Sunday, June 15, 2014

Speaking of Birthday Cakes....

Aimee turned one in August which means its been almost an entire year and I haven't shared her first birthday cake (it also means that she is almost two which totally boggles my mind! Of course when I ask Jason if he can believe she is almost two, he quickly say "yes"....typical!). When trying to decide what to do for Aimee's first birthday, we decided to keep it small. Our house is not terribly spacious and I knew I wasn't really ready to rent space somewhere-- the latter just seemed way too overwhelming given everything else going on in our lives. So we ended up mostly with family and a few of Aimee's "friends" (aka babies/kids of similar age that she saw on a semi-regular basis). Even that number of people filled our house and was somewhat overwhelming for Aimee so I think anything else might have been too much. I tried to keep things simple in general, but of course I had to make Aimee's birthday cake.

We decided on a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting since we wanted Aimee to be able to try her birthday cake and we had not yet introduced her to chocolate (in fact we still haven't-- Jason's brother has a severe nut allergy and we've been holding off on letting her try any kind of nuts. Since most chocolate is manufactured in facilities that also process nuts, we have held off on chocolate too). I found a vanilla cake recipe from my fave Smitten Kitchen that seemed like a winner and ended up using a variation of a buttercream recipe from her website as well. I decided to make a two layer cake for the celebration (which was the day after Aimee's actual birthday) and a few cupcakes since I wanted Aimee (and Jason and I) to be able to celebrate on the day of her birthday as well. It worked out well as I was able to "test" the recipe by making the cupcakes on her birthday and then the full cake the day of the "party."

I am not very confident in my cake decorating skills so I wanted to to do something fun and festive but that was also really easy. I got a great idea from pinterest--- using rainbow sprinkles to top the cake AND identify the birthday girl's age. I have to say it turned out pretty great (thanks to Jason who did the sprinkling while I was busy getting a few other things done right before our family and friends arrived).

 All in all I was really happy with how Aimee's first birthday cake turned out. Aimee seemed to enjoy the cake too-- although she was much more interested in playing with it than eating it :)

Vanilla Birthday Cake with Buttercream Frosting
Adapted (barely) from Smitten Kitchen

Note: The recipe below makes one 9-inch layer cake (two layers) and 12 cupcakes. See Smitten Kitchen for the cake only amounts.

For the cake:
6 cups plus 3 TBL cake flour (not self-rising)
3 tsp baking powder
2 1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp table slat
3 sticks unsalted butter   
3 cups sugar
3 tsp vanilla
6 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups buttermilk

For the frosting (should make enough for the cake and the cupcakes):
4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 TBL half-and-half or whole milk
1 TBL vanilla extract (note: next time I might use 1/2 TBL in order to have whiter frosting)

Rainbow sprinkles (optional)

Make the cake:
1.Preheat the oven to 350. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circle of parchment paper (I like to buy mine precut from here), then butter parchment. Line a muffin tin with festive liners or butter them as well.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
3. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add vanilla. Then add eggs 1 at a time, beating well/scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, add in buttermilk until just combined (batter will look lumpy).
4. Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated (you don't want to overmix!)
5. Fill each muffin tin 3/4 of the way full. Spread remaining batter in the two cake pans. Rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. This will be 20-22 minutes for the cupcakes and 35-40 minutes for the cake pans. Cool on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of cake pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, cool completely (about 1 hour).

Make the frosting:
1. Whirl all the frosting ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
2. If the frosting gets too melty/soft while you are working with it, put in the fridge to let it firm up and then resume.

To make the decorations, simply cut out the number you 'd like from parchment paper (use the cake pan as a template so you know how big to make it). Place the number in the center of the cake. Pour sprinkles all over the top of the cake. Carefully remove the paper and voila!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mother's Little Helper

Parents of young children (and here, I am specifically referring to the toddler variety) sometimes need a little something at the end of the day to help them decompress/relieve the stress that comes from living with a three foot, 28 pound volcano (the comparison is apt--even when they are “dormant,” you are constantly waiting for the next eruption).  A good cocktail (or two) is often just the thing that us moms and dads need to forget the drama of the day. Here is one that Jason and I are enjoying thus far, this summer! 

 Blueberry Gin Cocktail
From the Culinary Enthusiast

makes one cocktail
5 blueberries
4 tablespoons good quality gin
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tablespoons gingerale
Ice cubes
1-2 mint sprigs & blueberries to garnish

1.Place the blueberries, gin and lemon juice in a glass. Muddle everything together.
2. Fill a glass with ice cubes. Pour over the gingerale, stir, and garnish with mint leaves and additional blueberries.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Jason's Birthday Cake

Every year for Jason’s birthday I make him a tiramisu cake. Every.  Single.  Year. Don’t get me wrong, I love that cake—I made it a couple of different ways before finally settling on my favorite version. And back when I was cooking/baking new things on a regular basis, I had no problem making a tried and true favorite on an annual basis—especially since it was always what was requested. But now that my culinary adventures are fewer and farther between (and my free time is limited), I tend to want to try new and different things when it comes to special occasion treats. So this year, I convinced Jason to let me try something different for his birthday. Enter Ina Garten’s Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake. This is a recipe that I’ve been eyeing since receiving her cookbook How Easy Is that? as a gift way back in 2010 (what took me so long?!). It seemed like a good “replacement” for Jason’s usual tiramisu cake since it has a lot of the same flavors—chocolate and coffee—and the same type of decadent mascarpone/whipped cream/espresso frosting.  And true to the cookbook’s name, it was incredibly easy to make (only 30 minutes of actual prep time). Basically you layer chocolate chip cookies with the aforementioned mascarpone/whipped cream/espresso concoction and then let it sit overnight. The whipped cream mixture soaks into the cookies making them soft and cake like. It is an incredibly rich, creamy and delicious treat. And although it wasn’t THE tiramisu cake, I am pretty sure Jason enjoyed it this year.

Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake

Adapted ever so slightly from Ina Garten

Note: I’m including the recipe below pretty much verbatim as the only change I made was to use semi-sweet chocolate chips as a garnish instead of chocolate shavings. And I did that only because I could not find a chocolate bar sizable enough for decent shavings at either of the two grocery stores I went to.

2 cups cold heavy cream
12 oz mascarpone cheese
½ cup sugar
¼ coffee liqueur
2 TBL unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 Approximately 3 dozen thin and crisp chocolate chip cookies (Ina’s recipe suggests Tate’s Bake Shop cookies which can be ordered online—I was going to use a chocolate chip cookie I had seen at whole foods when I happened to see the actual Tate’s cookies at The Fresh Market the weekend before Jason’s birthday—so I did actually use the brand she recommended but any thin and crisp cookie should work).
Semi-sweet chocolate—in bar (from which to make shavings) or chip form

1. Combine the heavy cream, mascarpone, sugar, coffee liqueur, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and vanilla. Mix on low speed to combine and then slowly raise the speed, until it forms firm peaks.

2. To assemble the cake, arrange chocolate chip cookies flat in an 8-inch springform pan*, covering the bottom as much as possible. (Break some cookies to fill in the spaces.) Spread a fifth of the mocha whipped cream evenly over the cookies. Place another layer of cookies on top, lying flat and touching, followed by another fifth of the cream. Continue layering cookies and cream until there are 5 layers of each, ending with a layer of cream. Smooth the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. (*My springform pan is 9 inches—I got 4 layers instead of 5 out of the cookies with a little of the cream mixture left over.)

Run a small sharp knife around the outside of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the top with the chocolate chips or shavings, cut in wedges, and serve cold.