Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dirty 30: Part Deux

So today we continue what has been termed "Derekpalooza" at our house. But today also marks the actual birthday of my husband, so it carries extra importance. The week-long celebration of Derekpalooza started last Saturday with the big 3-0 birthday cake, and will end on 4th of July weekend...which is fitting because my husband is real-life Captain America. If you don't believe me, just wait until the Instagram pics get posted from the 4th of July BBQ we'll be at Saturday to see what he's got planned. Tonight we're going out to a nice dinner with friends, so I knew we'd be too full for cake. I decided to do cake and presents last night, mostly because I could no longer contain the excitement over the gift I purchased him. When my husband opened up his thirtieth birthday present from me to find it was a Super-freakin-Nintendo, I think the last time I saw him that blissfully overjoyed with happiness was the day we were married (little did he know...I kid). A few weeks ago after I had hunted one down, he casually mentioned in conversation about needing to find a Super Nintendo. In my head, the voice was screaming "PANIC MODE, ENGAGE!," but outside I maintained composure and responded as only a wife can with steely poker face, "But we already have a Nintendo 64 you never play." I should probably be a politician. While the N64 has been neglected as of late, we're a bit busy trying to sell our stupid house. I mean, trying to sell our luxurious three-bedroom/two-bathroom home that you should totally tell your friends about. So that and getting ready to move has taken total control of our lives. But I knew we needed a break, and no matter what birthday a man is celebrating, cake and video games are an excellent way to relax. I wanted a birthday cake that went along with the Nintendo theme. I know my husband's favorite old school Nintendo game, and I was still trying desperately to clear out our bar before the move, so what came to fruition was this, the Svedka strawberry lemonade, 8-bit Legend of Zelda cake:
I will always believe the original Nintendo has the most bitchin' graphics.

I never played Zelda. I know. I had to do a little research before making this...Zelda is the princess, but the main character is Link? To me, this makes as much sense as calling Super Mario World "Princess Peach World," but no one asked me. And besides, my husband loved it, so all's well that ends well. And sweet baby Jesus was this cake delicious. Svedka strawberry lemonade vodka, from what I remember, always made the best summer cocktails. This translated perfectly into the best summer cake. It is oh-so-fluffy, sweet, and has a hint of lemon, which goes great with a base strawberry cake. And the frosting. Oh the frosting. I'm telling you, the only way I ever want to consume vodka again is via buttercream frosting. This has such a nice zing, but without the burning sensation usually accompanied by drinking the stuff. And it's honestly probably got the same calorie count as a vodka punch, but without the awful headache. Small miracles.
Even the bottle is pretty.
Once again, going the lazy baker route. I don't have a homemade strawberry cake recipe...yet. I promise that one day I will, but until then, if it ain't broke...
  • One box strawberry cake mix
  • One cup of room temp butter
  • Four room temp eggs
  • 3/4 cup of room temp strawberry lemonade vodka (I swear by Svedka, best cheap vodka out there, and I would know)
  • 1/4 cup room temp milk
I know, I upped the ante with the amount of booze in this recipe. I think I may go full scale for my next recipe because this turned out amazing. All you need to do is grease a 9x13 pan, preheat the oven according to box directions, and dump everything in your stand mixer and blend on medium-high for two minutes. Pour the batter into the pan and carefully for time. I think the amount of alcohol in the cake and how it bakes out in the oven causes the cake to bake faster. A typical 9x13 cake is done in the 30-35 minute window. This finished at 22 minutes. So it's either that or my oven is getting ready to break, which would make perfect sense since we're trying to sell our house. Someone knock on some wood for me.
Pictured: Supreme 90s kid candies
 I won't lie to you. While your cake cools on a cooling rack, you're gonna spend about three hours chopping candies to make an 8-bit cake of any variety: Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, you name it. You will be so sick of Starbursts that you swear you'll never eat one again, only to realize you still have half a bag and no choice. The things we do for the people we love. But here's the exact amount of candies you need to create Link, the dude from Zelda who was robbed of getting a game named after him.
  • 8 yellow Starbursts (I'm told people hate these; they are my favorite. This tells you everything you need to know about me.)
  • 2 packages of watermelon Airheads (I bought 4 and only used half)
  • 6 pink Starbursts (I was going to use pink lemonade Airheads, but they were pink pink)
  • 4 Tootsie Rolls
Throw in a few extra for taste tests.
Couple of tips:
  • Work with one color at a time.
  • Heat for about 8 seconds in the microwave to make more malleable.
  • Roll out each candy with a sturdy glass (rolling pins are too large).
  • Use a very sharp knife, and clean candy residue off after each candy.
  • Assemble a mock up on a sheet of foil or Parchment paper before you even think about assembling on a cake. I redid my candies quite a bit.
Once rolled out, trim edges of each piece into a nice square.

