Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I'm Told People Like Coffee?

I know that I am in an insanely miniscule minority here- but I hate coffee. I was 17 when I first tried coffee in a misguided attempt to seem more adult at a Denny's (I realize ordering a Moons Over My Hammy with it pretty much negated the point). After about 9 sugar packets and 4-5 creamer cups, I managed to stomach the stuff by drinking it while holding my nose closed shut. Again, this had exactly the opposite effect that I had hoped. I have not tried coffee since. The smell of it is enough to remind me of the taste and trigger shivers and gagging. I may be the only person on Earth that could survive without Starbuck's....and when you tell people you hate coffee, they usually look at you like you just said: "You know, Hitler's ideas weren't ALL bad," or "I don't see what the big deal is about child labor and sweat shops." It's taboo. It's as taboo as actually liking the Kardashians in a non-ironic way. So when a spouse from our squadron commissioned me to make a birthday dessert for a non-sweets but coffee lover, I was at first very flattered and then moments later the gagging started when I came up with the idea for chocolate coffee cupcakes and coffee buttercream icing. Luckily my husband doesn't mind taste testing batter for me when asked, and he seemed to think they were pretty tasty, so I rewarded his hard work (or whatever) and made a few extra cupcakes for him. After I made the first dozen, I was able to get the gagging under control...
At least they don't look like coffee?
Cupcakes are a gateway drug. Their small, unassuming size usually packs a decent amount of sweetness, which slowly but surely leads to consumption of other delicious dessert confections. I knew I was baking for a non-sweets person, but who can resist a cupcake on their birthday? I'm fairly certain this is how I got my husband to come around to eating dessert. He used to hate sweets, so when I baked, I was usually the only person eating the desserts. Good in theory, not in waistline. But with cupcakes, most people have that "One couldn't hurt" mentality, and then months later- BAM! Shaking from sugar withdrawals and asking what dessert you're going to make for them next. It's a slippery (albeit scrumptious) slope.
You're gonna give someone a good fix, alright.
If you like coffee at all, even just a little bit, you'd probably find these cupcakes to be perfection. When Derek took a bite, I was met with an astounding, "Damn, these are good!" I was feeling brave and tried a bite. My taste buds recoiled in horror and my ego in shame- I'd finally met a dessert I couldn't eat. First time for everything, I suppose. However, they were really pretty simple to make, so if you are a completely normal person and don't find coffee to be terrifying on the tongue, here's the recipe that I adapted:
You literally have all these things in your house already, I swear.
  • 1 stick (half a cup) of butter at room temp
  • 2 eggs at room temp
  • 1 cup of coffee at room temp (I made two on accident--I really have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to coffee, but I used some of the excess coffee in my frosting, so, win!)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup of flour
  • 1/4 cup of Hershey's unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons of baking soda
Make sure all your cold baking ingredients are left out to get to room temperature- this will allow for an easier combination of items in your mixer. No over-mixing means no tough cupcakes, and I also believe not combining cold and warm ingredients makes for more even baking.

This recipe makes 16 cupcakes, so line a muffin tin and preheat your oven to 350. Cream together butter and sugar for about three minutes or until things look fluffy like a Peep. While your butter and sugar are mixing, throw together the flour, cocoa, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Once the mixing is done, pour a third of the coffee and a third of the flour mix into the mixing bowl. Get things good and blended, then scrape down the sides of the bowl and add another third of the coffee and third of the flour. Mix and repeat one last time.
I wish I didn't have to quit you, cupcake.
Take a large spoon and divide your batter evenly until each cupcake wrapper is 2/3 full. Bake these for 17-20 minutes/until a toothpick comes out clean. Leave the cupcakes in the tin for 10 minutes to cool, then remove and place on a cooling rack. While those are cooling, cook the remaining 4 cupcakes. These only need to be in the oven for 15-17 minutes if you place them all in the middle portion of the pan. Repeat the cooling process for these as well.
No cave-in's here!
Look at those beautiful cupcakes- no divots or dimples thanks to the evenly-tempered ingredients. I placed them into the freezer for 15 minutes to cool while I made the coffee buttercream frosting.
Yeah, I'm telling ya- these ingredients are just ridiculous.
To make the coffee buttercream you need:
  • 3/4 cup of butter at room temp
  • 1-2 tablespoons of coffee depending on taste preference
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1-3 tablespoons of milk or heavy cream (If you only use 1 tbsp of coffee, use 2-3 tbsp of this. If you use 2 tbsp of coffee, use 1-2 tbsp of this. The more liquid you add, the thinner the consistency of frosting. I used 1 tbsp of coffee and 2 tbsp of heavy cream to get stiff frosting for decorating.)
  • Optional: Gel food coloring. I used royal purple to continue my purple theme (I was told this was the birthday girl's favorite color, so I ran with it).
You'll want to cream your butter for a couple minutes, and then add in a cup of powdered sugar at a time, mixing well and scraping your bowl frequently. Add in the coffee and mix well. Finish up by adding in the milk/heavy cream (and dye if coloring) and blend well. I used heavy cream to yield a nice, rich, bold flavor. I think- that's what I was going for. I couldn't bear to taste it, but Derek loved it. Now, you can slather on the frosting, or make things really pretty. Since I was terrified of tasting these cupcakes, I wanted to ensure they were beautiful to make me feel better.
I placed half of my frosting into a piping bag fitted with a 2D Wilton tip.
I decorated half of these with a simple swirl. Start on the outside of the cupcake and simply swirl/circle your way in.

And end by piping a bit of frosting up on top and quickly pull the tip away to yield a little start like so.
I say candles are overdone. Nothing makes a statement of your true importance quite like a flag in your birthday cupcake. Wave proudly, little buddies. I also added a bit of purple sanding sugar for an extra festive look.

The other half of the cupcakes I decorated in roses. Start in the CENTER of the cupcake this time, and pipe/circle your way around to the outside edge. It might take a try or two (feed these to your husband), but if you work your way around with patience nice and slowly, you will get a gorgeous rose.
It's a good thing I hate coffee, or I would've wanted to eat all of these myself.
I'm hoping these cupcakes made a splash with the birthday girl, or at least her tired coworkers in need of a pick-me-up that didn't want to make their own cup of coffee. I don't think I'd want to be there when these wore off though- sugar crashing and caffeine withdrawals? I told you, cupcakes are a helluva drug, man. Gotta use these babies in moderation, or addiction is a definite possibility. I'm hooked for life; in fact, next week I'm baking churro cupcakes to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I'm going to be delighted to have a dessert in the house that isn't a constant reminder of my inability to become a coffee-swilling real adult. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Look at them, mocking me with their smug gorgeousness. I'm just not ready for the hard stuff, okay?!

Monday, April 13, 2015

We're All Nuts Here...Really.

I was never a big fan of nuts until I met my husband (take that as you will). His snacking habits usually involved almonds or cashews and such, so gradually I came around to making the bold life choice to actually try something other than a heavily-salted peanut. Enter the pistachio. I remember the very first time I tried them was mine and D's first Thanksgiving together. He had a family tradition of making something called "green stuff" that consisted of loads of Cool Whip, pineapple, mini marshmallows, and pistachio pudding mix, and it was Heavenly. Only just two days ago when I picked up a packet of pistachio pudding mix did I see this same recipe on the side of the Jello box dubbing it "Watergate salad." I have legitimately no idea why it is named this because the thought of Richard Nixon is one of the least appetizing things I can think we shall continue to call it green stuff in this house. Anyway, I was jonesing for some cake like no other while simultaneously desiring pistachios (I'm a very complicated woman), so since green stuff wouldn't cut it in this case, I decided to kill two birds with one dessert. Enter the pistachio cake.
Kate cakes?
I know, supes fancy, huh? It had been so long (literally months, since Valentine's Day) that I had made and entirely frosted cakes. Although there was that delicious Guinness chocolate cake in there for St. Patrick's Day, it wasn't fully frosted so I'm not counting it...only in deliciousness. I was really starting to go through cake decorating withdrawals and had been toying around with the idea of making a hydrangea cake for awhile now, and I also found a new technique for piping two-toned flowers, so I figured I should finally take the plunge. If I failed miserably, we'd still have an entire pistachio cake to eat (leave no evidence behind), and if I managed to make it work out, well, I'd look like a total cake decorating badass. I'm happy the latter worked out, especially since I needed something to blog about this week, and I also really like feeling superior. Again, killing two birds with one dessert. Love it when a plan comes together. I guess I should divulge my secrets now...especially if you even slightly like pistachios, then you need this cake in your life and mouth. It is rich, moist, and has that lingering pistachio flavor mixed with luscious buttercream that melts on your tongue. Food porn at it's finest.
Yeah, I used a box cake...sue me.
You need a good white cake for the base of this recipe, so you could make something from scratch, but I was in the mood for cutting corners, so here's my breakdown:
  • One box of white cake mix
  • One 3.4 ounce box of Jello pistachio pudding mix
  • 1 1/4 cups of milk**
  • 1/3 cup of oil...I know...I ALWAYS tell you to use butter and double the recipe, but trust me here. This cake is already going to be very dense from the addition of the pudding, so adding in too much butter would make the cake fall flat in the middle, and no one wants that.
  • 4 egg whites...only use the egg whites. You don't want the cake tasting more like a yellow cake because of the yolk. It will mask the pistachio flavor.
  • Optional: a few drops of green food coloring. I used three.
**You can experiment with liquids here. You could just use water, and you would probably get a stronger pistachio flavoring, but I love the richness milk adds to a cake. I think the next time I make this cake, I am actually going to use Sprite or Gingerale to add a little extra kick to the flavor. Watch out, we got a rebel on our hands.

Simply mix all the ingredients together on low for 30 seconds, and then scrape the bowl and mix on medium for 2 minutes. Pour into greased cake pans (I used two 8-inch rounds). Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then remove and continue to cool on a towel on top of the baking rack until room temp. I actually put my cakes into the freezer because frosting a frozen cake helps to keep the crumbage down. Damned crumbage.
Aha, I finally figured out how to keep the powdered sugar demons from taking over every surface in my kitchen. Thank you, paper towels. I'd be lost (and very messy) without you.
I also did some experimenting on creating a crusting buttercream that would work with the paper towel trick. Most butter-based frosting is obviously rather sticky, so the paper towel trick doesn't work well...there was a lot of breath holding during this process, but I'm happy to report that this..sort of kinda worked out? Yeah...more on that, but the recipe itself is so unbelievably tasty:
  • One cup of Crisco/vegetable shortening
  • One cup of softened butter 
  • Two teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • Eight cups of powdered sugar
  • Six tablespoons of milk
  • Optional: an additional package of pistachio pudding mix, but know this will make your frosting chunky since the pistachio bits are in there. I couldn't live with myself if my frosting was chunky, so I didn't add this in. But I bet it would be extremely tasty, if only I wasn't such a smooth frosting groupie...
Mix together the Crisco and butter until nice and fluffy, then add in the extract and two cups of sugar. Mix well, scrape the bowl, and add two tablespoons of milk. Repeat the sugar/scraping/milk process until you've used all your recipe requires. This does make a lot of frosting, but I needed a huge amount to decorate with my flowers. You could easily halve this recipe and have the perfect amount to crumb coat and frost and just be done with it. But I'm obviously not the "just be done with it" type. I'm obviously the "let's make things ridiculously complicated" type. Oh Type A, you horribly wonderful personality trait.
Once you've cooled your cakes and made your frosting, put a glob of frosting on the middle of a cake board and set one round on top of it to sort of glue it down to the board. No one wants a slip and slide cake. A regular slip and slide is a different story.
Apply a thick layer of frosting to the top of the round and add the other round on top.
Take a big old heap of frosting and crumb coat that sucker.
Clearly, this part doesn't have to be smooth or beautiful. It's like concealer for your cake, the crumb coat. Gotta love it.

Put your crumb-coated cake into the freezer for 30 minutes and place a damp towel over your bowl of frosting to keep it from drying out.
Now, once your crumb coat is set, go ahead and frost the final layer of the cake. Get it as smooth as you can using a large angled spatula and a bench scraper. You do want things to be as smooth as you can at this point because you cannot apply a ton of pressure with the paper towel trick because of the really likes to make a sticky mess, but I couldn't live without it. It's clearly superior to just Crisco-based frosting. Place your frosted cake into the freezer for another 30 minutes and cover your frosting back up. If you accidentally eat some of it when doing this, I won't tell if you don't.
Damn girl, you smooth.
Once your buttercream has crusted in the freezer, grab about 3-4 Viva paper towels and gently apply pressure to smooth out the cake using the paper towel trick.  You want to use one paper towel for smoothing the top, and then use a new paper towel after one or two swipes at smoothing out the sides. The frosting will start to gum up on the paper towel if you don't use a new one often, and this will ruin the frosting and make me really sad (I don't like to feel things). If you use very light pressure and new paper towels, you can get a buttercream-based frosting to work with this trick. I'm not sure if you know this, but I pretty much just found the Holy Grail of buttercream frosting recipes. If you were a part of the caking community, you'd be lauding my efforts right now. Lauding I tell you. I'm like an Apple store Genius employee of the cake world- totally useless most of the time, but every now and then I really do make a difference.
Now, on to that frosting technique. I am en fuego with ideas this week, guys.
Since the inside of the cake is green, I figured it made the most sense to use a light green frosting for my hydrangeas. To make this two-toned technique work, take a small bowl and a small amount of your frosting and dye it whatever color you want your flower petals to be.
Science experiments are totally fun when edible.
Fit a piping bag with a 2D tip, and then turn the bag inside out. Use a small spatula and glob a little bit of green frosting inside your bag. It doesn't have to be a lot, just enough to coat the piping bag. I turned things back around and pressed my frosting around until the bag was completely coated.
I'll take one large glass of buttercream frosting, to go.
Open your bag back up a little with the assistance from a glass. You can pull the bag down the sides of the glass to help you maneuver the frosting around without completely covering yourself in it. Then take a large glob of the plain white frosting, and plop it into the piping bag. Twist your bag shut, and pipe out a few practice flowers until they start coming out in two colors like this:
I feel pretty, oh so pretty, and witty, and tastyyyyyyyy.
I simply piped flowers around the edge of my cake by applying gentle pressure and then pulling up and away quickly. Once I completed the border, I made another bag of two-toned frosting with a 2D tip. Why, you ask? Not simply to create extra work for myself (seriously), but because the more you handle the frosting, the warmer the butter in it gets, so it becomes difficult for the flowers to retain shape. Science (or something like that).
Delectable science.
But the experiment worked- two-toned flowers that are totes adorbs. So totes adorbs that is actually acceptable to say totes adorbs in a sentence if you're over the age of 14.

Now, to really put the cherry on top, flowers on the side, whatever.
I wanted to create a spilling effect of hydrangeas falling out and blooming down the side of the cake. To do this, I took my original bag of frosting back out of the fridge and put the alternate in to chill. I piped five flowers right below my border, three-four below that, two below that, and finally one flower at the bottom. 
It's always really nice when things turn out better than you had expected. As a realist, this very rarely happens. It's worth celebrating for sure, so thank God there was cake lying around.
I counted three piping tip spaces over and then repeated my clustering again until I had completely gone around the entire cake. I finished up by taking my alternate bag of frosting back out of the fridge and piping a row of flowers at the base of my cake.
This cake is so pretty, it even makes my photography skills look professional.
This cake is special to me not just because it makes me look extremely bad ass and tastes AH-MAZING (yeah, my hand is getting tired from patting myself on the back with it, thanks for noticing), but because this cake also marks one year since I set off on this crazy adventure into the world of cake decorating. I remember a year ago- there I was standing in the aisle at Hobby Lobby wondering if I was wasting a crapton of money on supplies I'd never be able to properly use, or if I had finally found an artistic outlet that would help me express myself both creatively and tastily. I've really enjoyed learning and even coming up with my own recipes and techniques to make cakes, pies, cupcakes, etc. look as good as they taste while chronicling it with my own brand of sardonic, self-deprecating wit here on the blog. I also appreciate your readership, support, and dealing with my general sass. Here's to another year and to buttloads of new desserts (I really have to keep exercising my ass off). 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I've come a long, delicious way in one year.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


In my family, we believe pie doesn't get a fair shake. In my family, we believe in "breakfast pie" and "lunch pie" (these are exactly what they sound like). In my family, our crest reads: "Why, yes, I will have dessert with that." In my family, surprisingly not a one of us is morbidly obese. This could be because we get so jazzed at the thought of dessert that our whole bodies vibrate with excitement, shedding pounds and making room. In my case specifically it is more likely the 25 total miles a week worth of dog walks saddled with Jillian Michaels workouts keep me trim, but this isn't a fitness blog. This is a dessert blog dedicated to the lesser-appreciated of desserts: the pie. Derek and I celebrated our third fancy church wedding anniversary last Tuesday, and I wanted to make us a fantastic pie to celebrate (read: it simply took us so long to finish all those damn Easter egg pops that I didn't bake until Monday). I'd be a big, not-so-fat (thanks, Jillian!) liar if I didn't disclose that. However fortuitous that situation turned out to be, we've been dining on a delectable cookies and cream Oreo pie for the past few days. Yes, lunch pie was had- but I've yet to convince my husband pie is an acceptable replacement for pastries or donuts when it comes to breakfast. Give it another year.
He'll come around. I mean, just look at this beauty.
This pie was adapted from a Kraft recipe, and it is as easy to make as it is to eat, which I happen to really enjoy considering I'm still cleaning up sanding sugar from those Easter pops I made a week and a half ago. You could make it even easier by purchasing a premade Oreo pie crust, and just tell your family to deal with the fact that even you need to phone it in sometimes. We can't all devote our lives to making desserts, sadly.
TWO tubs of Cool Whip? Yeah, you're gonna like where this is headed.
The ingredient list is pretty simple, and if you keep a bushel of Oreos around like I do, you're already ahead of the game. Here's the breakdown:
  • One package of your favorite Oreo flavor (I did a mix of Double Stuff and Mint)
  • One 8 ounce block of cream cheese (you could use light, but what's the point, really?) at room temp
  • 1/4 cup of melted butter
  • Two 8 ounce tubs of Cool Whip
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
Yeah, short, sweet, and to the delicious point. You're going to start by making your crust if you're not using a premade Oreo crust. I will tell you that making your own crust will be about a thousand times easier if you own a food processor. I do not own a food processor; what I do own is an amount of fury and sheer determination inside of me that could part the seas. And a rolling pin. An unstoppable combination.
Get ready to release the rage.
Start by taking 26 Oreos (I used all Double Stuff for my crust) and plop them into a bag. Do not scrape out the filling- it works like a glue with the butter later. Beat this bag with your rolling pin until you're left with mostly Oreo dust. I ended up puncturing a hole in my bag, and when I flipped it over to beat the other side, Oreo crumbs went flying, and Hank went 'a huntin. I placed that bag into a second bag, but the same thing happened again. I wasn't kidding about the fury and determination. The rage slowly builds when you live somewhere that regularly smells like poop.
Ziplocks aren't what they used to be.
Also, you don't have to get very many dishes dirty to make this pie, which is the best gift of all.
You may not be able to get the finest crumbs when you don't have a food processor, but when the large chunks of "stuff" in your pie turn out to be Oreos, no one's gonna complain. Mix your melted butter together with the Oreo crumbs in a bowl until everything is coated in buttery goodness. Then dump it in to a pie plate.
It may not be as pretty as a premade crust, but I did burn some more calories pummeling Oreos with a rolling pin for five minutes.
To help smooth things out and break up any larger pieces of Oreos, use a small glass to roll out your crust into your pie pan. You do want the crust to come most of the way up the side of the pie pan. Refrigerate your pie crust while you mix together the pie filling. I left my crust in the fridge for about an hour because I was busy doing other important things like vacuuming my blinds and wondering if I should just Super Glue my windows shut to keep the dirt out.
Oreo dirt I'm okay with.
To prepare your filling, take ten Oreos and chop each one into about six little pieces. I wanted a hint of mint in the pie, so I used five mint Oreos and five Double Stuff. One package of Oreos will yield enough to make your pie crust and pie filling, just FYI. I honestly wasn't sure if it would AND have enough left over to decorate, which was another reason I went all mix and match with my cookies. Now I know I worried for nothing, but this is precisely how I live my entire life.
Nothing says love quite like not eating all the pie filling before you can share it with your spouse.
While chopping Oreos, drop your block of cream cheese and the 1/3 cup of sugar into your mixer and whip it for about 4 minutes until everything looks super fluffy and wonderful. Then on very, very low or by hand, mix in one tub of Cool Whip and your chopped cookies. You're almost done...delightfully quick, and with plenty of time to finish cleaning those pesky ass blinds.
Take your mix and spread it on to your pie crust.
I used a large plastic spatula to meticulously smooth out the pie filling because I am a crazy person. This isn't a necessary step unless you're also OCD. I wiped off the edges of my pie dish also. Whew. Wish I would've taken a picture of that instead...Now, you don't HAVE to decorate your pie, but you really should. Especially if you phoned it in with the crust. You owe it to your loved ones.
So take the other tub of Cool Whip and stir it with your spatula until smooth. Load it up into a piping bag fitted with a 1M tip. Have some extra Oreos standing by to garnish.
I just swirled little rosey circles with my piping bag around the entire pie. Super simple- just start in the middle and swirl your way around til you form a complete circle.

Then I came back in and piped little stars in between each rosey circle to cover up the space left outside each circle. Just press your tip in the empty space, fill, and quickly pull away.
You can see the different between the empty space on the left and the star on the right. Much cuter.

Add circles and stars (no room for hearts, clovers, horseshoes, or balloons, sorry, Lucky) around your entire pie.
And finish off with some Oreo garnish!
I chopped three Oreos in half and placed them in the center of my pie, and I finished by filling in the center with the last of my Cool Whip in my piping bag and cooling the pie in the fridge overnight (cool for at least two hours before serving so it can set). This pie ended up looking so fancy it could've come out of a box, and I had Oreos leftover to snack on- double win. D and I had an absolutely fantastic anniversary; we feasted like royalty on pie and ate so much dinner I was actually still full when I woke up the next day...I've never skipped breakfast in my life though, so I soldiered through it with thoughts of breakfast pie. While I may not be overtly romantic or gushy, I do know the way to a man's heart is through delicious food, and my husband is reminded with each and every meal and dessert that his wife loves him and may or may not be trying to fatten him up so she can finally be the skinny one in the relationship. Lifelong relationship goals, people. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Pie- for those moments when words alone cannot express your love.