Things are getting a little nutty… and very delicious

In my last post I talked about my sister’s production company hiring me to make their premiere party cake for their new show United Stuff of America. As it turns out, her getting this job has worked out to my … Continue reading

United Cake of America

United Stuff of America cake with sugar cookie

This gallery contains 4 photos.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, my sister just so happens to work producing a TV show for a cable channel in New York, because yes, she’s just that cool.  Before she started developing a TV series for H2, the … Continue reading

Hoppy Easter!

I totally planned for today’s write-up to be a relatively shorter one as there was no actual new cake baked in the making of this post (Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of cake, lots of cake- balling and tons of cake decorating) but even though the baking did not make a guest appearance in the making of these Easter cake balls, it turned into quite the instructional post. So go make yourself a snack and come back and get comfortable for my “Cake Balls: 101” introductory course.

Now that I’ve made you nervous, let me restart this now by saying Happy (late) Easter! Rumor has it Jesus made us wait three days but now I’m making you wait over a week, sorry about that. I have had so much leftover cake tops from the past cake experiments that for this holiday, I decided to use some of what I already had and make bunny cake balls instead of a full-blown cake.  Cake balls are the easiest way to please a hungry crowd and everyone always thinks they take so much more time than they do, so people tend to make you feel very special as they rave about all the “hard work it must have been for you to slave away” while making them. False. Lies. Poppycock. Here’s why:

1. Take a cake (homemade or not, there is no pretension in cake balls). You can make a boxed cake, have leftover cake, buy a cake- whatever you do they’ll still taste so decadent you can’t go wrong. In this case, I had leftover chocolate cake tops from a previous cake that I had frozen and saved for such an occasion.

2. Take a “glue” – this is where you can get super creative (as long as it’s not actual glue. Eating paste may have been acceptable in kindergarten but it’s less endearing now). Use peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, chocolate ganache, caramel, jelly, even just good old fashioned can icing… Anything that when added to a crumbled up cake will create a kind of cake paste that holds its shape when you roll it up. For these cake balls I used leftover Bailey’s chocolate ganache from the car bomb cupcakes I made in March.

3. Destroy the cake. Massacre it. Crumble it up into oblivion and get it to as fine of a dusty, crumbly consistency as you can. Some people use food processors but I use the processors God gave me – my hands. Works just fine.

4. Starting out with just a little bit (you don’t want to put too much in too soon and get cake soup, although that sounds delicious), slowly add spoonfuls of your glue of choice to your big bowl o’crumbs. As you add and stir, the crumbs start to congeal with the filling and form a thick moldable concoction of yumminess. To give you an idea, one cake mix combined with one regular can of icing will give you the perfect consistency.

5. Roll up small fistfuls of the dough into little balls. You can make them as big (golf balls) or small (marbles) as you want, just remember they’ll get bigger when you cover them in chocolate and put on your toppings.

Cake Balls
6. Freeze the balls. This could be for 10 minutes if you’re making them immediately or for weeks if you just want some to have on hand to make on the fly- they’ll last forever in the freezer, but either way you’ll want them cold before you dip them in the chocolate so that they don’t melt and fall apart.

7. Melt your chocolate. You can use basic semisweet chocolate chips or really any baking chocolate that you like. I prefer almond bark since it has a good melted consistency and seems to dry and harden faster than regular chocolate. I also use a double boiler to melt the chocolate.  You could try putting them in the microwave but you run the risk of burning and scolding the chocolate, making an entire bag of chocolate chips unusable and resulting in a very depressing disposal of chocolate that could be completely avoidable. So, for a double boiler, take a small pot and fill it up with about 1-2 inches of water. Then put another pot or stove-safe bowl on top of the pot with water, and put the chocolate in that bowl. Get the water to a boiling point on the stove but make sure the steam from the boiled water is just barely grazing the pot that has the chocolate or it will burn. Constantly stir the chocolate until it melts all the way. Take it to a low heat level and keep stirring occasionally once it melts all the way- the steam from the boiling pot underneath melts the chocolate without burning it. It’s pretty legit.

Melting Almond Bark

Melted Almond Bark

8. Take the cake balls out of the freezer. Let them thaw for about 5 minutes or so (putting completely frozen cake balls right in the hot chocolate will make your chocolate crack. And no one wants to crack their balls).

9. Once you’re ready to dip the balls in the chocolate, you could do this 1,001 different ways. You could put one on the tip of a skewer, you could put one on a fork prong, you could just drop them in and fish them out, it’s really up to you and how much patience you have. I use the plop and retrieve method: Shamelessly throw the balls in the pot then fish them out with a fork (I use a two-pronged skewer that works really well).

Taking the cake balls out of the chocolate

Carefully scoop the ball out of the chocolate, resting on the fork, the slide it off of the fork onto a sheet of wax or parchment paper. You don’t even need to use your fingers to get it off, by sliding it along the top of the parchment paper it should come off relatively easy, mess and smudge free.

Putting the cake balls on the parchment paper

10. If you’re planing on putting toppings on the balls (nuts, sprinkles, etc) this is when you would do that- before the chocolate hardens or the toppings won’t stick. However, for my Easter cake balls, I took a slightly different route:

– First off, I did them in white almond bark to make them extra super bunny-like (so you’ll notice that the pictures above are from a previous cake ball extravaganza and not related to the topsy turvy bunnies below)
– To get the burrowing bunny look, I cut mini marshmallows in half along the diagonal so both halves looked like right triangles
– On the non- sticky part of the marshmallow half, I took what has to be the best invention since penicillin- the food coloring pen, and drew little pink footprints on about 502 mini marshmallows
– Not knowing which one would look more realistic, I did the tail two different ways. On some I cut a marshmallow in half horizontally and used one half on the tail, and for others I used a star tip to pipe a fluffy tail out of icing. Both results are below- which one’s your fav?

Bunny cake ball 1

Bunny cake balls 2
PS- I also died about two pounds of coconut green in order to make the grass, which means I now have about 1.8 pounds of green coconut sitting leftover in my fridge. Look for that to be incorporated somewhere in my next recipe.

Happy Birthday S’morgan!

Hello blog universe, this is the sister talking.  The “I’m turning 25 and I want a cookie monster birthday cake” sister.  But let’s be honest, everyone of you wishes they had that cake too.   Well, I thought I’d take a turn on Morgan’s blog to talk about a momentous baking achievement that for once frosting’s bestie had nothing to do with–HER birthday cake.

The baker’s request for her 28th birthday was a s’more, but believe me, it was no ordinary smore.  The words ridiculous, giant, and awesome come to mind.  Let’s just say that at the end of the journey, I ended up with a cake that was almost a foot tall and over a foot wide.  Talk about s’more bang for your buck…see what I did there? 😉
Since it was such a massive undertaking, I obviously couldn’t have legit graham crackers as my top and base–the weight of the whole thing would completely demolish the cracker underneath.  So, I found this recipe for a graham cracker cake that sounded too good to be true.  See here and below:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a 9×13″ pan with tinfoil or parchment paper, and grease lightly
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and combine
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, salt, and baking soda.
  • Add dry ingredients to butter mixture slowly, and mix until just combined
  • Pour batter into prepared pan, and use a spatula to spread evenly
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Allow cookie bar to cool completely in the pan before removing
When it comes out of the oven, it looks like a normal yellow cake, just slightly darker in color.  But believe me when I tell you that your entire apartment will smell like glorious toasted graham crackers once this cake is done.  It was so heavenly it was hard to continue, I just kind of stood in a trance, wearing my Doctor Who tardis apron, and enjoyed the smell.  But alas, the birthday girl must get what she wants, so I continued on.
Profile shot

Profile shot

Bird's eye view

Bird’s eye view

Once the cake was cooled, I took it out of the pan and cut it in half to make the top and bottom graham cracker layer of the smore.
The next step was the best step–the smore inside.  I bought waaayy too much marshmallow fluff, but really, can you ever have enough? and globbed on a thick layer on top of the bottom graham cracker.  Yes, marshmallow fluff is messy but let’s be honest–the stickier it gets, the more it gets on your fingers, and the more you of COURSE have to lick off in order to keep working 🙂
For the chocolate layer of the smore, I wanted to keep the cake theme going, so instead of laying down a big chocolate bar, I made a brownie!  I just got a standard brownie cake mix, because trust me, I am not a baking wiz like my sister.  I got super extra delicious chocolate fudge flavor–the more adjectives on the box, the better–and followed the back of the box for directions.  Once it cooled I cut off the edges of the brownie (to save for brownie bites) and laid it on top of the graham cracker/marshmallow concoction.
Now, my sister didn’t want an ordinary s’more.  She happens to be a fairly massive peanut butter fiend, so I decided to add it to the cake.  She’s team chunky, I’m team creamy.  Totally don’t get it because creamy is WAY better but I guess since its her birthday and everything she should get what she wants…whatever.  Anyways, crunchy peanut butter made up the next layer.  I think we’re at 8 inches high by this point.
Since, like I mentioned, I bought far too much marshmallow fluff, I of course did what any sensible person would do and did another layer on top of the peanut butter.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t that messy.  The fluff stuck to the peanut butter well and didn’t go all over the place.

I then topped it off with the other layer of the graham cracker cake and voila–s’more heaven!  As I’ve mentioned, I’m not a baker at ALL, so I was extremely nervous the cakes wouldn’t turn out right, thus either making the top layer slide off or the bottom layer crumble under the weight.  I said many hail marys under my breath as I put the top layer on and didn’t move or blink for probably a good 2 minutes as I watched the s’more to make sure it didn’t fall apart.  I can’t believe it stayed but thank goodness, because there was no way I could bake another cake for Morgan.  I was super proud of it and Morgan absolutely loved it!  It definitely tasted like a s’more (past tense because that baby didn’t last long) and was incredibly delicious.

So I turned 25 and wanted Sesame Street.  Morgan?  She turned 28 and wanted a giant s’more.  Who wins best cake?  You be the judge!

That’s it for me- Sister, out!

ShamRock n’Roll Car Bomb Cupcakes

Happy super incredibly late Saint Patrick’s Day! It’s obviously belated, but whatever- I may be late to the party, but at least I brought food.  I do have manners after all. I knew right off the bat of course that … Continue reading

2-for-1 Valentine’s/Engagement Cake

Say what you will about Valentine’s Day (a day to show love to friends and family, a money-making scheme from Hallmark, or a day where Russell Stover’s chocolates miraculously have negative calories), in my mind, it’s another perfect excuse to force my cake creations onto those around me, whether they like it or not.  And to eat Russell Stover’s like they’re tic-tacs, obviously.

This year, the cake accidentally coincided with a co-worker’s engagement celebration at the office, so I really looked on top of my game bringing a cake in for an engagement she hadn’t even told me about yet (If anyone asks, I am just that good).

Last year’s Valentine’s Day cake gave me the chance to experiment with a sprinkle-extravaganza, so I knew I wanted to try something different this year.  I decided to keep with the pink, over-the-top girly Valentine’s Day motif, but to mix it up with a fondant technique I saw on the Mecca of all things cake-related: Pinterest.

I made a butter yellow cake and kept it only at 6” wide, 2 tiers tall since I planned to add height to the cake with the buttercream roses.  Fast forward past the baking, the inevitable bowl-licking, and assembly (I’m all about the decorating if that’s not obvious already), and we’re on to the icing!

I stuck with my classic vanilla buttercream icing, divided it into 4 portions (it makes 4 cups total- you can do the math), and dyed each cup a different shade of pink.  I just did this by adding in varying drops of red food coloring into each cup to alter the shade.  Then I started to put together the roses.  Wilton’s rose technique is my bread and butter, if bread was confectioner’s sugar and butter was, well, butter.  I realized early on that it was one flower I was legitimately pretty good at making, so of course it went on everything I made immediately following- bridal shower cakes, even 12-year-old boy’s birthday cakes, you name it.  I figured Valentine’s Day was the perfect time to bring these babies back into the game.

I start out with a Wilton flower pin, which looks like a waiter spinning a plate on a stick (if the waiter was a giant).  I took one shade (1 cup) of the pink icing and divided it into two different pastry bags- one with a #12 tip and one with a #104 tip. Then, I cut small squares of parchment paper about 2”x2” in size.  Using a small dab of icing to make it stick, I put down the parchment paper on top of the flower pin. (This is a huge part in being able to keep the flower in tact- I build the rose on top of the parchment paper, then I can easily remove the paper with the rose and set it off to the side to harden without touching the rose at all). Starting with the bag with the #12 tip, I pipe what looks like a small Christmas tree in the center of the flower pin.

Making a buttercream rose- 1

Then I change to the #104 tip, and with the thicker part of the tip at the bottom, pipe a slanted loop all around the tip of the “Christmas tree”- this will be the “bud” of the flower.

Making buttercream rose-3

Making buttercream rose-2

Staying with the #104 tip, and keeping the thicker part of the tip at the bottom, I then pipe small, overlapping arches along the tip of the bud.  Go around once along the tip, then continue working down the flower until you pipe large arches along the base of the flower.

Finished rose

Once the flower is complete, take it off with the parchment paper and put the paper and flower in the fridge to harden for about 10 minutes. It will be cold enough that you’ll be able to take the flower off of the parchment paper pretty easily and place it on the cake without smudging the flower.

Finished rose

I ended up making about 20 flowers so I had some as backups, and then using a small butter knife, sliced the flowers off of the parchment paper and placed them onto the top of the cake with all the shades mingling and getting along together on top.

