Friday, February 27, 2015

How can something so amazing be so simple?


I have been wanting to design a cake with a chocolate cage for awhile, and today I finally had the chance. I didn't know quite what to expect as far as difficulty, but I was thrilled at how simple this technique was. And to see the final results... well, nothing less than amazing! My hubby thinks I'm absolutely crazy when I get so excited about food, but every now and then, it just happens. Nothing gets me more excited than when I have success with a new cake design! This particular cake was my strawberry shortcake flavor - rich yellow cake with 3 layers of whipped cream and fresh strawberries, iced in chocolate whipped cream. It was hard not to lick my fingers on this one, especially with the extra chocolate thing going on. 

In case you would like to design a cake like this, I will attempt to talk you through it. For this particular cake, I used my favorite yellow cake recipe, baked it in (2) 8 inch round pans, and then sliced each layer in half. Between each layer, I spread a layer of real whipped cream, and sliced fresh strawberries. Then I iced the entire cake in chocolate whipped cream. I learned that the best way to make chocolate whipped cream is by adding cooled chocolate ganache to the cream during the last stages of whipping, then continue to whip until combined and stiff peaks form... yummy. After you have iced it smooth, pop it in the refrigerator to keep it cool. Next, wash and dry some nice strawberries. Make sure they are room temperature, then dip and decorate them. Set aside. 


Before starting to make your chocolate cage, you need to know how large to make it. After your cake is iced, measure how tall it is, then use a ribbon or string to measure the diameter of the cake. Make sure you do this after the cake has been iced to allow for the extra size. For some reason, I actually came up just a bit short, so next time I would add a couple of inches. This was an easy fix, however, by just piping another small portion and adding it on at the end. 





Cut a piece of acetate the size you need. In my case my cake was 5 inches tall (because of the 3 layers of filling and fruit) and 26 1/4 inches around. Since I wanted my chocolate cage to be a little taller than the top of the cake, I cut my acetate 6 inches high. I also cut it a little over 26 inches long, but I would add a couple inches next time. As far as acetate goes, it is best to use 3 mil, since it is easier to wrap. Since it is hard to find acetate around here, I cut a couple of laminating sheets the size I needed and taped them together. It worked fine, as long as I made sure that I piped on the shiny side. You can purchase acetate strips online, which I will do with my next order. 

The next thing you need to do is melt your chocolate and prepare your piping bag. You can either use a parchment cone, or a piping bag with a tip, whichever you feel more comfortable with. I prefer a piping bag only because I have more control. When I am working with chocolate, I use a silicone piping bag. To make it easier to fill, I put it inside a glass and then pour in the chocolate. The chocolate I like to use is Ghirardelli dark dipping chocolate. It tastes great and I don't have to worry about tempering it. Another tip... recently I purchased two sets of small silicone bowls... I love silicone (the topic of another blog post). They are perfect for melting chocolate and isomalt, because when you're done, and the chocolate or isomalt hardens, it literally peels off the inside of the bowl and you have no waste. 





Snip a tiny bit off the end of your parchment cone, or fit your bag  with a small tip. I used a #3. On the precut acetate sheet (make sure it is a shiny side), pipe any design you wish. The idea is to make everything touch, and not to make it too flimsy, or it will break. Go over it in several different directions. Don't worry about going over the edges. After you are done, lift it up and allow it to set up in a different area, so you will have clean edges. Let it  set up to the point where it begins to lose its shine, but is still flexible enough to bend around your cake. Mine set up very quickly, but it will depend on the kind of chocolate you use, and how warm it is. You can also do this on parchment paper, but it will not be as shiny as if you use acetate.



I also made some extra little chocolate garnishes for the top of the cake.


When the chocolate is set, wrap it around the side of the cake, pressing gently. At this point, you can pop it back into the refrigerator for a few minutes to make sure it is set. Mine set up so quickly on the cool cake, that I didn't need this step, but it was also quite cool in my kitchen. Once it is set, gently remove the acetate or parchment backing. Mine came off very easily. Then, stand back in amazement... it is so cool! 




I finished my bottom edge with a piped border, but that is not really necessary as long as you clean off your cake board or serving platter. Finish your cake off with chocolate whipped cream rosettes, the decorated strawberries, and garnishes. 





Get ready for your guests to be impressed, and give you lots of compliments! 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Have you tried quinoa?



