Friday, December 16, 2011

Giraffe Cake.

First and foremost, let me apologize that this blog post is a little late. My darling husband made it to the playoffs in his Fantasy Football League so I wasn't allowed near the computer Sunday or Monday. Unfortunately, he also made it to the semi-finals. LOL! So 'm certain the computer will be off-limits again this weekend.

Anyway this past weekend was the birthday of one of our friends, Megan. Let me just take a minute to give Megan a shout out. Megan volunteers at a children's psychiatric hospital with her dog. They go around and visit the units and cheer up the kids. This year, in lieu of birthday gifts for herself, Megan asked us all to donate gifts to the hospital for the kids. They try to discharge as many children for the holidays as they can, but some simply cannot. Hopefully at least a gift on Christmas morning will help brighten their holiday.

The tree complete with presents for the kids.

In light of her generosity, I wanted to do something special for Megan for her birthday. I asked her boyfriend if it would be okay to make her birthday cake for her and he agreed, so long as it was red velvet. That was the easy part. I asked him what is something she loves and he told me simply "giraffes." Huh. We'll figure out a way to do this. I did a quick google search and found this idea from Apparently, the giraffe design is from an old Wilton cake decorating book, "Discover the Fun of Cake Decorating." We didn't have this book, but we were able to save the photo from her blog and blow it up and use it as a template this way.

We decided to use royal icing just like the Mad Baker did. If you're wondering what royal icing is, it's the sweet icing that you often find on top of sugar cookies. It's great for decorating since it hardens and keeps well. You can make royal icing decorations on wax paper and store them in tupperware for months to use whenever you need them. In fact, I did just that a few weeks ago. I made royal icing flowers in blue, pink, and purple and stored them in tupperware. They came in handy for a few little embellishments on our cake today!

We always use the recipe for royal icing from Wilton. 

Royal Icing

-3 Tablespoons Meringue Powder

-4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners' sugar, sifted

-6 tablespoons warm water

-Gel Food Coloring (As Needed)

1. Sift 4 cups confectioners' sugar into a large bowl.

2. Add meringue powder and water and beat on medium speed until stiff peaks form.

*From here your icing can be thinned or thickened as necessary. For outlining or making flowers, you might want to add a little more powdered sugar to thicken your icing. For filling in your design or covering an entire cookie, you should thin your icing by adding more water.*

We divided the royal icing into 3 parts for the 3 colors we needed. We used brown royal icing to make the outline of the giraffe. To do the outline, I recommend thickening your icing. We didn't use a tip at all, we just filled decorating bags and snipped a very small part of the tip off. It worked perfectly.

We taped the giraffe template to a cookie sheet with wax paper taped over it to keep it steady while we traced the design. First, we outlined the entire thing in brown and let it set for about a half an hour. We filled the brown parts first. Then we filled the orange spots and then finally the yellow body. We left it in the fridge overnight to set.

We used a large Wilton cake pan (12x18) which took 3 batches of our red velvet cake recipe, but we'll save that recipe for another post. We cut the cake in half lengthwise for layering. Next, we used our homemade cream cheese frosting to layer and crumb coat our long cake. We always use Wilton's tip #789 to crumb coat our cake. It's easier and neat than spreading it on entirely. We do usually spread the icing so there are no seams, but since the royal icing giraffe would be covering most of the top of the cake it didn't matter.

For the cream cheese frosting, we used a recipe from my mom's signed copy of Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible. It was a birthday present for my mom from her co-workers and she's been trying a ton of new recipes. We decided to give this cream cheese recipe a shot and it turned out delicious.

Cream Cheese Icing

-1 package cream cheese (8 ounces) at room temperature

-8 tablespoons butter (1 stick) at room temperature

-1 tablespoon vanilla extract

-6 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted*

*The recipe didn't call for the sugar to be sifted, a lot of icing recipes don't. But I find they don't get as smooth if you don't sift your sugar so I usually do for icing. If you don't have a sifter you can use a whisk or a fork to break up the clumps.

1. In a large bowl cream together butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract with paddle attachment at medium speed for about 2 minutes or until light and fluffy.

2. In another bowl, sift powdered sugar. Add to mixture gradually, beating at low speed until incorporated. If icing is too soft, chill for 10 minutes before use.

While my mom crumb coated the cake, I made the marshmallow fondant. We'll talk about that recipe in another post. I can't give away all my secrets right away! lol! Once the fondant was made, my mom rolled it out immediately. You can store fondant wrapped tightly in cling wrap and then zipped in a ziplock bag in the fridge until you're ready to roll it. Just make sure you take it out and let it thaw before trying to roll it out.

Once the fondant was laid out we had the task of transferring the royal icing giraffe from our wax paper to the cake. We took the tape off the wax paper and tried to peel it back from the giraffe, but since the giraffe was so long and thin, he cracked. He cracked in 3 places by the time we finished transferring him, but he was easy to slide back together and secure with a little leftover cream cheese icing underneath him. You could hardly tell he was broken. For a little added effect, we colored some buttercream "leaf green" and piped grass along the bottom of the cake. We also added some of the royal icing flowers we had previously made as embellishments. All in all, I think it came out great!

Happy Birthday, Megan!!

You're probably thinking, "There are two cakes there!" Yeah, there were two birthdays. I only made the giraffe cake. If I had known I would have made a second cake!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

So this past week was my father's birthday. Naturally, my mom and I were going to take the opportunity to make a cool cake for him. What are a few of my dad's favorite things? Mets, Jets, and BBQ- in that order. We decided since it's football season to make him a football shaped cake. To make it easier, we actually purchased a football shaped pan.

It's not necessary since you can cut and shape your cakes however you want them, but it did make life so much easier. The pan is deceptively large. We used a full box of cake mix in this pan and it only filled it about halfway. Yeah, I know I said "cake mix". Between recuperating from Thanksgiving and my birthday and trying to stay on top of Christmas shopping, we decided to cut a few corners. I have no problem with boxed cake mix once in awhile. It's delicious and easy to use. But, we did make homemade buttercream icing. It's my favorite and it's so simple and delicious that it's worth the extra 10 minutes you'll spend in the kitchen making it. We always use Wilton's buttercream icing recipe and thin or thicken it as needed for piping and spreading. We made this one particularly thin since we decided to just cover the cake in a thick layer of buttercream rather than cut it in half and make it two layers.

Buttercream Icing (Thin)

- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening

-1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (I use salted, it brings out the flavor nicely)

- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract*

- 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

- 3-4 tablespoons milk

*Note: If you don't use clear vanilla extract your buttercream will have an off-white tint. Since we're usually layering it under fondant, I don't mind. So that's why our buttercream isn't pure white.

1. Cream butter and shortening in large bowl with electric mixer. Add vanilla.

Make sure you sift your powdered sugar otherwise your icing won't be smooth.

2. Add sugar one cup at a time, beating on medium speed. The mixture will be dry after all sugar is incorporated, this is normal.

3. Add milk and whip until light and fluffy. If needed, more milk can be added until you reach the desired consistency. If icing is too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar until you get the consistency you want.

Icing can be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Now this cake is a good size for someone who wants to try fondant but is nervous about tackling it for larger cakes. This guy is small, intended for our family of 6, so it was easy to roll out and lay the fondant. Here, we'll show you how.

We decided to use Wilton's chocolate fondant since it already has that rich brown color and would save us a good 10 minutes of kneading coloring gel into our own marshmallow fondant which is more than a little difficult to color.

We had plenty left over using this 1.5 lb. box.

When rolling out fondant, I suggest getting a fondant mat. It just makes life easier. You can roll the fondant out on your counter top, parchment paper, or wax paper. But really, I find the mat the easiest. Make sure to generously dust your rolling surface, whatever it may be, and your rolling pin with powdered sugar. It's even better if you can use sifted as powdered sugar can make little bumps and imperfections in your fondant when rolling it out. Here's my mom rolling out the fondant. I have to say, this chocolate fondant rolls out very nicely.

While you're rolling the fondant, lift the fondant off the mat and add more powdered sugar. This ensures the fondant won't stick to the mat. You can also turn the fondant so you can smooth out bumps or imperfections. The thinner the fondant the better, since it's usually a bit much for most people on top of an already sweet cake. We try to roll it to 1/4" thickness or less.

Once your fondant is rolled thin enough, you can lift it and transfer it to your cake. This is always the scariest part for me- is it going to rip? Is it going to flop on the cake lopsided? But 9 times out of 10, it works out just fine. And that other last time? Well, we work through it.

Once your fondant is on the cake, press in along the edges to make sure it lays flat and snug. Then remove excess fondant with a sharp knife.

Doesn't it look like an almond? Lol!

From here I bagged up some of the icing and snipped the tip. I didn't even bother using a decorating tip since I hate cleaning those things out.

