Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Anyone for a game of Chess?

Why don't you put on your smoking jacket, sit by the fire in your wing-backed chair with brandy snifter in hand, and enjoy an engaging round of chess while your Great Dane slumbers at your feet. You go and do that. I'll be here, playing checkers, hangin out with my pudgy piggy-dog, who snorts and makes paddling motions in her sleep.

These checkerboard cookies are both casual and elegant, simple and complex. It takes some tactile competence to get all the squares in place, but the easy party is being able to make them ahead of time. In fact, I might have forgotten this cookie dough in the freezer for almost a month. Hey, that still counts as fresh baked! They keep really well and have a great buttery flavor and isn't overly sweet - perfect for tea time.

The only catch is, if you're in the mood for something right now, this isn't it. You have to mix the dough and let it chill. Then you roll the dough, chill it some more. Cut into strips and layer into a log, chill it some more.  And if you have a large enough attention span to not forget the completely chilled out dough in the freezer, the easiest and funnest part is slicing up the log to reveal the patten inside. I thawed the cookie dough log in the fridge overnight and then used a super sharp knife to slice and immediately bake. That's as fast as buying pre-made cookie dough in tubes from the supermarket. (I've heard they have such things for sale out there nowadays!)  See? I did it on purpose.

I'll draw you a diagram and give you a blow by blow of how to assemble the checkerboard Baking Obsession does a great job of explaining the assembly, complete with Ikea instructions flow chart.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

There's something formal about cake that makes it so special. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of the down to earth cupcake. But the celebration cake is so exclusive and ceremonious.  You can't just grab a piece without doing the whole presenting, maybe some singing and then the cutting by a designated person. And then once it's been cut, you've got to pass the slices around and wait for yours, and hope you don't get jipped with a smallish slice. You possibly grab a second slice if no one's paying attention, and sneak a third for a midnight snack if your lucky enough to take some home. You hide that piece from whomever lives at home with you. Stick it way back in the fridge, push cartons of milk and heads of lettuce in front of it. So you can have the perfectly proportioned layers of cake and frosting later, and not share... Hypothetically speaking. But I digress.

I love the fussiness of it all, and I wanted to try doing a frilly cake with royal icing and fondant. I'm not a huge fan of the cliched fondant covered cake because I love my Swiss meringue buttercream. However, you just can't deny the clean, elegant look you that comes with a pale colored fondant backdrop contrasted to a crisp white ornate piped royal icing.

The gorgeous Martha-Stewart-esque wedding cakes in all the bridal magazines have always made me want to attempt doing one. So here it is. My attempt. It's so much harder than it I thought it would be. Try to ignore the smudges and the crooked lines. I'll do better next time, Kerry Vincent. Practice makes perfect.
The cake itself is chocolate and red velvet vertical layers. You can see how i am baker does it. It's spectacular if you chose cakes that really contrast in color such as vanilla and chocolate.  I frosted with a thin layer of Swiss meringue buttercream (you knew I had to work that in) and covered with some homemade marshmallow fondant. You'd better believe I ate that slice as soon as I put the camera down. The cake smelled amazing. I must say, however, my heart still belongs to Swiss meringue buttercream, if I get to have my cake and eat it too.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cake of Roses

Happy Monday! Here's just a random bouquet of pink roses. Aren't they pretty? Oh, is it Valentine's Day too? Ok fine. Happy Valentine's Day! I suppose they could pass for a Valentine's cake - if you do that sort of thing.

But I think I would love to see this cake on any day of the year. Even if there isn't chocolate and red velvet vertical layers inside. But who's even thinking of what's insde (more on that in another post). Plus, I don't get to cut into this cake because it's for a birthday... which juuuust happens to be on Valentine's day.

I think the roses would look just as amazing in ivory, for a bridal occasion. This decoration is actually deceptively easy and fun. I just used a large star tip and made circles starting from the center of the rose and going around twice. You can find the tutorial from i am baker.

My little Valentine <3...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Captain's Cake

Isn't everything just happier when you're by the sea? Well, I didn't actually get to enjoy the ocean myself because I'm stuck in my office without windows all day long. But it's been sunny and gorgeous lately in LA, and I'm glad the recipient of this cake got to enjoy the ocean from a boat cruise. What a birthday!

I just really couldn't decide what cake to make or how I should decorate it until I actually started to make it. I just knew it had to be sort of nautical. It helps that my baking repertoire is all over the place and I have so many odds and ends of materials. I used a really great chocolate cake recipe. It's just what a chocolate cake should be: rich, dark, moist, soft, fluffy. I thought the stout chocolate cake for the Irish car bomb cupcakes would be my new favorite go-to, but this one is it. I'll be using this one many many times.

I assure you this cake was very moist, but I made a Scotch simple syrup (the captain likes scotch) to add a little flavor and extra moisture just in case. I'm used to running into an event with a freshly baked cake, flour and cocoa powder still in my hair, but this cake wasn't going to be presented right away.  A vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream complimented the chocolatey deliciousness. Once I crumb coated the cake, I had to figure out what to do to snazz it up. Pipe shells? Blue buttercream? Brown sugar faux-sand? Fortunately, I decided to channel my inner Martha and keep it classic - ivory buttercream, simple pearl drops, and a comb swipe across the outside. Here's the fun part: I melted some candy melts and piped a ship's steering wheel onto transparency film over a template. I didn't know if it would work and I was surprised and delighted that it did work and on only one try! Once I placed the wheel on the cake, I mixed together and tinted some gelatin and drizzled a thin layer around the wheel to look like water, making sure the border was "leak proof" so that gelatin wouldn't run down the sides.

Chocolate Cake
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 scant cup cocoa powder
2 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly brewed coffee, room temperature
Scotch whiskey simple syrup*
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9" cake pans with wax or parchment paper. Line with 9" wax or parchment circles and grease and flour those as well. I like to to use non-stick baking spray (it has flour in it) as it's incredibly convenient and much less messy.
  2. Sift together the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low speed with mixer until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until well combined and fluffy.
  3. Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and slowly add to the batter. Scrape down sides and beat until combined.
  4. Divide evenly into pans and bake 30-35 min or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pans 10 minutes and then allow to completely on racks.
  5. Brush tops of both cakes with syrup and frost.
* Scotch Simple Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons Scotch whiskey

Bring water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Allow to boil about 4 minutes. Cool completely and stir in whiskey. If you don't like whiskey, just omit it.

Chocolate cake recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen