Valentine’s Day Cake

I will pretty much celebrate any holiday if it means I get to bake. Pair that with access to a photographer and I will bake a million things! So, in continuation with the blog post from the past couple days, I am going to continue with another Valentine’s Day treat.

I turned to my trusty cook book, BakeWise by the wonderful Shirley O. Corriher. I love this book because, not only does it have incredible recipes, but the explanations on why you want to do something a certain way and tips on how to actually do them, are  unmatched. So, I wouldn’t be doing the cookbook justice if I didn’t strong encourage you to get a copy for yourselves. The recipe that I used for the cake was the magnificent moist golden cake – it is a moist and sweet cake that was easily sliced into three layers.

I had much more success with this cake, as compared to my last; however, it was still far from seamless. After baking for 40 minutes, I open the over door so that I could insert a toothpick into the cake to see if it was done. Unfortunately, when I opened the door, the middle of the cake dropped. I saw it happening and quickly shut the door and continued cooking the cake for another 5 or so minutes. I seemed to limit the damage, but there was a slight sink hole in the middle of my cake and when I sliced it open, you could see that the middle was slightly undercooked. So while I’ve progressed and aren’t overflowing my cake pans anymore, it seems as though I still a bit of practicing left to do before I achieve perfection!

Up next was my favorite part – frosting and decorating. I decided to make Shirley’s Crusting Confectioners’ Sugar Buttercream because I was intrigued by the smoothing technique she described that called for using a Viva paper towel (I know, now you are probably intrigued too!)

Crusting Confectioner’s Sugar Buttercream

Make about 4 cups (*I made a half recipe and had plenty to frost a three layer cake)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Crisco or other shortening with emulsifiers
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 tablespoons clean vanilla flavoring (if you can’t find this, regular works – just know your icing won’t be bright white)
8 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons meringue powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 to 5 tablespoons water
plain white Viva paper towels

  1. With the paddle attachment of a mixer, whip the butter until soft, and then whip in the shortening. Beat in the extract and flavoring on low-speed.
  2. Sift the sugar through a large strainer with medium mesh just to remove any lumps. Beat the sugar and the meringue powder into the fat mixture on the lowest speed. Scrape down the sides as needed.
  3. Stir the salt into the water to dissolve and mix it into the icing thoroughly on low-speed only.
  4. Adjust consistency to a spreadable icing with a little more water or confectioners’ sugar. Do not over mix or mix on high-speed.
  5. For a very smooth cake, similar to a cake draped with rolled fondant, let the icing dry just until a dry Viva paper towel touched to the side does not stick, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the humidity. To create an absolutely smooth surface, use a plain white Viva paper towel  and start with the sides. Place the towel against the side and smooth up and down gently with your fingers or palm. Do not allow the towel to pleat or fold. If desired, smooth a contour edge and smooth the top.

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I decided to add chocolate piping around the top and bottom (similar to the design that I did on my last cake). I then finished it off with some shaved milk chocolate on the top – with a hearth silhouette for Valentine’s Day.

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I was happy with the way it turned out but as I said earlier, I still have  a long ways to go before I can compete on Cupcake Wars or start can claim to be the next Cake Boss :) Unfortunately, for my co-workers, that means a lot more cake tasting!

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope yours is filled with love and baked goods.

Valentine’s Day Cookies – Part 2

Yesterday I posted about the cookie part of the Valentine’s Day sugar cookies that I made. However, everyone knows the best part of any good sugar cookies is the frosting.

Some places will use royal icing for their frosting and pipe it onto the cookie. While this definitely allows for a clean and professional look, they don’t taste that great. For these cookies, we use a frosting that has a much better flavor, but has to be spread onto the cookie and has a more rustic feel.

Sugar Cookie Frosting

3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup margarine (Imperial or Blue Bonnet) *cut up if cold
1/4 cup half-n-half

  1. Pull all of the ingredients in the mixer
  2. After blending, whip on high for 5 minutes
  3. Add food coloring if desired (*I prefer gel food coloring)

I would like the thank my friend Kristin Boyd for coming over to photograph this baking session. Kristin is a trader by day, amature photographer by night. She is currently taking a photography class that focuses on environmental photography. For her homework each week, she is asked to photograph people in their natural environments. So when I asked her to come over and take pictures of me in my kitchen for this blog, it was a win-win for both of us! I hope you enjoy the pictures.

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What do you think? Could I be the next Food Network Star? Or maybe just a really good Room Mom.

Valentine’s Day Cookies – Part 1

Sugar cookies are my favorite. They taste good, they are pretty to look at and they are a Brethauer family staple. We first learned the recipe when my family took a trip out West and visited my pen pal (who was the daughter of my father’s medical school roommate) and her mother made them in the shape of starts. Since that point, we’ve often referred to them as “star cookies” regardless of the shape we chose to make.

For Valentine’s Day, I decided to make some heart-shaped “star cookies.” I often make these in 2 (sometimes 3) steps.

First you have to make the dough. then refrigerate it for at least an hour before rolling out. And I tend to wait a day before frosting the cookies. That way, you can ensure that they are 100% cooled and you don’t get too tired!

Rolled Sugar Cookies (AKA Star Cookies)

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter (softened)
3 Tablespoons half-n-half
1 teaspoon vanilla (I use vanilla bean paste)
1 egg
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Combine dry ingredients. Set aside.
  2. Beat sugar and butter until flurry. Add half-n-half, vanilla and egg. Mix well.
  3. Add dry ingredients in two parts. Blend.
  4. Wrap dough in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour.
  5. Roll dough onto well floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters. (*Don’t roll the dough too thin, unless you want crispy cookies!)
  6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 8 minutes.

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Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on frosting!

Snowed In

Growing up in New Hampshire, I am no stranger to blizzards. Nearly every winter, we would get a handful of big storms and if we were lucky,  a snow day or two would result. My family would often take advantage of the snow by heading up North to ski. And for the days where we reminded at home, we would spend at least half of the day playing outside, building snowmen, making snow forts and sledding. In preparation for these activities I would spend hours bundling up before heading outside. I assembled the perfect snow outfit, complete with the trick of pulling my wool socks OVER my pant legs to ensure that no snow would touch my skin! After time in the snow, we would warm up with hot chocolate and, more often than not, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

Blizzards in New York City are a little different. People freak out leading up to the storm, but then once it comes even though this city is a little quieter, things continue on as normal. Restaurants still deliver, Starbucks remains open and Broadway shows still go on.

I took advantage of the quite weekend to stay in a do a little baking and crafting. Unfortunately, I don’t have completed projects or blog posts to show you so hang tight.

That's right - the sewing machine came out this weekend!
That’s right – the sewing machine came out this weekend!
Some exciting things went down in the kitchen this weekend. More to come!
Some exciting things went down in the kitchen this weekend. More to come!

What did you do this weekend during the storm? Anything fun?

I’ve Been Keeping Something From You

No. I am not pregnant. (Matt, you can stop freaking out)

Last Christmas (as in 2011), I received a life changing present from my mother-in-law: ice cream!

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Or more accurately, the ability to make homemade ice cream whenever I want. I know, I can’t believe I haven’t told you this until now either.

Over the past year, every time I made ice cream, I was shocked at how easy the process was and how quickly I was able to make it. I was even more shocked/embarrassed about how quickly Matt and I ate it. As a result, I haven’t had any pictures to show of the process. That is, until now.

For the Super Bowl party, not only did I make a cake, but I made ice cream as well! And thankfully, Matt helped document the process this time (and yes, this is why the pictures show my tummy hanging out of my shirt and a desperate need for new nail polish. Thanks for the warning Matt!)

