Monday, February 23, 2015

March Is Right around the Corner, and I Can Taste It.

From mid-February to mid-March is a wonderfully magical time of year when McDonald's offers the ever-elusive Shamrock Shake in honor of Saint Patrick's Day. Because what better way to celebrate the death of a saint than with frothy green milkshakes? I came to the Shamrock Shake party later in life around the age of 22, after one night of Saint Patrick's Day shenanigans somehow ended me up at a McDonald's in the wee morning hours (funny how that happens). I decided to fully commit myself to the holiday because if I was going to ralph, dammit, it better come out green, too. I've never looked back since. In San Angelo and Detroit I had no trouble obtaining a Shamrock Shake, but things took a dastardly turn when we moved here. In what I find a very hard thing to admit, I am on the same page with the locals when it comes to their love of McDonald's limited-time green dessert. So much so that the first year we were here, all three McD's had sold out of the shake mix by March 1. I only got my grubby little leprechaun-ish fingers on one shake that year. Tragic. Over the course of the next three or four or seventeen Shamrock Shake seasons we've lived in Clovis (time passes much differently when you're living in Purgatory), I've been trying my damnedest to come up with a copycat recipe as delectable as the original. I just realized if I had been trying to perfect the Shamrock Shake recipe outside of just the post-Valentine's to St. Patrick's day range, I probably could've been enjoying really perfect, free shakes for the last 16 of the 17 Shamrock Shake seasons that have passed while living here in Purgatory Clovis. Oh hindsight, you sneaky little bastard.
Helllooooooo Miss March.

 There is not a drop of Irish blood in my veins, but my husband is Irish, and so is my stepdad. However, even before these two wonderful gents became a part of my life, March 17 has been a cause for celebration in my family as it is both my father's and aunt's birthday. As I grew up, I began to see St. Patty's day was about more than eating green food, and it was actually a bonafide drinking holiday. Top three favorite holidays? 
1. Halloween- you get to dress up in costume, eat spooky-shaped foods, and drink bewitching potions of the alcoholic variety.
2. New Year's Eve- you get to dress up super fancy, eat insanely rich foods, and drink expensive sparkling champagne.
3. Saint Patrick's Day- you get to dress up and pretend to be an entirely different nationality for one day, eat deliciously greasy foods (God Bless the potato), and drink lots of green beer.

I'll give you a moment to connect the dots. I preface this blog with my love of Saint Patrick's Day because it will be the first of many to come over the next few weeks featuring desserts that range in difficulty to make that you can bring to your very own debaucherous celebration, like green velvet cupcakes, Guinness chocolate cake with Bailey's Irish Cream icing, and mint chocolate frosted brownies. But let's start with the easiest recipe of them all: The Shamrock Shake, Kate Bakes Cakes style.
Just a few short steps from changing your entire life and pants size.
What you see here is a long and tested recipe that finalllllyyyy has equated to perfection. I mean, all versions of this shake that I concocted before were still milkshakes and therefore still very tasty, but in essence I wanted to take one sip and be transported to my McDonald's Drive Thru. I wanted my Shamrock Shake to be indecipherable from the original, like a really fancy knock-off purse that no one knows isn't the real thing (not anything your like your old high school friend's "Goochie" purse). 

Gather your blender or smoothie maker (halve the recipe if you use a single-serve smoothie maker) and the following ingredients:
  • 6-8 medium scoops of  Dreyer's Slow Churned Vanilla ice cream. My ice cream scoop is of a standard size, and I used 8 small to medium scoops to make two shakes total. If you're less impatient, let the ice cream sit out for 10 minutes to soften so you can get large scoops (like on a proper ice cream cone). If you go this route, you get about a cup of ice cream per scoop, so shoot for 4 large scoops. 
  • 3/4 cup of heavy cream. If you want a thinner shake, use all milk. But the heavy cream gives the perfect consistency for this shake, so do yourself a favor and use it. I suppose you could try using all heavy cream if you want an extremely thick shake, but I went with half milk/half cream and it was perfect.
  • 3/4 cup of skim milk
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of pure mint extract depending on how minty you like things. This extract is super strong, so I used 1/4 teaspoon.
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons of sugar depending on your sweetness preference. I sincerely adore sugar and cannot live without its sweet caress on my taste buds, so I used 3 tablespoons.
  • 7-9 drops green food coloring.
  • Optional but really, really recommended: Reddiwip for topping
I know what you're saying if you live in Texas, "WHY would you not use Blue Bell ice cream for this?!?" I tried it once for my Shamrock Shake and it was good, but the richness of Blue Bell's homemade vanilla overpowered the extracts almost entirely. The Dreyer's vanilla almost has that soft-serve like flavor and consistency that mixes really well with the other ingredients so you can experience full Shamrocky goodness. So now what? Hold on to your hats people, things are about to get ridiculously hard...
When you piece apart ingredients to milkshakes, they look really questionable.
Here goes: Dump everything into your blender and mix until everything is combined. That's it. Done. Ready for eating. The hardest part about making these shakes is not eating all the ice cream beforehand. 
Do I have to share?

I like to class things up, so I poured our two shakes into milkshake glasses and topped with Reddiwip and green sprinkles. I also found lime green straws for this. I really need a more productive hobby. Help me. I'm drowning in my own Shamrock Shakes.
And upon first sip, the gods of indulgence parted the skies and angels sang.
At least I'm pretty sure that's what happened. Whether it really did or not is debatable, but the fact that these shakes taste exactly like McDonald's is not. After all sixteen four years of trying, I finally got the recipe DOWN. Small victories are a really big deal to me. Especially considering once again, after a really warm week and dreams of a thirst-quenching milkshake (the cupcakes fixed my margarita craving), we were hit with a terrible cold front for the second weekend in a row. But this did not stop me from making us Shamrock Shakes while it was snowing outside. I bumped up the heat a few degrees and pretended I lived somewhere where it was over 11 degrees with a McDonald's that never runs out of Shamrock Shake mix before Saint Patrick's Day. Perhaps it is my overactive imagination that has gotten me this far in life. I will be sure to put it to use again for the next installment of St. Patty's Day desserts here on the blog. For now, I'm off to wrap myself in five blankets and wonder whether people still die from pneumonia since my impervious-to-cold hairy Corgi mix always manages to goad me into dog walks when it's 20 degrees and snowing outside. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Margarita Madness!

I really love a good margarita...bring me a fishbowl, dump it full of tequila, ice, and strawberry mix, and it's like giving a child a brand new toy to keep them quiet and occupied for the next while. Of course, after a fishbowl or two I am anything but quiet, but that's beside the point. Up until yesterday afternoon, it has been unseasonably warm for February, and I kept having hankerings for margaritas because of it...after all, nothing says sunshine and warmth quite like Jose Cuervo. Instead of freezing both my body and brain on a frozen margarita (there are worse ways to die of hypothermia), I decided to venture into a territory I'm comfortable with: Adding booze to cupcakes. I think I've finally made up my mind that should I ever choose to actually grow up and really "adult," I'm going to need to open a bakery that caters specifically to fusing alcohol into cakes, pastries, you name it. I realize the booze bakes out of these items, but it leaves the taste buds with a sense of sweet, sweet euphoria. If you're still looking for a hangover, I suppose you could eat an entire box of mimosa mini-cakes (I promise I will figure out a way to make this happen) just so that you can wake up feeling like you might die the next day--head pounding from sugar withdrawal and belly rumbling from living the dream of eating an entire box of mini-cakes by yourself. For now you're just going to have to drunk off the essence that is the strawberry margarita cupcake with lime frosting and a "salted" rim:
And by salt, I mean sanding sugar. And by strawberry margarita cupcake with lime frosting, I mean paradise.
I don't like piña coladas, or getting caught in the rain...I like lots of tequila, and getting drunk on cupcakes (you know you sang it in your head). I feel like prefacing this blog with a simple proclamation: I do not have a drinking problem. I have a location problem. I mean, this particular problem does lead me to do my fair share of imbibing, but when the local watering hole is located in the decrepit Days Inn Lounge and the mecca of shopping in your city is Wal-Mart, you're left with few other choices to pass the time. Sitting outside and waiting for the "cow" smell to roll in isn't exactly a favorite past time of mine (neither is dodging tumbleweeds on the reg.), so I bake. And I partake in the occasional glass of really cheap wine. Sue me. But don't. I need the few pennies I have for my cheap wine. Instead of legal action, let me just show you how to make my margarita cupcakes! Olé!
Yes, I really staged the hell out of this photo, you're welcome.
Minus the buttermilk and frozen strawberries, you probably have most of these ingredients sitting around your house and wherever the place is you hide the good booze from your guests. I found and adapted this recipe (to allocate more tequila), but here's the breakdown:
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder 
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick of butter. Room temp, of course, so it's buttah.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs. Also at room temp. Don't nuke your eggs. I mean, you'll end up with a decent cooked egg, but that's besides the point.
  • 3 Tbsp of sweetened strawberries- get the kind that boasts it's good for smoothies. I found mine in the freezer aisle at (you guessed it) Wal-Mart by the pie crusts and toppings.
  • 1/4 cup strawberry margarita mix
  • 1/4 cup of tequila. I know, there's tequila in the margarita mix, but just trust me on this. Don't skimp on the tequila either- you're gonna have leftovers, obviously, and no one wants to drink cheap tequila. No one.
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
Your mixer is about to get druuuuunk.
Start off by mixing the sugar and butter together in your stand mixer for 4-5 minutes. You want it to be fluffy, like a Marshmallow Peep. While that's commingling, mix the three dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. Swig tequila as needed. 
Just add fluff, and now we know how Peeps are made.
Once you've finished mixing the butter and sugar, add in your eggs and mix well. I added one, mixed, scraped my bowl, and repeated. My whisk attachment functions much like a T-rex--full of power but unable to reach many things with it's tiny breadth of arm span.
I ate a few. I was ensuring their quality was up to my standards.
You're going to need to puree the three tablespoons of sweetened strawberries. I tried getting out my chopper, but it just wasn't doing the trick. I was attempting to avoid getting out my blender because I feared I may accidentally make an entire pitcher of strawberry margaritas if I did. In case you're wondering how that ended...
While your berries are pureeing (that's a fun one to spell), measure out the mix and tequila. Swig as needed. Make sure you have 1/4 cup of each. 
I refuse to drink warm tequila, so this was an easy decision for me.
Take the strawberry puree, tequila, mix, and vanilla extract and add in to your mixer until fully incorporated. A funny thing happens when you add booze to the other ingredients. It will curdle, and it will look like what happens to you the morning AFTER you've been out drinking tequila all night.
Just tell yourself this is normal, and eventually things will get better. Whatever you need to do to survive this moment.
Now take a third of the dry mix, add it to your bowl, and mix. Then add in a splash of the buttermilk. Repeat this process until all your dry mix and buttermilk are folded in. This is when things will again look right with the cupcakes, and your world by proxy. 
Thank God.
Now you're ready to divide up your batter into a muffin tin lined with cupcake papers of your choosing. I went with festive lime, cerulean, and purple liners because I'm a perfectionist and my margarita cupcakes weren't going into just any old liner. I have a real problem with prioritizing things that actually matter versus things like fancy cupcake liners. This is why I need adult supervision. Bake your cupcakes for 25 minutes at 325 degrees. The mix in total will make 12 cupcakes.
I told you my papers were festive. Olé, dammit.
Let your cupcakes rest on top of a cooling rack while still in the pan for about ten minutes. Then you can remove them from the pan and place on to a towel on top of the cooling rack so they don't get weird divots in the bottom and you don't get any crumbs anywhere. You could nix the towel if you don't care about a lumpy bottom and crumbs, but know I will judge you for this. Harshly. While swirling a margarita in one hand. With an arched eyebrow aimed in your direction. Wondering if you just want crumbs everywhere. Because that's how you get ants.
It's pretty much going to look like this.
Once your cupcakes are mostly cooled, you can start to prepare your frosting. There are a few ingredients, and a few bonus ingredients to make your decorations look fantastic:
The frosting is simply to die for. I tried some, died, and brought myself back just to eat some more.
Since the cupcake recipe only yields 12 cupcakes, I made waaayyyy too much frosting. Here's the full recipe, but I really recommend halving it unless you just want to eat a bunch of leftover icing with a shovel...this I will not judge you harshly for.
  • 1 block of regular cream cheese at room temp
  • 1 cup of butter at room temp
  • 3 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 4-5 cups of powdered sugar to get the consistency thick for piping
  • 5-7 drops of green food coloring (I used 7)
Start by mixing together the butter and cream cheese (the amount of calories your mixer is about to see...). Cream these together for about 3-4 minutes. Then add in one cup of powdered sugar, mix well, scrape the bowl (thanks T-rex whisk), add one tablespoon of lime juice, and repeat this until you've used all 3 tablespoons of lime juice, and enough powdered sugar to get a stiff consistency for piping. If you're just going to frost the cupcakes with a knife and call it a day, you probably won't need as much sugar, but I went with 5 full cups. Finish off by adding in however much green dye you'd like to achieve a green you're happy with.
Bonus ingredients are hella recommended.
I really wanted to make these cupcakes look as much like the food version of a margarita as possible, so I added a few choice ingredients to make some final touches:
  • A bag of fruit lime candy
  • A small bowl of white sanding sugar mixed with a sprinkling of salt
  • A piping bag fitted with a 1M tip
The decorating process itself is actually extremely simple. So easy I could do it after a frozen margarita with minimal error! Fill your piping bag with frosting, and set the bowl of salted sugar (this is a thing, yes?) close by.
Start by simply outlining the cupcake. I kept my piping bag still, and slowly moved the cupcake itself in a circular motion to achieve this.
Take your cupcake, and veeeerrrryyy gently dip your face-down cupcake into the bowl of salted sugar. Swirl it around a bit, but do not apply pressure or you'll smoosh the frosting. Now you have your margarita's "salted" rim!

Then starting where you left off while frosting, take your piping bag, hold it steady, and slowly move your cupcake in a circular motion while piping until you build up a nice mound. End by squeezing a bit of frosting on the top, and press the tip down a bit and pull away quickly to get that nice little star on top.
Repeat this for all of your cupcakes. I was able to fully pipe 6 with 1 bag of frosting, and then had to reload. I made a bit of a mess, so I recommend just using a new piping bag for the second half unless you like licking frosting off your forearm. And I do.
Take out six lime candies, and cut them in half. They are big and heavy, so a whole one will look a bit too comical on your little cupcake.
Then place half a lime wedge into the top of each cupcake and you're done! You will want to refrigerate these if you don't eat the whole dozen at once to get cupcake wasted.
I was honestly so tired and worn out from an extremely long day of essay grading and an accidental  evening of margarita drinking while I made the cupcakes that I didn't even have one of these until the very next day. When it was no longer 75 degrees, but dropping quickly to about 45. See, it's really a location problem after all...this place will undoubtedly drive you to drink. Or eat alcohol-infused desserts. But oh dear Lord are these tasty. The hint of strawberry and tequila are the perfect pairing to the strong lime taste of the frosting, and the bit of salt in the sugared rim is just enough to keep your taste buds in check from going off the sweetness deep end. And in case you were wondering, these go ridiculously well with an actual strawberry margarita. 
They even look great together. They're like the Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem of the cupcake world.
I'm happy to report that you can have your booze in a cupcake, and eat it, too. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Heart Wants What It Wants...and That Is Usually Cake.

I know it may come as literally no shock, but I do not celebrate Valentine's Day. Not just because I'm the exact opposite of a sappy romantic, but because I kind of always thought of it as a really clever scam from jewelry stores, flower shops, and greeting card companies everywhere. Real talk: I'd rather receive flowers from my husband 'just because' (or if he screwed up and erased my favorite TV show from the DVR), so contrived acts of romanticism are met with major side eye on my part. My idea of a romantic act is when my husband makes the bed for me in the morning. God, I really love that.

However, I realize the majority of the world finds it to be a happy-feel-good kind of day to celebrate with their partners. More real talk: That's all Geoffrey Chaucer's fault. If he wasn't so highly regarded in the literary world, I'd be hella pissed with him. But enough of this English teacher/blogger's lessons in literary history and greeting card scams, back to the day itself. When I was a wee lass in elementary school, Valentine's Day was a pretty big deal in homeroom, and although I was still the world's most cynical seven year old, I quickly made the connection between February 14 and boatloads of candy and desserts (a clever, cynical seven year old). So while I never could get on board with the overall idea of Valentine's Day, I think we all know I'll use any holiday as an excuse to bake things (really tried hard this year to come up with something for Groundhog's Day. Legitimately.).
But a groundhog cake didn't seem very visually appealing, so I went with heart cakes.
I was inspired to make these mini-heart cakes when I remembered how my mother used to do the same thing for our family when I was a teen...proving that although I was still the world's most clever, cynical teenager as well, I have a mind like it a steel trap when it comes to baked goods. And let's face it, my mother is exactly who inspired me to start on the path to baking stardom (that's a thing, right?) with all her wonderfully creative concoctions throughout the years. I may have been a disgruntled teenager, but my mother still loved (and tolerated) me enough to bake me cakes. So I figured I could pass on the love and do something ridiculously lovey-dovey (barf) for my husband, who is now the one that puts up with the clever, cynical, disgruntled adult I have turned into. Isn't love grand?
Oh look, a hollow metal cavity where a heart should be...

Aside from the fact that my husband will be gone snowboarding over the Valentine's weekend (my gift to my husband: Cakes, a break from my cynicism, and a chance to fling himself down a mountainside), I also wanted to bake these cakes early so I could blog about them in the event any of you are looking for something special to do for your loved ones on Saturday. You could always bake a 9x13 cake and cut out hearts yourself, or you could go to Hobby Lobby, Michael's, Walmart, etc. to look for heart pans like mine in the seasonal aisle. I bought mine on Amazon a while ago, and the prices have since SKYROCKETED up to about 40 bucks for this pan...yeah, I told you this holiday was a racket. So avoid Amazon (literally never said that in my life), and go to an actual store to look for these, or Wilton's website. While shopping for your pans, pick a cake mix of your choice, sprinkles, tubes of decorator frosting in pinks and reds, etc., whatever you want for decorating your hearts. Let me give you the rundown on tips, flavors, and more if you'd like to mimic any of my cakes!
Am I the only person who willingly still eats candy hearts?
I went with a strawberry cake mix (hijacked with all the extra butter, milk, and eggs) with strawberry filling (for that blood-pumping effect) and vanilla-almond frosting (my homemade stuff for the paper towel trick). I also purchased heart doilies because the Clovis Walmart had no heart-shaped trays...surprise, surprise...a bag of candy hearts, red sprinkles, white sprinkles, red dye, pink dye, and a can of white decorator frosting for borders. Preheat your oven to whatever the box says to, and make your cake batter. I figured the cupcake rule would work here, so I filled each heart 3/4 of the way full. The cupcake rule betrayed me. My hearts came out of the oven looking like something from an anime comic or a Katy Perry video, so I had to do some trimming. I suggest filling a tad over halfway and start checking for doneness around 20-25 minutes. that thing on the right doesn't happen to you.
I'm (sadly) human, so mistakes are most definitely made in my kitchen on a regular basis, but fixing them is usually simple so long as the kitchen hasn't caught fire. I took a long bread knife and simply placed it flush to the pan and gently sawed off the bursting tops of my hearts. I put all four cakes in the fridge to cool off while I made my filling.
Mix together 2 ounces of softened cream cheese, one cup of strawberry jelly or preserves, and 1/4 cup of powdered sugar in your stand mixer. Once things are mostly mixed, either place into a piping bag fitted with a long, narrow tip or...bust out the frosting gun. That's right, I finally used the Purple People Eater for the first time in ages.
I had forgotten the power of the frosting gun.
I definitely could've used more filling. I only stabbed the hearts directly in the center, and then filled with my mix until the hearts started to ooze a bit. While the middles are nicely filled, the rest of the hearts are still just plain. So if you're filling, stab the hearts all over the place while avoiding the edges. Once things feel "full" when you press the hearts with your palm, stop filling, and plug back up (taken out of context, this could be a really dark blog entry). I used some of the cake toppers I cut off to plug up the holes. I then let my cakes rest in the fridge while I cut out hearts from cardboard cake plates so I had somewhere to set my cakes down to decorate.
Things will get messy, I promise.
Be sure to slop down a few globs of frosting on your cardboard hearts so the cakes will stay in place while you frost. These are really light, so they will move around A LOT if you don't. I started by making my frosting and leaving it plain white to decorate my first cake. Don't forget the crumb coat! I actually had a bit of frosting leftover at the end, so feel free to go heavy with the crumb coats. Once you've crumb coated, frozen the cake for 15-30 minutes, final coated, frozen the cake for 15-30 minutes, you're ready to smooth out with the paper towel trick. I wanted to do cornelli lace for this first cake, so I left my decorator frosting plain white and fitted a piping bag with a Wilton #2 tip.
I have a better tutorial in the link above, but remember the whole idea here is to ensure you're making little ribbons of frosting in S and squiggly shapes all over the cake. Just make sure they don't intersect or cross over each other.
Finished top!
I dragged the edges down from the top so I could connect the sides and give a seamless look. I also had some crumbs that managed to peek through, so I also used the lace to cover these crumbs up. Frosting is forgiveness.
Here you can see how I've connected the edges from the top down to the sides.
Repeat on all sides, and you've got a cake fit for a bridal shower! Hmm...that's not a bad idea. The wheels are turning.
I then took my big bowl of frosting and added in a little bit of pink dye. I then took TWO of my cakes and crumb coated, froze for 15-30, final coated, froze for 15-30, and then completely smoothed with my versatile Viva paper towel. I'd like to thank Viva, without you, my cakes would still look like a two year old frosted them. I'd also like to thank Netflix for getting me through the 30-minute windows of wait time. Without you, I'd probably have a more productive social life. Shudder.

My next cake took all of five minutes to decorate, and after how crampy my damn hand was from that delightfully gorgeous cornelli lace I needed an easy cake. Ahh cornelli most gorgeous things, it will eventually cause you problems for some reason or another. My simple cake mimics a candy heart, so you could really put any message in there. Txt Me is by far my least favorite addition to the new candy heart messages. I'm surprised there wasn't also a "Tinder Me" or "Binge Drink L8R?" heart in there, too.
I went for the classic, "Be Mine." Not at all creepy in message, only in theory. I used a toothpick to draw out my message to make piping easier.
I used a Wilton #6 tip to write my message in decorator frosting dyed hot pink, and honestly, I think it is too big. I think a #3 or even the #2 from the cornelli lace would work better, but live and learn and eat the cake anyway.
I finished off the cake by adding a candy heart border along the bottom. Delightfully kitschy!!
Easy as..well..pie I guess, just tastier. The next pink cake is my runner-up favorite of the four, edged out slightly by my cornelli lace cake that could possibly bring me loads of money at future bridal showers ("Cha-ching!" -my next candy heart message). It and the fourth cake just say "Valentine's Day" like no other cake could. Mostly because cakes can't talk, but you get the gist.
I started by dying a small amount of decorator frosting red, loading a piping bag with a  #18 Wilton tip, and piping shells on to the other smoothed pink cake. I made my cardboard hearts a bit larger for this and the fourth cake to accommodate handling without ruining the border.
Then I followed suit and piped the bottom of the cake.
And you better believe I finished off by topping my cake with red sprinkles. Isn't it just so joyously romantical? Jesus..who the hell typed that?
While my pink cakes were cooling in the freezer with their final coats before I decorated them, I took the pink frosting, added a few drops of red dye, and mixed. Then I crumb coated my last cake red and set in the freezer while smoothing out both my pink cakes and then decorating the first one. Then I took the red cake out of the freezer and gave it a final coat and set it to rest in the freezer while I decorated the second pink cake. Head spinning yet? I did this so that I wasn't up until 1 a.m. on a Saturday decorating cakes, as it was already 10 p.m., with no clear socialization in sight. Not that I mind missing an audience when it comes to frosting. I end up covered in the stuff, and that's just embarrassing for everyone because I will still lick it off my arms whether you're in the room or not.

For my last cake, I fitted another #18 tip to a piping bag filled with decorator frosting dyed light pink. Instead of piping shells this time, I went for a rope border on the top and bottom of the cake.
Because one sappy candy heart message was enough, I finished this cake off with white sanding sugar on top.
Honestly, the thing that took longest about these cakes was the crumb coat-wait-final coat-wait-smoothing process for three different colors of cakes. If you wanted, you could make all your cakes in the same color to speed this process up, but I really liked the variety.
Thanks, doilies, for being a completely acceptable stage for my cakes once a year. Or maybe at bridal showers, too...they did come in a pack of like 50...
Since my cakes were filled with the cream cheese mix, I put them into a cake safe and left out in the garage fridge. My husband couldn't find them since we usually reserve that fridge for booze and soda, and I'm pretty sure there was a fleeting moment he was worried I ate all four without him while he was out playing poker. What can I say, I really know how to keep the guy on his toes.

Don't worry, I was just keeping
This was a really fun project, which in total took about 4 hours between baking, cooling, frosting, waiting, and decorating. I'd say 4 hours is a worthy amount of time to spend making someone a Valentine's Day gift, but I literally know nothing about making homemade Valentine's Day gifts, so who am I to talk? I'm just gonna shut up now and go figure out which of these cakes to sacrifice for dessert tonight. Because no matter how sappy people get about February 14, a cake is a cake, and I'll be damned if I'm not gonna have my cake and eat it, too...with my loving husband who puts up with my self-deprecating wit without trying to throw me down that mountainside this weekend, too. Let's all take a minute to be thankful my clumsiness works as an excellent precursor for avoiding winter sports while still allowing me to sit (carefully) at a computer to blog. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Formation so Tasty, It Should Be Illegal. But Let's Be Thankful It's Not.

Like most red-blooded Americans, I'm going to be spending the day swigging Pepto like water after deciding that eating like a 16-year-old boy was a really good idea for the cheat day of all cheat days- Super Bowl Sunday. I've also spent most of the day wondering if I screwed up as colossally badly as Pete Carroll and Seattle's offensive coach did whether I'd still get to keep my job or not (short answer: No.). At least the game went down to the wire, because the commercials certainly weren't all that entertaining. Especially the "I See Dead People" accident-prone child ghost commercial from Nationwide. This left the people at our viewing party all collectively asking what in the actual hell we just witnessed. Super Bowl commercials are supposed to be fun and uplifting, not 30-second spots that try to leave you in an existential crisis. I'm hoping next year everyone leaves the "I'm not crying, I just have something in my eye" ads to those who do it best- the adorable puppies and Clydesdales of Anheuser-Busch.

I also can't possibly be the only person who noticed that at one point during the half-time show, Katy Perry was dressed exactly like Chazz Michael Michaels in Blades of Glory, and I think we can all agree Missy Elliot should've performed the whole damn show. I'm hoping that both she and Dr. Dre release new albums this year, especially since I'm starting to worry people actually have forgotten about Dre at this point. While there were some gems amongst plays (Jermaine Kearse!!) and commercials (Liam Neeson and Bryan Cranston, anyone?!),  the stars of the Super Bowl at our party were these adorable little football cake balls...
Based on my collage color scheme, I bet you can realize what team I wasn't rooting for to win...
The footballs in our house may not be under inflated, but they are most definitely full of cake and won the party. Some guests had thirds and fourths of these little babies (and by guests I really do mean other people and not just me). I had an absolute blast making these...way easier than cake pops for sure. I learned a few new techniques in my research that made the process of dipping about one thousand times more streamlined, so let me regale you with my underdog tale ending in a heartwarming victory, or something like that.
No crazy ingredients required!
If you want to make edible footballs or basketballs, I think it only fitting for them to be made of chocolate cake on the inside. Leave the vanilla for baseballs (as it is the most vanilla of all our sports, not just because the ball is white). So grab your favorite chocolate cake mix and a tub of chocolate frosting. You will also need two bags of dark or milk chocolate melts for the football coating, and a bag of white mint melts for the laces. I live for dark chocolate- it is the most underrated of the chocolates, and this speaks to me on many levels. Black jelly beans are also my favorite of the jelly bean family for similar reasons. I will take your rejects, your losers. They have a home here in mah belly. My taste buds do not discriminate! ...I have a feeling being raised a Minnesota Vikings fan has affected my life in more ways than meets the eye.

