Archive for August 2009

You put the lime in the coconut!

August 28, 2009

I’m a chocolate loving girl. I tend to think a dessert doesn’t qualify as dessert if there isn’t chocolate in there somewhere. This is why I am so reluctant to try any recipe that doesn’t include some kind of chocolate. But I’m trying to be more adventurous and open-minded as of late, so I am determined to seek out other treats.

So I was excited this week when a little gem showed up in my email in-box. It was a recipe for Martha Stewart’s Key Lime Coconut Bars. I recently signed up for Martha’s “Cookie of the Day” emails and have been receiving all kinds of yummy recipes that I can’t wait to try. I went shopping for the ingredients for the the bars the very next day!

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Even though I live in Florida, I did not find key limes or key lime juice. I know our grocery store carries it, but apparently not on the day I was shopping. I substituted regular limes and juice, which the recipe states is an alternative. I honestly don’t know what a difference in flavor the key limes would make, but I will try that in the future.

The crust for the bars is a pastry crust and the dough can be made using either a pastry cutter or two knives. Well I tossed out my pastry cutter a few years ago after a very frustrating and extremely unsuccessful attempt at making apple pie. I swore to never make another pie crust again and the cutter went straight into the garbage…such is the temper I have! I tried using two knives to cut the dough as suggested by Martha. It was a mess and I was starting to get really aggravated when I had one of those clever “light bulb” moments. I dug out my potato masher and used it instead. It did the job, but man it was a workout on my forearms and biceps! I made a mental note to purchase another pastry cutter.

I sprayed the pan with non-stick spray, but in retrospect I should have lined it with foil to make it easier to remove the bars for cutting. I was still able to cut them fairly easily using a pizza cutter. I have found that the pizza cutter works really well on bar desserts and is faster and less messy than using a knife.

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The end result is that I was really happy with these Key Lime Coconut Bars. The toasted coconut added just the right crunch to these creamy little bites. I realized after tasting them, that these are basically mini key lime pies with coconut added. In fact, when I looked up a recipe for Key Lime Pie, it was almost identical. While the powdered sugar sprinkled on top was tasty, I think they would be even better with a spoonful of whipped cream.

As usual, the majority of these goodies were sent to work with my husband to share with his coworkers. He is not a fan of key lime pie and wasn’t sure if these would go over well. He was surprised (and I was quite pleased) that his coworkers went crazy for these and they did not last long! So if you are in the mood for a taste of tropical Florida in a yummy little treat, definitely give these a try!

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The perfect classic cupcake

August 22, 2009

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I found it! The perfect vanilla cupcake recipe!

Over the past few months, I’ve tried a few yellow or vanilla cake recipes with varying success. When I made cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday earlier this summer(see Cupcakes), I was not completely happy with the yellow ones. I really wanted to find the recipe for THE ONE and I did… all thanks to Magnolia Bakery in NYC.

While I’ve never actually been to the bakery, I’ve read many great things about their incredible cupcakes. Perhaps one day I will be lucky enough to make the trip from Florida and try one of their delicious cupcakes, but for now I’m happy just to have found the recipe. It turns out that they also have several cookbooks, so that is something to add to my wish list!

This vanilla cupcake recipe (courtesy of the Food Network) is super simple and super delicious. I ended up making one change out of necessity. The recipe calls for all butter, but I didn’t have enough so I had to substitute 1/2 shortening and 1/2 butter. I’m not sure how much better it would have been with all butter, but I will have to try that another day. As it was, these cupcakes baked up perfectly…golden, light and fluffy. They were yummy the day I baked them, the day after I baked them and even the day after that! I did end up eating quite a few of them, but I also sent some home with a friend in order to pass on the cupcake love.

Magnolia’s says that their most popular cupcake is the vanilla with vanilla buttercream. While I’m sure their vanilla buttercream is wonderful, I wanted chocolate. Vanilla with chocolate is such a classic cake combination that conjures up sweet memories of the cakes my mother used to bake me. I found the recipe for their chocolate buttercream on the Recipe Zaar’s website. This is another easy recipe that turns out a silky, creamy and wonderfully chocolaty frosting. I used it earlier this year on a baptism cake for my daughters and was so happy with it that I couldn’t wait to make it again. I will caution you that this frosting is best served at room temperature as it gets too firm when cold. If you chill your cakes with the frosting, remove them at least 30 minutes to an hour prior to serving so it will soften up.

I’m curious to see how this vanilla cupcake recipe would bake up as a regular cake. I’m hoping it will maintain the same light and fluffy texture on a sweet layer cake overflowing with chocolate buttercream. But I will have to save that adventure for another day!

Cake pop trials & tribulations

August 13, 2009

If you know what a cake pop is then you undoubtedly know who Bakerella is. I don’t think she invented the cake pop, but since she started making the cutest ones on the planet, they have become synonymous with her name. My friend Sheila directed me to her blog earlier this year and I fell in love with the adorable cake pops she had made for Easter. I immediately wanted to try my hand at them…so I did.

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For my first time making these, it actually went fairly well. While these don’t even remotely compare with Bakerella’s, I was pretty proud of them. It was this positive experience that gave me a false sense of confidence that would soon be my undoing.

I immediately decided I was going to start making cake pops for everything…birthdays, holidays…every occasion was going to have a cake pop to go along with it! I am walking in the Alzheimer’s Association’s Memory Walk this year and thought that selling cake pops would be a great fundraising idea. So before I’d even had a chance to try making a few more cake pops, I contacted the director of our local chapter and promised to make 200 cake pops to sell the morning of the walk. Yes, that’s right…200 cake pops! She was thrilled of course!

With my cake pop making confidence in full gear, I offered to make them for Sheila’s daughter’s 2nd birthday party. She had turned me onto the things after all, how could I not? I’m not sure what went wrong with that second attempt, other than everything! It was a complete disaster. Suffice to say, there were no cake pops at that party. Thankfully, I had also made the birthday cake so the missing pops weren’t too much of a let down.

But I have really started worrying about those 200 cake pops that I am supposed to make in November. I have nightmares of what it’s going to be like in the days leading up to the walk. Do you remember the candy making episode of I Love Lucy? That’s basically what I’m envisioning…but without the laugh track.  I knew I needed to try to make them again.

This time, there is no pressure…no holiday, no event…just me and some cake. Things start off well…cute little chocolate cake balls, armed with their paper sticks…

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Then when I begin to dip into the candy coating, things start to get ugly. One by one the brave little chocolate balls begin to lose their footing and slip off the sticks. I try gently tap-a tap-a tapping the way Bakerella has explained in her cake pop tutorial. Nope…the little suckers continue to fall off. Right around pop #7, remembering my last failed attempt, I begin to wonder if Bakerella is some sort of sorceress with magical baking powers. I cannot fathom how her pops look so absolutely perfect and mine look like they have been chewed and then spit back out!

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Then just when I’m ready to swear off cake pops forever, a few things begin to click. First, the size of the cake ball is extremely important. I notice that the smaller ones are easier to dip into the candy as they don’t get as heavy. A diameter of about an inch is just right…no bigger.

Second, you have to be FAST. You can’t dip the cake ball and then linger around, rolling it back and forth to get a good coating. No, no, no…you have to MOVE! Cake ball in, swirl once, tap gently and get out! If you don’t get it right…don’t look back…move on, there’s no saving that pop now.

Finally, the melted candy coating has to be in a container deep enough to completely submerge the cake ball in one plunge…no double dipping. If you don’t heed the above advice, this is what you have to look forward to…

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In the end, I get about three that I’m not embarrassed of…

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I think I have learned enough from this attempt to give it another try. I’m still not convinced that Bakerella doesn’t possess some sort of magical powers. And I’m still not sure how I’m going to get good enough to whip up 200 of these babies without said powers…but we will see. Stay tuned!

For the love of cheesecake!

August 4, 2009

My husband absolutely adores blueberries and is always asking me to bake something with them. I’m not a huge fan of them as I prefer chocolate in almost every dessert, so I never grant his requests (sorry honey). But for his special days, I try to make him happy, although I do admit I have selfishly made him a chocolate dessert that I loved instead. Granted, I’ve never heard a complaint out of him, but this year for Father’s day I decided to make the ultimate dessert for him…blueberry cheesecake!

I hunted for the perfect recipe and finally found it at epicurious.com. I read the many reviews and I couldn’t wait to try it. I love websites that offer reviews for recipes. Many times I get tips on what works or doesn’t work with a recipe and find it’s a great way to learn from others’ mistakes or avoid flaws in a poorly written recipe.

I was thrilled with the results on my first attempt. This recipe turns out a fantastic cheesecake…creamy and rich!

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But blueberry cheesecake wouldn’t be complete without blueberries of course!

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After reading the ingredients for the blueberry topping in the recipe, I decided I didn’t want to try the blueberry all-fruit preserves mixed with fresh blueberries. I wanted this cheesecake topped with nothing but fresh blueberries. Instead, I made the following topping:

  • 3 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Mix 2 cups of the blueberries, sugar & cornstarch in a pot on high until boiling. Boil for 3 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 1 cup of blueberries. Let cool completely. Pour onto cake and let set in the fridge for at least 2 hours (this does not include the cooling/refrigeration time for the cheesecake itself).

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Is that a gorgeous cheesecake or what?

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A little whipped topping is a nice finishing touch! Needless to say, my honey was quite happy with his Father’s day dessert. I think this one will keep his blueberry requests at bay for awhile!

Cupcakes make a splash!

August 3, 2009

My beautiful daughter turned three this July. She is a summer baby, so we celebrated with a backyard splash party. Since the party was going to be outside and the children ranged in age from 15 months to 4 years old,  I opted to keep dessert simple and serve cupcakes.  Kids love cupcakes and who can blame them? Cute little individual cakes wrapped in pretty paper are fun and festive!

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Since I know kids can be picky and I like to please as many palates as possible, I decided to make both chocolate and yellow cupcakes. For the chocolate cake, I went with Martha Stewart’s super easy recipe One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes. This was my first time trying this recipe and I was not dissapointed. These cupcakes baked up perfectly and were moist and yummy with a rich chocolaty flavor. I will definitely make this recipe  again in the future.

For the yellow cupcakes, I used a yellow cake recipe I found on Bakerella’s blog. Her blog is always full of creative and inspiring ideas and I love her beautiful photographs as well. I had used this recipe previously for a birthday cake and my daughters’ baptism cake. Both times, the recipe turned out such a flavorful and moist cake that I knew they would be perfect for cupcakes.

I did not have as much success using the recipe for cupcakes. I made half the recipe and it produced about 18 cupcakes, but I ended up making the recipe twice because I wasn’t happy with the first batch. The problem was that the batter’s volume practically doubles in the oven. In the first attempt, I filled the paper liners too much and ended up with only a dozen cupcakes. The batter expanded so much that the cupcakes were huge, but the tops were completely flat…little cakes with Frisbees on top. On the second attempt, I filled the liners just to the halfway point and the results were a little better and produced 18 cupcakes. But the tops were still kind of flat, not round and pretty like the chocolate ones. They did taste great, but in the future I will find a yellow cake recipe that holds up better for cupcakes.

For the frosting, I used my trusty Wilton’s Buttercream Icing recipe. I doubled the recipe and then divided it into 3 parts, tinting one hot pink, one yellow, and one aqua. My intention was to fill the cupcakes with cream filing. I have done this in the past and they are so tasty with a little sweet surprise in the middle. But I used a new recipe (something you should never do for the first time when baking for a special occasion) and I absolutely hated the results. Normally, the cream filling is very similar to the buttercream frosting and is easy to insert into the cupcakes using a pastry bag and decorating tip. But this recipe called for corn syrup and the cream was so gooey that it was next to impossible to fill the cupcakes with. It just squished out of the top of the pastry bag and made a giant mess so I didn’t bother with it.

But the cupcakes’ finishing touch, the “pièce de résistance”, was definitely the fondant decorations I made for the them. I wanted these to be extra special since they were for my little girl’s birthday, so I had to do something fun to decorate them. I purchased Wilton’s Ready to use Rolled Fondant. I personally don’t care for the taste of fondant, but using it for small decorations is great because you can just pick them off before you eat it. Because the party invitations featured them, I made adorable little flip flops and bathing suits out of  the fondant. I got the idea after seeing various photos of the flip flops on flickr.com which led me to this You Tube video demonstrating how to make them. Whoever first thought of turning a butterfly into a pair of flip flops was just super creative! For the bathing suits, I simply cut out rectangles from the fondant and trimmed them to resemble a child’s bathing suit.

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My daughter took one look at these cupcakes and loved them! At three years old, this was the first birthday that she was truly excited about. She looked forward to her party for weeks and had so much fun helping me plan it. I don’t know who was more excited to celebrate her birthday…her or me!