Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Black and White Haunted House Cake

The starkness of this black and white haunted house cake is what I love about it.  It's eerie and spooky (count 13 birds) but also elegant in its simplicity.

I very nearly didn't make a Halloween cake this year, with the busyness of getting the condo ready to sell and all that, but when I got home from work yesterday, I realized that making a Halloween cake is a tradition I want to continue every year if I can.

All in the same evening, I sketched my design and cut out a paper template to trace onto fondant, baked the cake, whipped the buttercream, made the black paper roses, and decorated the cake.  Not to mention photographed it, edited the photos, and created a blog post, which may be the fastest turnaround from recipe to blog post that I've ever managed.

I'm just saying, though, that this was a really simple cake design that even a beginner with fondant could create.  Just print a silhouette image of a haunted house that you like, then trace it onto card stock and cut it out.  Lay it on black fondant and cut out the fondant with a knife.  Then just stick on little white (or yellow) squares of fondant for windows and draw a few details with edible marker, and you're done with your house.  And if your house doesn't look perfect, don't worry - haunted houses are supposed to look a little wonky.  For the birds, just roll small bits of fondant between your fingers, then shape into birds (I used the pointed end of a chopstick to help bend the fondant into bird shapes).

Frost the cake with simple swirls of buttercream and press the house against the side.  The paper roses add a special touch, and I love that they're also black.

It's a little Gothic, while still pretty and elegant for a Halloween party.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dark Chocolate S'mores Bark with Pistachios and Sea Salt

For a girls' movie night last weekend, I made a small batch of this Dark Chocolate S'mores Bark with Pistachios and Sea Salt to take along, and came home with an empty container, cleaned of every last crumb, pistachio and marshmallow.  They loved it so much, they asked if I would be bringing more to next weekend's Halloween party, so what could I do but make another batch?

Originally, I made this bark with a combination of milk and dark chocolate, but personally felt like it ended up too sweet, since so many of the components are already sweet.  So when I made it again, I only used dark chocolate, and the slight bitterness contrasts so nicely with the sweet marshmallows and graham crackers.  The pistachios and coarse sea salt just take it over the edge.

I also made White Chocolate Poppycock Bark - which is incredibly fun to say - but you don't really need a recipe for that since it's nothing more than white chocolate and Poppycock.

But the s'mores bark is the real star here, and it looks so pretty broken into big shards and arranged on a pedestal.  And it's so perfectly simple to make.  I was feeling badly about my skills the morning I made this, because after three failed attempts at frying pumpkin beignets, I had to make something that I knew would be successful.  Not that anyone can't melt chocolate and sprinkle stuff on it, but somehow, it still made me feel better in the end.

Dark Chocolate S'mores Bark with Pistachios and Sea Salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds good quality dark chocolate
  • 1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled cinnamon graham crackers
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
  • coarse sea salt
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler until smooth.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread about 1/3 of the chocolate over the parchment paper.  Sprinkle with the marshmallows, graham crackers and pistachios, reserving a handful of each.  Pour the remaining 2/3 melted chocolate over and sprinkle with the rest of the toppings.  Sprinkle with the coarse sea salt.

Refrigerate until hard, and break into shards.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Banana Cake with Chocolate Ganache

I made this cake for someone wanting a luxurious dessert to celebrate her anniversary and birthday, for which she was having a dinner party at home with friends.  So I created this decadent cake, a juxtaposition of banana cream pie and chocolate, both of which she loves.

The cake is banana, soft, moist and slightly tangy with sour cream and buttermilk, rich with butter, and delicately spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg to complement the ripe bananas mashed into the cake batter.

Between each layer of cake is chocolate pudding, sweet and silky.

Then fluffy buttercream, perfumed with vanilla.

And finally, bittersweet ganache.  Ganache poured over a cake is oh-so-sexy, I think.  Those dark drips of chocolate are just so stunningly dramatic.

Lastly, a garnish of ganache truffles, rolled in toffee dust, and a sprinkling of toffee bits and coarse sea salt.

I think the dinner party that enjoyed this cake for dessert was a lucky dinner party indeed.

Banana Cake with Ganache

banana cake
  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
vanilla buttercream
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla or vanilla bean paste
  • 2-4 tablespoons cream or milk
dark chocolate ganache
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 5 ounces heavy whipping cream
  • toffee bits
Baker's Note:  For an even more luxurious cake, fill each layer of cake with custard or pudding (cooked and chilled a day in advance), before frosting the cake with the buttercream.

Banana Custard Recipe
Chocolate Pudding Recipe

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

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cake mix, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add the eggs, sour cream, buttermilk, bananas, butter and vanilla, and beat for several minutes until smooth.

