Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blueberry Pie

My husband's uncle had a birthday yesterday. He LOVES pie, and last year I made him pumpkin pie. This year I decided to make him blueberry pie because he absolutely loves it. Of course, I made an extra one since they are my favorite too.

There is nothing like a fresh berry pie. Blueberries tend to turn somewhat bitter during the baking process, so a fair amount of sugar is necessary when baking a blueberry pie to allow them to retain their sweetness. A lot of fruit pies, like apple or peach, require time to macerate in the sugar before being baked. Blueberries, however, do not, so this is a fairly quick pie to make. I always make my pie dough way ahead of time so that it has a lot of time to chill. Pie dough is best when it is super cold. So, I made that the night before. All in all, it took me about 10 minutes to get these pies in the oven. If you are not experienced with pastry, it may take you a little longer to get the dough rolled, but with a little practice, you could whip up some pies very quickly too :) The berries are a nice blend of sweet and tart. A little bit of lemon zest make this filling just divine with the crumbly, somewhat salty pie dough. I could eat blueberry pie after every single meal, happily :)

If you are someone who likes fruit desserts, the best tip that I can give you is to buy fruit when it is in season and freeze it yourself. It may not actually be fresh, but I can guarantee you the quality is better than what you can buy already frozen at the grocery stores. The fruit that you can buy in bags in the grocery store is called IQF, or individually quick frozen. That means that the fruit was laid out in a single layer and frozen very quickly in a blast chiller. This prevents them from sticking to each other. Never buy a bag that is just one solid clump. That means that it most likely thawed and was re-frozen at some point. You definitely do not want that fruit. That is why if you freeze it yourself, you have a lot of control over how the fruit is treated in the freezing process. I just prep the fruit how I would for a pie, lay it out in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze it. Once it is frozen completely, I put it in a freezer bag and label it. So, if you find an exceptionally good batch of Chambersburg peaches, go ahead, buy a bunch. Now you can have peach turnovers, pie, dumplings or whatever you like all winter long when you cannot buy a decent peach.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fresh Beat Band Cake

I was asked if I could do a Fresh Beat cake. When I first read this in an email, I read it as Fresh Beet being that I had never heard of The Fresh Beat Band. I reread the email because I knew this cake was for a 5 year old girl and I thought fresh beet cake might be an odd choice. While I myself, and most likely my kids too, would love a fresh beet cake, most people contact me for a cake with a character or something of the like on it for their kid's birthday parties. I was right to reread this email. Apparently, Fresh Beat Band is a very popular show :)

I did a little research on the show and realized that they are real people. I am not quite that talented to make real people out of fondant, so I decided to just do a cute little guitar to replicate one that one of the characters plays on the show. She asked for dark purple icing because she loves purple so much, but the other colors on the cake were based on the logo for the show. One of the things that baffled me about the cake, however, was how to do the strings on the guitar. It takes a lot of practice to be able to pipe super skinny strings. It is a skill that I have not yet mastered. My wonderful husband suggested that I do the strings out of fondant. I thought it was a great idea, but was a little nervous about moving them onto the cake for fear that they may break. My wonderful husband then offered to make the strings for me. I knew it would be quite time consuming to make these super skinny fondant strings that were strong enough to be moved around. It took him a while to do, but he did it, and I think they were fantastic. All in all, I was proud of the cake. I thought it was super cute, and I know the vanilla cake and French buttercream tasted yummy :)

Have you ever experimented with different extracts or flavorings? If you have a nicely stocked baking cabinet, you most likely have several different flavorings. You can change your vanilla white cake to a white almond cake easily if you have almond extract. You can turn your simple yellow cake into a lemon cake by adding a few drops of lemon extract. You may not always have a fresh lemon, but it's easy to keep a bottle of lemon extract in your cabinet. Just make sure you buy the best extracts and flavorings that you can. Obviously, "immitation" flavorings or extracts are not going to yield as good of a flavor as the real thing. They can often lead to off flavors along with undesirable, underlying alcohol flavors.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Piano Cake

Before I start my blog post today, I would like to say that my family suffered a loss of a family member almost 2 weeks ago. His presence was greatly missed at L's birthday party this past weekend. This post is dedicated to Mark who will forever live on in our memories.

My older daughter turned 4 recently. I absolutely cannot believe it. We had her birthday party last weekend. At first she said that she wanted a guitar cake, but since she takes piano lessons, I asked if she would rather have a piano cake. She said yes, so a piano cake I made.

I always make some white, almond cake and some chocolate cake for my kids' birthday parties. I just like to have a little of each flavor for everyone to choose, although most people have a little bit of both. I decided to do chocolate icing this time around for several reasons. I thought that I could just use the chocolate icing to ice the piano so that I would not have to use a bunch of food coloring. Plus, my chocolate icing does not need to be refrigerated. We have a teeny tiny refrigerator and I knew this huge cake would not fit in it with all the other food for the party. I cleared this with L first, and she excitedly said that she would definitely like chocolate icing! I carved up the white cake in the shape of a grand piano and iced it with my chocolate buttercream. I always consult with my husband on cake design because he is superb at coming up with great and interesting ideas. I was not quite sure how to do the piano keys. After talking it over with him, I decided to use white chocolate and dark chocolate for the keys. I think it turned out very well, and my girl was happy with it. Plus, it was quite yummy :)

Birthday cakes have been a part of western culture since the middle of the 19th century. The addition of the candles to the cake began in America in the 18th century. The use of cakes at birthday celebrations however, dates back to Ancient Rome. Originally, birthday cakes were reserved for only the wealthy. Many variations on the birthday cake or in some instances the birthday pastry exist around the world.