As you know, most of the recipes, tutorials, or information I post are usually about cakes, cookies, or other sweets. However, now and then I get really excited about something other than sweets. So my latest yummy excitement is about quinoa. Quinoa is an ancient South American grain that was eaten by the Incas, and has become increasingly popular as of late here in North America. Not only does it have wonderful nutrional value, but it tastes really great, and can be substituted for rice or other grains in many recipes. It has been called a "superfood" because it is a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. There are 3 varieties of quinoa - white, red, and black. Each has a little different taste and texture. Lately, I have been using mostly red quinoa, as I was able to purchase a large bag at Costco not long ago. It has a wonderful "nutty" flavor and texture, and is a great addition to many recipes. I cook up a batch in my electric pressure cooker, store it in the refrigerator, and then just add it to different recipes. Tonight, for example I threw in the leftover quinoa that I had in my refrigerator into some taco soup, along with the beans and ground turkey. 

So here are the basic directions for cooking red quinoa in the electric pressure cooker. You can also cook it on the stove top.

2 cups red quinoa
2 1/2 cups liquid (any kind of broth or water)
1/2 tsp. salt

Stir all together in pressure cooker. Some people say you should soak it first and then rinse it, but I don't find that necessary. Lock the pressure cooker and set the timer for 9 minutes. When the timer goes off, use the quick release lever to release the pressure. When it is safe to open your cooker, open the lid and fluff up your quinoa. It should be tender but firm, and the little sprouts should be visible on each grain. 

To cook quinoa on the stove top, simmer covered for 30-35 minutes or until liquid has absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 5 min. to finish steaming. When done, remove lid and fluff. When cooking white quinoa, reduce the amount of liquid to 2 cups. 



A couple of nights ago, I made the most amazing stuffed bell peppers, with quinoa and ground turkey. We are not much into beef at our house, but you can definitely substitute ground beef for the ground turkey, or leave it out all together if you are vegetarian or vegan. Again, I made these in my electric pressure cooker (quickly becoming one of my favorite kitchen tools), but you can also bake these in the oven. 


Easy Stuffed Bell Peppers

1 lb. ground turkey (or ground beef)
Approx. 2 cups cooked quinoa (cooked in chicken broth)
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
4 medium to large bell peppers (any color, I like the red, yellow, and orange ones because  they're sweeter)

Wash and cut the tops off the peppers. Clean out the inside membranes and seeds. Brown ground turkey with onion in skillet. Add cooked quinoa, 1/2 can tomato sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Fill the peppers and place on rack in bottom of pressure cooker. Carefully spoon the remainder of the tomato sauce over the peppers. Add 1/2 cup water to the bottom of the pressure cooker. Lock the cooker and set the timer for 4 minutes. When the timer is done, use the quick release lever to release the pressure. The peppers are tender, but still firm. If you like them a bit softer, then add another minute to your cooking time. If cooking in the oven, bake at 350-375 degrees for about 1/2 hour, or until done. Use a fork to check for doneness. 


Very delicious... and healthy. Enjoy!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ultimate High Altitude Chocolate Chip Cookies


If you are a regular follower of my blog, you know that I am always searching for good high altitude recipes, since we live in Colorado Springs, at almost 7000 feet. At one time, I thought I had found the best chocolate chip cookie recipe for our altitude, but then I found that sometimes it worked, and sometimes, well, it just didn't, and I had flat cookies again. So my search continued. So, I went online to find yet another high altitude recipe for chocolate chip cookies, and when I found this one, I read the reviews, and several of those who reviewed this recipe were actually from Colorado Springs, so I thought, it's worth a try. Since I had a little spare time today before finishing my orders for tomorrow, I gave it a try, and I was very pleased with the results... crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside, and they actually looked nice. For those of you who may like a chocolate chip cookie with more of a "cakey" texture, this is not that, but more of your traditional "Tollhouse type" texture. As I was reviewing the recipe, I noticed a couple of things that were unique. First, instead of 1 or 2 eggs, this recipe calls for 3, and it also calls for a bit more flour than your average recipe. I liked the idea that it did not call for any extra ingredients like cornstarch or pudding mix. This recipe also includes equal amounts of butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Any cookie recipe I make HAS to have ALL butter, no margarine or shortening. I just think it makes a difference in the taste. I also sprinkle the tops with just a bit of sea salt before baking to enhance the flavor. My conclusion... I think this may be my "go to" recipe when I need a good chocolate chip recipe for my cookie orders. 


