that rich, red color and sugar always brings it out even more.

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Finally when they are pulled out of the oven, you get this rich and syrupy version of the strawberry that produces an aroma sweet enough to give you a cavity without a single bite.

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The cake recipe itself, was quite simple and definitely made sure it stood out alongside the superstar frosting.  The cake also contains fresh strawberries in the form of a puree and produced a really moist texture.  I did slightly overmix the batter so it did not turn out making the final product slightly more dense than it should have been.

This cake was so delicious and I love that, as emphasized in the recipe prep, the strawberry pieces were visible through the frosting.  I am telling you this had to be the best tasting cake I have made so far.  I ate more than I care to admit, but most importantly my son was so excited despite likely not appreciating the quality and sophistication of the frosting, but the smile on his face when he saw his cake was more than any praise I could ever get from even the most experienced of bakers.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 4 – Mini Bananas Foster Cheesecakes

O.k., I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this challenge.  Between my work schedule, my kids, and still needing to cook regular meals, throwing in a weekly baking session has proved to be…well a bit daunting.  Nevertheless I shall move forward, power through, and fight the good fight.

I had been eyeballing this particular treat for quite some time now.  It was a newer “pin” and it is at the top of my board.  Aside from the recipe’s image staring right at me every time I open my board, cheesecake just so happens to be my favorite dessert.  The banana part wasn’t as appealing, but seeing as how I end up having a constant need to Google “what to do with your over ripe bananas”, it fit the bill.

Cheesecake recipes are usually pretty standard. Crush Graham crackers and mix with melted butter to create your crust.  A food processor is absolutely best for this especially if you add nuts.  It should look like beautiful, delicious, sweet smelling sand when you are finished.

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Next you usually mix cream cheese and sugar (and you’ll usually find cheesecake recipes use a smaller amount of sugar than typical desserts) and then add eggs.  It’s pretty simple and basic, but for the first time I used brown sugar as the recipe requires and man oh man did it ever make a beautiful color.  I could have just used it  as a spread right then and there.  The next unique aspect of this recipe was adding mashed bananas at the end.

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For the entire recipe, I used generic store bought products.  I actually had some cream cheese in the fridge awaiting their transformation.  Since I do consider myself a cheesecake veteran, I did decide to do a tiny bit of freestyling.  Since I am a crustinista (oh yes, yes I did go there), I wanted to add a little more flavor to the Graham cracker crust by adding about a tablespoon of brown sugar and 1/2 tsp of vanilla.

It is so critical when baking cheesecake, that you have either a springform pan or this cute mini cheesecake pan (like the one seen below).  I used to make them in muffin pans and it added so much work, but it is manageable if you do not have the actual pan.  If you plan to make mini cheesecakes often, it is well worth the investment.

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One little poke of the finger and you have a super cutesy dessert.  It also shapes better than out of the muffin tin.

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To prepare the pan for it’s special task of creating this rich dessert, is the spray each well with cooking spray.  You then, scoop the sand-like crust into each well.  I must say, I had to add more than the 2 T of butter which the recipe required.  The crust should start sticking together when compressed otherwise you would not have a formed crust, but rather a Graham cracker crumble sloughing off when you take out your cheesecake.  To add the filling, I like to use a container with a spout for pouring.  This time around I chose a measure cup, worked like a charm.  I actually ended up making 16 mini cheesecakes instead of the 12 the recipe noted.

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Some of my cakes cooked a little bit long or my oven was too hot. Also, some of the cakes sunk in due to uneven baking.  The only way I have ever learned to have cheesecake cook evenly is to submerge part of the baking container in water while in the oven.  Yesterday was not the day for that so I just placed the pans directly on the oven rack.

For the sauce, well that begin very interestingly.  The butter melting went perfectly according to plan.  I mean, it’s melting butter in a pan.  I then added the brown sugar and started to wonder after a minute why it did not look smooth like the recipe had indicated.  At this point I am cursing silently in my head as my kids were nearby.

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It looked anything but smooth.  I started looking grainy and when I mixed it, well it was just strange so I decided adding the liquid now might help.

I did not have rum and I was going to give some to my kids so I added 1 T of vanilla instead.  Steam, hiss, splat….I had a boiling science experiment on my hands.

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At this point, there was no turning back, I was not about to start over so I just threw in the sliced bananas.  It didn’t seem very clear in the recipe but for this part you can use a regular banana as it will be cooked to perfection.

After a few whirls, my sauce finally looked thin and glassy like the picture from the original recipe blog.  The take home here is that it takes a while to get to that thin, smooth, glossy texture.  I always feel like recipes frequently fail to mention how long some foods take to transition to its new elevated state.

