Thursday, May 26, 2016

Texans Bake Best.

Texas has given way to some of my favorite creations: Blue Bell ice cream, Shiner beers, the best damn BBQ, and H-E-B...I know it seems silly, food, beer, and a chain of grocery stores (throwing shade your way, Walmart/Arkansas), and I realize that most people are inclined to adore the gifts of their home state, but Texas is clearly ranking superior in a lot of categories. I can't begin to explain to you why all of us Texans are so boastfully proud of our home state..John Steinbeck probably summed it up best when he said Texas was a state of mind. You have to be there to see it, feel it, experience it, and it is unlike anywhere else in the world. We've got rolling hills, gorgeous deserts, and some days we even experience all four seasons at once! We're also pretty damn proud of the fact that it can take an entire day to drive out of our state. We like things big in Texas--big trucks, big hair ('Tease it to Jesus,' we always say), big smiles; if you're looking for something big, chances are we have it, Texas-size. Take our cakes for instance. We have Texas sheet cakes because regular cakes simply weren't large enough, so we made sure to make them in a size so large they could only appropriately be named by comparing them to the size of bed linens. This is actually not true, but it would be pretty awesome if it was. Texas sheet cakes are supposedly called such because the cakes are cooked in a sheath pan and are only about an inch thick. Because Texans are geniuses, someone decided the cake-to-frosting ratio of normal cakes simply wasn't cutting it and perfected the sheet cake so you pretty much get a 1:1 ratio of cake and frosting. I would worship at the feet of whoever it was that took the initiative to make this happen. We all know we only eat cake for the frosting, unless you're one of those weird people who peels their frosting which case, know there's a special circle in hell for your deviant behavior. I have never made a traditional Texas sheet cake (although I've probably eaten at least 100 of them), and surprisingly, today is still not that day. Today is the day I took the mad-Texas science a step further. Today is the day that Kate Bakes Cakes makes yellow Texas sheet cake with chocolate frosting cookies. So when the time comes that someone is searching through the annals of history to figure out what brilliant Texan created such a concoction, let my blog do the talking!
Can you eat a dream?
The answer is yes. Yes you can. These provide all the flavor of a yellow Texas sheet cake, but in handheld form you can take with you literally everywhere you go. See, cake severely limits your ability to eat on the go. Who has time for plates and utensils in this day and age? This is starting to sound like an infomercial. I digress. Texas sheet cake icing is literally a gift from, well, some unknown Texan I talked about earlier who may or may not have either been some sort of diety or witch because this stuff is pure magic. It's like Magic Shell but for cake/cookies--hardened on the outside yet somehow ridiculously soft on the tongue. And the actual cookie? Proud to report the conversion from cake to cookie turned out ridiculously well. The outside is nice and crisp, but the inside is literally a piece of cake. This may be the crowning achievement of my original recipes. Did I peak before 30? Yes, but are we really that surprised a blonde narcissist with an over-inflated ego and real-life Disney villain qualities peaked before 30? No. No we are not.
So we'll carry on, business as usual.
I looked at the various recipes for traditional chocolate Texas sheet cakes, white Texas sheet cakes, caramel Texas sheet cakes, seriously, we go big or go home when it comes to the sheet cakes. I researched the science behind converting a cake batter to cookie batter. And by research, I mean a cursory search that had this whole cake to cookie thing figured out in under 30 seconds. So I'd like to pretend this was an arduous process resulting in my genius, but like most of life's confusing situations, it was solved with the help of Google. To make your very own batch of melt in your mouth, not in your hands yellow Texas sheet cake cookies, gather up:
  • 2 2/3 cup of flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 TBS baking powder
  • 1 cup of room temp butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 TBS vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 2 eggs at room temp
Start by preheating the oven to 350 and blending the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Then add in each egg, one at a time, scraping down the bowl each time. Add in the vanilla and almond and blend. Then add in half of the dry mix, blend, scrape the bowl, and add the rest of the dry mix, blending until well incorporated.
Like little ice cream scoops of happiness.
Once your dough is made, line two trays with Parchment paper or spray with cooking spray. Use a cookie scoop and scoop away! This makes 32 cookies...or in my case and the name of science, 31 because I needed to sample dough to ensure the taste was alright (Come and get me, raw eggs in cookie dough. This is my house!!). Now, I don't like thin cookies...I like cookies thick like a slab of steak from H-E-B's butcher. I swear they're not paying me in anyway, I just love the store that much. So to keep my cookies from going totally flat and thin in the oven, I stick them in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to help keep a puffy form. These should bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until bottoms are turning golden and tops are firm.
Like a blonde field of dreams.
I baked these 12 at a time, one tray at a time with no issues. Let them cool fully before making your icing! Otherwise the icing won't harden, and that is simply not sheet cake icing then. It's just a puddle of delicious melted sugar. Still good, but not what we're looking for. FUTURE HELPFUL TIP: icing is messy. With or without a cooling rack, ensure you have Parchment paper underneath your cookies to save yourself a counter top disaster later.
What, still no booze in these? Whose blog is this?!
While I suppose you could add some Baileys in place of milk, since this was all still in the name of science, I did not. I feel like this is a really good excuse for anything, really... Didn't wear a bra anywhere you went today? In the name of science. Wanted to see what happened when you left a child near an angry cat? In the name of science. In the name of science, to make this icing, you need:
  • 1 cup of butter (room temp will help it melt faster)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup of milk (or 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup Baileys if you're feeling frisky) 
  • 6 cups of powdered sugar
Start by melting the butter, cocoa, and milk in a medium sauce pan on medium-high heat. Once melted, turn off the burner and add in one cup of powdered sugar at a time. You will get an arm workout here; you're gonna need to whisk like crazy to get out any lumps. Lumpy frosting = some other state's problem (Oklahoma, most likely), not Texas's. 
Now get ready to pour some frosting on me. I mean the cookies. I was having a Def Leppard moment.
To ice, simply spoon a large spoonful of icing on top of each cookie, doing your best to make sure you get it on all sides as well. I wanted to make these even more Texas-y, so what did I do?
The stars at night, are big and bright...
Deep in the heart of Texas! Sorry, not finishing that line ends with a lifetime prison sentence for any Texan. Probably a true fact. I iced four cookies at a time and then quickly dusted each one with star sprinkles. Mostly because they're for the Lone Star State, but also because we're moving soon and I don't think my husband is going to appreciate me taking up an entire box worth's of space in a U-haul for my decorative sprinkles collection. Once all your cookies have been frosted, back away slowly. Resist temptation. DO NOT TOUCH until the frosting has set after about an hour. I suppose you could place these in the fridge or freezer to speed up the process. I ate an orange and contemplated the impressive amount of sheer willpower I've grown since starting to record my daily food intake. I also may have cried a little, but I'm not sure the two were related (I'm positive they were).
You were worth the calories this close to swimsuit season, Texas sheet cake cookies.
Y'all...a blog about Texas and my first y'all wasn't until the end, clearly I need to brush up on my Texan...these cake cookies are the best thing to happen to Texas since Stephen F. Austin or Schlitterbahn. That good. Start to finish I was done in about 45 minutes, and that's including 15 minutes of staring longingly at my fridge while the dough chilled. The hardest part about making these cookie cakes was the hour wait to let the frosting set. I was a good little girl and waited until after dinner to eat one. I was proud. Proud of how damn good these are. The frosting is able to be handled without getting all over the place but still soft and melty when eating. The cookies are firm on the outside and smooth like buttah on the inside. Yellow cake/chocolate frosting is always a winner in my book, but these little fellas took it up a notch. Try these, you won't regret it. It's easy as pie and as Texas as sheet cake cookies! Like I said, everything's bigger in Texas, especially flavor. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
And just like any true Texan, you'll be sad when they're gone.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Peanut Butter and Yummy.

Chocolate and peanut butter...I'm told it's a flavor combination for the ages, like coffee and cigarettes or bacon and every meal ever. I know I'm in the minority, but I am not a fan. I avoid the chocolate and peanut butter flavor combo as much as most people avoid orange juice and toothpaste or Spam and every meal ever. I'm used to being the odd man out on popular favorites when it comes movies and music, but being the (obviously self-appointed) Queen of Desserts, it genuinely bothers me when I can't seem to understand a food, can someone please explain quinoa to me? Is it supposed to taste like cardboard? But when our friends asked for chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting as their third and final flavor of wedding cupcakes, I knew I had a hurdle to overcome. I could eat a PB&J for lunch every day, and I clearly eat chocolate with fervor and zest most people reserve for a  12-ounce Porterhouse, so why not together? To my knowledge as a young child, I never ate so many Reese's peanut butter cups that I hurled or anything, so that wasn't it. I mean, I am the girl who loves Whataburger so much I still eat it after it gave me food poisoning three times (Stick with burgers. Avoid chicken at all costs.), so it's not like that would even contribute to my distaste for PB&C. I swear I'm no hipster, avoiding PB&C because it's "too mainstream." So I went to the grocery store, bought a bag of mini Reese's cups, came home, and stared at them for a solid five minutes while trying to decide if I could somehow trick myself into ingesting one. When I realized that was in no way possible and I was behaving like my dogs do when I try to give them any medication by clenching their jaws shut and refusing to believe they'll ever need to open their mouths again, I bucked up and popped a damn mini Reese's into my mouth. My was forever changed.
What else have I been wrong about?! Is Ryan Gosling actually a good actor? Are cats actually not Satan reincarnate? Is it actually acceptable to swim directly after eating?
Clearly this moment I experienced between woman and Reese's peanut butter cup was life-altering. I realize I was wrong to assume that just because I didn't like PB&C when I was a kid and a teenager that I wouldn't change my mind/tastes someday. Since I steadfastly oppose change and believe that rules were made to be followed, I don't go outside of my comfort zone much in life. You'll never catch me at the end of a bungee jumping experience or eating kale because some things in life are just big old fat NOPES, but I learned my lesson--always give desserts a second chance. And when you do give desserts a second chance, go big, baby. You stuff those chocolate cupcakes with mini Reese's cups and you slather them with large globs of peanut butter buttercream (as delicious as it is redundant). Much like my stepdad has always said, no one's last thought in life is ever going to be, "Boy am I glad I ate that salad today," so make the cupcakes. Eat the cupcakes. Rediscover yourself in the process. Question everything you've ever disliked (while possibly eating a second cupcake). Become better through dessert! I mean, it is way cheaper than a therapist after all.
And no HMO is required!
I've got two schools of thought here: make these from scratch because everything is better that way or don't worry if you want to use box cake, I can help. So, if you want to make super moist cupcakes from scratch that yield 14 cupcakes, gather up:
  • One bag of mini Reese's
  • 3/4 cup room temp butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/3 cup of flour
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup of cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs at room temp
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup room temp sour cream
  • 1/2 cup room temp milk
Preheat the oven to 350 and start by creaming the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. While this is blending, mix together the flour, baking soda and powder, and cocoa in a medium bowl and set aside. Add the eggs, vanilla, and sour cream to the butter, mix, and blend well. Then add in half of the dry mix and half of the milk and blend well. Scrape the bowl and add in the rest of the dry mix and milk. Mix until just incorporated.

