Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ode to Stay at Home Moms (and Dads) {Hydrangea Cupcake How To}

During Spring Break from school, my 6 year old niece came to stay with us for a few days.  I absolutely love having her over.  What a great excuse to do all the fun things you loved as a kid but might be shunned doing now, like coloring with crayons or watching Beauty and the Beast 5 times in a row.  Plus, it gave me insight in what it might be like being a stay at home mom, which I've learned can be abbreviated as SAHM.  It seems people I know are either team SAHM or team successful working mom.

Dear Lord, what a glimpse I got.  I was trying to spend time with her, clean, bake, and still shower and look presentable.  I've seen TV shows and met women who can do it.  They look amazing!  Their houses are perfectly ordered.  They violate thermodynamic laws of entropy!  It's disorder to order. 

From a scientific standpoint this is NOT POSSIBLE!  I tried.  Those women must be TV magic or aliens.  Or perhaps it takes years of practice.  That's not to say I didn't complete some of my tasks, but all were not accomplished or all were only half done.  How do they do it and make it look so easy?  How is it that our society shuns these individuals as if they don't have 'real' jobs?  Let me tell you, before you DARE insult a stay at home parent, try it yourself for a few weeks.  Some people can't even handle their own kids that long.  It's challenging.  However, it was a truly rewarding experience and I only did it for a few days.

One thing we did she got a big kick out of was frost some leftover strawberry cupcakes I had frozen for this exact purpose.  I placed some purple buttercream frosting I had from a couple of days before in a pastry bag with a 2D tip.  I've also heard you can place the same tip in a big plastic bag you snip a corner off of.  I've even done the work with a smaller star tip when I didn't own a 2D.  The result of this is hydrangea cupcakes.  Yep, the beautiful 'snowball' flower as we called it when we were kids.
She was so proud!
Then with me holding and positioning the cupcake I taught her to "squeeze and lift" the frosting bag all around the cupcake.  I said, "Boo, you just hold the frosting in the same hand you color with like you are about to milk a cow."  Being a country girl, I think this was the easiest way to explain it.  So all over the cupcake we "squeeze and lift".  It's a decent amount of pressure to get medium consistency frosting out so I helped hold it a bit too, but she did most of the work. 
Isn't this just the cutest!?

Since we were also working on decorating cookies (a later post), she added some yellow royal icing centers to a couple of the cupcakes for a different look.

These cuppies would look even better with a mix of lighter purple and blue or pale green and pink to mimmick real hydrangea flowers.

Oddly, she really just wanted the icing off them.
It's a really simple activity that you can get the kids in on.  While they eat the fruits of their labor you might even be able to fold a load of laundry. 

Hope your day is as delicious as ours was and God bless SAHM's everywhere.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Am Baker--Vertical Cake

Not too long ago I stumbled upon "I am baker", the blog.  I loved her vertical cake tutorial.  Mostly because I have an inappropriate obsession with French pastries.  Vertical cakes remind me very much of the beautiful designs seen on so many sophisticated cakes in patisserie shops.  I'd seen the Cake Boss do a checkered cake and it seemed more involved, but the vertical cake was a perfect compromise.  Naturally, I had to try it. 

Maybe, I should have a reason for making cake (silly, I know).  Well conviently, I knew someone have a birthday soon and our church does a weekly potluck.  Who better to force cake on than your church members and your friends?!  Most will be kind enough to compliment you, boosting your self esteem, and the rest will be honest with your mistakes without breaking your heart or refusing to order from you again. Perfect!  

So following Ms. Amanda's tutorial I made the cakes using my own recipes.  Here is what I learned.

I decided to make my husband's favorite recipe from scratch.  What I call Vanilla Nut, or Yellow cake from scratch.  I made it with almond milk, which I do often for us since we don't typically drink regular, cow milk.  It adds to the "nut" factor (I also put about 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract in it).  It's a typical scratch cake: cream butter and sugar, whisk dry ingredients, etc.

Notice in the picture above that I used "real" vanilla, rather than imitation.  I've noticed that imitation vanilla doesn't have as pure or as tasty of a flavor compared to its counterpart, at least in cakes.  If you aren't a cake snob or concerned about artificial flavor addititves and you want to save some cash, use imitation.  I'd wage to say no one, not even cake snobs would know the difference.

I baked the Vanilla Nut cake in two 9 inch pans.  While that baked I made a raspberry cake using the same recipe, but substituting raspberry flavoring for the vanilla and almond flavor.  Raspberry cake should be pink too, right?! 

When they finished baking they looked like this. 

My cakes were almost level, but they have a "skin" on them which I typically rub or peal off when they're cool.  It's a texture thing for me.  And I saw a French baker do it to his sponge cakes.

*Make sure you grease and flour your pans well and/or use wax or parchement paper in the bottom of you pans for easy release.  Also, smooth out the tops of the batter in the pans prior to baking to decrease domed tops.

Now, the original tutorial said to level them, stack them within 5 minutes, and put them in the freezer for several hours.  I believe this is to assist in adhering to one another.   However, I don't feel this is absolutely necessary as there are other ways to assure adherence.  Also, because I tried to get them out so fast, I forgot to run a knife along the edges on the raspberry cake.  When a cake is warm it is also more delicate and some of the sides longed to be with the pan more than they longed to be in my belly.  See where it's messed up?  No worries though, frosting covers a multitude of sins (on cake, not you, so don't cover yourself or your spouse in frosting.)

She also said to put simple syrup at various stages on the cakes.  I skipped this.  I was fearful for this particular recipe for it imparting too much sweetness, making it less stable for carving, and adding unnecessary calories.  Now, it's a flippin cake.  Calorie counting was kinda silly so forgive me.  In hindsight, the simple syrup was a necessity FOR the stability.  It would have adhered the pieces together and I could have let the cake cool more which is an absolute must for more delicate cakes.  (A box cake would have crumbled had it not cooled for more than 5 minutes being handled that much.)

I  froze the cakes overnight.  I cut the cakes the next morning in the circles with a VERY sharp knife, not a serated one to reduce crumbs.  I was very careful when I separted the layers because I knew I would have missed spots cutting the circles.

Alternate your cake colors or flavors.

Cut and separate the layers while the cake is still frozen.


I assembled the two cakes and refroze.  One cake I froze until the end of the week (wrapped up).  The other I "dirty frosted" and then took to a cake class to frost and begin decorations.  I actually then froze it, also for a week.
*This is when I should have simple syruped the cake a bit between the layers so they would have stuck together better when we cut it to eat it.

I used a basic buttercream recipe, not a smooth meringue buttercream.  In general, I don't have problems with this recipe, but as I've been making flowers I've noticed that this recipe will leave "feathered" flowers.  They might look more like they do in nature, but I dislike it very much so.  I mean, look at the original cake from Amanda.  It's breathtaking.  The roses are perfect.  So, if you attempt it, use a creamier buttercream, or heck, cheat and use canned frosting. 

The buttercream was a medium consistency, not quite thin.

My assortment of frosting spatulas.  The offset one is a must.

Dirty frosting crumb coats the cake.

The frosted bird cake prior to smoothing out.
If you are doing the roses all over your cake, it's not necessary to smooth the frosting because you won't see it anyway. 

For the birthday cake I put a buttercream blue bird on it. 
For the church cake I used my 1M tip as suggested and did the roses.  People seemed rather impressed with the roses, which was flattering considering it wasn't my idea and it was ridiculously easy to swirl frosting all over it.

Prior to airbrushing.  See the feathering?  ARG.
Finished!  Pink airbrush out of a can!  Thanks Wilton!

Little Birdy told me it was yummy!

Raspberry and Vanilla Nut vertical cake.
Here is the inside.  Cool, huh?  But see how the layers anen't snug?  I think the simple syrup would have fixed that.  It might not be necessary with a less dense cake but this one doesn't smoosh together.  Also, this one didn't fall apart as badly as the other for whatever reason.  We cut the other one up all at the same time and as people got thier pieces it separated a bit. 

Now you try.  People will think you are an absolute genius.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's for dinner?

I like easy, healthy dinners.  Cake is an easy dinner, but not the healthiest.  So, although I didn't bake it, I did make a mostly healthy dinner last night.  There are parts of it you could bake yourself, but like I said, I like easy dinners.  I don't have children yet, but I already know what it's like to so busy you don't have time to think. 

At any given momment, I have a running list of everything I need to get done at work and home.  I need to: run that experiment, iron hubby's work clothes, do the dishes, make that frosting, grab milk from the store, get something made for the church pot luck, call the insurance company, call my mom, call sissy, who's birthday is next week?, what time is family dinner?, omg I just saw the funniest thing-gotta text Tomato and Liverpool, did I tell my hubby I appreciate him today?, ugh I've eaten too much bad stuff I need to workout, I want to nap, what did I need to do in the lab?.....  Yeah, the list is endless.  No, you aren't the only crazy person out there and your list is even bigger if you have babies!

So, like I was saying.  I made dinner.  Hummus and veggie stuffed pitas with falafel.  These are vegetarian, as I'm a vegetaria.  (I read A LOT of disturbing research articles and I have an over active imagination.  Plus, it's cheaper and allows me to consume those extra calories in dessert.)  I can't always find the flavor of hummus I like in a carton big enough for two people so I made my own.

Here's how:


2 cans of chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, drained
1/4 cup of water
1/2 cup of your favorite oil based dressing--I've used a few flavors: Greek, Ginger and Sesame, Tomato Bruschetta, etc
1 TBS of lemon juice, up to 3 for taste preference
1 TBS of tahini paste (optional and not recommended if doing dressing with sesame already in it)
1 TBS of chopped garlic (optional)
1/2 teaspoon of salt (if you have cardiovascular disease, do not add this, the beans have enough, you addict)
*If you do not use an oil dressing, you will need to add 2 TBS of olive oil and another 1/4 cup of water.

After you have drained the chickpeas, you can rinse them if you prefer.  This removes all that, questionable preservative liquid they're in and will reduce any, uh, discomfort associated with eating beans.  I do this for all canned beans.  It helps keep the romance alive in my marriage, I think.  Dump the beans into a food processor or a blender.  I used a blender, as I don't have room in my teensy kitchen currently to use my food processor on the counter.  Remember, beans are good for you.  They have protein AND fiber, which is good for your stressed out arteries.  This also means they are filling, just like the meat you normally eat.  Unlike the meat you normally eat though, these little kernals of delish are lower in fat, among other things.
The beans

Add all your other ingredients, as well. 
Now here, are some pitfalls I have encountered.  Perhaps because I use a blender.  If the liquid isn't in there, the beans won't blend.  You may have to STOP the blender and use a small, flexible spatula to assist the process by gently stirring.  Generally, I have to do this 3-4 times because I don't want chunky hummus.  Using a potato masher doesn't work.  The "skins" of the beans elude this device.  So, when you are done, your hummus should resemble this.  Refridgerate it.  It's ready when you are!

Next I wanted to saute some fresh squash and zucchini up.  Alas, it had been wrapped up in a plastic bag with no air but lots of moisture.  It was rotten.  Now what?!  I was in lounge wear and I didn't want to run across town since I was going to have to do that later for a class.  Gotta save your gas money in this economy.  So I pulled out the frozen mixed veggies and some frozen califlower.  I did the not as healthy microwave, rather than the steam or quick saute.  It was easy though!
While that nuked (how appropriate a term), I took a falafel mix I found at Wal-Mart in the ethnic food aisle and followed its directions.  It says to roll it into 1 inch balls, so I assumed it meant with my bare, clean hands, but that was so darn messy I think its is better to use a tiny ice cream or cookie scoop.  I don't have that .  I used a spoon.  My falafel balls did not look near as pretty as the guy from Jordan down on the town square, but it was my first time.
Now since, those tasty little treats are cooked in oil, I drained them on a finely knit kitchen towl to reduce the impact on my muffin top. 
After that, I took my pita bread, store bought, rather than made fresh (I told you I cheated) and put in the chilled hummus, some veggies, and low-fat feta cheese with the falafel on the side.  A-MAZING.  And good for you too! 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dangerous Love Affair

Ohh first blog!  What to write?  I want to give insight into who I am, what this blog will be about.  I want it to be a truthful representation of me.  I want people to actually read it!  But considering no one is currently "following" me, I suppose I'll have to settle for just getting my thoughts out of croweded, disorganized space known as my brain.  Like the kitchen of your new apartment, stacked tall with carboard boxes, I hope to create order from chaos, by carefully unpacking each thought and giving it a home. 

The situation is thus, I'm at a a crossroad of what to do with my life.  I have been working diligently to be a scientist for a few years now, but I'm not so sure I should be.  The reasons are extensive, personal, and won't be shared just yet.  I also love medical science.  As a child, I wanted to be a doctor, but circumstances, or rather poor choices on my part, led me away from this.  The passion for medical work is still strong within me though. 

And then, there's dessert.  Oh decedant dessert.  Layers of moist, delicate chocolate cake sandwiched between melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate mousse, and topped with rich, sinful ganache.  How can you NOT LOVE that?  Unless you are a chocolate hater and then there is always buttery sugar cookies in cute little spring shapes.  It's art.  All dessert is edible art.  Love that!  I think the paragraphs below best describe my personal battle.

I’m torn between two loves.  A dangerous love affair.  I know the sensible thing to do is ignore the hunger of the starving wolf, but clearly, as is evidenced by the soaking ink on this sheet, the animal within will not die easily.  I put on my coat, my gloves and proceed with sensible things.  Reliable science.  Step by step instructions.  Ideas already formed into facts, not freely changed.   I caged the wolf.  I locked him away in my head and he lied there, quiet, for years almost.  As most loyal pets, he did not want to displease his owner.  So he never scratched at the door and he rarely begged for food.  I suppose in hindsight, I should have killed him.  It would, in fact, be the humane thing to do.  Put him to sleep.  So he would feel no pain and I would feel no more guilt of neglect.  But I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  I was more selfish than I care to admit. 

Now look.  That moonstruck beast has managed to claw his way out of those bars.  Left cornered by a hunger-crazed creature that was liable to tear my heart out, I did the only thing any one could do, so I thought.  I fed it ‘til he could eat no more.  Terrible, terrible choice.  Anyone who’s known a deranged ex will tell you that.  Regretfully, once you feed those strays they keep coming back for more.  Now, I’m finding my self between two loves.  Two lovers.  I feel completely divided, incapable of choosing either.  To leave the warmth and comfort of this one is to go to uncertainty and passion in the other.  Truthfully, neither is anchored, which is quite typical of me.  At any moment either love could catch the wind and set sail to the hazy, red tinged horizon or the ominous, brooding clouds of steel. 

Sensibility versus a wolf seems hardly a fight at all.  It’s a mammal versus a loaded gun.   A round of lead pumped into a dog surely exterminates life.  Supposing, that is, you actually loaded the gun, that you aimed precisely, and that you have the brazenness to pull the trigger on love.  Who out there with a soul and with the Lord as their shepherd can say they are willing to kill anything, particularly love?

So I stand in a labyrinth, completely torn about which way to turn.  I pray that God tells me the direction to take, but I hear nothing but whispers in the wind that cannot be made out.  All the while I stand, for years even, rivers of tears down my face, taking two steps to the right and four steps to the left, back and forth.  I never thought I’d be that girl.  The girl who left the one to pine after the other, a girl whose appetite cannot be satiated.  All because I’m torn between two loves--caught either way, in a dangerous love affair.

Suffice it to say, I'm lost, and searching for dessert.