A Very Baking Christmas

You may be saying to yourself: ‘Meris doesn’t care about her blog anymore…either that or she’s become a vegan and spends her time shunning technology in an Amish hideaway.’ Lies, all lies. Truth is, I’ve been baking up a storm the last few weeks, squirreling away recipes and hurried photos so that I can once again bombard the Internets. [*Sidenote: I don’t think the Amish are vegans, but whatevs]

To begin with, I made strawberry cupcakes from a box with jar icing for my coworker, Little Jake, who says this is his favorite kind of cake and icing. Behold, my foray back into Betty Crocker [I couldn’t help it-had to make little star decorations]:

xmas2Next came the holiday cupcakes for my office:

xmas6Everything was made with either gum paste or stiff buttercream.

xmas3

The snowman was everyone’s favorite. And yes, I realize that’s more pimp hat than snow hat.

xmasThe cupcakes are red velvet with cream cheese frosting and gingerbread with cinnamon cream cheese frosting. You can find the recipe for the red velvet cupcakes here and for the cream cheese frosting here. The gingerbread cupcake recipe is here at King Arthur Flour and I use my own cream cheese frosting I listed above rather than KAF’s, but change it a bit by adding cinnamon to taste.

xmas5Enough to please a crowd!

xmas4My editorial cohorts, Denny and Jake in their holiday finest 😉

denny_jakeLaura and I in our 4-glasses-of-wine finest. I made duck face because I thought we were taking a funny photo…no one told me it wasn’t supposed to be funny o__0

laura_meAnd finally the Bûche de Noël (a French Yule Log) for my boyfriend’s family. [You can find my Frenchie mother’s handed-down-through-generations recipe here] Before I show you what I made this year, I thought I’d show you my very first try a few years back:

bucheAnd the Bûche de Noël of 2013! A little less cartoonish? My meringue mushrooms also don’t look like little albino poops. [You can find the fool-proof meringue mushroom recipe here]

xmas7I tried really hard to make a pine cone by just “winging it” and no research into how gum paste pine cones are actually made…sooooo it’s a flower-pine cone 😉

xmas8The holly-looking decoration was made with gum paste.

xmas9Aerial view. The “bark” was made by melting chocolate onto a huge sheet of waxed paper, letting it dry ALMOST completely, then breaking it off randomly into chunks.

xmas10I apologize for the lack of quality photos this time, peeps! I really was in a huge rush making these things this year for some reason, so I snapped and wrapped without much thought. Future posts will have much better photos!

Speaking of future posts, stick around…burnt caramel custards are on the horizon. And by that I mean literally in the next few days and not another few months as has been my horrible habit lately 😉

Happy belated holidays, everyone!

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White Cake with White Chocolate and Peppermint Buttercream

Happy New Year! I always seem to forget that just because the holidays are over it doesn’t mean I can go back to wearing skirts and tanks. So, even though it isn’t technically Christmas anymore, the snow on the ground, my short-circuiting space heater, and my super sexy thermal underwear all revealed to me that it’s still okay to make a white cake for winter.

Let it snow.

winterEarly morning wilderness treks with Beau. Clearly, I’m still 5 years old and throwing snow balls at my poor dog.

me_chienThis cake was inspired by Southern Living‘s “A Very Southern Christmas” issue, which highlights cake contest winners. This year’s winner was a white cake with white frosting that had little fondant snowflakes as decorations.

And while the cake was beautiful, sometimes Southern Living‘s recipes are wonky, so I decided not to put my family through a potentially disastrous culinary experiment and made a tried-and-true white cake with my white chocolate ganache buttercream frosting. What makes this cake a smidge more wintery is the layers of white chocolate peppermint frosting between the 8″ rounds [done with a dash of peppermint extract].

It only took about 4 hours total to make this cake…so, between the short time needed, having the oven on for warmth, and the extra insulating layers this cake is sure to add to your body, how could you go wrong?

*Sidenote: Best part of the season? Winterizing your body. Happy 2013 non-dieting, everyone 😉

P1040624[White cake recipe can be found here from Wedding Cakes for You. Makes the three 8″ x 2″ deep shown in the photos]

White chocolate ganache/peppermint buttercream frosting [*Note: This makes enough for the filling and frosting of the cake. It’s an extremely light and not-too-sweet frosting].

Equipment:

  • Electric mixer
  • Double boiler or microwave
  • Sifter

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. white chocolate
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, rm. temp.
  • 4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
  • Wilton’s white icing coloring [optional]

Chop the chocolate and melt with the heavy cream in a double boiler or carefully in the microwave. Let cool to rm. temp., about 30 min., stirring occasionally.

Beat the butter and 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar in a large bowl at low speed for 30 seconds. Increase speed and beat until light and fluffy.

Add 4 cups of sifted powdered sugar, alternating with the milk and beating at low speed after each addition. Add MOST of the white chocolate ganache [I always find I need only about 3/4 of it] and beat on med-high speed until it reaches a spreading consistency.

This is where I add Wilton’s white icing coloring, just because most buttercreams tend to be a bit beige in color and I wanted this cake to be extremely white. Just add however much you want and STIR in to make sure all of the coloring is incorporated.

Scoop out about a cup of frosting and place in a small bowl. Stir in the peppermint extract. Use this frosting to go between the layers of the cake.

whitecake7Use the rest of the frosting to coat the outside of the cake.

*Note: Sometimes getting a very smooth-looking surface on buttercream cakes can be tough. An easy trick is to put the frosted cake in the fridge for a few hours until the buttercream hardens, then take it out and smooth the ridges in the frosting with a heated spatula. To heat the spatula, dip it in very hot water, shake off the excess water, then use to smooth the cake. Dab up any excess water with a paper towel. I like to move vertically over the ridges, as this make the smoothing easier.

whitecakeThe decorations were made using gum paste and edible white flakes and sprinkles

whitecake5I used aspic cutters to make the shapes

whitecake6Frosty

whitecake4

Halloween Baby Carrot Cake

The best way to describe this cake is by relating the conversation I had with my cab driver:

Cabbie: “Is that…is that a baby Halloween?”

Me: “I’m sorry?”

Cabbie: “Like, is it, um…is it both a baby and a Halloween cake?”

Me: “Why yes. Yes it is.”

It all started when my coworker, Denny, decided that he was going to devote his life to the love, and celebration of, Halloween. Then he decided he wanted to be a dad and combine his love of both with a ghost- and goblin-themed nursery. And then he chose to quit his job as my official office bestie to move to more non-profit pastures. Or, you know, something like that.

An editorial sketch for the editorial dream team

So what better way to say goodbye then with a combo daddy shower cake/Halloween cake? And sure, it’s creepy as hell, but after 4 1/2 years of finding fake spiders dangling in front of my face and rubber rats under my chair, I thought it was only fair to return the favor by mildly implying that his spooky baby is soon-to-be devoured by flesh-eating spiders.

Who’s laughing now?! [Mumbles to herself while crying in utter isolation in the large editorial office]

Everyone came out for Denny’s going-away, even our fab former summer slave, Raishay

The cake was going to be red velvet, until I actually bothered to find out what Denny’s favorite kind of cake was, which turned out to be carrot. What’s different about this carrot cake is that the carrots are cooked and puréed instead of shredded. The frosting is maple cream cheese [recipes below].

So good luck out there, #2. When I meet your little one I promise not to let him watch The Shining until he’s at least potty trained 😉

[Makes (2) 8″ or (2) 9″ cakes. Adapted from Lorelie Carvey.]

Equipment:

  • Blender or food processor
  • Stand or electric mixer

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbl. baking soda
  • 1 Tbl. cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups corn oil [*Note: You can go veggie, but corn goes better with the flavoring for this cake]
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 Tbl. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups finely diced/minced walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
  • 2 lbs. carrots [I used baby carrots]
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups crushed and drained pineapple

[*Note: You can do this first step the night before] Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the carrots and cover, cooking approximately 20 min. until carrots are tender. Drain carrots and turn off heat, leaving enough water in the bottom of the pot to cover the surface. Add the 1/2 cup butter and 2/3 cup brown sugar, putting the heat back on low if the butter doesn’t melt all the way. Stir. Place carrots back in the pot and let soak, covered and stirring a couple of times, about 20 min. Put carrots in a large blender or food processor and purée [you might need to do this in 2 batches, and if the carrots need more liquid to purée effectively, add a bit of the butter/sugar mix from the pot]. Ideally, you’ll want to have about 2 2/3 cups of purée.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease, flour, and parchment-line the bottom of your pans.