Then came the fondant skirting along the sides- again, here’s the page where I received my Pin-spiration.

For a very long time I had a love/hate relationship with fondant.  I loved what I could make out of it (it’s like edible molding clay and the possibilities are endless!), but the store bought, cornstarch-based fondant has never tasted good.  Cakes can look beautiful with fondant figurines but what’s the point if they taste horrible?  The more I spoke to people about it (you’d be surprised how often I would poll people on their overall opinions on fondant), I realized I wasn’t alone.  Thank God for the Google, though- just a couple of “fondant recipes that taste good” Googles and I found the holy grail of fondant recipes.  Made with just melted marshmallows, powdered sugar and water, it thickens to the same consistency of cornstarch-based fondant but tastes like something a human being would actually want to eat (How could powdered sugar + marshmallows not = yes + please? Spoiler alert- it does).

Check out the recipe.  It’s so easy to make but definitely takes patience to knead it to the desired consistency.  Benefit- your wrists will get quite the work out.  Stubborn pickle jars will bend to your will in a snap from here on out.

To get the different shades of pink, I divided the recipe into fourths- one cup of marshmallows, .5 T water and 1 cup powdered sugar per shade of pink.  When you get to the step where the marshmallows and water are melted together, lump free, this is where you add the food coloring.  Just like how I did with the icing, I put in varying drops of red food coloring per serving to make different shades of pink.

Fondant is great in the sense that you can make it days before you use it- as long as you keep it tightly wrapped, airtight (I wrap it in about 100 feet of plastic wrap) and keep it in a cool, dark place, it will stay soft and moldable pretty much forever and a day.  So, I made the fondant the weekend before Valentine’s Friday and kept it in a kitchen drawer for 5 days- it will still be great come application-time.

Once I was ready to cut out the individual ruffle strips, I took the lightest pink fondant and molded a small ball into the shape of a log and rolled it out into a flat, 1/8” thick strip with a rolling pin.

Fondant Strip

Now for those of you who don’t like math, WARNING: You’re about to want to punch me in the face for what I’m going to say next.  Knowing that the stripes were going to go around the entire border of the cake, I was able to determine how long each strip needed to be by measuring the circumference of the cake.  Diameter= 6 inches, and Circumference= Diameter x pi (3.14- my least favorite kind of pie).  Anyway, math is horrible, and the length of each strip needed to be about 19 inches, rounding up to be safe.  The arithmetic portion of this post is over now, I promise.

Using the Wilton Fondant Ribbon Cutter (it’s incredible what you can do with the right tools!) I was able to cut the strip so that one side was straight and the other side gave me a curved end.

Rolled out fondant

Working at the top of the cake first, and placing the strip so the curve was at the top, I carefully placed the first strip along the top of the side the cake so the ruffled edge came up over top of the cake just a bit.  I lost some brain cells holding my breath while I was applying the fondant, so just be sure you have some extras of those lying around that are pretty expendable before going forward.

Ruffled fondant on cake- 1

Do the same thing with the darker fondants, working your way down the side of the cake and covering the bottom seam of each strip with the ruffled top of the following strip.

Fondant tier- 2

With all the patience and time in the world, it will end up looking like this!

Finished Valentine's day Cake 1

finished cake 3

The last piece of the delicious puzzle was to cover the individual seams that each strip created when I put the ends side by side with one more stripe of fondant and an extra buttercream at the base.  What no one sees (or “seams!” Yeah, punch me in the face again) can’t hurt them.

Finished Valentine's Day Cake-3

The entire process (from the baking to the never-ending picture-taking) started on a Saturday and ended on the Thursday night before Valentine’s Friday.  In fact, I was so busy building the cake that I didn’t bother to look outside at the blizzard that was attacking Manhattan that very Thursday night.  By the time I finished icing the cake, 8 inches of snow had finished icing the city, meaning no one (and I mean NO ONE) would be going to work the next day.  I was bummed I wouldn’t get to take the cake in on the actual holiday but psyched that I could be in PJs for over 24 hours and get paid for it, so it ended up a wash.

I resigned myself to putting the cake in the fridge over the weekend and brought it in on Monday, which happened to also be President’s Day.  And, over the weekend a co-worker had gotten engaged (remember when I said that about 27 paragraphs ago?) so I looked super overall awesome for bringing in an engagement cake when no one was even supposed to know the engagement had even happened.

Eventually I confessed that she was benefiting from Valentine’s Day snow-mageddon, but by that point we were all so busy eating cake, the confession fell on deaf ears (and full mouths).