Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bundt Cake a la Mario Bros.

This thing was such a labor of love that I don't have any photos of construction (my hands were mostly covered in sticky stuff), but if you are interested in creating a Mario Bros. themed cake, this might be some good inspiration. It wasn't too difficult, I'm just a fondant novice (first timer!) so I had to get the hang of it.
I enjoy "architecting" cakes. This time around, I decided to surprise my son. He asked for just a lemon bundt cake (my favorite recipe HERE). I thought I'd kick it up a notch.

How did I make this?

1) I bought a lovely green porcelain pot at the grocery store that fit perfectly in the center of the bundt cake. I filled it with pressed rice krispie treats, then covered that with Oreo crumbs. I used 8 bamboo skewers sticking out of that, and placed four green plastic straws (two skewers per straw) over the skewers.

2) I pressed rice krispie treats into two plastic rice bowls, then stuck them together to create a sphere. Then I rolled it a little more to make it extra round.

3) I cut out a pie-shaped wedge (sort of pacman style) out of the ball.

4) I covered it with red fondant and smoothed it out as best I could.

5) I filled the mouth area with pink fondant and then fashioned a tongue. To get one layer of fondant to stick to another, brush a VERY little water on the spot and it acts like glue.

6) I rolled out the green fondant and used it to cover the straws and make a couple of big leaves (if you make the leaves out of flat rolled out fondant, you can roll up a bunch of extra into little balls and sort of place them under the leaves to give them some dimension and hold them up a little so they don't look sad and wilted.

7) I cut a bunch of circles out of white fondant, then rolled out a big long tube of white (to go around the mouth). Then I cut out a bunch of triangles for teeth, doubling them up on the bottom half so they would stick up properly.

8) I placed the teeth on the mouth, then covered them with the white tube to shape the white lips.

9) I placed the head onto the skewers (keep that plant stem fairly short and make sure the skewers don't stick up more than a couple inches out of the top of the stem or else (as I found out the hard way) they will stick out the top of the head).

10) After the head is attached, add the spots. (You are getting the benefit of my hindsight wisdom here. I put them on before I attached the head and it was a big disaster that I had to rectify as best I could.)

And that is it! Even though it came out far from perfect, this is one of my favorite cake themes I've ever done. I just think this guy has so much character - just like my now 8yo!

(I had to re-do the stem because the first time it was too long to hold up the head. I actually liked it better shorter.)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Brunch Quiche and Dreams of Paris

The day before Easter, I bought two dozen medium eggs to boil and dye. I like to dye the medium eggs because they are cute and less of an investment - nobody here really likes hardboiled eggs. Our Saturday got away from us and we never had time to actually boil or dye eggs, and Sunday was even busier. I found myself with two dozen medium sized eggs in my fridge that needed to be used.
At the same time, I had a serious craving for ham with Herb de Provence. When I was in Paris last summer, we bought some ham at a local grocery store, just for making quick sandwiches with, and I was amazed at how amazing the flavor was simply because it was seasoned with a little Herb de Provence. It is such a wonderful aromatic combination of herbs (hello, lavender!), and seems to pair well with ham.
So, I decided to delight my husband with one of his favorite foods of all times, and make him a quiche that he could eat throughout the busy work week. I decided to experiment (because that's what I do!) and came up with my own quiche recipe, and let me tell you: this was the best quiche I have ever had. I HIGHLY recommend making it if you are a quiche-lover. It's definitely not low-calorie, but would be great at a brunch, or a protein-rich start to your day.
And because I'm not a huge fan of blogs that are so filled with photos of the food that you have to scroll forever to find the recipe, here it is right at the top, for your ease.

Ham and Herb de Provence Quiche
Preheat oven to 400*
1 pie crust prepared and in 9" pie plate
(I prefer homemade. An easy recipe is just 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup butter, a pinch of salt and sugar, and a couple tablespoons of very cold water - enough to get the dough to stick together. Add flour, butter, salt, sugar, and combine using a pastry cutter or fork until dough is sticking together in pea-sized chunks, add water little by little until dough sticks together. Form ball, chill for about 15 minutes before rolling out.)

