Happy Birthday, Tolkien: A Smaug Cake

January 9, 2012 § 5 Comments

Happy New Year! And happy birthday, Professor Tolkien! J.R.R. Tolkien was born on January 3, a birthday shared by my youngest sister, so of course I often make a Tolkien themed something. Last year I made hobbit hole cupcakes. This year I made a cake! And I’ve had The Hobbit on the brain (who doesn’t, lately?) so it had to be a Smaug cake.

Smaug, curled up on his hoard of stolen dwarvish treasure.

My Smaug is inspired/loosely based on this illustration by Tolkien:

I made Smaug out of fondant, molded mostly with my hands with a little help from a chopstick and a sharp knife. I used an icing tip to press ‘scales’ into the fondant of Smaug’s body, and the handle of my small offset spatula to press indentations for the arm and leg sockets, and made the limbs (legs/arms and wings) separately. I let the fondant dry and harden overnight, then painted the pieces with gel food coloring mixed with vodka, and then brushed it all over with sparkly yellow luster dust.

The cake itself is a chocolate cake, filled and covered with peanut butter mousse. Then I put a wire cooling rack across the sink, set the cake on it (holding it carefully with one hand to make sure that it didn’t slip and dump my cake into the sink!), and covered the cake with sparkly yellow sugar sprinkles for gold, red, green, and blue sugar sprinkles for gems, white nonpareils for pearls, and a sprinkling of gold luster dust for extra sparkle–a delicious hoard that would make any dragon proud!

Recipe: Ming’s Thin Mints

October 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

This cookie recipe comes from Ming Makes Cupcakes (where, as you might guess, you can find many excellent cupcake recipes! and a few cookies as well).

Thin Mints from Ming Makes Cupcakes

1 ½ cups flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp baking soda

1 ¾ stick butter

1 cup sugar

3 Tbs milk

½ tsp vanilla

1 ½ tsp mint extract

Mix together flour, cocoa, salt, and soda. In a separate bowl cream butter until smooth (I used the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, but a hand mixer also works). Add sugar and beat for one minute. Add milk, vanilla, and mint and beat an additional minute. Slowly add the dry ingredients while beating. Once mixture is well combined and resembles small pebbles use your hands to form it into a ball.

Roll the dough into a log and wrap in waxed paper. Chill for 2 hours. Slice into thin rounds and place on parchment–don’t try and use a small knife. You’ll get much cleaner slices if you use a larger, heavier knife!

Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes.

Topping

1 cup chocolate chips

1 tsp mint extract

Melt chocolate in bowl set in simmering water, OR just microwave it for 30 second intervals, stirring after each until chocolate is smooth and melted. Add mint and stir into the chocolate. Once cookies have cooled and become crispy, coat their tops in chocolate by dipping them or smearing with icing knife–I actually used a spoon to drop dollops of chocolate on top of my cookies. Leave them on a wire rack to dry, or put them in the fridge to speed the hardening process up!

Recipe: Charis’ Chocolate Chip Cookies

October 1, 2011 § 4 Comments

What’s the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning?

In bed. Preferably with a book and a glass of milk and a pile of chocolate chip cookies. I love the hint of extra saltiness in these cookies, which mixes fabulously with the rich butter and the sweet chocolate (and by the way, while I made this batch with ordinary milk chocolate chips, this recipe is particularly good with dark chocolate! Just make sure you have that glass of milk handy).This recipe is an adaptation of many different recipes–it morphs a little each time I make cookies, because I’m always fiddling, but it’s starting to settle into shape!

And it’s always delicious.

Charis’ Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 1/3 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds chocolate chips (or three to four large handfuls, or to taste)

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.

Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes.

Add eggs. Stir in vanilla.

Reduce to low speed and add dry ingredients slowly, mixing until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

Refrigerate dough for 24-36 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350.

Drop spoonfuls of dough onto baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt, if desired.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, then slide parchment paper off of cookie sheet and onto a wire rack to cool.

I scoop my cookies out with a tablespoon (which makes huge, delectable cookie), and put six on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Since it’s just six cookies per sheet it takes a little while to get through the entire batch of dough, so I roll out balls of dough and put them back in the refrigerator.  I also rotate two cookie sheets, letting one cool while the other is in the oven. When one batch of cookie is a couple of minutes away from coming out, I pull the balls of dough out of the fridge and drop six on the waiting cookie sheet, ready to be swapped out.

I call it the Dance of the Cookies.

If your cookies spread out too much and get very thin, try cutting back on the amount of baking soda in the recipe (this is the part of the recipe that I fiddle with the most!)

Enjoy!

Recipe: Earl Grey Shortbread

September 30, 2011 § 4 Comments

I recently made a thank-you package of cookies to send to the gracious couple who hosted us in Atlanta during Dragon*Con (thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Davis!) and while I was at it I thought I’d post the recipes for the cookies that I made! I made three types of cookie, and I’ll do a post for each recipe, starting with….

Earl Grey Shortbread

Many people believe that nothing is more pleasant than a cup of tea and a good book, but I have to confess that it’s difficult to feel enthusiastic about hot tea when it’s 100F+ every day for months! Fortunately these little cookies make an excellent alternative. They melt in your mouth and they’re easy to make–the dough comes together in minutes. Just be careful not to get crumbs on the pages…

This is an adaptation of a Claire Robinson recipe from the Food Network. The original recipe calls for loose tea leaves and a food processor—I eliminated both by using the contents of tea bags, and I don’t think it hurt the recipe at all. I still got a delicious cookie with a light tea flavor.  The original recipe also calls for rolling the dough into a log and slicing off cookies, but I scooped out cookies with a teaspoon, rolled them into balls, and then pressed them between my palms.

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 Tablespoons or the contents of 2 to 3 bags of Earl Grey tea (to taste)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

sugar (if desired)

Using a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend together the flour, tea, and salt, until the tea is just spotted throughout the flour. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and butter. Mix together at medium speed, just until a dough is formed. Use a teaspoon to scoop up dough and roll each scoop into a ball, then press it flat between your palms OR roll the dough into a log in plastic wrap, chill for half an hour, and then slice off cookies about 1/4 inch thick.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, 1 inch apart, and sprinkle with sugar (if desired). Bake until the edges are just barely brown–about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks (just slide the entire piece of parchment paper off of the cookie sheet and onto the wire rack) and cool to room temperature.

Makes about four dozen.

Store in an airtight container–these cookies keep very well! Not that they’ll last long, unless you hide them…

Serve with a cup of tea, a sunny corner, a comfortable chair, and a good book.

A Little Firefly Shindig – with cake!

August 28, 2011 § 3 Comments

So, if you know me from anywhere else on the internet then you already know, but last week we celebrated my friend Angela’s birthday with a little Firefly-themed shindig! And it was awesome! In fact, it was shiny.

If you have no idea what Firefly is, then go forth and watch it. All of it. Then come back. We’ll wait.

…awesome, isn’t it?

It was very much a laid-back, small scale event for us—Chinese take-out, fresh fruit (strawberries!), cake, and party games while Firefly played on the TV.

My big project, which was a surprise for Angela, was a doll cake based on the fluffy ball dress that Kaylee wears in the episode ‘Shindig’!

Jewel Staite as Kaylee in the Firefly episode 'Shindig'

Ta-da!

She’s a vanilla sponge cake, carved into shape and then filled and covered with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. The doll came from the dollar store, and once upon a time she was a mermaid with really terrible hair–she came with a ponytail, so other than a ring of hair around the top of her head she was bald! I colored the bald spot with a brown marker, then used a hot glue gun to glue her hair into place (carefully covering her scalp). Then I trimmed her hair, cutting off the ugly matted fresh-from-the-box curls and making it the right length for Kaylee.

While I was gluing things I also glued all of the doll’s joints, and forced one of her arms to one side and glued it in place so that she could have a pose that didn’t look like a stiff-armed zombie! In fact I was so busy gluing and icing things that I didn’t take a single progress picture, but you’d rather look at more pictures of the finished cake, right? I thought so!

I didn’t time my cake decorating, but I estimate that I spent about an hour and a half piping the ruffles onto her skirt, then another hour and a half altering the doll and decorating her bodice (the single most time consuming part of the doll? getting icing onto her torso and making it smooth!). I know that I worked on the cake from about 4pm until 8pm, and I watched all of Wall-E while I did the bodice. My favorite part was making the ruffles–they were so fun! I could have piped ruffles for hours.

My hand was definitely hurting the next day, but it was worth it!

Birthday girl & cake!

There were also chocolate cupcakes with strawberry cream cheese icing, complete with parasols (another reference to the Firefly character Kaylee)…

Angela made a gorgeous Inara in her sari!

So elegant!

 I decided to portray a character who doesn’t actually appear in the show–“Ma Cobb”. In the Firefly episode ‘The Message’, Jayne Cobb, the rough-around-the-edges-and-he-is-entirely-made-of-edges tough guy, gets a package from his mother containing a very cunning hat:

"Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything."

Imagining the tough old salt-of-the-earth woman who would raise a son like Jayne and send him a hat like that tickles my funny bone, and that is the truth. It was also easy! I just filled my apron pockets with orange yarn (and yes, I have this yarn specifically for the Jayne hats that I will get around to knitting sometime) and wore a ratty straw hat. I also borrowed a toy rifle. And I got to take pictures with llamas! A win all around.

Fact: If you take pictures with llamas, the llama will steal the show.

And Jenn came as Jayne! …Mostly because it meant she got to carry around a big knife.

The party games were excellent–we played a game that I think some people call ‘Who am I?’, but which we call the ‘pieces of paper with names on the forehead game’.  Most people play it as a mixer, with everyone milling around, but I prefer our version–everyone wrote a name, then gave it to the person next to them, who put it on their forehead without looking at it. Then everyone got three questions (‘either or’ questions, like ‘am I male or female?’, or ‘yes and no’ questions, like ‘am I from an awesome TV show about cowboys in space that was cruelly canceled after one perfect season?’) and a chance to guess their identity, and we went around the table like that. When someone figured out who they were, the person on the other side of them would give them a new identity and we just kept going. Most people figured out who they were within two or three rounds…in fact, most people had figured out two identities before I managed to guess my first! (I was Bambi. Thanks, Z!)

Melody figured out that she was 'Nathan Fillion' almost immediately!

It took Angela a little while longer to figure out that she was Moya from Farscape, but she got it eventually!

We also played ‘the sentence game’, which we sometimes explain to people as ‘Pictionary Telephone’–it involves each player having a stack of paper, writing a sentence, then passing the stack to the left, where the next person reads the sentence, draws a picture illustrating it, then passes to the left again, where the next person looks at the picture and writes down what they think the sentence might be. At the end everyone goes through their stack and hilarity never fails to ensue, especially when people add their own special interpretations…

Llamas are knitting while they plan the deaths of their enemies!

Best party ever?

Best party ever.

I’m not dead!

August 14, 2011 § 3 Comments

I know that this comes as a shock, but I’m still alive! I’ve been very busy and working some overtime, though, so my craft projects and baking have been on the back burner. Just to prove that I’m still here, though, I wanted to show you my last two baking projects! I don’t have any in-progress pictures for you, but I still want to tell you all about them and give you links to the recipes I used, because they are delicious.

These are chocolate cupcakes with Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which I made for lunch at my parents’ church this weekend. They are (I’m going to do it!) divine. Swiss Meringue Buttercream is my new favorite thing in the world–light and fluffy and smooth and delicious without being kick-you-in-the-face, I-feel-a-tooth-ache-coming-on super-sweet. I’m looking forward to doing a whole cake with this frosting! I bet it goes on like a dream.

To make the SMB (Swiss Meringue Buttercream) I followed the recipe for Salted Caramel Swiss Buttercream that’s used as the filling for this amazing cake from Sweetapolita (probably the prettiest baking blog that I follow!). The recipe calls for caramel sauce. I had never made caramel before, and I was completely terrified, but it went perfectly. Actually it probably helped that I was terrified and paranoid, because I didn’t leave my cooking sugar alone for a minute and I watched it like a hawk (I did do things like put ingredients away, rinse bowls, wipe the counter, and so on, but I always had one eye on the stove and I was back to swirl it gently every thirty seconds or so, as per instructions).  With the caramel left to cool I moved on to the rest of the recipe (note: it really look a long time to cool, because I left it in the pan and didn’t think to move it to another bowl until later. I ended up putting it in the fridge to help the cooling process along before adding it to the frosting).

