Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bug Cupcakes!

I'd like to try to claim that I wait to post my baking activities until well after the event because I like to relive the moments months later... really I'm just a complete slacker and take my good ol' sweet time getting around to it.  The following was a project from my nephew's 7's birthday in June.  Yes, it's quite embarrassing how long it's been, but better late than never, right?

For my nephew's 7th birthday I was tasked with making cupcakes.  But not cute cupcakes... that wouldn't be cool at all.  They had to be gross cupcakes.  So since the party was at a mini golf course with an Indiana Jones theme, I thought bugs would be perfect.  Big bugs like the creepy crawlies in the Jones trilogy (yes, I know there was a 4th Indiana Jones movie, but it was so bad that I refuse to acknowledge its existence).  Big, nasty, gross bugs...
Ok, so that guy is kinda cute.  The spider's body is a Ferrero Rocher with an M&M head.  Eyes are made of white sprinkles with two red food dye dots.  The legs are piped chosolate. 

Since the spider ended up not being gross enough, I had to work on some other bug options and came up with this one:
That is an edible cicada that looked a little too realistic for me to actually stomach eating.  The body is made from a date, the wings from caramels that were rolled out and cut into wing shapes the head is a half of an M&M and the antennae are piped frosting.

I couldn't decide on one over the other so I thought I'd top the cupcakes with all different types of bugs so the kids could choose which they wanted to devour.  The whole lot looked like this:
I liked how some spanned a few cupcakes to make it look like they were crawling all around.  However, I had planned to transfer them to a nicer looking plate (this is just my cupcake carrier), but after they were assembled I realized that because some were spread across two cupcakes that moving them would be impossible.  Plus it was a REALLY hot day in June and the bodies were assembled with chocolate, so too much handling meant they all fell apart.  So this is what the kids got.  Eh, they're 7 year old, I'm sure they won't notice!

The beetles:
Made of a Pretzel M&M, regular M&M and half a Raisinet for the head.

I made two different types of scorpions:
Both were made mostly with M&Ms (both whole and cut in half for the smaller parts of the legs) and a Pretzel M&M for the large part of the body and a half a Raisinet for the head.

The centipede:
The centipede was all M&Ms with chocolate legs.

A few of the happy customers:
They gobbled up the candy bugs, but hesitated once they got to the cupcakes.  They were red velvet with cream cheese frosting.  I thought the kids would think the color of the cupcakes was cool, but I think the cream cheese frosting weasn't sweet enough and they never really got past that.  Oh well, lesson learned.  Next time I'll stick to the super sweet Betty Crocker for the kids.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Do you like Pina Coladas?

Happy summer!  I got a hankering for summer time cookies... oh who am I kidding?  I bought this cookie cutter recently and needed an excuse to use it...

Isn't it ADORABLE?!  Little Webber grill cookie cutter!  I know, it's totally useless, but too cute not to have in my cookie cutter arsenal.
And what says summer more than pina coladas?? So put them together and you have pina colada cookies!  Take your favorite sugar cookie recipe, add 1 cup shredded coconut and 1/2 cup dried pineapple (blend them together in a food processor before adding to the dough) and voila!
I struggled a bit with how to decorate a grill cookie - next time I need to add some grass and maybe the 3rd leg in the background.  I would have done that this go around, but used all my green on my pineapple cookies...

Yeah, got a little crazy with the tops.

And my personal favorite... crab cookies!
Here's a close-up so you can see how adorable they are...
Happy Summer!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Congratulations Melissa and Keith!

A few weeks ago I was asked to help with a groom's cake for my friend.  Only it wouldn't be a simple little fondant covered cake with some random design... no, no, the bride had grand plans for this cake.  Given the groom lives and breaths Chicago sports, it made sense to give the cake a Chicago Cubs theme.  So the instructions were to make the bottom tier look like Wrigley Field with ivy all over, a second tier with the Cubs logo and incorporate a cake topper that bride had gotten with a Cubs theme.  Yikes.  Given that this would be only the third fondant covered cake I've ever made, I started to have a mini panic attack. 

Thankfully, another bridesmaid was helping me and she was in charge of making the cake.  A yummy pumpkin spice cake... BTW, Jen, if you're reading this you still owe me that recipe.  It was to die for!  Dense and moist with a fantastic mix of spices.  The problem was, the traditional icing she used for this cake was cream cheese... which if you've ever read any baking forum, cream cheese icing and fondant do NOT mix.  So I scoured the web and found this recipe from Earlene's Cakes.  It uses something called Butavan which sounded to me like something you'd take to get rid of some sort of infection, but it is actually a butter/vanilla emulsion.  Since the recipe used very little cream cheese (which is apparently what causes problems for the fondant) the Butavan helps strengthen the flavor.  To be completely honest... this isn't the best cream cheese icing recipe.  It does the job and it didn't melt the fondant, but it doesn't taste nearly as good as a traditional recipe.

