Happy Birthday, Monique!

Today is my co-blogger, co-worker and friend of over four years (!), Monique’s, birthday!

From what I understand, her husband (who, while very sweet and kind, tends to stick to things like surfing and let’s Monique do the ‘kitchen thing’) woke up and made her a birthday breakfast of waffles with fresh fruit.  Lucky girl!

On Friday, the girls at work and I celebrated Monique’s birthday the only way we know how: with food and yarn.  The night before I made her a cake.  This particular cake took about four hours due to a few mishaps along the way and had me crawling into bed at 11 o’clock PM, mumbling to my husband about how it was the “Worst Ugliest Cake Ever.”  He was fast asleep, so I’m still trying not to begrudge him his answer of:  “Oh honey, that’s too ba– SNORE.”

I didn’t bother taking any pictures of it before I left for work.  Saving that cake at a stoplight cost me my coffee and resulted in sticky peppermint syrup all over the center console.  So, by the time I arrived I was pretty peeved that the Worst Ugliest Cake Ever ruined my caffeine fix, would potentially harm my coworkers’ digestion and would definitely, definitely offend their eyes if they happened to look at it.  At least two of our coworkers went in on a Nothing Bundt Cake’s cake that morning, just in case we had to fling this monstrosity in the direction of the nearest waste bin.

We delivered gifts to her desk and I threw in a few disclaimers regarding the cake, assuring her and everyone in earshot if they hated it I wouldn’t be offended, and then left it at that.

About half an hour later, Monique rushed into my department with the cake on a plate and spare forks in her hand.  It was good!  She promised!

What a relief.  There are few things worse in Baking Land than spending hours on one item as a gift and then finding it tastes almost as bad as it looks.

I named him Frankencake. Don't mind the Project Management folders in the background. I didn't expect to ever want to see this cake again, so there wasn't any effort put into staging a photograph.

I named him Frankencake. Don’t mind the Project Management folders in the background. I didn’t expect to ever want to see this cake again, so there wasn’t any effort put into staging a photograph.

Now, I’m going to point you in the direction of Dessert For Breakfast for the recipe for this Raspberry Lemon Lime Layer cake.  The cake itself I found to be absolutely amazing.  The right consistency, just the right amount of sweet and sour — divine.  The lemon curd was amazing as well (and it was my first time making lemon curd — woefully not vegan, though I’ve seen that those recipes exist!).  But it was the raspberry buttercream that didn’t thrill me.  I’m sure I must have done something wrong, but it was just.. too thick for my liking.  For such a dense cake with so many complex flavors, I would prefer something lighter.  So!  This has become a personal project — to perfect a cake to my tastes.  I know it may sound absurd to all the foodies out there, but I’ve never done that.  I’ve never taken pieces of several recipes and twisted them until they became my own.  But I’m about to!

(Also, please notice that her cake is gorgeous and doesn’t look anything like Frankencake.)

You may notice a few bites taken off the side of the cake I was bringing home to my family after work. I must have mice. In my car. Or something.

You may notice a few bites taken off the side of the cake I was bringing home to my family after work. I must have mice. In my car. Or something.

I mentioned yarn, right?  Well, it was my first time giving a gift that was still on the needles, but apparently the ride back and forth from Las Vegas last week wasn’t enough time for me to finish her scarf.  I know what you’re thinking: Gifting a scarf in May?  It’s practically summer in California!  Yes, well, it’s winter temperatures in our office all year ’round, so she can just drape it over the back of her chair and use it to combat her boss’ air conditioning needs.

The yarn is Lorna’s Laces (of course it is!) in Honor.  The colorway is “Cookie’s Vintage Office.”  The pattern is “Seafoam” and is very easy to memorize!  Once it’s finished and blocked, I’ll show off the pattern a little more.

When I went outside to photograph this, the boys that were playing in the street got quiet. I didn't look up to see what they were up to, but I'm pretty sure they're starting to wonder why the crazy lady across the street takes her food and other objects outside, photographs them, and then disappears again. Or, they might wonder why she's still in her pajamas at noon. Valid questions.

When I went outside to photograph this, the boys that were playing in the street got quiet. I didn’t look up to see what they were up to, but I’m pretty sure they’re starting to wonder why the crazy lady across the street takes her food and other objects outside, photographs them, and then disappears again. Or, they might wonder why she’s still in her pajamas at noon. Valid questions.

Happiest of Birthdays to you, Monique!

Meatless Monday: Dessert Fit for the Manliest Man

What’s with all the dessert lately?  Are Monique and I nourishing our sweet tooths (teeth?), or what?

Well, there are a lot of occasions for sugar lately.  Between her little sister’s birthday request for chocolate-chocolate-chocolate cupcakes and the cake I’m about to share with you, I’m pretty sure we’re both going to have to double up on the exercise this week!  (I’ll let her tell you all about her new adventures in spin class when she posts next.  But let me tell you, it’s nice to not be the only one hobbling around the office!)

Our friend decided to throw a surprise party for her husband’s thirty-first birthday and asked a few of us to help with the details.  My part was the dessert since she knew my husband and I used to bake and decorate custom cakes as a way to make a little extra cash on the side.  We’ve long since “retired,” but it’s still fun to dust off the piping bags once in a while.  Considering her party’s theme was all about Manly Men (billiards, poker, cigars, whiskey and women) it made perfect sense to go with a cake that called for alcohol every step of the way.  The week before I ran through two trial recipes and while one of them tanked (and hard), this one may be the most delicious boozy cake I’ve ever tasted!  It’s called an Irish Car Bomb and to make this little number you’re going to have to dig out the Jameson, Baileys and Guinness.

The cake, pictured here with billiard ball cookies and dominio rice krispy treats! Forgive the blurry picture. I'm pretty sure I took this sometime after the hostess called me into the backyard to help her out with a little Jameson problem. As in, there was too much. Now there isn't.

The cake, pictured here with billiard ball cookies and dominio rice krispy treats! Forgive the blurry picture. I’m pretty sure I took this sometime after the hostess called me into the backyard to help her out with a little Jameson problem. As in, there was too much. Now there isn’t.

I have never actually had an Irish Car Bomb at a bar.  I’m told you have to chug it and I’m not much of a chugger.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d choke and make quite the spectacle, so I try to stick to things that are sipping-acceptable.  Though, if it tastes anything like this cake, I’m quite tempted to give it a go someday.  Or at least try to share it with someone who’s more seasoned with that sort of drinking strategy.

But anyway.

I’m going to give you the recipe to make cupcakes, because sizing this recipe to make a cake that could have easily fed 40-50 people isn’t helpful for anyone… unless you’re baking for a drunken army, then e-mail me and we’ll talk!

This recipe comes from the Brown Eyed Baker who made just the most adorable cupcakes out of it!  I halved the ingredients in the butter cream frosting, because I simply ended up with way too much.  If you’re the type that likes your frosting more than your cake, by all means double the frosting portion back to it’s original recipe and go to town!

Recipe: Irish Car Bomb

Ingredients

  • For the Cupcakes:
  • 1 cup Guinness
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • ¾ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoons salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • For the Whiskey Ganache Filling:
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey
  • For the Baileys Frosting:
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2.5 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring the Guinness and butter to a simmer in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
  2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl to combine. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream on medium speed until combined. Add the Guinness-chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat briefly. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners. Bake until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on a rack.
  3. To Make the Whiskey Ganache Filling: Finely chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then, using a rubber spatula, stir it from the center outward until smooth. Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined. Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped.
  4. To Fill the Cupcakes: Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter (or the bottom of a large decorating tip), cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes, going about two-thirds of the way down. Transfer the ganache to a piping back with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.
  5. To Make the Baileys Frosting: Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually add the powdered sugar until all of it is incorporated. Add the Baileys, increase the speed to medium-high and whip for another 2 to 3 minutes, until it is light and fluffy.
  6. Decorate!

Though these pictures will show you nothing about cupcakes, they will show you how to go about making your own playing card cake for your next Manly Man birthday party.  Bob, my husband, is the gorgeous hand model in these photos (just in case you wondered when I sprouted so much dark arm hair).

We made four cake pans worth of cake, but to get the correct angle on the playing cards we had to make a cut and sacrifice a little bit (...right into my mouth).

We made four cake pans worth of cake, but to get the correct angle on the playing cards we had to make a cut and sacrifice a little bit (…right into my mouth).

This is what the ganache looks like after it's melted down. I think making ganache is one of the most interesting bits of kitchen magic. Look how Willy-Wonka's-Chocolate-Factory-smooth it gets!

This is what the ganache looks like after it’s melted down. I think making ganache is one of the most interesting bits of kitchen magic. Look how Willy-Wonka’s-Chocolate-Factory-smooth it gets!

We spread the ganache onto the cake, using it as tasty glue to keep our cuts nice and tight and the cake stuck firmly onto the cutting board.

We spread the ganache onto the cake, using it as tasty glue to keep our cuts nice and tight and the cake stuck firmly onto the cutting board.

That nifty device is a cake lifter. I know it sounds absurd, but that little guy has paid for himself a thousand times over. I don't just mean the dollars and cents of having to re-do a cake if it goes crashing to the ground, but the emotional upheaval and potential tears when it happens at one in the morning are just not fun. (So I hear.) So! Get yourself, or the baker in your life, a cake lifter.

That nifty device is a cake lifter. I know it sounds absurd, but that little guy has paid for himself a thousand times over. I don’t just mean the dollars and cents of having to re-do a cake if it goes crashing to the ground, but the emotional upheaval and potential tears when it happens at one in the morning are just not fun. (So I hear.) So! Get yourself, or the baker in your life, a cake lifter.

I know you all know what butter cream frosting looks like, but I want to lick this picture. I want you to want to lick it, too.

I know you all know what butter cream frosting looks like, but I want to lick this picture. I want you to want to lick it, too.

Crumb coat, how I hate thee. I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of dyeing and rolling fondant, but what I hate more is not having a perfectly smooth cake. Making a crumb coat is the first step to that smooth finish, but the second step is still a mystery to me. For this cake I just had to let go and let it take on a more organic feel. Frosting is not perfect! It will have waves! And when it does, I will not be judged! (I said in my most hopeful voice.)

This is what your crumb coat is supposed to look like as you send it into the 'fridge to set up. Try not to hate your cake at this point. Try really hard.

This is what your crumb coat is supposed to look like as you send it into the ‘fridge to set up. Try not to hate your cake at this point. Try really hard.

With a little fondant and a lot of patience, you get playing cards!

With a little fondant and a lot of patience, you get playing cards!

A couple notes on this cake:

1.  The cake is perfectly moist and stays so even a few days after baking, but it’s also extremely dense!  I wish I’d weighed this monster before I took it to the party because I found it difficult to carry into the house (with yoga-tired muscles and high heels).

2.  The alcohol taste is strongest soon after baking.  While picking at leftovers today at the office, my coworkers discovered the booze flavor diminishes with each passing day.  Our current theory is evaporation, since the only part that’s baked in is the Guinness.

3.  If you don’t care to stagger after eating dessert, there are a couple substitutions you can make to get the same texture and weight, but lose the alcohol.  Instead of Guinness try coffee (Monique’s suggestion!).  Ditch the Jameson.  Instead of Bailey’s, you could try a little coffee there, too, or just some vanilla or other extract of your choice.  Butter cream and sugar without any extra flavor is just indistinctly sweet.

4.  Most importantly: The easiest way to finish baking a cake for 40 people is to find yourself a sweet, patient Canadian man who uses his day off to bake all the cake before you even get home (using only one pan, four times).  Also?  He doesn’t put up any fuss over going shopping to buy the ingredients and takes it upon himself to do everything except for the frosting, ganache and some small detail work.  Yes, if you find an “assistant” like mine, you too will finish your baking commitments long before midnight, but you may find yourself owing a few shoulder rubs.  A small price to pay, I think!  (Thanks, honey!)

4a.  If you find someone like #4, marry him.  Immediately.  Before he realizes all his future roads will be paved in cake (and yarn, in our case).

Meatless Mondays: Chocolate Quinoa Cake

When my husband and I went to Canada, my mother-in-law gave us a few gifts.  I received two books.  One of them talks about how to live off the land: farming, sewing, and tapping your own maple tree for syrup, for example.  The other is a book called Quinoa: The Everyday Superfood 365 by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming.  Until flipping through this cookbook, I was only acquainted with quinoa salad and knew that (somehow) quinoa could be used in pasta as a gluten-free substitute.  But now I have 170 recipes featuring this strange little grain.