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Like caramelizing onions!  OMG it takes like hours or something crazy and recipe wording, to me, seems to indicate it happens just like that.  Anyway, by the end of what seemed to be an episode from Bill Nye the Science Guy, my “Foster” turned out beautiful…and so did the cheesecakes.

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Ooh, they looked so cute!  My favorite part was the light mocha-like coloring of the cheesecake.  I have only made white cheesecake in the past so that was a treat.  It was quite good and got rave reviews from my neighbor and her family, but as I mentioned before, I am not the biggest banana dessert fan.  I will say, if you are a fan of banana flavored desserts, this will knock your socks off!  You will want to herald in the streets about this wonderful treat you discovered.  It is rich and creamy and the brown sugary banana on top is icing on the….cheesecake.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 3 – The Deceptively Not So Simple Soft Lofthouse Style Frosted Cookies

O.k., you can totally call me on it.  I made these ones earlier in the week for the sole purpose of making sure I get the post out on time and, well, life happened.  So  here I am in Week 4, writing about my Week 3 conquest.

On  Thursday I was in the store scrolling through my board on the phone.  I was extra exhausted from work  and not in the mood to tackle anything major.  A few swipes in and I found them, simple copy cat Lofthouse sugar cookies.  These are the guiltiest of guilty pleasures of my husband and I.  They are so soft and the frosting is so rich and the recipe (ingredients) seemed so easy….seemed is the operative word here.

I got home later in the evening and went over the steps of the recipe and wanted to cry.  There was dough rolling and chilling overnight and more dough rolling and cutting. Ugh, I was so mad.  But if anyone knows me, I am committed.  I followed that recipe in my zombie state, threw them in the fridge and fell out.

At around 4:50 am the next morning, I started phase 2, The Roll Out.  I got my favorite, handy dandy roller and got to work.  Now, I will be the first to confess I have yet to master the art of rolling out anything.  I think I need a ruler because not matter how much my eyes convince my brain I have reached the appropriate thickness, I end up with double the volume once baking is complete.  As far as cutting out my cookies,  I have every cookie cutter possible except for a simple circle so I used my go to back up….a  drinking glass.  It does the trick to perfection and you don’t have to spend any extra money.

I threw those puppies in the oven and got to work on the frosting.  Now, I know I said I would stay away from buttercream frosting (and that is where it is solely butter), but this time I figured it wouldn’t be so bad being on a cookie and I was correct.  I don’t know if it was the heavy cream or what, but I was soooooooo delicious.  Anyway, wham bam thank you ma’am, the cookies were packed up and ready to be hauled off with me to work.  They came out cute, but the flavor was o.k.  I think the frosting saved the cookie as it tasted more dough like than that who-knows-what’s-in-it Lofthouse cookie you get from the store.  It only matched up with the store bought version by appearance and texture to some extent.

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I’m now going to pull a screenwriter move and go back to the beginning.  Imagine a tape playing back at full speed.  The recipe called for low fat sour cream, I opted for full fat.  This is not because I am some fancy baker that wanted a different flavoring, that is just what I had in the fridge.

I also opted to use the extra amount of flour that is directed to use as needed to flour my rolling surface.  I thought I was so fancy and graduating to a real baker coming up with my own plan.  It really didn’t work.  It was so sticky.  I also just did a dab of orange food coloring because food coloring freaks me out and I think I am going to have to suck it up and pay for the natural mixes they offer online.

For some tips:

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  1.  The absolute best rolling pin, in my humble opinion, are the solid wood pieces.  The ones with the handles that are on a type of roller can break under pressure (I promise I’m not heavy handed) and the full wood ones look nicer.IMG_7901
  2. Whenever possible and o.k., use parchment paper.  It allows you to just keep it moving with several batches.  Just pull the paper (with cookie) off the pan and you’re ready to start your next batch.  IMG_7907IMG_7909IMG_7911
  3. A quick way to get a good frosted cookie with the smooth edge is, as always, using a pastry bag.  It made this so much faster for me. (Ugh I just realized this picture is not in focus)
  4. Use an external thermometer in the oven.  I never do this as I do not have one, but I am definitely planning on purchasing one.  The oven definitely become hotter as I continued to bake and cookies were being done way faster than was called for in the recipe.IMG_7882
  5. I know I have said this before, but I don’t think I can stress it enough.  Always crack your eggs in a separate dish.  I use my custard dish because it looks like the cooks/bakers on t.v.  I will not gross you out with the high school Home Ec. class, but let’s just say I was very glad I was in the group that listened and got to eat my chocolate cake.

