When I was a little girl I spent most summers at my Gran's house.  It was during this time that I first heard her say "I'm not sure what to buy me for my birthday this year."  I didn't get it then, but I do now.

I have a wonderful family and each year when my birthday rolls around they shower me with gifts and confetti cupcakes. They always want to know what is on my birthday wishlist a couple of weeks beforehand.  Now, I know they would buy me anything I ask for, but there are some things I just can't ask my dear family to buy - like a cotton candy machine.  Impractical?  Yes.  Frivolous, guilty pleasure?  Yes.  A lot of fun?  Heck yes! 

The machine I'd had my eye on was a table-top variety for thirty-some-odd dollars; well within the gift-to-self budget. It was in an online shopping cart for two weeks before I pulled the trigger, cabinet space be darned.  I've been practicing my candy floss spinning once a week for the past month, and I knew it wouldn't be long before the fluffy stuff made an appearance in my baking.

That's how this cake came about, but you don't need your own cotton candy machine to make it.

I'm never sure what to bake at this time of year.  It's too early to jump into fall recipes and I'm not particularly inspired to make anything summery.  I'm in some kind of self-imposed baker's limbo.  A huge dry-erase calendar hanging in my office has October, November and December all chicken-scribbled with recipe ideas, but these last few days of August and all of September- empty.

After much thought, a recipe was created to suit these in-between days.  Cold and creamy panna cotta reminds me of summer, and a tart crust made with toasted pecans and a hint of cinnamon appeases my longing for fall.  You can use whatever berries you'd like for a garnish, but I favor the noble grape for this particular tart. Tiny red seedless grapes are a perfect fresh bite, especially when marinated in melted grape jelly and Framboise.

(Bunchkins Black Corinth Table Grapes are good, if you can find them.)

I've been daydreaming about this cheesecake ever since I laid eyes on it a few months ago.  The ingredients are simple: cake flour, fresh milk, eggs, sugar, cream cheese.  It is proof positive that ordinary pantry items can be transformed into something extraordinary when handled just so.

To clairify -this cheesecake is a textural masterpiece.

Yes, those are bold words for a cheesecake, but entirely true.  Like the name indicates, it is light and cottony and its sponginess will have you tearing it apart with your bare hands just to examine the beautiful interior.  It's a sponge cake-slash-cheesecake hybrid.  A beautiful thing.

Sometimes you just need a cookie.
And the occasional fairy tale.

This past weekend I spent time with both. As a collector of the old sort of fairy tales, I can tell you they have a definite adult edge.  Most aimed to teach children the consequences of bad behavior with scare tactics and not-so-happy endings.  It's a far cry from the stories today that are meant to calm and lull children to sleep.  I find them so interesting, comparatively.

So, what goes with a grown-up fairy tale?  An equally grown-up dark chocolate and coffee flavored cookie. I've never been happier to sweep cookie crumbs from those pages of folklore.

I've used chocolate transfer paper once or twice to embellish molded chocolates but I've never been confident enough to use it as a cake wrap.  Intimidation held me back and I have never been a fan of throwing away money - specifically $7 for a single transfer sheet if I flubbed the job.

Maybe it was the recent success over poured fondant that has given me the confidence to try again. Maybe it was the simultaneous discovery of chocolate-honey cake and a cheerful honeycomb chocolate transfer.  I don't know, but in the end the task was much easier than I'd made it out to be in my head.

As expected, my first-time wrap results are not perfect. Novice mistakes are apparent.  The chocolate bloomed a little due to overheating, and the honeycomb pattern became skewed in places.  Even so, I think if you are good at following directions, you will be at least as successful as I was with this endeavor; which, in my opinion, is not too shabby!

The honey glaze on the cake has a nice stickiness to it.  Plenty enough to hold the chocolate wrap in place.  I've made a short video of the glazing and transfer paper wrapping process in case you're wondering exactly how to execute the technique.

Every summer a little voice inside my head whispers (with sing-song inflection) "It's time to make caramel" ...to which I reply "It's 100 degrees outside".  My idea of fun does not include standing over a pot of boiling caramel in the dog days of summer; however, I begrudgingly heed the call... and obey.

That's sort of how these came about.

For those not familiar, Cow Tales® (not Cow Tails) are a nostalgic treat; an 8" length of soft caramel and creme filling.  As a kid, I loved them and was inclined to choose one over a lollipop.  I recently found them again and when I re-tasted for the first time in many years, my first thought was "this could be improved upon".  I said it aloud. My husband accused me of food snobbery - which is simply not the case. You see, I have a special love for caramel.  I love it more than chocolate (gasp!) and I'd like to think I know a little bit about what good caramel tastes like and how to make it.

To beat the heat, I began my caramel endeavor in the a.m.  By that afternoon, perfect 8" lengths of caramel and cream were piled on my table.  Upon my first taste-test, I literally jumped for joy.  They were one-million-times (actual number) better, but were still reminiscent of the original.

I cannot wait to make these at Christmastime (1. for gift-giving, (2. in much cooler weather, (3. while enlisting some help from the ladies in my family. This makes a lot of candy, and the process will go quicker with an assembly line of people... plus, holiday treats always taste better over good conversation with loved ones.  Right?....right.

Edit 9/15/2012:  A letter is received from Mitchell T. Goetze, president of Goetze Candy Company, Inc. requesting the placement of the registered symbol ® beside the candy's name.  Cow Tales® are manufactured by, and is a Registered Trademark of Goetze's Candy Company , Inc.  
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