Friday, September 21, 2018

Naan Tacos

I ended up stress cooking.  The week after she turned 19, Princess' health started to fail rapidly.  The vet said it was some form of cancer.  I could have done expensive tests, but she clearly never would have survived surgery and treatment.  Less than two weeks later, I decided she'd had enough and put her to sleep.  Preparing unnecessarily elaborate meals channeled my anxiety.

This is an awful lot of work for what's basically a Taco Bell gordita.  I had no idea how much nervous energy those cakes were expending.

1 batch Naan
1 batch not-refried beans
3/4 lb 80/20 ground beef
1/4 tsp paprika
salt and pepper
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
*1/2 C yellow onion, diced
2 avocados
sour cream and cotija cheese to garnish

1.  Prepare naan and beans and set aside to keep warm.

2.  In a skillet over medium heat, brown the ground beef, seasoning with paprika, salt, and pepper.  Drain off the fat.

3.  Toss together the diced onion and tomato.  Slice the avocado.

4.  To assemble, spread about 2 Tb of beans on each naan.  Top with a generous spoonful each of ground beef and tomato/onion mix.  Add avocado slices, sour cream, and cheese as desired.  You could add cilantro sprigs for something green.  Serve while the fillings are still warm.

Makes 8 tacos, 4-6 servings

Difficulty rating :-0 (for all the components)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cake Scrap Ice Cream Sandwiches

I don't have an ice cream label?  Not going back to create one.

Man About Cake had this excellent idea.  Far less work than cake pops, and frankly something more enticing.  It does take a little while, between softening the ice cream and freezing every stage, but the results are at least as good as any ice cream sandwich you get at the market.

I happened to make chocolate with cookies'n'cream ice cream, but you can coordinate for any flavor of cake.  Strawberry with chocolate, spice cake with dulce de leche, lemon with vanilla.  Whatever seems like a good idea at the time.

These were a huge hit with Bruin Smurf (my young cousin staying with me while attending UCLA) and her boyfriend.  I barely got two slices myself before they magically disappeared.

I know the description "cake pop dough" is obscure if you've never made it before.  Crumble any baked cake into the mixer and beat in enough frosting to make it stick together.  It resembles a scooped cookie dough, but does not require further cooking.

*1 C cake pop dough, any flavor
1 pint ice cream

1.  Line a loaf pan with wax paper, then plastic wrap.  You can try just the plastic wrap, but Joshua had trouble getting his bar out of the pan and I decided not to push it.
2.  Press half of the cake mush into the bottom of the pan, making sure to get the corners.  If using a glass pan, you can lift it to make sure there aren't any holes.  Freeze for 1 hour.

3.  Soften the ice cream on the counter for about half an hour.  Spread over the first cake layer evenly.  Freeze for an hour again.
4.  Spread remaining cake on top and freeze until firm.

5.  Turn out loaf onto a cutting board and slice crosswise into bars.

Makes 6 to 8, depending how thick you slice it

Difficulty rating  :) (for time and making the cake pop dough)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Faro Couscous

Yes, I'm eating things other than sweets.  This had such low calorie-density that I lost a couple pounds the week I had it.

It was still warm out, but I wanted Fall comfort foods.  This was a compromise.  You could swap out carrots for the sweet potato for something a little more summery.  I did use saved sausage fat instead of the stated olive oil.  It's very good in casseroles and stews for a little added seasoning.

*1 C dry faro
1 lb sweet potato
1 Tb olive oil
1/2 C diced onion
1 bunch kale
1/4 lb white mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 lb sole fillet or another white fish
feta and lemon wedges for garnish

1.  Add 3 C water to the faro in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.  Drain off any standing water.

2.  While that's going on, peel and dice the sweet potato into bite-sized chunks.  Simmer in a small saucepan with water to cover until slightly tender but not falling apart, about 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let them sit in the warm water while you make the rest of it.

3.  In a large skillet, sauté the diced onion in the olive oil over medium.  Strip the kale from the ribs and finely chop.  Add kale and sliced mushrooms to the skillet and cook down about halfway.  Add the cumin, turmeric, salt, and pepper.
4.  Chop the fish into chunks and add to the skillet.  Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and let the fish steam over the vegetables until opaque, about 8 minutes.  Stir at least once to get a feel for how fast it's cooking.  Drain the sweet potatoes and add to the skillet.
5.  Spoon a bed of the faro onto the serving plate, then cover with the skillet mixture.  Serve garnished with lemon wedges and feta.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Gryffindor Cake

Have I mentioned this wedding I'm making a cake for has a Harry Potter theme?  The bride is Hufflepuff and the groom is Slytherin, but the wedding itself wants to be inclusive of all houses.  The Sorting Hat put me in Gryffindor, so I decided to practice this idea on a red velvet cake in Gryffindor colors.