I guess I can say if I do choose to make this cookie again, I will try another recipe.  I like the look of this cookie and I can imagine doing fun and creative things with it for the holidays, but try it and let me  know if you had better luck.

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 2 – Brown Butter Cake with Vanilla Bean Icing and Salted Caramel

The first thing I have to confess is that, due to my relentless cold, I am behind in posting, but I assure you I am baking in real time.  This cake was made this past Sunday.  I was, once again, able to find inspiration for my baking and this time it was my mother in-law’s birthday.  And what would be more appropriate for a birthday than a cake.  Aside from the gorgeous image of the cake, the words “brown butter” will get me every time.  OMG, I just wiped drool from my mouth.  Brown butter is the process of taking butter to an unimaginable level.  Imagine butter, now image having butter in heaven and you will get a glimpse of what it is to have browned butter.  If you think I am being dramatic, try it.  It attacks all of the major senses involved in eating.  The smell is mind numbing.  It is a cross between roasted nuts and caramel, a smoked caramel if you will.  I also, happen to love the look as well.  It is just a beautiful caramel color and it taste so rich.  As you can see, I can write a post on just browned butter alone, but I digress.  Aside from the naming of this delectable dessert, the beautifully crisp image that I chose to “pin” on my “wall” is what grabbed me initially.  I loved the smooth, seamless frosting underneath the glossy caramel drizzle with tiny little vanilla bean speckles can be seen on the sides of this adorable cylindrical masterpiece. The image below is from the original recipe and the one I chose to “pin”.

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The first task at hand was to get the right sized cake pans.  Since I am the absolute worst at visioning size of an object based on a documented measurements, I was shocked when I went to the store and found the four 6″ cake pans.  They were so tiny.  Anyway, I can now I can make cute little cakes so it was all worth it.

If I am being honest, though this was only Week 2, it was already a bit of a flop.  I started off looking good, I promise.

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As you can see, I masterfully browned the butter (I like to leave in the crust if it will not impact the look) as I have made several recipes with browned butter at this point and I even mentally created an updated version of one of my favorite cookies which I plan to make at the end of the month.  Don’t worry even though it is not part of the 35 week baking, I will still post.  After that, things slowly started to go south, from the forgetting to put in the eggs until after the dry ingredients had been mixed in to the, well, you’ll see later.

Despite the major fails, I do have some tips for this one.

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  1.  I am a master at preparing a cake pan.  Though I grew up making boxed cakes with my mom (which is funny because we never ate processed food for meals), I learned how to properly and thoroughly grease a cake pan as if I was making something from scratch.
    • Put shortening on a paper towel and grease the pan ensuring that you cover every inch including the creases
    • Then take a little bit of flour and dump it in the center
    • Work the flour around the cake pan like you are trying to keep a marble from falling off the edge of a tray (I hope that makes sense)
    • Finally rotate the pan like a wheel so that you get the walls of the pan and tap it to remove any excess flour (maybe I will do a video some day).

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Here is the picture of the finished cake out of the pan (above).  Mic drop.

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  1.  I do know if you are making a layered cake, you level off the top with a knife.  The cake should probably be really cooled at this point so you don’t knock off the edges of the cake like I did.  You are also supposed to  do something similar on the sides, but clearly I went too far.IMG_7845IMG_7846
  2. I saw this online and it worked like a charm.  For the filling layer, use a pastry bag and any circular tip to dispense and then lightly spread it with a flat spatula (any smoothing tool).  That made this step a snap.IMG_7875
  3. Do not, I mean do not substitute vanilla extract for vanilla bean but you can substitute it with vanilla bean paste which is also also quite pricey, but the unlike  billion dollars for the actual bean, it’s a much easier pill to swallow.  The little bean speckles add to the visual charm of the dessert and I believe it is more concentrated as well.  I don’t know, it just has a different flavor that is worth trying.  My husband found this one at Harris Teeter for $10.  But he heard that Trader Joe’s has the same one during the holidays for $4 so be on the lookout for a crazy lady collecting every single tube in November.

Now that is all the tips I am giving because I botched the other tips and ended up mutilating the cake.  Yes, a cake was hurt while filming this process.  But none was wasted!  The kids, my hubby and I gobbled up every little crumb that did not make it to the finale.

