Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mickey Mouse Birthday Cake

I spent the better part of today making a first birthday cake for my nephew, Parker. The theme was Mickey Mouse, which was fun and challenging for me as I figured out how to design the cake.

Lots of parents, including Josh + Liz, decide to make a healthy first birthday cake because up to this point, most children haven't been eating much in the way of baked goods. Josh sent me the recipe they wanted to use, which I ended up quartering and slightly adapting to make Parker's cupcakes (see recipe here). However, after reading through the ingredients, I decided that the adults at the party (aka: everyone else) would probably not like to eat cake that tasted like sweetened bran muffins. I think it is a great idea to ease kids into sweets plus it could also be good for people who can't/should eat processed white flour and sugar (aka: my diabetic boss).

For the grown-ups' cake, I ended up making two different cakes and two different frostings. Happily, I was able to use leftover chocolate frosting that I'd previously frozen instead of making new, cutting down on the time I spent in the kitchen.

For Mickey's face, I halved the carrot cake recipe found here and baked the cake in two 6" pans for about 35 minutes.

For Mickey's ears, I used the almond cake recipe found here and baked the cakes six 4 1/2" pans for about 25 minutes. I only used four of them for the ears and enjoyed snacking on the other two while assembling the cake! [Aside: I actually chose to use this recipe because it is the cake I brought to the hospital for Josh + Liz the day after Parker was born.]

For the white frosting, I halved the simple cream cheese frosting recipe found here.

For the black frosting, I used ~2 cups of chocolate frosting from my freezer and added 1/4 teaspoon black food coloring.

If I could do it again, I would simplify things by making just one type of cake. However, all things considered, this was a really fun project. As I wait for my own little one's arrival, it is nice to have some distraction so that I don't just sit and wonder when she'll make her debut!

Baby's First Birthday Cake

This birthday cake is great for little ones whose palates and tummies haven't had much experience with processed flours or sugars.

Baby's First Birthday Cake
adapted from Wholesome Baby Food

Makes 6 cupcakes.

In a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat:
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons shredded carrots
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons apple juice

Cover and let simmer until the apple juice has evaporated and the carrots are tender.

Place cooked carrots in a food processor. Add:
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon raisins
1/2 cup apple juice

Process until smooth. Set aside to let cool.

In a medium bowl, combine:
1/2 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix in:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
1 egg white
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons applesauce

Once all ingredients are evenly incorporated, mix in the pureed carrots and raisins.

Divide batter evenly between six cupcake liners.

Bake 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool before icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting [Sugar Free]

In a small food processor, combine:
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon apple juice
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raisins

Puree until mostly smooth (it won't get completely smooth because of the raisins).

In a small bowl, combine:
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 teaspoons apple juice

Let sit for a minute to let gelatin soften. Then microwave for 20-25 seconds to dissolve the gelatin. Mix into cream cheese.

Eat up!

Cream Cheese Frosting

Cream Cheese Frosting
Kelley Gondring

Enough to frost one 9" two-layer cake.

In a small bowl combine:
8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, softened
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Use a hand mixer to cream together.

1 pound confectioner's sugar
Beat together until no lumps remain.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sweet Palmiers

This has got to be one of the easiest and fastest ways to make cookies ever! Last weekend was filled with varying social events, one of which was a End of the World/Birthday/House-Warming Party. Strapped for time but still wanting to make something new, I went to epicurious to see what I could find. There, they had about a dozen recipes utilizing puff pastry dough. I adapted the recipe a bit, adding a lot more sugar and making less cookies, but they were a hit. In fact, multiple party-goers (none of whom I knew previously) approached me to ask about these sweet little bites.

Sweet Palmiers
adapted from epicurious

You'll need:
2 sheets puff pastry, a little cooler than room temperature
~1 cup sugar

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

On a clean counter top, sprinkle two spoonfuls of sugar.

Unfold one puff pastry sheet (they normally are folded in thirds) and place it on top of the sugar. Sprinkle more sugar on top of the puff pastry.

Use a rolling pin to roll pastry into a 10" square.

Take the left side of the pastry dough and pull it to the middle of the square. Do the same with the right side. Repeat one more time.

Fold the left side of the pastry dough over the right side.

Use a sharp butcher knife to cut the dough into 1/2" slices (making 16 cookies per puff pastry sheet).

Place each cookie into the bowl of sugar and thoroughly coat.

Place cookie cut-side-down onto the lined cookie sheet. Cookies should be about an inch apart.

Repeat with remaining puff pastry sheet.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, flipping about halfway through. Because these are baked on parchment paper, it may take longer for these cookies to bake; however, the upside is that they won't stick to your cookie sheet.

Once cookies are out of the oven, let them sit for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Let cool completely before serving.

These cookies are best if eaten immediately -- they get a little soggy if too much time passes.

Eat up!

Chai Cheesecake

I used to think that one of the downsides to making a cheesecake was that you had to do it ahead of time. But during this holiday season, I actually found that the do-it-ahead-of-time component of cheesecake making was perfect. I made this cheesecake on a Friday afternoon and didn't serve it until Sunday afternoon. Unlike other desserts, I didn't have to worry about it drying out or getting soupy. Instead, I could just cover it and put in the refrigerator until we were ready to leave for Jason's family's Christmas lunch.

Chai Cheesecake
Kelley Gondring

Preheat oven 500º

Combine in a medium bowl:
1 2/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Thoroughly mix so that all ingredients are well incorporated. Pour mixture into a greased springform pan. Spread crumbs evenly across the bottom and partially up the sides, using your fingers to firmly pack. Place in refrigerator.

In an electric mixing bowl, add:
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
16 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, softened
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened

Using the paddle attachment, mix at moderate speed for thirty seconds.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and slowly add:
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

Mix 1 1/2 minutes so that the ingredients are smooth and creamy. Half way through, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Over beating the batter will result in it rising too much and then falling when it cools, so set a timer if necessary.

One at a time add:
4 large egg yolks
Beat until yolk is just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and repeat.

Pour in:
2/3 cup freshly brewed, strong chai tea, cooled*
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix until liquids are evenly incorporated.

*My favorite chai tea is Bombay Chai made by Mighty Leaf. I steeped two chai tea bags in 2/3 cup of hot water for 4-5 minutes.

Pour batter into the spring-form pan over top of the ginger snap crumb crust. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 200º, remove aluminum foil, and bake an additional 50 minutes.

Turn off the oven and use a wooden spoon to hold the oven door ajar. Let the cheesecake sit for at least thirty minutes but preferably an hour (this one didn't quite make it an hour because I needed my oven to bake Sweet Palmiers for an End of the World Party).

Remove cheesecake from oven and let cool completely before refrigerating. Refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving.

Decorate as desired.

Eat up!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Chocolate Covered Cheesecake Squares

I made these little bites for our office party this year. They are not terribly difficult to make - they just take a little time and practice.

First, you'll make a cheesecake of your choosing. I chose to go with peppermint cheesecake because it felt appropriately festive. If you have a square springform pan, use it, as you'll waste less cheesecake. I only have a regular circular 9" pan, so I made do with it.

After your cheesecake is has been chilled for at least 6 hours, place it in the freezer for at least 60 minutes. Run a large butcher knife under hot water for thirty seconds to heat the blade. Use a clean towel to dry and immediately use knife to cut the cheesecake into 1" squares (If you started with a circular pan, first cut the cake to make a square. I placed the extras in a Tupperware container and put them in the fridge for late night snacking!). You will have to clean the blade after every couple of cuts. The colder the cheesecake and the warmer the knife, the cleaner the cut. Don't be afraid to reheat the knife blade and/or place the cheesecake back in the freezer periodically.

After the cheesecake has been cut into 1" squares, place back in the freezer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make chocolate ganache.


Chocolate Ganache
The Joy of Cooking

In a small saucepan, bring to a simmer:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Turn off heat and cover for a minute. Whisk together chocolate and cream until chocolate is completely melted. Cover to keep warm.


Working in batches, place cheesecake squares on cutting board and even up top and sides. Place squares on a wire cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet (choose a cookie sheet with a lip).

Use spoon to pour ganache over the top of each square so that cakes are evenly coated (if you've made petit fours before, this is the same concept). Carefully transfer the cakes to serving dish. If there is a lot of ganache collecting on the cookie sheet, use a spatula to scoop up and place back in the saucepan where it can be reheated.

Repeat until you've all the cheesecake squares are covered (or you're tired of doing it; I got tired of doing it. I ended up coating about half of them in chocolate; the other half I topped with a thin layer of red cream cheese frosting and then sprinkled diced Candy Cane Hershey Kisses over top).

Decorate as desired.

Eat up!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Peppermint Bark

Today I am thankful.

Thankful for a dreary, rainy Sunday that started when Sydney woke us up at 7:30 in the morning instead of letting us sleep in.

Thankful for a warm shower followed by the happy success of fitting into an outfit for church.

Thankful for my off-key singing of Christmas hymns.

Thankful for my Eggs Benedict brunch where we celebrated our friends' recent engagement.

Thankful for seeing my nephew, who will be a year old (!!) next Sunday, happily chomping on rice puffs and cantaloupe, haphazardly experimenting with talking gulps of water from his mom's water glass.

Thankful to come home and be bored with nothing to do but watch bad Christmas movies and chew on Tums to ward off the joys of acid reflux.

Thankful to eat leftover pizza for dinner and spend the evening making peppermint bark and other holiday sweets.

Thankful for taking a break from the kitchen and watching football with Jason, as he explains yet another rule I never knew (and probably could have gone my entire life without knowing).

Last Sunday I certainly would not have been as purposely thankful for a day like today. But then, last Sunday was not juxtaposed with one of the year's most tragic man-made events. I hope that you, too, are thankful today for the often unrecognized pleasures of simply living.

Peppermint Bark
Kelley Gondring

A couple of things before you get started:

First, I adapted this recipe so that instead of using a double boiler to melt the chocolates (because I don't have one and find it annoying to use a makeshift one), I use the microwave. The key to using a microwave as opposed to the double boiler is to microwave in short increments and after each increment to thoroughly mix the chocolates. This is to assure that the heat is evenly distributed and that chocolate doesn't get so hot that it burns. If you chocolate hasn't completely melted after following the instructions below, microwave it in 15 second increments followed by 10 second stirring until smooth and melted.

Second, because buying high quality baking chocolate can get expensive, it is tempting to use chocolate chips, which are far cheaper. If you choose to do so, remember that chocolate chips are designed not to melt into a puddle but instead keep their shape when put in high heat. This means that if you are microwaving chocolate chips instead of baking chocolate, it is going to take more time, thus you are going to have to be more patient!

Keeping these two things in mind, invert a 12"x9" cookie sheet and cover with a piece of waxed paper or aluminum foil (if using aluminum foil, you can wrap it on the lip of the cookie sheet; if using waxed paper, you'll need a bit of tape). Set aside.

In a small glass bowl, microwave for 30 seconds:
5 ounces white chocolate
Use fork to mix the chocolate. Place back in microwave for an additional 30 seconds. If chocolate is completely melted, pour onto cookie sheet and use spatula to evenly spread in a rectangle.

Dust with:
1/4 cup smashed peppermint candies
Place in refrigerator for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium glass bowl, microwave for 45 seconds:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
Use a fork to mix chocolate (it will not be completely melted yet).

1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup whipping cream

Place back in microwave for an additional 45 seconds. Remove and use fork to mix together. If the chocolate is completely melted at this point, pour over the white chocolate and use a spatula to evenly spread.

Refrigerate until chocolate has hardened (about 30 minutes).

In a medium glass bowl, microwave for 45 seconds:
12 ounces white chocolate
Use a fork to mix the chocolate. Microwave an additional 45 seconds. Again use fork to mix. Pour over the hardened semisweet chocolate and use spatula to evenly spread.

Immediately sprinkle overtop of the melted white chocolate:
1 cup smashed peppermint candies

Place in the refrigerator until the chocolate has hardened (about 30 minutes).

Remove the waxed paper from atop the inverted cookie sheet and place on cutting board. Use a sharp butcher knife to cut into squares.

Keep refrigerated before eating.

Eat up!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It's a Cookbook!

I apologize for being MIA for the last couple of weeks. No, there's no baby yet. And yes, I have still been cooking - just not blogging. Instead of blogging, what I have to show for my absence is a cookbook! I've spent the last several weeks working to perfect the recipes, formatting, and photography for the 55 recipes I've included in my very own cookbook!

While I do love being able to go online to find recipes, I personally find it much easier to cook from a traditional cookbook than I do to cook from a website. First off, a cookbook stays open! It doesn't time out and close because I haven't touched it within the last three minutes, so I don't have to log into my book multiple times. Which is great because I also don't have to wash and then dry my hands unnecessarily between egg-crackings in order to remind myself whether I mix the cake batter after each egg addition for thirty seconds or a minute and thirty seconds. Second, I can easily notate changes to a recipe so that in the future I know if I did something different than the recipe said - whether it was substituting or adding an ingredient, doubling the recipe, or doing future troubleshooting so that I don't repeat the same mistake twice! Third, I'm old-school for being not that old: I like flipping through the pages to have a picture jump out and say "pick me, pick me!"

So if you're interested in having your very own or you're looking for a Christmas present or you just want to see what I've been working on, you can check out the hard copy of family, friends and food here. Or if you're not quite so old school as I am, here is the eBook version. I'd love to know what you think!

PS: Blurb has a coupon for 25% off that goes until December 17th. Promo code is WARM [all caps].