Happy Birthday Dawn

August 31, 2010

August 2010

Just 3 weeks after ordering a birthday cake for her daughter, my co-worker Dawn asked me to make a birthday cake for her own birthday which is today! Dawn asked for chocolate cake, and again asked for “less sweet”.

I made a 6″ round chocolate cake with my go-to recipe from Hershey’s. And for the icing, I went with the adapted Swiss meringue buttercream (SMBC). I know for sure that this icing is less sweet than American buttercream.

I’ve made SMBC about a half dozen times and I’ve messed it up about half of those times. So naturally, the normal SMBC stress ensued. Would it curdle? Would it be soupy? Would it thicken up? Would my digital meat thermometer work in place of my recently ruined candy thermometer? (Yes!) So after successfully whipping up this icing, it was time to ice the cake. I’d never used this icing for a cake before. I’d only used it for a filling or for cupcakes. I was very pleased with how it worked on a cake!! It has a beautiful sheen and it was relatively easy to smooth. (Please excuse the bad picture – the lighting is even worse than usual at 11pm!)

As is often the case for me, I decided on the decoration at the very last minute. I piped a shell border and decorated it with multi-colored nonpareils. Those tiny little things bounced all over my kitchen, but I thought it made for a nice festive birthday cake. Oh and I used some orange icing I had leftover from Nancy’s cake to write the inscription. I think my writing skills are improving – very, very slowly!

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Happy Birthday Nancy

August 30, 2010

August 2010

Saturday was my aunt, Nancy’s, birthday. She happened to be in town so we got to celebrate with her this year. My mom asked me to make a cake for her and I was happy to! Nancy said yellow cake and chocolate frosting was her favorite, so that’s what I went for.

I made a 2 layer 8″ round cake with my go-to yellow cake recipe. The cake turned out a little dry this time so I’m thinking that I overcooked it slightly. It’s either that or the fact that I used whole milk instead of skim had some kind of effect. For the frosting, I made a chocolate buttercream.

After icing the cake, I decided to try a technique called “the paper towel method”. Using a non-patterned/textured paper towel (Viva brand) you lay the towel onto the crusted cake and basically iron it with a fondant smoother. I wasn’t pleased with the results. It did smooth any bumps or ridges out of the icing, but it made it look wrinkled – like elephant skin. I thought the icing that I’d done with my “putty knife” looked better. I’d like to try this again with a different icing recipe and see if that works better.

But back to this cake. For the decorations, I tinted some fondant blue and orange and I cut out some flowers. For the white centers, I used some white pearl sprinkles and secured them with a tiny spot of white buttercream.


Chocolate Melting Cake

August 22, 2010

August 2010

Today is my husband’s birthday – woohoo! Happy Birthday Bill!! Now normally I would make a birthday cake for him, but he requested a slightly different kind of dessert – Chocolate Melting Cake (CMC). This is a dessert that we had last Fall on our Carnival Cruise. It was so good that I’m pretty sure Bill had it every night on the cruise!

For Christmas last year, our friend Valerie (who was on the cruise with us) tracked down the recipe for CMC and gave me a basket full of ramekins, flour, sugar, chocolate – basically everything I would need to recreate this! It took me almost 9 months to get around to it, but I gave it a try.

My concern with this was baking it for the exact right amount of time – the recipe said 15-20 mins. As with crème brûlée and chocolate lava cake (both of which I’ve made multiple times before) the timing is essential. Overcooking it sort of ruins the effect.

The first batch I made, I overcooked. I was remembering the consistency incorrectly and when I checked it at 15 mins, I didn’t think it was done (even though it was really overdone at this point). I left them in for 20 mins and got this.

Weird looking! And overdone. They still tasted fine – moist, dense, fudgy cake. But not what I was going for. Luckily I had extra batter, so I made two more and this time baked them for 10 minutes, checked them, and put them in for another 3 minutes for a total of 13 minutes. These were much better, but still not quite right according to Bill’s expert knowledge of CMC!

So next time I will go for only 10 minutes. I was nervous about under cooking them given that they are full of eggs, but I guess I just need to relax. It’s a recipe that requires “perfecting” so hopefully next time they’ll be perfect 🙂

Crème brûlée

The Nightstand Scam

August 19, 2010

August 2010

Bill and I bought our current Queen sized bed about 2.5 years ago. We went to tons of furniture stores, but couldn’t find what we were looking for. We finally found a bed we liked from an online vendor for a steal of a price (I want to say it was around $300). The ordeal of actually getting the bed and all of the pieces to our house took about a month and we did have to get the BBB involved, so it was not easy. But we lucked out because we do really like our bed. And though they aren’t pictured here, the bed has 4 large drawers on the bottom for extra storage.

[photo credit]

Now that we are happy with our bed, I would like to have a set of nightstands to go with it – one for each of us. Below is the nightstand that matches our bed. I’m not a huge fan of it really – the lines are a little…dainty? I don’t feel like it’s a good match for the bed.

[photo credit]

Here’s where the “scam” comes in. Nightstands are outrageously expensive. They jack up the price on these things because they can. If you want a matching set, you have to pay out the a** for it. This matching nightstand costs $370. And we need two, so that would be $740, plus shipping because this is online, so easily $800 for nightstands. We only paid $300 for the whole bed!

I refuse to fall victim to this scam, so I have been on the hunt for nightstands to go with our bed for about the past 2 years. I figured that our bed was plain enough that I could find something that would “go” with the bed, even if it wasn’t technically part of the same set. And ideally, I wanted to spend less than $150 per stand. I knew that matching the stain would be the hardest part, especially if I bought online. I looked around in many actual stores at nightstands, end tables, printer carts, and telephone tables and I didn’t find anything that A) matched, and B) was in my price range. I would prefer real wood for these, but I was willing to go with veneer as long as it looked nice.

Enter Target. I found the below pictured Dolce Nightstand online at Target for $119.99 – with free shipping. Score!! Free shipping and if it didn’t match I could just return it to the store and not have to eat any costs. Now even though the color in this picture doesn’t look like it matches the picture of the bed, it actually was a very close match to what the bed looks like in reality.

[photo credit]

Unfortunately, the nightstand arrived, and though it was beautiful (real wood) it was much darker than the picture and did not match the bed at all. I knew this was a possibility because it is very hard to match colors online, but I took a chance and it didn’t work out. And I was bitterly disappointed – I really LOVED this one. I thought it was a perfect match in style to our bed. Even looking at it again makes me sad/angry!

More than 6 months later, I found this one online from Walmart for $109 for a pair of them, and again free shipping. I know what you’re thinking – these don’t look like they’ll match at all!! Well when I held this picture up to the wood on our bed, it looked pretty close, so I took a chance.

[photo credit]

They arrived yesterday and when I finally opened the box and took a piece of it up to the bedroom to see if it matched…it didn’t. It was closer than the one from Target, and annoyingly the underside of the pieces matched well, not not the polished fronts. I angrily stuffed the pieces back in the box and exclaimed (inwardly) that I give up!! I will never find nightstands and I will never buy one online again hoping it matches.

And yet this morning I was online searching again. Will I never learn? I may or may not find something else I want to take a risk on, but it may end up coming down to this:

[photo credit]

Or this:

[photo credit]

At this point, building them myself would be kind of ideal. I’d get exactly what I want, I could stain it to the exact color, and it would be immensely cheaper than anything else. If only I had excellent building skills.


A Plan for the Basement

August 18, 2010

August 2010

Our basement project has been underway now for about 5 months. Only 10 months to go! 🙂 As of now, the plumbing rough-in is complete, the framing is complete (-ish), and we are due to have the electrical run and the bathtub installed within a week (again, -ish). We are making progress!! And I use the word “we” loosely – I haven’t really done anything besides add up all the money we’ve spent (eek!) and draw up some nifty diagrams of our plans.

The picture posted above (click on it for a larger view) is a good representation of the plan for our basement. And it’s pretty much to scale. I used FloorPlanner to make this drawing (shown here in 3D, but it was originally created in 2D). I found out about this program from someone on the Nest (I think) and I really like it, especially because it’s free!

We are thrilled to be adding a full bath (our 3 bedroom town house has only 1 full bath upstairs, and a 1/2 bath on the main level). This will also make it possible to remodel our upstairs bath at a later date, since we’ll now have a “spare” in the basement.

We are also putting in a gas fireplace. Our townhouse is an interior unit (not an end unit) so we don’t have that 3rd exterior wall to work with . The fireplace will vent out through the back wall of our home. We considered “vent-free” fireplaces at the very beginning of this project, but their safety was in question, so we decided to go with a vented version.

We are very excited about the extra living space this remodel will provide. We are envisioning this as our main recreation area, where we will spend time watching TV/movies or hanging out. Since the TV will be mounted on the wall (in the picture, bottom right) we will need some furniture on that side of the room. We have a couch that we are tentatively planning to put opposite the TV, but I think we also need at least one other seat and a table (or two?). I admit that this configuration is throwing me for a loop. It’s a small area on this side of the room – approximately 12ft by 7ft, though the 7ft side is flexible sticking out into the room. All I know right now is that I don’t want what we currently have in our living room upstairs which is too much furniture for the space. I’m thinking a couch, a coffee table, and possibly a recliner (Bill has expressed interest in this). And then something for the wall adjacent to the TV…shallow shelving?? cubbies with baskets?? (Bill might not like that, I don’t think he’s a fan of baskets.) None of the rooms in our house are “done” or really decorated in anyway. We have a mismash of stuff in every room. But this basement, starting from scratch, is overwhelming.


Happy Birthday Helen

August 8, 2010

August 2010

On Friday I delivered my first cake order from a coworker from my *real* job. Dawn has tasted many of the experiments I’ve brought into work and she asked me to make a cake for her daughter’s 2nd birthday.

Dawn wasn’t too particular about what kind of cake she wanted. She asked for chocolate cake and for it too be “girly”. And she later asked if I could make the cake and icing less sweet than usual. I must admit, I was stumped about making the cake itself less sweet since I normally think of the icing as the component bringing in the real sweetness. So I planned on making a less sweet vanilla icing and my regular chocolate cake.I ended up going a little shy on the sugar in the chocolate cake, but I was wary of cutting it too much with out testing this out first.

For the icing, I was first thinking of doing the adapted Swiss meringue buttercream, but then I remembered another recipe. I had seen it on the Pioneer Woman’s blog awhile back and it was labeled as “the best frosting I’ve ever had” which is quite a glowing recommendation! The recipe is unusual – it contains flour – but I gave it a try. I thought it was a nice change of pace. It had a light whipped consistency and a different taste than American buttercream. However, I thought it was just as sweet.

I had a little bit of a problem with the consistency of this icing. I trimmed and assembled my cake, slapped a crumb coat on, and popped it in the fridge to crust. Maybe 20 minutes later, I came back and gave the remaining icing in the bowl a quick whip in the mixer and then iced the cake. Then I put some of the icing into a bag with a tip and piped a shell border. This is when I noticed that the icing was separating 😦 I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew I needed to tint some of the icing purple for the writing, so I tried that. In adding the color, I whipped the icing for a couple minutes and it firmed right up. Damnit. It was too late for the cake, but I scraped the shell border off, rewhipped that into the proper consistency and re-piped it on the cake. So the writing and the border were good, but the cake icing was slightly separated. I’m disappointed but it still seemed to taste good and it crusted fine, so hopefully it will be okay.

I also cut out a few flowers in purple and pink fondant and used them to decorate the sides of the cake. And lastly, I cut out a “2” from purple fondant. I did that one free-hand and it actually turned out alright.

Dawn seemed delighted upon seeing her cake, so I hope she and her family enjoy it!

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Today I delivered my first cake order from a coworker from my *real* job. Dawn has tasted many of the experiments I’ve brought into work and she asked me to make a cake for her daughter’s 2nd birthday.

Dawn wasn’t too particular about what kind of cake she wanted. She asked for chocolate cake and for it too be “girly”. And she later asked if I could make the cake and icing less sweet than usual. I must admit, I was stumped about making the cake itself less sweet since I normally think of the icing as the component bringing in the real sweetness. So I planned on making a less sweet vanilla icing and my regular chocolate cake.I ended up going a little shy on the sugar in the chocolate cake, but I was wary of cutting it too much with out testing this out first.

For the icing, I was first thinking of doing the adapted Swiss meringue buttercream, but then I remembered another recipe. I had seen it on the Pioneer Woman’s blog awhile back and it was labeled as “the best frosting I’ve ever had” which is quite a glowing recommendation! The recipe is unusual – it contains flour – but I gave it a try. I thought it was a nice change of pace. It had a light whipped consistency and a different taste than American buttercream. However, I thought it was just as sweet which makes me a little nervous.

I had a little bit of a problem with the consistency of this icing. I trimmed and assembled my cake, slapped a crumb coat on, and popped it in the fridge to crust. Maybe 20 minutes later, I came back and gave the remaining icing in the bowl a quick whip in the mixer and then iced the cake. Then I put some of the icing into a bag with a tip and piped a shell border. This is when I noticed that the icing was separating 😦 I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew I needed to tint some of the icing purple for the writing, so I tried that. In adding the color, I whipped the icing for a couple minutes and it firmed right up. Damnit. It was too late for the cake, but I scraped the shell border off, rewhipped that into the proper consistency and re-piped it on the cake. So the writing and the border were good, but the cake icing was slightly separated. I’m disappointed but it still seemed to taste good and it crusted fine, so hopefully it will be okay.

I also cut out a few flowers in purple and pink fondant and used them to decorate the sides of the cake. And lastly, I cut out a “2” from purple fondant. I did that one free-hand and it actually turned out alright.

Dawn seemed delighted upon seeing her cake, so I hope she and her family enjoy it!


Lisa’s Baby Shower

August 6, 2010

August 2010

Lisa is a friend that I met through The Knot while planning my wedding. A couple years have passed and her first child was due to arrive in September. I was honored to make the cake for her shower!

Originally, this post was a place holder. Lisa asked that I not reveal the cake until after her son was born. I was more than happy to hold the post until after the birth, which I am thrilled to say took place on Labor Day!

Now back to the cake! I had a tip off from one of the shower hostesses, Dani, that Lisa’s favorite cake was SugarBakers signature cake: almond cake, with amaretto buttercream and raspberry filling, and vanilla buttercream on top. I tested all of these out on cupcakes back in June so I would know what I was doing when it came time for this cake!

For the cake, I made my go-to yellow cake recipe (one 8″ round layer and one 10″ round layer) and replaced the vanilla extract with almond extract. I also made 2 batches of Wilton’s buttercream and tinted it a light tan. Then I made a 1/2 recipe of raspberry filling. And then, I made a 1/2 recipe of modified Swiss meringue buttercream and flavored it with a couple of tablespoons of amaretto. (I made the fillings a few days ahead and put them in the fridge.)

When it came time to assemble the cake, I took the amaretto filling out and tried to rewhip it. And it curdled. And it was ruined 😦 And did I mention that it was about 11pm the night before the shower? There was nothing to do but make another batch, which I did. I’m not quite sure what happened because I thought this could be refrigerated. I’m guessing I should have let it come all the way back to room temp before whipping it.

So after I had my fillings squared away, I torted both cakes and filled them with a ring of raspberry on the outside and filled the middle with the amaretto filling. I then frosted the cake with the vanilla BC icing.

And now for the fondant decorations. For the sides of the cake I cut out various sizes of circles and rings using cookie cutters and icing tips. (This design sort of mimics the bedding Lisa picked out for the nursery.) The picture below on the left was my inspiration picture for the cake topper. And on the right, is the one I made. It took several attempts to get the wheels to stay on and to support the plane. And I also had issues with the wings, but was able to get it to work eventually!

[I cannot find the original website where I found this inspiration picture. Here is the link to the full photo.]

I cut out a banner  to wave behind the plane. I cut it to size with a pizza cutter and then positioned it over some rolled up wax paper to make it “wave”. After a day or so, it was hardened into place. I cut the letters out with my fondant cutters and glued them on with some water. I had planned to attach the banner to the plane with some ribbon but I ran out of time.

The cake went over very well and everyone seemed to love it, so I was very pleased! Here is a picture of the inside of the cake.

And a picture of the lovely Lisa cutting and serving her cake 🙂