Mix together all of the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and sugar. Add oil, eggs and vanilla, and beat well, scraping the sides of the bowl a couple of times. [*Note: The “batter” will be extremely thick at this point. This is normal and will moisten when the other ingredients are added]

Fold in the carrots, pineapple, coconut, and walnuts. Divide the batter evenly between the pans. Smooth the batter level. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or just until the tops are springy or a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Then invert onto racks.

You can find the cream cheese frosting in this post. To make it maple-flavored, I used this maple extract from KAF.

The centerpiece was this baby, made out of gum paste. There’s a mold you can find online by First Impressions called Small Baby 1. You can find it here. You can also watch videos on how to make this baby with your mold here [part 1] and here [part 2]. I put a little diaper on him because, well, it’s the office.

Also in focus was the black baby pram, which you can learn how to make here.

Lots of angles

I made many of the decorations using silicone molds that you can find on Etsy. The pumpkins were modeling chocolate tinted orange.

All set for the office

Destroyed

Twitter Cupcakes

In my Clark Kent life I’m an editor and reporter for a small education news publication–a publication that just hit over 20K+ followers on Twitter and our CEO decided we should celebrate.

We have a lot of foodies [and by that I mean people who just love to eat good food] in the office, so instead of celebrating with happy hour like normal companies do, we decided to throw a Twitter-themed potluck…basically the color blue exploded all over the conference room.

Now, it’s also understood that whenever potluck is mentioned, Meris will be the one bringing the desserts. And not wanting to sully my reputation as a sugar addict, I made these Twitter cupcakes.

At first, I tried to be lazy and just order a Twitter logo cookie cutter. Yeah…they don’t exist. But my laziness couldn’t be conquered so easily, so I ended up trying to order one from a start-up in Silicone Valley, only to have a rousing email exchange about the legal implications of designing, selling, and purchasing a brand logo. Over a cookie cutter. My life is exciting.

Finally realizing I would have to whip out some old-school Girl Scouts camp arts & crafts talents that had been lying dormant for decades, I managed to create a Twitter bird for my cupcakes. I’ll explain how to do this below. These blue cupcakes are vanilla bean with vanilla frosting [recipes provided below].

I also thought: Okay, if you’re not going to be lazy, then go big or go home, so I also made some cupcakes based on our company’s Twitter logo. These are red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting [recipes provides below].

Was I up until 2 a.m. mid-week? Yes. Do I now know that a cookie cutter could influence legal history? Yes. Did I cover my entire apartment in blue dust? Yes. Are these cupcakes cute? Yes! And that’s all that matters 😉

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

To see the recipe for the red velvet cupcakes, click here.

Cream Cheese Frosting [from Bon Appétit Desserts; makes about 3 cups of frosting]

Equipment:

  • Electric Mixer
  • Sifter

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. cream cheese, rm. temp.
  • 1/2 cup [1 stick] unsalted butter, rm. temp.
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in sugar 1 cup at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl occasionally.

*Note: To get perfectly round puffs of icing onto your cupcakes, use a piping bag fitted with Ateco’s 806 round tip or any other large round tip. Hold the piping bag completely vertical and squeeze while not moving the bag up or down–just squeeze and hold steady.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

The vanilla frosting is from Momofuku Milk Bar and can be found here in this post under the heading “Birthday Cake/ Homemade Store-Bought White Frosting.”

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes [makes (2) 8”, (1) 9” or 24 cupcakes. I tinted the cupcakes blue by adding Americolor’s Sky Blue gel coloring before the egg whites were added]

Equipment:

  • Electric mixer

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • 1 Tbl. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, rm. temp.
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp. vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Preheat oven to 350. Line cupcake pan with liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a stand mixer or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter until soft and smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and smooth. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down sides. On low, alternate adding flour and milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in vanilla extract and vanilla beans.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir in 1/2 cup whites into the batter, then fold in the rest in several additions.

Divide batter between cups and smooth. Bake 20-25 min.

* Decorations were made using gum paste [tinted black for the black squares] cut with square biscuit cutters and left to dry for 2 days. The eSN logo was piped on using royal icing and the bird logo was made by printing and then cutting out the Twitter logo. Using edible blue petal dust, place the cut out onto the gum paste square and, using outward strokes, dust around the image.

All done!

My coworkers at potluck [Denny, Vince, Carol, Rob, Nancy, Lee, Carla, Shana, Victoria, and Laura]

Someone dared Vince to eat an entire cupcake in one bite. Mission accomplished.

Fourth of July Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

After spending the past week in San Diego for a conference, nothing says ‘Welcome Home’ like a mini-hurricane and temps rivaling hell’s inferno. As I stood in my kitchen, AC blasting and contemplating wearing a bikini into the office this week, I thought: ‘Meris, do you really want to crank the oven on? Roll pastry? Melt butter?’ F- no!

So here’s to this frozen dessert perfect for 4th celebrations requiring nothing but a working freezer and a love of dairy. This ice cream is a literal interpretation; meaning, that it’s simply all kinds of variations of cream, mixed with fruit and grahams, then frozen. No ice cream machine needed, and, to be honest, it tastes even better than store-bought…probably because of its rich consistency and tons-o-fat. But hey, you’re going to sweat it out in the outdoor sauna anyway, right? 😉

This makes a lot and is enough to feed all of your relatives camping out this 4th in your backyard: The cousin who’s above anything that’s not organic, your uncle who brings his own 6-pack and jokes about blacking out drunk by the end of the night [not joking], and your grandmother who can’t stop talking about her bladder infection.

Sorry lactose-intolerant girlfriend of a 2nd cousin who over-dresses to impress the family but keeps giving you the stink eye, this one’s not for you.

[Makes enough to feed a small army…or a huge tub full] *Note: You will need to make this the night before so it can freeze overnight

Equipment:

  • Electric mixer
  • Blender

Ingredients:

  • 1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest or 1 tsp. dried lemon peel
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries (or any berry/fruit of your choice)
  • 4 whole graham crackers, coarsely chopped
  • Chopped strawberries and some blueberries for toppings [optional]

Put strawberries in blender and blend until your desired consistency [I like my ice cream smooth, so I puréed the strawberries, but if you like a chunkier consistency, chop them]. Let sit in fridge, covered [this draws out the sweetness].

Using and electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, condensed milk, whipping cream, and lemon zest in a medium-large bowl on medium-low speed until smooth. Freeze for 4 hours or until almost solid.

Take out of the freezer and beat the mixture using an electric mixer on low-medium speed until creamy. Pour in the strawberries and chunky grahams and stir in using a spatula or wooden spoon. Mix well. Freeze 8 hours or until firm.

Remove from freezer and let soften 5-10 min. before serving.

Chocolate Easter Egg Cake

When I was growing up, Easter was just as good as Halloween: you got massive amounts of candy, and if you didn’t get to dress up, that’s okay, because you got to go on a treasure hunt-there’s nothing cooler than that.

Every year my dad would take photos and video tape me in my heinous PJs as I trolled our large yard for candy-filled eggs, and every year my mom would leave me a “special” gift from the Easter Bunny, which always turned out to be a whole basket of expensive and rare candies hung in a tree, or a large stuffed animal…also hung in a tree [not as morbid as it sounds]. She’d also tell me how in France it’s not the bunny who delivers candies, but little flying bells from church that would drop candy.

“That doesn’t make sense,” I would say, shaking my head and smirking at the silly French children for believing ludicrous things like animate bells. Obviously, it was a fat bunny who liked to wear bow ties and carry baskets. And while she held her tongue while I was young, years later she still tells me “Like eating things from bunny eggs that just got laid sounds any better? Please. Gross.”

Well, Frenchie or American, if it’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that this holiday is a time for chocolate! I saw this cake a few years ago on Martha Stewart and finally decided to go for it. It’s chocolate cake (I use my own recipe) with chocolate ganache frosting filling, covered with a chocolate ganache glaze. The cake is topped with chocolate shards and Cadbury eggs covered in colored white chocolate (more details below).

Happy Easter from me to you, and may all the Easter bells and bunnies bless your yard with goodies 😉

[Adapted from Martha Stewart]

Equipment:

  • (2) 7″ round cake pans, or (2) 8″ round cake pans
  • Double boiler (recommended) or microwave
  • Electric beater with a whisk attachment (recommended) or a whisk

Ingredients:

For the cake: see recipe here. Makes enough for (2) 7″ or (2) 8″

For the filling:

  • 8 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

For the glaze:

  • 8 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbl. corn syrup

For the decorations:

  • 3-4 Cadbury eggs
  • 1 lb. white chocolate, chopped
  • Blue food coloring
  • 1/2 lb. milk chocolate, chopped

Chocolate stairway to heaven.

Bake the cake according to instructions above.

Next, prepare the decorations: Melt milk chocolate in a double boiler or slowly in the microwave, stirring often and making sure not to burn. Once melted and smooth, spread over a large sheet of waxed paper, leaving a 2-in. border. Cover with another same-sized piece of waxed paper and gently press down to remove any air bubbles. Roll the paper up tightly [gently] and place in the fridge until hardened [2 hrs.]

Make the eggs: Unwrap your Cadbury eggs and set aside. In a double boiler or microwave, melt the white chocolate. Once melted and smooth, divide between 2 small, deep bowls. Color one bowl of chocolate blue. To the other bowl, dribble the food coloring but do not mix. Wait about 5 min. for the chocolate to cool a bit. Using a fork, dip 2 eggs, one at a time, into the blue coloring, turning once to coat. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Using another fork, dip the rest of the eggs in the swirled blue/white bowl, turning once to coat [try not to move too much in this one, otherwise the color will meld and the marbleizing effect won’t be as good]. Set on baking sheet. Place baking sheet in fridge to set the eggs, about 1-2 hours. *Note: To get the blue eggs shiny, brush with a blue edible luster dust.

Fun with marbleizing

Make the filling: Put chocolate and heavy cream in a double boiler or microwave. Once melted and smooth, refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a cream cheese consistency, about 15-20 min. Using an electric beater with a whisk attachment, or just a whisk, whisk until fluffy and smooth and the ganache turns a lighter shade-about 5 min. using an electric beater. Spread roughly 1/2 cup of filling between the cake layers. Spread the rest on the sides and top of the cake to frost. Make as smooth as possible.

Make the glaze: Combine chocolate, heavy cream, and corn syrup in a double boiler or microwave. Once melted and smooth, let cool for 5 min. Pour over the cake, using a spatula to help coat if you need to. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

For the decorations: Place your now-hardened eggs on top of the cake. Roll out the waxed paper with milk chocolate-this will break apart your milk chocolate, creating little curled shards. Surround the eggs with the shards.

Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. Et voila!

Easter Bird Nests

I LOVE holidays because they allow me to make little themed decorations without having to worry too hard about being ‘cutesy.’

“Oh, Meris, you made a little chocolate bunny with a bow tie and buck teeth? How chic!” Bring that chocolate bunny around any other time of the year and praise for innovation turns into polite suggestions for psychiatrists that specialize in childhood fixations.

So in the spirit of celebrating fun childhood holidays with Martha Stewart-esque dessert crafts, I saw these bird nests featured at Bake at 350 and decided to test them out before the holidays. These little guys didn’t disappoint-not only do they take a total of 10 min. to make, they taste good too, which is always a plus for cutesy edible decorations 😉

[Originally adapted from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion-makes roughly 16 nests]

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups mini marshmallows
  • 3 Tbl. unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 cups fiber cereal or dry chow mein noodles (anything that resembles tiny twigs and you can eat works great)
  • Shortening
  • Small candies, jelly beans, Peeps, etc.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Over very low heat, melt the marshmallows with butter in a large saucepan. Once melted, stir in the vanilla. Turn off heat. Stir in the cereal and remove from hot burner. Coat your hands liberally in shortening. As soon as the cereal is cool enough to handle (it still has to be hot/warm because you need to shape the cereal), grab a clump smaller than a tennis ball but larger than a golf ball and form into a ball. Press your thumb into the middle, forming a nest, and set on baking sheet.

Allow the nests to cool and then fill with your choice of candy.

Mr. and Mrs. Bird