Thursday, November 3, 2016

Tired of traditional cake? Try a brownie cake!

One of the fun things about being a cake decorator and a grandma is being able to design birthday cakes for my grandchildren... at least the ones that are local. Occasionally, I will be visiting my out of state grandchildren on or near their birthdays, so I will get to decorate simple cakes for them. 

As you can probably imagine, my kids have had more than enough cake while growing up in the Leavitt home. We even resorted to buying birthday pies from Marie Callender's, so we would have a nice break from cake.  Now, for my daughter's family, I rarely make traditional cakes for their birthdays. This year I have made cream puff cakes, fruit pizzas, and their favorite... brownie cakes. 

I love working with brownies because they are dense, easy to shape, and most often there is no need to use the support that you would in a normal cake. And then the taste... well, who doesn't love a really great brownie? Rich, moist, chocolatey, layered with delicious buttery chocolate buttercream and maybe raspberry, peanut butter, or salted caramel filling. Wow! I get hungry just thinking about them. Granted, it has taken several years for me to perfect my brownie recipe at our high altitude. For my favorite brownie recipe, click here. One of the most important keys to baking a really great brownie is DO NOT OVERBAKE! Check for doneness a few minutes before recipe time... every oven is different. 

Here's some photos of the latest brownie cake I designed for 5 year old grandson, Hunter...

 Pirate treasure chest brownie cake... no support needed. Used a small wedge of RK treats to prop open the top.

Look at those rich fudgy brownies inside! Layered with buttercream, and entire cake was covered with chocolate buttercream and modeling chocolate. Bring on the milk!

Other cakes I have designed from brownies...

 Granddaughter Lexi's Harry Potter cake
 Granddaughter Carissa's Zootopia cake
 Granddaughter Lexi's July 4th Birthday/Baptism cake
 Granddaughter Carissa's Olaf Frozen cake
 Lexi's piano cake
Son-in-law Eddie's "Superdad" cake

Monday, August 22, 2016

What to do with little chicken eggs? Make omelettes of course!

As you have probably guessed, we go through a lot of eggs here at our house, so that's why we have our own chickens. Back in April, we acquired 6 more chickens, since our older chickens were not laying as often, so were not keeping up with the demand. After eating eggs from our free range chickens, it hurts to have to buy eggs at the store. Just recently all of our young hens have started laying. When they first start laying, their eggs are very small and we find them all over the yard. They have finally learned to lay in the coop, but we don't always find them in the nesting boxes. They will eventually learn. Since we had an abundance of these little eggs, we decided to make omelettes tonight for dinner... so good! I put ham and cheese and a few green chilies in Bruce's and I enjoy mine with fresh tomatoes, green chilies, and a little cheese, topped with salsa and a couple dollops of sour cream... yum. One thing that we enjoy using in our omelettes is a spice called Sunny Paris that I purchase at Penzey's Spice Shop. That and a little salt and pepper with just a little milk and we're good. Omelettes for dinner... it's a good thing!

You can see how small the eggs are compared to the regular size

Our favorite omelette seasoning

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ripe bananas? How about cookies?

Do you ever have bananas that look like these, and wonder what to do with them besides making quick breads or smoothies? Well, look no further. I have found a yummy cookie recipe that uses ripe bananas - the riper the better -  and it's a keeper. 

These cookies are bursting with banana flavor and loaded with chocolate chips and pecans. You can leave out the nuts if you wish, but I just happen to love nuts, especially pecans. I always use Ghirardelli chocolate chips. They are my favorite and always make everything taste better!

These cookies have more of a soft "cakey" texture, rather than crisp and chewy. 

Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2)
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

Cream butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the mashed bananas. Add the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. 

Bake for approx. 10 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown on the bottom. 

Sit down with your cookies and a glass of milk... enjoy! 

(P.S. How the heck am I supposed to lose weight?)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Bûche de Noël – Yule Log

It's that time of year again... the Christmas season! Not only do I love this time of year because we get to celebrate the birth of our Savior, but we find this season the perfect time to share love and gifts with others. 

We live on this wonderful little street in Colorado Springs called Rawhide Lane, but this time of year it could be called "Christmas Lane." 3 doors down from us, we have a neighbor that goes all out for decorating for Christmas. Last year, he began to add other neighbors to his display, and this year 7 houses are included in the Christmas light and music show. The lights are all synchronized to a music channel that you can tune in to. We also have a traditional block party during the season, complete with a fire pit, hot chocolate, and sweet treats. Yes, our street gets pretty busy during December, but it's just part of the fun. 

Since we love living in our neighborhood and appreciate having wonderful neighbors, I always try to make a special treat for them at Christmas time. This year I made Yule Log Cakes. I have made cake rolls before, but never actually made a yule log. So, of course, I went to the trusty internet and did some research about the yule log tradition, and different versions of the yule log cake, and then came up with my own design. It was truly a fun project! Last night hubby and I delivered the festive treats to our neighbors and it was so much fun to see the the smiles on their faces. 

There were different parts to be made before I could assemble the final yule log cakes. You can find the recipes near the end of this post. I also found a short version of the history of the yule log or Buche de Noel, if you speak French. We'll start with that...

First, I found out that a yule log cake is not complete without meringue mushrooms. If you have never made these, you must try them. They are easy and yummy, and look like the real thing. You could even just give a basket of these to someone as a gift. Just tie them up with some clear cellophane wrap and a pretty ribbon. 

Pipe out mushroom caps and stems by using a decorating bag fitted with only a coupler. Sprinkle caps with cocoa powder. Bake  at 200 degrees for 2 hours.
Melt chocolate and brush on to bottom of mushroom cap.
 Trim off top of stems so they are flat and dip into chocolate.
Assemble cap and stem and let set until hard.

 Don't they look real? They're so cute!

Next, I molded pinecones and greenery from modeling chocolate. You can also just pipe pinecones from stiffened buttercream, but I thought these little guys looked cuter on the yule logs. Of course, I used one of my favorite blue silicone molds from First Impressions.

 Start by pressing in the chocolate modeling chocolate first.
 Then add the greenery.
 After the mold is filled, clean the edges and smooth out with your finger. Then pop in the freezer for a few minutes. 
 I sprinkled just a bit of rainbow disco dust on each to make them sparkle.

The cake rolls are basically just a thin sponge type cake (or roulade) with a filling of your choice inside. I made mine easy by starting with a dark chocolate mix, but adjusting the ingredients a bit. I was able to get two small logs out of each pan.

I filled my cake rolls with vanilla mousse and folded in chopped maraschino cherries. Cut the roll in half diagonally, and also cut each end off diagonally. 

You can ice your cake with either a buttercream icing or a chocolate ganache. To give the log the texture of bark, you can use an impression mat, or just draw a fork through the icing to give it a textured look.

After icing and letting the buttercream set for a few minutes, I used a bark silicone impression mat to get the bark texture. 
Pipe a circular pattern on the ends of each log.
Pipe a simple shell border around the bottom and add the pinecones, mushrooms, and any other decorations you like.
Finally, sprinkle some powdered sugar on your log to resemble light snow.

Meringue Mushrooms from Meringue Powder

1/2 cup boiling water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup meringue powder
Cocoa powder (or cinnamon)
Melted chocolate

Combine sugar and water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Add meringue powder and beat with wire whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Make sure that all of your utensils and bowls are grease free. Fill decorating bag with coupler only, or coupler with large tip. Pipe mushroom caps and stems. Sprinkle caps with cocoa powder or cinnamon. Bake in preheated 200 degree oven for 2 hours. Trim tops of stems with knife to make them flat. Brush or spread on melted chocolate on bottom of tops. Dip top of stems into melted chocolate and assemble with tops. Let set until hardened.

Click here for video and recipe for making meringue mushrooms from fresh egg whites.

Cake Roll Recipe

1 Duncan Hines cake mix
1 small package instant pudding
6 large eggs
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup oil

Beat eggs and thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add remainder of ingredients and beat on low until fully incorporated. Spread on greased and parchment lined half sheet bun pan for approximately 15-17 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean and cake springs back when touched. Immediately turn pan upside down onto a terry cloth towel which has been sprinkled with powdered sugar. Remove parchment paper and roll cake, starting at long end. Leave until fully cooled. Carefully unroll cake and spread with desired filling. Re-roll, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill until ready to ice. Since sponge cakes tend to be a little drier than normal cakes, you can brush a simple syrup on the cake roll before adding the filling.

Simple Syrup

Equal parts of water and granulated sugar

Combine sugar and water and bring to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 3 minutes. Allow to cool. May store in the refrigerator for about a month. 

Click here for roulade recipe.

Click here for chocolate buttercream recipe

Friday, December 4, 2015


It's Christmas time and what better thing to decorate cakes, cupcakes, and cookies with than snowflakes. Also popular in the last few years have been "Frozen" and "Elsa" cakes. Snowflakes are the perfect way to finish these off or to add a quick pretty topper for cupcakes swirled with blue and white buttercream. I have several ways that I make snowflakes to decorate my creations - molds, fondant cutters, plunger cutters - but one of my favorite ways to make snowflakes is just to pipe them on a board using royal icing or melted chocolate. I like chocolate best because... well because it's chocolate and it just tastes better. They also set up quicker with a little help from the freezer. These snowflakes sometimes look more delicate than the cutter ones and are really easy to make. Start with a simple snowflake design, and duplicate as many as you want onto a page. You can download this pattern sheet of my favorite snowflakes to use if you wish. These should fill an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. 

I tape my pattern sheet to a cardboard cake board, then tape a piece of wax paper over the the pattern sheet, fastening it on the back of the cake board. Now you can pipe the snowflakes directly onto the piece of wax paper. Fit a decorating bag with a #2 tip or cut a small opening in the tip of a parchment bag. Fill your bag no more than half full with icing or melted chocolate and carefully pipe over the snowflake designs.  If you make a mistake, go ahead and scrape it off and do it over again. If you are using melted chocolate, you can pop the board into the freezer for a few minutes until the snowflakes are set. If using royal icing, just let the snowflakes set until hard. Then, carefully remove the tape from the back of the board, put your hand under the wax paper, and gently loosen the snowflakes. Then carefully pull each off and set aside until needed.

 Attach pattern sheet to cake board and cover with wax paper.
Secure wax paper to back of cake board with tape.
 This is my favorite white chocolate to use.
 I have these great little silicone bowls that are great for melting chocolate.
 Melt  in 20-30 second increments, stirring after each.
 Stir until smooth.
 Fit decorating bag with #2 tip.
 Fill decorating bag no more than half full.
 Carefully pipe over each outline.
 I usually pipe the straight lines first, and then the star part in the middle.

Complete entire sheet or as many as needed. Be sure to pipe extra in case a few break.
 When you have completed piping, put the board into the freezer for a few minutes until set.
 When set, carefully remove tape from back of board.
 Gently loosen snowflakes from wax paper with your hand.
Carefully lift off each snowflake and put aside until needed.

Snowflakes on blue and white swirled buttercream.