Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ace of Cakes...Seriously.

I hate humidity. I hate it more than slow walkers, asking people for favors, and not being able to eat Blue Bell ice cream with the cobbler I made a few days ago. I talk my fair share of trash about Clovis, but usually our humidity levels are so low we all shed our skin like snakes every season to deal. Lately, however, we have gotten more rain than this city has seen in years. Almost 8 inches since the beginning of May! I mean, things are green, my predator pond is back in full swing and has triple the water of last year, but the mosquitoes and humidity are now rampant. I don't like stepping out of a shower only to sweat through my towel and need another one before I even finish drying my hair. Granted, I probably have some sort of sweat gland cancer considering I sweat like a football team in sauna, but somehow it doesn't bother me so much when summertime isn't humid. Aside from my hair looking like a wilted dandelion and my excessive sweating issues, humidity is hard on way more than my petty vanity and other people's sense of smell--humidity is hard on baking. I was commissioned to make an ace of spades birthday cake for a friend's party last weekend, and the 95 percent humidity nearly killed my frosting dreams. I realize if we ever move somewhere with regularly high humidity that I may not be able to frost without the use of fondant, and that makes me incredibly sad. I mean, I'm not so good with the emotions, but that realization definitely didn't give me the warm fuzzies inside.
But this cake certainly did.
I used a few new techniques in creating this cake: buttercream transfer and stenciling, but I used the Guinness chocolate cake with Baileys frosting recipe just doubled to make a 9x13 cake. I wanted to make the whole thing look like an actual (albeit edible) playing card, complete with that Bicycle Playing Card back look on the sides. The humidity almost beat my dreams, but after a few meltdowns and tantrums and threats of never making another cake, I managed to pull myself together and soldier on. And it only took one glass of wine! I mean, really, like I'd never make another cake...if I had a piece of actual cake for every time I've said that I'd have like five cakes all made by me anyway. So let's talk about this buttercream transfer business because it will totally change the cake game for you, especially if you feel like fondant is the only way you can do cool cake toppers. Be prepared, as I am about to take you through a crappy photo montage to the max.
Start by printing out whatever image you want to appear on the top of your cake. I adjusted the printing size to 8 1/2 by 12 1/2 inches because I initially planned on having a small border around the cake top. But apparently my 9x13 pan is actually only an 8x12, so I had to scrap that idea entirely. No idea how the hell that happened since the pan itself really does measure 9x13.
Then take some Parchment paper and place it on top of your printed image Trace the image with a Sharpie.

So much Sharpie on my left hand after this.
Take your tracing and place it face down on a clear cutting board or plexiglass. Be sure to tape all the edges down.
Drink Baileys as needed.
I made some alterations to my Baileys buttercream so that I could make it as white as possible for the playing card top. It was still deeeelissshhh:
  • 1 stick of room temp butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of Crisco
  • 6 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of CLEAR vanilla extract
  • 3-4 tablespoons of Baileys
This does make quite a bit of frosting, but I used it all to make my buttercream transfer PLUS another batch to crumb coat and frost the sides of my cake. Combine the Crisco and butter for 3 minutes in a stand mixer, then add in the extract and 1 tbs of Bailey's. Add in three cups of powdered sugar and mix on low, scraping the bowl as needed. Add in 2-3 more tbs of Baileys depending on consistency preference and three more cups of sugar. It is easier (and boozier!) to add in 3 tbs at this point to make piping with the buttercream turn out better for your transfer. 
You will need varying sizes of round tips depending on what kind of image you are piping. I used a 3, 5, and 12 Wilton tip. If you need to dye your frosting different colors, simply take a few small bowls and dye away. I like using Wilton's gel dye, as it really gives a rich color without a weird taste like Americolor dye can. Fit your tips to piping bags and load up with whatever color you plan on outlining your image with.
I needed to outline the spade and smaller details in black, so I loaded a piping bag fitted with a 5 tip and outlined the A, small spade, and large spade.

Buttercream is quite malleable, so if you look under your glass cutting  board and see spaces or small holes in your outlines, take a paintbrush and lightly push your frosting in and down until the light or holes aren't noticeable when you check from the underside of the cutting board.
Once you've got all your outlining done, place the cutting board into the freezer for at least a half an hour to set. I waited a FULL hour because I did not want there to be a remote chance that my black frosting would melt down and stain the white frosting later.

