Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chocolate Napoleon

Oh I am a bad blogger.  It's not that I haven't been baking, but life is complicated right now and doesn't make for inspiring blog posts.  I am determined to keep this going, so bare with me.

I made this for no reason, other than I'm obssesed with making my own puff pastry right now.  There are so many uses for this versatile dough, and I've always wanted to make this particular dessert.

The chocolate pastry cream is a little thick for my liking, but has an absolutely decadent chocolate flavor.  I would probably reduce the amount of cornstarch, or find a recipe without it altogether next time.

I used Nick Malgieri's super duper easy and amazing puff pastry recipe, the recipe makes more than you will need for this, I suggest some simple sugar palmiers to finish it off.  Enjoy!




Chocolate Napoleon
from Martha Stewart

Ingredients:
- 1 pound Puff Pastry (see recipe below)
- Chocolate Pastry Cream (see recipe below)
- ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
- 1 to 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 teaspoons Dutch-process cocoa powder

Instructions:
- On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll out Puff Pastry to a 12-inch (30,5 cm) square, about 1/8 inch (0,5 cm) thick.
- Using a pastry cutter or pizza wheel, cut squares into three 12-by-4-inch (30,5-by-10-cm) strips.
- Transfer dough and parchment to a large baking sheet; prick over with a fork.
- Cover with plastic wrap; chill in the refrigerator or freezer until firm, about 30 minutes. Mean while preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C.
- Transfer sheet to oven; bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until pastry is puffed and golden around the edges, about 10 minutes.
- Set another baking sheet directly on pastry strips (weird, I know) and continue baking until pastry is light golden in the center, 6 to 8 minutes more.
- Remove top baking sheet; bake until pastry is baked through and golden brown, 6 minutes more.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, butter (or shortening), corn syrup and 1 tablespoon milk. If the mixture is too thick to pour, add additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it reaches the consistency of sour cream.
- Transfer a quarter of the glaze to a small bowl; whisk in cocoa.
- Transfer chocolate glaze to a paper cornet; set aside.
- Pour white glaze onto one of the pastry strips; spread evenly with an offset spatula.
- Cut the tip of the paper cornet, and pipe lines of chocolate glaze crosswise over the white glaze, about ½ inch (1,3 cm) apart.
- Drag the tip of a wooden skewer down the length of the glazed strip, in alternating directions, to create a decorative pattern.
- Fit a pastry bag with a 5/8-inch plain tip (such as an Ateco #808) and fill with half of the Chocolate Pastry Cream.
- Pipe an even layer onto another pastry strip.
- Top with the remaining pastry strip, pressing gently to secure.
- Fill the pastry bag with the remaining pastry cream, and pipe evenly onto the strip.
- Place the glazed pastry on top.
- Once assembled, the Napoleon is best eaten the same day; slice with a serrated knife.

 Quick Puff Pastry
from Nick Malgieri 


1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold water

Cut 1 cup (2 sticks) butter into 1/4-inch cubes. Place in an even layer on a plate and transfer to refrigerator to chill.

Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut remaining 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter into thin slices and add to bowl. Rub in the butter, squeezing it with your fingertips, rubbing the butter and flour mixture between the palms of your hands and reaching down to the bottom of the bowl. Repeat process until flour and butter are evenly mixed; this should only take a couple of minutes and the mixture should remain cool and powdery. Alternatively, pulse flour, salt, and 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter in the bowl of a food processor until no visible pieces of butter remain; transfer to a large bowl.
Add chilled butter cubes to bowl and, using a rubber spatula, fold them into flour mixture.
Reserving 2 tablespoons of the cold water, pour remaining water into bowl. Using a spatula, fold water into flour mixture, scraping from the bottom of the bowl upward. If the mixture still has a lot of dry, unmoistened flour, add reserved water, 1 tablespoon at a time, repeating folding process.

Scrape dough from bowl onto a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour dough and, using your hands, squeeze and shape dough into a cylinder. Press down to flatten into a rectangle.
Starting at the narrow end furthest away from you, use a rolling pin to press the dough firmly in parallel strokes close to one another. If there are sticky pieces of butter on the surface, cover with a large pinch of flour and press with the rolling pin to combine. Clean off the rolling pin as you go to make sure nothing sticks to the dough. Continue pressing with the rolling pin, working toward the narrow end closest to you.

Press the dough once along the width; it should now be a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Flour under and on top of the dough and roll dough away and back toward you in the length and once in the width, without rolling over the ends, to make a rectangle about 18 inches long and 8 inches wide.
Fold the two 8-inch ends in toward the middle of the rectangle, leaving a 1-inch space in the middle. Fold the bottom up to the top to form 4 layers of dough. Turn the dough so that the folded edge, which should resemble the spine on a book, is on your left.
Repeat rolling and folding process two more times. Wrap dough and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, and up to 3 days, before using.