I decided to make my favorite flavor: Ben & Jerry’s Oreo Mint  (along with the ice cream maker attachment, I also received the Ben & Jerry’s recipe book)

Ben & Jerry’s Oreo Mint Ice Cream

2/3 cup oreo’s, coarsely chopped (I use at least 2 cups and I prefer double stuffed)
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 cup milk
2 tspn peppermint extract

Place the cookies in a bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Eggs
Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more.

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Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend. Add the peppermint extract and blend again.

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Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following manufacturer’s instructions.

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After the ice cream stiffens, about 2 minutes before it is done, add the chopped cookies and stir still blended (you may need to use a spatula or wooden spoon for this part).

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Transfer to a freezer proof container and  continue freezing until the ice cream is ready (minimum of 1 hour).

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Makes 1 quart.

Be prepared – this will go quickly. It went so quickly at the party that I didn’t even have time to photograph the ice cream in my super cute paper cups.

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Here’s to many more ice cream flavors. The sky is really the limit on this one!

Covering Up a Baking Disaster with Frosting

I look for any reason to bake a cake, from the most obvious: a Birthday, to the obscure, a Notre Dame football game. So, with the Super Bowl this past weekend, I figured it was a good time to put  on my apron, get out my KitchenAid and create a delicious treat.

I wanted to focus my efforts on my decorating techniques. I feel that I’ve successfully mastered making a cake from scratch. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t done much more than vanilla or chocolate, but the cakes normally taste good. However, there is room for improvement on the decorating front.

I’ve always envied the ability to crumb coat a cake. I’ve watched videos on how to do it and read cook books outlining the steps but whenever I do it, it doesn’t seem to come out as clean and smooth as the professionals. So this weekend, with the help of Butter Me Up Brooklyn, I decided to try it once more.

After gathering my ingredients on Saturday morning from the grocery store, I set about making a delicious brown butter layer cake. Even though this was a new recipe, I just said earlier, this part was supposed to be the easy part. I took my time, measured out all of the ingredients and even used some of the tip I learned at a recent cupcake making class I took at ICE. The batter looked amazing when I poured it in my cake pans and set them in the oven to bake.


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10 minutes into their cooking time, I was startled by the smell of something burning. I went to the oven to see this:

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My cakes were overflowing and dripping onto the bottom of the oven (hence, the burning smell). After throwing a mile temper tantrum and frantically googling what could have caused this (either too much baking soda or over mixing – both of which I swear I didn’t do), I decided to continue to bake the cakes, hoping that I could cut off the overflowed portion and that the remainder of the cake would turn out ok. After sampling a little – and not throwing up,  I decided to continue with my original plan and continue with the cake. Frosting can fix anything right?

I decided to make a chocolate butter cream frosting and again, I turned to Butter Me Up Brooklyn for help with the act of frosting the cake.

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Smooth


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It was a slow process, but I think in the end it was worth it.

In the end, the cake didn’t taste horrible, but it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever made either… hopefully next time both baking and decorating come together in one cake!

Treats for my Niece

Last week, I got inspired to make some homemade dog treats for my niece-puppy Bexley. Yup, I know – I am the world’s best Aunt.

Well, let me clarify a little…

As many of you know, Matt is training for the NYC Ironman in August. (Read more about this here.) As a result, we have been trying to eat a little healthier in preparation. Now, when Matt seeing me pulling out sticks of butter and my KitchenAid mixer in preparation, he gets a little annoyed with me. However, baking is my therapy, so in order to avoid going crazy, I had to come up with a creative solution. Hence, the homemade dog treats!

I found the following recipe on Pinterest and thought it looked easy enough.

Ingredients:
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 cup natural peanut butter
1 cup low-fat milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In another bowl, mix peanut butter and milk. Add wet mixture to dry, and mix well.

Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and knead. Roll out to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out shapes. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake 20 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container.

And anyone who knows anything about Martha Stewart can tell you how important packaging and presentation are. So my “Super Aunt skills” didn’t stop with the baking.

The night before, I had made Matt and mine’s favorite spaghetti sauce for his pre-triathlon meal. That left me with a 28oz tin can, just asking to be turned into some incredible craft project. Since I had already created enough pencil holders for all of y writing utensils, both at home and work, I decided to turn this can into a container for Bex.

I measured out some cork board (left over from another fun project) and painted the top of the can with black craft paint. Before gluing the cork around the can I stenciled Bexley’s name with a black sharpie. After letting it dry for 24 hours, I put in a cellophane bag of treats tied with a ribbon.

Needless to say, Bexley was thrilled with her personalized homemade treats.

Favorite Things, Mother’s Day Edition

This post was inspired/request/demanded from a loyal blog follower. I was thrilled to received a request for two reasons:

1. It shows that I am becoming a source for trust information (look out Google).
2. It makes blogging much easier as coming up with ideas is 75% of the work.

So here is my list Mother’s Day Edition of My Favorite Things

DIY GIFTS

Candles

I love candles as presents. You really can never have too many because are things that you use up (much like food of bath products). While candles aren’t super expensive, there are a lot of fun and easy DIY candle projects.

Dipped Candles

Tea Cup Candles

Scented Soy Candles

Decoupaged Candles

Diptyque Candles

Totes

A girl can never have too many tote bags, especially if they are cute! And with eco-chic being all the rage, mom can use this for her grocery sopping and farmer market trips.

Cherry Branch Tote

Basic Tote

Minimalist Tote (for the most advanced DIY-er)

Doily Tote (we did something similar for the “welcome bags” at our wedding)

Vases & Pots

Flowers are a solid go-to option, but after a week, there won’t be much gift left. Why not add a little something to your bouquet of flowers with a DIY vase or pot?

 Swirl Vase

Decoupage Pot

Rainbow Drip Pot (good options for kids)

Colored Pencil Vase

Neon Rope Vase

THINGS TO BUY

Nothing like a cute quote to make her smile.

Print (could be a DIY)

Key Chain

Sign

Jewelry is usually a safe bet. Here are a few that celebrate motherhood.

Morse Code Necklace

Fingerprint Charm (perfect for new moms!)

Dogeared

Simple XO Necklace

Name Necklace (another good one for new moms)

Let’s be honest, moms spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Get her something that will make it more enjoyable.

 Agrate Trivate

Mini Colored Colanders

Colored Spatulas

Medallion Table Cloth (DIY? I dare you.)

Recipe Box w/Card Holder

DIY – Dish Cloth

And if you are lucky enough to actually see your dear mother over Mother’s Day, here are a few resources to help you host a Mother’s Day brunch.

 

Mother’s Day Brunch via Cup of Joe, Delish, Real Simple, Epicurious and Martha Stewart (it wouldn’t complete without MS)

And for those of you who break out in a cold sweat at the idea of hosting a brunch, here are NY Mag’s top restaurant picks.

And last, but certainly not least, surprise mom on her special day with a new tattoo!

Ritz Peanut Butter Cups

Growing up, Ritz crackers with peanut butter were a popular snack in our household. And if you were rally lucky, you might even get Ritz peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. YUMMY! I love the classic combination of peanut butter and jelly. It just brings back so many memories of brown bag lunches and white bread (before we knew it was bad). The only thing I like more than peanut butter and jelly is peanut butter and chocolate! So last night I took to the kitchen and made some delicious treats to bring into work today – Ritz Peanut Butter Cups that I found here.

You only need 3 ingredients: Ritz crackers, chocolate (I used semi-sweet Ghirardelli chips) and peanut butter.

First, line a muffin tin with cute cupcake liners. I purchased mine at New York Cake – the most wonderful store in New York City.

Next, melt you chocolate. I don’t have a double broiler so I melt mine in the microwave. The microwave that came with our apartment is awesome and has a “melt” function specifically for chocolate. It heats the chocolate at a very low temperature and seems to work perfectly every time. I only wish that I had discovered this function earlier (before I burned multiple pounds of white chocolate during my holiday baking fest.

Pour 1-2 tablespoons of melted chocolate into each cupcake liner. I had to bang the tray against the counter to even out the chocolate. Place the tray in the freezer for approximately 5 minutes (of until the chocolate hardens).

While the chocolate is cooling, smear approximately 1-2 teaspoons of peanut butter onto the crackers. I didn’t measure this – I just tried to make sure the cracker was coated similar to a double stuffed Oreo like the recipe suggested.

Take the tray out of the freezer and place one peanut butter topped cracker in each cupcake liner. I did mine peanut butter side up, but I don’t think it matters (sort of like Dr. Suess’ Butter Battle).

 

I melted the second half of my chocolate and added another 1-2 tablespoons into each liner. I popped them back into the freezer to cool for another 5-10 minutes.

As you can see, the treats came out pretty well but I have a few suggestions/comments:

1. I think I prefer using milk chocolate (as opposed to semi-sweet) when melting. I have done a little research and it doesn’t look like one is suggested over the other. If anything, people suggest using semi-sweet so feel free to disagree.

2. I would probably add a teaspoon of vanilla to the melted chocolate. I find this helps thin it out a little and gives it an interesting flavor.

3. Ideally, I would have preferred to make these using a mini muffin tin — each cup is rather larger. However, you would need to find mini Ritz crackers and I have no idea if these, or something similar, exist.

4. Make sure you get chocolate on the side of the cups so it surrounds the entire Ritz cracker. You may be able to see in my final picture that the bottom chocolate part separated from the top. I think it was because the two chocolate layers didn’t touch – essentially gluing the sandwich together.

5. I wish I had put sea salt on the tops. It just makes everything better!

6. Matt was my guinea pig last night. His comment was that the chocolate was super melty. I am not sure why as they had been in the freezer for a while. I am not sure if a different type of chocolate would fix this.

Delicious Banana Bites

Growing up, my sister gave me a lot of advice. It started with simple stuff. Wear your backpack on one shoulder, not both. Tight roll your stone washed jeans. Don’t buy hot lunch at school. As we got older it progressed into more practical advice. Which classes to take in high school. Run for Class Officer not Student Council. Park in “the pit” not on the streets. And now as we have entered our adult lives, and I’m married while Abby is living the single life, the advice comes, but maybe not as often and not as serious. Find a job you love. Watch My Red Neck Wedding (clearly we have the same appreciation for trashy reality tv). And texts saying “Turn on the Today Show! Now!”

But one thing that I rarely receive from Abby is baking advice. I have appointment myself as the baking guru of our family so, typically, I am the one making things and sending pictures to my family. However, ever since Abby moved to Virginia and started “nesting” things have started to change. She has started to encroach on my Martha Stewart talent and I am not sure I like it. I’m not going to lie – I feel threatened. And there’s nothing more threatening than the combination of peanut butter, chocolate and banana.

Pinterest has given Abby the ammunition she needs to over take my talents. She made chocolate covered pretzles during Christmas that she found on Pinterest. I think they were most popular than the Oreo truffles Matt and I brought to the table. She made a super cute paint chip banner, melted crayon art and don’t even get me started on the Birthday party she threw for her dog Bexley. But now, she went to far – she made these delicious banana bites and wouldn’t stop talking about just how good they were. Naturally, I had to make them myself.

I started by following the receipe –

1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup peanut butter

While I melted them together I cut 3 bananas into bite size pieces.

Then I dipped the banans into the chocolate/peanut butter mixture and placed them on parchment paper. Now here’s where I took things to a whole new level.

I added sea salt to the tops. YUM!

Molly 1, Abby 0.  And all feels right in the world.