Ultimate High Altitude Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips
Opt.: nuts, sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In large bowl, mix together butter and sugars until smooth. Mix in eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into batter just until blended, and then add in chocolate chips. Drop cookies by spoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt if desired. Bake in preheated oven just until edges begin to turn golden, about 12 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Allow cookies to cool for a few minutes on baking sheet before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy 2015! What happened to 2014?

Sorry it's been so long since my last post, but these last few months have been absolutely crazy. My hubby and I both came back from an Arizona Thanksgiving being sick with this icky respiratory stuff, and are just now feeling better. So we worked through my busiest catering/cake/cookie December ever, being less than our normal selves and with my catering partner out of town. It was difficult, but somehow we made it through. Still trying to catch up on my rest. Whew! 

Every little girl is still into Frozen. I started off the season back in November with another Frozen cake. I love making Olaf... each one has a little different pose, but he's a cute character to design for a cake. Used more isomalt for detail. Oh, did I mention how much I love isomalt? I got creative on some of my wedding cakes with isomalt too, which I will show you a bit later. Love the stuff! 


Here's a couple of other birthday cakes I made in November...


Then came the crazy December...

Started off with cookies, lots and lots of cookies... 50 dozen for a PTA function for my grand-daughters' school. I always learn the hard way... will not do that again. Too many cookies for my smaller than commercial kitchen. 


And more cookies...




And cinnamon rolls...


And then the annual goodies for the friend and neighbors...

Chocolate covered Ritz peanut butter cookies, chocolate covered brownie bites, and toffee
All packaged and ready for delivery

This is something new I tried... chocolate covered bacon for my bacon loving friend...

It was actually very, very yummy!

At the end of November, I purchased some really fun new decorating tools... anything to make my work easier and a little more fun and creative... and used some of my old tools in a different way. That will be the subject of my next post, but these are some of the finished products...

Cake for my granddaughter's piano recital (which I had to miss by the way because of a catering job :( )


3 wintry wedding cakes, to go along with wedding catering gigs... I really enjoy decorating winter wedding cakes.




Last, but not least... a cute little gender reveal cake... by the way, it was blue inside...


We ended the month with a catering gig for 100 on New Year's Eve afternoon. And no, we didn't celebrate much that night. Just glad to be home on our cozy little couch, watching Back to the Future II to see what 2015 was supposed to be like! Happy New Year! 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sugar Cookies... yummmmm!

Since I had so much response to my FB post about Halloween sugar cookies, I decided to repost my recipe for sugar cookies and poured fondant. My cookies usually just have simple decorations. I don't get really fancy like the "cookie decorators" out there, but these are oh sooo good. The trick to making really yummy sugar cookies is to not roll them out too thin, and do not overbake them (or any kind of cookie). I like my cookies soft, so they almost melt in your mouth. Another thing to assure wonderfully tasting cookies is to always use real butter. Nothing else will do but the real stuff here.

BEST SUGAR COOKIE RECIPE

Here is my sugar cookie recipe that I have used for many years. It is so yummy...soft and just sweet enough. They melt in your mouth. They are good just iced with buttercream frosting and sprinkled with cookie sprinkles, but when I want them to be really special, I dip them in fondant and then decorate them.  

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Blend in flour, baking powder and salt. Cover and chill at least 1 hour. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Roll dough 1/4" thick on floured surface. Cut into shapes. Bake on parchment lined cookie sheet for 6-8 min. or until just set and barely brown on bottom. Do not overbake. Cool completely on rack. Ice with fondant or buttercream icing if desired. Makes 2 1/2 - 3 doz. cookies. 

Poured Fondant

This will be a bit difficult, because I never measure my ingredients for my poured fondant, so make sure you experiment on your family first to get the proper consistency.

Powdered sugar
Corn syrup
Flavoring (I usually just use vanilla or butter vanilla)
Warm water

I make the fondant in my KitchenAid mixer, but you can even mix this up by hand, as long as you take time to get all the sugar lumps out. Add powdered sugar to the bowl. How much will depend on how many cookies you have to dip. I normally fill my bowl approximately half way. Add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of light corn syrup and desired amount of flavoring. Then, add warm tap water, a little at a time until your fondant is thin enough for dipping, but not so thin that you can see through it. Mix with flat beater on low speed until smooth. You do not want to add air bubbles to the fondant. With a little practice, you will know when you have the proper consistency. Now, put a cooling rack over a cookie sheet. As you dip the cookies, let the excess drip off, then using your finger, scrape off the edge of the cookie, and put on the cooling rack to allow to drip off any more excess fondant and set. Before the fondant sets, you can add sprinkles if desired, or make designs with colored fondant.


