Monday, August 22, 2016

Surprise Inside Spider Cake

I know. I know. I'm WAAAYYY early for Halloween this year. 
Not really.
Oh what a tangled web we weave . . . 

I made this last fall but neglected to post it here for you.  Worst. Blogger. Ever.

Details: a chocolate cake spider in fluffy white cake inside a web covered lair.
The exterior was inspired by The Cake Blog.
Except that I *thought it might be a good idea* to use white chocolate over
ganache for the web rather than marshmallows. Mistake. BIG MISTAKE.
You can't really cut through a brittle chocolate web with any degree of grace.
Even with a hot knife. Use the marshmallows. Trust me on this one.

The spider on the exterior is hand piped black Candy Melts covered in jet black sparkling sugar.
Scary. I don't really care for spiders. Especially the hairy ones. Good news: the scariest part of
making this cake was trying to keep that black sanding sugar from falling all over the white web.

Here he (or she?) is.
All posed and ready to spring on the unsuspecting guests.

Hope this inspires you to spring into action and start thinking  about your very own scary treats menu. It's really not too early. The spiders on our property have been furiously stringing up webs on every possible surface for months. It'll be here before we know it!

Happy Haunting!!!


Friday, July 8, 2016

Rhubarb Pie & Almond Rhubarb Chevron Bars

Rhubarb. I'm sure I had it in a pie paired with strawberries in my youth. Not my
favorite but my hubby not-so-secretly lusts for pies so we gave the recipe from
The Barefoot Contessa a try this 4th of July. Turned out a little runnier than I'd
hoped for but overall not bad.

Still oh-so-hopeful as I brushed on the egg wash.

And even while it was baking. Although you can start to see the pond of juice forming.

When it was baked and had cooled for a couple of hours to hopefully firm up, (never
happened) I removed at least a fourth cup of juice and 3 slices. You know, to taste.
It finally started to look more like what I'd hoped for. Except for the soggy lattice at the
top. Next time I'd use more cornstarch or drain the juice after the fruit had been sugared
and setting for a bit. Still quite yummy in the flavor department although not exactly a
feast for the eyes.

While someone else (ahem) has eaten all but one slice of pie, I've been saving my appetite / 
calories for these delicious looking Almond Rhubarb Picnic Bars instead. Amazing just how
much pie can disappear when someone "neatens up" the edges. Does this happen at your
house too? My husband is an expert in this area. And not just self-proclaimed. I learned that
he is guilty of the same behavior in the office kitchen.

Moving on . . . it proved a little difficult to locate fresh rhubarb here this time of year but when 
I did, I couldn't wait to give these a try. The chevron pattern intrigued me and I love the blend
from light green to deep pink.  Here's a shot of the original recipe by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen.

My bars weren't so lucky. The recipe said to top the baked bars with either powdered sugar
or jelly. I ended up choosing seedless strawberry jam since nearly all of the color baked out
of the rhubarb and ended up being more monochromatic than the gentle ombre in the original.
You can see one outburst of red in the lower corner and hints of green but the jam was really
the only other option to try and bring some color back to the plate.

Hubby is on his way home so we'll wait to give them a try so he can properly neaten
up those squares. We'll let you know how they stood up to his taste test!

Pretty certain he won't even notice the color or lack thereof. Stay tuned . . .



Monday, July 4, 2016

Surprise Inside Patriotic Pinwheel Ice Cream Cake

Happy Birthday America!!!

Hope you're enjoying some cake and ice cream to help celebrate the occasion!

This cake has you covered for both. Which is why I couldn't decide between the
fork or the spoon as the appropriate tool. Or just your tongue.

Cake pinwheels hidden inside the most delicious and creamy vanilla-y vanilla ice
cream. The best news is that it uses store bought ice cream instead of cake for
the white background. Step away from the oven and put down those oven mitts!
Well, not completely. The pinwheels had to be baked.

The bad news is two-fold. 1) I didn't anticipate that the vibrant red frosting would
leave a pink streak when cutting the frozen slices with a hot knife. The Swiss
meringue butter cream took an unusually large amount of both super red and
burgundy to get the color I was after. Which brings us to number 2) Color. What
WAS I thinking?!?! Actually . . . I was thinking a more trendy blue would be fun.
But I lost my nerve when it came to the flag exterior. It was wrong. Next time I
would do the inside blue the same as the outside. Shield your eyes from the
offensive blue pinwheel!

The shot above was taken after the cake went back to the freezer during the first
photography session. Working with ice cream is a little trickier than regular cake.
Kinda reminds me of Hans Solo being frozen but that's another cake all together,
now isn't it?

The frosting style was inspired by this burlap ribbon flag project

I fell in love with the way the folds piled over each other. The original plan was to
use smooth stripes but the ridged side of the piping tip won out.

Wilton basket weave tip #47 did the trick and was just the right size for the planned
number of stripes. Did I say *planned??? One more stripe was "planned" but since
WHEN do things EVER go according to plan? I removed one stripe and soldiered on.

The stars are made from bright white candy melts but regular old white chocolate
would've matched the frosting much better. Okay. So the problems were at least
three-fold. You caught me. At least I always learn from my mistakes. Most of the time.
make a LOT of mistakes. So I'm getting pretty darned smart. One would think.

Hope you're smart enough to cool off with some ice cream & enjoy the rest of your 4th!

miss smarty pants (aka Deborah)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Surprise Inside Spring Butterfly Flight Cake

Happy SPRING!!! These guys flew into my mind a while back . . . 

. . . and eventually ended up landing inside this moist and creamy white chocolate and cream cheese cake.

Sorry to say that I didn't save the source and can't read the watermark. So unfortunately I'm unable to link to the creator of this beauty.
The exterior was going to be white like the inspiration photo. And the colors were going to be all soft and pretty.

But then I got moss in my hair and on my brain and this is what really happened. The outside was SO simple! Moss colored cake crumbs and wafer paper butterflies.  

The colors are a bit brighter than I'd hoped for. One day I'll learn. Hopefully. Hope YOU are enjoying warmer days and bright butterfly sightings where ever you are!


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Speckled Easter Eggs


Just finished this year's Easter projects. And delivered them all. And it's still not Easter! Hooray. Ahead of the game for today at least.


Decided to try and up the game with a bit nicer presentation and the blue and brown were just the look I was after. 


The cardboard bakery boxes, not so much. What a difference the right package can make! I still needed to transport 6 dozen of the minis so the bakery boxes came in handy for an office that usually devours the goodies without noticing any fancy boxes.

Last year I made these rustic speckled Easter egg cake pop sort of thingys. They didn't have the traditional addition of frosting to cake crumbs but instead were made from cake and chocolate. Surprisingly moist. And delicious. I wasn't thrilled with the presentation but the taste more than made up for it.

Along with the larger eggs for regular sized cupcakes, I made some mini eggs to fit on . . . you guessed it . . . mini cupcakes. Love the way the dark brown set off the blue in this freebee box from CookieCon.


Here's a close up. The crumbs were a mixture of colored sugar cookies and dyed graham crackers. I wasn't loving the taste of the grahams so I baked up a batch of extra vanilla-y sugar cookies and colored the dough in shades of greens and brown and pulverized them to bits once they cooled. Avocado and Electric Green seemed to work well together but next time I'd leave out the Leaf Green. It just didn't want to blend in very well with the rest of the green team.
start replacing here

I added a tag so the recipients would know what they were eating. Or about to not eat if they are allergic to peanut butter or chocolate.

The egg shells were made from blue Candy Melts and a little shaved chocolate mixed with chocolate jimmies. I loved them so much that I decided to leave that process alone. To switch it up a little bit, I filled the egg shells with a peanut butter chocolate truffle mixture instead of cake. They ended up as cupcake toppers on square chocolate cupcakes. In keeping with the theme, they were slathered with a light peanut butter frosting and sprinkled with cookie crumb moss. I may or may not have added chocolate syrup during the assembly. Twice. Wanted to make sure they were as moist and tasty as last year.

The square shapes were easier to transport and fit together than regular round ones. 

The cupcakes were then set inside birch boxes. Well. Not boxes really. And not birch. Just card stock strips printed with a white washed wood design. They really helped stabilize the treats which were a bit top heavy after the eggs were added. 

Even a pot can become an Easter basket in a pinch! My wonderful neighbors brought over a yummy pot of soup a couple of days ago so I filled their pan with sweet treats before returning it. The Reese's eggs hidden underneath the brown grass will give them a tiny Easter egg hunt of their own before heading out for Spring Break.

Hope you all have a wonderful Easter with family and friends!!!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Surprise Inside Mini Cupid Cakes

Stupid Cupid? Lover Boy? Angel of Love? Whatever you call him, he's around every corner this time of year! He was most recently spotted lurking inside these mini heart shaped cakes.  

These cute little cupids were made from dark chocolate cake  and surrounded by a moist delicious red velvet cake loaded with chopped maraschino cherries.  

The hearts were slathered with a generous layer of ganache, set on their sides and finished in four different textures.

Couldn't make up my mind between the rustic ganache, cake crumbs, sparkling red sugar or tiny nonpareils. None of the finishes were meant to look perfect since no one's heart remains unscathed after yearly brushes with this little fat man's arrows. No fear this year! In this case they are completely harmless and entirely edible!

Chocolate covered Pocky cookie sticks prevented the arrows from drinking up any moisture from the cake. The arrow end is made from a cherry flavored gummy heart and the opposite end was cut from wafer paper before dry brushing all of the arrow parts with edible silver luster dust. These would make a cute party snack on their own but I heart the way they look when shot thru the cake. Yes. I said I heart. It's the season. Deal with it. Cards, balloons, flowers, candy. What's not to heart?


Monday, December 28, 2015

Organizing Your Cookie Cutter Collection

Have you reached the point where finding that one cutter you need within all of your cookie cutters is more of a task than actually decorating the cookies? Fear not. I arrived at that destination many years ago in a land far, far away. There is hope. I promise.

If you have this happy problem then, 1) you are blessed enough to own lots of great shapes and, 2) it's time to do something to make your life easier.

I realized it was time to get down to some serious organization when I bought the exact same cutter as I already owned (twice!) because I couldn't remember if I'd purchased it previously, had received it as a gift, or if it was just on my want list. There had to be a better way than relying on my already full brain.

I'm so very happy to have resolved this. Not only can I go right to the tub the cutter resides in but I can sit at my computer and know in an instant what size it is. It seems like a lot of work up front but I promise it pays off in spades (or hearts) later on. I keep all of my newly purchased items in a box until I'm ready for a photo shoot. This happens about once or twice a year. You may not suffer from the same cookie cutter collection addiction as I do so your photo sessions may be spread out even more. I both hope you do and hope you don't have this affliction. Because I care about you. And your cutters. And I want so very badly to belong to a group. Even if it's "Cookie Cutters Anonymous."

Let's fix this, shall we? A simple 8-Step Program is all you need.

Step 1: Purchase a grid pattern cutting mat. I like this one.

Step 2: Get all of your cutters out and sort them into categories. I use brown grocery bags with the category name written on the outside for this step. My categories have grown and evolved over the years but they've stayed pretty much the same for more than 10 years now. This is what makes sense in my crazy brain. 

