Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pastel Layer Cake and a Blog Birthday!

Sprinkle Bakes just turned 5 years old! When I look back at all the sweet things I've made - the cakes, the friends, the memories -I feel truly blessed. This little corner of the web has brought me more happiness than I ever dreamed possible, and I appreciate everyone who stops by for a peek at what I'm doing. Your support means everything to me!

Because I heart you big time (and because no blog birthday is complete without a gift) I'm giving away a pretty pink mixer. Over the years I've tried several brands of standing mixers, and while some are quite good (I really like my Bodum and Sunbeam) few are truly as great as a KitchenAid. That's not an advertisement, that's just my working experience. I believe every avid baker needs one!

Enter below for a chance to win this KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer. Open worldwide.
Please include your name or username as entered on the Rafflecopter widget with your comment.
Note: You will not be selected as a winner without commenting on the blog post.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rainbow Meringue Truffle Cones

I've had my serious hat on for a couple of weeks now, mostly due to  deadlines and commitments. I believe that's partly how these rainbow meringue cones came about. I just couldn't take one more day with a furrowed brow. And do you know that rainbow treats are the opposite of a furrowed brow? They are.

Another reason why these rainbow puffs made it onto my baking sheet is because ThinkGeek sent me a Sprinkles the Unicorn Sprinkle Shaker. It's just the cutest thing. I've been waiting for the right  inspiration to use it in a blog post, and I felt something rainbow-themed was in order. This morning while drinking coffee and cloud gazing (I do that sometimes when the clouds are extra puffy), I saw a vaguely horse-shaped cloud illuminated by light, and felt it was a sign to use my unicorn shaker today.

Do you see it too? Practically a unicorn without a horn, right? 
Or maybe a dog. A goat with an abnormally fluffy tail? (smile)

Because the folks at ThinkGeek are so awesome, they sent along another Sprinkles the Unicorn shaker for a giveaway, and I'm opening the contest worldwide. You can enter with the Rafflecopter widget below. Email subscribers, please visit the blog post to enter.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Crème Brûlée Filled Strawberries

Happy July, friends! This will be a month of celebrations and birthdays (including my own!) so I've been trying to think up new ideas for party food. One of my favorite desserts of all time is creme brulee, and with all the juicy ripe strawberries at the market right now I felt the two should get together.

The hollowed-out berries each hold one spoonful of creme brulee. The tops of the strawberries are heaped with granulated sugar and then torched until caramelized. It's all so nice together - the freshness of the berry, the creamy custard and the crack of the caramelized sugar - it's a perfect bite!

To make the berries stand upright, cut the pointed end off flat with a serrated knife. Hollow the centers and take extra care to avoid piercing through the sides. At this point the berries can be filled with creme brulee and stored in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve them.

Just before serving, place a spoonful of sugar on top of each berry and use a chef's torch to caramelize the sugar. You can also caramelize the sugar under the oven broiler, just be sure to get it good and hot before you put the strawberries in. The strawberries will break down under heat, so they should only be allowed to stay in the oven for 2-4 minutes, just long enough for the tops to caramelize. Keep a sharp eye on them, it won't take long!

These turned out better than I'd hoped! I served them with mini forks but honestly there's no need for utensils. If you serve them to guests, I suggest putting the berries in paper liners for easy pick up, or have napkins close by to keep fingers tidy.

Crème Brûlée Filled Strawberries
[click for printable recipe]

1 cup/232 g heavy cream
1/3 cup/80 g half and half
Seeds from 1/4 vanilla bean or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup/50 g granulated sugar
30 to 40 medium strawberries, capped, hollowed and pointed ends trimmed flat
Additional granulated sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 300F.
Heat the cream, half and half, and vanilla bean (or vanilla extract) in a medium saucepan over medium heat just to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat. Set aside to infuse for 10 minutes.

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a large bowl until just combined. Whisking constantly, gradually pour in the hot cream mixture. Pour the mixture into a 10x10-inch baking and remove the vanilla bean.
Place the 10x10-inch pan in a large roasting pan and pour in hot water until it reaches halfway up the custard pan. Bake in the center of the oven until the custard is set but still has a slight wobble (it will cook more as it cools), about 55-65 minutes. Remove it from the water bath and let it cool. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until chilled, about 2 hours.

Fill each berry with a spoonful of creme brulee. Store the filled berries in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve them.

Just before serving, place a spoonful of sugar on top of each berry and use a chef's torch to caramelize the sugar. You can also caramelize the sugar under the oven broiler, just be sure to get it good and hot before you put the strawberries in. The strawberries will break down under heat, so they should only be allowed to stay in the oven for 2-4 minutes, just long enough for the tops to caramelize. Keep a sharp eye on them, it won't take long! Let the berries stand for 5 minutes to let the caramelized sugar harden.

Note: The longer the berries stand at room temperature, the more likely they are to weep a little berry juice around the bottoms. I suggest serving these in paper liners or cute candy cups. They'll keep things tidy and disguise drips of berry juice.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Magic Flan Cake

Life feels a little crazy right now because in two short months the manuscript for my second cookbook is due. As you can imagine, I've been spending all my time baking, testing, and washing loads of dishes. Most mornings I can be found in a quiet place, trying to connect my head and heart so I can articulate how much these recipes mean to me. I'm eager to share all the details with you, but for now I can only tell you that all of the recipes are brand new, except for three favorites from the blog - and the only reason those are being included is because they were the inspiration for the book. Are you curious? (smile)

Between all these working days that fly by too fast, life happens. My husband had a birthday yesterday, and even though there are cookbook sweets all over the house (on every flat surface and some balanced precariously on chair arms) I was determined to make him something special.

This was my first time making Magic Flan Cake, and let me tell you this: it is special. It may not win any beauty contests, but it's the kind of cake that makes you close your eyes after you taste it. And the magic part? That takes place in the oven. The cake batter get poured into the pan first, and then the flan mixture is poured on top of the batter. During baking the two switch places- pretty neat! My favorite part is how the flan infuses the cake batter with creamy goodness, so the whole thing is a glorious custard/pudding/cake masterpiece.

There are two important things you need to know about this cake. (1. start one day ahead, the cake needs to chill in the refrigerator 8 hours or overnight, and (2. it requires a water bath. That might sound like a lot of work, but it's worth it. I repeat - It's SO worth it!

Magic Flan Cake
[click for printable version]
Yields 14 to 16 servings
Source:  adapted from Cook’s Country
Prep: 2 hours 30 minutes

1/2 cup/155g prepared caramel sauce
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons/60 g all-purpose flour
1/3 cup/46 g cocoa powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons/85 g unsalted butter
1/2 cup/121 g buttermilk
1/2 cup/105 g sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
28 ounces (2 cans) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk!)
2 1/2 cups/598 g whole milk, room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
6 large eggs, room temperature
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with flour-based baking spray (such as Baker’s Joy).  Pour the caramel sauce evenly into the bottom of the pan.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the chocolate and butter; heat at 30 second increments in the microwave, stirring between heating until smooth. Add the buttermilk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla to the melted chocolate mixture and whisk until incorporated. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined. Pour the chocolate batter evenly over the caramel in the pan.
Add all the flan ingredients to a blender pitcher and process on liquefy (high) until smooth.  Slowly pour the flan mixture over the cake batter. Place the cake pan in a large roasting pan and then place it in the oven. Carefully pour hot water into the roasting pan (I used hot water straight from the tap) until it reaches halfway up the sides of the bundt pan. Bake the cake for 80 to 90 minutes, or until a toothpick tester comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging (mine took about 1 hour 40 minutes). Gently remove the Bundt pan from the roasting pan and place it on a cooling rack. Allow it to cool completely in the pan. Refrigerate the cake in the pan for 8 hours, or overnight.

To unmold the cake, fill a large bowl (or your sink) with hot water. Place the bottom of the cake pan in the water to warm the caramel/flan portion of the cake. This will help the cake release. Turn the cake out onto a large serving platter or a cake stand that has a lip. The caramel will drizzle down over the cake as you remove the pan. Store the cake covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Black and White Wedding Cake

I'm not in the business of making wedding cakes, nor do I want to be, but I make exceptions for family and close friends. Clearly, there's a lot of pressure involved, and my hat goes off to anyone who chooses this as an occupation. Any cake that is served to a large group of people should always be the perfect trifecta of beauty, flavor and texture, and I still feel like I'm learning to master all of those elements. That's why I'm amazed that anyone would trust me with their most memorable cake, but alas, earlier this year I was asked, and I said yes because I love my family. I reasoned that even if it was an epic failure, everything would be okay because my family is still obligated to love me.

When I learned of this new project, I turned to my friends at Wilton. They gave me some great products to work with, and I'm not sure how this cake would have turned out without them. The cake's design is very simple, but that means the few embellishments on the cake needed to be well executed.

The black ribbon around the bottom of the cake is cut from Wilton Sugar Sheets. I tried using fondant for this at first, but I could never make it look as uniform as it needed to be. The Sugar Sheets turned out to be a life saver! They are as easy to cut as regular paper (with kitchen-dedicated scissors, of course) and gave the cake a crisp black edge. Plus, it had none of the metallic taste that is associated with black food color. I am a fan!

Another tool Wilton sent was the Lace Fondant and Gum Paste Mold. The bride picked out a specific floral design that I hand painted on the cake, but when I finished painting the first flower, I felt it needed a little something extra. I made the flower centers with black fondant and the gum paste mold. I know it looks subtle, but it really made the finished cake look polished.

The black crossed lines on the bottom tier are made with black fondant, and boy, were those ever difficult to get right! Maybe someday I'll dedicate an entire post and video tutorial on how to create the effect. It sure is pretty but I spent several hours measuring, moving, straightening, fixing - repeat, repeat, repeat!

Speaking of tutorials. I decided to make a video on how to achieve smooth buttercream frosting on a cake, specifically for cakes that will be covered in fondant. Once upon a time I applied a measly thin coat of buttercream, but have since seen the err of my ways. A thick coat hides imperfections better, and in my opinion it makes the cake taste better too.

You'll need a couple of special tools, a $5 bench scraper (that is worth many times that, if you ask me) and a cake turntable (or a homemade turntable, as suggested in the video). Email subscribers, click here to watch the video.

Did I mention the top tier was made of cheesecake? Friends. There's a very good reason why wedding cakes are not made of cheesecake. I'd only suggest doing this if you are able to remove the cake from the refrigerator, snap a couple of formal pictures, and then commence the cutting all within 15 minutes. We did not have this luxury, so the cheesecake was very soft. Luckily, the bride got her requested piece, and the remaining cake was whisked off to the refrigerator.

After agreeing to do cupcake favors and also the groom's cake, I realized I'd need some help. My sister-in-law Megan was a real life saver. I think she's recently taken to wearing flip-flops to avoid tying one more bow. But oh, the favors were pretty!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Breakfast in Bed with Homemade English Muffins (and Doughnut Muffins, too!)

Breakfast in bed is rarely served at my house, but that's something I'm trying to rectify. I know it's considered best if someone makes it for you, but I'm kind of a control freak when it comes to breakfast pastries and breads, so really, I don't mind doing the work.

