Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Vanilla Cake Recipe

Hello! As promised, I am back with my vanilla cake recipe! Aren't you excited?? Now you can go make (and eat!) some delicious, out of this world, vanilla cake!

Before I get to the recipe, let me talk about just a couple of things. First, I use what is known as the reverse creaming method, or 2-stage method, in all of my cakes. You will see that reflected in the recipe below. This is by far the easiest method to baking cakes from scratch. I always start by weighing each of my dry ingredients directly in the bowl of my stand mixer, making little piles of each ingredient, somewhat separated from each other, just in case I add to much and need to remove a bit. This eliminates a lot of potential baking errors. Did you know that a single cup of flour measured into a dry measuring cup can differ in weight by up to 1 or 2 ounces depending on who is measuring and how they are putting the flour into the cup? This can lead to a very dry cake and inconsistent results. So, always weigh your ingredients! It really does make all the difference in the world. And it's easier, too! Can't beat that!

While I'm on the subject of flour, in this recipe I use both cake flour and all purpose flour. The cake flour, with its lower protein level, is what will ultimately give the cake it's fine, tender crumb, which in my opinion is the sign of an excellent cake. All purpose flour strengthens the cake a bit, making it easier to stack, carve, and otherwise manipulate into a fabulous decorated cake. You can use only all purpose flour (keep the weights the same), but the crumb of your finished cake won't be quite as nice. You can also use only cake flour, which I often do. My favorite is King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour that I buy at my local Meijer grocery store. You can also order it online directly from King Arthur Flour.

After you mix the dry ingredients together, you add the butter. The butter gets broken up into little pieces and coats the flour, which in turn keeps the flour from creating protein bonds, the gluten, that toughen the cake. Of course, some gluten will develop and you do want this so that the cake holds together. But the butter added to the flour first keeps the batter from developing too much gluten. It helps to protect the batter from being overworked. You add your liquids next and then the eggs.

This batter comes together super fast. It bakes up perfectly moist with a nice, tender crumb and lovely soft vanilla flavor.  If you want to make it a "rainbow" cake, like I did for Kate's birthday, just mix about 1/2 cup of rainbow-colored jimmies or other sprinkles into the batter before putting it in the pans.

Let me know if you try this cake and what you think!  Enjoy!

Velvety Vanilla Cake
1-1/2 cups (5-1/4 ounces) cake flour
1-1/2 cups (5-1/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups (10-1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs*
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup (4 ounces) buttermilk
1/4 cup (2-1/8 ounces) crème fraiche**, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare two 2-inch tall 8-inch round pans by greasing the bottoms and sides with shortening or butter, then lining the bottom of each pan with a greased round of parchment paper. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine cake flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.  Mix on low for at least 30 seconds.  Add the butter and mix on low until combined and butter is broken up into pea-sized pieces.  Add the buttermilk and crème fraiche.  Mix on low until dry ingredients are moistened, then mix on medium-high for 1-1/2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. 

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract.  Add the egg mixture to the butter mixture in three parts, adding each part on low speed and then mixing on high speed for 20 seconds.  Scrape down the sides and pour into prepared cake pans.  Bake until top springs back when touched with a finger and toothpick inserted in the center comes back with moist crumbs clinging to it, about 35-40 minutes.

*This makes a vanilla cake that is somewhat yellow in color because of the butter and whole eggs.  If you prefer a cake that is lighter in color, substitute 6 eggs whites (6 ounces) for the whole eggs.  If you would like a more traditional yellow cake, substitute 6 egg yolks for the whole eggs.

**Crème fraiche is wonderful in this recipe and I recommend making the effort to use it.  You can easily make your own crème fraiche by adding 4 tablespoons of cultured buttermilk (homemade or store-bought) to 2 cups of heavy cream.  Mix well and cover.  Let sit at room temperature for 6-8 hours, or up to overnight, until it has thickened.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fashion Barbie Birthday

About a week ago, my baby turned seven. I can hardly believe it! Blink of an eye. Truly. My little girl is so fun to have around. She is full of smiles and joy nearly all the time. I cannot imagine my life without her!

For her birthday cake, she had only one request and that was to have what she called a "rainbow cake," or, by her definition, a vanilla cake with rainbow jimmies in the batter. I was going to do a simple buttercream cake with sprinkles also on the outside, but a few days before the big day, I happened upon Ipoh Bakery's facebook page. Such amazing doll cakes, like none I had seen before. (Please take a moment to go and look at these cakes. You will be amazed!) I began to get inspired. So, I showed them to Kate and she also loved them. It was decided. We would do our own version for her birthday. Probably not the best planning on my part to change the whole design, making it a LOT more complicated, just three days before her birthday, but it all worked out!

I really love this cake and I had so much fun doing this one, from the initial design of the dress, to putting it all together.

The doll first got a layer of white fondant in the outline of the dress. I rolled the fondant very thin, knowing nearly all of it would eventually be covered. I wrapped the doll's torso, beginning just under where the edge of the fondant would be, tightly with plastic wrap to keep her from getting too sticky, then attached the fondant with a little water. For the perfect fit, I draped the fondant onto the doll first, then cut carefully with an exacto knife. It was a little tricky! Some of the pieces I had to do more than once.

The bodice of the dress is my favorite part. I covered the white fondant with white, pink and red non-pariels using a mix of water and corn syrup to make it stickier than water alone. I wanted these little balls to really stick and not come off when I handled the doll to put her on the cake later on. It worked beautifully. I did have to fill in a few spots with a toothpick at the end, but not many.

If you do anything with non-pariels, you know that they get absolutely everywhere! I held the doll over a quarter sheet pan and worked in small sections to minimize the mess. I let this part of the doll dry overnight and made sure I really pressed the non-pariels into the fondant, gently but firmly, to keep them from falling off.

The cake is entirely in the doll's skirt and instead of surrounding the doll's legs as in typical Barbie cakes, the cake and skirt on this one is behind the doll. I baked three 8-inch rounds and carved them into a slightly domed shape. I then cut a small section out of the front for the doll's body, softening the edges by carving them. Because this cake is more than four inches tall, I did put a cardboard cake board, cut to be completely within the cake so that I could carve the cake, and bubble tea straws. Sorry I don't have a picture of this internal structure for you! Next time...

Once the doll's bodice and first skirt layer was complete, I made tiny little shoes for her. I stuck with a super simple design for the shoes. Tiny Barbie shoes are hard!

Next, I stood Barbie up on those tiny shoes and placed her against the cake. Once she was in place, I started covering the entire skirt, beginning with what was against her body in the front, with very thin fondant circles. I cut different sizes of circles and ruffled the edges with a ball tool. For the very front, I left the circles whole, but for the majority of the skirt, I cut them in half and used half at a time, layering over the cut edge as a I went. As I put the half-circles onto the cake, I gently gathered the straight cut edge so that the bottom edge would have an even more ruffled look and to give each circle some dimension on the cake. Without this step, the circles would have fallen flat again each other.

I wanted the skirt to appear as if it was flowing gently in one direction, so that is how I place the ruffles. There are so many circles on this skirt! This part took me so much longer than I expected, but the look in the end was totally worth it.

Another of my favorite details is the piece on the doll's shoulder. I love how it brings the skirt detail to the top of the dress and completes the design.

Finally, I added a pink bow at the waist. So pretty! I think this was Kate's favorite part of the dress. I love how it pulls the bodice and the skirt together and also gives a sense of movement.

Here are a couple more views.

And the birthday girl. I'd say she's pretty happy with everything!

I tell you, this was one of the hardest cakes for me to cut. I finished the cake only two hours before it was time to serve it. I almost couldn't get myself to cut into that skirt! But, as my kids pointed out, what good is a cake that looks pretty but you can't eat? Yes, this is an art that is not meant to last.

Here is a peek at a slice. I just love the look of the cake inside, too! Look at those layers! Isn't it making you hungry?

What you see inside is vanilla cake with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream. Absolutely delicious. I love love love this vanilla cake recipe. I am constantly tweaking it as I learn more and more about ingredients and baking techniques. I promise, though, that I will share this recipe next time. This post is just too long already! Plus, now you all have a reason to come back! :)

In the meantime, check out this post by CakePaperParty about swiss meringue buttercream. The same author talks about this new method on The Cake Blog, here. In these posts, Summer Stone really digs into the science behind this tricky confection and demystifies it, introducing a whole new way to make this buttercream. Seriously, this is revolutionary for me. Swiss meringue buttercream is by far my favorite buttercream and now it is easier to make (but just as delicious)! I hope that you will try it out for your next cake! I will note that I use a little more butter in my swiss meringue so that the overall taste is less sweet and more buttery. You can make it to suit your own tastes, though. Don't be afraid to experiment!

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Birthday Pie

My husband's birthday was in April and he requested pie instead of cake this year. Can you believe it? The nerve. Ha - just kidding. I love a good pie sometimes too! I pointed him to a couple of my cookbooks and he chose the pie he wanted. This pie is seriously drool-worthy and it tasted every bit as good as it sounds and looks!

This is Martha Stewart's Chocolate Caramel Cream pie. Oh my. So good. The recipe is in her Pies & Tarts cookbook, which I highly recommend, or online here. So, you can make it yourself! Yay for homemade chocolate pie!