Chocolate Pastry Cream recipe:

Ingredients:
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
pinch of salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Instructions:
- In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, ¼ cup sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt.
- Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining ¼ cup sugar.
- Whisking constantly, slowly pour about ½ cup of the hot-milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture. Continue adding milk mixture, ½ cup at a time, until it has been incorporated.
- Pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes. (mine needed 45 seconds)
- Remove and discard vanilla bean.
- Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Add the butter and chopped chocolate, and beat on medium speed until the butter and chocolate melts and the mixture cools, about 5 minutes.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Nutella Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches

omg these are decadent and oh so delicious.  A combination of a hazelnut dacquiose (meringue), nutella, chocolate, crushed sugar cones, and coffee ice cream is just about as close to dessert perfection as you can get.  In my opinion anyways.

They are pretty rich so I cut them into small squares.  Not that I couldn't have eaten several of them at a time, but even I can show restraint.  Some of the time anyways.  


Nutella Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches
adapted very slightly from Food and Wine

1 cup hazelnuts (4 ounces)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 cup Nutella
6 sugar ice cream cones, crushed
1 pint coffee ice cream, softened


Preheat the oven to 375° and line a baking sheet with parchment. Spread the nuts in a pie plate and roast for 12 minutes, until the skins split. Transfer the nuts to a clean kitchen towel and let cool. Rub them together to remove the skins and transfer to a food processor. Add the confectioners' sugar and flour; process until the nuts are finely ground.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt at high speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the whites are stiff. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the ground nuts. Spread the batter on the parchment in a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden. Prop the oven door open and let the dacquoise sit for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a microwave-safe bowl, melt the white chocolate in the microwave at high power in 1-minute intervals. Stir in the Nutella and crushed ice cream cones.

Invert the dacquoise onto a surface and peel off the paper. Spread evenly with the Nutella filling. Cut the dacquoise in half to make two 9-by-6-inch rectangles. Freeze until the filling is set. Spread the ice cream over one half. Close the sandwich and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours. Slice and serve.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fresh Blueberry Double Crust Pie

Mmmm, pie.  I'm more of a cream pie person myself, but my husband is all about fruit pies with flaky crusts, so I indulge him once in a while.  Of fruit pies blueberry is probably my favorite, and there are plenty of blueberries available at our local farmer's markets for a great price.
 
I got this recipe out of my Cook's Country America's Test Kitchen book, which is one of my favorites.  They have tested and re-tested every aspect of every recipe and the end result is usually perfection.

The crust is a combination of shortening and butter.  I'm usually in the all butter camp since I think you can't beat a nice buttery crust, but admittedly the shortening does contribute to a good flaky crust so this is a good choice for me.

 


Fresh Blueberry Pie
from America's Test Kitchen


Double Crust Pie Dough:
2.5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
8 tablespoons Crisco, cut into 1/2" pieces and chilled
12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" pieces and chilled
6-8 tablespoons ice water
 

Process the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined. Scatter the shortening over the top and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the top and, using short pulses, process the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses. Transfer to a bowl. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture. Stir and press the dough together, using a stiff rubber spatula until the dough sticks together.

If the dough does not come together, stir in the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does.

Divide the dough into two even pieces and flatten each into a 4 inch disk. Wrap the disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Let the chilled dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling it out and fitting it into a pie plate

Blueberry Filling
6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces)
1 Granny Smith apple , peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca , ground
Pinch table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large egg , lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water


Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate while preparing filling until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

For The Filling: Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.


Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Using 1 1/4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1 1/2 inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least 1/2-inch overhang on each side.Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving 1/2-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Rainbow Graduation Cake

I made this cake for my little guy's preschool graduation picnic.  I wanted to make something really special for the kids and parents so I immediately thought of the gorgeous rainbow layer cake I had been seeing around the Internet.  The preschool's logo is a rainbow and a smiling sun so I thought it would be perfect.  I was so happy with everyone's reaction, the kids were smiling ear to ear, and I got so many lovely compliments from parents.  Not that I do this baking thing for the kudos, but to get validation that I'm actually kind of good at my passion is really nice to hear.


I love my son's preschool.  It's a co-op, and while I felt hesitant about it at first, I now am quite literally smitten with the teacher, children, and parents.  I feel like I'm a part of a caring community, and I can honestly say that if I was ever in need of anything I could comfortably call any of the families and count of them for help, as I hope they feel they could count on me. 

