Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rainbow Velvet and Marshmallow Clouds

When I was a kid, I loved Lisa Frank stationary. Remember that stuff? It was bright and colorful, and even at age nine, when you should be a little too old for stickers, I had a sticker collection which consisted mostly of Lisa Frank and Sanrio stuff. This rainbow cake reminds me of a Lisa Frank collection and of being a kid. In fact, I believe I was humming the Reading Rainbow theme song while affixing the clouds onto the sky… “Butterflies in the sky, I can go twice as high…

A cousin of a friend of a friend (right?) was planning her daughter’s first rainbow themed birthday party and had this cake in mind. I was super excited, you have no idea. Lately I’ve gotten opportunities to challenge my skills and make things that I couldn’t justify doing just for fun. Except wedding cakes. When I start getting more than 4 hours sleep a night, I realize I’m just being a lazy blub, and I start making wedding cakes. Just for fun. I kid. It’s usually 5 hours of sleep. But these opportunities actually justify all my trips to Costco for embarrasing amounts of butter. 

I’ve made marshmallow clouds before and I think the idea is really really cute and I’m so glad I got to make them again. It’s just Martha’s piping marshmallow, with a 3/8” round tip (the same one I use for macarons) piped into free form cloud shapes. They are fixed onto the fondant cake with royal icing. I was pressed for time, however, and used a toothpick to hold the clouds on as the royal icing dried. I wish I could take credit for the cake topper, but this creative mommy actually ordered this figurine to be custom made to her little girl’s photo, favorite bear and birthday outfit! It’s just so insanely cute. It hurts.

I’ve been on a red velvet kick lately and I thought to make the cake a “rainbow velvet” which would have some of the same great “velvet” complexity. I used a double batch of my wedding cake recipe, omitting the cocoa and leaving the baking soda/vinegar emulsion to the end to be mixed separately for each portion before baking. Once the batter was mixed, I portioned out into seven bowls (using a scale) and mixed my colors in. Since I only have three 8” pans, the baking was done in three batches. Yes, I waited for each batch to cool enough, re-washed, re-greased, and re-parchmented. This is also where I learned that stacking your pans on two different levels in the oven results in uneven cake layers (no convection oven here) even when using cake strips. Luckily, with the thickness I needed the layers to be, I torted off essentially all of the unevenness. With seven layers, it was necessary to really get these even and level while building on them so they would be structurally sound as well as aesthetically pleasing. I used a ruler, as cake leveler and a cake knife to do it. A thinner layer of cream cheese frosting went in between to keep the layers from sliding around or icing from oozing out from the weight of the stack, but with seven layers, I was not worried that there wouldn’t be enough frosting to cake ratio.

The cake was complemented with a set of Lemon Cupcakes and Coconut Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which was a standard SMBC recipe with added reduced coconut milk.

I'll post the recipe soon-ish!...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Baker, Shaker, Wedding Cake Maker

A month ago, a friend asked me to make the cake for her daughter’s wedding and confirmed my standing suspicion that she was a little cuckoo. (Tooootally kidding! I love you, Liz!) I was honored and happily agreed… and as I thought and thought about it over the course of weeks leading up the wedding day, I realized that I was, in fact, the cuckoo-bird. I started to wake up in the middle of the night from dreams of the cake toppling, or being in a car wreck on the way to the reception, or even forgetting to bake the cake! Really, who do I think I am? I bake at home, purely for my own amusement. My mom pragmatically pointed out that this was someone’s wedding, and maybe just a little more than one of my fun little baking experiments. A wedding cake is one of the most important pieces of one of the most important events in two peoples' lives! No pressure or anything. But in the end, they had that much faith in me to have me do my first ever wedding cake and I always step up to a challenge. Anyways, I’ve watched enough Food Network Challenges to have it in the bag.

We decided to go with Red Velvet – as the bride is a big red velvet fan. The only catch was, this cake needed to be parve, and I know from my vegan sister, that subbing for dairy sometimes results in wonky tastes and textures. I went through a few recipes and test batches and put together my favorite Red Velvet, parve or not. Ever (recipe to be posted soon). I was also really inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s wedding cake and took advantage of many of her tips. And just like she said, my kitchen floor ended up disastrous. Maybe the kitchen walls too. Somewhere along the way, I knocked a bowl of red food color-cocoa emulsion from the counter. Splatter. Everywhere. I’m sure it really looked like a crime scene when my boyfriend came running in response to my shrill scream to discover a deep read puddle in the middle of the kitchen and me and everything in a five foot radius covered in forensic evidence. It’s really funny actually. Or twisted. As far as clean-up, I had three days of sleep to catch-up on and another wedding to attend the next day and decided to avoid going into my kitchen altogether. In fact, tonight I'll have to chose between doing dishes and disposable dining ware. My hands are still chapped from washing my mixer bowl 73 times. When the dust powdered sugar settled, there were piles and piles of emptied flour and sugar sacks, bottles of vanilla, buttery stick boxes, cocoa containers, shortening and tofutti tubs. I’ve never gone through so many baking supplies before. Not to mention cake boards and cake board foil and transporting boxes, pans and parchment. I literally multiplied my standard 8” cake recipe by 15 times. Read: 72 cups of batter. I needed a spreadsheet for these calculations. Now I get why wedding cakes are so expensive. Macarons too. Totally justified.

The wedding venue was a gorgeous historic building in Downtown LA, complete with marble balusters, a dramatic cascading staircase leading to a mezzanine and over 200 guests. I must admit, when I arrived to set up the cake and saw the crews of florists, caterers and lighting specialists running around, I started to get nervous. By the time I saw the showcased cake table and display of exotic fruits and desserts behind it, yogic breathing was all I could do to quell my shaking hands into piping the snail-trail trim on the cake. Ricardo from Luna Gardens, who was a delight, added the exquisite Black Magic roses to finish it off. 

I snapped some pictures and slipped out just as the valet guys were taking the first guests to pull up for the ceremony.

It’s an amazing feeling to have successfully pulled of my first wedding cake and I must give special thanks to my boyfriend. He picked up food for me when I forgot to eat, demanded that I take power naps (demanded – we were on the verge of a fight at my refusal to sleep) and made up my whole delivery team. Imagine the patience it takes to keep it together when you're driving a car full of wedding cake and your girlfriend is hyperventilating at every stop light you close in on. He completely believed I could do it and assured me the world would not implode if I didn’t.

Congratulations, Natlie & Ed

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds and a Pumpkin Carving

Yeah, I’m one of those people who likes to enter into every contest, giveaway and raffle. Some person, somewhere, is going to win free stuff, and that person might as well be me! It so happens that my boyfriend is a tech enthusiast (I didn’t say “geek”, ok? You did. Didn’t you? Oh, you didn’t. Ok…) and told me about this contest that IntoMobile was having for some great shiny new toys provided by Nvidia. Mostly, all I heard was that I get to carve a pumpkin and my mind wandered off with the possibilities of how I would execute this, while he went on about how awesome the prizes were (a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, a Jawbone Jambox and a $25 gift card).

The day before Halloween, we set out to find a pumpkin. We strategically consulted some neighbors and learned that the best place to get pumpkins was at the Trader Joe’s… in the Valley. I briefly considered a Coach purse and some Juicy Couture sweat pants to blend in with the natives but abandoned that idea when we decided to expedite the process to fit in a beach day as well (wouldn't have worked without a Range Rover anyway). We were gonna go into this store with shields up - quick and dirty!

Well, after stumbling over a few bales of hay, elbowing a couple of pre-teen girls and narrowly avoiding a head-first dip into the giant pumpkin bin, we succeeded in securing the largest, orangey-est, most gorgeous two pumpkins, if I do say so myself. We happily went on to enjoy an such a fantastic picnic on the beach that we neglected to realize that it would mean not getting home to start the carving until very late! Seven long, infomercial filled, exhausting hours later (including ice cream breaks), this is what I got:

To do this, we printed out a logo image in grayscale and taped it to the pumpkin. Then I used an exacto knife to make perforations along all the lines I wanted to carve. Exacto blades (that were completely dull by the time I was halfway through) were used for almost the entire thing, with the help of a sharp paring knife for some of the clean up. I used a serrated steak knife for the lid, of course. The texture in the negative space is a familiar one I'd done before in making this watch carving a few years ago from a bar of soap. I love exacto knives. Exacto knives and silicone spatulas. And puppies.

Oh yeah, the pumpkin seeds! Well these were a total bonus. I haven’t carved a pumpkin in years, I almost  threw these away as an afterthought. Glad I didn't, because I'm chomping on them right now. Here they are, all dressed up and yummy!

Cinnamon-Sugar Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons melted butter (or olive oil)
2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Wash pumpkin seeds and lay out on a paper towel on a cookie sheet to dry. In a medium bowl, toss the seeds with the melted butter, coating thoroughly. Add the remaining ingredients and toss. Spread the seeds out evenly across a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the seeds are golden brown. Stir the seeds every so often while they're baking, so that they toast evenly.