Bake your box cake, but use the substitutions I've been preaching for almost a year- add an extra egg, sub milk for the water, and use butter instead of oil and double the amount. If you haven't started doing this by now, I realize you're only reading this blog because I'm undeniably hilarious or you're off sweets and just come here to look at pictures of cake and remember what once was. Anyway, let the cake cool completely (I threw mine in the fridge for 30), and then crumble into tiny little pieces. If you have a food processor, feel free to use that. I crumble by hand because then pieces can somehow make their way into my mouth. Magically.
Hello chocolate my old friend.
Once you've crumbled the cake, mix in the can of frosting. You will have to do this by hand, but when everything has been nicely folded together, you then have hands covered in chocolate, and this is what I like to call a win/win situation. Even Pete Carroll could see the beauty of this play- simple and perfect in execution.
This is a horrible photo. If anything, it may turn you off chocolate cake. I'm including it for those who've gone off sugar to jolt them back to reality and keep fighting the good, low-cal fight.
Get a cookie scoop handy at this point, and two baking trays lined with Parchment paper. Scoop a ball of cake out, and then plop it into your hands. I really hope you washed after licking your fingers clean earlier, as this is not an appropriate time to use licking as a strategy to claim things as your own. Save it for ice cream. In order to form footballs, after rounding out the cake balls, I cupped my hands and smooshed the balls down to form an oval shape, and used my fingers to pinch the corners.
It took me a few tries, but by the third football, I was tossing these bad boys out like a Manning: Cautiously and with a silly-looking concentration face.
This will make 33 footballs. At this point, they could be mistaken for charcoal brickettes.
Once done forming all your footballs, place in the fridge for an hour or freezer for 30 minutes. You want these to be nice and solidly cooled before you dip into melted chocolate, or your footballs really will look like the balls from Deflate Gate 2015. When the balls are almost done cooling, melt your chocolate melts using the directions on the package (I used one bag at a time, but did use both bags). Melt in a Tupperware that is nice and deep if you're going the microwave route. I do not have a double boiler, so this is how I do things. Now, have a stack of paper towels, a large spoon, a large fork, and some toothpicks handy, cause things are about to get tasty.
Start by remembering to rotate your photos for your blog, and plop one football into the melted chocolate. Use your spoon to drop chocolate on top of the football.
Then scoop the ball out with your fork. Instead of tapping your fork to get the excess chocolate off- use your free hand to tap the wrist holding the fork about four times. This is a GENIUS move. The football won't get tossed off the fork this way, and the chocolate gets evenly distributed. This is how I will do all cake balls and cake pops from here on out. Makes a huge difference. No dropping the pop back into the chocolate or uneven weirdness. I have enough uneven weirdness in my daily life, thank you.
Once you've tapped your wrist about four times, wipe the fork on the edge of the Tupperware, and tap your wrist again another four or so times. Finish up with another wipe of the fork. Now, place the fork down on your Parchment-lined trays, and use the toothpick to lightly swipe the football off the fork. If it becomes difficult to swipe the football off, reheat the chocolate for 30 seconds on 50 percent power.
 This is another genius play call. A Hail Mary pass that works every long as you remember to wipe your fork off on the paper towel between each football, and your toothpick as well. Once you've dipped, dunked, tapped, and swiped all your footballs, let the chocolate harden for about 10-15 minutes. 

While they are firming up, melt the mint chocolate melts according to package directions. Since this is only my third foray into the cake ball/pop world, I am still trying to find my golden window of opportunity when it comes to piping with melted chocolate in the too melty-too solidified spectrum. I had excellent luck this time putting my white mint melts into the fridge for 3 minutes after melting, and then putting into a piping bag fitted with a Wilton #2 tip. I was able to get the laces on half of my footballs before the chocolate got too hard and I had to remove the tip and nuke for 5 seconds at 50 percent power. The laces are simple- draw a horizontal line down the football, and then come back in and pipe three little vertical lines on top of the long line. The white mint laces add just a subtle hint of amazingness to the dark chocolate in what is one of the best flavor combos in the known universe. Verifiable truth.
It's a football field! GET IT?!!
Let the laces dry for about 10-15 minutes and then you can plate these however you like! Put them back in the fridge until you're ready to serve. You can play your very own football game with these little tasty nuggets. Everyone's mouth is the winner! Just don't engage in unsportsmanlike conduct and try to intercept one of these from someone else's mouth. There's plenty to go around. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go troll the IMDB message board for The Interview to see if anyone else was secretly hoping James Franco was going to join Katy Perry in singing "Firework" during the half-time show. Oh the's to hoping next year I get to make a Skol Vikings Super Bowl cake. If you're gonna dream, dream impossibly! 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!