Category Archives: Baking

A confession of love

It’s true, I idolize Martha Stewart, felony and all.  There is something about her crisp life that is neatly organized and cleaned that I love.  Her food is good, her tips are better (No one else had a solution for when Vito ate an ink pen and spilled the ink all over my brand new couch and white carpeting.  It’s isopropyl alcohol, by the way.  Little bit on a cotton ball, dab it on the ink and it draws it right out. It was miraculous.), and the photos in her books/magazines are inspiring.  That being said, I no longer have a subscription to her Living magazine as the projects aren’t practical for my season in life and I felt like I was paying to read advertisements.  I do however, have her Cooking School book.  I like all the step-by-step instructions and the photos, but what I now like above all else, is this cake recipe.  According to her directions, this recipe is supposed to make 42 cupcakes or 2 9-inch round cakes.  I made the cupcakes, but only got 36 out of the batter.  I like my cupcakes to fill out the wrapper.  Actually, I only got 35 cupcakes.  We left the cupcakes on the dining room table to cool and ran out to get some last minute errands done.  Upon our return, I realized that one cupcake was missing from the rack and Nunzio seemed extra pleased with herself.  

Yellow Butter Cake (From Martha Stewart’s Cooking School)
  • 2 1/4 sticks butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and line your cake pans or cupcake tins.  Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.  Cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy.  Add in the vanilla.  Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl as necessary.  Alternate the addition of the dry ingredients and the buttermilk until all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.  The batter should be smooth and rather thick.  Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans or cupcake tins.  For the cakes bake for 40 and for the cupcakes, bake 20-25 minutes.  Allow the cakes to cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pans.  Then allow them to cool completely on a baking rack.  Ice with your favorite icing.

I am not a huge fan of butter cream icing.  Perhaps it was all the batches I had to make for my Wilton classes, but I will do anything to avoid it!  I do, however love cream cheese icing.  I like the tanginess of the flavor and the fact that leftovers can be spread on waffles the next morning.  That is, if you aren’t having left over cake for breakfast the day after your birthday!

Basic Cream Cheese Icing
  • 16 oz. cream cheese (2 packages), softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
With an electric mixer, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth on a high speed setting so that there are no lumps. On low speed blend in powdered sugar and vanilla extract.  Then return the mixer to high speed and beat until light and fluffy. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.  If refrigerated, the frosting will need to be brought to room temperature before using (after frosting softens up, beat with mixer until smooth).  If you prefer a sweeter and/or stiffer frosting, you could add more powdered sugar (up to four cups). I don’t think this is necessary though, as the more sugar you add, the less you’ll be able to taste the tangy cream cheese!

Marshmallow Fondant

Alternate title: Because I  Married a Man With an Art Degree!
I should begin this post with a confession:  Liam’s cake was supposed to be a pirate ship.  When we first began talking about the birthday party and what, we as the parents, wanted we thought of an outfit in Liam’s closet with a cute little pirate and ship on it and thought it would be fun to theme the party around the outfit.  As the months passed, we came to our senses and realized that we were going to be the only ones to enjoy this and we really should save it until we have had more experience with fondant and Liam will care.  I know, we’re so smart.  Anyway, since Liam is really into the dump truck and I wanted to make something to decorate the top of the cupcakes, we settled on making cute little primary colored dump trucks for the toppers.  So the decision was made and ingredients purchased.  And then, 10 pounds of green beans landed in my kitchen and I had to deal with them pronto.  So last Friday night, my husband was making fondant.  That’s right, my 6 foot, manly man of a husband was rolling out marshmallow and confectioner’s sugar so that I could have the cupcakes of my dreams.  He’s a doll isn’t he?
We used the recipe from the Wilton site, but without the shortening.  Matt thought it would be better to simply coat our pastry board with more sugar and roll the blob of fondant around on it until he had managed to get the consistency that he wanted.  Since he was the one doing it, I did not stand in his way.  Turns out, his method worked just fine and I didn’t have to clean shortening up from anything in the kitchen!  Once the fondant was worked together and in a ball, Matt divided it into thirds so he could color it.  There aren’t too many pictures of this whole process because I was up to my elbows in beans and didn’t really think about documentation.  For coloring, we used a vegetable based food colorings that I got at the health food store.  What with all the research that food coloring isn’t the best thing to put in children’s bodies, I felt it was our best choice.  I don’t know what it would be like if you were using conventional food coloring, but with the veg based, it took a LOT of  coloring to get to the bright colors.  
We double wrapped the fondant in plastic wrap and let it set over night.  Saturday night, after everything was ready for the party, we put in a movie and sat down to mold the trucks.  Matt made the cab and the bed (Is it obvious I’m the mother of a little boy?  2 years ago, I hadn’t a clue what those parts were!) and I did the wheels.  For the record, blue food coloring, dyes your hands far more than a combo of red and yellow.  I had blue thumbs until Monday.  We started out making the whole truck, but got tired as the night went on, because let me tell you, 11pm after a full day is not the time to decide to make 60 fondant dump trucks.  So in the end, I made the wheels and he put together the bodies and we refrigerated them until the next afternoon.  Since it is July and it is HOT in Ohio, we waited until the last possible moment before icing and decorating the cupcakes.  Once they were all done, we turned up the window AC and put the cupcakes on a table in front of it.  I think the kids at the party were a little disappointed that I didn’t bring them out until right before we were ready to sing Happy Birthday to Liam.  
I must tell you that I’ve had traditional fondant on wedding cakes and not really liked it. However, even I who does not like marshmallows, thought this turned out well.  It was a little time consuming to shape, but if you were going to use this to cover a cake, it would be easy as… well, never mind. 

Animal crackers in my soup…

Once upon a time, a new mother thought that it would be simple to provide for her child the best food on the planet.  She ate organic, sustainable, local foods throughout her pregnancy.  Her worst craving was for fresh kale salads.  Once that child was born, she nursed him faithfully even when her body stopped producing, caving to feed him organic formula only because he was hungry.  When the little baby was ready for solid foods, his mama steamed and pureed and mashed everything in sight.  She even tried making her own version of biter biscuits (an epic fail).  Little by little, the baby realized that the food on his parents’ plates was what he wanted and suddenly abandoned all purees in favor of whole solids that he could nosh on with his stunning 6 teeth.  As he was weaned onto whole milk, the mama realized that it was now time to give him an afternoon snack to tide him over until supper.  But what to feed him?  The mama didn’t want to hand her son preservatives at every snack, but she also didn’t want to spend the bulk of her food budget on organic snacks!

I was really surprised how many recipes there are out there in cyberspace pertaining to snacks.  Healthy snacks, guilty snacks, weird snacks.  Most of the healthy ones called for honey, though.  Almost every medical resource I have agreed that children under 12 months shouldn’t have honey because they can contract botulism.  This posed a slight problem given that the honey is used to hold the rest of the dough together.  I don’t like molasses, so that was out and I didn’t want to add another liquid for fear that would make the dough tough.  So I abandoned the idea of homemade teddy graham crackers.  Then one day, I came across a jar of malt barley syrup.  The light came on and I am thrilled to present to you the product of a well-used afternoon naptime for Liam!  These crackers have a graham-like flavor, but are crisper like an animal cracker.  I love them and Liam always points to the jar whenever he sees it now!

Zoo munchers

  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp. wheat germ
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  •  3/4 tsp. salt
  •  7 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 c. malt barley syrup (or honey if not using this recipe for a child under 12 months)
  • 5 Tbsp. whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla

Sift together the dry ingredients.  Cut the butter into 1 inch pieces and place them in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat until fluffy and then gradually  add in the milk, vanilla and syrup.  Mix in the dry ingredients until dough forms a ball around the paddle.  Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap in saran wrap.  Chill for a minimum of 2 hours.  (I made the dough during a nap and then shaped them when I had time the next day.  The dough was still fine to work with and didn’t get tough.)  Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut out shapes.  Freeze the dough for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes.  Allow to cool before storing; they keep well for 2 weeks in an air tight container… if your kids don’t know where you hide them!

** I tagged this as a frugal recipe since when I worked out the math, I am saving myself $7.35 a month in graham crackers for Liam.  This includes the price of the barley malt syrup in my calculations.  It honestly takes very little time out of my day and will eventually be something Liam and I can do together!
** Since barley is non-allergenic to most babies, I plan to play around with the end form of the crackers and use this as biter biscuits for my future children. 

Lemon tart for the 4th

This is my second attempt at this dessert and my second recipe.  Suffice to say, this one won out.  The main reasons for the winning was simplicity of this recipe.  Whereas the night before Easter I was desperately trying to get a custard-like filling to not overflow as I put it in the oven, I only had to spend a great deal of time sweating it out over the stove for this to reach the correct consistency.  On my previous attempt, the tart overflowed out of the tart pan all over the baking sheet and came out with a harsh burnt top with an entirely liquid center.  After an hour of baking.  Disappointed does not even come close to describing how I felt about that.  No baking was required of this tart (other than the shell) and I am thrilled about that!

 Matt and I spent Saturday working at my grandmother’s house.  Upon her death, I became the owner of her home, property and all the contents therein.  I am completely conflicted about this new responsibility and unsure of our next move.  Saturday was spent moving all my aunt’s possessions out of the house and making a vain attempt at creating some order.  At the end of the day, I was feeling defeated when I got a phone call inviting us to a 4th of July picnic at a friend’s house.  I could taste a lemony dessert as I said we’d be there.  This dessert was perfect for the night and I’m debating whether or not I should make this again or move on to something else from my mastery list for my birthday!

French Lemon Cream Tart (Baking: from My Home to Yours by Dorrie Greenspan)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • the grated zest of 3 lemons
  • 3/4 c. fresh lemon juice
  • 10.5 oz butter, cut into small pieces and at room temperature
  • 1 9-in. tart crust (the book recommends one, but I didn’t like it as well as my usual crust recipe)

Zest the lemons and mix them together with the sugar in a heatproof bowl.  Using either your fingers or a spatula, mash the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist from the zest and a little bit grainy.  Your kitchen will smell heavenly!  Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice.  Heat a pan of water to simmering and place the bowl over the top.  Once the mixture starts to feel warm, begin whisking.  Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 180 degrees.  You will need to whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling.  I gave up measuring the temperature and went by the appearance of the cream.  When it was thick and the whisk left tracks through on each swipe, I took it off the heat.  (Dorrie’s instructions say it can take up to 10 minutes to reach the proper temperature, but because I was using such a heavy bowl, I whisked and cooked for almost half an hour.  It was 92 degrees yesterday.  I’ll be using a lighter bowl next time.) 

When the cream is cooked, remove it from the heat and allow it too cool to an approximate temperature of 140 degrees.  Once it has reached that temp, pour it into a sturdy blender and add a few pieces of butter.  You will need to add the butter a few pieces at a time until it is all incorportated before continuing.  If your blender is having trouble with the cream, which mine did, you can use a food processor or an immersion blender.  I used the immersion blender.  Blend the cream once all the butter is added for an additional 3 minutes, the cream is light and fluffy.  Chill the cream for a minimum of 4 hours before pouring into a baked tart shell.  I chilled mine again before serving and topped it with fresh raspberries.  

**Notes:  The photo in the book shows a cream that is much lighter than mine.  While I cannot say for sure, I’m going to believe it’s because of the eggs I used.  My eggs are home-grown and have an almost orange yolk to them.  Hence the rich yellow of my tart. 

Strawberry shortcake

It’s the very beginning of berry season here.  I’m beyond excited.  Excited in a way that I should probably be embarrassed about.  But I’m not.  In fact, as I type this, I’m messaging with a friend to try and get a load of people together to take the patch by storm next week.  I’m gearing up to fill my freezer once again and I am excited!  Last week, while I was at the market, I found local strawberries on sale for an excellent price, so I snapped some right up.  They weren’t very big, but they were so sweet and juicy that I had to make shortcakes.  Paired with some freshly whipped cream and my most recent attempt at a plain vanilla ice cream that didn’t contain only heavy cream as the base, it made for a wonderful end to dinner.  Shortcakes are essentially a sweetened biscuit, which I was thrilled to learn are rather simple to make.  My only down fall in this experience was realizing that I don’t own a biscuit cutter and had to use a mini tart pan in it’s place.  Biscuit cutter is now on my list of things I “need”!  I won’t lie, I didn’t make up my own recipe, I used the one from Martha’s book.  Honestly, there are somethings I don’t mess with and anything involving cutting in butter is one of those things.  You have to know your limitations.  Mine don’t involve any on strawberries, though.  You can never get enough!