Boston Cream Pie, take 2 (-ish)

February 27, 2012

The first part of the year is birthday season in my family. My birthday in January, then both of my parents in February, then my sister in March. My brother- and mother-in-law also have birthdays in the early part of the year. We used to have a separate birthday dinner for each person, but in recent years we’ve decided to double up or combine celebrations to accommodate many people’s schedules (and basketball season).

This year, my parents and I (and Bill and Caelan) got together to celebrate my birthday (4 weeks late), my dad’s birthday (1 week late), and my mom’s birthday (1 week early). I wanted to make a cake, but since mine was one of the birthdays that we’d be celebrating, I decided to go with just a “cake” rather than a “birthday cake”.

Boston Cream donuts are my favorite and I’d never tried to make a whole pie before, but this seemed like a good time to give it a shot. I made a half-assed attempt at Boston Cream cupcakes awhile back, but this time I used an actual recipe and made real pastry cream. Or attempted to do so.

I made the pastry cream (I used the recipe from this post on Annie’s Eats) the night before I was going to assemble the cake and put it in the fridge overnight. I was disappointed the next day to find that it didn’t set up and was unusable. The pastry cream is essentially a custard and custards are definitely tricky, but I’ve made them many times before (in the form of crème brûlée) and was successful. Anyway, I didn’t have time to risk another attempt (and I’m not sure exactly where I went wrong), so I looked around my kitchen for something to improvise with and I came up with a mixture of french vanilla pudding mix, milk, Cool Whip, and a tiny bit of vanilla extract. It was passable (though actually less so after being chilled).

Then I made the frosting (dark chocolate ganache) and though I’ve made it several times before, I had issues with this too! It was too thick to spread so I kept adding half-and-half to make it manageable.

The cake tasted good (though I’m less and less enamored with that recipe the more I make it – I should try a new yellow cake recipe) but it wasn’t a real Boston Cream pie. So it looks like I will be making a 3rd attempt at this at some point because I really want to get this one right!!

The Mommy Wars and the Non-Reality of The Bump

February 22, 2012

I have been posting on the message boards on TheKnot, TheNest, and TheBump for the past few years. I enjoy posting there and I have learned a ton and I’ve made some really good friends. But sometimes I need a reminder that these boards are not reality. They’re sort of a bubble – separate from the rest of the world and things get a little…skewed.

When Caelan was sleeping through the night at 2 months old and Bill and I thought we were sitting pretty, I learned from TheBump a little bit about what was to come. The dreaded 4 Month Wakeful period. Everyone on TheBump knows about the 4 Month Wakeful (or 4MW, for short) so I was sure that all parents knew about it. Bill gave me a blank stare when I mentioned it to him but I said confidently, “Ask your friends at work who have kids – they’ll know!”. Well, he asked several friends (with many kids between them) and none of them had ever heard of the so-called 4MW. So I asked my non-Bump friends and learned that they hadn’t heard of it either. A little bit of reading and research told me that there is often a period of regression in sleep habits around 3-5 months of age, coinciding with a significant leap in cognitive development, but the term “4MW” seemed to be a Bump thing.

That was the first time I took a step back and reminded myself that TheBump is not an accurate sampling of real life. Yes, lots of my Bumpie friends went through the 4MW with their kids (and we did with Caelan), but that doesn’t mean everyone does.

Another thing I’ve learned on TheBump is that for every choice Bill and I make for how to raise Caelan, there is someone out there who will judge us for it. Someone out there would never do what we’ve done and thinks that we’ve now “ruined” our child. But we haven’t. Yes, we formula feed and we send Caelan to daycare while we both work. We use disposable diapers and feed him store-bought baby food. We let him sleep on his stomach and we’ve given him juice. He slept in our bed with us on many rough nights and eventually we let him cry it out (CIO) in his crib in his own room.

Someone (in real life and on TheBump) is going to judge us for all of those decisions. These are the Mommy Wars. Millions of moms out there turning their noses up at other moms for making parenting decisions different than their own. Misinformation is spreading like wildfire and is being used to fuel these arguments. It does make for some interesting entertainment on the boards, but I’ve encountered far less hostility over these issues in real life.

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria of something. “Omg, have we been letting him watch too much tv?? Is his brain rotted already??” Yeah, probably not. We just have to remember that most parents out there are just winging it (like we are) and trying to do what they think is best for their child(ren) and their family. My kid is happy and healthy and we’re doing what’s best for our family. Since that’s all that matters, I’m going to take a pass on those Wars if you don’t mind.