And cut each candy into quarters.
Slowly but surely, things will come along!
I didn't need to roll out my Airheads, so I heated and cut them up in the manner you see here.
Like the world's tastiest cross stitch pattern.
I also recommend using tweezers to help you assemble things. Starbursts are ridiculously sticky.
I did the Tootsie Rolls last because I simply believe they are an inferior chocolate and deserve to be treated as such. If I could've found a way to use Godiva for this, I would have.
I placed my Link rendering into the fridge while I worked on making my frosting and crumb coating my cake. I wondered to myself what the hell he was holding, but every 8-bit Link Google image search showed it, so I figured the internet wasn't playing a cruel trick on me for once.
This frosting will change you.
Three simple ingredients to make the best frosting I've ever had in my life. Well, tied with Baileys frosting. Nothing could ever be better than Baileys frosting. That's just crazy talk. You need:
  • 1 cup of room temp butter
  • 6 cups of powdered sugar
  • 4-5 tablespoons of Svedka strawberry lemonade vodka
Cream the butter until fluffy then add in three cups of sugar and two tablespoons of vodka. Mix until well incorporated. Dump in the remaining three cups of sugar and two tablespoons of vodka. Blend well. If too stiff, use the extra tablespoon of vodka. The icing will smell like a stiff drink, but it tastes divine and not like a shot of vodka, I promise. This recipe will give you enough frosting for a crumb coat, final coat, and piped border.
I got out my Link rendering to make sure he would fit on my cake. I needed to make him just a bit shorter, so I took off a row of whatever that yellow thing is. Someone help me, I know nothing about Zelda. But I cold spend six hours telling you the merits of playing as Luigi in Mario World. Crumb coat your cake and stick in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.

Then add the final layer of frosting. Doesn't have to be too pretty, we'll smooth it out later. Place back in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.

Then you can use the Viva paper towel trick to get things smoothed out.

Then I used my tweezers to transfer Link on to the actual cake. He looks relatively surprised by this turn of events.
I actually had 3/4 of a piping bag full of green frosting leftover from Derek's first 30th birthday cake last Saturday, so I used that to pipe a star border around the entire cake using a #21 tip. I wrote out the birthday message with a #3 tip. I had enough of the new frosting leftover to make a border though, so no worries if you aren't like me and don't have random stockpiles of frosting in your freezer. But lucky me, I just got to sit down and eat some by itself. It's like strawberry lemon heaven. Sweet, packs a zing, and just leaves you wanting a whole glass. Or in this case, spoon.

Then I added in some very festive and sparkly candles because every dessert should have sparkle.
 As excited as I was for Derek to open his birthday present, I was absolutely dying for him to see the cake. Clearly my baking is the best present I can give anyone since it requires so much time, patience, and effort to create something tailored specifically to one person. But a Super Nintendo is a very close second. I am proud to report he loved it. He thought it was insanely cool and had to take several pictures on his own phone (this is how I know it was a winner). I can't say enough about how light and fluffy vodka makes a's crazy, especially since it has the exact opposite effect on most people. Try making a flavored vodka cake, you will be impressed. All in all, baking, frosting, and piping border on to the cake took barely any time which helps make up for the tedium of chopping tiny 8-bit squares. No matter how much time it takes, this is a really clever way to decorate a cake, and I'm totally saving this for more ideas later. And anything that makes my husband happy is worth the time and effort. Now that you're ready to gag and/or barf, I'll take my leave. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I promise to make you only the raddest of cakes from now until the time I have really terrible arthritis from cake decorating. Happy Birthday, Derek! I am so happy we get to celebrate you! Derekpalooza!!!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Milestones Worth Celebrating

To me, there are several milestone birthdays worth celebrating: 16, 18, and 21. After 21, you inevitably sit and wait for death. But not my husband. He is so blissfully optimistic about age and birthdays, that even me with my heart made of what I assume is 75 percent ice and 25 percent cake at this point find it charming. I know my thirtieth birthday will consist of me sitting alone in a dark room, covered in blankets (both a literal one and one metaphorically made of sadness), listening to Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" while I scroll through old photos of my youth on Myspace. My husband took his thirtieth birthday party in a completely opposite direction; something to be said for those optimists. He's proud he made it to 30 and wanted everyone to celebrate with him, so we did. Of course, if a celebration takes place without cake, was it really even a celebration at all? Much like if you didn't Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook your every move of the day, do you even exist at all? The answer is a seemingly firm no. He only had one request: strawberry cake. Since this is also my favorite flavor of cake, it was rather easy to acquiesce to his request. But just plain strawberry cake would not suffice for such an important event. No. This cake needed flair! By the way, flair is what I'm calling booze now. Since I happen to be trying to clear out our bar and it's 75 assorted flavors of vodka before we move next month (which is surprisingly difficult to do when you no longer drink said vodka), it worked twofold. I found the perfect flavor to complement strawberry cake: Pinnacle whipped cream vodka--the puffy cloud flavor of vodkas. I've made a smaller scale thirtieth number cake for my sister's birthday 15 years ago (kidding, it was only two), but this time I actually had someone who was happy about turning 30 on my hands, so I did the whole go big or go home thing:
Like, really big.
It's like a giant piñata. Full of booze and cake. The only kind of piñata an adult could ever want, really. Most of our friends expect by now that I am going to bring some sort of crazy cake with me to a party, but this was a grand scale even for me. This is actually one and a half cakes to make up the big 3-0 (ha, get it?!). When I told everyone there was vodka in the cake, they looked at me like I was crazy (I mean, I am, but for totally different reasons). When I clarified it was Pinnacle whipped vodka and strawberry cake with Pinnacle whipped buttercream frosting, people understood much better and immediately asked for a serving. This was yet another case of adjectives and descriptors once again saving the day. If you tell someone it's a vodka cake, they probably assume you accidentally knocked over a bottle of McCormick's into your cake batter. Not a good time for anyone. But Pinnacle whipped vodka...dear lord: light, fluffy strawberry met with even lighter and fluffier whipped cream flavor. The vodka bite bakes out of the cake entirely leaving you with a cake that really does taste like a cloud. Or how I imagine clouds would taste. If they were filled with whipped vodka.
Yep, even out of the box. Doctored, of course.
So here's what you need to make the actual cake (just one, not one and a half):
  • One box strawberry cake mix
  • Two sticks of butter at room temp
  • Four eggs at room temp
  • 1/2 cup of milk at room temp
  • 1/2 cup Pinnacle whipped vodka at room temp
Dump everything in your stand mixer and blend on medium-high for two minutes. Pour into a greased cake pan of your choice. To make a 30th birthday cake, you need either one 6" round and one 6" square pan or one 8" round and one 8" square pan. This handy little chart here breaks things down for you. Just make sure your pan sizes are equal regardless of whatever numbers you need for your cake. I used 8" pans and baked in the middle of my oven at 350 for 20 minutes. I then later used half of another box of cake mix, two eggs, one stick of butter, 1/4 cup milk, and 1/4 cup vodka to make one more 8" round cake to finish the number 3 cake.
And your house will smell delicious.
Let the cakes cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before removing and placing back on the cooling rack. Set in the freezer for an hour (at least 30 min, but longer is better for cutting). At this point, make the half a cake in a greased 8" round by following my baking times and temps above. Follow the cooling and freezing process for this as well.
Ahh, the versatility of a Solo cup.
I started by making the zero first because it looked infinitely easier to do. Sometimes I have to psych myself up for the more difficult aspects of a baking project. No shame, yo! I took a frozen 8" round and placed a Solo cup in the center. Why do I have Solo cups lying around my kitchen cabinets? Valid question, I suppose...but why do you not? You never know when an impromptu party might kick up, and let's face it, if it's impromptu, the fine china will not be making an appearance.
Save your scraps! For one, you need some for the three, and also because plain cake makes for great breakfast. Unless you're into like whole wheat bagels and just wanting to watch the world burn. Strange hobbies, but okay.
Take the 8" square and cut it into thirds. You'll need all of these pieces, so unfortunately, no snacking yet.
Sudden urge to play snake on an old Nokia arising...
Take one of the thirds you just cut and cut it again into halves, and then assemble your zero:
Like so.
Things may not have baked completely evenly, so trim as needed to get your edges flush. Place this back in the freezer. Ready two 10x14 cake boards so you can place your assembled pieces on them for frosting later. I trimmed mine down to fit into a large cake box and covered them in decorative foil.
Kinda looks like a sigil of some sort...
Keep out the other two 1/3 strip of cake to assemble the three. Cut one of them into two equal pieces. Trim only one end off the other down to make a point (see below). Then take the round cake you baked second and cut two long pieces out from the edges (see above), using a Solo cup (see, totally practical kitchen tool) in the center to keep things even. 
If you look at the number three long enough, it stops making sense.
My first attempt at the pointed/arrow shaped piece you see in the middle of the three did not turn out long enough because someone (me) cut off the other end because someone (me) thought it was totally safe to snack on. Learn from me. Wait to snack until after you've assembled and frosted. The 1/3 slice from the 8" square cake is long enough to make the piece in the middle if you're not a greedy glutton. Take the two pieces you cut from the round cake and lay them around the pointed/arrow shaped piece. Take the other 1/3 piece you cut into halves and lay them at the end of the round pieces. Trim as needed to get all the edges flush. Place back into the freezer.
There's not even enough vodka for drinking here, so have a beer to celebrate your work thus far.
Haha, boy did I think that one batch of frosting would be totally more than enough! For one and a half cakes. With a thick crumb coat. With multiple colors. Why? I wasn't drinking the vodka. I swear. I had 3/4 of a bottle (like, in my possession, not in my drinking cup) when I began, and by the end of baking all the cakes and making TWO batches of frosting, there was literally not a drop left. So if you're going full-scale design, ensure you've got enough ingredients on hand to make a double batch. This recipe is for a SINGLE batch, so simply double all the amounts if needed:
  • 2 cups of room temp butter
  • 8 cups of powdered sugar
  • 6 TBS Pinnacle whipped vodka
Cream the butter until fluffy, then add four cups of sugar, three tablespoons of vodka, and mix. Scrape the bowl, repeat with the remaining four cups of sugar and three tablespoons of vodka.
And slather on the crumb coats...

You're gonna get frosted a little yourself.
I picked up each individual piece and frosted it, ensuring the ends that were going to be sandwiched to another piece had a very hefty glob to glue them together. Be sure to let your crumb coat freeze to ensure pieces don't shift during decoration.
Green and blue, best color combo ever.
I wanted a fun and summery cake, and my husband's favorite color is green. Mine is blue. This is the scientific process I used for selecting colors. I used four Tupperware to divide up even amounts of frosting. I dyed them light blue, blue, light green, and green.
This makes me want to go to the beach or make snow cones.
I placed my dyed frosting into four piping bags, each fitted with a 1M tip. Once my crumb coats had frozen, I moved the 0 to my counter and the 3 to my fridge.
I simply piped twp rows of stars in one color before alternating to the next: blue/light blue/light green/green.

This right here? Precisely where I ran out of frosting. Maybe because half of it ended up on my dishwasher below. Whatever the case, I was really upset to be so close to finishing one number when I ran out that I ate some cake scraps and smelled the empty vodka bottle. It functioned more like smelling salts, so I was renewed.
I soldiered on, finished my 0, and worked on my 3:

Well, it's an E here, but you get the point.
I ran out of everything but the dark green...which works out perfectly because I need it for my husband's other birthday cake he's getting on his actual birthday in a couple days. Small victories, people.
Side by side, I'm no longer vexed by the shape of the number three. I thought I might need to be evaluated psychologically for a bit there.
The party was a smashing success. The cake was a huge hit. The frosting had a nice zing from the vodka, but not so much so that it disrupted the harmony of the cake. Look at me, sounding like a pretentious baker! I was really happy with how this turned out. My husband was impressed, and he thanked me approximately five times because he loved it that much. Many people had seconds. On cake. That's when you know it's a good recipe. It kind of gives off a strawberry delight vibe when it comes to taste, but still with the consistency of cake and delicious buttercream (don't you come at me with that weak whipped topping--I am a true cake connoisseur). I loved it so much that I'm going to try another flavored vodka strawberry cake for my husband's actual birthday birthday cake. Because when you're unable to properly express your affection verbally thanks to your 75/25 ice/cake heart, you show your husband you love him by baking him all the cake in the damn world. Blog to follow in several days. But until then, I will continue to take my cues from my amazing husband and learn how to embrace a new decade of living. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I would do anything for my husband, including going temporarily insane from how weird the number three looks when you have to stare at it for five hours straight. Love is strange and wonderful.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Just Add Baileys

There are certain things in life that just don't get a fair shake, like Thanksgiving, non-athletically inclined college students in West Texas, and brownies. But somehow, if you add booze to all three, people really seem to enjoy them so much more. Well, I can't speak for the rest of my fellow West Texas klutzes that never made football or cheerleading because both of their feet refuse to function at the same time, but it worked for me. We may not know the glow of Friday night lights and football mania, but we certainly do get a nice glow ourselves after a glass of wine. Anywho, back to my point. Brownies seem to be one of those desserts that function better as a part of something bigger than themselves: hot fudge brownie sundaes and chocolate chip cookie dough brownies for instance. Brownies are usually more of a serving platter in the dessert world, but I wanted to make brownies that would stand tall above the rest. Brownies with wow factor. And if there's one thing I've learned as the boozy baker, it's that Baileys makes everything better. Guinness doesn't hurt, either. Enter the Baileys brownie with Guinness ganache:
Are you drooling? Because it's totally acceptable if you are.
I love fudgy brownies. I only eat brownies that are so dense that TSA wouldn't let a pan through airport security because it could also function as a hefty weapon. They may weigh five pounds, but these melt on your tongue. They also travel well. We took this batch on a seven-hour drive to San Antonio to visit my in-law's for Father's Day and my mother-in-law's birthday. I couldn't very well show up without a dessert for such an occasion! These made the trip without getting weird or melty or eaten by the dogs (or more realistically, me). So if you've got a trip coming up and you want to remind people why they should enjoy your presence so much, bring a pan of these bad boys. It works! You also get the added bonus of being able to throw these together with a few simple ingredients in a short amount of time, but things still look bakery quality without the added fuss (and cussing) that usually comes along with it!
See, I wasn't lying.
Since these brownies were traveling, I placed them in an 8x8 foil pan that was greased very heavily. You can go this route or spray an 8x8 pan with a borderline ridiculous amount of Baker's Joy and/or Pam. Preheat your oven to 350 and gather up:
  • 1 cup of butter 
  • 2 cups of semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar (I used dark for added richness)
  • 2 eggs (preferably at room temp for easier blending)
  • 1/2 cup of Baileys (I used original, but salted caramel would probably take these to a whole new level)
Start by dumping the butter and chocolate chips into a medium bowl and melting in the microwave for a minute. Stir until everything is evenly melted. If you need more time in the microwave, only go in 20-30 second intervals, stirring between each one. Set this aside to cool off. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder. In your stand mixer bowl, mix the sugar, eggs, and Baileys on low until well incorporated. Add in half the dry mix, blend, and then add in half the butter/chocolate mix and blend. Scrape the bowl before adding in the rest of the dry mix blending, and the rest of the chocolate mix. Blend until things are nicely mixed.
Do I have to bake them? Mmm, brownie batter.
Dump the brownie mix into your greased pan. If using a flimsy foil pan, place your pan on top of a cookie sheet before baking. A regular pan will be fine without the extra support. Bake in the middle rack of your oven for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean.
Here's where the real magic happens.
Once cooked, remove and place on a cooling rack. Take a 1/4 of a cup of Baileys or a little less if you're not as obsessed as I am with the stuff. Brush the Baileys on top of the warm brownies until they achieve this look:
I call this the "drowning in booze" look.
At this point, move the brownies to the fridge to cool for an hour or to the freezer for 30 minutes. Wait until they are fully cooled to top with the ganache.
I bought so many bags of chocolate chips for this recipe. Wildly over compensated.
Okay, I've had this one bottle of Guinness in the fridge for months waiting to bake these brownies. I even had to label it so my husband wouldn't drink it. Don't worry, he got to drink the remainder of what was left which was about 3/4 of a Guinness. He didn't have to suffer. And he got some boozy brownies out of it, too, so don't feel too badly for him. To make your own ganache you need:
  • 2 TBS Guinness stout or regular
  • 2 TBS of butter
  • 3/4 cup of chocolate chips
  •  1/4 cup of powdered sugar
This is super difficult. Reread these steps at least ten times before trying to make the ganache. Are you ready? Can you handle it? Here we go...

