Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Cupcakes and an "Egg Hunt" Cake

No sooner did I finish the great birthday cake experiment, and Easter was upon us.  My 4 year old is now in preschool (!) and they had a little Easter party.  Of course, I signed up for a dessert.  But what do you make for twenty 3-4 year olds?  Cupcakes, of course!

I hauled my cupcake pan back out (which really does require some hauling, since it is a stoneware pan and weighs about 10 lbs) and make my trusty chocolate cake recipe again, this time in cupcake form.  It's the same recipe I used for the birthday cake and you can find it here.  This time I baked the cupcakes for about 30 minutes.

I decided to make Easter Basket cupcakes, minus the handles.  I skipped the handles (to have been made with Twizzlers) mostly because I ran out of time that morning.  Oh, well.  Now I have a bag of Twizzlers.  Handles or no, these were INCREDIBLY easy to make.  And yummy.  Twenty preschoolers will agree.

I started off icing the cupcakes with green tinted buttercream icing, the same as I used on the birthday cake.  I thinned it out slightly with about a tablespoon of milk.  Then I added the "grass."  I used green food coloring to tint shredded coconut and then I rolled each cupcake in the coconut.

And to finish them off, I added three Easter M&Ms to each cupcake to look like Easter eggs.  You might notice that there is ONE cupcake, on the lower right, that has no coconut.  A certain 4 year old decided at the last minute that he does not like coconut (who knew?) so I had to scrape it off and re-ice it for him.

Voila!  Easter cupcakes!

So, for the "Egg Hunt" cake, I needed another quick dessert for ANOTHER party on the same day.  I had leftover green icing and green coconut (what else was I going to do with them?) and leftover M&Ms.  So I made a half recipe of chocolate cake, iced the whole thing in pan after it cooled, sprinkled on the coconut and added the "eggs" and that was it.  I didn't have to show up at the party empty handed.

And now that Easter is over, my sweet tooth is ACHING!  Too much candy, too many sweets.  I think I'll bake something more fruity and less sugary next.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Birthday Cake of Epic Proportions

My little boy just turned four years old and we had his birthday party over the weekend.  I gave him his choice of party themes and, surprise, he chose Buzz Lightyear.  So, I love to make a decorate his birthday cake every year and I wanted this year's to just be amazing.  I searched online for inspiration and, not finding what I was looking for, ended up just kind of winging it.

What I didn't wing, was the cake recipe itself. Like many other things that I cook and/or bake, I have go-to cake recipes.  I am a self professed chocolate fiend.  My son (weirdo) prefers yellow cake.  So this one had a little of both.  My go-to chocolate cake is actually part of another recipe .  I have been making it for years.  It is the BEST chocolate cake and whenever I make it, I always get requests for the recipe.  The birthday party was no exception.

Rich Cocoa Squares
2/3 plus 1/4 cup oil
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups cold water

Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Pour into a 9"x13" pan.  On top of raw batter, sprinkle 1 cup of chocolate bits and 1 cup chopped walnuts.

Bake 30 minutes at 350.

So, that's the whole recipe.  But I use the basic cake recipe whenever I want to make chocolate cake for anything else.  I use it for cupcakes and two layer cakes.  It is moist and chocolatey and like I said, it always gets compliments.  It's also a "dump all the ingredients in the bowl and mix" cake.  For this cake, I used a 9 inch contoured Wilton pan because I wanted the top rounded and I didn't want to have to carve a two layer cake down.

Then I made a topper for the cake and a dozen cupcakes with a yellow cake recipe.  I'm not a huge fan of yellow cake, but this is the one I use when I have a cake to make.  And my son loves yellow cake and requested it.  It is moist and has a nice vanilla flavor to it.

Basic Yellow Cake from Better Homes and Gardens ( I love this cookbook!)
3/4 cup butter
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups milk

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease and flour pans.  Allow butter and eggs to come to room temperature.  In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  Beat butter with an electric mixer on high for 30 seconds.  Gradually add sugar, beating until well combined, then beat two minutes more.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.  Alternately add flour mixture and milk, beating on low speed until just combined.  Spread batter into prepared pans.

