Once again I am woefully behind in my posting, so here’s a quick recap of the baking I’ve done over the last… er… 4 months? I apologize for the formatting. WordPress always gives me trouble with multiple picture posts. Grr.
My baby is two! Unbelievable!
Nathan’s birthday cake was blueberry-lemon velvet cake. Basically, it was red velvet cake without the loads of food coloring and without the cocoa. I added a wee bit of lemon extract and a lot of frozen blueberries, which he has been eating by the fistful lately. The “dirt” is crushed chocolate cookies. But Nathan’s favorite part was the trucks!
It’s been forever since I posted, I know. And actually, it’s been almost forever since I’ve made any cake. We are in the midst of trying to sell our home, which means that all my energy has been focused on cleaning and getting rid of/hiding any extra stuff that buyers may see as clutter. Somehow, the real estate agent thinks all my cake paraphernalia might be seen as clutter. Go figure. So now it’s all hiding in a couple of big plastic bins on the top shelf of the closet, pretending to be extra blankets or whatever else non-cake people store in their closets. I liked it better when it was easily accessible in my kitchen, but I have to admit I like my kitchen better without all the stuff.
But you don’t want to hear about my real estate woes, you are here for the cake, right?
Here you go!
A friend at church asked me to make a car shaped cake for her daughter’s 16th birthday. It didn’t matter what kind of car, she said, as long as it was red. I thought something on the sporty end of things would be fun.At the last minute I decided that the car itself wouldn’t serve enough people (judging serving sizes on a carved cake is really difficult) so I made an extra layer of cake and made a road for the car to drive on. I’m told they had a lot left over, but that’s way better than someone not getting a slice, right?
And of course no car is complete without a license plate!
Happy Birthday Susie!
Please forgive the picture quality. These were all taken with my ipod, as my camera has gone into hiding somewhere. Boo, hiss!!
Happy Chinese New Year everyone!
Yes, this is cake! I took it to a party at church, where I’m told some people mistook it for a centerpiece!
I’ve seen a few cakes around that were made to look like Chinese food, and I’d been hoping to have an excuse try my hand at it. So when my church announced a Chinese New Year pot luck meal, in honor of a couple of our members who are moving to China this year, I knew immediately what I’d be bringing.
My husband tells me that bringing a cake like this to a pot-luck is a bit like wearing an evening gown to a PTA meeting, but… well, it’s just my thing, I guess. Big, involved cakes are just so much fun!
So really, I’m just a big kid playing with edible play-doh. 🙂 And dragons!
The fortune cookies and the chopsticks were made from gumpaste, and were probably the easiest part of the whole process. The Chinese characters spell out Happy New Year (at least, that’s what I found online – if they actually say something rude, I heartily apologize to everyone involved!) All the piping was done with royal icing. The red painting on the lo mein container was painted on free-hand with food coloring.
Oh, and the cake board was a re-purposed dry-erase calendar! This way I got a very sturdy platform without having to go out and buy a new piece of gear.
What comes next? I’m not sure, but Ian has been peppering me with ideas. Stay tuned!
We’ve had a busy end-of-year time here, with visits from family and traveling to other family, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been cake!
Oh, let me tell you, there has been cake.
First, for my sister-in-law, who completed her bachelor’s degree this semester! Yay, Abby!
I made this cake at home and then tucked it carefully in the trunk amongst our baggage for the 10 hour drive to Pennsylvania. Which admittedly is a long way to deliver a cake, but then, Abby lives in the land of way-far-away, so I only get to see her about once a year. The cake traveled pretty well, but it did develop odd air-pockets under the fondant that still puzzle me.
And then, there was the baby shower cake. Again, for Abby! (The girl has had a busy year!) Abby’s nursery has a ladybug theme, which is what inspired this cake.
This cake was baked at home, then frozen and packaged undecorated for the journey to PA – which meant that all my decorating gear had to make the trip as well!) The frosting was also mixed at home and carried semi-frozen in giant rubber-made tubs. (the coloring I did there though). I tried to convince Matt to let me pack the stand mixer as well, but there really wouldn’t have been room. 🙂
Oh! and the topper was made at home too, from a fondant/gumpaste mix.
Wait, can I “aww” over my own work? Is that ok? Hm…
Moving on, there were also cookies at this shower!
I’ve been seeing cute baby-onesie cookies on lots of baking blogs, and when I found the cookie cutter on sale I knew I wanted to try it out. Turns out these were far more time consuming than I anticipated, and as with everything there is a big learning curve, but I did manage to figure out a few ways to speed things up for next time.
While I was in PA I also stumbled upon some fun new cookie cutters as well, so look for more cookies in the weeks (months?) to come!
So as it turns out, blogging about food is a lot of work! Especially blogging in the style of the food blogs I like to read, which have lots of beautiful pictures and creative new takes on recipes each week (or even more often!). I was getting frustrated at my inability to emulate those blogs, until finally I realized that those bloggers are getting PAID to do that! I mean, I knew that, but it didn’t sink in that this was why they had time to artfully arrange their cookies, or wait for the perfect light to shoot photos in. Also, since they’re getting paid, they probably can afford to have someone else deal with the toddlers that might otherwise be tugging on their pant leg, or the 6-year old who wants to eat the results before they’re finished.
And so, for what may be the only time in my life, I am cutting myself a break. I am no longer going to take dozens of photos, and then weed through those dozens of photos to find the shot that is just perfect, and then use my not-so-cutting-edge editing software to make everything even better. I just can’t keep up with all that. If I have the time and inclination, you may get a shot with a nice background or good light. Or you might not. I wish they could all be great photos, but this is where I am now.
So without further ado, here are all the cakes that have been sitting on my memory card for the last several weeks….
What I do want to focus on, instead of the photos and layout and all that, is getting better results with my cakes. I’ve been plagued by inconsistent turnout lately. Everyone says the cakes still taste good, and I think they taste good too, but the texture often disappoints me. I’m planning to pick up a kitchen scale in the coming weeks though, and hopefully weighing out my ingredients instead of measuring by cups and tablespoons will help me get better results.
Lately I’ve been reading a new blog: Soulemama. Soulemama and her family are homesteading somewhere in Maine, which is not something I can ever imagine myself doing, but her pictures are so gorgeous I almost wish I could. So many beautiful foods stored away! Check out her tomatoes!
This has had me thinking about putting away my own veggies. I may not have as much here – but then again, I don’t have a root cellar to store it all in either, so that’s ok. This basket is what’s left of last week’s CSA share.
Actually, I think some of the squash and sweet potatoes here are from the week before last. I’ve had trouble using up all these veggies, see. And the greens! Don’t get me started on the greens. I have had so many lovely bunches of greens go limp and have to be thrown away, it really is sad. We were actually considering giving up on the CSA share for next year, because we couldn’t seem to use what we brought home. But then Matt suggested that we turn it all into soup! Brilliant!
Plus, it’s an excuse to use my beloved immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can make this soup with a regular blender, but to be honest, it takes a lot more work, and I’ve never done it that way, so I’d recommend looking up advice online first.
Just for good measure, I also added a few supermarket carrots and onions, which have been surprisingly lacking from the latest CSA boxes. But it’s ok. We just won’t tell them they’re different. 😉
To make this soup, I first cut open the peppers, tossed out the inner bits, and broiled them skin side up on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray until they were charred. Like this! Incidentally, if you have some sad little tomatoes you need to use, you can broil them the same way. That way you end up with a roasted tomato flavor instead of a stewed tomato flavor (which I detest).
But getting back to peppers; Two of these peppers were sweet peppers, and two were hot. Since we got them all together in the same box, we were a little concerned about how to tell them apart. So Mike, our CSA farmer at First Light Farm, gave us this little tip.
The sweet peppers, shown on the left, have a rounded, dimpled end. The hot peppers, on the right, have a pointed end! (I really don’t know if this applies to all varieties of peppers, so it’s probably best if you ask your farmer/grocer if you aren’t sure.)
Both varieties started out looking a lot like the sweet peppers (on the left). But then the hot peppers spent the week on top of the fridge, to keep them away from little fingers, while the sweet peppers were refrigerated. Curious how differently they ended up after that week, isn’t it?
But back to the soup…
Chop the onions and cook with a bit of oil until softened. Add chopped leeks.
Remove the tough center stems from the greens. Rinse the leaves (no creepy crawlies in the soup, please!) and add to the pot. Now you need some liquid. I had some turkey broth on hand from earlier in the week, so I used that, but you can use any broth you have available, or even just water.
Cover the pot and let the greens cook down, then add your peeled, chopped squash and carrots. (I know sweet potatoes were pictured above, but I decided part way through this soup that I wanted to save those for a sweet potato pie. I’ve never made that before, so if anyone has a recipe to suggest, let me know!)
Cook until the squash is soft, and toss the peppers (and tomatoes, if you are using those)
Finally, blend it until creamy. This takes very little effort with my immersion blender – just press the button and stir it around for 3-5 minutes. (With a regular blender, you’d have to spoon the veggies from the pot into the blender in batches. Be careful if you try this, and be sure to hold down the top of your blender with a kitchen towel lest the hot soup fly out and cover yourself and your kitchen. At least, that’s the warning I’ve heard. Like I said, I’ve never tried it.)
Finally, I added a large can of (rinsed and drained) black beans. I left those unblended, but I kind of wish I had popped the blender in one more time, because the lumps of bean rather detracted from the soup.
The flavor of this soup was really amazing without adding any seasoning – the two hot peppers gave just the tiniest bit of spice to counteract the generally sweet squash and carrots. I did, however add a couple tablespoons of ground ginger, plus some sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
And then served it with grated cheddar and home made bread. We ate about 5 generous bowls of this soup over a couple of days, and put 2 quarts up in the freezer for later in the winter.
This bread was kind of lackluster next to the soup. I definitely need to find a new bread recipe. Any suggestions?
The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!
Have you ever heard of this before? I know I haven’t. I’ve read from other bakers that it is similar to babka, which I have tried, but only in its lifeless, supermarket variety. This stuff, by contrast, is really, really good. The recipe is here, if you want to try it.
Povitica, if you are wondering, is pronounced poh-va-teet-sa. The recipe we were given made four loaves. I’d intended to half it, but forgot to. But that’s ok, because it gave me the chance to try out some interesting fillings. The walnut filling pictured first is traditional. For the rest of the loaves, I experimented. I’d recently come across a recipe for Espresso Pumpkin Butter that I just had to try, so that went into the second loaf.
I also had some mashed sweet potatoes leftover from dinner a couple nights earlier, as well as some caramel leftover from a cake project that I need to post soon. (Really, the things you will find in my fridge!) So I threw caution to the wind and mixed them both together, tossed in a pinch of salt (which may not technically be enough to define it as it salted caramel, but, whatev.) and rolled it all up in dough. The result for both this and the pumpkin one were quite good, but I think the pumpkin is a bit better.
While savory ingredients are not common in povitica, I was encouraged by some of my fellow Daring Bakers to try out less traditional fillings.
This one was really delicious. I did have some trouble with it because it contained too much liquid – next time, less syrup – but it made the perfect accompaniment to a strong cup of coffee. This became my breakfast for several days.
It was really dense, so I can’t imagine wanting to eat more than one slice. And it did tend to sit heavily in the stomach for a while. But still….
This week was the last of my Wilton cake decorating classes. I had so much fun with the other members of my class as we all laughed at ourselves and our mistakes. I really will miss them! Oh, and I learned a lot too. 🙂
For the last four weeks we’ve been working on fondant and gumpaste. You’ve already seen the rose, calla lily, and carnation I made a couple weeks ago. The next week, we made mums, and in the final class, we put it all together and made an entire fondant covered cake.
The mum in the center is made of gumpaste. The rest of the decorations are fondant. The scalloped edge and the flower details on the sides are done with a mold. I’m a little disappointed at the way the fondant draped on the cake – tons of air bubbles underneath! – but I think I just tried to do it all too fast. (I felt a little under pressure at that point, because everyone in the class knew I’d done fondant-covered cakes before.)
You may not know this, but the chrysanthemum was the symbol of Imperial Japan, so I thought I’d try and follow that theme a bit. I’ve also been thinking for a while that I’d like to make a green tea cake, and this seemed like the perfect time to try.
Unfortunately, all the recipes I could find for green tea cake required matcha – powdered green tea, which I could not find in any of my local stores, and didn’t have time to order. What I did have on hand was this box of bagged (sencha) green tea. (I know, I know, all of you who know tea are groaning at this… and probably groaning at me for drinking bagged tea at all… )
I brewed as strong a batch of green tea as I could manage with these bags, and used it in an adaptation of my chai chocolate chip cake recipe. The resulting cake was quite good, and had a lovely texture, but was (not surprisingly) lacking in the hoped-for green tea flavor. But now I’m certain that this recipe would work beautifully with the matcha, so that goes on my (ever growing) list of recipes to try.
Plus, the matcha will give this cake a lovely color too. I considered faking it with food coloring, but decided not to bother.
Now, some people have asked me what fondant is, and what it’s for. Basically, it’s a super sweet dough that gets rolled out like pie crust and draped over the cake. I have seen absolutely gorgeous cake-art done with fondant, but I don’t know many people who actually like to eat it. Perhaps it’s best to think of fondant like the wrapping paper and ribbons you’d put on a gift. It adds to the presentation, but isn’t really part of the cake itself.
And just as with wrapping paper, you are always welcome to leave the fondant behind.