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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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!

Welcome to Summer

I love Memorial Day as it is the unofficial start to summer. Time for cookouts, white pants and eating as much ice cream as possible. I kicked off this season of sun and fun in a big way, but more to come on that later…

Today in New York it is hot. Summer is definitely here. As a way to celebrate, my work-twin and I walked to the lower east side for some mid-day BIG GAY ICE CREAM!

And boy was it delicious. We both had the salty pimp – yup, the name says it all!

I can not recommend this place enough, especially on a day when the “real feel” temperature is over 100 degrees. And if you aren’t near by, look out for their big gay ice cream truck, which is frequently parked in Union Square during the week and in Mid-town during the weekend. Or, for their exact location, just follow them on twitter @biggayicecream

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.

A Sugar Filled Black Tie Affair

A few weekends ago, Matt and I had the distinct pleasure of attending a party at our friend, Caitlin Tormey‘s home. For 28 years, this lovely family has opened up their Staten Island home to friends and family to enjoy homemade desserts and sip champagne at a black tie affair.

The Tormey Family party is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Traditionally held around the New Year, Caitlin’s mom, Dr. Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, takes a full week of from her “day job” (chief executive officer and director of scientific affairs at the Cancer Research Institute) to apply her background in chemistry to the kitchen. For 7 days she prepares 28 different desserts; and every year the desserts are different. She then opens up her home to over 100 friends, neighbors and family members. I consider myself lucky to have been counted among these people.

We began out evening by taking the ferry over to Staten Island; something we had never done before. The views of the New York City skyline were breathtaking and definitely a sight worth seeing. After a quick ride, we found ourselves in the suburbs (or at least it felt suburban compared to Manhattan). The Tormey home sits of the edge of a hill with incredible views of the river, the Verrazano bridge, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Thankfully it wasn’t too chilly, so we were able to enjoy the views from the porch in the back of the house.

After taking in the beautiful Christmas decorations and drinking some champagne, Caitlin invited me into the dinning room for a “press only” viewing of the desserts. (I knew having a blog would get me a press pass at some point – now, if only I could use it to get on the field during a Patriots game!) When I walked in the room; I was immediately overtaken by the smell of sugar. The 28 cakes that sat before me were really amazing. How Jill managed to make 28 different desserts in one week in beyond me. How she managed to keep everything fresh and time the whole production is unbelievable. I can see myself trying this and ending up with melting cakes, stale cookies and a giant mess in our kitchen!

Once the doors to the dining room were opened to the “public” everyone proceeded to walk around the table simply looking. Then, once everyone had a chance to view the 28 choices, we went back through and picked which ones we wanted to try. I happily added 5 difference slices to my plate: peanut butter cheesecake, chocolate chunk candy cane cheesecake, eggnog torte, white mocha torte, peanut butter honeycomb cake. Matt decided to try all of the chocolate options which I believe resulted in 6 different slices. In the end, we were sick to our stomachs from all of the richness, but very happy!

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Matt and I have talked about throwing an annual holiday party; something that our friends and family can look forward to attending year after year. Unfortunately we haven’t settled on what holiday we should be celebrating. Matt wants to celebrate something that has to do with Notre Dame, while I would like to celebrate an obscure holiday like, March 13th which is National Ear Muff day.

Does anyone have any suggestions for creative and fun parties?

Elf Food

A little while ago, I blogged about one of my favorite 90s fads:  foods made mini! Well it looks like a fellow blogger, Emma from The Unconfidential Cook is bringing that trend back. I was amazed to see the tiny creations that she made. They remind me of the tiny tea sets you could get for your American Girl Dolls.

Instead of making cookies for Santa, Emma should make cookies for all of the elves that do all the work leading up to Christmas – we all know that Santa just swoops in and steals all of the glory on Christmas Eve.

Just think how many of these tiny treats you could eat before you felt guilty!

A Lesson in Parenting

From the age of six through about 12, my mom would make my lunch every day. It usually consisted of the same four elements: sandwich, vegetable (usually carrots or celery sticks), a snack, such as pretzels or if I was lucky chips, and a dessert – typically a homemade cookie. It was a pretty good life, I must admit.