So away we go... Jen arrived with cakes on Wednesday night around 6pm.  Here's the first layer getting its icing:
And one word of caution if you use this recipe - you've gotta work fast.  The point of it is to crust so the fondant can be placed on, but it crusts fast.  Like, warp speed fast.  So I'd recommend having all the cakes trimmed and ready to go before you even mix the icing.

Putting on the fondant:
Oops, you can see our cheat sheets behind the cake... don't judge!  I wasn't familiar enough with the Cubs logo or Wrigley Field to go off of memory.
Now, how to create ivy... more fondant!  Tinted in 3 different shades of green and three different sizes for variety.

Lots of ivy...
While Jen got started on applying those to the bottom layer I got started on the top...
Turns out I'm much better at icing round cakes. 
And of course my dog, Indi, had to supervise the project...
This time he promised not to eat the cake.

Jen had gotten an edible Wrigley Field sign made to stick on the front.  How cute!
Jen was doing a great job with the ivy so I got started on the Cubs logo... this turned out to be a bigger pain in the A than I thought it would be.  I have fondant letter cutters but the "B" looks more like an "8"... that is, if you can get it out of the cutter in one piece!  This thing really had me pissed off.  There were many four-letter words said at this point.  But it turned out alright in the end!
So maybe it was all the sugar fumes, or possibly the fact that it was around midnight at this point... but we thought that sitting on the cake board like this, the top tier looked a lot like an old fashioned campaign hat.  Don't you agree?  Maybe you need to see it on my head to convince you...
Yeah... we were a little loopy at this point in the night.
Enough playing around, it's time to join the two cakes.  In hindsight, it would have been good to do this PRIOR to decorating the top tier.  Once again, lots of four-letter words and cake nearly ending up on the floor, but the only casualty was that the blue band got a little messed up.  Nothing a little shortening and smoothing couldn't fix though. 
DONE!  Well, almost.  The topper came with all sorts of Cubs themed extras to decorate.  So we got a little crazy and thought the bride might look good with a hat on...
Yeah... at this point it was at least 1am. 
Here are some photos from the wedding. 
The groom checking it out with some buddies from Chicago:
Looks like a satisfied client!
Cutting the cake.  They cut ours in addition to the real cake! 
I have to admit it hurt a little to see the cake like this...
But what good is a cake that doesn't get eaten?

Congratulations Melissa and Keith! 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My dog ate the cake... seriously!

Here's a little tale about how this...

became this in a matter of 20 minutes...

Let me back up and explain what happened...

A friend of mine was having a bridal shower and I offered to make the cake.  I was all excited because I had a couple designs in mind and I couldn't wait to try one of them.  I'm new to using fondant so I did a trial version the week before.  It was a funky one-tier square cake with zebra stripes.  If I ever dig up those photos, I may post that eventually.  But since the shower's theme was a tea party, I thought a zebra striped cake might be a bit much.  So I settled on a classic two-tier cake with pink and yellow flowers.  Starting the night before I made 4 square cakes - two 8" and two 6" - using the most fabulous recipe I got from Bakerella that you can find here.  It's honestly the best yellow cake ever!  Very moist...

That's the cake with the sides cut off to make it as square as possible.  Then off comes the top...

Then use Martha's buttercream recipe to stack the two 8" squares and two 6" squares.  Here's the 8" all frosted and ready for the top tier.

I love that buttercream recipe and use it for most cupcakes and cakes I make.  Mmmmm.... buttercreammmmmmm....

Anyway... while the frost-covered cake set for a bit in the fridge I tinted and rolled out fondant to make some flowers.  Here's a close up of a couple of them drying on parchment paper.

The next morning when they were dry I rolled out the fondant and covered the cake, added the flowers and had a bit of fun with some left over icing which I used to make little vines.

All finished just in time for me to take a quick shower and then make it to the bridal shower right on time... or so I thought...
Upon coming out of the shower I discovered that the dog had gotten up on the counter, pulled the cake off and proceed to lick and pretty much destroy the entire top tier and most of the bottom.  I found him innocently lying on the kitchen floor next to the remnants of the cake.  Desperately hoping to salvage some part of the cake, I turned the top tier over on the pan it had baked on... maybe if I cut off the portion he licked....