An alternative to dipping the cookies is to pipe a string border from buttercream with a #3 or #4 writing tip and then fill in with the fondant, using a toothpick to coax the fondant around the edges. I use a squeeze bottle filled with the fondant to fill in the top of the cookies. This gives your cookies a cleaner edge. These cookies never harden as much as cookies decorated with royal icing, but they do set up to the touch, and if you leave them set out for about a day (if they last that long) they will be slightly harder. 



Update to original post: I forgot to mention that I never use black food coloring unless absolutely necessary. All of the "black" that you see in my decorating is made with Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa. Just keep adding enough cocoa until your icing looks black. Sure tastes better than that nasty black food coloring.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Satisfying my sweet tooth...

Losing weight - not easy when you are a caterer and cake designer, and when you love to eat as much as I do. My real downfall is desserts. I have a real sweet tooth. So... I am trying to come up with some low calorie, low points desserts that won't blow my Weight Watchers program. On Monday nights, we meet together with our empty nesters group to have gospel discussions and activities - more lovingly known as FHE or Family Home Evening. We take turns having our group at different homes, and whoever has the lesson that night also supplies the dessert. I have been trying hard to come up with delicious yet calorie conscious desserts. Last night was a hit... Peach filled meringue shells. Yum! We're still eating fresh peaches from Palisade, so this was a tasty way to use some of those. 


Peach Filled Meringue Shells

Meringue Shells

3 egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract

In a grease-free bowl, add egg whites, cream of tartar and flavorings. Bring to room temperature. (Egg whites will whip higher.) Whip until soft peaks form and then add sugar, 1 T. at a time. Continue to whip until glossy stiff peaks form. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop 8 mounds onto baking sheet and with back of spoon, form into 3 inch round cups. (If you want to make them fancy with a decorating bag, use a large star tip and pipe out 8 3-inch circles. Then pipe a double circle around each to form a wall.) Bake at 225 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven, and let cool in the oven without opening the door for 1 hour. When they are done, they should sound hollow when you tap on the bottom and peel easily off the parchment.

Filling

4 or 5 fresh peaches, cut in small slices
(you can remove the skins if desired)
Small amount of agave nectar or honey (to taste)
Lite Cool Whip (or real whipped cream if you don't care about the calories)
Cinnamon and toasted sliced almonds (for garnish)

To assemble, put meringue shell on plate, spread small amount of cool whip inside each shell, add desired amount of peaches. Put a dollop of Cool Whip on top. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and add a few toasted almond slices. 

Makes 8 servings. 3 WW points+ per serving. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Remembering Black Forest...

On June 11, 2013, I was in California visiting with my son and his family. That night as I was checking the latest  Facebook news feed on my iphone, I was devastated to learn that a large area of Black Forest, only a few miles drive from our home, was up in flames. It was so hard to know that this was happening to our area again.  People were still recovering from the Waldo Canyon fire from the previous summer. We knew people who lived in Black Forest or close by and we were praying that the fire was not reaching them. After the fire was finally contained, over 500 homes were lost and 2 people had died. It was the worst fire in Colorado history. 

Many people who lost their homes are now in the process of rebuilding. Last Saturday, we had the privilege of working with a great couple, Fran and Larry Rutherford, who had just moved into their newly rebuilt home the week before. We catered a lunch for their house "cooling" party. They wanted to have a party to thank all those who had helped and supported them in the rebuilding process. During that time, they had lived with family members, friends, and in hotels. They had on display pictures of their old home, pictures of what was left after the fire (basically nothing), and then pictures of the new home. They have tried to make the new home as much like the old home as possible. They did add a few extra square feet, but other than that, it's the same. I shot a picture of the two of them in front of the house just before we left.

We set up our buffet table in the garage, and the guests ate under a canopy out in the bare field where beautiful trees used to be. We served a taco bar, pasta bar, and cakes for dessert. Of course, one of our cakes had to be a Black Forest cake, in honor of where we were. It was my first attempt at making one... a huge hit... beautiful presentation and tasted magnificent. Immediately offered it on my list of specialty cakes. 

All of the guests were very gracious and kind, and we were honored to be able to be a part of this special celebration. Thanks Fran and Larry. Best wishes to you in your new home!