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.

Spice It Up

Nearly one year ago, my Aunt (a loyal blog reader) exposed me to the countless varieties of cinnamon. Yes, cinnamon.

We all know the traditional cinnamon spice that we keep, or out mother keep, in their spice cabinets, racks and draws. We use it when we bake cookies, sprinkle on oatmeal, and if you grew up in my house you had it on toast with butter and sugar cut into 3 pieces when you were sick. There was one variety of cinnamon… or so I thought.

One weekend when I was visiting my Aunt, Uncle and Grandparents in the middle of Pennsylvania, my Aunt conducted a taste test using a few different styles of cinnamon. I was shocked to realize that there was a spice that tasted like the cinnamon used in fire balls. From that point on, I knew my life wouldn’t be the same!

My Aunt showed me the catalogue that she bought these spices from and we discovered that they have a location in New York. I was excited to visit and see what other spices I could be exposed to. Well, nearly a year later, I can finally saw that I visited the spice heaven located in Grand Central Station (yes, the train station, I was surprised too!)

So who knew that in the middle of one of the busiest and oldest train stations in the country, there is an alley of specialty and organic food booths. I had no idea. The Grand Central Market houses an artisanal cheese shop, a butcher, organic produce shops, a chocolatiers, speciality coffee shop (no Starbucks here!), a bakery , seafood  and of course, Penzeys Spices.

Penzeys Spices carries over 250 herbs, spices and seasonings. It is the perfect place for bakers, chefs and those who like to organize and categorize! I was overwhelmed by all of the different options, but walked away with a bakers variety box, a pumpkin pie spice (hopefully I can try this out over Thanksgiving) and a small jar of hot chocolate with a hint of mint. (that I proceeded to drop on the floor when I got home. Needless to say, the powdery coco went everywhere. At least my kitchen smelled like delcious chocolate!)

So while it took me months and months to follow my Aunt’s suggestion of visiting Penzeys Spices, I finally did it. And it opened my eyes to the wonderful 100 yard stretch of speciality foods that is the Grand Central Market!