Sunday, August 30, 2015

You Can't Take Me Camping, but You Can Take Me Baking.

I don't do camping. It's bad enough that there's no indoor plumbing and humidity is my hair's natural enemy, but the idea of being simultaneously eaten alive by mosquitoes and possibly bears just doesn't sit well with me. I'm what you call an indoor housewife. My husband knows taking me camping will involve lots of bargaining, a possible diamond exchange, and at the bare minimum, a fifth wheel camper. Simply put, my idea of roughing it is staying at a hotel that doesn't serve free breakfast. While camping is not for me, I realize other people are normal, not nearly as vain, and generally enjoying experiencing life outside of an air-conditioned room. Good for you, well-adjusted outdoorspeople. One of the only ways you'll catch me entering a tent willingly is if there's a cake inside of it. So when I was commissioned to make a campfire cake for a first birthday party, after the initial cold shiver at the thought of roughing it passed through my body, I decided camping wouldn't be so bad if the outside world was less terrifying and more adorably sugar-filled.
Like so.
I will go to any function or location you ask me to if you promise me dessert (this is how my mother got me to go to church in my formative years without throwing woman). The cake itself was a marble cake, as were the cupcakes, and I made a chocolate whipped buttercream to adorn them all. I sat down with a spoon and ate some of the leftover frosting. I don't have a problem (I think); the frosting really was just that good. So let me teach you how to build the world's tastiest campfire.
As with most cakes, butter is always a good starting ingredient.
I found and adapted this recipe from A Taste of Home, and the extra cupcake I made told me that was a really delicious choice. Here's what you need:
  • 4 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 3 TBS of melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup of butter at room temp
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 5 eggs at room temp
  • 3 tsp of vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of sour cream
  • 2 1/4 cups of flour
  • 2 tsp of baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
Start by preheating your oven to 350 and greasing 8-inch round pans. This recipe will make enough batter to fill 3 pans, or 2 pans and 5's choice. Nuke the chocolate and 3 TBS of butter together until melted and smooth (follow the heating directions on the package). Set this aside to cool off.
It's so fluffy, I'm gonna die!
Cream together the remaining butter and sugar until it looks like a big puffy, scrumptious cloud. Approximate mixing time to achieve optimum puff is 4-5 minutes. Add in each egg one at a time until well mixed and plop in the vanilla. While you are letting the cloud form, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Then take and add half of this dry mix into the wet mix and blend on low. Add in half of the sour cream and mix well. Repeat these two steps again until you have a gorgeous pound-cake consistency batter (read: thick and artery clogging). Now, take two cups of batter and combine it with the melted chocolate in a bowl. Now you've got the two batters! Way easier than making them separately.
You're gonna be gorgeous, kid.
To make the cupcakes, simply plop a spoonful of the vanilla batter in a paper liner and then plop a spoonful of the chocolate batter in next to that.
To marble, take a toothpick and draw S shapes in the batter. Bake these for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Set aside to cool before frosting, as per the usual. 98% of the cake wrecks I've seen in my day are because people frost with reckless abandon before stuff is cooled off. Don't be that guy.
Now, to make the cakes, fill each pan with the vanilla batter.
Then plop in random spoonfuls of chocolate batter until it is used up.
Take a knife and swirl away!
Bake the cakes in the center rack of your oven for 25 minutes. Let cool on a rack in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and finish cooling on the rack. It will take time to make the frosting and the flames, so I left things out and didn't freeze them, and this ended up giving the cake plenty of time to cool off.
So you can just oogle the cakes for awhile.
Now, I had pictures of the frosting process, but my phone decided not to import them to my computer for some reason. I think the computer switching to Windows 10, immediately regretting the decision, and switching back to Windows 8.1 has caused my phone to no longer really trust my laptop's ability to make sound life choices. Clearly I'm blame shifting here, but gather this stuff for the best chocolate frosting you've ever had in your life:
  • 1 1/2 cups room temp butter