Valentine’s Day: A Change of Perspective

February 15, 2012

Back in high school when I first started dating, I hated anything that could be considered a romantic gesture: flowers, jewelry, etc. I was annoyed any time I received a gift like this from a guy I was dating. And of course I hated Valentine’s Day because that usually brought out even more of this mushy romantic stuff and I turned my nose up at it. I was kind of a bitch in high school.

One year, the guy I was dating at the time broke up with me on Valentine’s Day and I was crushed. After that, of course Valentine’s Day was even more evil and no good could ever come from this wretched “holiday”. I guess I was overly-dramatic in high school too, but hey, I was a teenager. They are, by nature, bitchy and dramatic.

In my single late-high school and college years, I adopted an angry attitude about V-Day. I’m pretty sure I burned a mix CD of angry songs about it. I even gave the “collection” a clever title (that escapes me now).

I was in my mid-20’s when I met Bill and started what would be my first and (thankfully!) last adult relationship. We celebrated Valentine’s Day like civilized adults with a dinner date and by exchanging small gifts. Four years ago on February 15, 2008 (technically the day after V-Day, but it was our V-Day date so it counts) Bill nervously got down on one knee in a restaurant and asked me to marry him. And Valentine’s Day was redeemed.

Over the years, we’ve celebrated V-Day in a low-key fashion. Usually a dinner date, flowers, candy, and maybe a small gift. Yes, those are all the things that used to annoy me back in high school but things change after 15+ years.

This year was our first V-Day as parents. We planned a dinner date, lined up some grandparents to take the kiddo for the evening, and planned another low-key but much needed date night. That date didn’t end up happening. First the kiddo got sick, then me, then Bill, then a trip to the hospital, then the kiddo got sick again and date night plans were scrapped. I spent the actual V-Day at home with our kiddo who has a stomach virus. I’ll spare you the details of my day but you can imagine.

But you know? It’s okay. There were still flowers and candy and cards. And we can (and will) go to dinner another night. (There’s no shortage of grandparents eager to babysit around here!) I’m glad all of the angst that used to surround this holiday is gone. What’s really important is that Bill and I love each other, we love our kiddo, and now that the holiday is over…candy will be on sale for half price 🙂

How to Color Icing

February 7, 2012

I’ve seen a few posts lately on Facebook and on my message board asking how to color icing, so I thought I would write up a quick tutorial.

When you think of food color, you probably think of this:

The basic liquid food coloring in the little squeeze droppers. This kind of color is great for coloring liquids (like for dying eggs) or for making pastels where you only need a tiny bit of color.

The problem with liquid colors is that if you need to make a dark color, you’ll need to use a ton of dye and the liquid will affect the consistency (and possibly taste) of your icing. So what’s the alternative? Concentrated gel colors.

The above pictured gel colors are made by Wilton and are available in tons of different shades. You can get them at stores like Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or JoAnn’s (or online too of course). They cost about $2 for a 1 oz jar.

To give you an idea of the difference in concentration between the liquids and the gels, let’s look back to a full sheet cake I made about a year ago. I was making red velvet cake and I would have needed about 12 oz of liquid red color for that cake (to the tune of about $30). Instead, I used gel color and used about 1/2 an ounce (about $1).

So how do you use gel colors? It’s pretty easy actually. All you need is…

  • Bowl of icing
  • Gel colors
  • Tooth picks
  • Spatula and/or mixer

To color your white icing, dip the tip of a toothpick into the jar of color and then swirl the toothpick around in the bowl of icing. A little goes a long way, so just add a tiny bit at a time. Mix with a mixer and/or spatula.

If the icing isn’t dark enough yet, get a new toothpick and dip it in the color again, then swirl in the icing and mix. Repeat until you have the color you want. Color the whole batch at once since it will be very difficult to mix up another batch later and match the color.

The color will darken the longer it sits. Check out these cupcakes for example:


These were both iced from the same batch of icing (and cropped out of the same photo). The one on the left I iced first, then stuck it in the fridge. I also put the remaining icing (in a sealed plastic container) in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I put the remaining icing in the mixer for a few minutes, then iced the cupcake on the right.

Mixing the right shade can be a little difficult. Especially with a dark color, like red. True red is so difficult to get right! Wilton has 3 different shades of red to choose from: Christmas Red (kind of blueish), Red-Red (true red), and No-Taste Red (more coral-y). The fact that a no-taste version exists is proof that it takes A LOT of dye to get a true red. However, I always use Red-Red for my reds because I don’t like the lighter shade of the no-taste version and I have never noticed a taste left by the dye.

Below on the left is one of my very first cakes, when I still used liquid red food coloring (and before I learned how to pipe a shell border – yikes). The one on the right was made using a gel color.


For more info on decorating cupcakes specifically, check out my Cupcake Tutorial post!