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.

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