I continued following Sweetapolita’s instructions for the SMB, referring not only to the recipe for the Caramel SMB but also to her awesome post Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystified and to DyannBakes’ tutorial video on 1:2:3 Swiss Meringue Buttercream–between all three I felt really confident that I knew what I was doing! And everything went smoothly and perfectly until I thoughtlessly put my finishing buttercream in the fridge before icing the cupcakes and left it there long enough to harden. Oops. I had to wait for it to come back to room temperature and whip it again (using the whisk on the stand mixer–with just the paddle it was separating a little and not coming back to full fluffiness).

Guys, the buttercream is stupendous.

Unfortunately, eating frosting with a spoon is generally frowned upon and I needed a socially acceptable vehicle for my buttercream. I made chocolate cupcakes, using the recipe found on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa box. I have several chocolate cake recipes bookmarked and saved in my recipe folder, and I keep promising to try them out soon…but when it comes down to it I always seem to make this one. It’s chocolatey, moist, quick, easy, and I have a system for making it with minimal dirtying-of-dishes-or-utensils (one bowl, one 1.5 tsp measuring spoon, one 3/4c measuring cup, one 4c measuring cup, and the beaters for the handheld mixer–that’s it).

Mmmm.

Aren’t they pretty? This is one of my favorite ways to ice a cupcake, and because it has a low profile it’s perfect for my cupcake carrier (which isn’t tall enough for lofty swirls of frosting, my other favorite style).  You’ve probably seen tutorials for this elsewhere on the internet (once I discovered it I realized that I was seeing it everywhere!), but in case you haven’t it’s really easy–just use an Open Star (Wilton 1M) icing tip, start in the center of your cupcake, and make a swirl. It’s that simple. And if you’re a visual learner like I am, then you can watch this video over at Glorious Treats!

My other recent baking experiment was an Oreo cake for my mom’s birthday–she loves Oreos, so I crammed 2.5 packages of Oreos into this cake. No joke. It was intense.

It was a chocolate cake full of Oreos–an entire package of Oreos, chopped into fourths (alternatively, you could hit the package with a rolling pin a few times before you open it!) and split between two 9in cake pans. Then I poured the batter over the cookies. Guess what chocolate cake recipe it was? It was Hershey’s. Surprise!

I baked the cake in advance and froze it, something that I’m doing more and more frequently–I love to bake cakes, and I love to ice cakes, but once I bake a cake I’m kind of done for the day, I don’t want to come back after the cake has chilled and do more things. It’s a lot more fun when it’s split over more than one day!  So later I made this Oreo buttercream from My Baking Addiction, and this Oreo filling from Beantown Baker, except that I didn’t have all of the ingredients and I may have, ahem, ad libbed a bit.

It was all delicious, but all of it at once was…well…completely and totally overwhelming. My family loves sugar and loves chocolate and we have a special talent for clearing our dessert plates, but no one was able to finish an entire piece of this cake! It actually lasted almost two days–remarkable, in this house!

I loved the Oreos in the chocolate cake, though, and honestly I think that would have been enough–next time I’ll just make Oreo-filled chocolate cake, layer it with fresh whipped cream, dust it with crumbled Oreo, and call it a day!

Happy International Star Wars Day!

May 4, 2011 § 8 Comments

It’s May 4th–International Star Wars Day!

May the Fourth be with you!

(get it?)

In honor of Star Wars Day, I made some chocolates.

Some Star Wars chocolates.

Some Han Solo frozen in carbonite chocolates.

Disclaimer: No scruffy-looking nerf-herders were harmed in the making of this chocolate bar.

Why?

BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME. THAT IS WHY.

I’m not the first person on the internet to do this, but as soon as I saw this blog post I knew I had to have a Han Solo in carbonite chocolate mold of my very own. Unfortunately you cannot buy a Han Solo in carbonite chocolate mold.

So I had to make one.

With science.

The blue thing on the right is my mold.

Okay, with food grade silicone from MakeYourOwnMolds.com and science.

I used Silicone Plastique®, which comes in two parts–a catalyst and a base.  They’re about the consistency of Play-Doh, and once combined you have fifteen minutes to make your mold before the silicone starts to ‘cure’.  Then you let it sit for an hour and ta-da! You have your very own custom mold!

Science is awesome.

And delicious.

May the Fourth be with you.

Always.

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