Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Do You Instagram?

If you Instagram, come find me here!  I'm fairly new to using it, but one of my goals this year is to take and share photos more impulsively.  See you there!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lemon Cream Berry Tart with Pecan Shortbread

There's something so elegant in the simplicity of fruit piled atop a tart.  No concentric circles or perfectly aligned rows, just a handful of fresh berries scattered over lemon cream.

The lemon cream is only subtly lemony with the zest and juice of just one lemon whipped into the cream cheese and whipped cream filling, because I really wanted the berries to be the highlight of this dessert.  The berries at the grocery store have been so tempting lately, and I've been bringing some home almost every week.  They are fantastic for dessert all on their own.

Sunday was chilly, gloomy and drizzly, and with Jamie off doing manly things, I spent the day working on some of my wedding dress alterations.  I fixed the straps, which refused to stay on my shoulders, and now, after re-sewing them at a different point they stay up perfectly.

I hemmed the bottom, trimming off at least 4 inches of lace; with the lace scraps, I covered the straps and added some lace trim to the neckline.  I really like the changes, but I'm not finished yet!  I have much more in mind to make it a truly unique, one-of-a-kind dress.

The pretty fluted edge on this tart even reminded me of the ruffly lace trim on the neckline of my dress.

One Year Ago:   Ombre Birthday Cake
Two Years AgoNutella Polka Dot Cheesecake

Lemon Cream Berry Tart with Pecan Shortbread

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • zest and juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, cold
  • fresh berries

In a food processor, grind the pecans for about 30 seconds until finely chopped.  Add the flour, sugar and salt and pulse a few times to combine.  With the processor running, add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, just until moistened and crumbly.  Add the yolk and pulse a few times to incorporate.  The mixture should resemble moist cornmeal.

Spray a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom with non-stick spray.  Pile the dough crumbs into the pan, and spread out to the edge.  Firmly press down against the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Freeze for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a piece of foil with non-stick spray and place the foil, greased side down, against the frozen crust, fitting it closely to the crust.  Fill the foil with pie weights or dried beans and bake for 25 minutes.

Carefully remove the foil and set aside and bake crust, uncovered, for an additional 10-15 minutes, until golden brown.  Set pan in the refrigerator to cool completely.
Cream Cheese Filling:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Slowly drizzle in the cream and beat on high speed until smooth, fluffy and thick.  Spread the filling into the cooled crust, and refrigerate for 2-4 hours to set up.  Pile the top with fresh berries before serving.
Yields 8-12 servings
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Banana Almond Flourless Pancakes

A few people have asked me if I will make them a gluten free cake, and without hesitation, I say no.  I have minimal experience with gluten free baking, and honestly, even less desire to spend time experimenting with it.  Not to mention, I barely have enough cupboard space (we don't have a pantry in our condo) to keep just one or two types of flour, let alone the variety of flours, powders and starches typically used for gluten free baking.

That said, I do keep small bags of almond meal and coconut flour - which I try to use sparingly since they are so expensive - for the occasional recipe I want to make without all-purpose flour, which came in handy one morning when I thought I would try making pancakes for breakfast with no flour or refined sugar.

These pancakes are light, fluffy and delicate, naturally sweetened with bananas and completely delicious.  I topped mine with a spoonful of almond butter and a drizzle of honey, and I loved that the pancakes tasted like a treat but were so full of so many healthy ingredients.

One Year Ago:   Individual Peanut Butter Pies
Two Years AgoLimoncello Mascarpone Ice Cream

Banana Almond Flourless Pancakes

  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus extra for the griddle
  • 2 tablespoons natural almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Baker's Note:  These pancakes are more delicate than pancakes made with gluten (all-purpose flour) and are very light and fluffy.  If you like, you can top your pancakes with more sliced bananas or toasted almonds, almond butter, maple syrup, or honey.

Preheat a griddle to 325.  Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend for 30 seconds.

Brush the griddle with 1 teaspoon coconut oil.  Use a 1/4 cup to measure batter onto the griddle and cook on one side for about 4 minutes before gently flipping and cooking the other side.  Repeat with the rest of the batter, brushing the griddle with more coconut oil between each batch.

Without gluten, these pancakes are more delicate than pancakes made with all-purpose flour, and are very light and fluffy.

Yields about 12-14 pancakes (2-3 per serving)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, April 25, 2014

The First Blooms of Spring

Wherever you are that's not where I am, it's probably already lush, green and flowering, and I'm jealous of that place.  But here, it wasn't until this week that I started noticing the trees along our street sprouting fresh green shoots and blossoms.

I took my camera and went for a walk, but the sunny day had turned cloudy and terribly windy, so it was hard to get photos that weren't blurry since nothing would stay still long enough for me to take a clear photo.  I still love them, though.

It's supposed to rain the next few days and I'm hoping for a quiet weekend at home to work on some projects.  And if you're wondering what I'm up to lately...

making: paper flower garlands
cooking: rack of lamb with roasted carrots and onions for dinner Saturday
drinking: red wine
reading: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
wanting: this dress
looking: at photos of beautiful cakes for inspiration
playing: with my hair for possible wedding hairstyles
wasting: plastic piping bags
sewing: my veil
wishing: it was summer already
enjoying: the first blooms of spring
waiting: to finish making my homemade limoncello and rhubarb cocktail
liking: the feel of the sun on my arms
wondering: what the life of a cat would be like
loving: this
hoping: we will have a house before the end of the year
marveling: at how life changes
needing: this drink
wanting: these in my closet
smelling: afternoon rain clouds
wearing: sundresses
noticing: new green shoots on the trees
trying: to better myself every day
knowing: that Jamie loves me
thinking: about our future together
baking: lemon scones
bookmarking: blogs I've just discovered to read later
opening: a new box of fondant
giggling: at Jamie's cute grumpy face when he wants a head rub
feeling: content

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pretty in Sparkles Cupcakes

One of my favorite clothing websites is ModCloth, and what I love the most (besides the feminine vintage dresses) are the names they give the clothes.  Lakeshore Picnic Dress.  Last Slow Dance Dress.  Flirting with the Idea Dress.  Bakeshop Browsing Dress.  Under a Blue Sky Dress.

The names are as lovely as the dresses themselves, and I could read through them all day.

Last night, I consulted with Jamie on a list of names for these cupcakes, including Glitter and Glam Cupcakes (which was his favorite, because, according to him, it sounded naughty) and An Evening out Cupcakes.  But in the end, I decided these were Pretty in Sparkles Cupcakes.

It's not often that I make cupcakes instead of a layer cake, but every so often I have an urge to whip up a batch of pretty little cupcakes.  It's also a good way to use up all the leftover bits of buttercream I save in the freezer.

The best part about decorating these is that you don't need any special piping tools, just the frosting, a knife or small spatula and sparkling sugar.  After frosting these in pale pink buttercream, I dipped them in a bowl of white sparkling sugar, completely covering the frosting.  I thought they looked so beautiful, like little pieces of jewelry.

I tried a few other colors of sparkles (not pictured here), because I ran out of white, but I really liked the look of the white the best.  Any color of frosting can be used, and when dipped in the white sparkling sugar, the color will peek through ever so shyly.

Baker's Note: Be sure to use coarse decorating sugar, not baking/granulated sugar which can melt from the moisture of the frosting.

One Year Ago:   Oatmeal Almond Cookie Dough Bites
Two Years AgoMozzarella Stuffed Turkey and Pork Meatballs

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Traveling by Train Cake

Traveling by train was a given when I was living in China.  I've never ridden a train in the States, but in China, it was the most convenient way to travel.

For weekend adventures, my friends and I would stuff our backpacks as heavy as we could carry and take a cab or the bus to the Dalian train station.  From there, we'd head off to explore other cities in the northeast like Tianjin, Harbin and of course, Beijing.

With many cities being an 8-12 hour train ride away, traveling at night was the most efficient, and there were a few types of tickets you could purchase.  The cheapest option was to sit up all night in the hard or soft seats, an option we learned the hard way as a completely miserable way to travel for that many hours.  If you wanted to lie down and sleep, then there were the cars with bunk beds, and you could choose between the hard sleeper which was an open car with rows of bunks, or the more luxurious soft sleeper with a private compartment containing four bunks.  Check out some of these photos on the Travel China Guide.

I only shelled out money for a soft sleeper once, and traveled by hard sleeper for most other lengthy trips.  Although seriously lacking in privacy, it was a decent way to travel and be able to stretch out and get some sleep.  The bathroom situation, though, with the Chinese-style (squatter) toilets opening up to flush over the train tracks rushing just inches beneath you, was something else!

I couldn't help but reminisce about all those adventures in my 20s while I was making the fondant decorations for Brody's 1st birthday cake.  The theme for the party was trains, so I wanted to make a cake with a train circling around, with puffy clouds of smoke floating up into the sky.

The decorations are all made from fondant, and really are just a combination of squares and circles put together, with edible food coloring pens for the finer details like the polka dots on the wheels and the writing on the train ticket and signs.

Everything else - sky, grass, train tracks and smoke - is buttercream.

My favorite piece was the engine, with its bright blue and red colors, two sets of cute little wheels, and B.H. (the birthday boy's initials) for B.H. Transportation, an idea I pulled from the birthday invites.  I don't think I ever rode on a train this cute in China, though!

One Year Ago:   Avocado, Orange and Basil Salad
Two Years AgoApple, Cardamom and Ginger Streusel Muffins

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Watercolor Striped Cake

Today we'll be having Easter dinner with friends who are "orphans" like us, without family in town to spend the holidays with.

I had been planning to make my peanut butter cheesecake again, since nothing says Easter like chocolate and peanut butter.  But then a friend asked if I could make a birthday cake instead, as a surprise for one of the girls who would be at dinner.

So I baked a white cake, whipped up some fluffy vanilla bean buttercream and frosted the cake in a design I'm calling "watercolor stripes".

There is a wonderful blog called Jones Design Company, and the designer Emily creates these beautiful, seasonal watercolor prints which she makes available for download.  This print is from her spring collection - isn't it gorgeous?  If you've never been to her blog, I hope you will pay a visit.  And once you start looking around, you may not want to leave, because there's so much creativity and inspiration - the lovely soft hues of her watercolor artwork was my inspiration for this cake.

Photo and Artwork from Jones Design Company

The blended stripes were actually quite easy to make.  After first frosting the cake in a crumb coat of white buttercream and letting it chill, I filled a piping bag to pipe the frosting on in a even layer, starting at the top, and one fourth of the way down the sides.  Then I added a drop or two of purple food coloring to get a pale lavender color, and piped the next section.  Then I repeated that twice more, each time tinting the frosting just a little darker.

After the frosting was in place, I took my bench scraper and lightly ran it around the sides, two or three times, until the frosting was smooth and the stripes blended together seamlessly.  It's a pretty effect, don't you think?

So as not to ruin the pretty cake with writing (and because I have awful cake writing skills), I made bunting to wish the birthday girl a happy birthday.  I made the letters in Excel and printed them on card stock; then by punching a small hole punched in each corner I was able to run the twine through the bunting without needing to use any glue or tape.

I loved the look of this cake so much, I sat and stared at it for a while and dreamed of all the other cakes I want to decorate this summer with other pretty pastel stripes.

One Year Ago:   Strawberry Rhubarb Almond Crumb Bars
Two Years AgoSalted Caramel Almond Tarts

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Things I Love

I recently discovered and fell in love with a blog.  Reading her words, I just felt like I had come home, that is if there were a home that were any more home than my own.  If the writer and I lived closer, I have a feeling we would become great friends.

But there was a part of me that felt sad, too, after reading her posts.  I don't always feel quite able to say what I feel in the exact way I wish I could express myself.  I often feel words, lingering in my fingertips as I type, but then stopping short as my fingers hit each key.

Maybe I hide, just a little, behind my photos of pretty cakes and sweets, but I'd like to share more everyday moments and impulsive photos of the things I love.  So, here are just a few, to start...

One Year Ago:   Salted Caramel Apple Bread Pudding
Two Years AgoCaramelized Balsamic Onion and Parmesan Mini Pizzas

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Egg Hunt in the Garden Cake

Quite a while ago, I stumbled upon this tutorial for "quilling" with fondant or gum paste.  As I was still in the beginner phase of learning how to use fondant, this seemed like a fun and easy technique to learn.  Quilling or paper filigree, is an art form of rolling strips of paper for scrap-booking, and long before that, for decorating book covers or religious artifacts.

It was the middle of winter, but I must have been dreaming of warmer weather when I created my little quilled butterflies, bees and flowers, which I packed away in a box to wait until spring had arrived.

The wall next to our kitchen table has become the storage area for everything to do with our upcoming wedding - decorations, candles, vases, and miscellaneous projects I'm working on - and while organizing it all the other day, I found my box of dried fondant decorations.  It was time to make an Easter cake with my pretty little decorations, which I decided to call my "Easter Egg Hunt in the Garden" Cake.

The cake itself is vanilla, with minty shaved chocolate buttercream.  I tinted the buttercream an ever-so-subtle shade of pale green, with the shaved chocolate to hint at a speckled Easter egg.

To complete the cake, I wrapped a few plastic eggs in fondant and decorated them with stripes and polka dots, with the eggs "hiding" beside a paper flower attached to a wooden skewer.  Even my rolled paper flower is a form of quilling.

I don't have any memories of hunting Easter eggs in the yard, or even dyeing or decorating Easter eggs as a kid, but I do remember the baskets of candy waiting on our beds on Easter morning and how hard it was to put the candy away until after lunch.  I'm sure we sneaked a jelly bean or two, though, when our parents weren't looking.

For a how-to on "quilling" with fondant or gum paste, click HERE for a photo tutorial by My Cake School.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Chocolate Cake Doughnuts with Ganache Glaze

I woke up to a cool, misty morning with a few scattered snowflakes mixed with rain here and there.  It's been a beautiful, sunny spring week, but I don't mind the weather today since we need the moisture.  And gloomy Sundays suit me, as long as I get to stay home and be cozy.

When Jamie and I came home from my parents' house in South Carolina the day after Christmas, I made cinnamon rolls that morning, and froze half the rolls.  With the chilly weather this morning, I thawed out the rest of the cinnamon rolls and baked them up - they filled the house with their sweet, cinnamony aroma.

With Easter almost here, my jars of colorful sprinkles were begging to be used on something.  So one weekend morning I baked dark chocolate cake doughnuts and dipped them in bittersweet ganache before covering them with sprinkles and colored sugar.

For taste, I far prefer just the simple sprinkling of coconut, but the pastel sprinkles are sure a pretty way to welcome Easter.

One Year Ago:   Chocolate Ice Cream and Peanut Butter Cookies
Two Years AgoHot Cross Bun Bread Pudding

Chocolate Cake Doughnuts with Ganache Glaze

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons special dark cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
ganache and garnish:
  • 2 ounces heavy cream
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • sprinkles, coconut, chopped nuts, toffee bits, etc

Bake the Doughnuts:
Preheat the oven to 375 and spray a standard-sized doughnut pan (6 doughnuts) with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, salt and baking soda.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, heavy cream, sour cream, oil and vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until smooth; batter will be very thick.

Scrape the batter into a piping bag (it is too thick to try to spoon evenly into the pan, so you will need to pipe it), and snip a 1/2 inch hole at the tip.  Pipe the batter into the pan, dividing it between the 6 doughnut molds.

Bake for 8-9 minutes, until risen and the doughnuts spring back when lightly touched.  Cool in the pan for 1-2 minutes before glazing.

Make the Ganache:
While the doughnuts are baking, heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium low heat, just until it begins to bubble around the edges.  Add the chocolate and let stand for 3 minutes, then stir with a spatula until smooth.

After cooling the doughnuts for a couple of minutes, dip each doughnut in the ganache, then sprinkle with your toppings of choice.  Let sit for 15-20 minutes until the ganache is set.

Yields 6 doughnuts

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen