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.

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.

Extreme Cookies

I love the Food Network. And while I don’t want every show regularly, I can normally find someone on that channel worth watching. Whether it is The Next Food Network Star, 30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray or the Barefoot Contessa, I am pretty happy to watch these chefs in action. Many times, when I am either baking or cooking, I turn it on in the background as inspiration. Well, after these last few weeks, I think I am ready for my own show on the Food Network, or at least a guest appearance.

Over the past few weeks, I think I have made more than 20 dozen cookies… and I am not just talking chocolate cookies, which I can pretty much make in my sleep at this point. I am talking extreme cookies. Think Halloween candy meets cookie dough. Below are a list of the cookies I have recently made:

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate Caramel Rolo Cookies
Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
Kit Kat Cookies
Butterfinger Cookies
Milkyway Cookies

and my favorite, an Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookie. That’s right – EXTREME.

Now, when I made them, I followed this recipe. They turned out well, but I probably wouldn’t do this again. I would stick with my usual Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and just wrap that dough around the Oreo. Either way, these cookies are ridiculous. I could only eat a half of the cookie before reaching my stomach capacity.

Please leave a comment with your favorite type of cookie or an idea that you would like to see me try. I am open to just about anything!

Psych Me Up!

On my swim team, we had a thing called “secret psych.” Before meets, we would randomly get assigned another one of our teammates, and we were their secret psych. We would put together goody bags that contained power bars, Gatorade, green and gold nail polish, and if you were a good secret psych, a mix tape. These tapes contained various “Jock Jams” tracks like We are the Champions, Another One Bites the Dust, or Whoomp, There It Is!

One of my favorite presents was a mixed tape that Abby made me before my high school state meet sophomore year. This was the first year that Abby was away at college, and I missed having her around, particularly on the pool deck. Going to college in Ohio, Abby was introduced to a new genre of music: country. This tape was my first introduction to the Dixie Chicks and Tim McGraw. Weird for a psych up mix, but it worked.

In college, we progressed from mix tapes to mix CDs. Before the Ivy Championships, we would make a team CD that had one song from each of the girls (an idea I stole from Abby’s experience at Kenyon). It was always interesting to see the range of songs that girls considered “inspirational.” You were always guaranteed to be introduced to at least one new song. Now whenever I hear “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, I always think of my college swim team (I know, we were so ghetto!)

In college, because I was swimming 20+ hours a week already, I didn’t go to the gym, like many college students. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much though because the gym at school wasn’t very impressive. It was old and there weren’t any tvs to keep you occupied while you ran on the treadmill or used the elliptical. If I did hit up the gym, I would need an awesome iPod playlist or something to read. Needless to say, my workouts never lasted much longer than 30 minutes.

During my senior year, they opened a new gym at the law school, that had cardio machines, each with their own tvs. I am embarrassed to say that second semester senior year, I spent more time working out than going out. I hadn’t developed an obsession with working out, nor was I training for anything in particular. The reason for my two to three hour-long elliptical obsessions was MTV. I didn’t have cable in my dorm room, so I would spend hours working out just so that I could watch “The Real World” and “Road Rules.”

After college, I moved home for a little. During that time I got a job at a hospital and in the basement, there was a small workout room that had one small tv, that was cable ready. Again, my addiction to MTV fueled my working out. I would go down into the room every Monday at 8pm and run on the treadmill for 60 minutes… the entirety of Laguna Beach. I thank LC, Lo, Stephen and Kristin for my great physical fitness that year.

I am happy to say that I am nearly over my MTV obsession. Now when I work out, I mostly watch the food network. I am not sure that is much better though. Now when I come upstairs from the gym, I am starving and saying stupid Rachel Ray phrases like “Yummo” and “Delish.”

So whether it is Jock Jams or the Barefoot Contessa, I am happy to have some motivation in my life. Now I just need to find someone to be my secret psych and give me goody bags before I go to work!