I decided to document my last effort, which was assorted nibbles shared with the hubby. It was delicious and made us feel cheery all day long. Here's what was on our tray.
  • Coffee is a must for us both and since it's been 85 degrees at 10 a.m., I bought our favorite bottled coffees and made sure they were served ice cold.
  • Doughnut muffins. These are a favorite that I've made countless times. They're easy, and if you've never made them then you should probably drop everything and go make them right now. Seriously, they are my favorite mini breakfast muffin. 
  • Homemade life-changing English muffins (with the option of butter and jam). I'm still pinching myself. I made English muffins that look and taste like English muffins! It can be done! More details on this later.
  • Juicy red cherries. It's good to offer a fresh bite with breakfast. It makes everything seem more vibrant and special.
  • O.J. - good ol' sunshine in a glass. It's thirst-quenching in a way that coffee is not. 
There are a few other small things that make breakfast in bed really great, like the morning paper or your favorite book, real table linens, and a single fresh bloom on the tray.

I made the doughnut muffins the night before. They keep really well (although they never last more than two days), so they tasted just as fresh as the first day. I know many of you have made these before, but for those who haven't, you should know that these muffins get dipped in butter (major!) and then rolled in cinnamon-sugar. They are tops in my book!

Now let's talk about these homemade English muffins, because I can't believe how well they turned out. There were two recipes I considered making before settling on this one. The first is made with a pourable batter that requires the purchase of English muffin rings, but since not everyone has those, I opted for the roll-and-cut version. I still used my pastry rings to fry them in, but I soon discovered that they are not needed. My first muffins were a little too thick, and didn't have that wonderful bubbly, craggy interior, so I patted the dough thinner, cut new rounds and fried a second batch - they were perfect! They have just the right amount of chewiness, and a perfectly pocked interior. I made these the night before too, and they kept well in an air-tight container.

Breakfast in bed is totally indulgent, and I almost dismissed it entirely with a "who has time for that?", but sweet memories are rarely made with that attitude. I'm so glad I made time for it, and I'd encourage you to try it just once!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Gentlemen's Chocolate Whiskey Cake

According to The Chocolate Bible, a Gentlemen's Torte is a many-layered Sachertorte that is soaked with booze. Other books on the subject say that almost any cake could be called a Gentlemen's Torte if it is doused with enough whiskey. In fairness, I think this type of cake could also be called a Whiskey Women's cake (a book I'm loving, by the way) but with Father's Day fast approaching I was inspired by the masculine title. There's nothing wrong with honoring our fine fellows with cake - as long as they share!

This sheet cake is generously brushed with whiskey and a covering of ganache helps retain a lovely damp crumb. When I spotted the "Décor Smoking" cake decoration tutorial in my new Patisseriebook there was no question it had to happen. It's as simple as cutting a triangle of fondant and folding in two edges - anyone can do it! I made a little video to show you exactly how easy it is, but I also wanted to show you how to transfer a cake like this from a drip rack to a cake board. Earlier this year someone had asked me how to transfer cakes easily, and here is my advice: chill the cakes before you try to move them and always use a cake lifter. The latter is a marvelous help, but due to it's oversized spatula head it's a pain to store. Believe me, I have two of them and even with the uncomfortable size, I now consider having at least one a necessity.

Video note! You'll notice that when I knead the red fondant for the "shirt" portion, I use vegetable shortening to grease the work surface. I also work just a little into the fondant. This may seem strange, but it makes the fondant soft and pliable without making it dry. It's not greasy at all, and I highly prefer it over messy powdered sugar and cornstarch. If you're not a fan of fondant, marzipan is a suitable substitute.

The chocolate cigarettes on the corner of the cake were an afterthought because - oops! I accidentally grazed it with my wedding ring. I was really sad when that happened because the cake's surface was so perfectly mirrored and shiny. I like them on the cake though, and I think they make sense on a cake dressed as a smoking jacket. Chocolate cigarettes are perhaps the least alarming cigarettes of them all, am I right? I found them at World Market in the baking ingredients section if you're looking to buy them.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I ate three pieces of this cake yesterday. It reminds me of a chocolate cake from my favorite Italian restaurant - but better! The whiskey gives it a sophisticated flavor, but it's not overly boozy on the tongue. The fact that it's a sheet cake makes it so simple to whip up, but if you're looking for layers, the batter can be baked in two 9-inch round cake pans. You can find baking times for both versions in the recipe below.

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