Luckily with my boy in Pre-K next year, I get to enjoy most of the families for one more year.  But we had to say goodbye to a few wonderful friends whom I hope to continue to see even if our kids are in different schools, or years.  Much love to all the CVPP families and the most kick ass teacher ever, you are all special, wonderful people and knowing you has made our lives better. :)

Okay, back to the cake.  I used the Whisk Kid recipe, via Sweetapolita.  A couple of things.  Do not, under any circumstances, try and make the lemony Swiss meringue filling with a 5 quart mixer.  I thought I might be in trouble when I was beating the meringue portion, but once I started adding the butter it was clear there was going to be trouble.   I ended up with about half the buttercream that I should have, but it was enough to fill one of the cakes.  I would just use the "to frost"  recipe which is smaller, and do it twice.  Also, there are a lot of layers to bake, so if you can borrow a few extra 9 inch rounds than do.  This eliminates some of the waiting around for pans to cool. 

This cake not only looked awesome, but was delicious as well.  It was time consuming but if you're into this sort of thing and have the occasion to make a rainbow cake, do it!  You'll be glad you did.  :)


Monday, May 21, 2012

Strawberry Chocolate Baked Alaska

Um, how did I not know how amazingly awesome baked Alaska is??  Cake (in this case brownie), ice cream, and meringue??  Three of my favorite things all piled into one glorious, perfect dessert.  I can tell you I'll be making these babies on a regular basis.

I got this recipe from Bon Appetit, but once you have the technique down the sky is really the limit.  The main thing is you need a base, topped with ice cream, and the ice cream needs to be completely sealed with meringue.  The completely frozen dessert is then baked for a five minutes in a piping hot oven, and voila.  Nirvana.  Well, for me at least.

The recipe said you could use an oven or a kitchen torch, so I tried both and can say with certainty the oven is the only way to go.  The torch made for a nicer presentation since you can singe the meringue more easily, but the base and ice cream remained rock hard (as is evident in the picture below).  In the oven, everything is just as it should be.  Soft base, delightfully soft ice cream, and a crisp meringue.  Must go make more.  Now.



Strawberry Chocolate Baked Alaska
from Bon Appetit 

 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
  1 pint strawberry ice cream, slightly softened
  3 large egg whites


Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan; line bottom with parchment paper. Stir bittersweet chocolate, butter, and unsweetened chocolate in small saucepan over low heat until chocolates melt and mixture is smooth. Cool 10 minutes. Whisk 3/4 cup sugar and eggs in large bowl until well blended, about 1 minute. Whisk in chocolate mixture. Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt over; stir to blend. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake cake until top looks dry and tester inserted into center comes out with some thick sticky batter attached, about 17 minutes. Cool cake in pan to room temperature.


Cut around cake in pan. Place cutting board over pan and invert, tapping out cake. Peel off parchment. Using 3-inch round cutter, cut out 6 cake rounds (save remaining cake for another use). Line small baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange cake rounds on prepared sheet. Using 2 1/4- to 2 1/2-inch-diameter ice cream scoop, place scoop of strawberry ice cream in center of each round, leaving about 1/4-inch plain border. Freeze until ice cream is solid, about 2 hours.


Combine remaining 3/4 cup sugar and egg whites in large metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of gently simmering water and whisk until mixture is very warm, and registers 160 degrees F on a candy thermometer.   Remove bowl from over water. Using electric mixer, beat meringue at high speed until very thick and billowy, about 2 minutes. Place baking sheet with cake rounds on work surface. Mound 2 heaping tablespoons meringue atop ice cream on 1 cake round. Spread meringue evenly over to cover, sealing meringue to plain cake border and swirling decoratively. Repeat with remaining desserts. Freeze uncovered on baking sheet until meringue is solid, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.


Preheat oven to 500°F. Transfer desserts still on baking sheet from freezer directly to oven. Bake until meringue is deep brown in spots, turning sheet as needed for even cooking, about 3 minutes. Transfer to plates.

Linked to:
Melt in Your Mouth Monday 
Crazy Sweet Tuesday

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chocolate Oatmeal Moon Pies

Have I mentioned my love for marshmallow creme before?  Love love love.  So when I saw this recipe for oatmeal moon pies in Bon Appetit I was all over it.  I told my husband I was making them and he said "I figured as much when I saw that recipe".  I am nothing if not predictable in my love of sweets.

I changed the recipe up a bit, omitting and adding some of the cookie ingredients.  That said on it's own this oatmeal cookie recipe is awesome.  Never mind drizzling them with chocolate (I skipped the glaze) and sandwiching a healthy dollop of marshmallow creme between them.  

I originally made these months ago for my son's preschool's bake sale.  After making them I realized they weren't that portable since marshmallow creme is pretty molten.  But I wrapped them up in wax paper and tied them up with ribbon so they worked out pretty well.  They're really best assembled and immediately eaten though.  Enjoy!



