Thursday, July 26, 2012

Taking a little break

For personal reasons, I'm unable to post anything new right now.  In an odd twist of fate, the better the personal reasons get, the longer the hiatus will be.  Please pray that I can't post until next spring.

Cake Lady

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Daring Baker Challenge and a Surprise!

I'm back!  I haven't baking too much, but I'm not dead...more on that topic after the challenge.

Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

Before this challenge, I'd never heard of or seen a Battenburg cake.  This cake was first created for the wedding of Princess Victoria to Prince Louis of Battenburg.  Between that description, and the use of marzipan, I feel this cake is probably much more common in Europe than in the US.

This cute little cake typically features a 2x2 assembly of different colored/flavored cake, usually pink and yellow.  I decided to expand on that idea and go big with a checkerboard pattern.

I took several liberties with this month's challenge.  First, I used my favorite basic cake recipe (1-2-3-4 cake found here), I changed the design, covered it in buttercream rather than marzipan or fondant and, I changed the color scheme.

I'm thinking the color scheme might tell you where I've been the past few months!  Definitely not dead, that's for sure.  But, definitely not in the kitchen, either.  The Artist and I are having a baby!  I chose pink and blue for this cake because we don't yet know what we're having.  He thinks boy, I'm undecided, but have been thinking girl the past few days.  Hmmm....we'll see.  And, hopefully, I'll see you next month!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Le Sigh...

March was a good month...I thought I was going to pay more attention to my little blog here.  But, as usual, life happens.  I do have a post planned for June, though.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow: Day 8

We're one week into the gardening project, and I'm so excited about progress so far, that I think it will be a series!

So far, the lettuce is definitely in the lead.  Seedlings popped up around day 3, and while new ones are still growing in, the plants are about 2-3" tall.
Growing towards the sunlight.  We're going to be eating a LOT of salad.

 The basil is also coming in pretty good.  There are several little plants in the pot.  I'm thinking I may need a second pot sometime down the road.

We have one lone bean stalk who made an appearance yesterday.  On Friday, there was nothing.  On Saturday, it had broken through the soil, but was kind of coiled.  Now, on Sunday, it's about 2" high and standing tall.  But,......where are the rest?  I planted about 12 seeds.  Will they grow, or are they duds?  Time will tell, I guess.

Lastly, here are the peppers.  You could almost miss them, but there are two tiny plants breaking free of the soil. I'm glad, but hope more come in.  The seed package is labeled as "Carnival Mix", and I'd really like to harvest the variety of colors pictured -- green, red, purple, orange, and even ivory!

This project of mine is really bringing out the nerd in me.  I seriously stare at these plants a couple of times a day, willing them to grow!  And it's fascinating how much food from the store is taken for granted.  For example, I know lettuce is a plant, and it grows in the ground (duh!), but I never thought about lettuce SEEDS.  And I didn't really think about my packet of green bean seeds being the same white nubbins that are inside the green beans on my plate.  I know it sounds kind of stupid, but these are some of those things you know in the back of your mind, but it doesn't really click.  Some day down the road when we have children of our own, they will definitely be growing their own little green bean in a paper cup and digging in the dirt with me!

Stay tuned for the next episode!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I guess you can call me Farmer Cake Lady.  The warmer temperatures and ridiculoud prices at the grocery store led me to try my hand at a small vegetable garden.  Nothing too fancy, since we live in an apartment, but things we eat a lot of: lettuce, peppers, basil, tomatoes, and green beans.  See, we don't eat just cake around here!

Because I've never done it before, and it's cheaper, I started most of my veggies from seed.  When I've planted before, I just bought the half grown plants.  So here's what I've got going:

Day 1

Looseleaf lettuce mixture:  Lettuce is well suited to container gardening, and loose leaf lettuce is ready to harvest a little sooner than head lettuce, plus you can pick what you need when you need it.  Hopefully, this will mean no more wilted lettuce in the fridge.

Tenderbush garden beans:  Two advantages here, the beans grow on a bush rather than a vine.  I'm hoping I don't need to stake them.  Second, the sead packet says they are stringless, meaning less prep time when they're ready to eat!  I figure beans can't be too hard to grow, as they're the classic elementary school science project!

Carnival mix sweet peppers:  We eat a lot of peppers, usually green bell peppers.  The brightly colored peppers on the seed packet looked so much tastier than the others.  Though, I'm pretty sure I'll be going back for some hot peppers.  Muy caliente!  Short of ghost chili and scorpion peppers (the world's hottest varieties), we like them all.

Mammoth basil:  There's nothing better than fresh basil.  I grew a small basil plant last year, and thoroughly enjoyed having Billy Basil sit on the windowsill, and grace many a pasta sauce and Thai curry with his presence.  Will this be Billy #2 or something else?

I also transplanted Oscar the Onion into a pot with soil.  Did you know you can grow green onions on your windowsill in just water?  I started Oscar off by putting the root ends that I'd been throwing away for years into a glass of water.  Within a few days, we could see new shoots growing.  Within a few weeks, he was pretty tall.  Now, two months later, he is still alive, and growing faster than we can eat him.  As a result, he's pretty droopy and long.

And yes, we name our plants.  They're our babies until we have some real ones.  Billy Basil, Oscar Onion, and a philodendron named Phil. 

Happy Pi Day!

What better way to celebrate Pi Day, March 14 than pie?  Well, not really a pie, but a tart.  A nice, simple tart to usher in spring.

This recipe really came about in a yin-yang devil-angel kind of way.  I tried out a recipe for healthy chocolate muffins that were described as Vita Top knockoffs.  I'm all about replicating treats that cost the megabucks.  Anyway, the recipe called for egg whites, leaving me with three egg yolks.  I really didn't want to throw them away, so started looking for egg yolk only recipes, and remembered my favorite lemon filling recipe uses egg yolks.  Problem solved!  Egg yolks put to good use, and a rich cheese cake like tart to balance out those healthy, deep chocolate chocolate chip muffins.

Lime curd tart
Lime filling
Recipe adapted from
3/4 cup sugar
2 TBS cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold water
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 TBS lime zest
Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
1 TBS butter
1-2 drops green food coloring (optional)

For the record, I used squeeze bottle lime juice.  This was an impromptu recipe, so I used what I had.

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Gradually whisk in the water until dissolved. Whisk in egg yolks, and juice. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly.  The mixture will get foamy, but keep whisking.  Cook while whisking, until thick and bubbly. Boil one minute (keep whisking); remove from heat. Stir in butter. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Cool to room temperature, without stirring.

If you use the food coloring, add it while whisking.  If you choose not to use it, your filling will be yellow.  This recipe gets its color from the egg yolk, and lime juice is clearish.  That creamy dreamy green color we know and love is a charade!

Graham cracker crust
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs  (this is right at one unopened sleeve of graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

Combine the crust ingredients in a medium bowl.  Stir to combine.  Press crumb mixture into a pie plate or tart pan.  Using the bottom of a drinking glass helps get it packed down smoothly.  Depending on the dish you use, you may have leftover crumbs.  Hold on to those for later. Bake your crust at 375 for 8-10 minutes.  Set aside and let cool.

Cheesecake filling
8 oz cream cheese softened
1/4 sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in the sugar, then the eggs and vanilla.  Pour into your cooled graham cracker crust.  Bake at 350 for 13 minutes.  Let cool.

To finish your tart, stir your lime filling to break up any lumps and loosen and skin that formed on the top.  Gently pour/spread the lime filling onto the cooled cheesecake layer.  If you had any leftover graham cracker crumbs, you can sprinkle them decoratively over the top.

Cover and put in the fridge. Enjoy while seeing who can recite the most digits of pi.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Amish Friendship Bread

Have you ever heard of Amish Friendship Bread?  It's the chain letter of the culinary world.  But in this case, if you pass it forward, you friends (those that cook or bake, anyway) will truly love you; if you don't pass it on, no biggie.
In case you don't know, Amish Friendship Bread is a sweet quick bread type bread/cake made from a fermented mixture of milk, sugar, and flour, known as a starter.  After minimal tending of the starter for 10 days, you're ready to make the bread.  The "tending" can be done in a gallon sized freezer bag, and it only has to be fed once.  The other days, you just mush around the bag and leave it on the counter.  On day 10, you refresh the starter, divvy it up for sharing, and bake your own batch of bread. The starter recipe can be found here.
The starter, around day 6 or so...

The result was am uber delicious, super moist cinnamony cake.  I can only describe it as boozy french toast.  It has that extra tang that you get with desserts containing alcohol, which I usually don't like.  AT ALL!  But this, my friends was fantastic. 

Cinnamon sugar topping

Better yet, the starter is very versatile!  Recipes abound on what to do with the starter.  I visited the Friendship Bread Kitchen, where they maintain an archive of at least 190 variations and alternatives, including cookie, waffles, brownies, and Amish Friendship Bread flavor combinations.  They also have starter recipes for those on alternative diets (gluten-free, sugar-free, etc.).
I had an extra bag of starter left over and decided to try the brownies.  I was worried it would have that tangy flavor, which I didn't think would mesh well with chocolate, but it tasted like a chocolate cake or quick loaf.  The texture was definitely more cakey than brownie-ish, but tasty all the same.

Brownie/Cake using the last of the starter

For the record, I'm pretty sure the Amish didn't come up with this; at least not as this recipe is written.  I wouldn't imagine they'd be using instant pudding mix!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I Scream, You Scream

Who doesn't scream for ice cream, right?  With the early spring we've been having around here lately, ice cream sounded like a nice treat.  The Artist and I were at the mall, strolling along, debating whether we wanted cookies or ice cream.  My vote for ice cream won, but I decided I didn't want to drop big bucks for only a scoop or two.  Besides, homemade sundaes are always better, and you're not limited to what's in those stale looking containers.

And...I had this recipe for chocolate syrup that I wanted to try.  I found this recipe (from Small Notebook) via a pin on Pinterest.  [Sidenote: I love Pinterest!  I find so many things to try that I wouldn't have found on my own, let alone thought of!]

The chocolate syrup was fabulously simple and absolutely delicious.  My little pictures don't do it justice.  I made one substitution by using Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder instead of regular cocoa powder.
Four simple ingredients, plus water!

Brownie sundae supreme

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Daring Baker's Challenge - Feb. 2012: Quick Bread

Things have been slow around here.  School is hard!  I feel like I've done plenty of baking, but either it wasn't blog worthy, or didn't take pictures.  I do have a couple of yummy things pending, though!

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

I was cool with this month's challenge -- I could do my own thing, and keep the ingredient budget under control.  Besides that, quick breads are great!  Who doesn't love a good slice of banana bread?  But, sorry, no banana bread here.  We've been on a smoothie kick around here, so no over ripe bananas.  But I did have a single, sad sweet potato staring at me, left over from sometime before Christmas.

I didn't have a recipe for sweet potato bread, but found a recipe for pumpkin bread.  I figured that would be closest to what I was looking for, and already had a starting point to balance the measurements of cinnamon and nutmeg.

It was more orange colored in real life.

This was so good!  It tasted like sweet potato pie but in a nice dense cakey package. 
Sweet Potato Loaf
Adapted from Streaming Gourmet

Makes 1 9x5 loaf
3/4 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
.5 tsp nutmeg
.25 tsp salt
.5 tsp baking soda
.25 tsp baking powder
1.5 c sugar
.5 c browned butter
2 eggs
1 medium/large sweet potato, roasted and mashed (about 1 cup)
nuts are optional

My modifications: Obviously, I swapped in sweet potato for pumpkin. I halved the recipe and used 2 eggs.  I also used all whole wheat flour instead of the all purpose flour.  The original recipe called for ground cloves.  I only had whole cloves with no way to grind them, so I left them out.

1.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2.  In medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
3.  Cream the butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time until well combined.
4.  Add the mashed sweet potato and mix until combined.
5.  In batches, add the dry ingredients.  Mix just until combined.
6.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake for 55-60 minutes until cake tester comes out clean.
7.  Let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes.  Turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack.  Cool completely.
8.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Well, Bless Your Biscuits

Happy New Year (since I haven't posted since December)!

This month's Daring Baker Challenge was biscuits.  Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens! Audax Artifex hails from the land down under, and what they call scones are what us Southerners call biscuits.

I was happy to begin the challenge because while I do love biscuits, I've never really been good at making them.  So,  I made several variations.

Yes, I could have cut these a little smaller...

Inside view of a fresh baked biscuit
 Batch 1: I followed the challenge recipe and instructions. The biscuits had a nice texture, but I thought there was something of a weird aftertaste.

Batch 2: Cinnamon raisin biscuits -- based on "soda biscuits" -- A while back, I found a recipe on Pinterest described as tasting like biscuits from Popeye's fried chicken. That was the hook. Reading the ingredients, I was curious how Bisquick, 7-Up (or Sprite) and sour cream played out in a biscuit. Consider that the line and the sinker. I made them for the first time in December, and they were absolutely the best biscuits I'd ever had. Light, fluffy, moist, buttery...MMMM!!  Adding some raisins, a pinch of cinnamon, and a vanilla glaze turned breakfast biscuits into dessert. These were like what you'd get at Hardee's or Bojangles (if you're in the South), but better.


I know you don't actually SEE any raisins in this picture, but they're in there.

Batch 3: Modified soda biscuits. I used the standard recipe and used sour cream and Sprite instead of milk. Better than batch 1, but still not as good as the original soda biscuits. 

See what a litte sour cream can do?

Batch 4: Cheddar biscuits -- These obviously were meant to imitate what you'd get at a certain seafood restaurant chain.  But these didn't spend any time under a heat lamp waiting for your server to bring them out.  They didn't spend much time on the table, either!

Batch 5: Whole wheat biscuits -- by the end of the month, I finally ran out of Bisquick!  So....back to the original recipe.  After measuring out half my flour, I found myself scraping the bag.  I had an unopened bag, but decided to go for one last experiment, and use half whole wheat flour.  You may be thinking they would be hard and inedible.  WRONG.  Just as light and fluffy as before, with a nice flavor from whole wheat.

Servings: about eight 2-inch or five 3-inch biscuits

Can be doubled


1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons frozen grated butter
Approximately ½ cup cold milk
Optional 1 tablespoon milk, for glazing the tops of the scones

1. Preheat oven to very hot 475°F.
2. Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.
3. Rub the frozen grated butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky scones or until it resembles coarse beach sand if you want tender scones.
4. Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed). The wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits) will be!
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. Knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth. To achieve a layered effect in your scones knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. (Use a floured plastic scraper to help you knead and/or fold and turn the dough if you wish.)
6. Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick.  Using a well-floured 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut out without twisting six 2-inch rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch and cut two more scones.  Or use a well-floured sharp knife to form squares or wedges as you desire.
7. Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on the baking dish if you wish to have crisp-sided scones. Glaze the tops with milk if you want a golden colour on your scones or lightly flour if you want a more traditional look to your scones.
8. Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the scones are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. The scones are ready when the sides are set.
9. Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm.

7-Up Biscuits (Yields 9 biscuits)
2 cups Bisquick
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup lemon lime soda (Sprite, 7-up, etc).
1/2 stick butter

1.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2.  Stir sour cream into baking mix with a fork.
3.  Add soda to bowl and stir until just mixed.  Do not overmix!  Dough will be very wet and sticky.  Don't add more flour.
3.  Turn out onto floured work surface and knead a few times with floured hands. 
4.  Use a well floured biscuit cutter to cut out.  You should get about 9 biscuits.
5.  Melt butter in 8" square baking pan. 
6.  Place biscuits in pan and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Notes:  If you'd like, you can skip the kneading in step 3 and make drop biscuits.  OR, dump it all into your buttered pan and it'll be like cake.  That worked well for the cinnamon raising biscuits.
Cinnamon raisin variation: Stir in a cup or so of raisins and a teaspoon of cinnamon before kneading.  Top with a quick vanilla glaze: Mix togerther 1 tablespoon softened butter or margarine, with about 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar to make a smooth frosting like mixture.  Stir in a teaspoon or two of milk to thin to a glaze. Spread the glaze over warm but not hot biscuits.

Cheese variation: Add a good sized handful of cheese and a stalks worth of chopped green onions before kneading.  You can also add a little garlic powder.

Enjoy!  See you next time.

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