Divide the batter between the pans and bake until a toothpick in the centers comes out clean, about 18-22 minutes.  Cool completely on a wire rack, covered loosely with clean kitchen towels.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for several minutes until smooth.  With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, mixing until combined.  Add the extract, and increase to medium high, whipping for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.  Add a little cream or milk as needed to achieve the best consistency.  Frost the cake with the buttercream and chill for about a half hour before making the ganache.

Chop the chocolate and place in a bowl.  In a small saucepan, gently warm the cream over medium low heat, just until it begins to steam and bubble around the edges.  Remove from the heat, pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 3 minutes; stir with a spatula until smooth and shiny.

Immediately pour the ganache over the chilled cake, letting it run down the sides.  If you like, reserve and chill a little of the ganache, to roll into truffles for garnishing the cake.  Sprinkle the ganache with the toffee bits.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

    Friday, October 24, 2014

    Curly Girl Wedding: The Dress

    "I've no idea when I'm going to wear it," the girl replied calmly.  "I only knew that I had to have it.  Once I tried it on, well..."
    She shrugged.  "The dress claimed me."

    - Isabel Wolff, A Vintage Affair

    For this week's post in my Curly Girl Wedding series, it's all about the dress!

    I love dresses.  Almost every day, I wear a dress or skirt, and rarely pants or jeans.  They're feminine, flirty and pretty.  Dresses are just my thing.

    A wedding dress is the most special dress a woman will ever wear, and yet, the specific details of my dress were not something to which I gave much thought until after Jamie had proposed and we started planning our wedding.

    When I was a senior in high school, I felt certain that I would meet my husband in college, get married immediately following college graduation at the age of 22, have a few kids by the time I was 25, and be a mom for the rest of my life.  I really didn't have any career goals or dreams for myself, other than to be a wife and mom.

    As it turned out, though, I wasn't destined to become a wife and mom at such a young age.  I dated very little in college, and then moved to China after graduation, where I taught English at a Chinese IT university for three years.  They were three of the most fun-filled and eye-opening years of my life, to be sure, and I wouldn't trade them for anything, nor would I trade the way I changed and grew into adulthood, even with all of the painful, gut-wrenching and exhilarating experiences along the way.  Especially because of those.

    Jamie and I met when I was 30, and he proposed when I was 35, so by that time, my visions of a wedding had changed quite dramatically from when I was 16.  Thank goodness.

    From dreams of a vast cathedral with a robed choir singing, to a modern and very formal black and white affair (including all the guests wearing black and white!), to maybe softening all that black and white with a splash or red or pink, I realized that our wedding should simply reflect us.

    Through this blog, I've found my love of all things vintage, and with my collections of cake stands, antique forks and spoons and stained linens, the theme of our wedding started to take shape in my mind, in the soft and cheerful colors of yellow and grey.

    My dress would be lace, I knew that much.  And besides not wanting to spend too much, I also dreaded the idea of going to bridal shops and trying on dresses while having sales people fuss over me.  I absolutely despise being fussed over by salespeople.

    So when I stumbled upon the Josephine Gown on Simply Bridal, I only deliberated for a few days before buying it online and hoping for the best.  It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it was lace, and the price was right (reduced to $225 at the time), and I felt hopeful that I could alter it to become my perfect dress.

    When it arrived, I saw that it was covered in beading, something I hadn't noticed in the pictures.  The beading was scratchy, and cheapened the dress in my opinion, so I spent one Saturday carefully picking off every last bead, sequin and stray thread.  I liked it better already without all the beading distracting from the pretty lace.

    I sewed on a lace ruffle at the neckline, which was just a little too low.  I also resewed the straps, since they refused to stay on my shoulders.

    And then, in a moment of either pure insanity or pure genius, I cut off the heavy skirt underneath the lace to above my knees.  I loved the idea of a dress that was just a little sexy, but subtly so, and the short skirt (very nearly too short!) underneath the lace was such a unique touch that would make this dress distinctively mine.

    My mom came to stay with us for the week before the wedding to help me finish the alterations.  She was a professional seamstress when I was little, and I was confident that she could finish and perfect what I had started.  She worked so patiently and tirelessly, using my old Singer sewing machine, hunched over the coffee table since I had no better place to set up the machine.

    I had lost 30 pounds since buying the dress in the spring, so it was very loose on me and needed a lot of adjustments.  She took in the seams to fit it to me perfectly, and took in the skirt to create a more fitted, almost-but-not-quite mermaid silhouette.  She added the cap sleeves with the lace she removed from the skirt.  She sewed an ivory belt from the fabric I'd cut off from underneath the dress, and added the silk flower for my waist.