Conversely, find a chocolate box cake of your liking and cake jack it by adding an extra egg, sub milk for water, and sub butter for oil and double the amount. Going this route will make probably 24 cupcakes instead of just 14. So if you've got a party on your hands instead of self-grazing on desserts, this may be a wise choice.

In either case, line a muffin tin with cupcake wrappers and fill a little less than 2/3 of the way full with the batter:
Like so.
Then unwrap and add one mini Reese's into each cupcake, pressing them down gently just a bit to get to the center of the batter:
Also like so.
Bake in the middle rack of your oven for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the sides (not the center where the Reese's cups are) clean. Let cool in the tin for 5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack to finish cooling.
I wanted to eat them all right then and there. I have a lifetime of not eating PB&C to make up for!!!
 As you can see, the cupcakes on the far left in the yellow wrappers look different. This is because I did NOT place a Reese's into these so they puffed up a bit more. I wanted the bride and groom to have plenty of choice to what the final products will be, so these two went to them for sampling. On occasion, I can be a really thoughtful and generous person. But since that day has passed, don't ask me any favors until I'm feeling hospitable again (check back with me in three to five weeks).
I mean, I'm already giving you this wonderful recipe. What more do you need?!
So, my dogs know what the peanut butter jar is. They see the red lid and know it's about to get real. When I started making frosting without giving them any, a coup was forming. I had to stop mid mix and get a spoon out and give them each a little frosting. This is also my advice to you if your dogs have an obsession with peanut butter (thanks, Kong toys). To make a decadent peanut butter buttercream that I honestly think would go great on a sandwich because I have a real problem, you'll need:
  • 1 cup of room temp butter
  • 1 cup of peanut butter (I judge you harshly if it's not Jif)
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 4 tbs of heavy cream or milk
I know, there's no booze in this frosting. I thought about it, but decided whipped vodka might be too much. I didn't want to sully my newfound bliss with PB&C by getting drunk off my frosting...I've got plenty of time for that later when weddings aren't involved. Cream the butter and peanut butter together until light and fluffy, then add in the vanilla extract, two cups of sugar, and two tablespoons of heavy cream. Blend on low and blend well. Scrape the bowl and add the remaining two cups of sugar and two tablespoons of heavy cream and mixing well.
The drooling you're currently experiencing brought to you by Kate Bakes Cakes.
Once your cupcakes are fully cooled, load up a piping bag and frost away! I chose to create peanut butter clouds using a 1M tip and just gently applying pressure and allowing for ruffled mounds to build. I finished up by adding gold sprinkles because I'm an adult, and I will add sprinkles to whatever I so please. I actually had a decent amount of frosting leftover (would probably work for 24 cupcakes), so I put it in a Tupperware and placed it in the freezer to keep myself from sitting down and eating it all at once. Screw cookie butter, peanut butter buttercream is my new jam.
Can I eat each half in one bite? Gonna find out...
So I'm pretty sure I've made it blatantly clear that these cupcakes are not something you want to miss out on. The Reese's in the center is the perfect addition to moist chocolate cupcakes with subtle richness, and the peanut butter buttercream is what I imagine regular peanut butter tastes like to my dogs which would explain their infatuation with the stuff. So many years I wasted not eating PB&C and turning my nose up at the stuff. Oh, to be so simple to be humbled by a cupcake. Seriously, keep me fed, allow me nine hours to sleep, never play Taylor Swift music around me, and give me dogs to play with...I have but few needs, but now PB&C gets added to the list. Have I found an new addiction? Sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of these cupcakes calling my name from the fridge... 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
"I will ruin you for other cupcakes."

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thar She Bakes!

My husband and I love know, the Old World, swashbuckling kind. I'm not sure why we have such an affinity for the pillaging and thievery of the pirates of yore what with him being in the military and me being a disgruntled humble teacher. Maybe it's the possibility of discovering treasure, sailing the open sea, making enemies walk the plank, or dying of scurvy because you didn't eat enough citrus fruits? It was just a simpler time, I suppose. Perhaps it's that my foul mouth would be lauded and probably reward me a pirate queenship? Wench be damned, clearly between my affinity for clever cursing, intelligence, and my hellbent desire for world domination I would be queen! In either case, we decided it was time to have a pirate-themed party. So we did just that last Saturday...had I known people were going to take the theme so literally though (things were set on fire...kitchens were pillaged), perhaps I would've hosted an English high tea party instead. Sit quietly in the dining room, discuss the dreary weather, and part ways in under an hour. My kind of party! But since my husband and our friends have a much wilder (read: normal) streak than I do, pirate action was bound to happen. Supply anyone with punch, copious amounts of rum, and a treasure chest full of beer and they're going to go overboard in more ways than one. I wouldn't call it a total failure though (rest in peace, patio furniture) because there was cake. Pretty much the only reason I ever go to a party is because I am looking for an excuse to bake, decorate, and share the fruits of my labor with my friends. Once the dessert has been eaten, I tend to sail the high seas back to my own humble estate in the Land of Introvertia. But I do really love a good costume party, so I went full speed ahead with both costume and cake. I had the biggest pirate hat at the party which naturally meant I was in charge. "(S)he who wears the largest hat commands the most men." -Old Pirate Proverb I just made up. Clearly I had to let me mateys eat cake to keep any attempts at a mutiny at bay.
This is the pinnacle of my cake white whale, if you will.
It took me seven hours to make this cake from start to finish, but a lot of that was waiting for various frosting layers to freeze before recoating. Either way, this was not a cake for the faint of heart. Even with several years (yes, all two of them) of baking and decorating under my belt I still wanted to jump ship (ha!) about halfway through. But like the most determined of pirates on a quest for whatever it was pirates quested for (I assume rum), I persevered and found me treasure (pirate slang for finishing the cake). Was it worth it? Well, I had decorated the house so well for this party some people thought this was another decoration and didn't even realize it was a cake. The best of pirates are able to pull trickery and slight of hand, so I once again assume I'd make a great one. But if you're up for a quest besieged with wit and cunning and dastardly skill, you can make this pirate cake, too. I will warn ye scurvy dog that this makes a ton 'o cake. Seriously...enough to feed 25 drunk pirates with the bow leftover for you to eat the following day while you contemplate why your floors are so sticky and whether or not there will ever be enough swabbing the deck with a Swiffer to make it better. OCD introverts should never throw parties.
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale...
Catchy theme song lyrics aside, really, follow me on this one--you're gonna spend a literal boatload of time decorating this cake. You deserve to cheat and make it from the box. Especially since you need to make two cakes for the one ship. I have found in my multiple (still just two) years of serious baking that Betty Crocker is the best cake mix to doctor when you're feeling lazy. This is going to be a very crummy (as in crumbs, not crappy) cake, so I recommend using chocolate with chocolate frosting to conceal a lot. I made one cake at a time using my cake jacking method: add an extra egg, sub milk for the water, and sub butter for the oil and double the amount. Make sure you are using all room temp ingredients for best blending! Follow box directions to blend. Place each cake into a greased 9x13 pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes or until done. Let rest in the pan for 10 minutes before turning each cake onto its own pan lined with non-stick foil. Place in the freezer to cool and harden to make for easier cutting later.
You didn't think this would be booze free, did you?
A pirate's cake requires a bit 'o grog. In this case, Salted Caramel Baileys. I used my favorite chocolate buttercream recipe, but since this is a huge cake, I doubled the recipe and used almost ALL of the frosting. I also substituted the Baileys for the heavy cream; if serving to child pirates, I'd skip that step. If you want to create "waves" around your cake, add the cocoa powder LAST so you can take a decent glob of white frosting to do so before you turn it chocolate with the powder. Once your frosting is made and the cakes are mostly frozen, prepare ye knife fer stabbin'!
And prepare for a crappy photo montage!
 First, level each cake. Then cut each cake into a 6x13 rectangle. Be sure to save all your scraps as you'll use most of them!
Place your first 6x13 rectangle onto a large cake board and place a glob of frosting on top. Adjust and center the other 6x13 rectangle on top of this.

Then simply trim the front end of the ship (or bow as we pirates call it) to get a nice shape.

There will be crumbs. So many crumbs. So don't skip the crumb coat step. Place into the freezer to set along with all the other cake scraps (this will help when you need to frost them in a moment). Give this step about 30 minutes.

You're going to need cake dowels for masts and to keep the cake from falling apart. Now take one scrap and place at the ship's bow. Trim the sides to even it up with the rest of the front and then coat with a layer of frosting (not pictured). Here's the tricky part: take a scrap and place it evenly with the back of the ship (stern, ye plebeian). Ensure the edges are even with the rest of the ship's body/hull; now take another scrap and cut it so it is even with this piece. Place one of these scraps on the stern and frost all sides of this layer. Then take the other scrap you cut and place it slightly to the back of the piece you just frosted.This will create a ledge and cool overhang. Give this a layer of frosting. Trim down two dowels so they will fit flush with the top layer (I hadn't trimmed mine yet in this picture). Place dowels in the left and right sides of this piece.
Don't worry, we'll make it pretty later I promise. Put this in the fridge (my freezer was NOT tall enough for this) to set for a half hour.

Add one final coat of frosting, but I promise this layer will be 10,000 times easier than the crumb coating of all those nooks and crannies.

To create a wooden plank look, take a fork to the side of the cake immediately after you've added the final layer of frosting and slowly rake it down the length of the cake. Repeat all over. You can come back in and remove some of the larger chunks of frosting by hand.
But this really gives off a cool effect, so don't skip this step. It is probably the easiest part of the cake!! Place in the fridge while you make the masts!
I grabbed a couple of sheets of scrapbook paper from Hobby Lobby for this. I trimmed them down to medium squares and punched one hole in the top and bottom of each piece.
Then I slid them onto a cake dowel. The decorating gods were kind to me here--the hole punch was the exact same size as the dowels, so no crying or extra work was required here.
I then measured out all sides of my cake and came back in and drew the correct sizes of railings onto a sheet of Parchment paper. Don't forget to flip this over! Don't want people eating Sharpie marker with a side of frosting. Unless you're trying to sneakily poison your guests like a true pirate.

Melt half a bag of chocolate melts (I used mint, went great with the frosting). Place the melted chocolate into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip (I used a #3). Let this cool off for about 5 minutes to make piping manageable.

Then come back in and pipe over your lines! This is so easy when you've got something to trace, I promise. Let this set for about 15 minutes at room temp.
Finally, an excuse to use more Pirouettes.
Remember at the beginning of this tutorial (yes, still the same blog post and everything) when I told you to save some frosting before you added cocoa powder? That's finally where this comes in. I wanted a swirl of color, so I placed some of the plain white frosting into a piping bag and then dyed the rest blue before placing into another piping bag. Snip the tips and place both bags into a third bag with a #21 tip attached. Then take your remaining chocolate frosting and place into another bag with a #21 tip.
Take the cake out of the fridge and pipe a shell border on the edges like I did here. This creates a platform for your railings! And it makes things look pretty. I love a functioning twofer.
You can chop one Pirouette in half and place each one end-side-out in the side of the cake to create cannons. You'll need one more half of a Pirouette to complete the trifecta. I piped a circle around them to keep them in place.

Add a final full Pirouette to the front of the cake and then add each mast in (wait to do this until you're ready to serve unless you have a tall enough fridge to fit it). Gently add each railing into the piped shells, and you've got a completed pirate ship!!

But I wanted cool waves. I just piped a trail of shells down the side and back of the cake. I used blue on top of the bag for most and white on top for the back to create a cool wake-like effect. Did I take pictures of that? No. Because I had been on my feet for seven hours and simply forgot. I now understand the phrase "being dead on your feet" quite well.
So we lost a patio chair and I was reminded drunk people can't be entrusted with nice things, but they will totally eat all your spread of crab dip, a veggie tray with a bell pepper octopus, deviled egg pirate ships, seaweed wraps, and other various piratey foods (including and not limited to a bowl full of lemons to prevent scurvy). They'll also politely beg you to cut into your damn cake already because they might die if you don't. And then a hush will fall over your entire house as a bevy of swashbuckling pirates fill their mouths o' plenty with delicious cake. I will say this doctored Betty Crocker cake combined with the Salted Caramel Baileys was absolute nirvana. It was the "Calgon, take me away!" moment I so desperately needed thanks to the level of discomfort my pirate boots were causing me. I literally wanted to chop my feet off, so now I totally get the benefits of being a pirate with a peg leg (wooden leg, still more comfortable than 6-inch stiletto boots). 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I would definitely walk the plank if cake was involved.