Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Last Peaceful Day

The perfect "time out"
It's hard to find a minute to yourself to just relax and enjoy a moment of freedom around this time of the year, so I went ahead and saved my last 15 minutes of peace to pull out whenever I want and remind myself that despite the dark and sleet and gloom outside, the sun will eventually return. And despite the chaos that is my life, I will get another "ohmmmm" moment like this one soon. As you can see from the date on the "Time Out" magazine (get it? Time out? okay, well, I thought it was appropriate), this was a few weeks ago, but seeing this picture reminds me exactly how I felt in that moment. I had no where to be and nothing that needed doing. I could enjoy the amazing mocha I bought at Julius Meinl (my favorite coffee shop) and the perfectly fragile almond cream croissant that shattered into sugary fragments as soon as I bit into it. I could read through the whole magazine without falling asleep or any interruptions.

So, my wish to all of you in the upcoming year is this: May you all have more moments of utter bliss this year and may you have the time to enjoy them.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pre-Holiday Dog Days

These days I find myself making a huge conscious effort NOT to become a Scrooge. Working in the gift card business, the last few weeks have been rather hectic, to put it mildly, and with all the overtime I've been putting in I've had no time whatsoever to bake any of the wonderful things that have been popping up all over the web. But like I said, I'm making an effort, even if that means I get no sleep. A few weeks ago a friend asked me to bake something for her friend's 30th birthday and even though I know I technically should not take up any projects and take it easy, I felt like it's been too long since I've been able to bake something fun, so I said yes. Her friend loves dogs, so I offered to make her a tower of puppy cupcakes.

Peanut Butter Cupcakes
The cupcakes themselves are peanut butter and they're filled with dark chocolate ganache, but my favorite part was the frosting, so I'm going to share the super easy recipe with you below. I didn't want to use marshmallows or candy, so I just piped frosting into the shapes I wanted and used the leftover ganache for eyes and nose. Here is what the cupcakes looked like when I was boxing them up.

Puppy Cupcakes
Yummy Peanut Butter Frosting
For a smoother frosting that blends easily, keep all ingredients at room temp.

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 8oz package cream cheese
1 stick (4oz) softened unsalted butter
3 cups powdered sugar
4 tbsp heavy cream

Cream the first three ingredients in a stand mixer until smooth, light and evenly blended. Add the sugar and mix to distribute evenly adding the cream a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached. You might need more cream if the frosting is too stiff or more sugar if you went a bit overboard with the cream, and enjoy!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Happy Belated Pie Day

Now I know that it's over a week since Thanksgiving, but this is Pie season people! I may have missed sharing my coma fest with you during that hectic week, but I had to share my newly found love of simplicity. I've never been a fan of the "easy" recipe. I've always been one of those crazy people that will complicate the heck out of a glass of water, but pie...well, a pie made with love and fresh ingredients doesn't need much. The beauty of it is that it doesn't even have to be pretty. When confronted with a slice of warm pie that has fallen apart in transit from the pie dish to the plate, the wreckage hastily covered by a scoop of ice cream, the grateful guest won't even pause before digging in. Presentation is entirely forgotten in that blissful combination of sweet and tart, warm and cold, tender and flaky deliciousness. The only question remaining is "Is there more?"

Apple Blueberry Pie

Easy Pie Crust Recipe
I think I pulled this recipe from Real Simple, but I've been trying to clean out my huge pile of magazines, pulling out just the recipes, so unfortunately I can't give full and proper credit. This will make just the bottom crust, you'll make an even easier crumbly topping to go over the fruit

1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 to 3 tablespoons ice water

Combine first 4 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it's roughly crumbly. Leave the top opening of the food processor open and drizzle in the water a bit at a time, pulsing once or twice to distribute. You want the mixture to still be a bit crumbly, but hold together when squeezed, but not get gummy. If you overdo the water, just add a bit of flour, but try not to process to much or the dough will be tough.
Place the mixture onto a large piece of saran wrap and shape into a thick disk, wrapping the whole thing tightly in the process. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour up to three days. If you're making the pie today though, don't bother washing the food processor'll need it again at the end.
Take the dough out of the fridge when you're ready and flour your rolling pin and work surface. A large sheet of parchment will make moving everything easier, but you can just work on the counter top if you wish. Roll the dough into a large disk about 11 inches in diameter. Loosen the dough and carefully transfer onto the dish. If you don't mind flour all over and if you used parchment, you can try and just flip the whole thing into the pan if you want...but if when that fails and your dough still rips, you can just patch it up in the dish. It'll be covered in fruit anyways, no one will know.
Carefully tuck the dough hanging over the edge under to create a rim and pinch all around to "flute" the rim.
Voila! You have pie crust, ready to be filled. Just pop the dish into the freezer until you're ready to use it. Actually, you can wrap the whole thing in saran wrap and freeze this for up to two months if you want, but why wait when the rest of the process is so easy an delicious?

Apple and Blueberry Filling

4 medium firm apples, granny smith work great, but pretty much any variety will do
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons melted butter
a few handfuls of fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375F. Peel, core and slice the apples. Dump into a large bowl and top with the remaining ingredients. Cover with another bowl, large plate or lid that fits snugly with no gaps, and holding it on tightly pretend you've got maracas and shake shake shake. I suppose you could just stir the whole thing up with a spoon or spatula, but that's not nearly as fun. Dump the mess into the crust and top with...

Easy Crumbly Topping

1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

Process in the food processor until crumbly. Spread evenly over the pie. Don't worry if it looks like it's too much. It will help soak up some of the fruit juice and won't seem like too much at the end.

Put the pie dish onto a cookie sheet to make it easier to handle and to catch any overflow if the fruit was really really juicy, and pop into the hot oven for an hour, or until the crust has browned and the apples are cooked through.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can also whip up this Honey Lavender Ice Cream to put on top, which is what I did. I told you, I can't do "easy". But if you're not nuts like me, plain vanilla will work just as well.

Apple Blueberry Pie

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Katie's Wedding and an Afternoon in Milwaukee

First, a quick note: I ordered a new laptop, so as soon as it's set up, you will no longer needs to wait for weeks to see an update here. Yay!

It's been over a week now, but I'm finally getting around to sharing with you guys the cake I made for my friend Katie's wedding. But before we get to that, I have a question. Have you ever walked around a seemingly large city, that feels like it's teeming with people, and yet there's not a soul on the streets? That's exactly how I felt when I went for a walk through Milwaukee, WI after setting up the cake. It felt very surreal. I couldn't help thinking that there was a huge party or something going on 10 miles away and that's where everyone was and I just didn't get the memo since I'm from out of town. It did give me a great chance to take some nice pictures and since the sun sets early these days, the light couldn't be more beautiful. This is the view from just outside the hall where the wedding was held. I love gazebos and in that golden light moment, it felt like it would be a very romantic spot to be. I couldn't help but play with the picture a bit. Doesn't it look like the city in miniature?

Tiny Milwaukee - Gazebo

Anyhow, onto the wedding. It was beautiful! The flowers, the settings, the bride, gorgeous. Even the people couldn't be nicer and I found many of Katie's friends and family to chat with. The food? Fabulous...which brings me to the cake :D (that was a smooth segway, don't you think?) If you remember from my post several months ago, Katie picked a white chocolate cake, with white chocolate ganache, blackberries and a lemon buttercream. The blackberries were to go with the lovely floral arrangements that she picked and the florist would be providing the flowers to decorate the cake, so my job would be to just bake and deliver. I don't know why, but I couldn't for the life of me remember how big she wanted the cake to be, all I remembered was her fear of tiered cakes with pillars. Something about them crashing. Silly Katie :D But since I couldn't remember, I just followed the picture she sent me showing a 4 tier cake...which turned out a little bit higher then I anticipated...okay a LOT higher. No matter. Wedding cakes are supposed to be large and impressive. They always put them on those huge tables and anything smaller than huge gets lost on it, so while it wasn't exactly what she intended, I think she was happy with the results. And in my humble opinion, it tasted even better then I remember it from the tasting. I won't even tell you how many pounds of chocolate, how many dozen of eggs, how many cases of butter, or how many tubs of berries went into it (and the backup sheet cake that was to stay in the kitchen). I'm still slightly amazed that it fit in my fridge. Isn't it pretty though?

Katie's Cake

Side note: Driving on the highway with this cake as my passenger was a nerve wrecking experience...I don't know how those people on Ace of Cakes do it.