12 medium eggs or 10 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 t Dijon mustard
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 t Herb de Provence (you can find it in the bulk spice section of most higher-end grocery stores)
1 T finely chopped chives - more is not a bad thing if you feel like it (just use kitchen shears for ease)
1 cup fresh grated Jack cheese (yes, I know, not traditional Swiss like most quiche, but Jack is creamier, trust me)
1 cup chopped ham of your choice - the better quality, the better the flavor
2 T fresh parmesan cheese

1. In a large bowl, crack eggs, add heavy cream, and mustard, and blend with an immersion blender until it's a bit frothy - at least a minute, two is okay.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and gently combine so the cheese disperses (you don't want it all clumped up).
3. Pour egg mixture into pie crust. You can top with extra Jack cheese if you want.
4. Bake at 400* for 20 minutes, then turn oven down to 375* and bake for 25 more minutes (total of 45).
5. Pull it out, and give it a little jiggle. If it doesn't move, then double check by gently pressing down on the top middle. If it feels firm, take it out immediately and cool on a rack. You don't want to overcook a quiche - that's how it gets rubbery.
In this case, after 45 minutes, it was set, but the middle was a little soft when I cut into it. That actually makes it really delicious. This quiche has a very creamy texture.
Originally, I made this quiche mostly for my husband, but I ended up eating almost as much of it as he did. It was so good.
And since I'm really missing Paris, let's relive that trip with a couple of photos I took while I was there. It was glorious. I would go back tomorrow if I could. Maybe you can look at them and pretend you are in Paris while you eat the quiche. Au Revoir!
 (We were there for Bastille Day - this was shot from the balcony of our AirBNB.)
 (This is a Chateau in a tiny little town outside of Paris called Maintenon. So very Cinderella.)
 (This is inside the dome of Sacre Couer.)
(This is the Chateau Vaux le Vicomte - also a little ways outside of Paris and well worth a visit.)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Baked Raspberry Lemonade

I had the opportunity to make cupcakes for a friend's birthday recently and decided to experiment a little with a cupcake creation. It turned out amazing, and as far as I know (I confess I haven't scoured the web to see if an identical recipe exists), this is an original recipe. I modified my favorite yellow cake recipe into lemon cupcakes, with a fresh raspberry filling and a lemon buttercream frosting.
These are a little bit of work, but they are really delicious and anything but dry and boring. They taste like a little bit of summer in your dessert!
One of the things I hate most on recipe blogs is having to scroll WAY down to the bottom to find the recipe, so let's just dive right in! (Photos at the bottom.)

Raspberry Lemonade Cupcakes - makes 12
Preheat oven to 350*
Cake:
1/2 c coconut oil (melted)
1 c sugar
1 t vanilla
2 eggs (separated)
zest of one large lemon
juice of half lemon
1/4 t salt
3/4 t baking powder
1-1/2 c flour
1/2 c buttermilk

Instructions:
1. In a stand mixer, cream coconut oil and sugar until well combined and a little fluffy.
2. Add vanilla, both egg yolks, zest of lemon, juice of lemon and mix to combine.
3. Add salt, baking powder, half of flour, and mix until just combined.
4. Add half of milk, mix until just combine.
5. Add second half of flour, mix until just combined.
6. Add second half of milk, mix until just combined.
7. Add egg whites and gently fold until just combined.
8. Scoop into 12 muffin tins with liners - spread batter evenly between cups, should be filled a little past half-way point.
9. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cupcake comes out clean. I like to really baby them those last couple of minutes in the oven to make sure they don't get dry.
10. Let cool on wire rack while making filling and frosting.

