Advertisements
RSS Feed

Category Archives: Tips & Tricks

Working with Pie Dough {Video Tutorial}

Posted on

Photos by me, made into a collage by Laura Flowers.

Although pies certainly have their place in the fall and winter, I find myself making more of them during the warmer months, when fruit is plentiful, and my family begins to favor it over cake.  I’m getting ready to post another summer pie recipe, but thought I’d first share a video tutorial on working with pie dough that I made last summer for The Cooking Photographer and never got around to sharing on my own blog.

I  can hardly claim to be a pie master, but with as many pies as my family demands, I do feel pretty comfortable by now when working with pie dough.  I realize pie dough scares some people the way yeast bread used to scare me, and I hope that this video might help you with whatever difficulty you have had in the past.  This is just the way I do it, and it works for me, but once you try it you will realize in time what works for you.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

I used this recipe for the pie dough in this video.  It is my favorite and the one I use if I have time to make my dough from scratch, otherwise I go for Pillsbury!

Advertisements

Cake Pops, Balls, & Truffles: Troubleshooting & FAQ

Posted on

I posted a cake pops tutorial last January and have gotten so many questions in the comments section, usually the same few repeatedly, that I’m having trouble locating them to reply when a new one is posted anywhere other than at the very end.  An FAQ is long overdue, and I hope to address all the concerns and questions I have received over the last year and a half so that my readers have somewhere to go to resolve their problems and get their questions answered.

I have made many batches of cake pops, balls/truffles, and cupcake bites, but I have NEVER done anything creative like Bakerella so if you’re looking for inspiration, check out her site.  This post is solely meant to help you with the basics.  If you have a question that isn’t answered here, leave it in a comment or email me at vraklis@yahoo.com and I’ll add it to this post.  Thanks!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why is my chocolate cracking?

A: I have found mine cracks if I overheat the chocolate before dipping, or if I freeze the cake balls/pops very long before dipping.  Make sure you very gently heat your chocolate–you never want it to get hot but just barely warm enough to melt.

The surest way to keep your chocolate from cracking is to place your styrofoam block in the refrigerator, or even better, the freezer, and place each pop on it after dipping.  This is a pain, but if you have a lot of issues with cracking, this will prevent it.  However, don’t leave your pops in the freezer too long.  Just let them sit long enough to get hard, then remove.  If they get too cold, they will sweat when you remove them from the freezer.

The fix: if your chocolate does crack, just spoon some melted chocolate over the crack, making sure to cover it well.  It won’t be pretty, but it will keep the cake ball contained and will still be delicious.  If you are using sprinkles, that will help disguise it.

Q: My chocolate is too thick to dip.  What’s going on?

A: You most likely overheated your chocolate.  Chocolate is temperamental and needs to be heated very gently.  I’m extremely careful when microwaving chocolate, stirring it very well every 15 seconds (after the initial 30 seconds-1 minute, or whatever your package says) so that the residual heat does the melting instead of doing it all with the heat of the microwave, which will overheat it.

The fix: stir in some vegetable or canola oil until thinned to the desired consistency.  Your chocolate will dry softer than it would have, but it will still be firm enough to hold the cake ball inside.

Q: What chocolate melter are you using in your video?  Could I use a crockpot instead?

A: It’s a Wilton Chocolate Melter Deluxe, which is no longer for sale.  Wilton has upgraded the pot to a “Chocolate Pro,” available for purchase here.  I don’t actually use mine for melting the chocolate as it takes a long time and I’m impatient, but after melting it in the microwave, I like to pour it into the melter and set it on “warm” to keep the chocolate from solidifying during dipping.  I do find I need to shut it off every so often to keep the chocolate from getting too hot.

I have not tried using a crockpot to melt chocolate, but a reader, Sherry, says that she always melts her chocolate in the microwave and then puts it in the crockpot on the lowest setting to keep it warm while she dips.

Q: Why are my cake balls falling off the sticks?