For two 9 inch pans, bake 20-25 minutes.  I baked 12 cupcakes and put about 1/2 of the batter in my small Pampered Chef glass mixing bowl.  The cupcakes baked for about 18 minutes.  The bowl cake took much longer, over 30 minutes.  I used a melon baller to make some craters in the bowl cake, since it would become a moon later on.

So, then it was on to the icing.  I always use the basic buttercream icing recipe from Wilton.  

Wilton Buttercream Icing
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract (use clear if you will need white icing)
4 cups confectioner's sugar (ideally, it should be sifted, but I hardly ever do it)
2 Tbsp milk

Thick icing

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often.  Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. 
For thin (spreading) consistency icing, add 2 Tbsp water or milk; for medium, add 1 Tbsp.  Thick icing is used for decorations like leaves, thin is used for icing the cake.  I use medium for everything else.  I used 1 recipe for this entire cake and had a little left over.

First I iced the chocolate cake blue and the yellow cake gray, to look like the moon:

Then I added green, purple and orange to the borders:

Buzz hanging out on top

Next, I did the yellow cupcakes.  I blended the different colors with white and added blue sprinkles.  And on top of each one I put a yellow chocolate star that I made with yellow chocolate melts and a star shaped mold:

And finally, the finished cake (minus Buzz, because he kept falling off):

It was a great hit and everyone loved it, most of all my son, whose opinion is the only one that really mattered, anyway.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Another Lemon Square-Lemon Streusel Bars

I decided to check some of my cookbooks to see what I had for lemon bar recipes. I found one in an old Pampered Chef cookbook.  It's no longer available, but it's called Stoneware Sensations and the recipe is for Lemon Streusel Bars.  These were a vast improvement over the white chocolate lemon bars from the other night, and both of my taste testers agreed!  The crust and topping on these is sweet and has a crunch and the filling is tart and creamy. Yum!

Lemon Streusel Bars
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

Crust and Streusel:
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.  For filling, in a small mixing bowl combine condensed milk, lemon zest and juice and mix well.  

For crust and streusel, mix butter and brown sugar until well blended.  Add flour and oats and mix with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.   Reserve two cups for topping and press remainder into bottom of a 9 inch baking pan.  Spread the filling evenly over crust and coat with reserved topping.  

Bake 30-35 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool completely, cut into bars and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Search for the Perfect Lemon Squares-Take 1

I still have an overabundance of lemons, which I love, and I'm on the search for the perfect lemon squares. I made a batch the other night, and although they were tasty, they weren't exactly what I was looking for.
Still, I'l share them and my ideas for improvement on the recipe.  I did a search for a unique recipe and found one that called for white chocolate chips here.

I followed the recipe just as she posted, but was not satisfied with the results.  The recipe follows, along with my notes for improvements.

White Chocolate Lemon Bars 
1 1/4 cups flour -divided
1 cup sugar-divided
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white chips
2 eggs slightly beaten
The zest and juice from one lemon
Powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees
2. Stir together 1 cup flour and 1/4 cup sugar in medium bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press mixture onto the bottom of 9-inch baking pan.   (I think this crust was way too crumbly and think.  I think a little less flour would have made it work better)                        
3. Bake 7 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven; sprinkle with chips.                               4. Stir together eggs, lemon juice, lemon peel, remaining 1/4 cup flour and remaining 3/4 cup sugar in medium bowl; carefully pour over chips and crust.     (This is a 9 inch pan, but the amount of lemon mixture barely covered the crust and the white chocolate chips.  Had I know, I would have used a smaller, 8 inch square pan in order to get a thicker bar.)
5. Bake 10 minutes or until set. Cool in pan on wire rack; sift with powdered sugar when completely cool. (These needed much more than 10 minutes to bake.  I think I left them in for closer to 20.) 

Even though I felt the lemon was too thin and the crust was too thick, they came out pretty tasty.  My husband, who just returned home from several weeks away ate about half of them, but they still weren't what I was looking for.  So I'll keep looking and hopefully find a keeper!