Monday, September 27, 2010

Birthday Cake Time!!!

I can't believe it is really here.  My not so tiny anymore son is turning three in a week.  So of course he needs to have three birthday celebrations.  One in Gainesville with his friends, one in South Florida with family and friends, and one in ATL with family, friends, and Yo Gabba Gabba!  So, that means it's cake time.  Yummy, fun to make cake time.  But since I have fallen in love with shows like Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss, I can't make just a boring cake.  Nope, it's gotta be crazy. 
It started last year with Connor's 2nd birthday.  I made him a fun guitar shaped cake (since he thinks he's a rock star).  I used buttercream frosting that I tinted, lost of sugar sparkles to make it shine like a sparkly guitar, twizzlers for the strings, gumdrops, and skittles for the accents.  It was so very yummy.  But I wanted to do better.
My dad's 60th birthday this past June was the perfect opportunity to try something new.  Since he's a hippie, a tie dyed cake was a must (even the cake itself was tie dyed...ask me how, and I'll post that simple recipe too).  So, I made a marbled fondant, covered the two layers (the top layer was vegan for my sister and brother-in-law), and then allowed Connor to cut out the flower, smiley faces, and hand giving the peace sign shapes for the cake out of fondant.  He loved this since it was like playing with play-do, and the shapes being not-so-perfect were perfect for a trippy hippie cake.  And of course it had to be topped with 60 sparkler candles...I'm still amazed we didn't burn down my sister's house when we lit it!  The cake was amazing, and even though I flavored the fondant, it still was not so great tasting (as anyone who has tried to eat fondant knows), and I peeled most of it off.

A month later, at Connor's friend Nico's birthday party, his mom Amanda (who is also a cake making fool...and since she's been doing it for quite some time, has it down pat) made this fantastic space cake.  And guess what...the fondant was equally fantastic.  I asked her the secret and it was so simple...marshmellows!  So, the next two cakes I will be making in the next two weeks will be a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse cake and a Toy Story cake...all with Amanda's marshmellow fonadant.  I will make sure to post pics of the cakes as I make them, but for now (and at the request of many), here is the marshmellow fondant recipe:

16 ounces mini-marshmellows
2-5 tbl water
2lbs powdered sugar
1/2 cup shortening

Melt marshmellows  and 2tbl water in a microwavable bowl.  Heat on high 30 seconds, stir, heat another 30 seconds, stir, repeat until completely melted (usually about 2 1/2 minutes).
Pour 3/4 of the powdered sugar on top of the melted marshmellow.
Grease your hands generously with the shortening, and heavily grease the countertop.  Knead the marshmellow mixture a bit in the bowl just so the powdered sugar doesn't fly everywhere when you flip it out onto the counter.
Put the mixture on the greased countertop, and begin to knead it like bread dough.  Knead until it becomes sticky, then add the remaining powdered sugar on top.  Re-grease your hands and counter.  If the fondant is tearing too easily, it means it is too dry, so add about 1/2 tbl of water and knead it in.  Keep kneading and adding water (no more than 5tbl total) until you get a smooth firm elastic ball that stretches without tearing (it usually takes about 8-10 minutes of kneading).
Double wrap the ball in plastic wrap, and let sit overnight (on the counter, not in the fridge!).
Once you have baked your cake, let it cool, and dirty iced it (about 1/4 inch coating of buttercream frosting works great for this), you are ready to use your fondant.
First decide what size you need the fondant to be:
For an 8" 1 layer round cake, roll it out to a 15" circle.  For a 9" x 13"1 layer cake, roll it out to a 20" x 16" rectangle.
Now, sprinkle a little cornstarch on the countertop, and rub it in to prevent the fondant from sticking (you can use powdered sugar instead).  Knead the fondant a bit to soften it back up and to incorporate any excess shortening that may be on the outside.  If it is too hard to knead, you can microwave it for 10 seconds to warm it up and soften it a bit (don't heat it too long, as it has a high sugar content and can get very hot and/or begin to cook).  Add any food gel coloring to the fondant as needed, and knead it well to incorporate the color (unless you want it to look marbled).
Shape the fondant in a basic shape of the cake (in a disk for a round cake, log for a rectangle, etc).
Using a nonstick rolling pin, begin to roll out the fondant on the powdered counter top (or a nonstick roulpat mat).  Roll it out to about 1/8" thick or more (if you go thinner, you may see thru it too much).  When it is to the size you need, roll the fondant on to the rolling pin like a roll of fabric with the end hanging off.  Place the end of the fondant just past the bottom edge of the cake, and then slowly unroll it off the rolling pin and onto the cake.  You should have some overhang over the cake edges.
Lightly sprinkle powdered sugar over the top (not too much or else you'll have white streaks), and using a buffing motion, smooth out the fondant on the top and sides, leveling it and sticking it to the frosting (very little pressure is needed to smooth out any imperfections).  Make sure to also push the fondant into the bottom sides of the cake into the cake board.
Once you have smoothed it all out, use a pizza cutter at a 45* angle, and trim around the bottom removing any excess fondant.  If you need to do any excess shaping, now is the best time, before the fondant hardens any more.
This fondant will hold in moisture for 3-5 days, but of course it's best to serve as soon as possible to make it as fresh and tasty as it can be.
****BIG MAJOR NOTE!!!***** Due to the nature of marshmellows, don't refrigerate this cake.  When you take it out of the fridge, moisture will condense and destroy the glossy surface.  The best option is to store it in a sealed bakery box.  The cardboard will keep dirt and dust off the cake, and allow the fondant to breathe.