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch table salt
  • 4 TBS heavy cream
Mix together the butter and powdered sugar until you have another puffy cloud situation (4-5 minutes). Add in the cocoa powder, salt, and vanilla extract and blend well, scraping the bowl. Finish off by adding the heavy cream in, one TBS at a time. Immediately realize you haven't truly lived life until you tasted this frosting. Cover bowl of chocolatey heaven with a damp paper towel and set's time to melt things.
You need some camping supplies.
Crush up 14-18 cinnamon hard candies in one plastic bag and 14-18 butterscotch candies in another bag. My weapon of choice for this was a hammer, and yes, things did get messy. You'll also need a can of Pirouette cookies and some marshmallows. I ended up using smaller ones because my cake plate wasn't big enough to hold the S'mores-sized marshmallows. Marshmallows, as tasty as they are ridiculous to spell.
You're about to be en fuego.
Preheat your oven to 375 and line a baking tray with Parchment paper. Take a spoonful of the crushed butterscotch and pile it onto the tray. Top this pile with a spoonful of crushed cinnamon candy. I opted for three piles on one tray and baked for 6 minutes. When you pull it out of the oven, take a metal skewer or knife and pull up from the bottom of each pile to mix the colors and create flame shapes.
This looks like a ketchup and mustard mishap.
..but you get the idea. Repeat this process 3 or 4 more times until you've used up your crushed candies. These harden really fast, so if you need to pop stuff back in the oven to melt again and finish shaping, do so for a minute or two. You can handle these after about 5 minutes of cooling without any issues. I ended up breaking these apart with my hands to create smaller flames and varying shapes. By now, you should be able to frost the cupcakes and the cake.
I filled a piping bag fitted with a 1M tip and simply started on the outside edge of each cupcake and circled in. I ended my circle by piping a mound in the middle of each cupcake, releasing pressure, and pulling up and away quickly to form a star.
Because I like stars, that's why.
I then put some foil down on the counter, grabbed four small marshmallows, and "roasted" them with my stick lighter. I have coincidentally never felt more ridiculous in my life, but these looked really cute.
This frosting is so thick and...voluminous? that you actually don't need a crumb coat for once. I felt like such a rebel just frosting one layer and calling it good. But it was a relief to be able to skip a few steps after working for hours on the rest of the cake. So slather on a hearty layer of frosting and either smooth out or swirl or whatever the hell you want to do to finish the frosting look. Whatever the hell I wanted to do was give this cake a more rustic texture to go along with the outdoorsy theme. I took my small angled spatula and set it on the outside edge of the top of the cake. I constantly turned my cake turntable around while slowly moving my spatula in a circular spiral pattern. For the sides, I took my spatula and constantly turned my turntable (appropriately named) around the whole cake. Then a I took my spatula and placed it directly below the line I had just made and turned it all the way around again. I repeated this 3 more times.
Then I broke up the cookies and gently placed them on top of the cake to form my logs.
I took the candy flames and placed them in varying spots inside of the logs. Press gently into the cake to insert these so you don't break them. The flames DO NOT refrigerate well (they get..floppy), so keep this cake boxed up and stored out. You will eat it so fast it won't even matter, promise. I finished things off by ridiculously roasting more marshmallows with my stick lighter, and then eating a couple extras for good measure. Gotta show those babies who's boss.
I was supremely happy with how cute this cake turned out to be, and I sincerely hope it was enjoyed at the birthday party! There really is no such thing as a bad cake (much like pizza, even when it's gross, it's still really good), and kids love sugar in any form. I am going to reuse this frosting and marble cake/cupcake recipe for the rest of my days because it is simply mouthwatering. Unlike camping and experiencing the actual outdoors, this cake allows me to remain in my comfort zone by simply simulating the tingly embrace of a campfire (since cake always gives me the warm fuzzies). 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
And unlike bears or mosquitoes, cake is perfectly happy being at the bottom of the food chain. When presented with the choice to have cake or go camping, always choose the option that ends with you being the eater and not the eaten.

