Archive | September, 2013

Solo Project: Two Cakes

28 Sep

Both of my parents’ birthdays are in September. I never do full-sized cakes, because they often turn out sub-par. I’m much better with cupcakes! However, I made two cakes this last month that turned out beautifully, and I want to share them! 

One was a simple white cake with American Buttercream, for my mother’s 60th birthday. My mom is one hell of an awesome lady, and I wanted to do something really pretty for her! Following this as a model, I made her this cake: 


My dad’s birthday was this last Monday, and he’s a chocolate fiend. Chocolate is better than pure gold, in his eyes. So, naturally, I made a chocolate cake (Martha Stewart’s recipe, of course), with a chocolate ganache as “frosting”. Man, was this thing rich. I swirled the frosting into rosettes, which is something I’d seen on pinterest. I didn’t follow a tutorial or anything – I just kinda went for it. I was really happy with how it turned out.



Happy birthday, Mom and Dad. I love you!



Challenge: Halloween cake pops

22 Sep

Halloween cake pops

Because it’s almost October, I unveil our next blog challenge: Halloween cake pops. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at cake pops, and Haloween seems like the perfect holiday for decoration inspiration. And these will be easy to share with coworkers and roommates.

Months ago, I bought this cake pops decorating kit (above) and sent one to Hannah too, with the intention of using it soon after on Cats and Commas. (The fabric underneath is another unfinished project — what was supposed to be Halloween napkins.) Time to put it to use.

Here are a few recipes and tutorials for Halloween-themed cake pops. The great thing is you can make them any design you want. Excited to see what Hannah and I will come up with.

As always, here’s to fall, and happy baking!





Solo project: Tomato tart

5 Sep


Just a quick word about my weeknight dinner experiment: tomato tart.

This sounded like a nice end-of-summer treat, so I bought some cherry tomatoes, made a pie crust and adapted a couple recipes based on what ingredients I had.

Here are the basics.

Pie crust: I’m a crust purist, so I always use an all-butter crust (using Yankee Magazine’s recipe with vinegar, but substitute the shortening for butter). This is also a great tutorial from FoodDay (in The Oregonian) about how to make and flute a pie crust. Bake for 10 minutes and let cool a little before filling.

Filling: I adapted a recipe from “The Oregonian Cookbook” by spreading a layer of Grey Poupon country dijon mustard as the base and substituting mozzarella cheese for chevre (sorry, turophiles — had to look that one up). No eggs or cream involved.

Baking: Halved cherry tomatoes went on top, and it baked for 30-45 minutes, until the tops of the tomatoes got close to caramel and the crust browned a bit.

I was initially worried that the juice from the raw tomatoes would make the tart soggy, but I was pleasantly surprised. A tasty and easy weeknight dinner, I’m sure adaptable for all kinds of vegetables.

Ile Flottante: Portland

5 Sep


Delicate. That’s the word to describe floating island — ill flottante in French — with its combination of meringue and creme anglaise. It makes sense to pair an egg white-based cake with an egg yolk-based custard. The two tastes and textures complement each other (it’s also an excellent example of kitchen pragmatism, a way to use both part of the egg).

Before Hannah suggested this dessert, I’d never heard of it, nor had I seen a recipe anywhere that I could remember. But I’ve wanted a second chance to get good at creme anglaise and I’ve never made a meringue quite like this.

A while back, our friend Nicole gave me a copy of “Julia Child and Company,” a volume filled with menus for entertaining. Of course, ill flottante made an appearance as the finale for an “informal dinner,” and I used her recipe as reference for the technique (photo below). I particularly like Julia’s image of ill flottante as “a giant meringue souffle floating on a custard sea.”


Hannah had suggested a few recipes to work from, and I ended up using a combination to suit my parameters. Because of the size of my pan (not a traditional bundt pan but a jelly roll pan), I wanted a meringue recipe that didn’t use too many egg whites, and I didn’t want to overdo it on the amount of creme anglaise. Embarrassingly, I ran out of regular granulated sugar, so I skipped the caramel sauce (though I do think it would have tied the dessert together).

For the meringue, I used Martha Stewart’s tutorial, which I found immensely helpful. For the creme anglaise, I used Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, which makes a modest amount of sauce and doesn’t require heavy cream, only regular milk (which I think works just fine).

Note: While searching for recipes and Julia Child inspiration, I stumbled across this modern update of her floating island, an adaptation with apricot creme anglaise and almond meringue. This would be a nice holiday dessert.


Regardless of the recipe, the meringue starts out the same: beating the egg whites into a froth, watching for soft peaks, adding the sugar gradually and waiting for stiff peaks to magically appear (with cream of tartar and salt helping this process along). Because I ran out of granulated sugar, I attempted to substitute powdered sugar, which ended up working OK. But had I read further in my research, I would have discovered that more powdered sugar would have helped the meringue keep its shape after baking (something involving sugar crystallization during baking, and the lower density of the powdered sugar; I admit I am no food scientist).


The meringue looked quite nice before baking, and it didn’t look half bad after, but there were some textural and structural issues. You can see that it cracked down the middle, which is not at all how Martha or Julia’s turned out. Still, a fine first try, seeing as I’ve only ever made the cookie meringues or spread meringue on a pie.


While I waited for the meringue to cool, I started on the creme anglaise. Credit goes to Andrew, who beat the egg yolks with the sugar (again powdered) until, as Julia says, the “mixture is pale yellow and forms the ribbon,” which I think is a wonderful way of describing the exact consistency we’re looking for. No mixer required here, just a whisk and a little time (and of some corn starch, which makes it thicken properly later on).


Next, the part that I’ve failed at oh so many times, which requires a lot of patience: the tempering of the eggs with the scalded milk. This time, I made extra sure to dribble in just enough milk to the egg and sugar so it adjusted to the heat without scrambling. And it worked!


The whole egg and milk mixture then was whisked together over medium heat until the froth and the bubbles dissolved, leaving me with a creamy, pale yellow sauce. And immediately, off the heat it went. This probably took all of 20 minutes from the ribboning to the thickening.


Back to matters of structural integrity. My “meringue souffle” fell a little too much after taking it out of the oven, and even though I checked to make sure it didn’t stick to a skewer poked in the middle, it was a bit runny. So I put it back in the oven for about 5 minutes (perhaps a great mistake), which seemed to help a little. But in the picture you can see it looks a little slimy once I turned it out, and it did release a lot of liquid after it had fully cooled.


The best parts of the meringue were the caramelized spots on the edges; these were chewy and rich. I agree with Hannah that the meringue was a bit slimy inside, and strangely spongy in places. It tasted a lot like angel food cake, of which I’ve never been particularly fond of, but this had just the right flavor for me. Perhaps my problem with angel food cake is that I don’t like the cake part (the texture) but that I like the taste of the egg whites. Because this is essentially a simplified version of angel food cake, I liked it quite a bit.