So hope you love this recipe as much as I do!
In the next week, I will post the recipe for chocolate marshmellow fondant (a must have if you are doing a black or dark brown fondant) as well as my recipe for moldable chocolate (great for doing figures & shaping stiffer things than fondant can handle).  I'll also post the finished pictures of the 2 cakes as I make them in the next 2 weeks.  Wish me luck!!!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

You Do Know the Muffin WOman Part 2

Okay, so at playgroup today, I brought out the muffins, and they were a hit.  Thanks to one of my favorite little piggies Lochlen, a bunch were demolished so I won't have to eat them all and gain a gazillion pounds!  So, as promised, here is the recipe for the Strawberry Cream Muffins (which by the way taste like a cross between a muffin and a cheesecake...mmmmm cheesecake).

1 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 & 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp almond extract
1 tsp lemon rind (I used the dried bottled kind by McCormick, and it added just the right touch)
2 large eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup diced into very small pieces ripe strawberries (I cut mine up first, let them sit overnight in the fridge till they were almost mushy, helps make them super ripe and super sweet...or you can use defrosted frozen ones to save time)

4oz softened cream cheese
1 & 1/2 tbl beaten egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 & 1/2 tbl egg, and 1/4 tsp vanilla.  Mix until creamy and smooth.
Melt the butter slowly in a pot on low heat.  Add the vanilla, almond, and milk.  Stir into the butter, warming until blended.  Remove from the heat, and cool until just warm, then mix in the 2 eggs.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon rind until blended evenly.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour in the butter/milk mixture.  Blend until just combined, but don't overmix as the batter should be lumpy.
Using a well greased or non stick silicone muffin pan, fill 12 regular sized muffin cups 1/3 full.
Scatter 1/2 cup of the diced strawberries on the top of the batter.
Using a small spoon, dab about a teaspoonful of the cream cheese mixture on top of the strawberries.
Fill the muffin cups with the remaining muffin batter (they will be almost filled to the rim).
On top of the batter, scatter the remaining 1/2 cup of diced strawberries, pushing them in very slightly. 
Sprinkle the struesel mixture from the orange juice muffin recipe on top.
Bake the muffins in a preheated oven at 400* for 15 minutes, until they are light golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean. 
Take them out of the oven, let them cool slightly, and then once again, try not to each the batch of these yummy warm muffins!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

You Do Know the Muffin WOman

For some reason lately, I've been in the mood for muffins. And not just the run of the mill blueberry kind. I'm talking fresh from the oven bakery kind. But, since I love to bake, I set out to make my own. So today I made orange juice cranberry muffins and strawberry cream muffins. Man oh man are the delish!!!! So I figured I'd be nice and share my recipes with you guys. So here is the Orange Juice Cranberry muffin recipe I came up with...hope you love them too!

