Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The California Cake

Prepare yourself for an epic story about my most ambitious pastry project to date.

It starts with getting married. I went from only child to having a brother (in law)! This is all very exciting to me. Especially because he's great. I think I got all the good in-law karma.

He was considering moving, and I was just finishing the cake decorating class. So, as a bribe, I promised to bake him a California cake if he chose Los Angeles. Which, hopefully was not a real deciding factor because man, that's a lot of pressure!

While I was in St. Louis I was chatting with my mom about it, and she gave me her decorating tip kit. Seriously, there are tips beyond your wildest imagination. I can't even begin to describe the awesomeness so I'll just show you the picture.

Oh, the things I will do with these.

Of course, first we need a cake. I happened to have two red velvet mixes on hand, so that's what it was going to be. And what kind of frosting do you have with red velvet?

That's 12 ounces of cream cheese right there. And some sugar. On a side note, I do have an ingredient chute but the last time I used it to make frosting, it was like throwing powder into a fan.

Baked, split, and filled, it needed the shape. You know those state magnets they sell at the gas station gift shop? There was a time when I thought I'd collect all 50 states and put them on my refrigerator in geographical order when I grew up. And yes, I was aware they aren't to scale. But, that was the image I had in mind for this cake.

Obviously a template on an 8.5 x 11" sheet of paper isn't going to be the same size as a 9 x 13" cake. Then again, if you think you're going to be able to capture every little bay and point in a cake, then you sir, are a better cake cutter than I. But I'd say I did pretty well.

Unfortunately there is an issue with making a cake in the summer time. Frosting will melt, even when it's not very hot. Fully frosted, it was like the big one had finally hit and California was going to slide off into the ocean. So I outlined the top, which was a thinly veiled excuse to use another decorating tip. Plus it looks more like the magnet.

Did I mention the palm trees?

As if the cake itself wasn't a wild enough idea, I decided I would make palm trees. Out of frosting. This actually isn't such a crazy idea, since rose icing is actually slightly different in that it's stiffer, and dries out so the flower keeps its shape.

Yes, I know what those look like.

See? Fully assembled, they actually look a little bit like palm trees!

The problem is, I seemed to have blanked on the "make it the night before and let them dry out overnight so they're stiff" part. Instead I put them in the freezer to keep from melting. These are not interchangeable. So much so, that I was yelling at them in the car to stop melting. And I left the super ugly ones out on the counter in disgust. Which then hardened overnight, and would have made perfectly hardy little trees. Ugh.

To make up for the lack of non-melty palm trees, I put one in 2-D on the cake. This was probably not the best idea, if not poorly executed. Sorry about that.

I can't explain how not practicing writing with frosting has improved my penmanship (bagmanship?).

Oh, and it tasted pretty good too.

Welcome to California!

Daisy Cake

Do other companies have as many potlucks as mine does? It seems like we have snacks brought in at least once a week.


Birthdays are big. In my new group, we either go out all together for lunch, or bring in snacks for the day. And there is one woman in my department who always seems to keep track of everyone's birthday, and is genuinely excited. She really is a lovely person! So we arranged a great big potluck, and I was assigned the cake.

As she's always been lovely to me, I wanted to make something particularly nice. I had big designs for it. A round cake cut out in to a simple star! Our group isn't very big, so a single ::cough::mix::cough:: would be plenty; a white cake made with egg whites fluffs up more than the average cake. Perfect!

Did you know that funfetti is basically white cake mix with sprinkles? Sprinkles are just compressed colored sugar bits; that's why they stain your ice cream. Not having a funfetti cake on hand, I figured I'd just add sprinkles and voila! Funfetti.

Um, sort of. Here was the start of the fail. I ... like sprinkles. Who doesn't? The more the merrier, right? RIGHT??

In hindsight, too many sprinkles upsets the delicate balance of the cake. When I went to drop it out of the pan to cool ... half of it stayed. Commence panic! Somehow my reputation as a master cake baker/decorator has been severely blown out of proportion and it was the day before I had to bring it in and omg a massive chunk was stuck to the pan!!!

You can see the fault line running through the right side of the cake. The toothpicks were meant to guide the star shape; really, they were holding things together. Tenuously.

I still worked on it much like a surgeon, still convinced I'd get my star. Once the sections were cut out, Andy announced, "It looks like a flower!" Not what I was going for. But good enough for me.

In middle school I took shop class because I thought it would be cool to build stuff. We made clocks, and I picked out a daisy shape. The colors are faded and the battery is dead, but my parents still have it on the wall (it's a nice clock). They also have my telephone pillow, but I digress.

The next fail was the icing. By now it was late, and I had two cans of pre-made icing to use. Perfect, right? Wrong! I had picked up this Betty Crocker whipped crap. Crap, I tell you. So for the decorations, I made up a little batch of my own icing. I just wasn't having it.

In the end, it came out alright! And it was gone by the end of the day, which is definitely a measure of success.

I was a little concerned that when it was cut, though, that the wrong "petal" would be cut and crumble. Which made me think of the "One bonbon is poision" cake (one petal is held together by frosting!) and made me laugh. You have no idea how much I want to make the poison bonbon cake.

Me: Be careful when you cut it! It's not ... structurally ... sound.
Coworker: OK, then ... we won't walk on it.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The whole point of a slow cooker is to cook things over a long, long time. So last Saturday when we went out for barbecue I finally made the connection between a slow cooker and ribs.

Luckily, there's always plenty on the internet for things like this. Would they really cook in there all day? Or would they just turn out a big mess? I was particularly fond of the money grubbing lawyer's take on it but a little grossed out about the coke. Yes, I'm aware of the underground soda cooking tricks. But somehow, it's just wrong.

Before we had our own "barbecue" (hypothetically speaking, since apartment complexes aren't exactly barbecue friendly), I wanted to try it out just to see what would happen.

We got some vacuum-packed pork ribs and a small pack of beef short ribs to try. No water, no barbecue sauce, just a little bit of Lawry's seasoning salt (I didn't have most of the ingredients to make a "rib rub" - that just sounds wrong - but Lawry's is basically the same thing).

In they go ...

And out they come ...

Over and over, you'll hear that ribs should "just fall off the bone." So, that was sort of the measure of success. Ignoring the inch deep of oily fat at the bottom of the pot, these certainly fell off the bones cleanly. Do they sell wire racks that would lift the meat up and let the fat drain?

Even better with a little bit of barbecue sauce. I don't even like pork, and I liked these!

Monday, July 27, 2009


One time, I tried to make pizza dough from scratch. It didn't work out, I have no idea why, and I kind of didn't think about it any more.

But I'm not a huge fan of frozen pizza, and buying those pre-made pizza crusts is really inconvenient when you don't make pizza that often.

However, since I've successfully made more than a couple of loaves of bread, it was worth attempting the pizza crust again. Especially whole wheat style!

My most recent whole wheat flour purchase was Gold Medal brand. I'm not particular about the brand, and I couldn't tell you why I picked up that one rather than something else. It had a recipe on the side of the bag for pizza crust that looked easy enough.

I topped the crust with mozzarella, parmesan, tomatoes and the mysterious "pizza spice." It came out fantastic but next time I would bake the crust longer to start. It was quick and easy enough for a weeknight.

Ever notice how I have to bake everything significantly longer than recipes call? It's like my kitchen is in some weird vortex where it's 50 degrees cooler. Now if only it just felt cooler too.