My mother-in-law and husband, all smiles on Canadian Thanksgiving Day. This is the same woman who also gifted me a complete wool fleece to spin. I absolutely adore her!

Much to my surprise, you can even bake with it.  Most of the recipes call for quinoa flour, which is accessible at our local health food store, but for $10 a bag I was sort of wary.  I don’t know what would make quinoa flour better than any other gluten-free flour.  I’m still learning on that front.

Lucky for me, the first recipe in the dessert section is for Moist Chocolate Cake.  No flour necessary.  Instead, 2 cups of cooked quinoa.  Weird, right?

I wonder how anyone ever looked at this and thought, you know what would be awesome? Chocolate cake and quinoa. Well. They're right. It IS awesome.

Recipe: Chocolate Quinoa Cake

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup white or golden quinoa
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used soy.)
  • 4 large eggs (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1 1/2 cups white or cane sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Cook the quinoa: Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. At least, this is what the recipe says to do. I cooked about 4 cups of quinoa so I’d have more to eat this week and then just rationed out 2 cups for the cake. You can basically cook quinoa according to the instructions on your box/bag.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Lightly grease two 8-inch round or square cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. (I’ll be honest, I did no lining. Nor did I use two cake pans. However, this is a cake that’s rather heavy with moisture, and it takes a long time to bake it in anything with any thickness, so I suggest doing it the book’s way. Instead of getting all crazy like I do and changing things.)
  3. Combine milk, eggs and vanilla in a blender or food processor. Add 2 cups of cooked quinoa and butter and blend until smooth.
  4. Whisk together the sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  5. Add the blender/food processor contents and mix well.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake on the center oven rack for 40 to 45 minutes.
  7. Cool cake complete in the pan before serving. Frost if desired (I just used powdered sugar!).

Friday Feasts: Katie’s Birthday Cake

Last week was Katie’s belly button birthday.  We were teasing her today actually on how she displays not just her cards but, her gifts too on her fire place mantel until her husband’s birthday in September.  That’s a whole month she gets to stare at her presents!  I’d want to use them, touch them, play with them!  Katie and my husband are exactly one week apart and some of their character assets remind me of each other.  I don’t know if these traits are because of their birth sign or what, but here are some of things they both do:  Katie keeps almost everything and has a hard time parting with things from her past.  Jacob has a hard time parting too, with everything.  We have a garage full of comic books, records, old rock collections, coins and surf magazines he forgot he owned.  My theory, if you haven’t used it in six months toss it.  They are both gentle and kind.  Where as, I’m a little rough around the edges.  And they both like old fashion things.  I guess point being, opposites do attract?

A couple months ago I was going through foodgawker and saw a cake I thought Katie would love.  Since we work in the construction field we constantly have vendors and salespeople coming to the office and dropping by goodies and wanting to take us to lunch.  They all say they can give us the best deal in town.  And to be honest, the one that gives the most has the biggest impact on our decision making.  We’ve gotten things from bags of pretzels (don’t ask), to dozens of donuts, to fruit from Harry and David, to full spread lunches.  When donuts come Katie is hoping there’s always that old fashion cake style donut with pink icing and sprinkles.  She’ll walk by the box a few times, check it out, come back to our office, and maybe say a word or two about it.  It’s kind of an unspoken rule, that you save the pink iced donuts for Katie.  So – when I saw this cake I thought BINGO, Katie’s birthday treat.

I got the recipe here.  And ended up making this cake a double layer which wasn’t intended.  When it came out of the oven it was S-M-A-L-L!  I panicked!  Thank goodness I had enough ingredients to be able to make another layer!  What I’m getting to is – if you want to make a full bundt cake I would double this recipe.  The cake itself wasn’t very sweet, kind of like a cake donut isn’t.  It was the icing that gave it, its sweetness.  The sour cream made it extremely moist.  It could almost qualify for a morning coffee cake.  I bet it would be delicious with a cup of coffee!

Katie, I hope this year brings you lots of love, peace and happiness!  Happy Birthday!

 

 

-Monique