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp grated orange rind
1 & 1/2 fresh squeezed orange juice (if you don't use fresh squeezed, then use 1 cup frozen concentrate with pulp & 1/2 cup water, but the fresh squeezed is so much yummier)
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup dried cranberries (craisins)

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, and orange rind. Stir it all together to make sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Make a well in the center, and pour in the orange juice, egg, and oil. Stir the mixture together just enough so that the flour is moist. Add the craisins and mix together, but don't over mix it as the batter should be lumpy. Pour the batter into 12 either greased or non-stick silicone muffin tins. If you are going to use the struesel topping listed below, then sprinkle that on top now. Bake at 400* for about 15-20 minutes until they are nicely browned on top. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, and then try not to eat all these yummy warm muffins in one sitting.

In the picture above, I used a simple icing, but I have used the struesel topping as well, and both taste great with this muffin.

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbl milk
1 tbl vanilla bean paste

Combine in a small bowl, and then drizzle over warm muffins

1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 & 1/2 tbl melted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Blend all ingredients together with a fork until it is coarse and crumbly. Sprinkle on top of muffin before baking.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Halloween jewelry in the works

So now that Labor Day is out of the way, I realize (thanks to my son telling me daily of his new costume ideas for the whole family) that my favorite holiday is just around the corner. I guess it's time to start thinking up some Halloween themed jewelry ideas. I have a bunch stewing, including some that would be great accent pieces for costumes. Other ideas are for some great holiday charm bracelets, candy corn inspired jewelry, and more. Plus I'm thinking up some pieces inspired by my favorite Horror flicks...would love some input on this one. So please comment and let me know your fav Halloween time flick, and what jewelry makes you think of it

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Yummy homemade Carribean food

So, in my (much) younger days I worked at Bahama Breeze in Alpharetta, Ga. You expect a chain restaurant to have just decent food, yet this place was amazing! Ever since I moved away, I have craved many things from their menu, especially since I don't have one anywhere even close to me. Yet recently I found something out...they post recipes to many of their dishes online! Yes, you heard me...a restaurant posts their recipes online...for free. I guess they figure you will still come in anyway for their other great food, the convenience of not having to cook, plus the atmosphere is fun too. But for those of us who don't have that luxury (and love to cook), check out Bahama Breeze's awesome website for all sorts of yummy foods that make you feel like you are sitting on a beach.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hooked on Phonics worked for me!

Ok, so let me preface this with one "fact" almost 3 year old son is a genius. But then again what parent doesn't think this about their child? He started talking at 1 year old, before he could even walk, and now we can't get him to be quiet for even a second. So, since I absolutely love to read, I decided it would be my mission to teach him early. I tried all the little tricks. I read to him constantly, pointing out very word so he'd start to get a sense of word recognition. I even tried the "My Baby Can Read" system. Luckily I just got the starter kit, cause it was a waste of time. All it teaches kids is to memorize a word on a flashcard. Great if you want to use a flashcard for every word in Webster's Dictionary! So, we got the entire Hooked on Phonics set this past Decemebr. He had just recently turned 2, and it states it is for pre-school age starting at around 3-4 year olds, but we began it anyway. He loved the DVDs, and how they had a song for every letter teaching him the corresponding phonetic sound. So this week I broke down and took out the Kindergarden lesson, which is the beginning of the actual reading portion. We started lesson 1 on Tuesday which covers three letter words ending in -an, -at, and -ap. Needless to say, he is already reading every three letter word with those endings we show him, even when we mix them up. Now don't get me wrong, my son has the typical 3 year old attention span of a flea, yet for the five minutes we can actually get him to sit still and pay attention, he is getting every one right!

So, if you are looking for a system that works, don't waste your money on any of those gimmicky ones that promise your kid can read right out of the womb. Invest in Hooked on really did work for me!