You might notice my mom is in the background rolling out white fondant for the white stripes on the football. This is leftover marshmallow fondant we had stored.

I used this to pipe the stitching onto the cake.

While my mom was cutting the white fondant stripes and attaching them to the cake using leftover buttercream icing, I dyed some icing green for grass using gel food coloring. Never use those food coloring drops from the supermarket- they thin out your icing and it takes a lot of them to get a rich color. This is especially true for dying fondant, gum paste, royal icing, or mostly anything you'd use on your cake.

From here, I prepared a decorating bag using Wilton's #233 decorating tip and my mom piped grass around the base of the cake. For piped grass, I recommend thickening your icing with powdered sugar. Our icing was a little thin for the grass but we made do and it came out looking great.

And ta-da! A perfect little football cake for one of my favorite football fanatics!

Happy birthday, Dad! We love you!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Treat.

Hey! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays for a numbers of reasons- good food, time with the family, and best of all, my birthday. Hehe. While the dinner is delicious, my favorite part always has been and always will be dessert.

Now autumn seems to be all about pies. Of course, pies are delicious, but I like my pies with less fruit and more chocolate. Cue this delicious dessert that a friend mentioned to me that she was making.

Nutella Tart.

Now, I don't know if you have all tried this delicious chocolate hazelnut spread, but if you haven't already, run out to the store and buy some. Spread it lightly on toast, bake it in this tart recipe, or better yet, eat it right out of the jar with a spoon. I'm embarrassed to say just how much of this stuff I ate while I was making my tart.

The following recipe was adapted from Lemons and Anchovies. I decided not to use the crust recipe and just used a simple shortbread recipe adapted from Fruit Tart. This crust would usually be used for a fruit tart but I think it was delicious with the nutella tart.

Shortbread Crust

-1 1/3 cup flour

-1/3 cup light brown sugar packed

-7 tablespoons butter, softened

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour your tart pan. I used a 9" Wilton tart pan with a removable bottom plate.

2. Mix flour and brown sugar with mixer or whisk.

3. Cut in butter one tablespoon at a time until mixture is crumbly.

4. Press into bottom and sides of tart pan firmly.

5. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Nutella Tart Filling

-2/3 cup Nutella spread

-4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

-7 tablespoons unsalted butter

-1 large egg at room temperature, whisked

-3 large egg yolks at room temperature, whisked

-2 tablespoons sugar

-1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts 

-2/3 cup Nutella spread

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread the Nutella evenly over the bottom of the tart crust.

2. Melt chocolate and butter in double boiler or, if you're lazy like me, in the microwave.

3. Use a small whisk to stir egg into chocolate very carefully. If you whip the mixture too quickly, it will "agitate" the ganache and you'll end up with air bubbles in your finished tart. Trust me, I know from experience. But I promise, it's just as delicious with a couple of air bubbles in it.

4. Repeat with egg yolks, then sugar, and finally, melted butter. Pour the ganache over the nutella and tart crust. If wanted, you can also scatter the chopped hazelnuts over the top of the tart. It looked nice and it was a nice, tasty little crunch, too.

5. Bake tart for 11 minutes on center rack. The center will not be solid yet. Let set for 20 minutes and serve. I recommend serving warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I made this mostly for myself and my sister-in-law since we're both Nutella fanatics. But I have to say, everyone else really enjoyed it, too. It's now my husband's new favorite baked goodie.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


First and foremost, welcome and thank you for stopping to check out my blog!

Some of my fondest childhood memories were of spending time in the kitchen with my mom. I was always amazed by the fact that she could turn common household ingredients into something delicious with barely a recipe to follow.

Mom & Me
(Don't mind the lion.)

As an adult, my baking adventures began, as they probably do for most, with boxed cake mix and a tub of cookie dough. But somewhere along the way, I read this quote and it changed me.

"If you only do things you know you can do, you'll never do very much."

Challenge accepted.

Naturally, I consulted my mom and together we got to work in the kitchen. She's taught me so much, but the biggest lesson I've taken away is "Baking is science." It absolutely fascinates me how much chemistry actually finds it's way into the kitchen!

From there, we grew. Eventually my sister and my aunt got involved in learning more about baking and we started taking classes all together. We have a blast spending time together and making delicious treats for our family and friends.

My sister and I.

Aunt Lisa & me.

And now, I'd like to share our adventures (sometimes, misadventures) with all of you!! Happy Baking everyone!