Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Happy Birthday To My Hubby!

Bobby's birthday was this past weekend, the big 3-2. This is the cake that I made him... I hope you appreciate the Instagram filter and disregard the beaten up paint in the background. We're in the midst of a bit of a kitchen overhaul (check out those new butcher block countertops!) and we haven't started putting up the backsplash tile yet. But, we got the call that they're in, so hopefully that phase will start soon. But, I digress... back to my "old" husband and his recent birthday.

Bobby's favorite cake is carrot cake (it's also my favorite, further proof that we're a match made in heaven), therefore, I baked him a carrot cake for his birthday. At the moment we're currently working hard at becoming supreme physical specimens (we're doing CrossFit and training for a 10-mile run that's in May) I knew he wouldn't want a giant birthday cake like I've made him in the past since we're trying to eat healthy (key word is trying). But, I wanted to make something for him for his birthday. Since it was just going to be the two of us I decided that a small 6-inch cake would be perfect. And, with the rest of the batter I knew I would have, I would just make cupcakes and take them to work, or give them away so they wouldn't go to waste.

The carrot cake recipe I always use is one that I received from my mom, who got it from a former co-worker of hers. It's the best recipe I've found to date and I always use it when I make carrot cake. I also always use cream cheese frosting for carrot cake because in my opinion that's the only kind of frosting one should use when making carrot cake. The recipe I use for cream cheese frosting is from Paula Dean. Yes, that Paula Dean. I first discovered it when using her recipe to make red velvet cupcakes and I've been using it ever since.

The carrot cake is very simple to make (I'll include the recipe below). I just throw all the ingredients in my stand mixer and then let it work for about two minutes blending everything together. I used 3 cups of batter for the 6-inch cake. I baked it at 350 for about 50 minutes. I have found with this recipe that the cake doesn't rise very much, which is nice because I often don't have to do much cutting to get a flat surface when I'm ready to frost the cake. With the extra batter I made cupcakes, I think I got roughly twenty. I baked those at 350 for 20 minutes, turning them halfway through the total baking time.

Going into making this cake I really didn't have an idea of what I wanted to do. In the past I've made Bobby some fancier cakes, but they were quite large. Since I knew I wanted to make a small cake, I felt pretty limited as to what I could do with it, but I wanted to make it special in some way without having to do too much work.

Finally I came up with the idea that's pictured above. I knew I had everything that I needed on hand and the birthday banner probably took me 10 minutes max to put together. I used pieces of card stock from my scrap pack that I have on hand. I highly recommend the scrap pack. It's great, you'd be amazed at how many things scraps of various colors and sizes of card stock can be good for. I think I bought mine at Michaels, but I'm sure you can find one at any craft store.

I grabbed five different colors from the scrap pack and started cutting out little triangles. I did it all freehand because it didn't need to be perfect. Once I had the number of triangles that I needed I arranged them in the color order that I wanted and wrote out a letter on each one with a thin Sharpie. I cut two lengths of red string that I also had on hand and attached the triangles to the string with small pieces of scotch tape. I had some wooden skewers on hand so I decided to use those as my posts since I couldn't think of anything better. Straws would probably work as well, but I didn't have any. The skewers were a little longer than I needed so I just cut them with scissors to make them a little shorter. The hardest part of the whole process was tying the strings to the skewers so they would stay in place and be the appropriate length. It was a trial and error process, but it only took a couple of attempts before I got it right. I've always wanted to try something like this with a cake, and I think it turned out to be a success. I was really happy with how it looked, especially for throwing it all together in just a few minutes. Most importantly, the birthday boy said he liked it and the cake was delicious!

Carrot Cake

2 c. sugar
2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. salad oil
2 c. grated carrots
1 c. well drained crushed pineapple
5 eggs
1 1/2 chopped nuts
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda

Put all ingredients in a large bowl, except nuts, and beat 2 minutes by hand (I don't use nuts because I don't like them, and I also beat everything with a stand mixer, but you could probably use a hand mixer as well).

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes in 9x13 pan.

If you want to you can vary your pan size, you'll just need to adjust your baking time. These are just the instructions I got with the recipe. I have made this recipe with 6-inch and 8-inch cake pans. I've also made cupcakes with this recipe. I just alter the baking time, however I always bake at 350 degrees.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 lb cream cheese
1 c. butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
4 c. confectioner's sugar

Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. Add sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated. Increase speed to high, mix until light and fluffy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Be My Valentine Cookies

I know, Valentine's Day was almost a week ago and I'm a little late. But maybe you want to make your sweetheart some "just because I love you cookies" or maybe you just want to make some cutout cookies for no reason in particular. Whatever the case may be, here are the Valentine's Day cookies I made to give out this year. 

I'm a big fan of giving treats as gifts when I can. I love the baking part and I also feel better knowing that whatever I'm giving is going to be eaten and enjoyed rather than sit on a shelf or in a drawer somewhere never to be seen or used. In short, everyone loves food.

To make these cookies I used a cutout cookie recipe that I've been baking with since I was a little girl baking Christmas cookies with my mom and brother. I'm not sure where the recipe came from, but my family has been using it since I can remember. I've never used another recipe for cutout cookies. The recipe can be easily halved or double if necessary. The full recipe usually yields around 5 dozen cookies depending on the size of the cookies you're making. Because I didn't need that many cookies I cut the recipe in half and I got slightly over 3 dozen cookies.