 1) Alphabets Numbers and Text
 2) Animals Farms Barnyard Dog Bones
 3) Babies
 4) Balloons Birthdays Party Packages Bows Bubbles
 5) Baptisms Christenings Confirmations 
 6) Birds Birdcages Bird Houses
 7) Bridal Engagement Shower Wedding 
      (See also: GLASSES for champagne, ALPHABETS NUMBERS for year number, VALENTINES for hearts)
 8) Butterflies Bugs Frogs
 9) Characters Trademarked
10) Clothes Shoes Hats Accessories
11) Clowns Circus Carousels Jesters Wizards Fairies Unicorns Monsters
12) Cowboy Western
13) Fish Shells Lighthouse Summer Pirates
14) Flowers Gardening Umbrella Cactus
15) Fruits Veggies
16) Geometrics and Classic Shapes
17) Gingerbread People Hands Feet
18) Glamour Princess Crowns
19) Glasses Teapots Wine Utensils Food
20) Holidays Alphabetical
      Chinese New Year
      Subcategories: Angels, Bells, Candles, Candy Canes, Christmas gifts & tags, Christmas Trees, Christmas Words, Jingle Bells, Lightbulbs & 
       strands, Nativity, Nutcracker, Ornaments, Other or Mixed sets, Pinecones, Poinsettias, Reindeer, Santa/Sleigh/Suit/etc, Snowflakes, 
       Snowmen, Stockings and Mittens, Wreaths and Holly.      
     Cinco de Mayo
      Fathers Day
      Fourth of July/Maps/Patriotic/Travel
      Groundhog Day
      Halloween/Day of the Dead 
       (See also BUTTERFLIES BUGS FROGS for spiders)
      Mardi Gras
      Mothers Day
      New Years Day
      St Patricks Day
      Valentines Day/Hearts
21) Houses Buildings Churches Fences City Skylines
22) Leaves Acorns Pinecones Trees Natural Landscapes 
       (See also CHRISTMAS re Pinecones & Pine Trees)
23) Mens Hunting Camping
24) Moons Stars Suns Planets Rockets
25) Music
26) Occupations Tools 
       (See also Ballet, Construction, Firemen, Graduation, Office, Office, School, Sewing, etc) 
27) Sports Toys Games Casino
28) Transportation

If you're having trouble deciding which category your cutter belongs in, choose the very first one that comes to mind. Chances are your brain will go back to this same spot when you want to find it again. Something like a cowboy hat could be filed to Clothes Shoes Hats Accessories but it's always going to be used with a Cowboy Western theme so that's where it resides. Same for hard hats being placed in the Occupations Tools bin. But where to put a robot? I used #27 Sports Toys Games Casino but you should use the category that makes the most sense to you.

The photos of some of my cutters and sets are copied to more than one category in the computer files but the actual cutters have to live in only one place. Naming the files allows you to do word searches later on if needed. (Step 5) 

Step 3: Photograph each cutter while on the grid mat to show the exact size. REALLY helps with planning! You don't need a special camera or equipment for this. A camera phone works fine. I place the cutter one inch inside the numbered borders so the numbers won't be blocked by the cutter. To measure I just count the one inch squares or subtract one inch from each side. See the bee cutter photo above.

Step 4: Edit your photos if needed. I usually have to crop and straighten them a little no matter how hard I try to get a straight on shot.

Step 5: Create individual files on your computer for each of the categories above. Name each image so that you can do a word search to bring up all of the heart or alphabet cutters you own. Or any other named cutters you are looking for. Put the image in the proper file and copy it to other files as needed. UPDATE: it is handy to note which category you've stored the actual cutter to in bold text in the file name.

Step 6: Purchase containers for the categories depending on the size you need. Create labels on your computer by typing in the category name, printing to card stock and placing the printout either inside for see thru or by taping to the outside if not using clear containers.

Step 7: Place the contents of the grocery bags used for sorting into the labeled containers.

Step 8: Repeat Steps 2-4 and 7 as needed after CookieCon or any other shopping binge.

Hope this helps get your cutters in order and on your way to the fun part, decorating!!!

I've taken this one step further and created files with same names as my cutter categories but followed the file name with "IDEAS." This was long before Pinterest so you may choose to do some organizing of what inspires you there. This way when you finally get around to making whatever odd cookie that you never knew you were going to need, like a pirate theme, you'll have already saved some cute ideas as you came across them. The only draw back to Pinterest is the sorting and text searching and that's when the plain old computer files win.

I'm in the process of creating a lending library for other cookiers in my area so that someone else might benefit from my sickness. At last count over 4000 cutters reside with me. But that was before CookieCon 2015. The saga continues . . .

Sweet regards,