After my first deep freeze, I went back in and filled in the A, little spade, and larger spade. If you have multiple colors in your image, fill them in one at a time with a freeze between each color so nothing runs. Again, CHECK your work frequently from the other side of the cutting board. If you see light poking through, uneven lines, etc. fix it with a little paintbrush. I'm not going to lie to you, this is insanely time consuming, but I accept nothing less than perfection. If I had a ruler, I'd snap you on the wrist with it right now. Ice your wrist while your transfer is back in the freezer for another 30 minutes to an hour to let things set.
I fitted a 3 tip with plain white Baileys frosting and came back in and filled in the large spade, and with a 12 tip I outlined around the edge of the card before switching back to the 3 tip to fill in the A and little spade. Of course, things went back into the freezer after a quick quality check from underneath the cutting board and necessary adjustments with my paintbrush.
Now, once you've filled in all your colors, you want to give your transfer a background. Fill it in with whatever color you want to match the rest of your frosted cake. Clearly I needed to use white to give my playing card a white background. I piped back and forth across the card and OVER the top of all my previous work using a 12 tip. I came back in with a larger paintbrush and pressed things flat.
To finish up, smooth out your background with a small angled spatula. You want an even, flat back so it fits smoothly on top of your cake. Place in the freezer for AT LEAST two hours before transferring to your cake. I did my transfer a full day before I made my cake so that it could sit in the freezer overnight.
I told you it wasn't easy, but it is possible. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, or as I call it, whole-assed. Half-assing your transfer is going to make for one sad cake. Sad cake can still be eaten, but you will taste it's tears and heartbreak which taints the experience. Or something. Definitely give yourself a day or two ahead of time to make your transfer. Now, on to the much simpler stenciling--especially if you live somewhere without soul crushing humidity!
Before you stencil, make sure you've crumb coated your entire cake. Freeze the cake for 30 minutes, and then frost your top layer of frosting. The top of the cake doesn't need a final layer of frosting because it is getting the transfer. Not pictured because I was hungry for lunch: Place back in the freezer to set for 30 minutes and smooth out the sides with the Viva paper towel technique.
You can find a stencil for just about anything on Amazon, just search for "cake stencils." Yes, supremely easy compared to what we just went through with the transfer, thank the cake gods. Whatever color you want your stenciling to turn out, head to Walmart, Michael's (hate you if you have one!), HobLob, etc. and get a can of Wilton color mist. My husband picked up two for me just in case (but mostly to prevent another meltdown if I ran out. Thanks, hun.).

Your buttercream should be very cold for this so the stencil doesn't peel your frosting away. Simply place up against the side of your cake and press in gently so all the little nooks and crannies are sprayed evenly.
Then spray! I covered myself and most of my kitchen in blue, but most importantly, I covered the sides of the cake! Hooray! Once done spraying, gently pull away the stencil and rinse it off with water. Color mist's mortal enemy is water (and subsequently humidity), so it will come off of you, your kitchen, and your stencil quite easily. Be sure to thoroughly dry the stencil before repeating on all sides of your cake.
Place your stenciled cake back in the freezer for an hour or two to firm up the color mist. This is where I lost my mind. It was so humid my cake started sweating if it was left out for more than five minutes and ended up looking like a crying teenage girl wearing blue eyeliner (unclear if she's crying because she couldn't find the right shade of eyeliner or Manic Panic hair dye). This meant I needed an extra set of hands and more wine- stat! To finish the cake in a quick manner. Carefully and oh so gently, we took the buttercream transfer from the freezer and removed it from the cutting board. Using all four of our arms (not a typo!), we flipped the transfer over and lowered it on to the cake before removing the Parchment paper.
I would've lit my house on fire if this had broken in it's final stages.
Upon peeling off the Parchment paper, you will have lines running across your cake giving it that Crow's Feet look we all try to Botox away. Don't worry- if you followed the frosting recipe above, you have a crusting buttercream on your hands and can use a Viva paper towel to smooth these lines and wrinkles away. Wish this worked on my face, too.
Ahh, Botox cake.
I had to keep taking breaks to put the cake away so it would stop crying. I may have even been crying in there once or twice. But thankfully, humidity be damned, this cake turned out almost exactly as I had pictured it in my head....minus the border because  my transfer flattened out significantly after the paper towel trick, so I had no room for one. I simply smoothed the sides of the buttercream transfer for a finished edge.
I believe this cake is aces...
Y'all, this cake was a HIT. Worth the existential crises, back-aching work, and everything. The birthday party had a poker theme, and this confection literally took the cake...as did everyone else. I've never had people take SECONDS of my cake, but they did, and they did with frequency. I was told by several guests that this was the best chocolate cake they'd ever had in their life (and naturally I agreed- I just didn't realize how big of  gold mine I've been sitting on since St. Patrick's Day). Basically, what I'm saying is, make the damn chocolate cake and change your life already. If you live in sweltering humidity, forgo the pretty frosting and just eat this by the fistful. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I don't have a poker face, but I do have a cake face. As in, my face was covered in it after I finished my piece.

