Monday, September 29, 2014

Lyla's First Birthday

Baby Lyla turned one!  Inspired by her six-month photos in her bright and colorful nursery, I designed a first birthday cake for her that would highlight as many of those colors as I could manage to squeeze into one cake.

See how the stripes on the bottom tier of her cake are just like the painted stripes on her bedroom walls, in shades of purple, coral and mint?

Photo by J Amado Photography

Photo by J Amado Photography
Photo by J Amado Photography

I almost always begin a cake with a sketch, as it helps keep me organized, and keeps me from making mistakes while decorating something this involved.  This cake is frosted all in buttercream, with just the little birdies and the Lyla banner accents in fondant.

The bottom tier is chocolate cake, with vanilla on top, and a vanilla cupcake perched on top for Lyla.  She loved the frosting, but didn't seem to enjoy the cake very much!

To add even more color and cuteness, I made a bunch of paper flowers from the most adorable paper I found at the craft store.

The spiraled roses are very easy, and there are plenty of tutorials available online for those, so I won't take the time to post my own tutorial.

The more realistic looking roses are more time-consuming, as each petal is cut and glued on individually, then the petals folded out however you like.  I'm sure there are many different ways to make these, some probably easier than others, but here is the tutorial I used for mine.

Aren't they pretty?

And didn't Lyla's parents do such a cute job decorating their house for the party?  Happy Birthday, Lyla!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Curly Girl Wedding: Pretty Packages wrapped in Book Pages

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

For this week's post in my Curly Girl Wedding series, I'm sharing a little project with you that isn't just for weddings, but something you can do with any special gift that you want to make extra pretty.  Or, maybe even just for a beautiful box or two to decorate your home.

I just love old books, and some of my favorites are the English classics I read in high school and college.  Used bookstores are one of my happy places, and I could have spent hours browsing through all those books, inhaling the scent of the worn pages and fingering their soft, ragged edges.

At our used bookstore 2nd & Charles, after looking through stacks of Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights, I found an old copy of each with such lovely yellowed pages that I knew would be beautiful for this project.

"He's more myself than I am.  Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same...  He must never know how I love him...  He's always, always in my mind; not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being."

- Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

My plan was to take a few plain-Jane gift boxes from the craft store and wrap them in the pages of these books to make a more beautiful gift box.  Inside, I placed a jar of my homemade jam for our photographers and my friend Kim who had offered to coordinate our wedding day.

The pages are Mod-Podged onto the boxes, so that they become part of the boxes themselves, which makes them them a truly beautiful gift box that you can keep long after opening it.

I was silent: I thought he mocked me.

"Come, Jane - come hither."
"Your bride stands between us."

He rose, and with a stride reached me.

"My bride is here," he said, again drawing me to him, "because my equal is here, and my likeness.  Jane, will you marry me?"

Still I did not answer, and still I writhed myself from his grasp; for I was still incredulous.

"Do you doubt me, Jane?"
"You have no faith in me?"
"Not a whit."

- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

The language, the passion, the emotion in those classics is truly hard to come by in modern novels.  And that's why I love them.  Ardently.

As hard as it was to rip the pages from those old books, it was even harder to give away the finished boxes.  But then again, I can always make more.  The bookstore awaits me.

"You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

See more Curly Girl Wedding ideas...

Project Essentials:
  • used books with worn, yellowed pages
  • Mod Podge
  • small paint brush
  • plain gift boxes with lids, any size
  • ribbon

Tear pages from the books and decide how you want to arrange them around the box - I selected pages with some of my favorite quotes, so those words would be visible.  For the small boxes I used, which were about 4x4 inches, I needed 7 book pages - 1 page for the bottom, 4 for the sides, and 2 for the lid.  Cut the pages to fit, as needed.

Starting with the bottom of the box, brush a light coat of Mod Podge over the surface, then press a book page firmly against it.  Wrap the page around all edges, sealing with more Mod Podge.  Brush Mod Podge over one side of the box at a time and repeat with the rest of the pages, folding the pages around the corners, and making sure each page overlaps somewhat so that the entire box is covered.

Let dry for 24 hours before using.  Decorate your gift with a beautiful ribbon and name tag.

Design from Curly Girl Kitchen

***As a bonus, these are the packages I wrapped for Jamie's gifts to the men involved in the wedding.  I just love the blue and white striped paper with the grey twine and vintage stamps on the labels!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese and Toasted Coconut, and Chocolate Paw Prints

I might be a red velvet convert after all, in spite of my stance that I'm really not that into red velvet cake.

I'm always tweaking my recipes, deliberating over ways to make them better, more flavorful, more worthy of making time and again.  Lately, I've been experimenting with cake flour in my favorite cake recipes instead of all-purpose flour, and I've been pleased with the lightness it adds.  I only wish it were available as inexpensively as all-purpose flour is.

But for my red velvet cake, I tried a few other modifications.  I added a little more cocoa to enhance the flavor, while still not pretending that red velvet is in any way a chocolate cake.  I also reduced the oil and increased the buttermilk and added four eggs instead of two.  And as a result, the cake was as moist, soft and velvety as its name implies it should be, and tempting enough to seduce me into tasting more than just a bite.

But what really turned me on, besides the cream cheese of course - and a person would be mad not to be turned on by cream cheese - was the coconut, toasted to a pale golden, the darkest pieces the color of my summer tan that's quickly fading with the arrival of fall.  And like a windswept pile of crisp autumn leaves, the toasted coconut is scattered over the tangy cream cheese buttercream and between each layer of soft cake, lending a sweet, crunchy contrast.

I finished the cake with a simple crumb-coat of buttercream, letting the red layers peek through, like a lovingly aged piece of furniture with its tarnished edges wearing through a fading coat of paint.

And the chocolate paws, you might ask?  Those are just because I work at a dog toy company.  :)

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese and Toasted Coconut

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 2/3 cups full-fat buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • red gel food coloring
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4 1/2 - 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • milk or cream, if needed

Baker's Note:  The chocolate paws are made from bittersweet chocolate chips (pressed pointed side towards the cake) and chocolate candy melts.

Preheat the oven to 350, and spray the bottoms only of three 8-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla and food coloring.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk vigorously for several minutes until smooth and well blended.  Divide batter between the pans.

Bake cakes on the middle rack for 25-28 minutes, until the centers spring back when lightly touched and a toothpick comes out clean.  Set on wire racks, covered loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely in the pans.

Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast in a 300 degree oven for about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice so the edges don't get too dark, until lightly browned.  Set aside to cool completely.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese for 1-2 minutes until incorporated.  Gradually add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, mixing on low to combine.  Add the vanilla and increase speed to medium and beat for several minutes until smooth and creamy.  Add a tablespoon or two of milk or cream if needed to thin the consistency.

Assemble the cake layers by frosting each with the buttercream and sprinkling with coconut before adding the next layer.  Sprinkle the rest of the coconut on top of the cake.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, September 22, 2014

Cream in mine, sugar in his...

For the past five months or so, I've given up coffee.  But now, I'm welcoming it back into my life.

Coffee, I've missed you.