Chemistry is important. I’ve written about this before here. I like to watch whipped butter lighten or sugar transform. But this year, around M’s birthday, I was busy. I found one cupcake recipe that sounded good but called for three sticks of butter for twelve cupcakes. Uh… and it took an hour of prep.
So I turned to Cooks Illustrated, where after “much testing,” they dumped all the ingredients (and just 1 stick of butter) into a kitchen aid and mixed for 30 seconds. Voila! as they say. Then I doubled the recipe (again) and made another twenty-four.
I had picked out this lovely butterfly pattern for decorating but M overruled me (she’s about to be 6). She wanted Backyardigans and Backyardigans only, which meant a Backyardigans ring set in the middle of green (like a backyard) frosting. I got to add the dark green sugar and purple sprinkles. And that’s what it was.
I’ll post the recipe shortly. And here’s the frosting (minus the lemon zest) + food coloring.
I like to use birthdays as an excuse to make a new cake. Or make an tried and true cake that challenges my decorating abilities. Thus, the Tiara Cake came to be. It’s in honor of M’s 5th birthday, which is today.
Having a child turn 5 is one of those milestones, where you say to yourself, “Five years have already passed! I can’t believe it’s already been 5 years.” And 5 is big, because your child is playing iphone games, has decided to be an astronaut, and uses the word awesome. You may have even seen a glimpse of the teenage years to come and the accompanying fashion and attitude, and yet, you still have a little girl who likes her princesses.
And so, in honor of the occasion (and for the party), we decided that the cake would not be shaped like a tiara itself but have a tiara (image) on it. (I wasn’t about to start drawing Ariel herself, in frosting). A tiara, which M will likely be wearing today, seems a solid symbol of both princesshood and birthdayness, and it’s not too complicated to represent in sugar products. It had to pink, of course, although I started out thinking it would be silver, only to find that frosting doesn’t come in silver, not at any local store anyway. M had also requested that I write, I love you and put some hearts on the cake.
For her party, we are also having a pinata, which has all six princesses (I guess Repunzel hasn’t made it into the hallowed center six for good yet) hanging out at their castle. I am expecting that by next year the princess interest will have waned, and we’ll be onto something else. I think we’ll be ready.
The cake is devil’s food cake with white chocolate chunks (again, for surprise) and a cream cheese lemon frosting.
The frosting is easy and reliable and delicious:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened
8 ounces cream cheese cut into 4 pieces, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
I mix up the first two in the kitchen aid, add the second two, sift in the sugar. Mix but not too much. And it keeps in the fridge for week.
I’ll post the cake recipe if it turns out to be very delicious. Now, I’m just hoping my fairy godmother prevents it from raining…
I like surprises. I’m not gaga crazy for them, but I do seem to have a thing for a little something something in my cake batter. Today we weren’t making the big birthday cake (more on that later) but just some cupcake bites for the kids at school. M wanted vanilla so we went simple, except for a little chocolate surprise in the center. We added Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips (these are currently my favorite chocolate chips) in the middle of each.
Actually, I wanted it to be more like a chocolately pudding bite, so I probably needed a hunk of chocolate for that (or pudding). Chips weren’t really right, but they’ll still be a little surprise for the kids, and that is always fun.
Into cold storage they went until Thursday when they’ll receive their Meyer lemon icing. M seems to be fixated on that flavor … also rainbows. We’re going to add a little candy rainbow. I talked her out of the blue sky, white clouds (that we saw on Martha Stewart’s website–too big for our “bites,” but we’ll approximate. I’ve been looking up candy stores (I may have to go south for this…) and baking stores in SF.
Apparently, Sugar and Spice in Daly City is good, but I haven’t been there yet. I’ve been looking for silver frosting (Sur la Table didn’t have it) for the big cake, but I may just give up and go with pink(s). And, yes, that cake will have a little surprise as well…
Here’s the cupcake recipe–it’s Amy Sedaris’s recipe:
2 In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add in the eggs, two teaspoons vanilla, salt and baking powder. Add flour and milk in batches, starting and ending with flour. Stir until batter is smooth and satiny.
3 Fill paper-lined muffin tins with batter. Bake at 375° for 18- 20 minutes.
The problem with brown rice and homemade black beans is that they take a loooong time to make and, like many other good things in life, require planning. However, these beans go from bag to bowl in the shortest time possible and the curried rice is about the same. These are both Cook’s Illustrated recipes (which never seem to fail, well maybe once…) except that I don’t measure everything exactly. 🙂
The thing about these two things are, they are soooo good and make lots of leftovers, so it really is worth it.
Put in a big pot:
1 medium onion minced
6 or so cloves of garlic
1.5 Tb coarse salt, a little less of regular salt
2 bay leaves
1 green pepper chopped
1 lb of black beans (picked over–I measure them out and then pour them in stages on a plate, picking out any that don’t look good)
12 cups of water
Bring to a boil, skilling foam off the top, then lower, partially cover and cook for around 2 hours. Mine took less. The liquid doesn’t totally cook down (and in fact if you run out of liquid add enough to cover the beans) but I store it with the liquid which is great for reheating, or cooking down in other dishes. I just use a slotted spoon to drain the liquid off for immediate eating.
This, I just tried for the first time, but as M said, “This is soooo good!”
Put 1 1/2 cups of brown rice in a 8 inch sq. baking pan
add 1/4 ts salt
cover with 2 1/3 cups boiling veggie broth or water with veggie bullion cubes (as I did and then let cubes dissolve)
cover with tomato/onion mixture, spread out over rice
cover with two layers of foil (not sure this is necessary, but I did it)
bake for 70 minutes
then take it out and you can add frozen peas and then cover with a dish towel for 5 minutes, then uncover for 5 and eat. Likewise, you could do the same with raisins. It’s a bit of trouble, but it’s really tasty.
I usually add yogurt on top and sliced avocado and tonight we chopped up some cilantro as well. I should of taken a photo of the food on the plate, but I didn’t think of it, and then it was gone…
As a kid, chocolate chip mint ice cream was my favorite flavor. In this, I was not alone. However, I was alone in thinking chocolate chip mint pares perfectly with caramel, and pare it I did, when I had the opportunity to have an ice cream sunday which was usually once a year with my grandparents, on the way to the Berkshires from New York City.
Askew glances from waitresses aside, I stuck to my guns. Glowing accounts of fudge sauce could not dissuade me. Nor could the sight of the stuff itself. I always preferred the golden tendrils off caramel cooling against soft minty mounds.
And so it has come to pass that I, on occasion, make my own ice cream. I try not to make it too much because it is so delicious.
But with a small but significant peppermint bush growing in my garden, and an excess of cream in my fridge, I decided to make some. The only sugar I had in the house was brown sugar and I decided to use it.
And so it was that I found myself back to the minty caramel marriage of my youth. Not quite caramel, but just an absolutely addictive undercurrent of caramel taste. Teasing in that way, so that you must take another bite just to make sure it’s really there. And another. Combined with the freshest, brightest mint (from garden to pot in 10 minutes), it’s a real delight.
Put lots (2-3 cups) of mint leaves in a pot with 1 cup of whole milk and 1 cup of cream. Heat until just boiling, cover, turn off heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Repeat, but you can let it sit for less time. Strain out leaves, mashing milk out of them and put back mixture back into the pot.
Mix in 1/2 cup of brown sugar and a pinch of salt until dissolved.
Pour 1/3 or so of the milk mixture into 4 egg yolks, stirring constantly (you don’t want to scramble the eggs). Then pour the egg/milk mixture back in pot on the stove, turn up the heat to medium, stir constantly and make a custard. It’s done when the mixture thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon. Don’t let it boil.
Strain into 1 cup of cream. Let cool. Sometimes I do this overnight. Sometimes I put this mixture in a bowl surrounded by ice first.
Once it’s cold, put into ice cream maker. I add a little bit of alcohol or vanilla, and chopped up chocolate. I like it chopped finely. I actually chop the chocolate first and put it in the freeze prior to the whole process.
After it comes out of the ice cream maker, it’s this beautifully soft and creamy ambrosia. You can eat it now. Or, if you put it in a container and let it freeze, it will harden a lot. Both forms are irresistible. It’s food that brings on the quiet and completely focussed concentration of my four year old. Bliss.
I have now made a chocolate ice cream with chocolate hunks and caramelized pecans and a Meyer lemon with slivers of dark chocolate. Uh… both delicious. It’s kind of ridiculous how good this stuff–too good. And so now, left with a huge number of egg whites left over I forge into new egg white-related domains…
It’s coming up on M’s birthday and it’s cake planning time. As for the party with her school friends, I’m not going to do the gymnastics/jumpy meetup with decent pizza and bad cake (with apologies to the parents who do or, or do it better than pizza and bad cake… I’m still not doing it). The kids do seem to like it, but I can’t throw a party where I know the food won’t be great. And since when do kids really prefer decent food? I’ve read that picky eating is genetic, but I’m not sure I buy it.
M likes decent food but she loves really good food. She has recently informed me that she likes salmon sushi.
And yes, I am a bit predisposed to birthday parties with more adults than kids at this point, and cupcakes (or cake) that everyone loves, like silences-the-room-loves. The cupcakes I made last year were like that and their was no cake left behind on plates. (Here’s that recipe. I didn’t use the marshmallow frosting.) Kids usually just eat off the frosting, even if it’s that horrible sweetened shortening that most grocery stores use. Last year’s cupcakes had a chocolate layer and graham cracker bottom, so they were worth eating, thoroughly.
I just discovered this cupcake website (with thanks to Naomi Aviv) which looks very interesting. I want to find that cupcake that hits the sweet spot for kids and adults alike and of course, something for sweet M on her 4th. I will keep you posted…
Since I just wrote the blog post that cannot yet be published, I thought I’d share, instead, an excellent and easy way to prepare veggies, although I mostly do it with French green beans, broccoli, or asparagus.
Shallots are small onions that carmelize easily and delisiously.
Slice several shallots. Cut up veggies in the size you want. I usually cut the ends off the beans and cut them once or twice.
Put olive oil (or butter) in a 12 inch skillet (and let me just confess now, that once I got the 12 incher, I stopped using the 10 or 8, even to cook small things. 12 is my go to skillet.)
Throw in shallots, medium heat, let them cook until they are brown. Put in vegetables and cook until it tastes good and they get very green. Add salt.
The crazy thing is, the next day, there are good to the third power–like candy–and never enough left over.