A tale of two cakes

Once upon a time, this was a cooking blog.  So here is a story about my most recent cake.

I have been toying around with the idea of getting some kind of a cake making business off the ground for a while now.  I have also been debating whether or not to pick up needle and thread again.  Its usually a tug of war, depending on my mood- cakes or dolls or maybe something new? But most days I just vaguely wonder how I ever had the time to run a small business on the side of everything else that is going on in my life.  And keeping up a blog? How does one do that?

At any rate, my attempts at cake making have pretty much boiled down to me experimenting with various recipes and methods and seeing if anyone out there wants one.  I have sold a few but not enough to make it worth my time at this point.

This past Saturday was one of my son’s birthdays and we were also invited to a dinner party that same night with some old friends.  My son was busy scouring pinterest for birthday cake ideas and I was also asked to bring a cake to the dinner party so I figured I would kill two birds with one stone- make a kid friendly cake and a fancy one that I could take pics of and see if I could drum up some interest.

The son decided on a ‘build your own’ Minecraft cake which I figured would be easy enough- minimal decorating and maximum visual impact.  Then I thought that since I would need to make a chocolate cake for that one (to represent dirt) I might as well make two and decorate the second with something other than grass green frosting.  blech.

Visions of chocolate ganache icing and truffle filled raspberries were dancing in my head as I made my way to the grocery store but when I arrived, there was not a raspberry to be found in the store.  Sightly disappointed, I glanced at the strawberries but they were few and very lack luster- more white than red.  What I did see surrounding me (and no wonder- it is officially fall now, even if it doesn’t feel like it) were pumpkins, nuts and spices.  I decided to change tack completely and come up with some Autumnal spicy, nutty delight.

But first I had to finish shopping for the Minecraft, which including visiting the jello aisle (red jello for lava and blue for water) and the cereal aisle (rice krispie treats for sand or some unknown mineral that my boys get excited about).  A big bag of marshmallows topped my cart and a traditional giant bottle of root beer rolled around in the bottom.  My teeth were already aching.  But the fancy spice cake was going to erase the sins of the plebeian jello/marshmallow/green, store-bought icing abomination.

It was fairly late on Friday afternoon before I got started and not a great time to start either.  The thermostat was holding steady at 94 degrees outside and my kitchen wasn’t far behind.  Undaunted, I soon had the chocolate cake beating, the water for jello boiling, marshmallows melting on the stove and was prepping the ingredients for spice cake when things started to unravel.

First, the baby woke up.  I heard her little toddling feet coming down the stairs and they were to me as the footsteps of doom.  I looked quickly around and got panicky.  The flour bin was wide open on the floor, a chocolate covered rubber spatula was well within reach. Two bowls filled with sticky red and blue food product were full to the brim and a short distance away from the bar stools that she is past mistress of climbing.

I lost focus as I began covering things up, shoving things out of the way and generally trying to cover my tracks.  I got her a drink of milk to try and distract her from investigating what mommy was up to and in the meantime, the whipped cream frosting that had been beating in the mixer got away from me.  A grainy, lumpy mass of coagulated dairy was the result.  No amount of straining, adding of more ingredients or googling for answers was able to save me from tossing half a pound of butter and a pint of heavy cream.

Whilst googling, it finally dawned on me that several of my children were asking if I was making s’mores for dessert.  I soon discovered that burning marshmallows for rice krispie treats smells pretty much the same as the traditional campfire delight, but they really don’t taste the same.

And so it went.  It was dinner time now and all baking had to be put on hiatus.  The hubby called from the store to see if I needed anything.  I asked him to buy more butter for a fresh batch of frosting.

By the time I had dinner done and kids fed, the dishes had reached alarming heights in the sink and I had used all my mixing bowls.  Half an hour later, dishes were done.  I wiped my brow and continued on.  I managed to get spice cakes in the oven, a fresh batch of marshmallows melted and stirred into the rice cereal and new frosting started.  This time I was going back to an old favorite recipe that I knew I couldn’t flub- a swiss meringue butter cream.  The butter was softening, the eggs were separated but alas, I was completely out of sugar.  I hadn’t even noticed how much sugar I had been going through.  There was nothing but a bit of brown sugar left so with a sigh of frustration, I threw it in and hoped for the best.

Once the egg whites were cooked, I began to whip them up.  And I whipped and I whipped and they just wouldn’t stiffen.  It was only then that I remembered how much meringue and humidity don’t like each other. And boy howdy was my kitchen humid. The steam coming from my ears at this point wasn’t helping much. So much butter was at stake!.  So I stubbornly cracked the whip over that poor kitchen aid for several minutes more until Oh Joy! the frosting started coming together.  The butter worked its magic, I guess, or maybe it was an inspired sprinkling of nutmeg towards the end that convinced those weary egg whites that life might be worth striving for after all.

The result was a glossy smooth, buttery pile of deliciousness that tasted all the better for the substituted brown sugar.  Who knew?!  By ten o clock I had all the cakes and various components of the birthday party sitting on the counter, kind of ready for the next day.

The next morning, everything had to be finished.  Wobbly jello, sticky rice krispies, and a super crumbly chocolate cake had to be cut into blocks for building. Grass frosting had to be applied where necessary.  I was on a stool, having just remembered to tack up a last second happy birthday banner when the birthday boy himself finally appeared.   There was a bag of balloons sitting on the table, unblown, which he noticed.  Thinking hard, I told him in as excited of a voice as I could muster that I was going to let him blow up his own birthday balloons this year.  He bought it.  He and his brothers spent the rest of the morning blowing up balloons and letting them go, laughing hysterically over the kind of gross noises they made while I got the rest of the party ready.

The rest of the day went fairly well.  Friends and cousins arrived, the cake was a big hit and I think everyone had a good time.  By the time the last guest had disappeared, I had about an hour to get the other cake ready.  I had wanted to garnish it with candied pecans but now wondered if it were worth the trouble.  But I had come this far and apparently I am a glutton for punishment.  I got out the pecans and the pan and had poured them all in. But perhaps you might remember, as I clearly had not, that I was still out of sugar.

A quick rummage in the pantry revealed a stash of some kind of unrefined ‘healthy’ sugar that the hubby had purchased at Whole Foods a while back.  I figured it would have to do. It melted immediately but would.not.stick to the pecans.   I gave up and stuck them to the cake with at least the essence of sweetness still clinging to their sides.  But I still felt that it needed something. Then, in a moment of inspiration, I remembered a batch of homemade toffee sauce that I had sitting in the fridge.

Toffee sauce is one of my favorite things in the world, consisting as it does of nothing but brown sugar, butter and whipping cream all melted together and I knew that it would taste fabulous with the spice cake. So I decided to top off my creation with a generous amount.  But since it is a good deal runnier than most glazes, I decided to make a crater in my icing and just pool it all there, surrounded by my wanna be-candied pecans.   Then, with minutes to spare, I had to drag all my kids out of their sugar comas from their first cake encounter of the day, scrub them up and herd them into the car.

At last we were off, the hubby driving and me with my long suffering cake in my lap.  But the hubby had forgotten to mention that our friends had moved.  The drive would not be a quick hop onto the freeway as I thought but a forty minute trek into the country.  Not only that, but it was on top of one of the nearby mountains and in order to reach it, we had to follow one of the curviest, hairpin-bendiest roads we have ever encountered.  And this cake was heavy and Nicky-the-ingenious-cake-baker had decided to top it off with a large pool of very runny butter sauce.   It was an adventure in physics as I battled the acceleration of the car and the turns in the road by tilting and turning that cake so that I wouldn’t end up with a lap full of gooey.

But we made it at last.  And the dinner was delicious.  But I won’t lie to you.  By the time dessert came, I was feeling pretty nervous. I was sure that something else would be wrong with that cake. But as I ran my knife down through the several layers and pulled out the first slice, all slathered with swiss meringue and dripping with toffee sauce, I knew we were going to be okay.

It was a good cake. A really good cake. An almost-worth-all-that-angst-and-labor kind of cake.   There was a sizable piece of it left at the end of the evening so I left half of it with our gracious hosts and wrapped the last remaining slice carefully

in plastic wrap and put it in the car.

It was promptly stepped on by a wayward child.  You could almost read the word ‘Crocs’ imprinted in the buttercream.

But you know what? The hubby and I ate it anyway.  For breakfast this morning. It was still good.

 

Birthday breakfast part deux

Before this day is over, I suppose I should finish the cake post I started last night. When we last met, we had all our ingredients prepped and ready for an early morning session in the kitchen. Thankfully my alarm went off, I got my shower, and armed with coffee, I started back in.

You’ll have to pardon the quality of these pictures as it was still dark outside. Get out your participants and your greased springform pan.

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Pour the small bowl of sour cream into the bowl of crumble and mix well. Then pour this into your springform and spread it so that the batter comes about two thirds up the sides of the pan.

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Next comes the bowl of cream cheese. Plop it on top of the batter and spread until it is smooth.

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And now your fruit filling. Remember, you can use just about any jam you want, but I have to put in a good word for lemon curd here. I just feel like it gets a bad rap because of its name. I don’t know who came up with the name lemon curd but there are definitely no curds or curdling involved, unless of course you make it wrong. It’s just a lovely silky, buttery, lemony custard. But enough about lemons, curdled or not. Use what you like and spread it on top of the cream cheese-about half a cup.

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Now you get to use that cup of crumble you set aside. Sprinkle it evenly on the other layers.

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And of course, top with slivered almonds. Now it’s ready to slide into the oven, which I forgot to mention should have been preheated to 350 before I got in the shower. Oh, and pay no attention to the bottom of my oven.

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Give it about forty- five minutes to bake. It will give you time to go wake up your kids and tell them to get dressed about forty-five times. The edges should be nice and brown by then, but the middle will still feel jiggly because of the fruit filling. Pull it out and let it cool a bit or the filling will run all over the place. This will also give the sun time to get up so you can get some decent pictures.

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Remove the sides of the pan and dish it up with some nice fruit, or bacon if you need something healthy.

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Oh, and of course a cup of coffee.

Here’s a side view of the layers.

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So all in all, a good start to a good birthday.

Birthday Boy Breakfast Part 1

Well, the hubby’s birthday falls on a Sunday this year, tomorrow to be exact. I was trying to think of a fitting tribute for the man I love without getting all sentimental and mushy about how I am married to my best friend and how he is the best guy in the world etc. (which he is, of course) As I was pondering, one of the men who works for him at his current job site pulled up on his motorcycle and knocked on my back door. I had to tell him that the hubby wasn’t home, having taken the boys out for the evening. He introduced himself since we had never met and then said in one of those thick southern accents I still have a hard time interpreting sometimes,
“So you’re the one married to that guy, huh?”
“Umm, yes,” I said somewhat hesitatingly.
“He’s crazy, that guy”, he continued.
“Well, uh,…” I eloquently replied.
He went on-

“The first time I ever work for him, we were up in this tiny crawl space doin’ electrical. It was dark and hot and itchy and I just wanted to get the **** out of there.” (No apology for his language, by the way.) “I was working as fast as I could so, but I heard him askin’ me somethin’. He was tellin’ me to keep an eye out for crickets. ‘Crickets?’, I ask him. ‘Yeah, crickets,’ he tol’ me. He tol’ me he done caught a prayin’ mantis for his boys and he wanted to catch some crickets so he could feed the mantis and they could all watch how it catch it’s food. I thought he was crazy, ya know, but then I starts thinkin’ he must jus be crazy ’bout his boys to think of them like that when we was up in that ******* crawl space.”

Despite the earthiness of this narrative, by the end I was smiling and thanking him in my mind for giving me a very fitting tribute to my hubby, the man who hunts crickets to bring joy to his little boys. Then I came inside and decided to make him his favorite coffee cake for breakfast.

I am going to post this recipe in two stages, because I want to prep for it tonight, and bake it in the morning. I don’t know about you, but our house tends to get a little hectic on Sunday mornings as we try to get out the door to church, so whatever I can do Saturday night to prepare for the morning, I try to do. This isn’t the simplest cake in my arsenal, but it’s a special occasion! So here’s what we need to do tonight.

Get out your stuff-

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We’re working with pretty basic ingredients here- flour, sugar, butter, sour cream, cream cheese. If you are wondering what’s in the pitcher, it’s whole wheat pastry flour I just ground in my vita-mix blender. I’m all about health here. Not really, but I have been playing around with different flours since I got the vita-mix for mother’s day, so I’m gonna try whole wheat this time. Usually I would just use all purpose flour for this recipe.

Step one, grease a 9 or 10 inch spring form pan and set it aside ’til morning.

Step two, in a large bowl combine 2 1/4 cups of flour, 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 sticks of butter.

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Crumble it up with your fingers until it looks like this. Remember my apple crisp?

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Now remove one cup of this and set it in the fridge ’til morning.

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To the remainder in the bowl add
1/2 teaspoon each of baking soda, baking powder and salt.

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Set it in the fridge ’til morning. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Step three, mix together your wet ingredients in a small bowl-
1 egg, 3/4 cup of sour cream and a splash of almond extract.

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Confession. I have had this bottle of almond extract for eleven years. I use it very rarely, and a little goes a long way. But it still smells good so I keep using it. If you don’t have almond, vanilla works just fine. Set it in the fridge ’til morning.

Step four, the cream cheese layer. Here’s where it starts getting really good. Get a mixer out for this step. Trust me, it’s a lot easier. I had an aversion to using mixers for a long time, which I will explain in some future blog post perhaps, but for now go ahead and mix
8 oz. cream cheese, another egg and 1/4 cup of sugar until smooth.

20130914-194943.jpg Aaaaaand set it in the fridge ’til morning.
So here is what you have ready to go in the a.m. so you can whip that cake into the oven and still have time to curl your hair for church.

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The last two ingredients need no prep. I have some homemade lemon curd there in the tupperware. This is another one of those odd items that I almost always have on hand, because the hubby is not only French, he’s also half British. The original recipe calls for seedless raspberry jam, but I have used lots of different fruit spreads, and haven’t hit on a bad one yet. So lemon, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry- pick your poison. And you will need slivered almonds.
So now, stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of this fantastic birthday boy recipe!