Chocolate Oatmeal Moon Pies
adapted from Bon Appetit

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup good quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 7-ounce jars marshmallow creme
about 6 ounces good quality dark chocolate for melting and drizzling



Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Combine oats, raisins, pecans, and chocolate chips in a large bowl.


Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in another large bowl, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat to blend. Scrape down sides of bowl. With machine running at low speed, gradually add flour mixture; beat just to blend. Stir in oat mixture with a wooden spoon just to blend.


Using a 1-oz. ice cream scoop or scooping out 2 level tablespoonfuls of dough, measure dough into 36 portions. Divide among baking sheets. Using your hands, gently press down on each dough ball until 1/2" thick.


Bake cookies for 12 minutes. Rotate sheets front to back and top to bottom; continue baking until cookies are golden brown and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will appear underdone and shiny in centers), 7–8 minutes longer. Do not overbake.  I actually did one batch at a time so without rotating racks 12 minutes was enough.  Let cookies cool on baking sheets. DO AHEAD: Cookies can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Once cookies are room temp melt the chocolate and drizzle over each cookie.  Once dry (this can take several hours), spread 1 Tbsp. marshmallow creme on bottom of 18 cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies.

Linked to:
Crazy Sweet Tuesday 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hummingbird Cookies

I just wanted to share these hummingbird cookies I made and sent my Mom for her birthday recently.  I wish I had done a tutorial, but I was in a rush so I just have a picture of the final product.  I also made soccer ball cookies for my Dad, but apparently hexagons are quite hard to get right so they weren't as cute as I had envisioned (thus, no photo documentation).

For the hummingbirds I mainly used the flow method of decorating, and did everything but the beak at the same time.  Most of their poor little beaks broke off in transit, and in hindsight they were probably not a good choice for shipping, but my Mom loves hummingbirds so I wanted to make something special.  Thanks for looking and happy birthday to my wonderful Mom and Dad!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Strawberry Cobbler

It feels like summertime has arrived in the Bay Area.  Which means that I can finally say farewell to apples, pears, and oranges.  I love winter, but the fruit selection is a bit lacking.  Strawberries are filling the stalls at our local farmer's markets, and I've been buying them by the flat so expect plenty of upcoming posts featuring these gorgeous berries.

I found this recipe in June's Martha Stewart Living magazine.  The recipe is actually for raspberry cobbler, but any berry or combination would work.  There is a bit of cornstarch in the recipe so the filling is nice and thick, and the biscuit topping is to die for.  The recipe is easy, just requires quite a bit of baking and cooling time so plan accordingly.  A dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream is the perfect compliment to this fruit filled dessert.



Strawberry Cobbler
adapted slightly from Martha Stewart 


Filling:

5 cups hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Biscuit Topping:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
 3/4 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing
 Sanding sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Filling: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix together raspberries, granulated sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Pour into a 9-inch square baking dish (2 inches deep).

Biscuit topping: Whisk together flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, and salt. Cut in butter until largest pieces are the size of small peas. Add cream, and use a fork to incorporate, stirring just until cream is absorbed (there should be lots of loose pieces).

Turn out dough onto a clean surface, and knead once or twice, gathering loose bits into ball. Pat dough to a 1 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 9 rough squares, and place them on top of filling. Brush with cream, and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Bake cobbler until bubbling in center and biscuit topping is golden brown and cooked through, about 1 hour (loosely tent with foil if biscuit topping gets too dark). Let stand at least 30 minutes before serving.

Linked to:
Crazy Sweet Tuesday 
Mrs Fox's Sweet Party

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Robot Birthday Party

My sweet, adorable, funny little guy turned 4 this month.  He's at the age where the anticipation of a birthday party has been building for months, and he wanted a robot birthday party.  No problem!  I love throwing parties, and nothing more than a kid's party.  Going all out with every little detail is loads of fun for me, and even though I know he doesn't notice the half of it, I love doing it.  So here it is, and thanks for looking!

I made the welcome sign using a presentation board from Target.  They also have these awesome black letters to use for school presentations that made my life easier since I usually cut everything out from a stencil.  Note to husband: would love Cricut for next birthday.



I made this birthday banner, I used a salad plate as the template for the circles and one of the scrapbook paper packs from Michaels so everything would match:



I made these cute party hats by covering plain party hats with coordinating scrapbook paper (just take apart one hat and use as a template to cut out the paper, then cover using a glue gun).  I found the robot stickers at Michaels months ago, they had a ton of robot themed stuff in their $1 section, so if you're looking for party theme ideas it's a good place to check.  I had a lot of paper scraps so I made napkin rings (yes I'm crazy).



The treat table:



I was so happy with how his cake turned out.  He wanted a small cake with cupcakes.  The cake was chocolate and vanilla layers, with toasted marshmallow frosting in between and chocolate malt frosting underneath the fondant.  I used Duff's Cake Graffiti in silver to color the entire cake and make the stars.

I was a little nervous since I read mostly awful reviews, but this stuff is all kinds of awesome.  Once it dried it gave super even coverage and had a great sparkly metallic color.  I also used it for some of the cupcake toppers, which were white cake with chocolate malt frosting.  




Robot cookies:




These were little jello jars.  I found the spoons on Etsy, and added a little star stamp using food coloring (did I mention I was a little crazy?), and then tied them onto the jars with baker's twine.  


"Assorted parts" fruit skewers:


"Computer Chips" and "Nuts and Bolts":



I love the look of milk bottles, so rather than spend upwards of $3 per bottle, I bought Starbucks Frappacinos from the grocery store, peeled off the wrappers, and voila.  I am also obsessed with striped straws, these ones (grey and white) are from Etsy.  They are made of paper and while they hold up to normal drinking if you have a kid who loves to chew on straws (like my daughter) they turned in to a mushy mess quickly.


These water bottle labels were easy to make, just peel off the existing (I used Archer Farms brand from Target) and measure to cut out new ones from whatever paper you like.  Then affix with a glue gun. 



This birthday was especially fun since the kids were totally into party games and activities.

My husband made this awesome robot costume for the kids to wear for photo ops, I thought he did a great job!:





The kids played "pin the part on the robot":



And "robot arm" with a bin full of prizes and one of those mechanical arms you can get from Target or the dollar store:



And finally we had a robot pinata (from Party City) filled with with treats.  The kids loved it!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Coconut Layer Cake

I love all things coconut, but for some reason had never made a coconut layer cake.  It seems like every cookbook I own has some version of a coconut cake, so I had some trouble deciding on a recipe.  I went with America's Test Kitchen's (Cook's Country) recipe, and damn was it good.

The frosting is a Swiss meringue, super fluffy and decadent.  The cake itself was made using the reverse cream method, which kicks all kinds of ass if you want a mile high super moist cake.  This cake is monstrous, so make it for a crowd.  I had my parents and sister over (5 adults, 2 kids), and we still could just eat half of it.  Enjoy!


Coconut Layer Cake
from America's Test Kitchen

For the cake:
1 large egg
5 large egg whites
¾ cup cream of coconut
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 ¼ cups cake flour (9 ounces)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 12 pieces softened

For the frosting:
4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch table salt
1 lb unsalted butter , each stick cut into 6 pieces, softened
¼ cup cream of coconut
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted


For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment, grease parchment and dust with flour.  Whisk egg whites, whole egg, cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract in a large measuring cup (this makes it easier to add to the batter later).

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.

With mixer still running, add 1 cup liquid. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining 1 cup liquid in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. (Batter will be thick.).

Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown, cakes pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after about 20 minutes). Do not turn off oven.

Cool in pans on wire racks about 10 minutes, then loosen cakes from sides of pans with paring knife, invert cakes onto racks and then re-invert; cool to room temperature.

While cakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Cool to room temperature.

For the Buttercream: Combine whites, sugar, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 1/2-inches of simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and registers about 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.  If you're using pasteurized egg whites you can stop as soon as the sugar is dissolved, but 160 is the temp needed to kill bacteria, so I always go to this temp.  I have had good luck with Trader Joes pasteurized egg whites, they always whip up so you can certainly try these instead of plain whites.

Transfer bowl to mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and whites are glossy and sticky, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. Beat in cream of coconut and coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue to beat at medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute.

To Assemble the Cake:

With a long serrated knife, cut both cakes in half horizontally so that each cake forms two layers.
Put a dab of icing on a cardboard round cut just larger than the cake. Center one cake layer on the round.  Place a large blob of icing in the center of the layer and spread it to the edges with an icing spatula.  Hold the spatula at a 45-degree angle to the cake and drag it across the surface to level the icing. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with remaining cake layers.  To ice the sides of the cake, scoop up a large dab of icing with the tip of the spatula and spread it on the sides with short side-to-side strokes.  Sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut. Then press the coconut into the sides, letting the excess fall back onto a baking sheet.

Linked to:
Sweet Indulgences Sunday 
Melt in Your Mouth Monday

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Pink and Green Owl Birthday

My darling little girl is two!  How did that happen??  It seems like only yesterday I was holding her in my arms for the first time.  Now she is a walking, talking, gorgeous little thing full of opinions and ideas about how the world should work.  She is full of life, love, and I adore her.

I thew her a small birthday party with an owl theme in mind.  Everything came together and she had a wonderful time.   I bought one of those paper packs from Michaels that has coordinating sheets (I think about 120?) and it made all the crafting super easy.  Here are the details, thanks for looking!

The dessert table:

Strawberry Marshmallow mousse cups (I bought the cute little jars from World Market and the taster spoons from Etsy):


 Strawberry and Pistachio Macarons:


 Owl Cookies: 



The cake (vanilla and chocolate layers, strawberry mousse filling, chocolate buttercream frosting, and covered in marshmallow fondant):




I also made chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with chocolate and vanilla frosting:

 

I decorated with coordinating lanterns:



I covered plain party hats with pretty paper and added a fringe made with crepe paper streamers:


These pinwheels were super easy to make, but not exactly something you would want kids playing with.  The pins came out really easily so I just put a few in the ground outside and the rest in a vase on the dessert table.


I made these water bottle labels with paper and an owl stamp, just cut to fit and attach with a glue gun:


I decorated with these paper fans:



The party favors were little mylar kites, all wrapped up:


Me and my birthday girl:


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lemon Curd Meringue Tartlets

I have a real thing for meringues lately.  There is something so gorgeous about whipped up egg whites.  I remember as a child watching my mom whip up egg whites with fascination, they looked just like fluffy clouds.   When I saw this recipe I couldn't resist the mounds of toasted meringue piled on top of lemon curd and a nutty shortbread crust. 

I actually modified the original recipe, I have a serious bounty of meyer lemons right now, thanks to friends, farmers markets, and our own lovely little tree which is bearing fruit for the first time.  I also used a faster method to making the lemon curd, rather than using a double boiler which takes eons, just whisk constantly and somewhat vigorously over a med-low heat until the curd coats a wooden spoon, about 12-15 minutes.  Also be sure to pour your curd through a sieve before chilling, it gets rid of any errant egg white that may have scrambled and other undesirables in your curd.  :)




Texas Big Hairs Lemon-Lime Meringue Tarts
adapted from  Rebecca Rather, the Pastry Queen
Crust:
1 ½ cups pecans or sliced almonds
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
    Lemon Curd:
    10 extra-large egg yolks (reserve the egg whites for the meringue)
    1 ½ cups sugar
    1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    Zest of 2 lemons
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
      Meringue:
      10 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
      3 cups sugar
        To make the crusts:
        Preheat the oven to 350F. Arrange the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast them in the oven for 7-9 minutes, until golden brown and aromatic. (If using almond slices, toast for 5-7 minutes). Coarsely chop the pecans.
        With your fingers, butter eight 4 3/8 inch, 1-cup capacity tartlet pans.
        Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add the vanilla, then gradually add the flour and salt and combine on low speed until incorporated. Add the nuts and mix on low speed just until they are incorporated. Form the dough into a ball – it will be sticky – and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
        Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, divide into 8 equal portions and press into the prepared pans, making sure it comes up to the top edge of the pans. If the dough sticks to your hands, dust them with flour as often as necessary.
        Bake the crust about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for at least 30 minutes before filling with lemon-lime curd.
        To make the curd:
        Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, lime juice and zest in a large heavy sauce pan.  Whisk constantly over med-low heat until the curd thickens, and will coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 12-15 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in the two tablespoons of butter until smooth.  Let cool slightly and then pour through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap directly on the curd (to prevent a skin from forming).  Refrigerate the curd for at least 4 hours and up to 3 days. For express cooling, freeze it for at least 1 hour.
        To make the meringue:
        Set a large, perfectly clean metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Pour in the egg whites and sugar. Heat the egg whites and sugar while whisking constantly until the sugar melts and there are no visible grains in the meringue. Take a little meringue mixture and rub it between your fingers to make sure all sugar grains have melted. Remove the meringue from over the simmering water and whip it with a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment on low speed for 5 minutes; increase the speed to high and beat 5 minutes longer, until the meringue is stiff and shiny.
        Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the broiler. To assemble the tarts, spoon the chilled lemon-lime curd into the crusts, filling them about three-quarters of the way to the top. Pile the meringue on top of the curd. Style the meringue with your fingers by plucking at it to tease the meringue into jagged spikes.
        Set the tarts on the middle rack of the oven and broil until the meringue topping turns golden brown, about 1 minute. Watch the tarts closely, as they can turn from browned to burnt in a matter of seconds. (If you are using a kitchen torch {like I did!}, hold it 2 to 3 inches away from the meringue and move the flame slowly around the meringue until it is browned all over.)

        The recipe says the tarts should be served the day they are made, but we found they were much tastier the next day, the crust had softened a bit from the curd and the flavors seemed to mingle better.  Just keep the tartlets in the fridge and they should be good for several days.  

        Monday, February 20, 2012

        Vanilla Layer Cake with Strawberry Filling and Chocolate Frosting

        Dreamy.  That is what this chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream is.  Hands down the best chocolate frosting I have ever had.  I found this recipe in a recent Food and Wine edition, and it is everything a decadent frosting should be.  Rich, creamy, silky, absolute perfection.  Even my husband who doesn't care for meringue buttercreams thought it was heavenly.

        I used my new favorite vanilla cake recipe from Sweetapolita.  It's super fluffy, moist, and simply delightful.  It's also not overly sweet so it's the perfect compliment in a frosting-heavy cake.  I drizzled pureed strawberries over the strawberry buttercream on each layer to add a bit of flavor since the strawberries at the store are a bit lacking in flavor right now.  There are a few components to this so it isn't something to throw together in a couple of hours, but I made the cake the day before, wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap, and it was still delicious.

        Note: the pictures below aren't the same scale as the recipes provided.  I actually split the cake recipe between 3 6-inch cake pans, and the cake I made is using one of those 6-inch cakes cut into 3 layers.  The recipe calls for 2 8-inch pans.  You can really do whatever you want here, just adjust baking times accordingly, and cut into as many layers as you can handle! I also used a half recipe for both buttercreams but provided the full recipe.





        Fluffy Vanilla Cake
        from Sweetapolita

        5 large egg whites (5 ounces) at room temperature
        3/4 cup whole milk (180 mL/6 liquid ounces), at room temperature
        2 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (12.5 mL)
        2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (10 ounces/285 grams–weighed after sifting)
        1 3/4 cups sugar (12 ounces)
        1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder (19.5 grams)
        3/4 teaspoon salt (5 grams)
        12 tablespoons unsalted butter (6 ounces/170 grams), at room temperature and cut into cubes


        1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment, and flour two round 8-inch pans.
        2. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, 1/4 cup of milk, and the vanilla. Set aside.
        3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed (I use the “stir” setting on my mixer) for 30 seconds.
        4. Add the butter and remaining 1/2 cup of milk, and mix on low speed until just moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for 90 seconds.
        5. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.
        6. Divide the batter in two, spreading it evenly with a small offset palette knife. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh to ensure 2 even layers.
        7. Bake 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes clean when inserted into the center. Be so careful to not overbake. Check cake at 20 minutes, but not before, and once you feel it’s almost ready, set the timer for 2 minute intervals. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small metal spatula, and invert onto greased wire racks. Gently turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.
        8. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Best eaten the same day as baked.

         Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream
        adapted from Martha Stewart

        4 large egg whites
        1 1/4 cups sugar
        1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
        1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
        1 cup strawberries pureed in a food processor
        In the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine egg whites and sugar. Cook, whisking constantly, until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch (about 160 degrees).
        Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg-white mixture on high speed until it holds stiff (but not dry) peaks. Continue beating until the mixture is fluffy and cooled, about 6 minutes.

        Switch to the paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add butter several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. (If frosting appears to separate after all the butter has been added, beat on medium-high speed until smooth again, 3 to 5 minutes more.) Beat in vanilla. Beat on lowest speed to eliminate any air bubbles, about 2 minutes. 
        Beat in strawberry puree, adding a few spoonfulls at a time until desired strawberry flavor and consistency is achieved.

        Rich Chocolate Buttercream
        adapted from Food and Wine

         
        1 cup sugar
        3 large egg whites
        1/4 teaspoon salt
        1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
        2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (9 ounces), cut into tablespoons, at room temperature
        4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled

        Combine sugar and egg whites in a stainless steel bowl of a stand mixer.  Add salt.. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is completely dissolved, 5 minutes.
        Transfer the warm egg-white mixture to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk. Add the vanilla and beat at medium-high speed until stiff and glossy,  and completely cooled, about 8 minutes. Beat in the butter a few pieces at a time, making sure it is fully incorporated before adding more. The buttercream should be light and fluffy; if it appears runny at any time, transfer the bowl to the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes, then return it to the mixer and continue.
        Beat in the melted chocolate until fully incorporated, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl.


        If the buttercream appears to be separating or curdling at any point, just keep beating (even for several minutes), it should become fluffy eventually.

        Linked to:
        Crazy Sweet Tuesday
        Tuesday Tutorials 
        Tuesday Talent Show 
        Sweets for a Saturday 
        Strut Your Stuff Saturday 
        Sweet Indulgences Sunday

        Saturday, February 18, 2012

        Train Birthday Cake

        First, let me start this post off by saying I have finally found the best vanilla cake recipe in the entire world!!  Thank you Sweetapolita!  It's flavorful, moist, and bakes up like a fluffy dreamy cloud of vanilla deliciousness.  I am in love.  I can't wait to try this recipe as cupcakes.