    And perhaps most notably, she created a unique way to bustle the dress for the reception, sewing in strings to gather the beautiful train up on three of the seams in the back.  I loved the way she did this, and I thought the final result was so much prettier than just picking up the train and hooking it to a higher point on the back of the skirt.

    In the end, there was really nothing I would have done differently about my dress, except to change the cap sleeves a little to have the lace sleeves extend across my back with a pretty key-hole cutout.  I've always loved that look, but there simply wasn't enough leftover lace from the skirt to add that.  Maybe I should have hunted around for some closely matching lace to do that, or even cut off a little bit of lace from that long train to use, but I was still so happy with the way it looked, and the amazing job my mom did with the alterations.

    "Once upon a perfect night, unclouded and still, there came the face of a pale and beautiful lady.  The tresses of her hair reached out to make the constellations, and the dewy vapours of her gown fell soft upon the land."

    - Kit Williams

    wedding photography by Bri Lamkin

    Wednesday, October 22, 2014

    Coffee and Doughnuts

    Coffee and doughnuts are like two lovers waking up together on a lazy weekend morning with nothing to do but enjoy each other's company.

    Sunday, October 19, 2014

    Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Buttercream

    My love of pumpkin is such that I always keep several cans of it on hand after winter is over, just in case.  Throughout the spring and summer they sleep, tucked away in the back of the cupboard, but not quite forgotten.  I might bake something pumpkin when least expected, but then again, I might wait for fall.

    And when the nights become cool and crisp, a confetti of leaves crunch underfoot, and the afternoons are dappled with the golden glow of earlier-than-usual sunsets, there is no more quiescence, and my kitchen is longing to be filled with the scent of something sweet and pumpkiny.

    Pumpkin and cream cheese are made for each other - like a cool autumn day and brown boots - and a little maple extract in the buttercream made them taste like pancakes.  I dipped each rounded cap of maple cream cheese buttercream into toasted coconut or a mixture of crushed salted pecans and toffee bits.

    I couldn't decide which topping I liked best, because they both complemented the soft, spiced pumpkin cake so beautifully.

    Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Buttercream

    • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 3 eggs
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 1 cup pumpkin puree
    • 2/3 cup sour cream
    • 2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ginger
    • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
    • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
    • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
    • 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
    • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1/2 teaspoon maple extract
    • toasted coconut
    • crushed toffee, pecans and sea salt

    Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with 24 paper liners.  In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

    In a bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and sour cream.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the pumpkin/ sour cream, starting and ending with the flour.

    Divide between the cupcake liners and bake for approximately 15 minutes, until the centers spring back when lightly touched.

    In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter for several minutes until smooth.  Combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder and with the mixer on low, add by spoonfuls until combined.  Add the extracts and beat the frosting for several minutes until light and fluffy.

    Yields 24 cupcakes

    Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

    Friday, October 17, 2014

    Curly Girl Wedding: A Paris Street Antique Market

    There's this place, an antique market in Denver that's only open for a few months from spring to fall, one Saturday a month, A Paris Street Antique Market in the Aspen Grove neighborhood.  Even the location sounds so charming.

    What I love is that it's full of actual antiques, along with, of course, the usually crafty things, but not so many handmade crafts that they take over the real antiques, which is the reason I go to an antique market.

    I fell in love with a gorgeous black typewriter, but just couldn't afford it.  A friend of mine has an old typewriter, which she let me borrow for our wedding, and it sat in the lobby with the story of our engagement which I wrote and typed up in pretty typewriter font.

    I did bring home that lovely tobacco tin with the yellow label, and the thing that made it so perfect is that S&M are the initials of our last names, so it was such a cute touch on the cake table to hold my collection of vintage cake servers.

    The same day I bought the tin, I also found those cute little flower girl dresses for my nieces (pictured in last week's wedding post), which made me feel a little better for not getting to buy the typewriter.  Or that beautiful blue bicycle which even has an S for Smoke!

    Sadly, the market is now closed for the season, although they will have one indoor market day in December this year.  I've already marked it on my calender.

    To read more about my wedding, visit my Curly Girl Wedding page.

    Thursday, October 16, 2014

    Pumpkin Smoothie

    It's time for pumpkin everything, is it not?  I'm starting off pumpkin season with a smoothie that tastes like you're drinking pumpkin pie.

    With my eating very clean over the past year, aside from the occasional sweet treat, I've eliminated protein powder from my smoothies.  I just couldn't find one - that I liked the taste of - that didn't contain artificial sweeteners and other ingredients that I don't want to eat.  So instead of protein powder, I use raw eggs in all my smoothies now.  Yes, raw.

    If you're squeamish, well, I get it, but I urge you to at least try it.  Eggs are some of the best protein for you, and a raw egg or two in a smoothie adds such rich creaminess that you'll almost feel like you're drinking a milkshake.  There was a reason Rocky gulped down a glass full of raw eggs every day.

    This pumpkin smoothie is the perfect balance of healthy fats, protein and carbs, and tastes completely indulgent while providing your body with some great nutrition.

    Pumpkin Smoothie
    • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
    • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
    • 1-2 whole eggs (raw)
    • 1 tablespoon almond butter
    • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 2 teaspoons raw honey or pure maple syrup
    • 6 ice cubes
    • 1/4-1/2 cup milk (whole milk or unsweetened almond milk)

    Blend all ingredients in your blender until smooth!

    Yields 1 serving

    Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

    Monday, October 13, 2014

    Apple Fritters with Orange Maple Glaze

    I made doughnuts for the first time in my cramped Chinese apartment kitchen years ago.  I knew nothing about oil temperature, so I cranked the flame to high on my propane stove and heated the oil dangerously hot.  I confidently started sliding doughnuts into the boiling oil, though, and watched with dismay as they burned to a blackened crisp within seconds of touching the oil.

    Needless to say, they went into the trash and I didn't get any doughnuts that day.  Although I never mastered doughnuts in my Chinese kitchen, or frying anything for that matter, I did bake some pretty great cookies in my tiny little stove, usually of the peanut butter and chocolate chip variety.

    Sundays lately have been sweet as we've been experimenting with various doughnut recipes.  Delicious experiments, to be sure, although not all of them worth sharing.  These apple fritters, though, are some of the best doughnuts I've made.

    Soft yeast dough spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg is stuffed with a tempting amount of tart apple filling and then fried until golden, before getting dipped in a sweet orange maple glaze.

    The first bite into the golden crisp dough coated in that sugary maple glaze, your mouth filling with hot spiced apples and a hint of orange, is pure felicity.

    Baker's Note:
    These are best the same day they're made, since the apple filling can cause the fritters to become a little soggy the following day.  Make them for a hungry crowd one weekend morning and they will disappear fast.

    Apple Fritters with Orange Maple Glaze

    Fritter Dough
    • 1/3 cup hot water (between 110-115 degrees F)
    • 2 packets active dry yeast
    • 1/4 cup whole milk Greek yogurt or sour cream, room temperature
    • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, soft
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 3 cups bread flour, divided
    • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    Oil, for frying

    Apple Filling
    • 6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped to 1/4 inch pieces
    • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • zest of 1 navel orange
    • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
    Orange Maple Glaze
    • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
    • zest of 1 navel orange
    • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
    • 2 teaspoons maple extract
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 3 cups powdered sugar
    In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the hot water and yeast and let stand for about 5 minutes, until foamy.

    Add the yogurt, butter and vanilla, and mix with the dough hook.  In a bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add by spoonfuls, with the mixer on low.  Increase to medium speed and knead the dough for 4-5 minutes (adding another tablespoon or two of warm water if the mixture is too dry), until the dough slaps against the side of the bowl and the dough springs back slowly when pressed.

    Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about an hour.

    In a saucepan, combine the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, orange zest and orange juice.  Over medium heat, simmer until the liquid has mostly evaporated and the apples are softened but still hold their shape.  Set aside to cool.

    Dump the risen dough out onto a generously floured surface and press out into a circle with your hands.  Dump the apples on top, and gently knead the apples into the dough until dispersed throughout, adding the remaining cup of flour as needed to keep the dough from being too sticky and wet.  Press the dough out to about a half inch thick, and cut into 15 fritters with a 2 1/2 - 3 inch biscuit cutter, gathering up the scraps to cut the remainder of the fritters.  Place the fritters on a piece of parchment paper.  Cover loosely with a towel and let rise for 45 minutes while you heat the oil.

    In a large pan, heat 2-3 inches of oil to 365 degrees.  Carefully lower the doughnuts into the hot oil, working with just a few at a time, and fry for about 2 minutes on each side, until a deep golden brown. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with a wire rack to cool slightly while you make the glaze.

    In a saucepan, whisk together the sugar, orange juice, orange zest, corn syrup, maple extract and vanilla extract.  Over medium heat, whisk to dissolve the sugar.  Whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth.

    Dip the doughnuts into the hot glaze, using tongs of needed, and set back on the wire rack.  Glaze will set in about 5-10 minutes.

    Yields 15 fritters

    Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen