United Cake of America

United Stuff of America cake with sugar cookie

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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

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:
Ingredients
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
Steps
  • 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.
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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 🙂
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

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).

Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

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Spoiler alert- it’s in my kitchen. For her 25th birthday, my sister “politely suggested” (if you knew my sister, you would know that was code for “required”) I make her cakes completely befitting a woman officially old enough to rent … Continue reading