I was just going to serve the pie sans decorations, but at the last minute, I decided to add a little happy birthday banner. I cut little triangles from scrapbook paper, stamped them and threaded a bit of string through the corners, then tied the ends of the strings to lollipop sticks. Straws would have worked even better. I love how it turned out. Just the right amount of dressing up for this cute little dessert.

I like to think that my pie made Andy's day. Well, that and my winning smile!

I have made a lot of pies, but before this one, I had never made a chocolate pie dough before. Besides the crushed oreo kind! This was the best pie crust. So filled with chocolate flavor. Make this pie just for the crust alone! Or just make the crust and bake it as cookies sprinkled with a little sugar. Fabulous!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sweet Little Bridal Shower Cake

Hello and welcome!

Back at Easter of this year, I had the opportunity to meet a wonderful woman, a friend of a friend, who wanted a cake to celebrate her soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Cheryle was so sweet and I am happy to now call her a friend too!

One of the bride's favorite colors is Tiffany blue. This also happens to be one of my favorites, so I was excited to design a cake with that color. You will recognize it as almost the exact color of the little blue cake I last posted here on the blog.

I began the design with a copy of the invitation. It was simple and elegant, naturally lending itself to a simple and pretty design with strips of Tiffany blue fondant and some sparkly accents.

Take a look!

The flower is my favorite part.

Though not edible, the little jewel in the center was perfect for this flower and this cake! I adore how it turned out.

I absolutely love the way the Tiffany blue strips are highlighted against the simple white background. The little jewel accents were a perfect match to the invitations and set everything off so well!

The cake itself, I'm told, was to die for. I'm so happy when the flavors of my cakes get as high of reviews as the decoration! I truly do try hard to achieve excellence in both! The bottom tier was dark chocolate with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream filling, covered in dark chocolate ganache and fondant. The top tier was vanilla cake with raspberry Swiss meringue buttercream filling, covered in white chocolate ganache and fondant. Doesn't that sound delicious? My mouth is watering right now...

I hope you enjoyed this look at this cake. Cheryle, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your celebration!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sweet Little Blue Cake

Happy (almost) Spring! Last year at about this time, I made a little bright yellow cake to try to help usher in springtime. You might remember it and it is still one of my all-time favorites. You can find all of the details about that cake here.

This is always the time of year when we long for spring to come, for winter and cold temperatures to tuck themselves away for the season and be done, and for the sun to shine warmly once again. This year is no different. In fact, I think we are all longing for spring even more than usual after this hard and utterly cold winter we've all had!

This cake reminds me of spring, though I made it last fall. It is also one of my all-time favorites!

This is a cake I made to share with two of my closest friends on our annual girls' weekend. These girls are the best and we sure to have a lot of fun together! Though we don't live near each other anymore, we always seem to be able to pick up right where we left off. Everyone should have friends like these! So, special cake for special friends. Seems fitting, doesn't it?

I began this extra-tall cake (7 inches, as opposed to the normal 3.5 to 4 inches tall) with my favorite dark chocolate cake recipe, filling with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream and covered with dark chocolate ganache. I then covered all of that with fondant in what is currently one of my favorite colors. It's kind of a light teal/aqua color - blue with just a hint of green.

For the decoration, I used edible paper. You can buy edible paper at your local craft store that sells cake decorating supplies. I used the Wilton brand edible paper, but you could use any you like. I then used a paper punch that I found on clearance at Hobby Lobby a long time ago and have never used on non-edible paper. (Some of you are laughing now because you know I am NOT a scrapbooker! I do admire those of you who do an amazing job with paper-crafting!) I punched out strips, then lined them up and attached them to the fondant with a little paint brush (also reserved only for food and not real paint) dipped in some water.

This was such an easy way to get a fun graphic design onto the cake! I really love love love this technique!

I put the edible paper design about two-thirds of the way up the cake and place a ribbon (non-edible, though you could certainly use the edible paper or fondant for this too) at the top of the graphic design.

I then made a quick little fantasy flower out of fondant and attached it to the top edge of the cake. The center of the flower is just three little balls of the blue fondant that I used to cover the cake.

I love how the blue and white look in this cake and how it all came together!

Thanks for stopping by! Happy spring!!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Lordy Lordy Look Who's Forty

Yep, you guessed it. It's me. Back in November I turned the big 4-0. I admit, I had a hard time with it. There's something about 40 that seems significantly older than the previous milestone birthdays. A doctor actually called me "middle-aged" a couple of weeks ago. Ouch!

