September 16, 2011

I'm still here!

My 12 yr. old daughter, Camryn, also known as my PR person, advised me to let everybody know that I'm, indeed, not dead.

She noticed the date of my last post and gasped!  "Mom, when will you work on your next post?"

Turns out that date coincided with the arrival and aftermath of Hurricane Irene, which sadly wreaked havoc in my area of Northern New Jersey.  Even President Obama paid us a visit.  We weathered things just fine and are thankful that our discomforts were few. I'm sorry I can't say the same for many of my neighbors.

The school year began without a glitch and we realized during the previous school year, classes began exactly the day after we moved into our new home! (Same neighborhood)  So we celebrated our first year anniversary in grand style with milk and cookies=)

Just as I began working on my Fall and holiday cookies, allergies kicked in and flat on my back I went. I haven't visited my favorite bloggers to read their posts and 'Oh and Ah' over their creations and recipes in weeks.  Sorry=(  I will catch up when my face doesn't hurt so much.

So there.  I hope Camryn is happy now. I heeded her advice and won't lose any sleep=D

I hope everyone is well, can't wait to show you what I've been working on!

Happy Baking,

August 29, 2011

School Bus Cookies!

We have one glorious week of summer vacation left but we're starting to gear towards the beginning of the new school year.  Enjoy my school bus cookies=)

Happy Decorating,

August 22, 2011

Coffee Flan for Mama

My mom is my biggest fan. There. I said it. And not because she’s my mom.  Well…ok…maybe just a little because she’s my mom=)

She loves to sit at one end of the counter, throw me an impish smile and asks what that wonderful aroma is filling the air.  Of course there isn’t anything baking=)

I’m guessing that fact throws her into panic mode and feels compelled to drop a not so subtle hint to ensure dessert at the end of our meals when either one of us is visiting!

She is a cook, not a baker.  So the onus is on me to provide baked yummies!

So recently I made her a family favorite (amongst many favorites)…coffee flan! Very traditional, luxurious on the palate and super easy! 
Coffee Flan

1 C sugar

4 eggs

1 C evaporated milk, undiluted

14 oz (1 can) condensed milk

¼ salt

½ C very strong coffee, cooled to room temp

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cook the sugar in a heavy sauce pan over low heat and look for the sugar to melt into a gorgeous medium amber color, never dark.

Caramelizing the sugar correctly is key. If you kill this step you are guaranteed a bitter tasting flan. Ew.

How do you do this?  Keep an eye on the saucepan! There are no shortcuts!

Should the melted sugar become very dark in some areas, chances are you’ve burnt the sugar. Start over.

Once you’ve caramelized the sugar, immediately coat the bottom of your custard cups or mold and set aside.

Whip up the rest of the ingredients in a blender; pour through a fine sieve and into your caramelized custard cups or mold.

Bake inside bain-marie for 45-50 minutes smack in the middle of the oven.

Check that the outside of the flan is firm but the center is slightly wiggly, that’s when it is done. The flan will continue to cook a bit longer once you’ve removed it from the oven and out of the bain-marie ensuring the perfect consistency.

If the center is firm, you’ve over baked your flan and it will have a tough, rubbery consistency.  If the center is too wiggly, you’ll have a center that will sink once it has cooled.

Let the flan cool at room temp and then refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours to overnight.

When transferring to a plate or platter, run a knife along the edge of your mold, place your serving plate on top then turn over.  You may have to run hot tap water on the mold to loosen the caramel.  Ta-daa and there you have it, coffee flan!

Happy Baking,

August 12, 2011

Making Ice Cream Cone Cake Pops with Kids Pictorial

Our summer has been a blur of BBQ’s, pool and lakeside gatherings. Jordan’s swim meets were exciting but have now come to a close and our big girl, Cammie, is all done with summer camp. Whew!  Now what do I do with them?

With a short lull in between leaving for a much needed family getaway, my waterlogged girls were antsy for something to do other than their summer reading=D  What better than to make cake pops like the wonderful, loaded with cuteness, Bakerella!

Angie’s ice cream cone cake pops has made fanatics out of us and I experienced the perfect “Hey Ferb! I know what we’re going to do today!” moment!  I know, I know…way too many cartoons=)

Because children want instant gratification and moms want peace, quiet and a relatively clean kitchen, I decided to skip making the cake balls and opted for donut holes.  For you purist out there, sorry.

You’ll need:

Donut holes

Chocolate wafers in pink and chocolate brown
(either Merkens or Wilton’s)

Sugar cones


Mini M&M’s

Saw 1/3 off the top of the sugar cones with a steak knife.

Melt the pink chocolate wafers.

First, dip the rim of the sawed off sugar cone.

Then you place the donut hole on top to “adhere and set”.
My girls found it easier to spoon the melted chocolate over the donut hole as opposed to directly dipping it into the bowl.
While the pink chocolate is still soft, sprinkle on your sprinkles!

And just as Bakerella recommends, place the cones at this point in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes to speed the hardening process along before applying the next layer of chocolate.

Melt the brown chocolate.

Now add a small amount of the melted chocolate over the top of the cone.

Place mini M&M on top and you are all done!
After eating a fair amount themselves, Cam and Jordan proudly presented an armful of these ice cream cone cake pops to their teenaged camp counselors and boy were they a happy bunch!!

Oh yeah!  I threw in a few of these for good measure! =D

Ice cream cones and smiles,

August 8, 2011

Mustang Bullit Car Cake Tutorial

This Mustang Bullit car cake was commissioned by a beautiful young bride for her fanatical Mustang GT collecting groom. The cake ordered was the groom’s favorite flavor, banana with vanilla bean butter cream, and it was modeled to match the car driven by Steve McQueen in the 1968 movie Bullit.

She swiped the collectable model from his trophy chest and I kept it in my possession for about 6 weeks. I was glad that it wasn’t one of the real Mustangs he had sitting in his driveway=D

This post is not so much a tutorial but a “get a clue “of how a car cake is constructed and decorated. I'll also share some of pearls of wisdom I begrudgingly gained.  

I’ll tell you from experience, it’s not quick and it’s not easy making car cakes! It takes planning, planning and more planning. Did I mention prepping?

Carving is a slow and deliberate job.  You begin with a big, stacked rectangular sheet cake and out of that block of cake should emerge a car.  Funny, right?

As I had mentioned in a previous post, a good and sturdy made-from-scratch cake is necessary for carving.  Box mixes and sponge cakes will NOT work.  Neither will recipes with nuts or chocolate chips as they tend to become “road blocks”, if you will, during the carving process. 

Chunks of cake will come off with the nuts or chips embedded in your knife and then you’ll have to plaster it back on with butter cream creating an uneven surface. Not to mention, you would have created a really messy cake for the guest of honor to cut into it and serve.  Huh-llo.

Be sure to have plenty of room in your fridge and freezer for the cake to rest between carving and applying butter cream layers, cause it’s going to be in there a lot. It took me two days!

Modeling chocolate was used for details. I really liked the way the tires turned out.  Black modeling chocolate with silver dragees for spokes!  Great medium to work with and eat!

Needless to say, the chocolate in different colors should be ready and waiting before you to begin detailing your carved cake. A ‘How to make your own modeling chocolate’ tutorial is in the works by yours truly=) So look for it in future postings!

Matching the color on the fondant was intimidating to me at the time.  I learned, the hard way, to begin with a smaller amount of fondant, achieve the color you wish THEN add it to a larger amount of fondant. You have less waste if you mess up the color initially with a small amount rather than throwing out about 15 lbs of expensive fondant=(.

Another thing I learned during this process, the value of using a foam core board instead of a couple of cake rounds to place the cake on.  When I removed the finished cake from the fridge, the weight was too much for flimsy corrugated cardboard rounds that were cut to size. 

Two very large and unattractive cracks developed at the bottom corners of the windshield. Great. I cut a piece of styrofoam, made it match the finished cake board and placed it under the hood of the car for extra support!

Once I got to the wedding location, I used Duff's, the one and only Ace of Cakes, suggestion of coloring royal icing to match the fondant, filled the cracks and smoothed it out. Done.

The bride was positively radiant and thrilled to surprise her groom!  I wish I could have seen his reaction!

Happy Decorating!

July 25, 2011

Cherry Clafoutis seems the moment I decided to embark on my blogging adventure a couple of months ago, the universe tuned in and decided to test my commitment to this new endeavor. 

A few weeks into this gig my laptop dropped dead on me and my camera, which was already acting up, didn’t want to take photos when I needed it to. 

Writer’s block has come in the form of my family being home for summer vacation and blocking my train of thought every chance they get.  First, I’m solicited to help look for flip flops, swim caps, pina colada flavored lip gloss or all-the-rage ‘crackle’ nail polish on a daily basis. *eye roll*

Then the litany of questions that only children with endless possibilities on vacation can come up with:

“Can I have cotton candy for breakfast?”

“Can I bungee jump off the house?”

“Can I go to a 3 day sleepover party?”

“Can I climb up the flag pole and jump into the lake?