A: This could be due to many things.  Most likely, you added too much frosting.  Start with less and add more as needed.  Depending on the moistness of the cake you are using, you may not need any at all to get the crumbs to hold together.  I usually use 1/3 to 1/2 cup, even with moist cakes, because I prefer the sweeter flavor to those without any frosting, and that isn’t so much that they are mushy.  Second, make sure the cake balls are cold before you start dipping.  I’ve noticed if I leave my tray of balls out while I’m dipping, by the time I get to to the last ten or so they are starting to slide off the sticks because they aren’t as cold.  Third, make sure you dip the sticks in chocolate before inserting them into the balls (is it just me, or does that sound kinky?).  This will ensure that the balls adhere to the stick.

Q: What is almond bark?  And can I use regular chocolate instead?

A: That is just what we call candy coating around here.  It’s also called “chocolate flavored bark” and “vanilla flavored bark.”  It’s basically chocolate, white or regular, that has palm kernel oil added so that it dries to a nice, hard finish without having to temper it.  You can use any type of chocolate you wish, whether it’s the real stuff, the white stuff, chocolate melting wafers, or candy melts like Wilton has.  If you use real chocolate, add a tablespoon of vegetable shortening or oil per pound or bag of chips (12 oz) and melt them together.

White Cake Balls 1-28-10 in Candy by Veronica Miller

Q: How can I color my white candy coating?

A: I have used powdered icing color with success, but regular icing gel color makes it seize up.  You can do it this way, and just add oil to thin the chocolate back out (I have done this), but the best thing to use is oil-based colors made specifically for candy, such as these.  Check out your craft stores, like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby, or if you have a local cake supply store, they might have them as well.  These same stores usually offer colored candy melts  as well, so that you don’t have to color them yourself.

Q: I find cake balls too sweet. Is there something I can use besides frosting?

A: Certainly!  All you needs is a binder to keep the cake crumbs stuck together when you roll them into balls.  I have a co-worker that uses peanut butter in her chocolate cake balls and lemon pie filling in her lemon cake balls.  Other ideas would be pudding, cream cheese, softened butter, bittersweet or semisweet ganache, sour cream, mayonnaise, jams & jellies.  Just be careful and add a little at a time, as many of these would go further than frosting and you probably wouldn’t need very much.

If you don’t want to add anything, here’s what you do: make my favorite chocolate cake, process it to crumbs in the food processor and then wad up balls of the crumbs and roll!  This particular recipe sticks together with nothing added!  The pops end up tasting more like cake than candy, although the texture is still more dense since the crumbs are compacted.  Here is the picture of the inside of a cake pop made this way:

Q: Do I have to use a cake mix?

A: No, make a scratch cake if you wish!  I prefer the taste of pops made with a cake mix, and since it takes so much time to make the pops themselves, making the cake from a mix is just a shortcut, but not required.

Q: How should they be stored? 

A: Store them covered in the refrigerator.  I prefer to remove mine at least a couple hours before serving to serve at room temperature, but they can be served cold and really should be if your climate is very hot or humid.  Here in Kansas, I don’t have to refrigerate them and if I’m making them the day before serving, I won’t put them in the fridge at all.

These are “Cupcake Bites,” which you can learn how to make here.

Q: How far in advance can I make them?  Can I freeze them? 

A:  You can make them a month in advance, if you like, because yes you can freeze them!  Once the chocolate is hard, there is no risk of the chocolate cracking from freezing the pops/balls and removing them.  If you freeze them, be sure to defrost them in the refrigerator 24 hours before servings so that they won’t sweat when you serve them.  They sweat like crazy if you take them straight from the freezer, especially in the summer.  If you don’t wish to freeze them, I’d recommend making them no more than a week in advance and keeping them in the refrigerator.

Q: Why are my sticks getting yellow and oily?

A: I have had this happen only once, when I used a real buttercream (made with mostly butter and eggs) instead of American (powdered sugar-based) buttercream.  I think if there is too much fat in your cake ball mixture, it will seep into the sticks over time and turn them yellow.  Try using less frosting next time.  Lately I’m using only about 1/3 cup per batch.

Q: Can I use something besides chocolate or candy coating for dipping?

