World Cup Cake.

soccer ball cake

No, not a World Cupcake. a World Cup Cake. As in that thing you see every time you turn on any TV station or look at any social media site. The World Cup is omnipresent these days. And if you live in my house, you’d have to be dead in order to avoid it, as my fiance is absolutely-ridiculously-bordering-on-unhealthily OBSESSED with all things soccer, and that’s during the three off years between tournaments. So you can imagine what I’m dealing with here right now.

After about the 1 million trillionth conversation about “football” (a real soccer geek refers to it by it’s REAL name I’ve come to learn), I just couldn’t take it anymore. So I went off and did the one thing that would help restore my sanity and bring some normalcy back into my life: I baked a cake.

shapes of cake.

shapes of cake.

Now this was not just any cake. Not by a long shot. Yes, it was a classic vanilla, and separated into two layers. But these layers were different. One was a half-sphere, while the other almost pancake-like.

I began assembling the layers as I envisioned the finished cake in my mind, and coated them with a layer of the almond butter cream I had leftover from my dad’s failed cake-turned-cake sandwich.

the base coat.

the base coat.

Next, I busted out my giant tub of fondant, and started rolling a large piece to cover this mystery dome. Once I carefully placed the fondant atop the cake, I cut out my smaller pieces, and carefully began putting them in place.

there's really no escape.

there’s really no escape.

Once it was fully detailed and smoothed over, I added the finishing touch – a field to play on.

we've come full circle.

we’ve come full circle.

Once it was complete, I cleaned up, and left it conspicuously in the center of the kitchen table, so when my fiance arrived home just a few short minutes later, it was the first thing he saw upon entering the kitchen.

And that, my friends, is true love; no matter what part of the world you’re playing in. :).

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A Cupcake for the Teacher.

A friend of mine with a young daughter who was just about to finish school, asked me if I’d be interested in making some cupcakes for her daughter to take to school for a few of her teachers. Sounds like your standard-run-of-the-mill request right? Almost. These particular cupcakes were to be personalized according to the specialty of the teacher – music notes for the music teacher, etc. They were to be packed in boxes of 4, according to their various designs. The cake itself was the same for all of them – vanilla. The icing was the same, too – buttercream. The only thing separating these cupcakes were how they looked.

There were Stars for the Principal….

the stars are bright, and big at night.

the stars are bright, and big at night.

….Music Notes for the Music Teacher….

cupcakes rock.

cupcakes rock.

….and Keys for the Night Custodian (who helped them out of a jam on many more than one occasion).

the key to sweet, sweet happiness.

the key to sweet, sweet happiness.

Honestly, I think my friend was on to something here. These could easily be altered to suit any teacher – ¬†equations for the Math Teacher…a test tube for the Science Teacher….a paint brush for the Art Teacher…or even a gym sock for the Gym Teacher…(an icing gym sock, not a real one, of course). ūüėČ

Viva La Twinkie.

When I heard about the end of Hostess, I nearly suffered a mini-breakdown (or should I say, “cakedown”). No more Twinkies? No more Ho-Ho’s? And if that wasn’t bad enough, NO MORE SNO¬†BALLS??? I am utterly beside myself. The Sno¬†Ball is and has always been my all-time favorite snack cake. It’s got chocolate. It’s got marshmallow. It’s got coconut. And best of all, it’s¬†pink. If I were a snack cake, I would be a Sno Ball.

sno no more.

In the midst of wallowing in my soon-to-be-sno¬†ball-free existence, I had an idea – I should round up¬†some other snack cake lovers and buy¬†Hostess! I ran this by a few folks, and it was met with the same response every time – a raised eyebrow and a “look how funny you are” type comment. Ok, so that was not realistic. Then someone said, “why don’t you just make your own versions?”

Well, I’ll be. Now THIS was something I could do! This, in fact, may be what I was born to do. I didn’t go to pastry school to be a cake decorator (although I do dabble in it). I went to school to master the chemistry of baking. Recreating Hostess products at home, from fresh ingredients, making them possibly even slightly better for you is like my dream job. So, I decided to get started right away. I ran¬†out that very day and purchased every hostess cake¬†I could find. Sadly, there were no Sno Balls to be had.

farewell, old friends.

Let the fun begin. What better way to dive right in then go straight for the big guns – The Twinkie.

I¬†don’t have a Twinkie pan, but I had something close – a small loaf pan. I decided to begin my experiment by using my standard vanilla cake recipe for my first attempt. Although they turned out a little squarer than the Twinkie we all know and love, so far, they were looking pretty good.

it’s hip to be square.

I let them cool, then turned them out onto the rack. They remained intact and unburned.

cool it down.

While they cooled on the rack, I made the cream filling. I started with a recipe I found online that claimed to be authentic Twinkie filling, but I made some tweaks to make it a little creamier, including swapping the milk with half and half.

how ’bout that awesome retro hand mixer I scored from my aunt.

I then filled them, with three holes in the bottom, just like a real Twinkie.

fill ‘er up.

After they were all filled, I had to try one, for research purposes, of course.

even better than the real thing.

So there you have it. And this is just the beginning, folks. There are binders full of Hostess Cakes I need to recreate. I’ve found my reason for living.

Cake, Rattle, and Roll.

Cake rocks.

Especially when it’s in the shape of an electric guitar. I made this bad boy for a friend’s son’s 2nd birthday. It was one of those cakes that’s just so much fun to make and even more fun to eat. Plus it gave me another chance to use my new DSLR camera, which did not let me down.

Now I own a guitar-shaped pan, which I actually purchased over 10 years ago, before I was even really that into baking. The guitar cake was the first shaped cake I ever made. The first one was ok – I mean, it looked like a guitar, albeit a messy brown one. But it’s the thought that counts. Anyway, this time, I had a lot more confidence in the results. I started off with my best vanilla cake ever, and coated it with buttercream colored red.

stripped down.

I added a few details crafted out of fondant, strung it (with chocolate icing), and voila!¬†¬†I believe it’s time for a cake solo.

Eddie Van Halen would be proud.

Anyway, If you or someone you know is looking to rock out on his or her birthday this year, don’t fret! This cake’s sure to set the tone and amp up any party. It even goes up to eleven.

The Power of Pixies.

So the other night, I participated in WHYY’s Best of Chefs Event, as I mentioned in my last post. The event was a blast! It was organized, fun, well-attended and also provided me with a serendiptious opportunity to do some market research. Allow me to explain: I made an assortment of Pixie Cakes, in the following flavors:

Chocolate Pixies

Chocolate cake mixed with buttercream icing, dipped in dark chocolate, with chocolate sprinkles.

Vanilla Pixies

Vanilla cake mixed with buttercream icing, dipped in white chocolate, sprinkled with sugar.

Red Velvet Pixies

Red Velvet cake mixed with buttercream icing, dipped in white chocolate, sprinkled with red sugar.

Cookies and Cream Pixies

Chocolate cake mixed with cookies and buttercream icing, rolled in cookie crumbs.

and Coconut Pixies.

Vanilla cake mixed with coconut buttercream, dipped in white chocolate, and sprinkled with coconut.

I placed them all on a tray, as so:

Pixies on a plate.

Now here’s where it got interesting: the doors opened and the crowd shuffled in. As they approached my table, one after another after another went straight for the Red Velvet. And if it wasn’t the Red Velvet, it was the good old fashioned¬†Chocolate. Now by mere coincidence, I made more of the Red Velvets than any of the others; but it didn’t matter – I ran out of them first, and people were coming back and asking me if there were anymore! When I told them¬†I ran out, they were only dejected for a second, and then just sampled another flavor instead (and liked it!).

The moral of the story: cake is great, but Red Velvet rules.

The people have spoken.

Recipe Sunday: Best Vanilla Cake Ever.

This may sound like a lofty claim – and it is. But I stand behind it. And I know what you’re thinking – “a plain vanilla cake? THAT’s your featured recipe this week?? Lame!!” Well, don’t write me off just yet – let me explain. I spent a long time looking for the perfect scratch cake recipe. Just a plain vanilla, on which to build a strong foundation, and to serve as a ¬†base for¬†other fancier¬†cakes. One of the most important things I learned in pastry school is that a good recipe doesn’t have to be complicated, and if you want to really bake a great cake, start with a great base. If the foundation is weak, the building (or cake) will surely collapse. This particular vanilla cake recipe is based on one that I was¬†taught in my first class – Intro to Baking – and was used time again throughout my classes, up to and including my last and most advanced class.¬†Start with a solid base – and you can’t go wrong. I know how hard it can be to find a recipe that fits that bill – which is why I’m sharing my foundation with you – in the hopes that somewhere out there, I’ll help make a young baker’s life a little easier.

a sheet to build a dream on.

