Archive for the 'Bake it up' Category

Let them eat cake

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Well.  What Ellen failed to mention yesterday is that she has engaged yours truly to come out to Boston for the east coast party and bake wedding cake(s).  And supervise the preparation of the other food, too.

Uh, Ellen?  180 guests?  Lord have mercy.  I was really thinking I’d be baking for about 60.  That just goes to show the truth of the obnoxiously smarmy saying about “assume!”

OK.  We can do this.  We have the technology.  Despite the fact that all my baking pans and equipment are in NW Missouri, and the party is taking place in the greater Boston area.

We just need to figure out what kind of cakes we’re talking about here.

How about a small, tiered, square white cake with vanilla buttercream, like so?

square wedding cake

Or perhaps a flourless chocolate cake? 

flourless chocolate cake                                    (As an aside, these are really, really delicious.  Like mainlining chocolate.  Hook up the IV, girls!)

Maybe a chocolate cake with chocolate truffle filling and chocolate buttercream?

chocolate cake                                      I believe this particular cake had fresh raspberries embedded in the truffle filling.

Or its fraternal twin, a white cake with white chocolate truffle filling and white chocolate buttercream?

white chocolate cake                                            This cake had sliced strawberries in the center.

Or we could go with cheesecake–always a popular choice.

cheesecake                                        Seen here fraternizing with the bad-boy flourless chocolate cakes.

How about lemon cake?  That’s nice and summery-seeming.

lemon cake                                    (Although in actuality about as light as a lead balloon.)

Or, (not pictured), carrot cake?

I realize that all these white-ish cakes look very much the same on the outside, but inside the differences are vast.  Vast, I tell you!

And what’s the plan for all the other food?  Remember Mom’s birthday party a couple years ago, Ellen?  Are you thinking of something like that?  Let’s see, we had hot artichoke dip with bruschetta for dipping, hummus with pita bread, baked Brie en croute with crackers, a vegetable array, fresh fruit, Sarah’s famous pasta salad, cake, and maybe something else that I’m forgetting.

Oh, and, as much as I like the ideas for plants in the backyard that others have suggested in the comments, with 180 guests you may find yourself needing every square inch of yard space.  Pack ’em in!  I myself really believe that, with lots of good food and (heaven knows) booze, no one will notice the yard.  But perhaps that’s just because I am a terrible gardener but a pretty good cook.

Let them eat cake!

Lemon Cake

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Yesterday I made a 9″ square lemon cake for a client.  It’s a good cake, but a bit labor-intensive.

First I made the cake.

mixing the cake

Then, while that baked, I made the lemon curd for the filling.  (If you’ve never tasted homemade lemon curd, I encourage you to scroll down to the bottom of this post and go make yourself some forthwith.  It’s a little bit of heaven on a spoon.  Why, yes, I do just eat it straight, with a spoon.  Is there something wrong with that?)

lemon curd 

When the cakes were baked, and after they cooled,

baked cakes 

I sliced off the domed tops and cut them in half horizontally.  (This process leaves the cook with some yummy cake scraps to spread lemon curd on later.)

sliced cakes

After I cut the cakes, I soaked the bottom layer with soaking syrup.  (Simple syrup=equal parts sugar and water, brought to a boil and then cooled.  Add flavoring according to the kind of cake you’re making.  For this cake I added straight lemon juice; more often I add some kind of alcohol or liqueur.)

soaking the cake 

I made the filling by folding meringue into the lemon curd along with a little bit of gelatin for stability, and filled the cakes.  The top layer got the soaking treatment, as well.

filled cakes

The cakes took a little break in the frig while I made the Italian buttercream for the frosting.  First you make an Italian meringue:  whip 8 oz. of egg whites with a little sugar, bring more sugar and water to 248 F, and pour the boiling sugar syrup into the foamed whites.  Whip until cool.

Italian meringue

Then add 2# (yes, that’s 2 pounds–don’t faint, that’s what makes it good) of softened butter and you have the most delicious, satiny, easiest-to-work-with frosting on the planet.

finished buttercream 

I put a crumb coat on the cakes and chilled them briefly.

crumb coat 

Then I frosted and decorated them with the buttercream.

frosting the cake

Et voila!  Finished cakes!

finished cake 

As easy as pie!  Er, cake.

Lemon Curd

1 cup lemon juice

Zest of 1-2 lemons

12 oz. (1 1/2 cups) sugar, divided

4 eggs

5 egg yolks

4 oz. (1 stick) butter

Bring lemon juice, lemon zest, and about 8 oz. (1 cup) sugar to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan, stirring to be sure sugar dissolves.  As mixture reaches a boil, whisk remaining sugar into eggs and yolks in a bowl.  (Don’t put the sugar on top of the eggs and let it sit without whisking–the sugar will “burn” the eggs.)

Pour about half the boiling lemon juice mixture into egg/sugar mixture, whisking constantly.  (This is called tempering the eggs, and it ensures that the eggs will not curdle when you pour them back into the boiling juice.)

Put the saucepan back on the heat and pour the egg mixture into the remaining juice mixture, whisking constantly.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook the curd, whisking constantly, until it thickens and almost reaches the boiling point. (190-195 F.)

Remove from heat and whisk in butter until it is melted.  Immediately strain curd through a fine-meshed strainer to remove lemon zest and any small cooked egg bits.  Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until chilled.  Get your spoon ready.


Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Although there is actual knitting going on here at my house, my output has decreased significantly over the holiday season, and what is being worked on cannot be pictured here on the blog for Christmas security reasons.

So, I offer instead some thoughts about my son’s 11th birthday.  Yesterday was his birthday, and we had a little family get-together last night with cake and ice cream and gifts.  I made the cake–white cake with strawberry frosting.

birthday cake 

He was a bit excited.

birthday cake 

Eleven years ago, on a Sunday night, the night before my due date, I called my mother and told her, “Well, I can have the baby now.  I finished the baby quilt tonight!”  I was joking.  I thought that, being my first pregnancy and all, it was quite likely I would go over the due date.  I was just hoping I wouldn’t have the baby on Christmas.

He was born the next morning at 8:40 a.m. 

Like most mothers, I remember every detail of labor and delivery with perfect clarity.  It’s the following weeks that blend into a sleep-deprived blur.  Heck, let’s be honest.  Details of the following years blur together.  Moments stand out, though, some funny, some sweet, some unbearably sad.

I think of him as a toddler (“angel baby,” I called him, because he looked so sweet and angelic) and am overcome by sadness and sometimes, almost a kind of despair.  That child is gone now and will never be again.  He exists only in photographs and in memory.  Life with that toddler was so much simpler, in so many ways.  It was hard, too, I have to remind myself, and there were many days when I wished that things could be other than what they were.

When Harvey was a baby, I asked a mother of a five-year-old if things got easier.  She looked at me appraisingly and said, “Things get different.  Not necessarily easier.”  I had no idea.

Yet somewhere inside my great big eleven-year-old boy with all his problems, gifts, and talents, that angel baby still lives. 

After all, it’s what’s inside that counts.

birthday cake

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

The Thanksgiving meal has been eaten, and we are awaiting the arrival of more family to chow down on the Thanksgiving pies, which are, let’s face it, the best part of the meal.

apple pie 

Apple pie, fresh from the oven.

Thanksgiving pies 2006 

Pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies.  Some of us can hardly wait, while some of us are practically in a wine-induced stupor.  (And some of us are glad that others of us get to do the cleanup.)

Happy Thanksgiving from the Knit Sisters!

Preparation is everything

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

I have been running around madly today, trying to get ready for Thanksgiving.  Here’s my food list for the holiday, living next to the holiday cookie list on the refrigerator door.

Thanksgiving list 

Note that pie is a major player in my holiday meal plan.  Also note that I do not intend to cook a turkey this year.  In fact, I never cook a turkey on Thanksgiving.  I always (well, almost always) make lasagne, salad, and bread and then we pig out on pie.  This year I plan on making three pies:  pumpkin, pecan, and apple.  Why, yes, it’s true that there are only three people in my family.  What of it?  (Pay no attention to the mention of carrot cake on the list above.  That’s another matter entirely….)

I’ve begun making preparations for Christmas-cookie-making, as well.  This starts with the traditional pulling out of all the cookie cookbooks in my library, shown here with pecans.

cookie cookbooks 

There are quite a few.  Some are not even pictured.

Then I make a list of people to whom I intend to give cookies.  Then I make a list of cookies I intend to bake.  (See above.)  Then I think about how many days are left until the day when I need to get these cookies in the mail or give them to neighbors.  Only then do I begin to feel a bit stressed.  But hope springs eternal.  This year I will get it all done!

Why, I’ve already finished one knitted gift!

And am progressing steadily on a second!

blue angora 

This is shaping up very nicely–a pretty little cloud of blue fluff.

No worries.

Boots                                       “I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.  A can of tuna should satisfy everyone for the holiday, doncha think?”

Notorious D.O.G.

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

Before I recount my latest canine-related misadventure and my predictably slow progress on Icarus, I just want to point out that my sister’s cookie recipes are the absolute best and if you haven’t seen her post from yesterday, take a look and get that recipe!

She was always such a great baker—even as a small child—that I myself never bothered to learn to bake. What was the point really, when she was (and is) so much better at it?

Besides, I was always the kind of kid who’d get bored halfway through a batch of cookies. You know, making those little balls exactly the same size so they’d bake evenly and all that.

So I’d just take the rest of the dough and make one really, really big cookie.

That cookie would never bake. Or it would, but the others would burn up in the meantime.

Hey, come to think of it, maybe the same thing happened with the United States. About the time they hit Ohio, one of the guys in charge of carving up territory said to the other, “Listen, dude, if we make all these states the same size as New Hampshire, we’ll never get finished. Look at all this land we got left! We gotta start making these bigger.”

At the end of the day, they made one really, really big state and called it California. And that explains why California—bless its big, beautiful, alternative, West Coast heart!—has always kind of “baked at a different rate” than all the other states.

Here on the home front, Miss Shelley, shown here giving you the “junkyard dog” hairy eyeball,

has once again been defending her turf. Unfortunately for both her and for me, she is apparently unable to discern the differences between an intruder like, say, a groundhog—which she can dispatch with almost frightening haste to his hoggy reward—and one like, say, a skunk.

If I’ve told her once, I’ve told her a thousand times, “Shelley, Shelley, the skunk always wins in the end. They’re the casinos of the animal world.”

But does she listen? Does she listen? No. No, I tell you!



I don’t have to take this crap. I’m going outside to see if I can rustle me up some skunks.

Last night, we’re sitting on the sofa reading, Shelley is outside on one of her routine perimeter checks, and the cat is on the phone to Homeland Security reporting us for “suspicious behavior” and requesting that the apartment be bugged by NSA—typical quiet evening at home—when Alex says, “I think I smell a skunk.”

“Ha, ha,” I say. “I’m sure it’s just that I’m cleaning the oven and it produces strange fumes.” Since I’ve never cleaned the oven before, neither he nor I could possibly know what it smells like, but my feeble attempts at housekeeping are a topic for another day.

“No,” he says. “I’m pretty sure I smell skunk.”

Just then, Shelley bursts through the dog door into the back hall and starts writhing about on the carpet, encrusted with dirt, foaming at the mouth, and running at the nose.

Skunked. R.I.P., carpet.

I grab her, hustle her into the tub, and yell to Alex for backup. First we have to give her a conventional bath to get the mud off, then we have to repeatedly apply a mixture of baking soda, white vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide to her muzzle to cut the skunk spray.

This procedure is met with an unfavorable response from the canine unit.

By the end of it, it is difficult to discern if the situation is better, or if we have just spread the stench around. Our olfactory systems have burned out. This is a small, but significant, blessing.

But there is icing on this fetid cake! I take my hand off the dog for a microsecond and she hops out of the tub and shakes violently, showering the entire bathroom with water and whatever remains of the skunk oil.

Good times, good times.

I could only go back to Icarus once I was sure that I wouldn’t contaminate him.
Nothing was ever said about flying too near a skunk, after all.

Real progress is being made, but you have to be very, very discerning to see it.

How like life!

If you have any peanut butter chocolate chip cookies kind words to raise me out of my skunk funk, please pass them along. I assure you, they will be richly appreciated.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

I have been working diligently on my new design that I can’t show you, so I guess that would be the end of that discussion.  (I do have to say here, though, that this whole “full time job” thing is really getting in the way of my knitting time.  Re-entry has been hard this year.)

But I’ve also been back at the wheel doing a little spinning, trying to finish up that lime superwash.


lime green sw on bobbin 8-30-06 

Another view, where you can see the single strand better:

lime green sw on bobbin 8-30-06                                OK, I admit, this second photo is a bit gratuitous, but I don’t have much in the way of photos today.  (That would be because the project I’m working on I can’t show you.  See above.)

I had an interesting offer yesterday from someone who would like me to make cookies for them every month and ship them (the cookies) to them (the person).  I was trained as a pastry chef and actually worked as a pastry chef for a while.  Although I don’t work in the industry anymore (long story), I do make wedding cakes, specialty cakes, and other baked goods/pastries for private clients.

This offer got me thinking about cookies and their general goodness, and then I thought about one of my favorite cookie recipes.  I decided that it would be fun to share this recipe on the blog today.  (Please note:  This is an original recipe of mine, so I’m not violating anyone’s copyright.)

So, without further ado, I offer you my recipe for

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) butter 

3 c. brown sugar 

3 tsp. baking soda 

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. salt  

1 1/2 c. crunchy peanut butter 

3 eggs 

4 1/2 c. flour 

4 c. (24 oz.) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375.  Cream butter, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in mixer until light.  Add peanut butter, beating until well-blended.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add flour; mix until blended.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Scoop onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Flatten with fork in a criss-cross pattern.  Bake 8-10 minutes, or until cookies just start to brown on top.  Cool on a wire rack.

Notes:  This is a big recipe.  Use a 4 1/2- or 5-quart mixer. 

Adding the baking powder, soda, and salt to the butter and sugar when you cream them is a little trick I learned in cooking school.  Doing this really distributes the small amounts of these ingredients throughout the dough, and because all three are granular (like sugar), it doesn’t interfere with the creaming process.

I use a small ice cream scoop to portion my cookies.  It works great, is quick, and they all end up being the same size.