A: I have not personally tried anything else, but one reader had success using a chocolate glaze, and another (thanks, Praveena!) had the brilliant idea of using royal icing for her friends that do not like chocolate.  (Royal icing dries hard so you’d want a very thin layer.)  If you wish to try the aforementioned glaze, here is the recipe Michelle used and shared with me:

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Put cream and corn syrup into pot and heat until it just starts to boil. Then remove from heat add chocolate chips, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Then stir until combined. A note from me: this is basically ganache with corn syrup added and will get quite firm when cold.  I’d recommend keeping the finished pops in the fridge to keep them intact.

Q:  What is your most popular flavor, and are there other recipes you can share?

A: I found a slew of recipes on Wilton.com but have no special ones of my own.  I’ve only tried three flavors myself: chocolate, white, and red velvet.  Chocolate is the best and red velvet is the most popular (because of Christmas and Independence Day).  White isn’t bad, but just not as good as chocolate, but I did like it a lot when I filled the centers of some white cake balls with a bit of  wedding cake frosting–it was for snowball cake truffles at a Christmas eve party but the taste was like wedding cake truffles–pretty cool!  I almost always mix my cake crumbs with homemade cream cheese frosting, but have also used mocha buttercream, white celebration frosting, and ganache.  It really doesn’t matter what frosting you use–it’s all good.

Q: What size sticks to you use, and where can I find them?

A: The ones I usually get are about 4″ long, but you can use any length you wish.  I get mine at Walmart in the cake decorating supplies section, but you can also find them at craft stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby, or cake & candy supply stores.

Q: Do I have to use a food processor to crumble the cake?

A: This is my preferred method, especially when your cake has some dry edges, because it gives you uniform crumbs that easily mix with the frosting, but I’ve also used my hands and it gets the job done.

Q: I’ve noticed that some of my cake pops start leaking oil once the chocolate is set.  Why is this happening?

A: I usually have 1 or 2 pops or balls per batch that leak oil, and for me it is always because 1) a miniscule spot on the ball didn’t get covered with chocolate or 2) I left an air bubble in the chocolate before it set, which creates a weak point that can’t contain the pressure of the filling so that it eventually starts to squirt out.  If there is any spot not covered, the oil will separate from the cake mixture and start leaking out (I’ve even had the cake ball mixture itself squirt out!), so be thorough when you’re dipping.  Also, make sure you poke any air bubbles you see before the chocolate hardens so that the liquid chocolate will fill in the space before it sets.  I usually use the ones that spring leaks for “taste testing” since I always like to enjoy one or two of them from each batch, but if you want to fix it, you can: dab off the oil and spoon on a little bit of chocolate onto, around, and a little beyond the area where the oil has touched.  If you don’t spread the chocolate further than where the oil was, the oil will follow the same path out and will leak again, despite having been recovered.  You need a tight seal and that means chocolate on chocolate with no oil on the surface.  Also, if you use sprinkles that have sharp edges, be careful and don’t use a lot of force because if they poke through to the cake beneath the chocolate, oil will start to leak out from the area once the chocolate is set.

Additional info: the glitter you see on the snowball (or wedding) cake truffles and on the July 4 cake balls is edible and is called “Disco Dust.”  I used “rainbow” on the snowballs and hologram silver (mixed with rainbow) on the July 4 balls, and it is available in a wide range of colors.  I recommend rainbow, as it goes well with any color.  I purchase mine at Cake Stuff! in Wichita, KS, but you can find it online as well.

Related posts: Step-by-step cake pop tutorial, instructions for making cake pops with leftover cake, Cupcake Bites recipe.

Favorite Chocolate Cake, plus tiered cake tips

Posted on

I’ve made several tiered cakes over the last few years (you can see them all here), but a friend’s surprise 40th birthday party last November was my first opportunity to do a really decadent chocolate one.  Needless to say, I was extremely excited to try something new!