Best Vanilla Cake Ever.

What you’ll need:

12 oz eggs (about 7)

4 1/4 oz milk (1%)

5 oz high-ratio liquid shortening*

1/2 oz vanilla

10 oz sugar

8 oz cake flour

1/2 oz baking powder

1/4 oz salt

What you’ll do:

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, liquid shortening and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Pour the dry ingredients on top of the wet, and mix for 5 minutes on medium speed, with the paddle attachment. Scrape the bowl to make sure all the dry ingredients are incorporated, and mix on medium speed for 5 more minutes. Grease a 13 x 9 sheet pan (also know as a quarter sheetpan) and pour all the batter in (it will be pretty thin and runny). Bake for about 25 minutes.

*High ratio liquid shortening is not the easiest thing to come by – in fact, I never even knew it existed until I went to pastry school. However, it truly is a wonderful thing, and I highly recommend spending the extra time and money to track it down – it’s definitely worth it. I use Fluid Flex –¬† click here for a list of a few sites where you can order it.

sunshine cake dream.

 
I had an order due last night for 12 dozen sunshine cupcakes, 4 dozen chocolate, 4 dozen vanilla, and 4 dozen strawberry. It was for my friends tanning salon, Dazzle Me Bronze, which¬†is celebrating¬†it’s 8th anniversary (and is an absolutely gorgeous salon,¬†fyi).¬†Being that I love baking, my friends, and tanning (it’s warm and i’m always cold), I of course agreed to the job, although I was a bit nervous at first, as 144 cupcakes is a lot for one person.

But as they say, one really does learn through experience, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout my time as a baker is proper planning and preparation is key. I worked it all out in my mind ahead of time: all the ingredients were purchased and divided on Monday. The icing was made on Tuesday. All the little fondant sunshines were made on Wednesday. Two of the 3¬†flavors of cupcakes were baked on Thursday (Vanilla, and Strawberry – one should try and bake from lightest to darkest). I took off¬†from my day job¬†on¬†Friday, baked the remaning chocolate cupcakes, iced and then decorated them all. The job was done around 7:30 PM which was pretty much exactly what¬†I had estimated¬†(I took some breaks throughout the day for chores and leisure, which I also knew I would do so I included that in my pre-planning – it’s good to know yourself). I delivered the cupcakes in tact, and came home to a clean kitchen – planning ahead also makes for an easier cleanup.

Anyway, the reason I’m telling you all this is to help you avoid some of the costly mistakes and frustration I experienced early on, including running out of ingredients mid-job,¬†getting only 3 hours of sleep in order to get a job done in time, and turning your kitchen into a war zone of batter explosions and icing blasts.¬†It¬†also makes for a better¬†end product –¬†a more relaxed baker¬†is a more focused baker and is less likely to make mistakes..

I’m sure now you are all dying to know just how the sunshine cupcakes turned out. Well,¬†wait no more!!¬†Feast your eyes¬†below – it’s ok to stare directly at the sun in this case.

chocolate sun.

¬†Chocolate with chocolate buttercream and gold sugar sparkles….

vanilla shine.

Vanilla with buttercream and gold sugar sparkles, and…

pink sky.

Strawberry with buttercream and pink sugar sparkles.¬† It’s a sunshine day!!

oven spring.

I’ve¬†been doing a very suck-tastic job of blogging lately. I’ve been busy with classes, work, self-discovery…and baking, of course. In fact, the spring has been pretty busy as far as cake making goes. If there’s one thing in this life I’ve been able to rely on lately, it’s the public’s demand for all things baked. And I learned that even when my mind is elsewhere, the one thing that I can still do is bake, and bake well (I’m patting myself on the back at this very moment).

i've also decided to start taking yoga so i can pat myself on the back more easily.