There were also a couple of steps I skipped as I was in a rush to get the cake to the birthday girl.  When you initially frost a cake, it is called the “crumb layer”.  Apparently this is a thin layer of frosting that is applied to the cake in order to “catch” the crumbs that magically appear.  This recipe went a step further and had you chill the cake after the crumb layer for 30 minutes.  I think this would have really locked in those crumbs.  This is where I almost lost the cake, again likely due to it not being cooled enough.  I actually started breaking off cake.  After a while I just pretended like I was working on dry wall and the frosting was my caulk.  I actually saved it…well at this step.

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Once I added the frosting, it started going south and it took forever just to get this look.  My final thoughts after making this cake are, one, I absolutely do not like butter frosting.  I said butter, not butter cream which has cream cheese in it.  I need more time and practice for making cakes as they are so much work.  I also dare anyone to ever ask me to make a cake because I will karate chop them.  It is so much work and you would have to charge a lot to make it worth it.

It was pretty good, but the most important part is the birthday girl loved it!

 

Here is the image on my Pinterest wall.

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See, just like the original.  I bet you can’t tell which one is mine.

A Little Something For a Little Someone

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Now I know you are saying to yourself “what a corny title”, but I have to say this first birthday celebration for my little guy is only a shell of what I had originally planned so it was definitely just a little something.  I guess these are those moments when that saying “Life is busy happening when you are making plans” or something like really applies.  I had envisioned my son’s first birthday celebration since the day of his birth.  O.k., that is an exaggeration, but pretty early on.  Yet, it just so happened that his birthday fell 5 days after we up and relocated our whole family to another state.  But I am happy to say that, throughout all the rubble and business, I was able to carve out a small moment to celebrate this wonderful occasion.

I was able to keep the same concept I had originally planned using whatever items made the long trek across country.  The table covering was left over construction paper I had purchased for my oldest son’s 3rd birthday since I didn’t have the gorgeously rustic wooden table I had envisioned.  It was absolutely a good investment since I have used it for 3 events at this point and there is still a significant amount of roll remaining.  I did purchase 2 cake stands from TJ Maxx.  One was only $7 and the other $12.99.  I ended up taking random pictures of the chocolate cake on the stand, because I will tell you, the right dishware will turn up food presentation several notches.

For my “Ode to One” chalkboard aka 99 cent store black posterboard, I used a white crayon to write the word “one” in multiple languages since I could not find chalk.

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The cakes I made were Chocolate, Southern Coconut, and White cake with Raspberry buttercream frosting (my favorite).  I will confess, in my haste, I forgot to add the 4.5 tsp of baking powder to the mix so it did not rise and was very dense.  None of which prevented me from gobbling up at least one slice.

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A little quick tip,  I threw away my broken sifter in the move and forgot to buy a replacement.  I strainer works wonders!

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Since I gagged at the idea of my 12 month old gobbling up a sugar encrusted cake, I frosted his cake with Yoplait yogurt.  I preferred using a plain yogurt in which I add a couple of natural and non-sugar flavors, but someone did not get the Plain Greek Yogurt I requested so I got the next best, non sugar icing thing.

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For my little prince’s crown, I used some pipe cleaner I found in my oldest son’s craft box.  It wasn’t my normal blow out, but hey, he was happy and I am a proud mama.

Ka Blam!! Fox’s Super Hero Themed 4th Birthday!

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The moment I walked into the rec room where my friend Richelle was throwing her son Fox’s 4th birthday and saw the awesome photo backdrop, I knew I had to share this party with anyone and everyone.  Of course, I knew a super hero birthday was going to be a hit with my sons when I first got the invitation.  I mean, what little boy or any child for that matter does not like dressing up as their favorite super human character and acting out the cool moves unique to the hero.  But I was not prepared for the creative ideas she concocted at this party.

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For the details, I must first coo over the backdrop that makes even the most conservative adult want to become a super hero.  She used Baby blue plastic table cloth to create the sky.  She created clouds in the shape of her son’s name (genius!).  Construction paper was used to craft a sun and the absolute best part was the cardboard boxes used to make buildings.  The secret was that these boxes are actually turned inside out so one can make use of any box without having to worry to worry about concealing the original packaging.  Talk about a time saver!  And of course, no photo set up would be complete without props.  There were several handmade options from the vintage action word signs to hero masks.

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For activities, there was coloring available with, appropriately themed, super hero pages.  One of the best and original games was the Candy Snatcher Villain.  Richelle created an original game where the kids get a chance to fill a bag with candy until the “villain” comes and snatches it away.  The kids waited in a single file line and went one at a time to prevent the havoc that would inevitably ensue if they were allowed to run free.  Finally, my favorite part, each homemade cupcake was topped with a cool super hero logo.  It was an awesome party and the kids were in super hero heaven.  I was very grateful to be invited.