Then around 8th grade, my mom decided that I should start being responsible for my own lunch. At first, I didn’t like this new development. Making my lunch added at least five minutes to my morning routine and I really wasn’t psyched about that. That is, until the morning that I realized that packing my own lunch also meant deciding what went in it…

Instead of a sandwich, carrots, pretzels and a cookie, I started packing a sandwich, pretzels and two cookies. And then, three cookies! I quickly realized that having control over my lunch was actually a good thing; however, I was limited by the selection of foods that we had available in our home, which were typically very healthy. I decided to take things to the next level and accompanied my mom on her weekly grocery shopping trips. I began to add things to the cart when she wasn’t looking. At first, I started small – a container of Goldfish, Poptarts WITH frosting, and mini Ritz crackers with “cheese” in the middle. After a few shopping trips and no comments from my mom about the extra snacks, I became more bold, adding things like Dunkeroos, Double Stuffed Oreos and Gushers. My lunch went from healthy and well-balanced to, well, crap. The other kids at school were very jealous that my mom trusted me to be responsible and pack my own lunch. I tried to tell them that they just needed to show a little maturity, but not to worry because not everyone was as “advanced” as I was and it would come with time.

Yesterday at work, as I sat at my desk eating chips and contemplated going out to get a slice of pizza for lunch, I watched my co-worked carry by her lunch.

 

It looks like her mom is still packing her lunches! Thank you mom for shirking your parenting duties and forcing me into a life of unhealthy eating.

A Holiday Tradition

Ginger can be traced back to Europe during the 11th Century when explorers came back from the Middle East with the spice ginger. In the middle ages, medieval ladies gave gingerbread cakes to their favorite knights. Different shapes were used for different meanings. The heart was used to ward off evil. Ginger was very plentiful in Germany because it became the center for spice trade. Craft people created special baking molds of animals, fish, and bible scenes sometimes weighing over one hundred pounds. In the 16th century Queen Elizabeth I presented guests with gingerbread made to look like them.

During the nineteenth century, gingerbread was modernized. It quickly became popular, especially in Germany. The Brothers Grimm, who wrote Hansel and Gretel, the tale was about two children who walked through the dangerous forest and they came upon a house made of gingerbread, made gingerbread houses even more popular. In some villages, each family would bring a model of their home to a central location where the village was recreated in miniature. Then, on New Year’s Day, the children break the houses apart and eat them to celebrate the New Year.

Gingerbread houses became popular in America after this time. Competitions still exist across the country to see who can build the most lavish Gingerbread house.

Since 1991, the people of Bergen, Norway have built a city of gingerbread houses each year before Christmas. Named Pepperkakebyen (Norwegian for “gingerbread city”), it is claimed to be the world’s largest such city. Every child under the age of 12 is permitted to make their own house with the help of their parents.

 One of my favorite holiday activities growing up was decorating ginger bread houses. I remember doing this in school when I was younger, using milk cartons and graham crackers. Inevitably the walls of the house would fall down and/or crack but it was always fun to try to put as much candy on the house as possible. Later on, we progressed to more advanced houses that were made of actual gingerbread and were held together with royal icing that hardened, holding the walls in place. Abby and I would try to out-do each other by adding singles to the roof or brick walkways that lead up to the doors.

When I moved to New York, I was lucky enough to help my friend, Jessi Walter who had just started her kids cooking company, Taste Buds. Over the month of December, I probably helped her run about 10-12 gingerbread house parties around the city. I definitely honed my gingerbread making skills during these classes and learned many tricks of the trade (most important – assemble the houses ahead of time!)

This past weekend I was able to put that knowledge and expertise to use on Saturday when we took approximately eight Robin Hood families to one of our homeless shelters that focuses on helping families stay off the streets. After a quick intro about the facility and work that they do, the families were led on a tour that included a stop at a playground that Robin Hood built a few years back.  The final stop was in the rec. room where we lead 30 children in gingerbread making.

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It was an incredible experience for everyone involved. I am so grateful that I was able to help carry on this holiday tradition with so many deserving  children.

p.s. Don’t you love that it is snowing on the Little Things? I do!