Nope, not gonna happen.  The fondant was in a pile on its own (apparently the dog was more interested in the buttercream than the fondant) and no matter how I cut the cake it had no chance of survival.  I'm sure everyone at the party will thank me for giving up on the idea of saving some portion of the cake.  Sorry, Melissa... these pictures will have to suffice.

For the animal lovers in the group, the dog is fine (he's lucky it wasn't chocolate cake)... although if he ever does this again, he's not going to be with us for much longer...

And for the bridal shower lovers in the group, Cake Love came to the rescue with a last minute layered chocolate cake.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Daring Bakers January Challenge: Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

OK first let me just admit that yes, I realize it is February, and this is January's challenge.  I don't have a lot of excuses... actually I have none considering we've had quite a bit of snow this year in the DC area which has shut everything down and has given me plenty of opportunity to not only finish the challenge, but also post pictures.  If it counts for anything, I DID the challenge in January, but just haven't posted it till now.... no?  That doesn't make it any better?  OK, I promise to post earlier from now on.

Lauren, our lovely hostess this month, has Celiac desease and can’t digest gluten, so she thought it would be fun to give everyone the option to make the graham crackers and Nanaimo Bars gluten free.  Unfortunately since I did complete the challenge during one of the aforementioned winter storms, I was forced to use whatever I had in my pantry and did not have the proper flours, etc. on hand to make them gluten free.  Sorry Lauren!

The graham crackers I made were from 101 Cookbooks.  This was a pretty easy recipe that resulted in some of the best graham crackers I've ever had.  I heeded the caution of my fellow daring bakers and floured the surface very well.  The dough, even after chilling overnight is possibly the stickiest consistency I've ever experienced.  I'm not kidding.  You could probably hang this in front of your doors in the summer to use instead of fly paper.  Yes, that sticky.  I even put down a layer of parchment paper to roll it out on becasue I got tired of scraping it off of the counter.
I first tried trimming the edges to make a rectangle and then cutting the crackers out from there, but my first batch was, um... a little less than square.  So I enlisted the help of a rectangle cookie cutter I had on hand to make sure they came out a little more even.  I transferred them to a Silpat mat on a baking sheet and had no problem removing them after they came out of the oven.  I turned down the heat a bit (around 330 degrees) and left them a little thicker than the recipe calls for (more than 1/8" but less than 1/4")  so they were a little chewy - so good!  Here are the sticky suckers cooking in the oven.  

Again, this is a fantastic recipe and actually quite easy.  I highly recommend making your own rather than buying the crispy ones from the store that are loaded with preservatives. 

Now comes the second half of the challenge: Nanaimo Bars.  I have to admit... I'm not a chocolate fan - insert Home Alone scream face here.  Yeah, just not a fan of a lot of chocolate.  And this recipe sounded super rich to me.  So I made some changes that I thought would cut the richness a bit.  However these changes also made it look absolutely hideous.  I'm not kidding.  See for yourself:

See?  I told you.  Let me explain what this is and maybe you'll want to try a bite.  The first layers I didn't adjust too much; still had the cocoa power, sugar, butter and graham cracker crumbs (yes, it hurt to crush up those beautiful little crackers into bits).  However, I substituted the almonds for pecans and eliminated the coconut and went with crushed maple chunks (you can also find them at Whole Foods).

Then for the middle layer I used milk instead of cream and I substituted the vanilla custard powder for some corn starch with a little vanilla extract and I added a smashed banana.  I wish I could take credit for the banana addition, but I saw a fellow daring Baker, Sheryl from One Bite More, who made (Ba)nanaimo Bars.  LOVE the name!  See, there's an advantage to wiaitng till the last minute - you get to steal... I mean, ummmm, borrow ideas from everyone else.

So then it came to the top layer.  What goes better with bananas other than chocolate???  Peanut butter!  I'll actually have to admit here that this change was based more on the fact that I had a bag of milk chocolate and peanut butter morsels on hand than any sort of stroke of genius.  For the record, chocolate chips in a bag are NOT good substitutes for squares of semi-sweet chocolate.  EVER.  The consistency was all wrong and didn't even come close to being able to be spread so I just mixed it in with the banana middle layer and left it at that.  So yeah, it doesn't look pretty, but doesn't it sounds good?  Pecans and maple sugar, bananas and vanilla, & chocolate and peanut butter??  Mmmmm... Go ahead, dig in....
It actually was really good.

Thanks Lauren for the awesome challenge!  Canadian Nanaimo Bars were the perfect thing to get me in the mood for the Olympics!