Adventures of a Cake Diva

A Blog About Adventures in Baking and Cake Decorating

Holiday Gift Guide: 5 Cool Tools for Bakers and Cakers 12/14/2012

   If you’re struggling to find a gift for the baker or cake decorator in your life, here are five cool tools to check out.  And, because I’m a budget conscious gal, the most expensive item is just under $50.

   Except for my last suggestion, I own all of these products, love them, and use them just about every time I’m in the kitchen.  The last item is on my Christmas wish list for this year.  (I sure hope Santa is reading this…)

Kitchen Scale

  1.  OXO Food Scale – This digital scale is my BFF.  To find out why, click HERE.  What I like most about this particular scale is that it has a tare feature, so you can weigh multiple ingredients in a single container.  Also, the display pulls away from the base for easy reading.  (You don’t have to crouch down to the scale to read the weight.  Score!)

Nielsen Massey Vanilla

2.  Nielsen-Massey Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract – I first tried Nielsen-Massey’s vanilla extract a couple of years ago, at the suggestion of a baking buddy.  Since then, I won’t use anything else.  It really is that good.

Sliding Measuring Cup3.  Sliding Measuring Cup – I bought this measuring cup about 10 years ago.  It’s in great condition, even after a lot of use.  The measuring cup has an adjustable plunger that slides to cleanly eject solid ingredients.  I use it religiously to measure the shortening for my “Bakery Style” American Buttercream recipe.

Bench Scraper4.  Stainless Steel Bench Scraper – This is one product that I refuse to live without.  Sounds kind of dramatic, but it’s true.  For an awesome tutorial on how to use this tool to frost your cakes, click HERE.  Most bench scrapers have a handle that extends beyond the blade.  This one doesn’t, which makes it much, much easier to achieve a smooth, even finish on my cakes.

Culinary Torch5.  Culinary Blow Torch –  This baby is on my Christmas list for this year.  I’m super jazzed at all of the possibilities.  I’m also chomping at the bit to toast marshmallow frosting that’s piped atop some delish chocolate cupcakes.  (Please Santa, I’ve been good this year.  For the most part.)

   Hope these ideas help.  Have a wonderful holiday season!

 

Super Quick Tip: How to Toast Shredded Coconut 12/02/2012

Filed under: Recipes,Science of Baking / Baking Tips — acakediva @ 9:01 PM
Tags: ,

Beautifully toasted coconut

   Don’t be like me.  Don’t avoid recipes with toasted coconut, because you think it’s too tricky or that you might burn your house down.  That’s just silly.  Instead, be brave,  Try something new.  Surprise yourself.  It’s not too tricky, and you won’t burn your house down.  (Where did those silly thoughts come from, anyway?)

   Here’s the run-down:  Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Take one cup of shredded coconut and spread it out on the sheet.  Place the sheet in the oven for 3 minutes.  Then, pull it out of the oven and stir it around, keeping it evenly spread on the sheet.  (It won’t have browned yet.  That’s okay.  You’ll get there.)

Stirring coconut while toasting   Put the sheet back into the oven for 3 more minutes.  Pull it out of the oven, and stir it around again.  (See how it’s starting to brown?)  Put it back into the oven, this time for 2 minutes.  Since oven temperatures slightly vary, it might be done now.  Or, you might need to stir it around again and put it back into your oven for another minute or so.  Watch it carefully, though.  Once the coconut starts to brown, it can quickly burn.  As long as you keep a close eye on it, you should be good to go.

   Isn’t it fun to try new things?  Have you ever shied away from baking something because you weren’t sure how to go about preparing one of the components, like toasted coconut?

 

How to Bake with Tea: Apple Chai Spice Cake with Honey Vanilla Buttercream 10/13/2012

Nothing warms me up like a cup of tea.  Last Saturday, I made a pot of Chai Spice tea after a chilly morning of apple picking.  With every sip, I marveled at how the black tea, peppered with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and cardamom, ignited my taste buds.

I started thinking about what I might do with the peck of apples I had gathered. Then, inspiration struck. Apple Chai Spice Cake.  Oh, my…

My past attempts to bake with tea have been a bit disappointing.  I’ve struggled to capture anything more than a subtle tea flavor.  After a little research, I’ve learned the best way to infuse my cakes with a potent (but not overpowering) tea flavor and aroma is really quite simple.  Steep the tea in butter.

It’s best to use loose leaf tea, since the tea leaves are a bit bigger.  If you’re a true tea connoisseur (I’m not), you’ll probably shudder at my suggestion that you can use bagged tea for this recipe.  I had plenty of good quality Chai Spice tea bags in my cupboard, so I cut these bags open and used the leaves.  If you don’t mind that some of the tea leaves will, inevitably, make their way into the cake batter, I say go for it.

Place 2 1/2 sticks (20 tablespoons) of unsalted butter into a saucepan over low heat.  Add 6-8 teaspoons of Chai Spice tea leaves.  Melt the butter and tea leaves, stirring occasionally.  (This is different from the tea to butter ratio suggested in the above link.  Don’t worry, the tea flavor is splendid.)  Once the melted butter starts to darken from the tea leaves (about 6-7 minutes), remove the saucepan from your stove.  Place the saucepan on a trivet or other heat-safe surface, and allow the tea to steep for about 7-8 minutes.

Place a sieve over a bowl.  Pour the tea butter mixture into the sieve.  Most of the liquid will strain through the sieve.  Since I used bagged tea leaves (smaller than loose leaf tea), I poured the tea butter through the strainer twice to minimize the amount of leaves remaining in the butter.  If you use loose leaf tea, you may have to use a wooden spoon to press the leaves against the fine mesh.  Allow the tea butter to come to room temperature.  It’s now ready to use.

I like to use some of the cake’s ingredients as a garnish.  I think it’s a bit of a teaser of the cake that my guests are about to partake.  I decided to sprinkle a few Chai Spice leaves all over this cake and then top it off with a couple of cinnamon sticks.  It was simple, yet elegant, cake that smelled absolutely amazing.  It tasted even better.

Have you ever baked with tea? What did you make?

Apple Chai Spice Cake

An Original Cakediva Recipe

Yield: Two 9″ round cakes

2 ¾ cups (10 ounces) of all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon of baking powder

1 cup (8 ounces) of tea butter – See recipe, above.  I used 2 ½ sticks of butter to make the tea butter, since some of the butter will stick to the tea leaves remaining in your sieve.

2 cups (14 ounces) of ultrafine granulated sugar

2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

5 large eggs

1 cup (8 ounces) of milk

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

½ teaspoon of ground cloves

½ teaspoon of ground ginger

½ teaspoon of cardamom

2-3 apples – cored, peeled and grated (about 1 cup, heaping)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare your cake pans by spraying them with a non-stick baking spray.  Sift the flour into a large bowl.  Add the baking powder, salt, and spices, and use a whisk to combine them with the flour.  Set aside.  Next, put the sugar and tea butter into the bowl of your standing mixer with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium speed (4 on your Kitchen Aid) until light and fluffy.  This may take a bit longer than usual, since the tea butter is not firm.  Turn your mixer down to a low setting (2 on your Kitchen Aid) and slowly add the vanilla and eggs, one egg at a time.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, and re-start your mixer on low to fully combine the ingredients.

Next, alternate adding the dry ingredient mixture and the milk into the butter mixture, stirring well after each addition.  Then, bump up the speed on your mixer to medium-high (8 on your Kitchen Aid) for about 15 seconds.  Turn off the mixer.  Remove the bowl from the stand mixer.  Slowly fold the grated apples into the cake batter until well combined.  Pour the batter into cake pans.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Cool on wire cake racks.

Honey Vanilla Buttercream

An Original Cakediva Recipe

2 sticks of butter, unsalted – chilled, but not straight from the fridge

4 tablespoons of all-vegetable shortening

3-4 tablespoons of milk

2 tablespoons of pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons of pure honey

dash of salt

4 cups of powdered sugar, sifted

In a large bowl, beat the butter and shortening until smooth.  Next, while you continue to beat the mixture, add the vanilla, honey, and salt.  Then, add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  When your mixer starts to strain, add one tablespoon of milk at a time, until the buttercream reaches your preferred consistency.  (The more milk you add, the creamier the frosting.)  Beat until smooth.  If the frosting is too sweet for your liking, add another dash of salt and mix until combined.  (Keep doing this until it reaches the desired amount of sweetness.)  Lastly, before using, take a rubber spatula and stir the frosting thoroughly to eliminate any air bubbles.

 

Super Quick Tip: A Scale Is a Baker’s BFF. No Lie. 08/12/2012

Grab a pad of paper and a pen.  I’m going to share with you a super quick tip that will instantly make you a better baker.  No lie.  Are you ready?

A kitchen scale is a baker’s BFF. 

I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this piece of advice.  In fact, during my first year of baking, I’ll bet I read this tip at least 20 times.  But, I was convinced that I was a careful measurer. (Baloney.)  And, it seemed like it would be too time-consuming.  (It’s not.)  Yet, my cakes were inconsistent.

I’d bake a cake, and it would be perfectionA few weeks later, I’d follow the same recipe to a “T”, but the texture would be a little off.  Or the cake would be dry.  Guess what happened when I started weighing my dry ingredients using a cheap, but accurate, scale?  Problem solved.

Also, I used to divide the batter into my cake pans by simply “eyeballing” it.  Big shocker here—my cakes never baked to the same size.  Guess what happened when I started weighing my cake pans so they’d have the same amount of batter?  Problem solved.

When my cheapo kitchen scale died, I started using (and still use) my old postage scale from when I owned a small business.  Maybe someday I’ll pony up for a fancy kitchen scale, but in my humble opinion, you don’t need one.  As long as it’s accurate, it will get the job done.  Give it a try.  If your kitchen scale is your new BFF, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Call Me Sentimental: Oatmeal Scotchies 06/24/2012

Whenever I eat an oatmeal cookie, I think of my grandma.  As a kid, my sister and I visited my paternal grandparents for a week.  I have only a couple of memories from that visit.  I went to King’s Island (an amusement park near Cincinnati) for the first time.  My sister and I weren’t allowed to ride any of the rides, because she was convinced that they were too dangerous.  I can laugh about it now.  Believe me, I didn’t at the time.

Also, I remember that my grandma baked a batch of Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.  Because she baked these glorious treats, they were the best cookies I had ever tasted.  It didn’t matter to me that I hated raisins.  I just picked them out of the cookies and left the raisin carnage on my plate.

My grandma has been gone for many years now.  Sometimes, when I miss her, I make a batch of oatmeal cookies.  I still don’t care much for raisins, so I like to throw butterscotch chips into the oatmeal dough, instead.  The rich, creamy, and sweet flavor of the butterscotch marries beautifully with the earthiness of the oatmeal.

After dilly-dallying around with countless recipes, this one’s the clear winner.  These cookies have a great texture—chewy, hearty, and bit crumbley, yet they’re not dry.  The only modification that I made to the original recipe is that I added one teaspoon of freshly grated orange zest, which enhances the butterscotch flavor.

Although this is my favorite Oatmeal Scotchies recipe, my all-time favorite cookie recipe is still my grandma’s recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.  From time to time, I’ll bake a batch.  I still pick out the raisins.

Oatmeal Scotchies

Adapted from:  Nestle

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

1 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal (not instant)

2 cups butterscotch chips

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.  (If you line the sheets with aluminum foil, even with non-stick spray, the cookies still have a tendency to stick.)  Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and orange zest in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Next, beat the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in a large bowl.  Continue to beat the butter mixture and add the flour mixture gradually.  Then, stir in the oatmeal and butterscotch chips until they are well combined with the dough.  Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto your cookie sheets.  (Just a head’s up—they will not spread as they bake.)  Bake for 7 to 8 minutes.  Allow the cookies to slightly cool on the baking sheets (2-5 minutes).  Then, place the cookies onto wire racks to cool completely.

 

Super Quick Tip: How to Soften Rock Hard Brown Sugar 05/10/2012

Filed under: General,Science of Baking / Baking Tips — acakediva @ 6:39 PM
Tags: , ,

   Last night, I was tweaking a new recipe that called for brown sugar.  When I pulled out the bag from my pantry, the sugar was pretty hard.  Actually, it was like a giant glacier of sugar.  No biggie.  I learned a super quick fix to this problem a couple of years ago.

   Simply place the opened bag of brown sugar in your microwave with a small bowl of water, and microwave them for one minute.  Then, check to see if the sugar is soft enough to use.  If not, just continue to microwave in increments of 30 seconds until the rocks have disappeared and the sugar is soft.  The bag of brown sugar will be hot after microwaving, so be very careful. 

   I’ve used this tip to salvage quite a few bags of brown sugar that I would have otherwise tossed out.   It’s never failed me.  Give it a try!

 

Curl Up with a Carmel Macchiato Cupcake 09/26/2011

A Caramel Macchiato cupcake is a perfect sweet treat for Fall.

   Fall is officially here, and it has turned quite chilly outside, at least where I live.  It’s definitely the kind of weather where I seek out toasty beverages to warm my bones.  Normally, I am a straight coffee kind of gal, but this past week, I decided to try a caramel macchiato.  Man, was it good!  For those of you who are unfamiliar, a caramel macchiato is a coffee drink with milk and vanilla topped with foam that has espresso poured through the foam and a caramel drizzle on top.  I love how each of these flavors are delicious in their own right, and yet, when they come together, something magical happens to my taste buds.   

   I was inspired.  My wheels started turning immediately, trying to figure out how to transform this tasty beverage into a cupcake.  I love taking a favorite food treat and turning it into an unexpected cake or cupcake flavor.  For me, it is very much a creative process, starting with decisions of the flavors and textures that I want to highlight.  I knew that coffee had to be the “star” of the cupcake, with a hint of vanilla, and I wanted the frosting to have a creamy, light caramel flavor with a bit of a “frothy” texture. 

   Mission accomplished.  This golden brown cupcake is moist and has a vibrant coffee flavor with just a whisper of vanilla.  It is frosted with a creamy, light Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  The flavors complement one another beautifully, yet each flavor has real depth,  just like the coffee beverage.  I decided to garnish my cupcakes with coffee beans, but you could drizzle some caramel sauce on top, if you prefer. Enjoy!             

Caramel Macchiato Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

dash of salt

1/2 cup boiling water

5 teaspoons instant coffee

1/4 cup whole milk

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

   Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, pour the boiling water over the instant coffee, stir the mixture, and let it cool. Combine the coffee with milk.  In separate bowl, beat butter and granulated and brown sugars with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Then, beat in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with coffee-milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour. 

Your batter should be smooth but somewhat thick. Before you scoop your batter into the cupcake tins, you may have to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. After doing so, just run your mixer for a quick bit to combine this flour with the batter.

   Fill the cupcake tins three-quarters full. Bake for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers of the cupcakes comes out clean.  Brush each cupcake with simple syrup (recipe and directions below). 

For the coffee simple syrup:

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon instant coffee

1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (vanilla extract will work, too)

What is vanilla bean paste? It is made by scraping vanilla beans into a sweet, thick syrup. See all those lovely little vanilla beans? It has a stronger and richer vanilla flavor than vanilla extract. While you can use vanilla extract in this recipe, why not try something new? You can buy vanilla paste at Williams Sonoma or online. It is a bit more expensive than pure vanilla extract, but not that much more. I pinky-swear that it will be totally worth the few extra bucks. A little jar will last you a while, too.

   Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat on the stove.  Stir continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Use a toothpick to poke several small holes into the top of each cupcake. 

Take a toothpick and poke several holes into the top of each cupcake. This will allow the brushed simple syrup to soak into the cupcakes.

Take a pastry brush and generously brush the simple syrup over each cupcake. 

Dip your pastry brush into the simple syrup and then brush each cupcake. You want to cover each cupcake completely, but don't over-do it. Please do not skip this step! The simple syrup will keep your cupcakes moist and will add further flavor.

Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

Adapted from Flour Child

For the Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

4 large egg whites

1 cup of lightly packed brown sugar

3 sticks of unsalted butter, cold and cut into tablespoons

1/2 tablespoon vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)

1 tablespoon half and half

   At first blush, this frosting may seem a bit complicated to make.  I promise you that it is really quite simple, and the results are divine!  First, place the egg whites and the brown sugar in a heat-proof bowl to your stand mixer and place the bowl over a pot of boiling water on your stove.  Stir continuously until this mixture reaches 160 degrees (use a candy thermometer) and the brown sugar has dissolved. 

I simply placed my Kitchen Aid mixing bowl on top of a sauce pan that was half filled with water. The stove heat was set on medium-high. This technique actually has a name—bain marie, which means to gradually and gently heat your ingredients to a fixed temperature in a water bath. It’s French. Now, don’t you feel kind of fancy?

Remove from heat and place the bowl under your stand mixer with the whisk attachment in place.  Beat the mixture on high speed until it holds stiff peaks.  Continue beating the mixture for about 5 minutes, until it is fluffy.  Then, remove the whisk attachment and place the paddle attachment onto your mixer.  Start your mixer on medium-low speed (4 on your Kitchen Aid), and add several butter tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. 

After all of the butter has been added, the frosting will appear to separate.  Bump up the speed on your mixer to a medium high speed (6 on your Kitchen Aid), and keep beating for about 3-4 minutes.  It will come together beautifully. 

After you have added all of your butter, your buttercream will begin to separate and will look like this picture. Hang in there, and keep the mixer going for another 3-4 minutes. It is about to come together to make a beautiful, smooth frosting.

Then, reduce your mixer speed to the lowest setting (2 on your Kitchen Aid) to eliminate any air bubbles.  Finally, stir with a spatula until the frosting is smooth.  Frost your cupcakes and add your desired garnish.         

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

 

 
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