Turns out, though, that 40 isn't so bad. I wouldn't trade now for younger ages and all the old insecurities. And there really is something to be said for wisdom that comes with age. This is going to be a good decade, I think!

To celebrate my big birthday, my husband threw me a fantastic party with several close friends and their families. It was so much fun! We rented a pinball machine and that was the hit of the party, I think. So much fun!

Of course, I made my own cake. It was huge. And fun. And a little disappointing. Here is a picture of the whole thing.

First, the fun part. It was fun to make such a big cake and get to serve it at my own party. The top tier was gluten-free for a couple of my allergic friends. I loved being able to make a delicious cake customized just for them!

My favorite part was done by my son. He had a grand plan for my cake and I let him design the whole thing. For inspiration, he grabbed a picture of our family that was taken during our vacation last summer and painted it onto the cake. The kid's got ambition! And some serious skills for an 8-year-old, in my humble opinion. I'm not biased at all, of course! After he painted me and his Dad, he got tired and decided the picture was complete. I happen to love how it turned out!

I put a little fondant flower on the top to complete the overall look.

Now for the disappointing part. You can see it on the side of the cake in that first picture and again in the picture of the painting. See that sag on the side of the cake? Yep, my caketastrophe. After I stacked the cakes, the middle tier began to collapse. That tier is an extra-tall tier and required supports halfway through the cake. Though I never figured out exactly why the cake began to collapse, I think that I did not properly space the supports in the bottom half of the tall tier. When I stacked the tiers, the weight caused the cake to buckle.

What you see in the pictures got worse and worse, but thank goodness the cake did not fall down completely before we were able to cut and eat it. If this was going to happen, I am glad it happened on my own cake and not one meant for someone else! And, despite the disappointing look of the buckled fondant, the cake was still delicious and enjoyed by all!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

CakeCentral Magazine - A Second Time!!

Hello! Welcome back! Many of you already know that one of my cakes made it (again!) into CakeCentral Magazine. I was so honored to have cakes in back-to-back issues!

This second cake was for the October issue. CakeCentral sent me a picture by the illustrator Arthur Rackham from the Grimm Brother's story, The Seven Ravens. It is an amazing illustration! I was lucky to get to work with it.

Most of all, I wanted to capture the eerie feel of the illustration. It is a little dark, but not overly so, and cool in tone. I wanted to make sure my cake design reflected all of that. I focused on the pattern and colors of the waters in the picture and used that as the main element of my cake.

I painted the waves onto the cake using a watercolor technique with vodka and food coloring, going from darker at the bottom to lighter moving up the tiers. I left the very top tier unpainted.

This painting actually went a lot better than I had anticipated. I thought I would have trouble with it, but it was actually really simple. I used a very "watery" paint, using more vodka than I normally would to paint with food coloring on the fondant. I then put the tier onto my turntable and spun it slowly while moving my brush up and down against the side. Does that make sense? It all went on really well and I was so pleased with the effect!

To bring in more of the Ravens story, I covered the very bottom tier in jet black fondant and made some fondant feathers, which I dried on a curve and set around the entire tier. I used a leaf cutter to make it easier and make sure the feathers were more uniform. Then I took my knife tool (you could also use the dull side of a butter knife) and gently scored a line in the middle of each feather and all along the edges to create the feather look.

As the finishing touch, I decided to do sugar pieces to reflect the ice mountain, against which the girl is standing. I ended up using Isomalt to make my sugar pieces because it dries clear and that is the look that I needed. Real sugar is cloudy when it dries and opaque and it just didn't look right. After the Isomalt was heated to the right temperature (per package instructions), I added a drop or two of blue and black food coloring, gently swirled it, then poured it onto a parchment-covered sheet pan. After it was completely cool and hardened, I cracked it into large and small pieces. I then took the pieces and attached them to the finished cake.

I really loved these sugar pieces! They were just as I had hoped they would be! The only problem was that they don't photograph super well. It is difficult to photograph a clear piece of sugar! But my photographer for this cake, Lisa Vargo, did such a fantastic job with it. By the way, Lisa is an amazing photographer! Check her out here!

I had so much fun doing this cake. I hope that CakeCentral Magazine continues to call on me to make cakes for their awesome publication! If you would like to check out all of the amazing cakes in the October issue, or any other issue, visit CakeCentral.com and click on the "Magazine" link. You can also buy individual issues for download from iTunes.

I am so, so thankful that I get to make cakes and hopefully bring smiles to those who see, and often eat, my creations. During this holiday season, this week at Thanksgiving and through the end of the year, I hope that you all take the time to think about all of the gifts and blessings you have been given and to give thanks for them! I am also so thankful for all of you! Happy Thanksgiving!