Raspberry filling:
1 6oz package of fresh raspberries, cleaned
juice of half lemon
1/4-1/2 c sugar, depending on how sweet you want it - I like it more tart
1/4 c cold water
1 T corn starch
1/4 c heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

1. In a small saucepan on the stove, add raspberries, lemon juice, sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and stir occasionally until the raspberries have dissolved and the mixture begins to thicken a bit.
2. Pour mixture through a strainer to remove most of the seeds (I like a few seeds in the final mix, because it feels more authentically raspberry, but I add back in maybe a teaspoon full). Place mixture back into saucepan and back on stove, back onto about medium heat.
3. Mix cold water with corn starch. Add mixture to saucepan and whisk until thoroughly combined - this might take some vigorous mixing to make sure the cornstarch doesn't clump. Boil until mixture becomes thick, remove from heat. Cool until about room temperature.
4. Add heavy cream to mixture, and beat using an immersion blender to whip the cream a bit, until well combined and a little thicker.

Frosting:
2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c unsalted butter
zest of one lemon (If you don't want really lemony frosting, omit the zest for a more delicate flavor)
juice of half lemon
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c heavy whipping cream
Remaining raspberry filling (I had about a teaspoon left after filling cupcakes)

Instructions:
1. In stand mixer with whisk attachment, combine remaining raspberry filling, powdered sugar, butter. (The little bit of raspberry filling will give the frosting a nice, delicate pale pink color to the frosting.)
2. Add zest, lemon juice, vanilla, combine again.
3. Add heavy cream and whip on high until frosting gets nice and fluffy. (If it appears to curdle slightly, just whip it a little longer. Chances are pretty good it will actually be pretty smooth when spread with a knife or spatula.)

Assembly:
1. Cut a cone-shaped chunk out of the top of each cupcake (see photo below), then gently cut the point off.
2. Scoop raspberry filling into hole, filling almost to the top, and replace the top of the cupcake (again, as shown). You don't want the filling to ooze out of the top.
3. Pipe frosting however you desire. Top with fresh raspberry! (I was testing out a new tip and I definitely need more practice with it.)


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Beautiful Auction Art

As I mentioned in the previous post, our elementary school raises most of its PTA money through a big auction. One of the elements of the auction are individual class projects. These seem to go for quite a bit of money, so there's a little bit of pressure when creating them. I had a fun time doing one of them last year for my son's kindergarten class. This year, I decided to help my other son's third grade teacher with their project. She really wanted to the auction project to be relevant to their current curriculum, so they could possibly use parts of the art project for other assignments in class. After doing a bunch of research looking for ideas, I got my inspiration. We would do a sort of mosaic of drawings and turn it into a poster.
1. I created a square in photoshop and then had a bunch printed out, so each child in the class could make two or three drawings. (Feel free to click on it and download it.)

2. The teacher decided on a theme: in this case, we went botanical, and the kids drew plants, flowers, and berries from a specific region they were studying in class. I could see lots of other potential ideas: animals, elements of the local city, fish, patterns, self-portraits, etc.
3. Each child drew two or three plants, colored them with colored pencil, then outlined the drawings with a fine sharpie.
4. I scanned all of the pictures and brought them into photoshop.
5. I created the big grid in photoshop - the full-size poster with empty squares laid out the way I wanted it.
6. I brought in each picture and placed them in the empty grid, making sure to mix up the drawings because there were duplicates.
7. I brought the grid layer to the top, and switched it to the multiply layer setting so that the drawings would be visible underneath it.
8. I cleaned up any stray colored pencil lines, and erased any drawing parts that fell outside the grid lines.
9. I added the description text at the bottom.
10. I had it printed through mpix.com.

One thing I like about doing auction projects digitally is that they can be reproduced. If an auction project is popular, the PTA can decide to sell a second or third copy for the same price as the first was bid on and double their money. These projects also make excellent end-of-year teacher gifts, or they have the possibility of being permanently displayed somewhere in the school.
The teacher was able to use the scanned drawings for relevant reports the kids were working on, as well as to make some cute thank you notes for a guest visitor to their classroom.

Big Auction Dessert

Our elementary school raises most of its yearly PTA funds through a big auction. We live in a fairly high-rent district (we are the poor people here - LOL), so we can't actually afford to attend the auction, but I can definitely help create the stuff that raises the money. This year, I helped with a class auction project, and then I created a special dessert for the Dessert Dash.
I love an excuse to experiment with cakes - especially when I don't have to eat them (calorie-free experimentation!). This time, I decided to combine two of my favorites: chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cake. Let me start by warning that this is a many-hours process.
Here's how I did it:
1. I made a chocolate cake from scratch in two 9" cake pans, cooled them and froze them overnight. Before freezing them, I made sure to cut them down a bit so they were both as flat as possible. I used THIS recipe (mostly because I had only cocoa powder, no baking chocolate).
2. I baked a full batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookies, making sure to bake a couple of giant ones (more than one in case one came out funky), and the rest fairly small (like a couple inches in diameter). I baked them a little more than I normally would because I wanted the crunch. Alton Brown's chocolate chip cookies are my favorite, recipe HERE.
3. In the morning, I made a 1-1/2 batch of a really fluffy vanilla buttercream frosting. I used THIS one.
4. Place one of the cakes on the plate with a little frosting underneath to cement it down. Cover the top of that cake with a layer of frosting. Chop up a few smaller chocolate chip cookies and arrange them on top of the frosting in a single flat layer. Top that with another layer of frosting.
5. Place the second cake on top of the frosting, and ice the entire cake with most of the rest of the frosting (if there's a little left, put it in an icing bag).
6. While the frosting is setting on the cake (which is nice and easy since the cake is still kind of frozen), make a batch of ganache. Let it cool a bit so it won't melt the frosting. HERE is a recipe for basic ganache.
7. Place ganache in some kind of squeeze bottle (I use the cheap dollar store plastic ketchup/mustard containers). run a line or two of ganache around the very outside edge of the cake so that the ganache runs down the sides. Embellish a little bit by squeezing dots at the edge of the cake where you want more drip. Then cover the entire top of the cake with a layer of ganache. You will have leftover ganache. Do find some other way to enjoy it.
8. Arrange big cookie in the center of the top of the cake, and then embellish as you like with the smaller ones around it. If you had extra frosting like I did, I added some decorative frosting to the top.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Building Pea Shooters Take TWO!

This year, my boys ALL wanted to be various Pea Shooters, so we dressed my husband up as the zombie and it was great fun. Since I had created a Pea Shooter the previous year, I already knew what I was doing! Wahoo! So, here is an Ice Pea, A Fire Pea, and a Repeater Pea (just repurposed last year's pea shooter by adding eye brows and a couple more leaves - easy-peasy - see what I did there?). Tutorial from last year found HERE. And then here are a few construction photos I took along the way. The ice pea crystals were really hard to get to stay. I used a whole lot of tacky glue and then also thumb tacks underneath sticking into the foam core. I also brushed the Ice Pea with iridescent glitter paint.



I will admit we lost a couple of the crystals on our walk that I had to pocket and reapply. Oh well. It was also a little back-heavy, so my son had to kind of hold the face hold down.
And the finished product. I am so glad our neighbor decorates her front yard so well for Halloween! Perfect for our theme! This was such a fun photoshoot.

 (He wouldn't let me paint his face. HAHA!)


 My kids told me they felt like celebrities, because so many people stopped them to compliment them on their costumes.
We are urban dwellers, so we trick-or-treat at businesses instead of houses. It's actually really fun.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Birthday Zombies

The final birthday cake request of the year came from my middle son. He wanted a Plants vs. Zombies cake. Again, I didn't find a lot of (amateur) PvsZ cakes on Pinterest, so I had to go my own route. This one is actually really easy to make as long as you own a set of THESE - no, I didn't make fondant creatures because who has time for that???
So, here are the mechanics of the cake:
1. I made my cake of choice (he wanted lemon with a lemon curd filling) in two standard-sized square cake pans.
2. I frosted the cake with regular ol' white buttercream frosting.
3. I scored a 6x6 checkerboard pattern into the top of the cake lightly with a butter knife.
4. Using two different shades of green frosting, and a leaf/grass frosting tip, I filled in each square in different directions to create the "game board."
5. I took the left-over green frosting and created grass blades on the sides of the cake, just to give it a little extra flair.
6. I placed the figurines in a somewhat believable manner.
Voila! PvsZ cake that took very little time.
Here it is with its thrilled recipient!


È