And this is why one kid is in summer camp and the other one has joined the local swim league.

However, before my girls were sent off, we visited one of our favorite ‘pick your own fruit’ farm in Warwick, NY.  Och’s Farm is a small family owned farm with a host of fruits, veggies and flowers for the pickin’ from spring straight into the harvest!

We picked what seemed like bushels of berries, in particular, cherries.  Aside from freezing half of our bumper crop for smoothies, I decided on baking cherry clafoutis as a reward for all of our hard work of eating our way thru the orchard=)

Clafoutis has long become a mainstay of my ‘go to’ desserts when I need to make something sweet without a whole lot of fuss. 

Fresh or canned fruit works equally well in this French comfort food that is reminiscent of bread pudding.  I usually have all of the simple ingredients on hand and the blender comes in handy when whipping up the custard.

Cherry Clafoutis

1C milk

¼ C kirsch or Cognac

2/3 C sugar (1/3C for batter and 1/3C for fruit)

3 large eggs

1 T vanilla extract

1/8 t salt

2/3 C all purpose flour

3 C cherries, pitted if fresh, drained if canned

¼ C powdered sugar for sprinkling

8” or 9” buttered pie plate or baking dish

Prepare fruit by adding 1/3 C of sugar and ¼ of kirsch or cognac to cherries and letting it macerate (or sit) covered for about an hour or so.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

After the hour is up, drain the fruit. Take ¼ C of the macerating liquid and add with the remaining ingredients (except the fruit) into a blender.

Spread prepared cherries evenly over the buttered dish. 

Then pour the batter over the fruit and bake about 50-60 minutes or until the clafoutis has puffed up and browned lightly.  You can test the middle with a toothpick or knife.

Be aware that it will sink as it cools.  Sprinkle top of clafoutis with the powdered sugar right before serving. 

Ideally, it should be served warm.

Nothing fancy here, just a homey full flavored dessert that’s bursting with succulent, juicy sweet cherries, fresh from farm to table!

Happy Baking!

June 30, 2011

4th of July Cookies!

Just getting my brag on Thursday!

Independence Day cookie favors for this weekend's BBQ!!

 So I'm keeping this post short and sweet, enjoy=)
Cookies and smiles,

June 24, 2011

Watermelon Cookies on the Last Day of School!

This post is dedicated to a special group of kids!  My daughter’s, Jordan, 4th grade class and their super teacher, Mrs. S=)

It’s the last day of school! Yahoo!!  After the school bell rings for dismissal, guess what?  You’re all officially 5th graders!!! O.M.G!!! So cool!

So you’re probably wondering how I made your watermelon cookies. Well here’s a little presentation to show you how I shaped and decorated your fancy cookies.

Watch and listen closely:

Have your equipment ready!  I used two cookie cutters, one, was a large round cutter and the other was a smaller, scalloped cutter.  I rolled out the dough with a rolling pin and began to cut the dough with the large cutter first.  Then I cut the round cookie dough in half.  Now I had two half moon shaped cookies.

Have you figured out how I made the teeth mark on the cookies?  I was getting hungry and decided to nibble on the cookies before baking them.  Just kidding!

I took the smaller scalloped cutter and cut out a small piece from the right side of the cookie.  Then I baked the cookies for 18 minutes in the oven set at 350 degrees. If you ever want to bake out cookies have an adult do this part for you!

After they baked, I let them cool off before icing them.  I began with icing that I colored with red and pink food color and then I let them dry before I began icing the watermelon rind in yellow green icing.  That had to dry also.

I decided to paint the rind with a little more green food color to make it look more realistic.

Jordan reminded me to add a thin line of white to the rind, (what would I do without her? =)) and that’s what I did!

Next I added the watermelon seeds with black icing,

And finally, the magical part, I added your names!

I had so much fun making these special cookies for you and I hope you like them too!

Have a great summer and we’ll see each other again in September!

Hugs and stuff, Mrs. C!

June 21, 2011

Paletas…A Little Taste of my Childhood

My olfactory nerve seemed to have gone into overdrive. I found myself transported to my aunt’s kitchen smelling the sweet intoxicating perfume of ripe mangoes and pineapples as I was milling around my own kitchen. Just like that, I was a child again on a tiny tropical island looking to sink my teeth into a mango I had just rescued from some dastardly chickens. That was my job early in the mornings; gather the mangoes that fell off the tree overnight before the animals did.  These were truly ‘free range’ chickens. 