        The cake:  Layers of vanilla cake filled with strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream.  I wasn't sure what type of frosting to use on the outside of the cake.  I actually make the Cake Boss' decorator's buttercream originally.  It goes against my distrust of vegetable shortening, but I wanted a smooth outer frosting.  It was VILE.  Instead I went with my favorite sugary sweet American buttercream from Sweetapolita (have I mentioned I love her?), and while it wasn't completely smooth it turned out pretty good.  

        The little birthday boy loved his train cake and that's was the best compliment of all. :)


        Tuesday, February 14, 2012

        cream wafers

        I have seen lace cookies on various blogs I follow, and I've always thought they look just gorgeous.  I really wanted to try to make some but was so intimidated.  If you feel the same as I did, fear not!  These are seriously ridiculously easy to make, they just take a steady hand (I found resting my elbows on the counter helps) and some patience.


        I used my favorite sugar cookie recipe, royal icing,  and the lace cookie tutorial from Sweet Sugar Belle. 


         

        I also gave brush embroidery flowers a try, and I think they turned out alright! Check out this tutorial on Sweet Sugar Belle's website for another great tutorial.

        Happy Valentine's Day!!

        Linked to:
        Mrs Fox's Sweet Party 
        Sweet Treats Thursday

        Monday, February 13, 2012

        Devil's Food Cupcakes with Strawberry Fluff Frosting

        I made these for my son's Valentine's playdate for the kids to decorate.  I had wanted to try out the raspberry fluff frosting from Martha.  It has marshmallow creme in it, and that might just be one of my favorite things in the world.  It's so wrong it's right.  I had no raspberry jam on hand so I used strawberry flavoring and a bit of pink food coloring.  It was glorious.  I have a thing for super fluffy desserts, and this frosting is as fluffy as it gets.

        I liked the devil's food cupcakes, but my husband said it tastes too much like cake mix (and why go to the effort then) and didn't have enough moist chocolate flavor.  I'll stick to my usual chocolate recipe next time, but this frosting will definitely making a repeat appearance soon.



        Devil's Food Cupcakes
        slightly adapted from Martha Stewart


        3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
        3/4 cup hot water
        3 cups all-purpose flour
        1 teaspoon baking soda
        1 teaspoon baking powder
        1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
        1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
        2 1/4 cups sugar
        4 large eggs, room temperature
        1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
        1 cup low fat Greek yogurt, room temperature


        Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cocoa and hot water until smooth. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
        Melt butter with sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat, and pour into a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat until mixture is cooled, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add vanilla, then cocoa mixture, and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, and beating until just combined after each.

        Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three- quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 15 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

        Strawberry Fluff Frosting
        adapted from Martha Stewart

        1 cup butter, softened
        a few drops strawberry flavoring
        3 cups marshmallow creme
        1/3 cup confectioners sugar
        In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter on medium-high until smooth. Add marshmallow topping and confectioners' sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth, 3 minutes. Add flavoring and food coloring and beat until well combined.  Frost as desired. 


        Linked to:
        Mrs Fox's Sweet Party 
         Sweet Treats Thursday

        Thursday, February 2, 2012

        Lavender Chocolate Macarons

        Now that I'm getting the hang of macaron making, I can't stop thinking of all the tasty combination possibilities.  At Christmas my niece brought us some lovely dark chocolate from the Sunshine Coast that had lavender in it which I thoroughly enjoyed.  So I tried making the macaron shells with ground lavender, and a dark chocolate ganache as the filling.  Yum, perfection.

        Even my husband, who doesn't really like macarons, and doesn't like lavender (sheesh) thought these were excellent.  Macarons are incredibly sweet, and the bittersweet chocolate ganache was a perfect compliment.



        Lavender Chocolate Macarons

        Basic macaron recipe from Brave Tart 

        I used her recipe for the shells, grinding up 1 tablespoon of lavender with the almonds.  I found the scent quite strong so I didn't add any additional lavender gel paste.  I did add a few drops of food coloring to get a bit of a purple color

        Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache
        from Hisako Ogita

        3.4 ounces whipping cream
        3/5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (or whatever type of chocolate makes you happy, just use high quality), finely chopped

        Place chocolate in a medium mixing bowl.  Put whipping cream in a small sauce pan and bring to just a boil.  Pour the heated cream over the chocolate and whisk slowly until completely smooth.  Let it cool completely and harden up a little bit before spreading between macaron shells.

        Linked to:
        Sweet Indulgences Sunday
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