Monday, August 10, 2015

At Least Cake Doesn't Make You Sweaty.

As most of you are aware, I hate summer. I hate it with a fiery passion that burns hotter than Texas in August, which is to say it is an incredibly intense abhorrence...especially after spending the week before last in cool, breezy, dreamy Vancouver and coming back into the nearly literal hellfire that is the Eastern New Mexico desert. I spent the majority of the past seven days relearning how to breathe and exercise at altitude. I spent the majority of the past seven nights whispering sweet nothings to my humidifier for saving my lungs and nostrils from spilling out of my nose and running back to the Pacific Northwest. I wouldn't have blamed them for trying. Clearly, this was a problem that only cake could help placate. Or is it placake?
Definitely placakeable.

Yes, under those giant Cool Whip peaks and delectable gumdrop flowers is indeed a cake ripe for the taking. But not just any cake...a cake perfect for summer: a white cake with lemon filling. Sweet, sour, and light, the taste combinations are enough to make even the biggest curmudgeon (Hi, my name is Kate, tolerable to meet you) forget how gross and sticky it is outside. Best of all, this cake takes me back to simpler times (and summers that involved lots of swimming and boating to tolerate the heat) because it is something my mom would make with frequency while I was growing up. It could be argued that I am, in fact, still growing up...or out, depending on how much cake I eat.
Did I mention this was quick AND easy? I know, I love it, too.
I realize I very rarely use box cake mix anymore when I bake. But guess what? I have found that even the fanciest of from-scratch recipes still end up tasting almost the same as taking a box cake and adding an extra egg, opting for butter over oil with the amount doubled, and subbing milk for the water. This is a tried and true way of making something so simple taste like you slaved over it all damn day. So for this cake, start with a box of your regular cake mix and follow directions, adding in the substitutions I mentioned above for a bakery-type richness in your cake. In this case, only use egg whites in your cake. Otherwise you're pretty much gonna end up with a yellow cake, which is also really tasty, so I guess you do you, but I prefer the lemon filling with white cake. I also really enjoy separating egg yolk and egg whites because I'm a complete weirdo with a slightly major case of OCD. I baked this cake in a well-greased 9x13 pan at 350 for 22 minutes. Arbitrary time, but that's what worked for me.
Things are about to get...stabby.
I still cringe whenever I have to massacre a cake.
After 10 minutes of cooling after pulling out of the oven, turn the cake out of the pan. Let the cake cool on a cooling rack until room temp. Once at room temp, take the wooden end of a spatula/scraper and stab rows of holes into the cake so the filling has a place to go. Speaking of filling, I guess you kinda need to know how to make that stuff, too. You guys are so needy...but much like my love for my dogs, I appreciate your clingy-ness as well.

Still keeping it simple!
You'll want a medium saucepan for this because things will get bubbly. Gather up:
  •  3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon margarine or butter
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 3-4 drops yellow food coloring
Mix together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in the saucepan. Slowly add and stir in the water, and then bring to a boil. You will want to keep stirring until the mixture is boiling, then set a timer for 5 minutes. Turn the temp down a bit so it is just at a boil and stir like hell the full 5 minutes. If you missed arm day at the gym, this should have you covered. Once the 5 minutes are up and the mixture is thickened, remove from heat and stir in the butter. Finish up by adding in the food coloring and lemon juice.
I realize this just looks like a giant pan of those egg yolks I discarded earlier, but it's not, I swear.
I added an accidental fifth drop of dye, and sweet baby Jesus things were YELLOW. I'd go with 3 drops to keep things less...glow in the dark-y. Now, pour this into a liquid measuring cup and set in the fridge for an hour to settle, cool, and thicken. If you prefer to speed things up, go for the freezer for 30 minutes.
Mmm...lemony goodness.
Once cooled and thickened, very slowly pour into the holes you earlier stabbed into your poor defenseless cake. If any runs off, just wipe up with a damp paper towel...or your finger. Place into the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up. But back before when I was cooling the filling in the fridge, I made my gumdrop roses:
You beautiful, time-consuming roses, you.
I previously made gumdrop roses to put on top of an angel food cake I made, so if you'd like the detailed tutorial, it can be found here. I ended up making 14 gumdrop roses for this cake, but you don't need to be nearly as ridiculous as I am. Honestly, it would've looked pretty with just 6, but when I go the extra mile, I end up actually going an extra 3 or 4 miles instead. At least my crazy is the productive kind?
Don't worry, we're gonna make it look pretty.
Once the filling was set, I took a large tub of Cool Whip and spread it on my cake with my spatula. Use as much or as little as you  desire. Fun Kate Fact- I hated Cool Whip with a passion until about a year or two ago. My sweet tooth has calmed down a bit in my old age, and I realize not every cake needs to be topped with five inches of chocolate frosting...although I don't object when they are.

Now that's better. To make "waves," simply take a small spoon and press into the Cool Whip. Swirl in a circular motion and pull the spoon up and away quickly. Do this motion over the top and sides of the cake. This will create the wavy look you see here.

It's so easy and fast, yet still quite pretty. The "going the extra foot" of frosting decorations, really.
Then I simply pressed my gumdrops into the Cool Whip so they would stay put.
 And that's it. You're done. Sometimes it really only takes 2 hours to make a delicious AND pretty cake. I sometimes, I really mean quite rarely. Like, you probably have a better chance of finding 100 bucks on the ground in a parking lot or meeting the man of your dreams than finding a decoration style this easy. So bask in the glory and enjoy this precious moment. Almost as precious as the first day of Autumn...which cannot get here fast enough. Until then, crank up the A/C and grab a large slice of lemon-filled white cake with Cool Whip topping. It just may be the one thing that keeps you sane and sweat-free (but definitely not sweets-free) for the remainder of the summer. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Thank you for letting me stab and eat you in order to not die from sweating this summer, lemony cake. You're the real MVP here.