With my husband, left, and the birthday boy at his party

If I had to pick a single type of cake to eat for the rest of my life, it would be white with cream cheese wedding frosting, but if you are a chocolate lover, this is the cake for you.  I know I tend to be quite effusive over most of my cake recipes (I’m effusive by nature, and I can’t help it–my cakes are the bomb!  I kid, but really.  They are.  :) ), but I can tell you that this is the cake that I have gotten the most positive feedback for.  That may be in part due to the number of people I served it to, since most of my cakes are only made for groups of about 10 people, but I do think this is probably the best chocolate cake I have in my repertoire, and I have made it several times since the birthday party to great reviews as well.  It is my husband’s all-time favorite cake, and although it isn’t my favorite cake, it is my favorite chocolate cake.

If you are thinking about making a tiered cake in the future, but are intimidated, I highly recommend the method I used for this particular cake.  If you frost each cake on top of a thick, foil covered cake board that is at least 2″ larger in diameter than the cake itself, then insert four hidden pillars into the bottom two tiers, all you have to do is transport the cake in three tiers to the location where the cake will be set up, and plop each cake on top of the pillars.  And you’re done!  With the usual way I do it (you can read about that process here), the stress level is considerably higher and there is more chance of messing up the cake.  It is almost impossible to mess it up using hidden pillars.

*Hidden pillars aren’t actually invisible, as you can see, but since they are tall you can insert them down into the cake so that each tier is supported from the base of the cake below it.  It is the part of the pillar inserted to the cake that is hidden.

Another tip is that once the cakes have been removed from the refrigerator to come to room temperature, make sure they have a way to breathe.  After inserting the pillars in the bottom two, you don’t have to worry about them.  But you should insert a hole with a skewer through the top of the top tier as well, or choose a place on the least attractive side of the cake (the one you’ll face to the back of the room) to poke a hole into each layer of the cake.  This is to prevent air pockets from forming underneath the icing.  This is a problem that cake decorators face across the world, and according to the professionals I have consulted, no one knows why it happens.  When I make real buttercream with eggs and no powdered sugar, this never happens.  So I suspect it has something to do with a reaction between the cake and the powdered sugar frosting on the surface.  So if you are using a powdered sugar frosting (aka American buttercream), please make sure there is a place for air to escape so that your frosting job will not be ruined. (I used to be concerned this would make the cake dry out, but an entire day with a hole poked in the cake does not seem to affect it at all.  If I’m making the cake 2 or more days in advance, I keep  it in the refrigerator to keep it fresh and to keep air bubbles from forming beneath the frosting, and then poke it before I take it out to come to room temperature.)

UPDATE: It has now been explained to me that when you frost a cake cold and refrigerate it, once you bring it to room temperature the air inside the cake expands, causing the icing bulge, aka “icing budge.”  While this is the most likely explanation, I have actually had the bulge happen when frosting room temperature cakes and never refrigerating them. So weird!

Here are some pictures of icing eruptions that have happened to my cakes before I figured out I needed to poke them so they could breathe:

You can see the bump on the left side where air or gas is trying to escape.

And this is the view straight on. The bottom two tiers of this cake never gave me any trouble, but the top tier didn’t have dowel rods in it so there was no way for it to breathe and I had to fix probably 10 of these eruptions!

This has been such a pain for me, that I even caught one of the incidents on video! This was before I figured out I needed to poke the cake to prevent the air pockets.

A tip for getting your frosting perfectly smooth is to spray the cake with water after smoothing it out as much as you can with an offset spatula, then going over it again with a clean spatula.  The water helps your spatula to glide over the surface and make it very smooth.  You can also dip your spatula in water, but I find using a squirt bottle to apply it makes the job much faster.

OK, let’s get to my favorite chocolate cake recipe!  I took a bunch of photos of my latest one so I included a few extra for you at the end of the post.  You’re welcome. :)

Favorite Chocolate Cake

This recipe makes one 9″ two-layer cake. To make a tiered cake the size pictured above, you’ll need to make about 7 batches of the cake recipe (2 batches for each 14″ layer, 1 batch for each 10″ layer and less than 1 recipe for both 6″ layers combined), 5 batches of the frosting, and 5 batches of the glaze.
Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture
Printable recipe for cake only

Favorite Chocolate Cake
1 ¼ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoons salt

2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 ¼ cups warm water
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Favorite Chocolate Frosting
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup vegetable shortening
2 oz semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup dutch-process cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 lbs (8 cups) powdered sugar
¾ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Favorite Chocolate Glaze
½ cup heavy cream
4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons corn syrup
½  teaspoon vanilla

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, making sure the baking rack is in the middle of the oven. Prepare two 9” round cake pans by cutting out a piece of parchment or wax paper to line the bottom of them. Grease the pans, place the parchment or wax paper in the bottoms and lightly grease again. Dust the pans with flour (or cocoa powder if you don’t want the white dusting on the finished cakes). Set the pans aside.

Sift together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs, yolk, warm water, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Mix on low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake the cakes for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean or with moist crumbs. Do not overbake! Remove the pans from the oven and set the pans on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Gently run a thin knife around the edges of the pans and unmold the cakes, removing the parchment paper liners from the bottom of the cakes. Let them cool completely, top sides ups, on a wire rack. Trim the tops of the cake layers with a long serrated knife to make them level.

*Veronica’s notes: Although I have never had a problem with this cake recipe overflowing in my pans, many people have left comments on Melanie’s blog (and once on mine when I used it before for THE Mocha Crunch Cake) that they did, so I recommend either making sure the batter is no more than 2/3 full in your pans or placing a baking sheet below the pans to catch any overflow, just in case. If you have extra batter, make a few cupcakes!  Also, please do not skip lining the pans with parchment or waxed paper.  This cake is sticky and I learned the hard way that it will stick to the pan even if you grease and flour it.

Make the frosting: Cream butter and shortening together until smooth. Beat in melted chocolate until smooth. Add the cocoa powders, salt, sugar and milk to the bowl and turn the mixer to a very low setting until it’s combined enough to increase the speed. Continue increasing the speed and scraping the sides of the bowl until everything is incorporated, then add the vanilla and continue beating until fluffy. Frost cooled cake and freeze leftovers. This makes a large batch so unless you lay the frosting on super thick, you should have enough leftover to frost a dozen cupcakes, but the batch isn’t quite large enough to cut in half. I know, I make things difficult, but you won’t regret having some extra on hand.

Make the glaze: Gently heat the cream and chocolate together in the microwave or in a double boiler, stirring often until smooth and shiny.  Stir in the corn syrup and vanilla.  Allow to come to room temperature before pouring over the top of the cake and spreading to the edge with a spatula so that it drips over the sides. If the glaze gets too thick, heat it again for a few seconds (it won’t take long) and stir before pouring over the cake. Serve the cake at room temperature.

Recipe source: cake recipe from My Kitchen Cafe, frosting and glaze by Veronica Miller.

Celebration Frosting & A Giveaway! {CLOSED}

Posted on

***The giveaway is now closed.  Congratulations to Jenna, Suzie, Biz, Cheryl, and Kim~the lucky winners!***

Celebration Frosting | veronicascornucopia.com

Wedding and birthday cakes from good bakeries, at least here locally, have a certain evasive flavor in the icing that I’ve always mentally defined as “celebration.”  I am still unable to describe the flavor any other way, but I learned the secret of that flavor and have been using it in the frostings for my own homemade celebration cakes ever since.

It is a flavor emulsion called “Crème Bouquet.”  This is wonderful stuff.  It is an oil-based flavoring with lemon and other essential oils that aren’t listed on the label (because they are sneaky and don’t want us to figure out how to duplicate it at home!).  Believe me, I’ve tried, but I can’t make anything that tastes even remotely as wonderful as this emulsion.  It doesn’t taste like lemon to me, although that’s the only essential oil listed, and it doesn’t taste like anything else I’ve ever had.  Well, besides wedding and birthday cake.  I have relatives that call it “that sweet flavor.”  But that is not an apt description, either.  You just have to try it for yourself!

Since I’m so in love with this flavoring and know it’s not a common household ingredient, I am going to give five lucky readers a 2-ounce bottle from Cake Stuff!  To enter, just leave me a comment on this post and I will draw the winners using Random.org on Friday, November 5th .  Simple as that.  For those interested in purchasing crème bouquet, you can order by phone from Cake Stuff–just call the number on their website.   It is very reasonably priced at $2.50 for a 2-ounce bottle, and they also have two larger sizes available.

You can turn any vanilla frosting into celebration frosting by adding crème bouquet to it, and I’ll share the two that I use it in.  Enjoy!

White Celebration Frosting

I try to avoid this one since it’s kind of a non-food, one but sometimes, you just need a good, bright white frosting and the only way to achieve that is with shortening. And believe me, it does not taste like non-food. It is utterly delicious. I promise. The meringue powder is essential in this recipe to eliminate the greasy mouth-feel that shortening frostings usually have. It is also important to use good shortening because cheaper brands tend to be clearish, off-colored, and slimy. You want one that is an opaque white, like Crisco.
Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

2 cups Crisco vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons meringue powder
2 teaspoons crème bouquet
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
1 teaspoon butter flavoring
Pinch of salt
2 lbs. (8 cups) powdered sugar
1/3-1/2 cup water

Put the Crisco in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium a few seconds, until creamy. Add in the meringue powder, flavorings, and salt and beat until smooth. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, alternating with water when it becomes too thick. Add more or less water to get your desired consistency. Once it is all added, beat on medium-low speed for four minutes. This frosting will keep for up to a month, tightly covered, at room temperature, or several months in the refrigerator.

Cream Cheese Celebration Frosting

This is my favored celebration frosting. This frosting on white cake, for me, makes the ultimate celebration cake. And be sure to try it on red velvet as well–divine!
Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 pounds powdered sugar
2 teaspoons crème bouquet
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract*
Pinch of salt
Milk, if desired

Beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and beat on low, scraping the sides, until all the sugar is incorporated, then turn to medium/high and beat for another two minutes. I prefer not to add any extra liquid because I find it easier to get a perfectly smooth cake with thick frosting**, but you can add milk as needed to make it creamier. Refrigerate or freeze if you won’t be using it within a few days.

*You can use regular vanilla but the color will turn more yellowish-ivory (like Mom’s birthday cake above), which is fine unless you are aiming for a lighter color.  To illustrate, I made the following two wedding cakes with the same recipe for cream cheese celebration frosting, but used clear vanilla on the first and regular on the second:

**To get my icing perfectly smooth, I use a straight-edged offset spatula and the water bottle trick: fill a clean (ideally, brand new or designated for water only) squirt bottle with water and spray the frosted cake all over.  This allows the spatula to glide over the surface and smooth it easily.  I recommend placing the cake, uncovered, in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight to allow the water on the surface to evaporate completely before decorating.  You can see me demonstrating the “water bottle trick” in this video: How to Make a Layer Cake part 3: stacking and frosting.

~Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this blog or sponsored by Cake Stuff to promote them.  That is the store where I’ve always purchased my crème bouquet and it is consistently delicious.  So I decided to buy some to share with my readers so you can experience the awesomeness for yourselves!~

Don’t Waste That Cake!

Posted on

I bake a lot of cakes, which means I throw away lots of cake.  Not because I ruin them, but because I have to level off the dome on top in order to layer them without trouble.  That extra cake, if I’m being a good girl and not stuffing it in my mouth, gets tossed most of the time.

Not any more!  Cake Balls/Pops to the rescue!

I just posted the recipe and step-by-step tutorial for cake pops and you can use the same concept to save a cake that stuck to your pan, came out too dry or heavy, or to use on the extra cake that you levelled off.

If using an entire cake, go ahead and follow the recipe as instructed.  If the cake is very very dry, you will probably have to add the entire can of frosting to it.  For cake tops, I use just about a spoonful of frosting and then mush it all up with my hands, just like with cake pops.

I ran out of lollipop sticks, so I just made cake balls (also called “cake truffles”) this time.  Roll them up into quarter-size balls and put on a plate; refrigerate until very cold (I always do this 24 hours or more in advance of the dipping but a couple hours should be enough).  You’ll need about 3-4 squares of white or chocolate candy coating.  Melt it and dip the balls using a spoon, tapping off the excess chocolate before placing on wax paper to set.  If adding sprinkles, do it quickly before the chocolate hardens.  You can also drizzle any leftover candy coating over the tops or melt another color to drizzle over the tops.

This works with any flavor cake mix.  So far I have tried red velvet , chocolate and white.  Have fun with it!

By the way, I lied when I said I don’t ruin cakes.  Though I haven’t in a while, it’s been known to happen.

This was the 14" base of a wedding cake. It was the biggest cake I'd ever made and I didn't realize you had to freeze the layers before trying to lift and stack them. I'm surprised it didn't crack completely in half when I hefted that huge layer on top of the other one!

This was the middle 10" tier of the same wedding cake, which I ruined when I applied the fondant that the bride had insisted upon, despite my insistence that I couldn't do it. I guess I showed her!

There was no hope for this cake. I ended up baking and frosting two whole wedding cakes and barely got the second one done in time for the wedding. Had I known about cake balls & pops back then, I would have saved back some of the cake for that.

Though I've had other cake tragedies, this is the only other one I photographed. This is Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake.

To end this on a happy note, here’s some pics of the wedding cake after I completely redid it.  I didn’t even attempt the fondant because I didn’t want to risk ruining a second cake when I had absolutely no more time to spare.  Thankfully, the bride was very pleased with the cake (though nothing like the one she originally wanted) and had no complaints!

Brenda's Wedding Cake 8-8-08

 

Me with the cake.

How to Quickly Defrost Meat & Bring Eggs to Room Temperature


You’d think with the amount of time I spend in the kitchen, I’d have planned ahead for every meal and would always have my meat defrosted when it was time to cook dinner or have my eggs at room temperature when it was time to bake bread or cake.

This is rarely the case.

Since I don’t have much foresight, I’ve developed a simple method for achieving these things quickly without cooking the meat or eggs in the slightest.

I should preface the meat tip with an explanation of my aversion to microwave defrosting.  Perhaps you have had better luck with it, but I’ve found that I usually end up partially cooking the meat in order to get it thawed all the way through and for some reason, cooking the meat in the microwave in defrost mode makes it taste a little funky.  Am I alone in this opinion?  In any case, I want to cook it with the spices/sauce/vegetables/etc.  for whatever dish I’m preparing, not naked and lonely.

OK, so to quickly defrost meat, simply fill a bowl with extremely hot tap water, seal the meat in a Ziploc bag and plop it in.  Change the water when it becomes tepid and feel the meat to check temperature.  It usually takes 10 minutes-1/2 hour, depending on the amount and the thickness.  For chicken breasts, I put each one in an individual bag rather than a large Ziploc bag because they will stick together and that slows the defrosting.  I do the same with fish fillets.  I haven’t yet tried this with hamburger or sausage but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

As you may or may not know, eggs should be at room temperature when using them in bread & scratch cake recipes–the former to keep from inhibiting the yeast action (cold=bad in bread language), and the latter for better structure in the cake.  You can quickly bring eggs to room temperature with the exact same method as I use for defrosting meat.  Crack your eggs into a sandwich bag (putting all of them in one bag is OK), seal it, and plop it into a bowl of hot tap water.  It will only take about 5 minutes or less, depending on how many eggs are in your bag.  You can also put the uncracked eggs in a bowl of hot tap water, but it will take much longer to bring them to room temperature and there’s no way to tell for sure if they’re warm until you crack them.  In the bag,  you can feel them through the plastic.

There you go!  Hope this tip comes in handy for you.

Pumpkin Pie Spice


I have been baking a lot of pumpkin desserts this fall, and nearly every one calls for pumpkin pie spice.  I’ve never bought pumpkin pie spice in my life because I keep all the separate spices on hand.  If this is your situation as well, here’s a quick recipe for mixing a small batch of your own pumpkin pie spice blend. If you want to make a larger batch, just double/triple/quadruple the measurements accordingly.

Pumpkin Pie Spice
Makes about 2 tablespoons

1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon allspice

Mix all spices and store in an air-tight container.

%d bloggers like this: