Monday, March 12, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake Fourth Birthday Cake and Hay Stack Smash cake

The last week of February and the first week of March are filled with birthday celebrations and fun in our house! This year, my daughter celebrated her fourth birthday on March fourth. About 6 months in advance, she, very specifically, requested that I please make her Strawberry Shortcake's house as her birthday cake. As the day drew nearer, and I started work on the elements of the cake, she would wake up each morning and quiz me on which elements I had completed.

"Mommy, did you make the flowers? Did you make the pink door? It has to have a PINK door" What can I say? She had a very specific vision of what she wanted! However, the day before I started work on the cake, I found inspiration in this Strawberry Shortcake cake. I liked the use of green fondant on the top of the cake to give the look of grass. I had also been wanting to try my hand at fondant ruffle details, so I added those to the design. To keep in line with the birthday girl's vision, I gave the house a pink door and matching round windows. I also added a giant sunflower.

The ruffle was not the only new technique I tried on this cake. I used rice krispie treats covered in royal icing to form the giant strawberry house. For some reason, I have been fearful of working with krispie treats, but it turned out to be very easy! I began to form the strawberry while the treats were still warm and pliable and then smoothed them into place with two pieces of parchment paper. Strawberry Shortcake and Custard are a toy we had on hand. In the end my little girl was very pleased with my blended vision version of her cake!

My son turned one on February 28th. I wanted a tractor/barnyard theme for him...ahhh so nice to have total decision making control :) I went with this hay stack smash cake. The tractor is rice krispie treats covered in fondant. The chicken, pig and baby are gumpaste. The baby came out strange looking and I thought I was working with gumpaste for the diaper, but maybe I grabbed fondant, because the weight of the figure caused the diaper to collapse and gave the baby a big bottom :/ Oh well, my little guy had fun smashing his cake regardless of the odd looking baby!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Pink and Green Monkey First Birthday Cake and Smash Cake

Our neice Chloe turned one year old! Her Mom and Dad gave her a wonderful birthday party yesterday with this adorable decor:

Chloe's mom, Sarah, let me have free reign with the design, and with such fun decor for inspiration, I had a lot of fun! The big cake is covered in buttercream with fondant decorations and the monkey is sculpted from gumpaste. I also made a little smash cake for the birthday girl with fun, and easy!, ribbon piping. All the cake is vanilla with vanilla buttercream filling.

smash cake

party setup

Happy Birthday Chloe!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Assorted Valentine's Day Cupcakes and Black Forest Cupcakes with Cherry Liqueur Buttercream Recipe

I have never been hugely into celebrating Valentine's Day. I will not bore you with all the bah humbug reasons why V-Day has not earned a place on my holiday hit list. We'll just say I've never thought the day was worth making a fuss over. This year however, my almost 4 year old daughter was so jazzed up about her approaching Valentine's Day party at her pre-school that I could not help but get into the spirit a little.

Okay, maybe I got into the spirit a lot.

You see, I'm usually not a big cupcake baker either. I prefer making one big, uniquely decorated cake to making many similarly decorated small ones. Maybe cupid got me while I was sleeping or something, because as Valentine's Day approached I fell in love with the idea of cupcakes, many different kinds, to suit the many different tastes of all the Valentines in our lives.

So, I made some vanilla cupcakes frosted with vanilla buttercream and decorated with tiny candy hearts.

I also made chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting and topped with a delicate red chocolate heart I made by piping some melted candy melts onto a silicone baking sheet.

I wasn't done there. I felt I would be remiss to bake 6 or 7 dozen cupcakes for Valentine's Day and not include red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. I topped them with a whimsical ( I am using this word as a euphemism for messy) sugar crystal heart.

Last but not least, I made Black Forest cupcakes with cherry filling, frosted with cherry liqueur buttercream, and dotted with tiny cocoa pearls.  These were a new cupcake for me, but have turned out to be my new personal favorite.

My daughter proclaimed the cupcakes "AHHMAZING!" and was very excited to give them as a Valentine's gift to the teachers and staff at her school. My husband and I also shared some with our coworkers at our respective offices. I hope these little treats brought a little joy into our Valentines' lives. With as much joy as my little girl's enthusiasm and excitement has brought me, the least I can do is pay it forward!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Black Forest Cupcakes with Cherry Liqueur Buttercream  basic concept and cherry filling recipe from Cupcake Project

Make a batch of your favorite chocolate cupcakes. I used the Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake recipe and adjusted the baking time down to 20 minutes.

Cherry Filling

1 lb cherries, washed, pitted, and destemmed ( I used a 12 oz. bag of frozen cherries)
1/4 C water
3/4 C sugar

1.Throw all the ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil.
2.Reduce heat and let mixture simmer for 15 minutes, stirring periodically.
3.Remove from heat and let cool

Cherry Liqueur Buttercream
I use this buttercream recipe and substitute the cream for 2 (okay maybe closer to 3) Tablespoons of  a cherry liqueur. I used Dekuyper's Michigan Cherry Liqueur.

When the cupcakes are cooled core out the center and put in a few cherries from the cooled cherry mixture and spoon in a few teaspoons of the juice. Replace the tops.

After all the cupcakes are filled add 3 Tablespoons of cherry liqueur to the remaining cherry and sugar syrup mixture. Brush a generous amount over the top of each cupcake.

Frost with the Cherry Liqueur Buttercream and decorate as you would like.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jungle Themed Baby Shower Cake with Koala Topper

This jungle themed baby shower cake was designed to coordinate with the shower invitation. The tree decoration is made from fondant as are the animals on the side of the cake. The 2D animals are hand painted with gel food coloring. The Koala on top is holding a blue baby blanket and is made from gumpaste.

My friend Michele asked me to make this cake for her baby sister, Laura who is expecting a sweet baby boy named Reid in March. I have known this family for 17 years, so this was a special cake to make! The flavors are chocolate cake with classic chocolate buttercream filling per the expectant mother's request.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chocolate Chocolate Whoopie Pies

These chocolate whoopie pies, or blackmoons as my family calls them, were an experiment. I was headed to my friend Michele's house to watch the movie "Water for Elephants" (I had actually just finished reading the book, which I thought was amazing) and I had texted her to ask if there was anything I could bring. She texted back to bring any sweets I had lying around :)

I actually didn't have anything in the house, but I wanted to try chocolate filled whoopie pies so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give them a whirl. I have an adaptation of these in mind to go with my son's first birthday theme, but I don't want to say any more about that and give away the surprise!

I have made the run of the mill white creme version of these (my Mom's recipe) many times, but have never done them with chocolate filling. Since I was altering the recipe I thought I had better give them a test run. I was also using a whoopie pie pan and had only used it one other time. Since I was going for a smaller whoopie pie this time, I wanted to make sure the pan would work and I also needed to figure out if I would have to adjust the baking time (which I did).

Michele brought these into work with her the next day and was kind enough to send me her teams' reviews of them. The chocolate filling was a hit, but they were also deemed a bit dry. I adjusted the baking time down to 8 minutes from 10 to remedy that, though I do find whoopie pie cake to be a bit dry anyway. So overall,  I think I am on the right track! I will be sure to post the final results after the combined birthday party we are hosting for our son and daughter in March. Yes, we have 2 kids with birthdays less than a week apart. There are lots of birthday cake pictures coming up in the near future!

Chocolate Chocolate Whoopie Pies

For the cakes:

2 cups flour
1tsp salt
6 tbsp shortening
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
6 Tbsp cocoa
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk

Sift flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa together. Cream shortening and sugar together in a small bowl and then add to the dry ingredients. Also add the egg, milk and vanilla and mix until just combined.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet, or whoopie pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes if using a whoopie pie pan and 10 minutes if using a cookie sheet.

Remove the whoopie pie halves to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before filling.

For the filling:

6 Tbsp shortening
1 cup powdered sugar
2 T
6 Tbsp marshmallow fluff
2 tsp evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
4oz bittersweet Ghiradelli baking chocolate melted and cooled

Using a mixer, blend all ingredients together at medium low speed except for the melted chocolate. Once blended slowly mix in the chocolate at low speed. Once the chocolate is combined return the mixer to medium low speed for 1 minute.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Butternut Squash Macaroni or Healthier Macaroni and Cheese

Yes, this is a caking and baking blog. Yes, the picture above does not include a cake or baked good. I do apologize if I am disappointing anyone. It's just that, like many of you I am sure, with the advent of the New Year I have resolved to serve healthier foods to my family.

It's not that we were eating badly before. Even though I bake so much, we don't eat cake for every meal, believe it or not! However, we are sometimes more indulgent than we need to be. For example, a few months back when Cadence BEGGED me, her big blue eyes so serious, for mac 'n cheese I immediately consulted Google for Paula Deen's recipe. While making it and serving it I realized, that while it is delicious, Paula's is a recipe best reserved for special occasions.

So I thought I would start there with my vow to serve healthier options: mac 'n cheese. I found this particular recipe while browsing Food Gawker. It comes from "Daily Unadventures in Cooking". Now, I normally would shy away from a recipe like this because I would assume that substituting a vegetable for tons and tons of cheese would be setting myself up for a massive fail. However, I took a chance on this recipe for some reason, and it was quite good!

I had to make a few tweaks to the recipe according to what I had in the house. I used shredded Parmesan and Romano instead of the blue cheese and dried rosemary instead of fresh sage. I also did not have whole milk so I used skim and it did not seem to impact the thickness of the sauce at all. I also omitted the chili flakes.  Despite the substitutions, my husband, my 10 month old son, Trevor, and myself really enjoyed this. The squash lends the dish a creaminess and the rosmary, garlic and onions give it a nice flavor. Cadence, well, she wasn't fooled, and she did say she didn't like this kind and she wanted the "other" mac 'n cheese. It didn't take too much coaxing to get her to eat a decent sized portion though. I would say 3 out of 4 aboard the eating healthier train is not bad!

Butternut Squash Macaroni
adapted according to what I had in the house from Daily Unadventures in Cooking

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 onion, grated
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tablespoon flour
2 1/4 cups skim milk
2 cups butternut squash puree
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups dried macaroni (I used elbow)
3 vine ripened tomatoes, chopped
1 cup shredded Parmesan and Romano cheese
Put a big pot of water on to boil. While you are waiting for it to boil, start your sauce. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add onions. Sweat over low heat until sweet and tender. Add the garlic and dried rosemary and continue sweating until garlic is softened, stirring regularly.

Sprinkle the flour on top and stir it in. Stir the flour mixture over medium heat for 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk 1/4 cup at a time, waiting until it starts simmering before stirring in the next batch. Whisk in the squash. Season with salt and pepper to taste, approximately 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a gently simmer, stirring occasionally. Turn on oven to 375F.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, undercooking slightly. Drain. Fold the pasta, tomatoes and grated parmesan and romano into the sauce. Transfer to a casserole dish and bake for 10 minutes to let the cheese melt. Serve hot.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Easy Sugar Cookies: My Favorite Recipe of 2010

The cookies pictured above are classic, delicious, and come together quickly with just 7 ingredients. I don't even want to admit how many of these I can eat warm and right out of the oven. However, the cookies pictured above almost did not make the blog. So why, you ask, am I now posting them as my favorite recipe of 2010? Well, that my friends, involves a story and a bit of a sappy one at that. Those of you reading this, who know me well, know I am a story teller, and a sap. For those of you who are just getting to know me, here I am, all sappy and telling a story.

The story begins a few evenings before Christmas Eve 2010. I had wanted to make some sugar cookies to leave out for Santa Claus with my nearly 4 year old daughter, Cadence as my helper. In the before-Christmas-rush I had forgotten to pick out a good cookie recipe. So at the last minute I searched Google for easy sugar cookie recipes. I needed something I could make fast! I ran across the recipe for these cookies on and everything worked out great. The cookies mixed up and baked quickly so Cadence didn't get bored and wander off to do something more interesting. They come out wonderfully soft with just a hint of crispiness..not bad for an easy sugar cookie recipe. Cadence sure was proud setting out the cookies she made for Santa on Christmas Eve and that would be the end of the story...but...

My very good friend Michele had decided to have a Christmas Cookie Club party at her house on December 30th. Somehow, we were just as busy after Christmas as we had been before. I finally sat down to hunt for a recipe for the cookie exchange and came up with some kind of chocolate dipped coconut shortbread recipe. It was 9pm on December 29th before I was able to shop for the ingredients and after 10pm before I sat  down to REALLY read the recipe and lo and behold those suckers had to set up in the refrigerator for at least an hour before they could be baked! I felt defeated. Then I remembered the easy sugar cookies! I went to bed and whipped up a batch the next morning before my kids woke up.

I took Cadence with me to the cookie exchange the next day. Sampling many different kinds of cookies in one sitting was one of her dreams come true. At the party, each person got up, told any history behind their recipe and presented their cookies for sampling. Everyone did such a good job! We tasted Ginger Rounds, Cutout Sugar Cookies, Cream Cheese Lemon Wreaths, Oatmeal Cream Cheese Butterchotch Cookie Bars, Cookie Biscotti Sticks and more! I felt a little bashful about about my easy sugar cookies, but when we passed them around Cadence was just as proud as she could be. When we sat back down, she wanted to taste one of our own cookies. When she bit into it she let out and exaggerated , "MMMMmmmm," then she said, "Mommy, you made the BEST cookies!"

Mine certainly were not the best, but I believe to her they were, because they were more than just a sugar cookie. To my daughter, those cookies held the memory of her and I making them together for Santa Claus. They held the memory of her waking up to find the jolly old guy had enjoyed those cookies down to the last crumb. Those simple cookies held in them, the joy of being a child at Christmas. At the time, her comment melted my heart for sure, but it really didn't sink in until days later that these cookies are my favorite recipe of last year. They earn that title because the intentions I had in making this recipe were perfectly realized in the end product. With this recipe we made a memory. I hope for myself, and all of you, that we are able to do the same many times over in 2012.

Wishing you all a belated, yet wonderful and prosperous 2012!

Easy Sugar Cookies


2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

2.In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients. Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets.

3.Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden. Let stand on cookie sheet two minutes before removing to cool on wire racks.