 

Now that we got that out-of-the-way, it’s time to get to the good stuff – the cakes. So, here’s a sampling of what’s been “springing” out of my oven as of late (ha ha, springing – get it? look ma, I’m funny!).

1. Say Hello to Elmo:

i'm vegan!

 

2. The purrrr-fect cake:

no cats were harmed in the making of this cake.

 

3. vanilla cupcakes by day…

give me some sugar, cookie.

 

4. ….chocolate cupcakes by night.

o-o-oreo...o-o!

(on a side note, both of these cupcakes were¬†for an event for WHYY (you know, the TV station…)

5. And last, but not least, the Grande Dame of the lot:

april showers really do bring may flowers (on so many levels).

So, I¬†hope your mouth is now sufficiently watered, and your cake-envy has prompted you to want one of your very own (cakemuffingirl@gmail.com¬†would be a good place to start…just saying).

cakes with candy.

Today is my mom’s birthday. So what do¬†I do? I bake her a cake of course! I stick with the theme, and keep it on the small side, because, just like every time I baked anything for her in the past, she insists¬†I return home with 1/3 to 1/2 of it. I mean, I get it – it’s just her and my dad, and although she loves sweets, my dad really has little interest in them – so there’s only so much cake one person can eat. So I’ve learned to keep it small, and to make it something I like too, since i’ll be snacking on it for the entire next week. ūüėČ

I get my sweet tooth from my mom – she loves it all, just like me. And she’s also been one of my go-to taste-testers for many years. So, coming up with a confection for her can be a bit of challenge – I want it to be something I’ve never made for her before, and honestly, I want to show-off – who doesn’t want to impress their parents, I mean seriously? So, I started off with a blank canvas – a simple 9″ one-layer vanilla cake.

I cut it in half to make two layers, still not sure of where this was going. I starting thinking icings…chocolate…no…peanut butter…yes! ok, now what? It still needs something extra…candy! reeses peanut butter cups….no, i did that recently already. I started randomly opening cabinets and stumbled upon a giant bag of M&Ms – mom’s favorite!!!

And it begins….

it's what's inside that counts.

I iced the bottom layer, and covered it with M&Ms; put the top on, added a border of more M&Ms around the base, piped a good old shell border around the top, personalized it, and garnished it with a few more M&Ms.

a cake not only a mother could love.

Smart brides think “small”: 4 reasons to choose wedding cupcakes over cake.

I have mixed feelings on wedding cakes. On one hand, they are beautiful works of art, to be ogled¬†and photographed, executed by an expert hand¬†with meticulous detail. On the other hand, they taste like crap. At least, I’ve¬†never had a piece of one where I walked away from the wedding thinking, “now that’s a cake I need to eat again!” They’re usually bland, dry and boring, with icing so sweet your teeth start dropping out on contact. I get it in theory – it’s about that magical day – brides want a cake that looks almost as good as they do. Something people will see and say “what a beautiful cake!” But when did we stop caring about taste? Ultimately, the point of a cake to be moist and tasty – not dry and cardboard-esque. Now i¬†appreciate and am even envious of a good “cake artist,” but often times the greatest artist does not the greatest baker make. I know that some of it is due to the fact that in order for a cake to in fact BE meticulously decorated, it needs to be dry and baked ahead of time. The icing needs to be sweet to be the right consistency for decorating. But this begs the question: are you paying for a cake or for a piece of art? If you’re willing to sacrifice¬†taste for looks, that’s your prerogative. But I really don’t think you have to.

Enter the wedding cupcake. A rising trend for brides-to-be is choosing wedding cupcakes over the traditional cake. There are many benefits to going the small indulgences route for your wedding:

1. cupcakes are cheaper than a traditional cake

2. cupcakes can be made in a larger variety than a traditional cake

3. cupcakes can still look beautiful, but remain moist and tasty, due to their smaller scale

4. and last, but not least – cupcakes are just more fun to eat

I did a wedding last year where the bride wanted cupcakes, and let me tell you, the entire reception was just gushing over them, both for looks AND for taste. And the bride was able to save some money and spend it elsewhere (hello, honeymoon in the tropics!).

Chocolate Kahlua Wedding Cupcakes

 

Vanilla Coconut Rum Wedding Cupcakes

 

The perfect union.