Wednesday, March 30, 2011

X the Owl

My daughter loves Mister Rogers. Our DVR has over 12 hours of Mister Rogers on it. So for her second birthday, she decided that she wanted an X the Owl cake. I decided to do a larger decorated cake (not Mister rogers themed) and a little sculpted X the Owl.

I am not one of those pastry chefs who is a master of sculpted cakes and fondant, so this was a bit of a challenge for me. I am much more into baking simple things that taste delicious. Anyway, I thought I'd give this sculpted X a whirl cause I knew how much L would love it! I decided to go with rice krispie treats instead of cake. I formed them into the shape of X and covered him with fondant. I used store bought fondant and several different colors of gel paste food coloring. This was my first attempt at sculpted rice krispie treats, and I think he was just adorable. No one ate him, and it took me forever to throw him away cause he was just too cute!

The word fondant in French means "melting". Fondant is made from gelatin or agar and food grade glycerin which creates its dough-like consistency. It can also be easily made at home with melted marshmallows and powdered sugar. Rolled fondant, which is seen above and used to cover cakes, is rolled out like pie crust, but with powdered sugar or corn starch instead of flour.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ariel Cake

I was asked to make a cake almost exactly like my daughter L's 3rd birthday cake last weekend. Charlotte, a friend of L's turned 3 last week. The cake was for her awesome princess party last weekend. It was lots of fun and the cake was a big hit. It is not often that I get to be there when people, other than my family, eat my decorated cakes. It was quite a treat :)

It was decided that we would do a round princess cake and a 12 inch round cake. The princess barbie doll cakes are super easy to make if you have the right bowl. There are two bowls that a lot of people have in their kitchen that are just perfect for this cake. There is the Pampered Chef classic batter bowl or the stainless steel bowl for a KitchenAid mixer. (Wilton sells a pan specifically for this, but that just seems like a waste of money to me.) The KitchenAid mixer bowl would probably yield a larger cake. I ended up with a huge mess because I put an entire recipe of my chocolate cake in the batter bowl, and it ended up spilling all into my oven. What a mess!!! Luckily, I caught it pretty quickly and put a sheet pan under it. The 12 inch cake was a white almond flavored cake. She ended up with a ton of cake left over, but you never want to run out of cake, right?

I used countless pastry bags decorating this cake. I lost count, but I think I had somewhere around 12 different colors in decorating bags around my kitchen. This is the reason that I buy the disposable pastry bags. They are not terribly cheap, but oh so convenient when you are using 10 or more colors per cake.

Many recipes for cake call for cake flour. Cake flour is very finely milled flour made from soft wheat. It has a very low protein content which makes it perfect for tender cakes and cookies. Other flours with higher protein content would make for a much tougher cake. There are ways to substitute all purpose flour for cake flour, like taking out 2 tbsp of all purpose flour per cup of flour. Some people even say to then add 2 tbsp corn starch. While this may work in a pinch, cake flour is truly the ideal flour for soft textured cakes.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Almond Torte

It was my sister's birthday a few days ago. She LOVES almond torte. It requires a lot of steps, so I don't make it very often, but I thought I would surprise her for her birthday.

I make my almond tortes in a rectangular shape. At the last job that I had as a pastry chef before my older daughter was born, I made these ALL the time for special orders. I was the pastry chef for a local university that always had special events taking place. People always ordered this for their events.

A lot of people start with a white cake with almond flavoring in it. I prefer to start with a yellow cake. I love yellow cake. I bake a single recipe of yellow cake in a half sheet pan, cut it into three even strips and then layer them with pastry cream. Yum, yum! You can use whatever kind of icing that you like. Since the almonds are toasted with sugar on them, I prefer to use a less sweet icing. I think if you use a really sweet buttercream, the cake is just overwhelmingly sweet. A Swiss buttercream is perfect for this cake in my opinion. I like to buy sliced, blanched almonds for this, but they can be hard to find. I often end up just buying sliced almonds that still have the skin on them. They actually look nice and add a little color to the cake. Just sprinkle some water and sugar on the almonds and toast in the oven. Make sure you check them often though because they go from perfect to burnt very, very quickly. These sugared, toasted almonds are irresistible to me. I cannot stop eating them. I have to get them on the cake quickly once they cool, or I would eat all of them :)

Almonds are not technically nuts but actually drupes. They consist of an outer hull and a hard shell. Inside the shell is the seed or "nut". When an almond is blanched it means that it has been dipped in hot water so that the seedcoat or skin can be easily removed. In the US, almonds are mainly produced in California. They are California's third leading agricultural product.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Scones are not one of my favorite things. I would never order one when I go out. To me, they are often dry. However, a little while back at playgroup, a friend of mine made REALLY delicious scones. I asked her for the recipe and tried them recently. My hubby LOVED them!

As I mentioned, one of the moms in my playgroup had made some exceptional scones a few months ago. I asked her for the recipe. It ended up being a generic scone recipe that you can alter any way that you like. The recipe is pretty simple to make. You mix up the dry ingredients and cut in the fat. Then you combine the wet ingredients and add it to the dry ingredients. You do this all by hand. No mixer involved. I believe that the recipe called for buttermilk, but my friend told me that she had used Kefir. I had never purchased Kefir before but bought it to try in this recipe. I bought the plain and ended up using it in my buttermilk waffle recipe too. It was a great, healthy alternative to buttermilk that made everything that I used it in extra tender. Anyway, the thing that made her scones so yummy was a combination of almond paste and my old favorite, Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. This combination was so delicious. And it can be used in many different applications like muffins, cakes, or even cookies.

Scones are small quick breads of Scottish origin. Originally, the scone was round and flat and about the size of a medium plate. It was made with oats and baked on a griddle, then cut into triangles before being served. When baking powder became available to the masses, scones began to be the oven baked, leavened items that we are familiar with today.