Monday, May 11, 2015

My Sopapilla Awakening

When I was a child, I was an extremely picky eater. When we went to places like the Olive Garden, a Japanese steakhouse, or even a sub-par fast food join in my eyes, my parents always had to bring in a McDonald's Happy Meal for me. I would eat most things my mother made at home, except green beans. She would regularly tell me I wasn't getting dessert until I finished them, so I would take ten minutes to eat two green beans while hiding the rest under my chair. By the time she had realized what happened, I had licked the plate clean and fled the dining room...if I had a dog as a young child, I probably could've gotten away with this more than twice. I was also a painfully shy child, and if I wasn't related to you, I hid behind the nearest parent while they conversed with you. In all honesty, I acted much like a feral cat as a child where food and strangers were involved- when no one was looking, I might creep up, take a tiny bite, and run away until the strangers left or come back for more bites if I actually liked the food (I also became very good at hiding under tables due to this). When we would stay with my dad on weekends, he would go through his regular rotation of things I found acceptable to eat- fish sticks, hot dogs, sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese. But if it was a long weekend, my dad generally tried to avoid feeding my sister and me macaroni and cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (4-year-old me and 28 year-old-me still think of this as the Holy Grail of menu planning), so we would go out to eat at one of the few places I found tolerable- Shakey's Pizza or El Chico's. I was always OK with pizza because I saw the merits of putting tons of cheese on top of bread and heating it up, and I liked El Chico's because they had curly fries and Jello (Hindsight- what the hell kind of Mexican restaurant is this?). Since I was too shy to talk to servers, my sister always ordered me the same thing I wanted, but she and my dad always tried to get me to take a few bites of their food or dessert...Jello couldn't sustain me forever, after all. On probably the fiftieth request, I finally caved in and tried a little bit of a sopapilla. The second it hit my tongue, I am positive my pupils dilated and my quest to eat everything sugary-sweet began. The sopapilla actually opened me up to trying other "Mexican" food like Taco Bell, and I consider it a gateway into not being afraid to embrace the better TexMex cuisine I have become so obsessed with. So when one of D's friends hosted a belated Cinco de Mayo party (aptly titled Ocho de Mayo as it was hosted on May 8), I knew I had to bring my sopapilla cheesecake bars to try to enlighten as many people as possible.

Te amo. Te amo mucho.
I adore these. Know who else adored these? The entire party. I made a whole sopapilla cheesecake and ended up cutting the bars to half the size above to make more bars for people. The whole tray was almost entirely demolished before dinner was even served. After dinner, well, I took an empty plate home two hours after I had arrived. To say these were a hit is like saying people like free stuff- it's just a damn fact. But what's best about these? It's a Pillsbury recipe I tinkered around with, and it only takes like fifteen minutes to make. SO SIMPLE that you too can be the life of the fiesta, or just make your family love you that much more.
Make sure you get original crescent rolls and not garlic butter crescents....

You are a mere few ingredients and simple steps away from a sopapilla awakening, my dear friend. Here's what you need:
  • 2 rolls of original or reduced fat crescent rolls (you can also just get the crescent sheets, which would be way easier, but the commissary didn't have any- whomp, whomp)
  • 2 8 ounce blocks of cream cheese (you can use reduced fat cream cheese, but...real cream cheese is just where it's at with cheesecake)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/4 cup of melted butter
  • Cinnamon and sugar mixed together for topping (I used 3 tablespoons sugar to 3/4 tablespoon of cinnamon)
Lightly grease a 9x13 pan and preheat the oven to 350. Take one tube of crescents and press them into the pan. Make sure you've pressed the seams together if you're using the rolls and not just the crescent sheet.
Mix together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in a stand mixer. Spread it on top of the first layer of crescents until everything is covered evenly. Doesn't have to be perfect, but somewhat level is a good goal to aim for.

Roll out some Parchment paper or flour your counter top and open up the second tube of crescents. Even things out and pinch together the seams before transferring to the top of the cheesecake mix.
Ahem, rotate your computer screen, and then use your hands to continue to pinch together the seams in any areas that came loose while transferring.
Place the melted butter in one bowl and the cinnamon sugar in another.
This right here- you will hear angels singing. Spread the melted butter as evenly as you can on top of the top crescent sheet, and then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top. I used a spoon and flung the mix on top of the butter. Certainly doesn't have to be perfect because it is gonna look good no matter what after you bake it at 350 for 25 minutes.
Told you so. Now let your cheesecake set in the fridge for a few hours or the freezer for one so you can cut them into bars.
I think this initially made 12 pretty decently large bars, but I did end up cutting everything in half and some into quarters again to feed the masses. You can keep these chilling in the fridge for as long as they last, but when you have them out on a table for people to eat, they will be gone before the cheesecake can even get to room temp. I promise.
My tribute to the greatness that is the sopapilla- 5 easy ingredients and 15 minutes of prep work. And there you have it- how one tiny little delicious piece of sugary-fried dessert took me from only being able to eat at McDonald's to experiencing what places other than the Golden Arches had to offer. I'd like to think that thanks to the sopapilla, I learned I could be a much braver little girl and not a feral kid cat. It took a few years, but I began eating most things or at least was not afraid to try them, and at the age of 9 or 10, I finally started speaking up and placing my own orders at restaurants instead of having my sister do it for me. I found my voice after that...and have not stopped talking since. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Thanks for the delicious cinnamon-sugar and sometimes honey-laden memories, sopapilla cheesecake bars.

Monday, May 4, 2015

I Love a Good Fiesta!

For as long as I've been living on this planet, I have spent all but one year living in the south. I've grown up with a fond appreciation and respect for the various cultures that make up the great state of Texas and the, well, state of New Mexico. I have long been in love with Mexico's holiday of Dia de Los Muertos and it's celebration of our passed loved ones, but Cinco de Mayo is another holiday with rich tradition. This day is, in fact, not Mexican Independence Day (that's September 16, FYI), or just another excuse to drink loads of good beer (that's March 17, FYI). It is a day that celebrates an improbable but miraculous victory of the Mexican militia over the French (people used to be scared of them, FYI). We in the south now celebrate this day with food, music, and festivities (the closest anyone came to celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Detroit involved visiting a Taco Bell. Good to be home.). I'm also really in to sombreros, and I believe they should be worn to more than just Cinco de Mayo parties. I will show up to your fiesta, sombrero on head. They're extremely large, intricately detailed, and usually sparkly in places. They pretty much make all those crazy Kentucky Derby hats people wore last weekend seem rather insignificant. But along with the sombreros, I am madly in love with Mexican cuisine- the seasoned meats, topped with tasty cheeses and addictive spicy sauces all wrapped in some form of tortilla that delivers this goodness to my big fat mouth...mmm. But I was looking into desserts (naturally) to make to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and came across a recipe for churro cupcakes. The mere mention of the word churros makes my eyes glaze over and drool start to form, so naturally these were muy, muy bueno.
I'm certainly not the only one drooling right now.