Dump the Guinness, butter, and chocolate chips in a bowl. Microwave for a minute, stir until everything is melted, and whisk in the powdered sugar.

Still with me? Told you. Super difficult. I apologize for how hard that must have been for you.
Dump your ganache on top of the brownies and use a rubber spatula to smooth out.
You could be done at this point, but nothing says festive like glitter sprinkles, so I highly advise throwing some on top of your ganache before it sets.
I'm really into the wow factor this week, what can I say.
When baking for your in-law's, you really want to prove to them their child has not married some heathen, so use glitter sprinkles as a gentle reminder that their son or daughter is in good hands. Anyone who takes the time to work with glitter sprinkles must be a fun and loving spirit, right? That's what I'm going with, anyway. Plus, pretty! These made the brownies look that much more decadent because they literally got stamped with gold stars for approval:
Can thin, wimpy, non-fudgy brownies say the same? No. No they cannot. But Texas sheet cake cookies certainly can, too.
I died a little when I ate these. They're just that good. I couldn't believe I went all my life without thinking to add Baileys to brownies and topping them with Guinness-laden ganache. Luckily, I had these brownies to comfort me in my time of sadness. My grief over waiting almost 30 years to eat brownies this good lasted literally a millisecond until the next bite. I wanted to sit down and eat them four at a time, but that probably would've given me a terrible gut bomb and made a less-than-thrilling impression on my in-law's. "So she's not a heathen, just a glutton." I was more than happy to share. I thoroughly enjoy hearing the "yum" noises people make when they bite into my desserts. I feel this is an involuntary noise people make without even being aware of it, so it's a good method of judging how things turned out. This, immediately followed by silence until plates are cleaned equals a winner. Needless to say, I will be using this recipe as my staple brownie formula from now until the end of time. There's no overwhelming alcohol taste--Baileys is so perfect for complementing the flavor of chocolate that it's simply amazing. The Baileys also helps to keep things nice and moist, cause let's face it, brownies this fudgy and rich will take a few days to devour. And that grueling, time consuming ganache? We all know the only way you can improve a Baileys/chocolate combo is by adding Guinness somewhere into the mix, too. Move over cakes, varsity players of the dessert world, brownies have finally come into their own! 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Finally, a brownie that won't leave you wondering what else is at the dessert table!