It’s my Birthday….and a Confession

January 31, 2011

Today is my birthday! I know people have varying sentiments about birthdays. Some dread them, some say they’re really just for kids. But I am one of those people who is always excited for my birthday. I look forward to a new year and a fresh start, and I am happy to have an excuse to get together with my family and friends. I am turning 31 today and I can tell already that it is going to be a very busy and exciting year!!

My mom has always made me a birthday cake, and I always loved them. It was usually a basic yellow cake from a box and a homemade chocolate buttercream icing that was delicious! Cake was always from a box mix – I never knew anyone who made cakes from scratch. Icings, yes, but cakes, no. Over Christmas, I made a chocolate cake from a box mix because I needed it for a trifle. This was the first time I had made a cake from a box in many months, maybe a year. And my first thought was…”wow that was so much easier and faster!”. And you know what, it is. It’s easier, faster, and it really tastes just about as good as homemade, especially if you add pudding mix. I realize this sounds sacrilegious, but eh.

**Now I’d like to note here that when someone orders a cake/cupcakes from me, and they pay me for a custom creation, I absolutely make both the cake and icing from scratch. Occasionally I have used ready-made jam for a fruit filling in a cake, and I usually use pre-made fondant (as most bakeries do) but aside from that, everything is from scratch.**

Even though we had box mix cakes growing up, we never had canned icing – my mom always made that from scratch. And in general, I prefer homemade icings. They are more varied and are generally easier to work with. Canned icing doesn’t crust very well (if at all) and that can be an issue.

However (here comes my confession), if you ask me what kind of cake I want for my birthday, what I really want is Funfetti cake – from a box – with vanilla icing – from a can.

Maryland Terrapin Birthday Cake

January 31, 2011

I got an email from a friend with a link to a picture of a MD terrapin cake. She wanted to know if I thought it was something I could do and if so, she’d put me in touch with her friend, Kim, who was planning a birthday party for her fiance. I gave it a good bit of thought before I told them I could do it because I wanted to make sure that I could do it. I had read about tracing designs onto cakes like this and filling them in, but I’d never done it before.

Kim asked for a full sheet cake with red velvet cake and cream cheese icing. The first issue I came across was how much red food coloring I would need for a quadruple batch of cake – 24 tablespoons, or about 12 ounces. The normal little bottles are about $2.50 for 1 ounce. Time for plan B. I use gel colors for coloring icings since they are so much more concentrated so I thought I’d give that a try here.

I used a red velvet cake recipe that I’ve used a few times before. I made 4 batches – all 9×13’s. I replaced the 6 tablespoons of red liquid color in each batch with a heaping half teaspoon of red gel color. I was concerned about replacing the liquid also, but I wasn’t sure how much to add. I ended up adding 1 tablespoon of water (I probably should have added more).

Kim asked for cream cheese icing, so I made up 4 batches and tinted it using Wilton’s Lemon Yellow color. I also made up another double batch, divided it up and tinted it red, black, and brown. For the terrapin design, I had planned to trace the design onto a piece of wax paper and then lay that on top of the cake and trace it with a toothpick. But that would only work with a crusting icing and the cream cheese icing doesn’t crust. Hmm. So I decided to make up a half batch of vanilla buttercream and use that to crumb-coat the top of the cake so that I could draw on it.

The tracing of the design onto the cake went pretty well. I found that it was better to initially omit the detail in the drawing – like the mouth, the claws on the toes, and the details on the arms. I drew the outline and then with these two pictures on my laptop behind me, I slowly filled in the color (using open star tips) and added in the details kind of freehand. I am NO artist, so this made me nervous and I was checking the pictures constantly to make sure I wasn’t messing it up!

[The first picture is the picture that Kim emailed me to copy. The second one is from a Google image search.]

After the terrapin was done, I put the top coat of yellow icing on the top and sides. I couldn’t get as smooth of a finish as I normally would since I had to work around the design in the middle. If I had been using a crusting buttercream, I would have done the final coat of icing first and then put the design on top. But since I was using the cream cheese, I had to improvise.

I was really pleased with how this cake turned out – especially because I’d never used this technique before! I heard that the cake was a hit at the party too, so that is always wonderful to hear!

An early Birthday Gift from my sneaky husband

January 28, 2011

One afternoon earlier this week, Bill and I had an appointment to visit a daycare center. Since we were both off early from work, he asked if I’d like to go pick out my birthday gift after the appointment. Of course he wouldn’t tell me what it was or where we were going, but that’s how he rolls – he likes to be cute and sneaky 🙂

So we drive out to Finksburg which is about 10 miles north of where we live and we pull up to some random little store on the side of the highway. (Not sure if Rt 140 is considered a highway, but it’s farm country up there, so it’s about as highway as it gets!) Still having no clue what we’re doing, I see the sign that says Bare Wood House: Fine Unfinished Furniture.  Eek!! We’re here for nightstands!! Trying to hide my smile, I lie when Bill asks me if I know why we’re here. “Maybe”, I say. Just in case he brought me here for some other type of furniture (which I also would have loved).

If you’re not sure why I’d be so excited over nightstands, check out my previous post describing my years long battle to obtain nightstands that match our bed and don’t cost a fortune.

Anyway, we were indeed there for nightstands. It turns out that his original plan was to get the stands, stain them and set them up in our room to surprise me on my birthday. While that would have been awesome, it didn’t turn out to be feasible since he’s been so busy working on the basement this past month and hasn’t had much time. So what he did was reserve 2 nightstands for me (last weekend), but wasn’t sure if I’d like them and he wasn’t sure about them himself. So we ended up picking out another style and placing an order for 2 of these:

It’s a nice, plain, basic nightstand that had a drawer and an enclosed shelf, which is what I was looking for. And buying them unfinished solves the problem of trying to match the stain to the stain on our bed. I mean, we still have to buy a jar of stain in the right color and stain these things, but this way we are not limited to searching for something already stained.

When I add up the cost of these nightstands, plus the stain and materials we’ll need to stain them, we will be saving $450+ over buying the ones that “officially” match our bed. Definite score, and THANK YOU to my husband for the great gift! I will update once we have them stained and set up!

Brayden’s Winter One-derland

January 25, 2011

The cake that I worked on at the beginning of January was the most advanced order I have received to date. Meaning, I was asked and I agreed to do this cake about 5 months ago. I normally don’t take orders that far in advance, and I probably won’t in the future, but this one worked out well.

Amy is a very old friend of mine from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation. We hadn’t really been in touch in the last 10 years or so, but that’s what Facebook is for, right? Amy asked me if I could make two cakes for her son, Brayden’s, first birthday party. One cake would be a sheet cake for the adults, and the second cake would be a smash cake for Brayden.

The theme for the party (and the adults’ cake) was mostly blue, silver, and white snowflakes. The cake was to be a half sheet cake – half chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream filling, and half yellow cake with chocolate buttercream filling. The whole thing would be covered in vanilla buttercream. I made two 11×15 cakes – one chocolate and one yellow – and then cut each one in half and filled it. I then pushed the two half cakes together to form the whole cake. I made a double batch of vanilla buttercream that I used to cover the cake and fill the chocolate half. For the decorations, I used two different snowflake cookie cutters to cut snowflakes out of plain white fondant. I used pearl dust and lemon extract to paint the snowflakes blue or white. I also cut out letters using my letter cutters.

For the smash cake design, Amy sent me a picture of Brayden playing with his favorite toy – a set of nesting cups similar to the ones shown here [source]. She asked for the cake to be banana cake with vanilla buttercream icing and in the shape of this toy.

I had never made a banana cake before, but I had a starred recipe in my Google Reader for banana cupcakes so I planned to use that recipe. The tricky part was figuring out how to get the shapes/sizes of cake I needed. I decided to make the cake 3 tiers – one 5″, one 4″, and one 3″ round. I could have purchased tiny cake pans or something for this, but I really didn’t want to add that expense since I wasn’t sure I’d have a use for them again. I ended up deciding to make two 10″ round cakes that I could then carve the pieces out of (I used a 1.5 batch of the cake batter). I had plenty of cake leftover, but this still seemed like the best way.

My original plan was to somehow fashion giant “cookie cutters” out of heavy cardstock to use to cut out the circles. But as usual, my plans changed at the last minute. Paper didn’t look like it would work, so I ended up using a metal cookie cutter, a plastic 1 cup measuring cup, and the lid to a tub of butter. The cookie cutter was great because it sliced right through. For the others, I carved around them with a knife. I was thrilled to find out that not only did this banana cake taste amazing, but it was dense and super easy to carve – YAY!!

I mixed up another batch of vanilla buttercream icing and tinted it 3 different colors – blue, red, and green. Thankfully with such small amounts, I was able to get really good bright colors! I trimmed, filled, and iced each layer separately and put them in the freezer for a few minutes. I then stacked them all together and piped a ring around each layer. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out, though I wish I had not had to carve the larger two layers by hand because it made for a not-perfectly-smooth surface. But it was close, and it was destined to be smashed by an excited 1-year-old, so it worked out 🙂

Butterflies for Ella’s 2nd

January 24, 2011

A fellow Nestie, Kathryn, asked me to make a birthday cake for her daughter’s 2nd birthday in mid-December. She asked for a half sheet cake with 3D butterflies.

Prior to this cake, I only owned one 11×15 cake pan because I wasn’t sure it’d be worth it to have two. But being able to bake two at a time is definitely a time saver, so I picked up a second pan before I made this cake.

I made 2 recipes of a basic yellow cake (one for each pan), plus a single recipe of chocolate ganache for the filling, and a triple recipe of cream cheese icing to cover the cake.

For the butterflies, I used a technique that I’ve used before from Hello, Cupcake! – and instructions from Annie’s Eats. I used pink candy melts to make the wings, and then I sprinkled on some pearl decors. I used mini marshmallows to make the wings stand up on the cake.

I’m told that the cake was a hit with the adults and the birthday girl munched on butterfly wings, so that sounds like a success to me 🙂

Buffalo Chicken Dip (aka “Crack Dip”)

January 19, 2011

Yes, I know, I am WAY late to the game! This recipe has been circling food blogs and message boards for a long time. I’d never had an occasion to make it since we don’t go to a lot of parties. And my picky-eater-of-a-husband dislikes most of the ingredients in this so making it at home wasn’t going to fly. But finally my brother-in-law and his wife had a housewarming party so I thought it would be a good excuse to make this dip!

The whole time I was making it I was thinking “this better be freaking awesome after all I’ve heard about it!” I had high expectations. And you know what? I wasn’t disappointed. It WAS awesome – I got several raves on it at the party. I had some of the leftovers for lunch the next day and as I write this, I’m thinking about making up another tiny batch this weekend 🙂

Here is the recipe (from another blog with which I am associated):

Buffalo Chicken Dip (aka “Crack Dip”)

4 cups boiled, shredded chicken breast
12-oz bottle Frank’s Buffalo Wing sauce (not hot sauce) 
1 cup ranch or blue cheese dressing
16 oz cream cheese (2 packages – not low fat b/c the texture is different)
1 cup shredded cheese (any flavor)

1) Mix the softened cream cheese with the wing sauce and ranch dressing until all lumps are gone (either with a wisk or an electric mixer).
2) Add in the boiled, shredded chicken. Mix well.
3) Pour into casserole dish (at least 8×8), sprinkle cheese on top, and cover with foil.
4) Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the cheese is bubbly in the center (another 10 minutes or so).
5) Serve hot with Tostitos Scoops or any crackers, even celery.

My notes:

  • I made a 3/4 recipe (because I boiled chicken and it came out to 3 cups). It nicely filled an 8×8 glass dish.
  • I couldn’t find the “Buffalo” level of hotness for Frank’s sauce, so I chose the least hot sauce in this line (“Sweet Heat BBQ”). I’m not a fan of spicy foods and this was perfect because it had a kick but it wasn’t too hot for me.
  • I used ranch dressing and cheddar cheese.
  • Make sure to really soften the cream cheese. I may have rushed this step and I had a hard time getting the lumps out because of it!
  • I added a couple of small handfuls of cheese that I mixed in with the rest of the dip (I love cheese, what can I tell ya?). Then I didn’t add the cheese on top until the last 10 minutes (I misread the directions, oops!)

We’re halfway there…

January 18, 2011

I hit the halfway mark in my pregnancy over the weekend – 20 weeks! 5 months down, 5 to go. Wait, aren’t we supposed to be pregnant for 9 months, not 10? That’s what you always hear – women are pregnant for 9 months. But then you figure that they count it out in 40 weeks and 40 weeks is actually 10 months. I assume that the fact that you don’t find out that you’re pregnant until the 2nd month accounts for the confusion. But at any rate, we are halfway through!!

This past Friday we had our anatomy scan (aka “the big ultrasound”). The purpose of the anatomy scan is for them to take a close look at our baby and make sure that he or she is developing normally and on schedule. Our baby measured right on track and weighed in at 11 ounces. We got close looks at his brain, the 4 chambers of his heart, his hands, his feet, and his face and all looked great!

Did I say “his”? Yep, our lazy child uncrossed his legs long enough for the tech to get a peek in there and let us know that our baby is a BOY!! And then he promptly fell asleep, even though the scan wasn’t over and we weren’t able to see everything we needed to see. But that just means that we get to go back next month for another look! Maybe I should down some OJ or a soda beforehand to wake him up…

Here is a profile picture of our little guy. This is after he fell asleep and you can seem him just casually leaning up against the side of his bubble for a nap.

Before I end this post, I’d like to offer an apology to a few of my friends for having to see every baby announcement/update I make several times over. With blogging and Facebooking and Nesting and telling people personally or privately I’m afraid that some of my friends have heard my updates more than they needed to. Thanks for not telling me to shut it 🙂