A few months ago, Applebee's revamped their menu and put Churro S'mores on their appetizers:
1. I feel like Applebee's really missed the boat by not calling their appetizers Appletizers.
2. Sadly, I am well acquainted with Applebee's menu because it is one of the only places we can go here to have a beer after 8 p.m.
We've never tried the Churro S'mores, but my husband usually bugs the crap out of me to get them. I'm sorry, but mozarella sticks will always reign supreme as the best bar food to me. So I kinda made these churro cupcakes more for him than anything else, but you better believe I'm eating the hell out of them, too. The recipe itself is quite simple, so let's get down to business!
Two types of flour? Getting a little loco up in here.
This recipe was found and adapted to make one dozen amazing little nuggets of cinnamon-sugar goodness:
  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups cake flour (yeah, this is a real thing, I promise.)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 stick of butter at room temp
  • 3/4 heaping cup of sugar
  • 2 eggs at room temp
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces of milk (a little over 2/3 of a cup)
Start by preheating your oven to the magical temperature of 350 and lining your tray with cupcake papers. Cream together the butter and sugar for a few minutes in your stand mixer until nice and fluffy. While this is taking place, mix together the dry ingredients in another bowl. Once your butter and sugar is mixed, add in one egg at a time and mix well, and then add in the vanilla extract. After this, add in half of the dry mix and blend well. Scrape the bowl and add in half the milk. Repeat this process once more to complete your batter. Eat any as needed because this stuff is like liquid gold on the tongue.
My muffin tin has seen better days.
Bake at 350 for 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean from the cupcakes. Let cool in your tin for about 5-10 minutes and then transfer each cupcake to a cooling rack.
Like so. At this point, you've got a solid breakfast muffin on your hands.
You really could get away with just adding the crunchy topping and eat these every morning and be perfectly content, but frosting is really the only reason we eat dessert and you all know it. Let your cupcakes cool completely before moving on to the next step.
If it starts with melted butter, I'm always in.
Melt about 2-3 tablespoons of butter in one bowl and mix together some sugar and a tiny bit of cinnamon in another bowl. One at a time, take each cupcake and brush the top completely with butter and then dip the top of the cupcake into to cinnamon-sugar mix and swirl around to coat completely.
Heaven has a face, alright.
I know, right? Look at how scrumptious these babies are. Feel free to lick as many of them as you want to claim them as your own. What? That's not how your family does things? Then how do you know what's really yours? You may think I'm crazy, but everyone draws the line at other people's saliva. Let's move on from this awkwardness and talk frosting (yes, another lickable thing!).
Sí, there will be MORE cinnamon!
To make the frosting, here's what you need:
  • 4 ounces of room temp cream cheese
  • 1 stick of room temp butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  •  A splash of milk if you like a thinner frosting, but for piping, I used no milk to maintain a thick consistency that would hold shape.
  • Optional: The CUTEST little chili pepper cupcake picks I have ever seen. Ole!
Start by creaming together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy (3 minutes or so). Add in the cinnamon, vanilla, and mix away. Add one cup of sugar at a time, stopping between each to scrape the bowl and maybe eat a little bit along the way. Finish off by adding any milk if you need it.
I don't have tiny hands, this is just a really large Ateco open star tip.
Load up your piping bag with the frosting. I wanted to make sure the gorgeous cinnamon-sugar sprinkles could be seen, so I placed my tip a tiny bit above my cupcake and then piped out frosting (do not move the tip up or down) until it covered the center of the cupcake, finally, pull up and away quickly.
A dollop of deliciousness.
Repeat for all twelve cupcakes. And in another improbable but miraculous moment, there was a little bit of frosting leftover that I may or may not but probably did eat.
Finish off by adding the pepper picks to the center of each cupcake. The mound of frosting will give a little and create a perfect cushion for these toppers.
However you and yours celebrate Cinco de Mayo, these churro cupcakes are a perfect addition to the dessert table (you know, by the sopapillas and tres leches cake because DAMN did Mexico ever get dessert right). They are light, the cinnamon-sugar topping adds a perfect light crunch and sweetness, and the cinnamon cream cheese frosting just (literally and figuratively) tops it all off. We're going to celebrate Cinco de Mayo tomorrow with some Mexican Shepherd's Pie (this is what happens when you marry someone Irish), plenty of churro cupcakes, perhaps even some mariachi music, and maybe an appearance of a sombrero.
There is never a bad moment for these, I swear.
I love a good fiesta. I love cultures that know how to celebrate their history. I love a lot of things, and most of them involve food. Let's be thankful that regardless of where we're all from, things like churro cupcakes exist in this world. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
The three amigos.