Soft Cutout Cookies

5 c. flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 c. butter (room temperature)
2 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 c. milk

Mix butter, sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla. Then add dry ingredients. Chill 1 hour. Roll dough 1/4" thick and cut out cookies. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Do not over bake so cookies stay soft.

Yes, it's that easy. I highly recommend making sure you chill the batter long enough. It can be a little sticky if you don't. Making sure your rolling pin, hands and cookie-cutting surface are adequately floured will also help.

For the frosting I used the recipe I always use when baking cakes. It's a plain vanilla buttercream. It can also be easily halved or double if necessary. In this case I made the normal recipe and I had just a tiny bit extra which worked out perfectly.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

1/2 c. butter (softened)
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
1 (16 oz) package powdered sugar
3-5 Tbsp milk

1. Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed with electric mixer until creamy.
2. Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with 3 Tbsp milk, 1 Tbsp at a time, beating at low speed until blended and smooth after each addition. Beat in up to 2 Tbsp additional milk for desired consistency.

When making the frosting I usually add in the extra 2 Tbsp of milk just because I like my frosting to be a little creamier and easier to spread. When the frosting was done I separated it into 2 bowls and added food coloring to one of them so I would have pink and white frosting. I also have a ton of sprinkles on hand, people like to give them to me as gifts, so I had several options of sprinkles to use for Valentine's Day. 

After the cookies were frosted and decorated I put them on a cookie sheet and set them in the freezer for a few minutes so the frosting sets. That way when I wrap them up to ship them or personally deliver them they still look good when they arrive. In this case I placed 6 cookies in mini disposable loaf pans which I wrapped in Saran Wrap (to keep the cookies fresh) and then placed in a Valentine's snack bag I got at the dollar store. In hindsight I should have taken a picture of the finished product, but I didn't think of it at the time. I boxed up the packages I was shipping and hand delivered the rest. To quote my neighbor, they were "awesome". Hope your Valentine's Day was a happy one!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Peanut Butter-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes

It's official, I'm on a cupcake-making roll. That's what happens when your husband goes out of town for a week for work. Gotta do something to keep myself entertained, and cleaning is only fun for so long. Plus, I feel like I should make up for all the weeks I didn't bake any cupcakes. I'm certainly a little behind schedule so consider it trying to make up for lost time. These peanut butter-filled chocolate cupcakes (not on Martha's website) have been the easiest of the bunch so far, but I don't expect to get off the hook that easily with the cupcakes in the rest of this section.

First order of business was chopping all the chocolate and cutting the butter into small pieces to start those ingredients melting over a simmering pot of water. While the chocolate and butter was melting I whisked together the dry ingredients and also made the peanut butter filling. I liked that this recipe didn't require the use of a hand mixer to put everything together. I also enjoyed that I could use paper liners (I took them off for the picture) instead of having to butter and flour the pans. It was a nice break since I had to butter and flour the cupcake pans for the two previous recipes.

Putting these cupcakes together was done similarly to these strawberry-jam tea cakes only the amount of batter and filling was different. I layered, in this order, 2 tablespoons of chocolate batter, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter filling, 1 tablespoon of batter and 1 teaspoon of filling, swirling the teaspoon of filling with a toothpick to get a swirl pattern on top. While these cupcakes also turned out to be larger than they were probably supposed to be I was much closer in getting the number of cupcakes the recipe said I would yield. The recipe said I would get 12 and I got 11. I was pretty happy with that. But knowing how the tea cakes had turned out I tried to use smaller tablespoons to make sure the batter would last, and to ensure the cupcakes wouldn't be enormous.

The cupcakes were baked for 40 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. If memory serves me correctly I ended up adding about 2 extra minutes to the baking time because I didn't think they were quite done when I tested them with a toothpick. Since they were a little larger than they probably should have been, a little extra time made sense. Eventually I will get this tablespoon layering thing down. There are still quite a few cupcakes left in this section to give me some more practice.

I did also appreciate that these cupcakes didn't require any glazing, layering or frosting after they were done baking. A little reprieve from all the work I have done on the two previous cupcakes in this section. I took these cupcakes into work and everyone enjoyed them. I also sampled one myself and thought they were quite tasty and would go great with a glass of milk, or some vanilla ice cream. The only thing I was a little disappointed with was that I wanted the peanut butter filling in the middle to be a little farther down in the cupcake so when you cut the cupcake in half it would look like the filling was floating in the middle. But, it also could have just been the cupcake I had, I'm not sure what everyone else's looked like in the middle.

In other baking news, non-cupcake related, I'm going to try to post a Valentine's Day treat later this week. Maybe even in time for the actual holiday and before I'm invaded by my husband's family (who I love... seriously!) this coming weekend. Oh, and if you're wondering, yes, it did snow (a lot) in Connecticut this weekend. Turns out we didn't have to find Nemo, Nemo found us. Here are just a few pictures I took yesterday after shoveling off our deck so we could get out of the house.

Told you it was a lot of snow.