Sunday, May 20, 2018

Less Complications, More Churros!

I have a tendency to make things way more complicated than they need to be. But I do consider it both a strength and a weakness that in most situations I'm able to leap to the worst possible conclusion in under five seconds. This way, I'm prepared for most curve balls, but sometimes, I have to be reminded that the best things are life are simple. The best things in life are also usually desserts, and it is nice to be able to throw together something yummy in under 10 minutes....you know, compared to my usual half-day forays into baking and decorating (did I mention the complicated thing?). Since I was having what I will refer to as "a week," and had a potluck party to get ready for, I wanted a dessert that was quick, easy, and complimentary to my stress eating. This meant it needed to be sweet and able to be inhaled in mass quantity with minimal swimsuit season damage. And so, churro cheesecake dip with dulce de leche topping was born:
It might not look like much, but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in personality. And by personality, I mean flavor.
Look, I love cheese. At this point, my body is probably made of at least 15% Gouda. And I love cake. I'd aim to venture my cake-to-body percentage is ridiculous. So the only way either of my food vices could possibly be any better is by combining them together to form cheesecake. I should know, I'm still noshing on those cherry almond cheesecakes from last weekend. At this point, I'm going to go out on a limb and say if cheesecake were a drug, I'd probably need to go to meetings to deal with my addiction. I was totally flying blind while making this recipe, on a cheesecake high most likely, but I knew I wanted churros, and I knew I still somehow had dulce de leche leftover from Cinco de Mayo. I also knew I was so, so very tired and so, so very lazy, so an easy dip it was. Since I have a regular supply of Cool Whip Free and reduced fat cream cheese on hand, I knew I also was going to make this so, so very low in calories. The ENTIRE bowl of dip is a little over 1,000 calories, so depending on how many servings you want to divvy up (read: people will bogart the dip...it was referred to at one point as "cheesecake crack"), you're still going to be on the low end calorie wise if you're feeding a small gathering and not just yourself. I won't blame you if you don't want to share. This is hands down the best dip I've ever made, appetizer or dessert wise. And you're talking to a dip connoisseur here; Texans don't mess around with whatever tops their tortilla chips, people.
Six ingredients from cinnamon bliss!
This is not complicated by any means, but I'm still glad I wrote down how I made this churro cheesecake dip because I was totally making things up as I went along. End result: cinnamon + dulce de leche = my new drug of choice. To make this amazing goodness, gather:
  • 8 ounces of 1/3 fat cream cheese at room temp
  • 1 1/2 cups of Cool Whip Free
  • 2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup Swerve granular
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 TBS of dulce de leche
  • Optional: additional 2 TBS Cool Whip to decorate
There are minimal steps here, which is good when you've been up since 5 a.m. on a Saturday and can't remember how to tie your own shoes let alone mix things together (I can sleep when I'm dead. Or when I make it to the padded cell of my dreams). Blend the cream cheese in your stand mix until fluffy, then add in the cinnamon, Swerve, and vanilla. Blend on medium high until things are nicely mixed. Add in the Cool Whip Free and blend on low until everything has been incorporated.
A bowl full of dreams.
Dump into a serving bowl and place into the freezer for 45-60 minutes, just until things are firm. If you *don't* want to top with dulce de leche because you hate enjoying life or just don't have time to resist the urge to dive into this, you could call it a day here and eat the dip. But take the hour. Relax. Read a book. Take a nap. Read a book while taking a nap. Just remember, the name of the dip dessert game is simplicity.
And also, hella good yumminess.
 Dump three tablespoons of dulce de leche in a small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds:
Do not lick--will be hot.
 Stir until smooth, and then use an angled spatula or small knife to spread across the top of your firmed up churro cheesecake dip:
There's a fine line here, and it is make of sticky, sweet caramel.
 You could also call it a day here and place into the fridge to finish setting, but I prefer to garnish dip. Jazz things up a bit. Make them slightly complicated and a bit pretty (side note- this is now my new name for my autobiography).
She was a complicated woman, but she loved dessert.
I used a 1M tip to create a quick swirl of Cool Whip Free in the middle of my dessert and finished things off by placing a Stacy's Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chip in the center.
I am now also obsessed with dessert pita chips. I did not know such a thing existed.
Place back in to the fridge to let set for a few hours (mine sat in the fridge for about 4 hours until we were ready to go to the party this dessert was debuting at). Plate and serve with cinnamon sugar pita chips, cinnamon graham crackers, Nilla Wafers, apple slices, etc. You really can't go wrong.
Because, churro.
To paraphrase a friend after she tried a bit: this stuff is legit. It is so creamy and sweet, but the cinnamon gives the cheesecake the perfect balance. The dulce de leche layer on top makes it absolutely irresistible. A few people had never heard of churros or dulce before at this party (because sadly, not everyone can be a Texan), but said it didn't matter because whatever it was, that dip was damn good. So the moral of the story here (aside from the magic that is Tex Mex anything) is that a simple dessert you throw together on a wing and prayer that it won't suck can sometimes turn out to be the biggest crowd pleaser you've ever made. Does this mean I'm going to start trying to make things less complicated on a regular basis? I'd like to say yes, but my Level 99 anxiety is already laughing in the back of my head, so, we'll see. In either case, I have literally one spoonful of this dessert leftover from the gathering we went to last night (I wasn't even letting a milligram of this awesome stuff go to waste), and I'm saving it in the event of an emergency (a.k.a., Monday morning). 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Gonna need another cheesecake fix real soon, though.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Cool as a Cherry Cheesecake

Well, it's that time of the year again in Florida. The time when I step outside each morning to walk my dogs and my glasses instantly fog up from humidity only for me to wipe them off and realize it wasn't my glasses--that's just how thick the air is outside. I know it's going to be a particularly trying day when I open my blinds to discover even my windows are thick with moisture, you know, like they're crying about how humid it is. I don't enjoy living where there's only two seasons: summer lite and summer oppression. I have tried so hard, but I'm not mentally or physically prepared to suffer through another Florida summer. Since shipping myself off to Alaska isn't possible, instead I'm back to eating through the pain. I decided a handheld dessert would be most beneficial since my husband, the normal eater, finds the portion sizes perfect, and I, the one eating through the pain, of which there is so, so much of, can have a dessert for each hand. In those temporary moments of desserty bliss, I forget all about the UV index, lack of breeze (this is the flippin' coast, seriously?), and small fortune spent on sunscreen. That, my dear friend, is the power of a damn good cheesecake:
The cherry on top of an otherwise miserable season!
These cherry almond cheesecake cups...where do I even begin? The amazingly rich, creamy almond cheesecake? The buttery vanilla crust? The sweet pieces of Maraschino cherries swimming throughout? The cherry whipped topping? I suppose I could start with any of them, but the end result is still the same: a perfect, delicious cheesecake served up in just the right amount with absolutely no need for a fork. I told you last week, I eat like a bear because I may or may not be one. But seriously, you don't need a fork for these little beauties. You'll eat them faster than you could find utensils anyway. But go forth and eat with reckless abandon because one cheesecake is only 208 calories! I channeled my rage-filled abhorrence of summer toward clever calorie cutting because it's pretty much necessary that I live in a bikini for the next six months or risk spontaneous combustion every time I crack open the front door. I may feel miserable, but I certainly don't have to look it! Ahh, vanity.
And yet, there's cookies involved.
I always felt like Nilla Wafers never got a fair shake. In a world where there's over 75 types of Oreo's alone, these plain vanilla cookies never stood a chance. Maybe I relate on some level because I, too, happen to be a plain vanilla wafer of a person: bland in appearance, but steadfast and reliable! And much like the Nilla Wafer cheesecake crust, I'm also a surprisingly good addition to most ensembles. To make the crust, gather:
  • 32 Reduced Fat Nilla Wafers, crushed (this makes 1 cup of crushed wafers)
  • 3 TBS of butter or butter spread, melted (I used spread)
  • 2 TBS of Swerve granular
I love any opportunity that allows me to use my food processor. Feel the power!
Once you've crushed all of your Nilla Wafers in a food processor, add in the melted butter and the sugar, and blend until the mixture is wet. Preheat your oven to 325 and line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. 
A strong foundation is necessary for all that cheesecakey goodness.
 Use a tablespoon, and scoop one tablespoon of crust mix into each cupcake liner. Then use something small, like a shot glass (pictured one photo above) to smooth your crust down into the cupcake liners. Bake these for 5-7 minutes, or until slightly golden. Remove from the oven and set on a cooling rack while you make your filling. At this point, you also need to lower the oven temp to 300, or risk burning your beautiful, cherry-filled cheesecakes and letting summer win in all it's overheated evilness...summer, the Taylor Swift of seasons. Innocent and sunny in appearance, but totally loves it when you're miserable.
I ate a lot of cherries that day.
Literally the hardest part about making these cheesecakes was chopping the Maraschino cherries. Those delicious little jerks are slippery and somehow ended up flying off the plate and into my mouth on accident on several occasions. To make the cheesecake filling, you'll need:
  • 12 ounces of 1/3 fat cream cheese at room temp
  • 1/2 cup Swerve granular
  • 3 TBS All Purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of light sour cream (I might try 1/4 cup next time and add 4 more ounces of cream cheese instead just because I felt like the sour cream covered up the flavor of the almond extract just a little bit too much)
  • 1 1/2 tsp almond extract (alternatively, if you want to keep a 1/2 cup of sour cream, try adding 2 tsp of almond extract so the flavor shines through. I'm obsessed with almond extract flavoring)
  • 2 eggs
  • 34 Maraschino cherries, chopped (this makes about 3/4 cup)
 Blend the cream cheese, flour, and Swerve in your stand mixer on medium until well blended, scraping the bowl after a minute or so. Then add in the sour cream and almond extract and mix on medium for a minute. Scrape the bowl again before adding in the eggs. Blend on medium until everything is silky smooth in appearance. Fold in the chopped cherries by hand.
I was prepared to drink this with a straw.
Take your tablespoon from earlier and plop two heaping tablespoons into each cupcake liner with your baked crust. Cups should be filled almost completely to the top! Bake for 18 minutes at 300. Once 18 minutes are up, turn off the oven, but leave the cheesecakes inside with the door completely closed for 10 more minutes. Finally, crack open the oven door and let your cheesecakes rest inside for another 15 minutes. The cheesecakes will cook a bit more this way without burning or sinking. I know, this seems like a random yet oddly specific process to follow, but the original recipe did not steer me wrong here. Take the muffin tin out of the oven and place on a cooling rack in your fridge to completely chill for 3 hours.
Worth the wait!
They're honestly really pretty cheesecakes without any topping, but the potential to add more cherries to something is not an idea I've ever been able to turn down. Just ask my husband about how irrationally angry I get when I order a Cherry Vanilla Coke Zero from Sonic, and they don't put a Maraschino cherry in it. It's got "cherry" in the title--I have no time for these egregious errors, Sonic! What you lack in Maraschino cherries, you do make up for in the greatest mozzarella sticks of all time, but c'mon. Sorry, things have gone completely off the rails here, but I really like Maraschino cherries.
And their juice!
To finish off these cherry-filled cups of deliciousness, take 2 cups of Cool Whip Free and plop into a medium bowl. Drain 2 tablespoons of Maraschino cherry juice from the jar and mix in with the Cool Whip Free gently. Place into the fridge for an hour or freezer for 15 minutes to let the Cool Whip Free firm back up before decorating your cheesecakes.
The perfect swirl.
 I loaded up my Cool Whip mixture in a piping bag with a 1M tip and just did a simple swirl on each cheesecake. Remember, cheesecakes should be TOTALLY cool before you decorate them. If there's one thing I enjoy (because I'm a terrible person), it is looking at other people's dessert fails where 98% of the time, they just needed to let things cool fully before frosting. As a baker, this is a simple concept I often forget other people don't even realize. So here I am, spreading the word. Fighting the good fight. Trying to keep your cake fails off the internet because I care. And because pretty desserts make me happy. This goes back to that vanity issue, clearly.
Definitely don't forget to add a cherry on top. Cherries in and on the cheesecake!
I did resist the urge to add sprinkles, so give me some credit.
 Once frosted and topped with a cherry, set back into the fridge until you're ready to serve. This would be an excellent dessert for a cookout or just for your general sense of sanity during extremely hot, humid summer months. There's a ton of cherry flavor in these cheesecakes, and it is extremely refreshing and definitely seasonally appropriate. I often forget there's more than just citrus when it comes to summer dessert flavor, and these cheery cherry cheesecakes (I adore alliteration) are going to be on my mind for ages to come. The crust is a nice, simple vanilla complement to the creamy richness of the cheesecake. Seriously, a tad bit more almond extract and this might very well have been the greatest cheesecake creation of all time. But the cherry whipped topping and actual cherry on top finish off the flavor for absolute perfection. I may (definitely) or may not save tiny little individual bites of the cheesecake that have Maraschino cherry chunks in them for last. Savor the flavor, people. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Yeah, look at that cherry chunk action.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Nothing Bundt Delicious

Oh, hey there. I know, it's been a while. I'm sure you've been longing for my witticism to grace your device screens since my last blog a month ago. Trust me when I tell you that I have definitely not gone without dessert the past four weeks (I'd literally rather die). I made some Reese's blondies and thumbprint cookies filled with jam--both yummy, but the recipes need perfecting before I release them into the world to ensure they're ready for mass consumption; then there were the PiƱa Colada cookie cups--I totally burnt my cookie cups, which is why you should never bake while sleep deprived. But I will make these again this summer and share their epic deliciousness when I can take pretty, unburnt cookie photos after a solid eight hours of sleep; finally, there was a lightened up version of my Dulce de Leche pie for Cinco de Mayo--find the updated recipe here. So, it definitely wasn't for a lack of baking, but I like to reserve the blog for recipes that have the show-stopping photo factor AND taste like they were made by angels...of which I am most definitely not. More like a quasi-evil baking genius. And by quasi-evil I actually mean I could double as a Disney Villain with little to no change in my daily routine. I wanted to return to blogging with a recipe that would make even the strictest dietician say, "Damn...I need to eat that." And thus I bring you a fudge-filled vanilla bundt cake with fudge ganache.
More like, "Daaaaaaaamnnnnn I need to eat that."
"Surprise inside" cakes are usually filled with shapes or brightly colored layers, but I can think of nothing better than cutting into a cake to find it is both frosted on the outside and the inside with thick layers of chocolatey goodness. Fill just about anything with chocolate: pie, cake, donut, other chocolate, and I'm going to fight you to the death for it. So it's a good thing I'm sharing the recipe, and this way, no one gets hurt. I'm legally obligated to share this with my husband since I'm pretty sure 'in sickness and dessert' was a vow. But he does have to put up with all of this (gesturing wildly around my entire being), so it's the least I can do. I may be bordering on insane, but at least I'm health conscious (pick your battles--I have the anxiety level of a restrained grizzly bear, but like, a grizzly bear in really great shape). This lovely little bundle of chocolate fudgy goodness will only set you back 274 calories for 12 slices. You could easily adjust to 16 servings for even fewer calories, but I also eat like a grizzly bear fresh out of hibernation, so if my cake plate isn't heavy when I lift it, then there's not enough cake on it.
Can you curl a cake plate? Asking for a friend.
The cake recipe itself is from scratch, but I assume you could probably try to do this with a box of vanilla cake mix, but the cake needs to be dense to hold the fudge layer in place, so just keep that in mind. To make the vanilla bundt cake, gather:
  • 1/2 cup butter at room temp
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (you can use another 1/2 cup of butter, but this trims soooo many calories, and makes a dense bundt to hold the fudge in place. I think 3/4 cup butter + 1/4 cup applesauce would suffice in firmness with a richer, more buttery flavor if you're not worried about calories)
  • 1 cup of Swerve granulated sweetner (this isn't a particularly "sugary" tasting cake since it is more of a sponge cake, so if you like sweeter cakes, try upping the amount of sugar, but adjust the ratio of butter and applesauce to match)
  • 2 eggs at room temp
  • 1 TBS vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup of skim milk
  • 1 1/2 cups of All Purpose flour
Start by preheating your oven to 325 and creaming the butter and Swerve until fluffy. Then add in the applesauce, eggs, and vanilla, and blend well for two minutes on medium-high. While this is mixing, spray the ever-loving bejesus out of a bundt cake pan with cooking spray. Just when you think you've sprayed enough Pam to cause potential combustion issues in your kitchen, spray with one more layer for good measure and then return to your cake batter. Add in the baking powder, salt, and 1/2 cup of flour. Blend on low, then add in 1/4 cup of milk, blend on low some more, then add in another 1/2 cup of flour. Stop to scrape the bowl as needed before adding in the remaining 1/4 cup of milk followed by the last 1/2 cup of flour. Don't over mix--things should be slightly lumpy thanks to the applesauce, but otherwise, everything should be mixed until just incorporated.
Pictured: half a can of Pam and the cake batter.
 Pour your cake batter into a medium bowl and set aside. Clean out your mixing bowl and paddle attachment, and get ready to make magic. And by magic, I mean fudge.
This recipe is a great way to use up miscellaneous cream cheeses.
For the fudge layer, you need:
  • 5 ounces of cream cheese at room temp (I used 2 ounces 1/3 fat and 3 ounces regular fat cream cheese. No method to my madness here, it's just what I had on hand in the fridge)
  • 3/4 cup of semisweet chocolate chips*
  • 1 egg at room temp
*If you want a darker chocolate fudge, try 1/2 cup semisweet and 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips. I got my dark chocolate chips out because I wasn't sure I had enough semisweet chips, but in a rare instance of my luck not being terrible, I had the perfect amount to make my cake and decorate it with semisweet chips.
Small miracles.
Blend your cream cheese on medium-high for a minute to get light and fluffy while you nuke your chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl for a minute and a half, then stir until all chips are melted. Dump your melted chocolate into your stand mixer and blend with the cream cheese. When things have come together completely, add in the egg and blend until things look nice and silky smooth. Pour your fudge filling into a piping bag fitted with a large open tip or a Ziplock baggy with a chunk snipped out of the corner, and prepare yourself for a terrible photo montage.
Now, take 2/3 of the cake batter and place it in your "so greased it could cause a kitchen fire" cake pan.
Then pipe a few circles of fudge in the middle of the cake. Make sure it isn't touching any edges of the pan. This does not look appetizing. This is a bad "daaaaaamnnnnn."
But once you smooth it out with a small spatula, it's decidedly less uh, "dog poo" like, in consistency. Trust me--it definitely looks better after it's cooked.
Finish up by adding the remaining 1/3 of your cake batter. I spooned the batter gently on top of the chocolate layer, and then I used the back of my spoon to gingerly spread the top layer out without disturbing the chocolate layer inside. Make sure the chocolate layer is completely covered.
 Then bake your cake at 325 for 45-50 minutes. Your cake should have a nice golden coloring when it's finished, and a toothpick inserted on the center edge and outside edge should come out of the cake clean. Let it rest on a cooling rack **while still in the pan** for 10-15 minutes. I cooked mine for 50 minutes, but it probably would've been wise to take out of the oven at 45. *Slightly over baked,* but still delicious.
During those 10-15 minutes, pray to whatever deity you believe in that you can remove this from the pan without incident.
I always take a small angled spatula and run it around the edges of my bundt cakes, very gently lifting to ensure nothing it sticking to the pan. I also carefully do this around the center circle of my bundt pan. Then I place an upside down plate on top of the pan, and I flip it over slowly and extremely carefully, all the while cursing my "all thumbs" approach to life and general grace akin to that of a bear freshly woken from hibernation...maybe I really am a grizzly bear? The are some strong parallels...
At this point, I also remind myself to breathe, because it's been a hot minute.
I then thank the makers of cooking spray; through them, all things are possible. Place your cake in the fridge for 2 hours to cool before ganaching.
Now you know what an 1/8th cup of chocolate chips looks like.
 The ganache is nice and low cal thanks to cocoa powder and Swerve. To make, dump 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder and 3/4 cup of Swerve confectioner's sugar into a medium bowl and blend well. Add in 4 tablespoons of milk, and blend slowly. If the mixture is still too thick for glazing, add in more milk until you reach your desired consistency. I ended up using 6 tablespoons of milk. Optional, but a great way to add even more chocolate, is to set aside a few tablespoons of chocolate chips to top your ganache with. You should have a ganache thin enough to drizzle with a spoon, but still thick enough that it sticks to the cake.
Can we take a minute to admire the sheer willpower that removing a perfect bundt cake from a pan requires?
 When you're done patting yourself on the back, take a spoon and drizzle ganache back and forth over the top of your cooled cake.
Mmmm, ganache-y.
Finish up by placing the chocolate chips onto the ganache, and you've got nothing bundt deliciousness on your hands. See what I did there? Yeah, a terrible pun becomes funnier with age. Otherwise, Dad Jokes wouldn't exist. This cake does have cream cheese in it, so keep it in the fridge until you're ready to serve. I highly recommend warming up your slices in the microwave for a few seconds so that fudge layer gets all melty and delicious...
Mmm, fudge.

Filling a cake with fudge might seem like a cop out. I mean, of course it's going to be delicious. All things filled with chocolate are delicious. Even Oreo caught on to that theory. The vanilla cake is a dense sponge cake, so it is mild in sweetness, but paired with the silky chocolate fudge filling it is the perfect amount of decadence, and the ganache topping just takes this to the next level (next, next level could occur with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I'll try this. For research). I may have taken a blogging absence, but I made it worth the wait. This is quick to make, simpler to decorate, and way too easy to inhale in one sitting (thank goodness it's a health conscious fudge-filled cake. If that's a thing, anyway). I'd also like to mention I made it through an entire blog without complaining about Florida summer. It's here, but this cake is so incredibly good I completely forgot about it. The power of cake. *cue the choir* I promise to be back very soon with some fun summertime desserts that are also capable of making heat and humidity a forgotten nuisance. Dessert--my sanity saver. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Dipping things in chocolate may only temporarily solve a problem, so I recommend multiple servings.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

From Russia with Love

No, this isn't a blog post about a James Bond movie starring the best Bond ever (fight me). It's a post about Russian piping tips, and my epic love/hate relationship with them. I was cautious about making another "important event" cake with Russian piping tips after how terribly they failed me (or I them, depending on who you ask) with my birthday cake. But my husband, whom I have an epic love/love relationship with, deserved an anniversary cake that showcased the tremendous lengths I am willing to go to to make sure he feels appreciated and loved. A normal person could just use their words to accomplish this, but I'm a small bundle of awkwardness that generally only feels comfortable expressing how tired or hungry I am. Outside of those two emotions (don't tell me hungry isn't an emotion...I feel it in my soul), I'm more of a "grand gesture" type of person. If you're wondering how I feel about you, think about whether I've ever baked for you or sent you baked goods. If the answer is yes, know that I like you, and that makes you special...because I hate everyone. But boy do I ever love cake--specifically, ones full of boozy goodness. I wanted to go over the top with my piping techniques and cake flavors to celebrate our sixth (technically 6.5) wedding anniversary. The traditional gift for the sixth anniversary is iron, so I gifted my husband with my iron-clad will to make a kick ass cake with this Grand Marnier orange cake with blueberry filling and Grand Marnier orange buttercream:
Because being married to a predominantly French woman isn't enough, my husband is also forced to eat French booze cake.
 I had never had Grand Marnier on its own, so besides being a complete failure to my French heritage, I wasn't sure if I would actually like it. I bought a bottle, hoping that the cognac aspect wouldn't make my tongue recoil in horror. In my drinking days, I stuck with vodka with a side of vodka or occasionally tequila because I'm a respectable Texan, and I never veered far from clear liquor. Cognac, although fun to say, was nothing something I ever drank. I'd like to think my taste buds needed time to reach their full potential because quite frankly, Grand Marnier is friggin' yummy, but it's definitely not something vodka-swilling college Kate would've liked. This cognac makes for one hell of an orange cake/frosting combo, and it gives a sticky sweetness to compliment the tartness of the blueberry filling. This is now my favorite cake combination I've ever made, and I find myself wanting it for breakfast because it's like eating a really boozy blueberry orange muffin. Thank God I remembered to make it low cal so that I can eat it whenever I want (judge all you want, but I'm the one with the cake). At only 260 calories a slice for 12 slices, this sets you back less than an actual muffin. Winner, me!
(and that's not just the Grand Marnier talking)
I started this cake off simply enough with a box cake mix, but I took extreme liberties to make the flavor come to full fruition (see what I did there) with fresh oranges and other delectable ingredients. To make three six-inch rounds or two nine-inch rounds, you'll need:
  •  One box white cake mix
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp orange extract 
  • 2 TBS fresh orange zest (about 1/2-3/4 of one orange)
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice (I needed two large oranges)
  • 1/2 cup of skim milk
Preheat your oven to 350 and grease your pans and line them with Parchment paper (don't forget the bake even strips. Lifesavers!). Blend together the cake mix, applesauce, extracts, zest, and egg whites on low for about 30 seconds. Add in the cognac, O.J., and milk and blend well for 2 minutes. Pour into your prepared pans and bake for 22-25 minutes (add more time if you're baking in 9-inch rounds) or until your rounds pass the toothpick test. Let your cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
Your house will smell like the citrusy parts of Florida...I assume. I live in the non-citrusy part of the state.
I made my cakes the weekend before our anniversary, so I let them cool fully before leveling...even with bake even strips, a naked cake requires completely level surfaces, and how else was I going to get to try a sample?! Then I wrapped them up securely for freezing following my previously tested and successful wrap and bag approach.
Berry nice to meet you...
I still had approximately sixty lemons (scurvy free!) leftover from my lemon cream pie, so making my filling was a sinch. I mixed two pints of blueberries with two tablespoons of granular swerve and one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice in a medium sauce pan. I brought this to a boil over medium-high heat while mashing my blueberries with a potato masher and stirring with a spoon until thick, about 5-7 minutes. I had a lot of filling leftover, so you probably could get by with cutting this portion of the recipe in half.
It made a purple mess. Much like the end of my Minnesota Viking's last season.
I took my saucepan and placed it in the freezer to set for thirty minutes. During that time, I found my Grand Marnier, miraculously not all gone, and got my frosting ingredients out.
Butter, my oldest friend.
This is a full buttercream (no Crisco anywhere) because I wanted to ensure I had the proper consistency for piping with my Russian piping tips. I'll tell you precisely how I made this frosting, followed shortly thereafter by what I will do next time for even better piping. Live, learn, and eat the cake anyway. You need:
  • 1 cup of butter at room temp
  • 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups of Swerve confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • 6 TBS Grand Marnier...which was one tablespoon too many for piping. Only use 5 if you want a *perfect* piping consistency frosting. Use 6 if you don't care and just really, really like Grand Marnier.
Cream the butter in your stand mixer until fluffy, three or so minutes. Add in the 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, extracts, and 3 TBS Grand Marnier, mixing on low until incorporated. Then blend in the 2 1/2 cups of  Swerve and 2 TBS of Grand Marnier. I was trying to use half powdered sugar and half Swerve to see if this would allow my booze flavor to shine through without getting that cooling effect from Swerve...and it totally worked. Will be using a 1:1 ratio from here on out to make things way healthier but still taste exactly as it should...sugary and amazing.
The circle of life.
 Once you've made your frosting, load up a frosting bag with a large round tip (1A is what I use). Get all your cake layers ready for frosting. Place your first layer top-side down on a cake board (a.k.a., the bottom of the cake is facing up to create a perfectly flat, even surface). Pipe a thick border around the edge.
Mmm, blueberry filling.
 Now, you can scoop your cooled and set blueberry filling inside of your circular border. I did not top with more frosting, but in the future, I would. Without the support of the extra frosting over the filling, the cake does collapse in on itself when you cut it, so you get messy, albeit it still delicious, slices. Repeat piping and filling with your next layer. I had about 2/3 of my blueberry mixture leftover, so you can save this for toast, sandwiches, mix it in with oatmeal, throw it at Green Bay Packers fans to turn them purple, etc.
Tres chic!
I finished by smoothing a small layer of frosting on the top of my cake, using an angled spatula to create a rustic-looking swirl on top, which I promptly did not photograph. My bad. The side of the cake just looked so pretty...I was distracted by it's elegance. Like the Helen Mirren of cakes.
We meet again, comrades.
I wanted a color palette that would compliment my orange cakes, so I went with pink, yellow, beige, and coral flowers. These are the tips I used. They don't have numbers on the side like most piping tips, so I honestly have no idea what does what. It's some Russian conspiracy or something. If this is how they plan on world domination, we've got plenty of time.
I washed a lot of dishes that day.
I wanted to give you some tips on achieving pretty flowers with Russian piping tips. For starters, don't fully mix your dye with the frosting. Leave it streaky, so you get more natural coloring. For example, instead of *PINK* flowers, you get pink flowers with varying shades and richness this way. I took my remaining frosting, dropping a large dollop into each bowl and slightly mixing to achieve the color I wanted. I added a few drops of yellow with one drop of orange to one bowl, a few drops of orange with one drop of pink to another, a drop of beige to another, and a few drops of pink into another bowl. I took a tiny amount of frosting, dyed it green, and loaded it into a piping bag with a leaf tip. I was now ready to conquer Russia.
Or so I dared hope.
With my cake on a turn table, I loaded up the random piping tips with my frostings. I now realize I was playing a much safer, less deadly version of Russian Roulette with my un-numbered piping tips. The gift of iron(y).
And somehow, this happened.
 I piped with even pressure, and made sure to clean the nozzle off of each tip with a paper towel after each flower was piped. I created a semicircle bouquet around my cake. With a softer consistency, some flowers didn't take shape as well. Placing the frosting in the fridge to firm up with help with this.
I still have no idea what form of sorcery made this work.
 I do know the tips that formed roses were the easiest (the tips with just the round lines on them above). They piped evenly and kept shape the best. I could pipe a little or a lot, and no matter what, it formed a rose. The pink and beige flowers all looked wonderful.
Coral, you failed me.
 The yellow flowers also looked really cool. This was the tip above with the three dots in the center and the round lines. The coral flowers looked like someone threw up a half-eaten flower (hi, I have dogs, this is an accurate description). They were mushy and would not hold shape even after cooling the frosting to firm it up. I wasn't sure if I should pipe a little or a lot, and neither worked out for me.
Don't forget the leaf tip, the real MVP.
 Once I practiced, piped, cleaned nozzles, and piped some more, I finished off the cake with my leaf tip, placing leaves sporadically around flowers, trying my best to cover up any ugly coral flower abominations. I suppose a 75% success rate with Russian piping tips is nothing to scoff at, but I'm at a 100% success rate with my American tips, so yeah, much like the 2016 Olympic gymnastics showdown, Team USA wins.
And when we win, we eat cake.
 I'm definitely going to keep at it with the Russian tips, though. They do yield amazingly gorgeous flowers with the right frosting, so, consistency, unfortunately, still key. I'd like to try mixing two different colored frostings into one bag to create insanely cool-looking flowers as well, so I'm still coming up with ideas for these tips. But back to cake--THE cake, I should say. If you even remotely like Grand Marnier, you will love this cake. The blueberry filling adds a pop of tartness to the overall flavor, which is surprisingly sweet for being an orange base. The Grand Marnier orange buttercream is a thing of legend, and it might possibly be the yummiest frosting to date that I have ever made. The plain cake with filling is like the most delectable muffin you've ever eaten, but adding a forkful of that buttercream turns this into an absolutely divine dessert experience. I am so glad life handed me oranges instead of lemons, and even happier to have a husband to help me eat all of this cake...and also, to enjoy life and adventure with. We had a wonderful anniversary, and now, we have this delicious cake to remind us how sweet life is together. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
You know you love someone when you're willing to share dessert.