Cousin Smurf wants a traditional look with subtle theme overtones, so we're probably going with the rosettes in the four house colors.  After seeing some videos and photos of HP wedding cakes, I came up with this design that uses simple and clean lines that are highly suggestive of the theme without putting house crests on each cake.  If we went with this concept it would mean a four-tiered cake, instead of a two-tier for the cutting ceremony and other cakes on separate stands.  The flavors wouldn't change, just the design and cake sizes.

The hardest part in designing her cake has actually been avoiding fondant.  Fondant is easy, fast, and looks awesome unless your crumb coat is very uneven.  I couldn't figure out another way to do the stripe except chocolate, and I clearly suck at chocolate garnish.  This small bit is easy to pick off if you get it in your slice.

1 2-layer cake, your choice of flavor
1 batch Buttercream Frosting
2 Tb red food coloring
a golfball-sized pinch of fondant and golden yellow gel food color
snitch cake pops

1.  Trim, fill, and crumb coat your cake in uncolored frosting.  Chill.

2.  Put remaining frosting in the mixer and start beating in food color.  I'm guessing on the amount, because I emptied what was left in a 1 oz bottle and a dropper.  Gel color will require less.  Suffice it to say that it takes way more color to achieve a saturated look in buttercream than fondant.

3.  Smooth-coat the cake in red.  Chill while you roll the fondant.
4.  Add one toothpick of gel color to the fondant and knead in.  If not dark enough, you can add another.  Roll into a thin strip on a cornstarch-dusted surface.  Cut out a long, 1/2" wide stripe.  Carefully lift and drape over the cake off-center.
5.  Arrange snitches as desired and serve.

Makes one 8" cake

Difficulty rating  :-0

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Snitch Cake Pops

I kept all the trimmings (what Man About Cake calls "garbage cake") from the chocolate and vanilla family in a ziplock bag in the freezer until I was done with all my cakes.  There was also a bit of chocolate frosting from the tiered cake left.  Time to teach myself how to make cake pops.

It's a remarkably simple idea, and I can't figure out why no one thought of this fifty years ago.  Maybe people weren't trimming cakes flat then, or they were too obsessed with gelatin to worry about their cakes.

Anyway, I didn't actually put lollipop sticks in these because they were decorating a cake, but I'll give you instructions.

After all the work I put into the fondant wings, I didn't like the result.  They looked right, but kept breaking.  After a couple of days on the cake, the fondant re-hydrated and they drooped flat onto the cake's surface.  Molded chocolate probably wouldn't have worked much better.  Cousin Smurf suggested non-edible card-stock wings held on with toothpicks if we do these.  I agree.

2 C baked cake crumbs
approx 1/2 C buttercream frosting, softened
8 oz yellow candy melts
gold food spray
cardstock, scissors, pen, toothpicks, and tape or glue

1.  Crumble cake into mixing bowl until the biggest crumbs are no larger than a pea.  With the paddle on low, add frosting a heaping spoonful at a time until dough sticks together.  You may not use all of it.  Form into six golfball-sized spheres and set on wax paper or a plastic plate.  Freeze until you're ready to assemble.
2.  For the wings, there are templates on Pinterest.  I ended up just looking at a screenshot from one of the movies and sketching my own.  Cut out twelve.  Flip half of them over so you have six each of right and left.  Draw on the feathers, then tape or glue the toothpicks onto the backs so they protrude about 1/2" from the paper at the base.  (I used leftover fondant from the marbled cake, even though it wasn't gold.)

3.  Melt the candy coating until smooth, according to package directions.  If using lollipop sticks, dip them lightly into the candy to coat the tip.  Insert that tip into the naked cake ball.  Dip cake end into the coating and swirl to cover evenly.  Set stick in foam or a cake pop holder.  Or, set un-sticked balls on wax paper or a plastic plate.
4.  When coating is starting to set but not rigid, insert wings on either side.  If any crack when you put in the toothpick, it's because the coating was allow to set too firmly.  Eat the evidence.  Allow surviving snitches to harden completely.
5.  When no longer sticky, spray with gold food spray or glitter to make them shiny.

Makes 6

Difficulty rating  $@%!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Stacking a Tiered Cake

I've only made a couple of tiered cakes in my life.  Mostly, because it's pretty rare to need that much cake.  They also don't travel well, and it's just easier to make one large cake than several smaller ones.

One of the cakes at the wedding will be tiered, so I needed to practice.  The other times I've done it, I've cut crafting dowels to the correct height and pushed them through.  It's not easy and involves a saw or very sharp blade.  Then there's the chance of splinters working their way into the cake.

Man About Cake has a solution.  He stacks his using boba straws.  For those who don't know, boba drinks are a trendy Asian tea or milkshake with tapioca balls suspended in them.  The straws are barely wider than the average boba ball, and thick enough to survive the extra suction by the drinker.  Joshua sinks them in his cakes and snips them off at the right height with sharp scissors.  Add another dollop of frosting for super stickiness, and you now have a stable and hopefully level platform on which to rest the next cake on its cardboard circle.  Fast and easy.
Finding the straws was a little harder.  Wal-Mart carries them, but there isn't one near me.  The ones online were in giant packs for restaurants.  I finally found them at Smart & Final in a pack of 50 for a reasonable price.
And before the haters start, yes I'm aware that straws are the new environmental evil.  I always assumed they were recycled when you put them in the blue bin.  I do remember a time when straws were made of paper.  They transitioned to plastic when I was little.  It wasn't the end of the world when the straws got soft, and we'll get used to it again.  Meanwhile, 50 is about as many boba straws as I'll need for a couple of decades.
What I did not do for this cake, and I'll have to remember this for the wedding, is finish off the bottom of the top tier.  You can see the cake circle.  I'll need to bring extra frosting if I stack them at the venue, to patch any gaps.  We're probably doing the rosettes, so there won't be a border at the bottom.  I also need to work on keeping the cake board clean.  This chocolate buttercream was obvious when I missed, but even lightly tinted frosting will leave marks.  I have six weeks to figure this out.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Dulce de Leche Cake

This is the last decorating technique I have lined up to test.  The cake itself isn't on the wedding list, but I felt like trying something new.  And I had half a can of sweetened condensed milk left over from the mirror glaze that needed a purpose.

I'm using Preppy Kitchen's recipe, but putting in the whole egg.  I'm pretending that it makes up for not measuring the brown butter after cooking, but I really just didn't want a leftover yolk.  I'm also skipping the vanilla bean paste because he uses way too much vanilla in his recipes already.  I admit, using the recipe of someone who can't pronounce the cake he's making (watch the YouTube video) didn't instill me with much confidence.  The recipe looks right, so I'm going for it.

Preppy Kitchen doesn't use cake flour.  He only uses AP in his recipes, but is careful not to over-mix the cakes.  I'm willing to try that.  He also makes really tall 6" cakes.  This was part of a larger project that will be the next post, so I made 1/3 in two 4" pans.  Teeny tiny cakes.  They're so cute!  The next day, I saw 4" birthday cakes at Sprouts; I forget the brand.  So this is a thing and I'm trendy.

I'm breaking with my "split up the recipes" style because the dulce de leche itself is only used in the frosting.  Most similar recipes will go through two or three cans and have it every step of the way.  I'm kind of over excessively sweet cakes.  It's a browned-butter cake for the caramel flavor, then the browned-milk in the icing.  The drip is plain white chocolate ganache, so I could test the design.  Fortunately, Cousin Smurf doesn't want a drip cake.  I need to stop thinking I can decorate with chocolate.

1-2/3 C flour
1-1/3 C sugar
1/4 heaping tsp baking soda
1 heaping tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 C unsalted butter
1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C milk
3 eggs, room temperature
1 Tb vanilla

1.  Make the brown butter.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Reduce heat to medium-low and allow it to come to a low boil.  After a few minutes, it's going to start to turn golden.  Stir to avoid scorching, but a few flecks of brown are expected.  They'll look like vanilla beans in the cake.  When the butter turns a medium to dark gold, pull from the heat.  Allow to cool to room temperature, until it just starts to firm up.
2.  Grease two 8" or three 6" cake pans.  Line them with wax paper, then grease the paper.  Preheat oven to 345º.

3.  In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

4.  In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and the brown butter.  You don't have to get the mixer dirty for this recipe.

5.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined.  Get out the major lumps, but don't over-mix.  This isn't cake flour.

6.  Fill cake pans evenly.  I actually did use the scale for this one.  Bake until a toothpick comes up clean, about 30-35 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes on the rack, until the pans are safe to touch.  Invert and peel off the wax paper.  Cool completely before freezing or frosting.

Dulce de Leche Icing
1/2 C butter
1/2 C shortening
1 lb powdered sugar (more if needed)
1 can dulce de leche

Note: I made my dulce de leche by microwaving sweetened condensed milk on 50% in 2 minute bursts.  Stir between heatings.  I went a little too far and made a medium caramel.  It broke up in the frosting, but stayed pretty solid in the cake filling.  Store-bought dulce de leche won't do that.  It will stay caramel creamy at room temperature, and only slightly hard in the fridge.

1.  Cream together butter and shortening.  Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until uniform.

2.  Beat in 1/4 of the can of dulce de leche.  You can stop there or add another 1/4 can to make it stronger.  You may need to add more powdered sugar if you do that.

1.  Place a dab of icing on a cake circle.  Set one layer on it.  Smooth on a thin layer of icing.  Drizzle with straight dulce de leche.  Top with next layer.  Repeat filling if doing three layers.  Once everything is stacked, do a thin crumb coat with the icing.  Chill.
2.  The second coat is your display coat of icing.  Decorate as desired.  To make white chocolate ganache, melt together 2 oz white chocolate and 2 Tb heavy cream in the microwave at 50% power until smooth.  Stir in additional cream if you want a thinner drizzle.  Drip over edge of cake or pour on top and spread to top.

Makes one 8" layer cake, about 12 servings

Difficulty rating  :-0

Friday, August 31, 2018

Lemon Ombré Cake

Again with the patience.  This one actually required more patience than the strawberry rosette, to make something that looked like an unbroken spiral that magically changes hues to the top.  Then I had to have patience with the gelatin topping, because that doesn't set up quickly even on a frozen cake.  And patience to set the lemon wedges exactly where I wanted them using tweezers.  The only problem with choosing a cake design off a Japanese website is the care and precision they use.  Not my forte.

1 recipe lemon cake (2 layers)
1 batch whipped cream frosting
1/2 C lemon curd
1 packet unflavored gelatin
1 lemon
1/3 C sugar
yellow food coloring

1.  Place a dab of frosting on a cake circle and center the bottom layer on it.  Spread a thin layer of frosting on the first layer, then top with the lemon curd.  Center the top cake layer upside-down on the first.
2.  Crumb-coat the whole cake, making sure to fill the gap between layers.  Make the top slightly thicker than the sides, and perfectly smooth.  The gelatin top is going to show any imperfections.  Chill cake for at least 10 minutes while you prepare the colored frosting.
3.  In a bowl, tint 1/2 C of frosting the darkest shade of yellow you want.  Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1M tip.  Go get the cake from the fridge.
4.  Starting at the base, pipe a ring around the bottom to get a base ruffle.  When you reach your starting point, angle up slightly to start the spiral.  When you get 1/4 of the way up, squeeze out remaining frosting into the tinting bowl, but don't wash out the bag.  Mix another 1/2 C of frosting into remnants to make a lighter shade.  Fill bag and continue spiral, allowing the new color to work its way through.  Repeat at the halfway point and 3/4 mark to get a shade at the top that's almost as white as the top itself.  The top of the spiral needs to come up about half an inch higher than the top of the cake, with no gaps along the top edge.  Chill the cake while you make the gelatin.
5.  Cut two thin slices out of the center of the lemon, and cut each into wedges.  Juice the rest of the lemon to get about 1/4 cup.  Soften gelatin packet in the juice while you bring 3/4 C water and the sugar to a boil.  Add lemon slices and cook at a low boil until wedges are softened, about 20 minutes.  Remove lemon pieces and stir in gelatin until dissolved.  Add a drop or two of food coloring.  Chill mixture until it starts to thicken.  Check every ten minutes or so, and it's going to take at least half an hour.
6.  Remove cake from fridge.  Spoon gelatin onto top of cake, making sure it covers evenly and all the way to the edges.  It's going to gel pretty quickly on top of cold icing.  You will not use all of it.  On a 6" cake, I used almost half.  The rest went in a bowl for a snack.  It's just lemon gelatin from scratch.  Before the stuff on the cake sets completely, set the reserved lemon wedges in a design.  If I'd thought it through, I would have made some kind of star pattern instead of a circle.  I was just trying to get the things to stick to the tweezers long enough to settle them in the top before it turned solid.

7.  Chill cake until ready to serve.  All of it is perishable or will melt at room temperature.  Try not to leave it out more than a few hours.

Makes one 8" layer cake, about 12-16 servings

Difficulty rating  :-0

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Whipped Cream Frosting

So, it appears there are a few ways to make a stable whipped cream frosting that won't melt too fast.  Only one uses cornstarch, as I assumed they all did.

What are the other options then?  Butter, cream cheese, and instant white chocolate or vanilla pudding mix.  The last one surprised me, but totally makes sense.  You just reduce the amount of sugar, and make sure you finish decorating the cake before the gelatin sets up.

The jury's still out on whether I have to make these cakes gelatin-free (kosher/vegetarian), so I'm going with the way that uses something leftover in my fridge.  I had about 1/4 of a batch of pipeable cream cheese frosting left.  It was too much to fill a 6" cake, but nowhere near enough to do more than fill and a thin crumb coat.  My solution was to whip up a pint of heavy whipping cream, then use these leftovers and a bit more powdered sugar (which contains cornstarch) to stabilize it.

This isn't going to hold a piped shape nearly as long as a more solid buttercream, unless you use a pudding mix.  You can do a smooth coat and it won't run for several hours.  Any design starts to melt after about an hour at room temperature. Remember, this is all dairy and will spoil at room temperature after about four hours.  Keep the frosting refrigerated as much as possible.  It will still be very soft and usable.

1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/4 batch pipeable cream cheese frosting or 4 oz cream cheese or butter
1/2 C powdered sugar
vanilla to taste

1.  In chilled mixing bowl, whip cream to just short of firm peaks.  While that's going on, soften stabilizer on the counter and chop into chunks if it's a brick.

2.  Beat in leftover frosting or butter/cheese.  As soon as it's incorporated, add powdered sugar and vanilla.  You don't want to beat this into butter, but it should be firm.

3.  Refrigerate if not using immediately.  Frosting is best used the same day, and for a cake that will be served within two days.

Makes enough to frost and fill an 8" layer cake

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Lemon Layer Cake

This is the last of my recipe testing for the wedding, but I still have techniques to work on and a blackberry cake to remake.  I do have an unrelated recipe or two to try.  I probably won't be ignoring real food in my posts after this set, though.  I can save the cakes for whenever I don't have any meal-related recipes to post.

I decided to give My Cake School another try.  It isn't her fault that the blackberry cake was too dense; I messed with the recipe.  Everyone really liked the cream cheese frosting recipe I got there.  She does rely on flavored extracts a lot.  I'd rather not spend that much on one-off ingredients and again searched for an alternative.  I decided on extra lemon zest and upping the lemon juice by 50%.  I did not decrease the milk by the same tablespoon, and that's probably why the cakes cracked.  I'd still rather have some mild cracking on a fluffy cake than too little moisture.

The box of cake flour ran out a couple of tablespoons short of a half-recipe.  I don't remember when I opened it, but it may have done seven half-sized cakes.  That means I can do the wedding arrangement on only two boxes.  At some point, I'm going to have to add up the butter, eggs, and sugar.

1-1/2 sticks (12 Tb) butter, softened
1-1/2 C sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
3 C cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 C milk
1/4 C lemon juice*
1/4 C vegetable oil
zest of 2 lemons*
1 Tb lemon extract*

*If omitting the lemon extract, add 2 Tb lemon juice and the zest of one more lemon.

1.  Grease two 8" cake pans.  Line with waxed paper, then grease the paper.  Preheat oven to 350º

2.  In one bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest.  In a separate bowl, stir together milk, oil, lemon juice, and lemon extract.

3.  In stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth.  Add the sugar and whip until fluffy.  Scrape the bowl at least once.

4.  Beat in eggs one at a time, waiting for the mixture to be smooth and scraping the bowl before the next addition.

5.  Starting with the flour, alternate incorporating the dry and wet ingredients in five stages (dry/wet/dry/wet/dry) on the low speed.  Wait until each one is mixed before adding the next.  Scrape the bowl and mix on low one more time to make sure everything is smooth.
6.  Pour into prepared pans and spread the tops even.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, until just starting to turn golden and a toothpick has crumbs but no stickiness.  Cool in the pan for ten minutes.  Turn out onto a cooling rack and peel off the wax paper.  Allow to cool completely before frosting or freezing.

Makes two 8" layers

Difficulty rating  :)