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.

    Monday, October 20, 2014

    Seduced by a Chocolate Chip Cookie

    If I'm being honest, I believe that baking involves a good deal of seduction.  And although we bakers may not freely admit it, we enjoy seeing others being seduced by our sweet creations.  I don't mean sexual seduction, necessarily, although butter and flour caking my fingernails, achy feet after standing barefoot for hours to decorate a cake, and my face warm and damp from an over-heated kitchen is undeniably sexy.  Or at least it might be if I was baking with nothing on underneath my apron, but that never happens, much to my husband's disappointment.

    But knowing that something I've made is enticing enough to draw someone closer, bewitching them with the scent of butter and chocolate and spices, and finally, tempting them to taste - that's the seduction for which I feel no shame.

    With that said, as we list our condo for sale this week, I'm not above tempting potential home buyers with homemade chocolate chip cookies arranged prettily on a glass pedestal.

    And these cookies really are something special.  They are spiced with a little cinnamon and nutmeg, and of course, a decent pinch or two of salt.  They are studded with pecans, which I love with chocolate.  And they're under-baked, so they stay wonderfully soft and chewy for days.  As a bonus, too, the dough doesn't require any refrigeration, so there's no waiting.  Because waiting for a chocolate chip cookie is agonizing.

    But the two ingredients that add a lovely depth of flavor you can't quite identify is a bit of molasses and espresso powder.  Don't get me wrong - they don't taste like molasses or coffee; you really might not even know they contain either.  But they create a beautifully complex flavor profile that has you reaching for a second cookie.  Or a third.

    They are the only recipe I will ever use again for chocolate chip cookies, which is saying something.  And when I'm craving a truly phenomenal cookie, no mediocre substitution will have a chance at seducing me.

    Chocolate Chip Cookies

    • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
    • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 2 eggs
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
    • 2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
    • 1 cup pecans, roughly chopped

    Preheat the oven to 350, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

    In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar and molasses for five minutes, scraping the bowl once or twice, until fluffy and lightened in color.  Beat in the vanilla and the eggs.

    In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and espresso powder.  With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients until moistened.  Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans; the dough will be quite thick.

    Drop large spoonfuls of dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet (I baked six cookies at a time on each baking sheet) and flatten slightly with your hand, leaving two inches between each cookie.  Bake for exactly 8 minutes until pale golden and crisp around the edges but gooey in the middle; let cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet before carefully transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

    Yields about 2 1/2 dozen large cookies

    Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

    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.