Most of my childhood summer breaks were spent with family on the vibrant and achingly beautiful island of Puerto Rico.  The airplane carrying a very tiny me would come into it's final descend and, depending on air traffic patterns, gave opportunity to have a bird’s eye view of El Morro, one of Puerto Rico’s most enduring symbols.  And just beyond, stretches of bursting coast line as far as my eyes could see. That view never got old.

Reluctantly, I snapped back to reality, picked up one of the mangoes on my counter and inhaled deeply.  Yep. They were ripe and they had beckoned me.  So I did as my aunt would have done with a bumper crop of super ripe fruit, I made paletas!  Ice pops for you non-Spanish speaking folks!

She would give her little city-slicker niece a choice of either ice pops or batidas (fruit shakes).  I usually opted for the icy jewels which she would make for me in Dixie cups or ice cube trays.  Yes, I would have to wait a bit til’ after lunch, but it was soooooo worth it. 

My girls feel the same way.  After a few blistering days earlier this month, they were happy to come home after school to have a few of these waiting for them in the freezer=)

Mango Paletas

2 ripe mangoes, peeled and chopped
1 C  milk, any kind of milk: whole, evaporated, coconut, half and half
 ¼ - ½ C sugar (or 7 oz. condensed milk)
popsicle sticks

Place all of the ingredients into a blender and blend. It’s ok if you have small chunks of fruit remaining; I think it tastes better this way anyway.

As for the sugar, feel free to try other sweeteners like agave; it works well with this recipe.  Keep in mind fruit tastes less sweet when frozen.

Pour into ice pop molds or Dixie cups.

Freeze for about an hour or so, they should be slushy at this point and add the popsicle sticks.

Continue to freeze until solid about 4-5 hours.

Makes 10 paletas or 12 Dixie cups ice pops!

What’s great about this recipe is you can use any fresh, ripe fruit you may have on hand and follow the same instructions above.

Dairy Free Pineapple Paletas
One whole fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 C coconut milk
¼ - ½ C sugar

Banana Paletas
2C chopped bananas
1C evaporated milk
¼ - ½ C sugar
1t vanilla extract

One of my favorite ice pop flavors is coconut.  You add a dash of cinnamon to the pop once you're ready to eat it for a little spice!  Around the island this is known as ‘limber’.  Ah, you need to say it with a Spanish accent=)  However, I’ll share a quicker version that doesn’t require the time consuming task of splitting a real coconut and making your own coconut milk!

Coconut Paletas
1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
2/3C half and half
7oz. condensed milk (half a can)
1oz. pure coconut cream, softened
1t vanilla extract

Buen Provecho!

June 15, 2011

Tiffany Gift Box Cake with Fantasy Flower

Technical woes in the form of my laptop crashing and having to use the hubby's computer in the meantime until this whole sorted mess can be resolved.  Not a happy camper=(  So in the meantime, enjoy my sweet bridal shower cake in the form of a Tiffany Gift Box.  Hope to be up and running back soon!

Happy Baking!

June 8, 2011

Purse Cake Tutorial

There’s nothing like the “wow” factor of an artfully presented cake. Purse cakes hit the cake scene a few years back and show no signs of slowing down.  I’ve given classes on this simple purse cake style to beginners for the last year and a half and decided to share this tutorial with the bloggy world.

When I began planning this lesson a while back, I approached it as if I were a beginner baker and decorator.  I didn’t want to make such a large cake that would require additional structural support like dowels.  A small cake that easily yielded 6-10 servings was in order.  Usually a beginner will be baking a cake for immediate family or close friends not for a crowd of 20 or 30.

Most newbies will not make a cake from scratch.  So out came the cake box mix, canned frosting (eww) and your typical non stick 8” round cake pans. It certainly helped with troubleshooting and “trouble” was certainly the operative word here. Talk about spazzing out.  It’s no wonder folks give up on going that extra mile to create something special.

It’s very difficult to shape a cake with a box mix.  Way too spongy and soft for carving; even after I froze the layers. Forget about canned frosting, it’s designed to be smooth and creamy and never sets up firm enough to withstand carving. And that’s before you tackle icing with fondant. Please.

Dark non stick baking pans are a nightmare.  It’s very easy to over bake, shrink and dry out your cakes when using non stick, especially in convection ovens.  When you think about it, these types of pans are unnecessary when you can easily use cooking spray oil with flour in it already.  That, with a piece of parchment in a regular baking pan, almost guarantees you can pop those babies out perfect every time.

So back to the drawing board I went, rolled up my sleeve and started fresh.  First things first, I started with a 1-2-3-4 cake recipe baked from scratch, made a batch of my favorite Swiss meringue buttercream and used  8” aluminum baking pans. That’s it. This is all it takes to make a tasty and memorable cake and one that can stand up to sculpting! 

On average, it takes about an additional 15 minutes to make a cake from scratch than from a box, so go the distance. Think beyond the box mix, the results are dizzingly delicious and infinitely better. Feel free to roll your eyes, I can’t see you anyway.

Once your cakes are baked and cooled to room temperature, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze or refrigerate for 5-8 hours or overnight.  Cakes should be very firm to begin carving, shaping and sculpting. This is a good rule of thumb for ANY kind of sculpted cake.

As for filling and icing, any buttercream recipe that contains well, butter, not shortening, will set up firmly and be sturdy enough to sculpt with once you’ve chilled your iced cake.  Now is not the time to add fresh fruit , whipped cream or pudding as a filling to a cake that will be shaped into, oh I don’t know, let’s say a toilet bowl.

Remember…sculpted cakes need structure not fluff.

Now we’re off to a seriously good start. Get a ruler and an exacto knife or scissors.  Measure and cut a cake board or foam core board into a piece that measures 3 in. x 8 in.  Set aside.

Next, using the same ruler and a long serrated knife, measure and cut your cake layers into the same dimension as your cake board.  Save the “half moon” shaped scraps, you’ll need them.
Attach one layer of cake on the board with a dab of buttercream and begin to fill bottom layer of cake with buttercream filling.
Add the next layer of cake and top with buttercream once again.
Take the two left over scrap pieces of cake and place on top of the second layer of buttercream.

Here’s where the fun begins, sculpting! I got the idea for the shape from one of my daughter’s “fashion” purses and I say that loosely.

With a smaller serrated knife (think steak knife) simply follow the curvature of the half moon layer and gently cut down at a slanted angle.  I can do this by eyeballing the cake, however, you may want to make a little template from construction paper, slap it against the cake and carve from there.  Cut the other side of the cake and you should have two sloped sides that mimics the sides of a pyramid.  Following me?

Begin to carve the top of the cake into a concave shape.  Once you’re done, the top of the cake should look like the bottom of a bowl.  Did I lose you?  Just look at the photos!
At this point you can tweak the shape of your cake by gently carving and sculpting tiny piece by piece if you wish.  Also, trim away any excess cake board to fit the new shape of the cake.

Crumb coat your entire cake, including the cake board, with a thin layer of buttercream to seal in any pesky crumbs and place in the fridge for about 10-20 minutes to set the icing before adding your fondant.

Fondant is fun to use for sculpted cakes.  It may not be everybody’s favorite icing but you can achieve a better looking finished cake than you would with just icing. Make sure your area is clear of any renegade cake pieces, crumbs and just general clutter.

Roll out the fondant just as you would cookie dough.  Turn the fondant around a few times while you’re rolling to avoid sticking and ensure even thickness. I roll fondant to about ¼ inch thick, roll it gently onto a rolling pin then carefully unroll it over the cake. 

Starting on top of the cake, quickly but gently smooth the surface of the cake with the fondant on all four sides. Being heavy handed will NOT help you at this point in the game. Pop any air bubbles that develops with a pin prick.

When the cake and cake board is entirely covered with fondant and smoothed out, cut away any excess fondant at the base of the cake with a pizza cutter, paring knife or exacto knife leaving a straight edge.

In front of you lies a blank canvas ready to be decorated any way you wish!
I opted for purple luster dust applied with grain alcohol and a paint brush in a checkerboard pattern because at the time I was preparing for a spring class.
Once I was done painting, I made the “flap” of the purse by rolling and cutting out a sage green piece of fondant using a 6” cake board as a template.  I then strategically placed it on top of the cake.
I then “glued” the cake with royal icing on another cake board covered with decorative aluminum foil.  Using royal icing, I outlined the edges and bottom of the cake and used it to glue fondant daisies I had cut out with cookie cutters.

As for the handle of the purse, I opted for wired ribbon.  Why?  Well, I didn’t want to overwhelm the beginner with another medium, like gum paste, which has to be shaped, preferably with a mold and dried out for a few days to a week before placing on the cake.  A pretty, textured ribbon can add extra color and whimsy to your finished cake just as easily and quickly.

The idea is to make a sweet little cake for your little girl or granddaughter or just for fun for a girls’ night out without having a nervous breakdown=D.

So there you have it! I hope my written instructions are somewhat clear.  I have the gift of the gab and it’s a lot easier for me to verbally instruct and answer questions as they come up in class.  Let me know what you think and if you have any additional ‘pearls of wisdom’ please share them! =)

Happy Baking!