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Wilton Course 1, Class 4

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I finished Course 1 this week.  The final cake was a rose bouquet where we finally finished the roses we had been working on for the past two weeks.  We also learned how to do the bow, make sweet peas, and leaves.  I had the hardest time with sweet peas at first.  I’m not sure why, because they are really simple, but I couldn’t remember how to hold the bag and the tip, but by the end of the night, I was very comfortable with them.  I also loved the leaves.  They add so much to the decorations, and like our instructor said, they hide a multitude of sins!  I ended up putting 6 roses on my cake.  We had to come to class with 12 bases made, although most people put about 6 roses on their cakes as well.  The extras allowed room for mistakes, and pretty much everyone had a rose or two take a big dive off the nail!

DSC_1713 A close-up of the flowers

I was pretty happy with how this came out.  I used Cook’s Illustrated’s Old Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake.  I want to work on practicing roses so that I get better at them, but I can’t complain too much for my first attempt.  I would recommend a flower lifter if you decide to take the class.  It really helped transport the roses from the nail to the cake.  I really enjoyed this class.  Once you take Course 1, you can take any of the other courses, so I signed up to take Course 2 AND Course 3 in July!  Course 2 is on Tuesdays and Course 3 will be on Thursdays.  So, be prepared for lots of Wilton updates in the coming weeks!  I just hope I can keep the two courses straight! 🙂

A note about the frosting:  If you remember, in the second class, I had a problem with my frosting being too soft, so I used a different buttercream for the third cake.  I decided to give the Wilton buttercream one more chance with this cake, and I’m glad I did.  It may have been the weather, or I may have used the wrong consistency on the last cake, but this one was perfect.  I went halfway between stiff and medium and it was just right.

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The border- the shell border is one of the most common, and you can also see the sweet peas

A Tribute to the Perfect Party Cake

Carol of mix, mix…stir, stir chose Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake this week.  It truly is a perfect cake.  I first made it when it was chosen by the Daring Bakers in March 2008.  It was the perfect choice for an Easter dessert.  It was a huge hit, and it was devoured quickly, and several people went back for a second piece.  David talked about that cake for several days and over the next few months, he would talk about it and how he wanted me to make it again.  Over the summer, when we went to the beach with his extended family, I made two cakes, and the Perfect Party Cake was one of them.  It was a big hit then too.

I made it for a third time in October, and paired it with raspberry buttercream.  I love Dorie’s buttercream frosting recipe, but this was a great pairing as well.   Finally, last week, when I was looking for a cake to make for my decorating class, I made the Perfect Party Cake again. It’s the perfect cake for any occasion. I rarely make the same dessert more than once, but the fact that I’ve made this cake four times in a little over a year should tell you something!  I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like this cake.  I’ve made it four times, and I know I’ll keep making it again and again!

Blackwell Tart (or Pudding!) (Daring Bakers)

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Required line: The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.

I usually get my Daring Baker challenge done by at least mid-month, but I procrastinated on this one.  I realized that it was getting very close to the 27th of the month and I needed to move fast.  I haven’t missed a challenge yet, and I wasn’t about to start!  On Thursday, I made the tart dough and chilled it in the refrigerator overnight.  On Friday I made the Frangipane and the strawberry jam (recipe found here), assembled it, and baked it very late.  Luckily, this was a fairly simple and straightforward recipe, and I didn’t run into any problems.

I used millet flour for the pastry dough with no problems, although in hindsight, I think almond flour would have been delicious as well.  I decided on strawberry jam because it’s my favorite kind and I wanted to take advantage of the delicious strawberries that are available.  I’ve never made my own jam before, but I found a recipe for Quick Strawberry Jam on Epicurious that I thought was worth trying.  It was very simple to make, and I’ll probably keep using that recipe and try it with other fruits.  After sitting in the refrigerator, it got a bit congealed, but I zapped it in the microwave for 30 seconds and it was perfect.

I really can’t say enough about the Frangipane.  It was amazing!  I knew I would love it since it had such a strong almond flavor.  I added a little bit of Amaretto for additional flavor and really liked the way it came through.

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Bakewell Tart…er…pudding

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it’s overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It’s a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn’t have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract

Frangipane

Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Annemarie’s notes:
• Add another five minutes or more if you’re grinding your own almonds or if you’re mixing by hand (Heaven help you).

Peanut Butter Fudge

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I am a huge fan of peanut butter, and I’ve been wanting to make peanut butter fudge for a long time, but hadn’t found a recipe that I thought would turn out well.  When I found this recipe and the raves it got, I knew I had to try it.  Lynn described it as “crack candy,” and I think I have to agree!  This fudge was so creamy and delicious.  It had the perfect peanut butter flavor.  I didn’t have enough creamy peanut butter for 1 cup, so I used crunchy peanut butter to top it off.  I think that using all crunchy peanut butter would be great too, because I really liked the crunch I got in some of the bites.  It was also really easy to make, and didn’t even require a candy thermometer.  It all came together nicely for the perfect, creamy peanut butter fudge.  I would definitely recommend this recipe, but I do have to tell you that it certainly is addictive!

I’m also submitting this to the Holiday Candies Adventure over at Joelen’s Culinary Adventures!  I love making candy, especially during Christmas season, so I can’t wait to see all of the new candy ideas!

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Killer Crack Peanut Butter Fudge

3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 cup JIF peanut butter
1- 7 oz jar marshmallow creme
1 tsp vanilla

Combine sugar, butter, and evaporated milk in a heavy 2-1/2 quart saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat. Add the peanut butter, stirring until melted.. Add marshmallow creme and vanilla; beat until well blended.

Source: adapted from Cookie Baker Lynn

Cookies and Cream Cake

This was another great cake I got from Annie’s blog.  I knew I had to make it when she posted it!  I am a big fan of Oreos, so I knew I would love it.  This was the perfect dessert to enjoy after a rough couple of days.  The chocolate cake was just fabulous.  It was one of the lightest, fluffiest, moistest cakes I’ve ever made.  The whipped cream filling was amazing!  It made enough to fill the layers and top the cake generously, so you could really taste it.  Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Frosting was also a welcome additon.  This is seriously great frosting.  I have to call it my favorite chocolate frosting.  I made it for my birthday cupcakes this past January, but had forgotten how much I liked it.  I will have to remember it as my go-to chocolate frosting from now on!  All of these components made for a great cake.  David’s first reaction when he took a bite was that it reminded him of Dirt Cake- you know, the concoction you probably had as a child with Oreos, whipped cream, and gummy worms 🙂  I would say that this is a multi-generation crowd pleaser and that it would go over well with adults and kids alike.  This is one of my favorite cakes that I’ve made.

Cookies and Cream Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:

2 cups sugar

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup cocoa powder

1 ½ tsp. baking powder

1 ½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

½ cup vegetable oil

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup boiling water

For the filling:

1 ¼ cups heavy cream

1/8 cup confectioners’ sugar

¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract

10 chocolate sandwich cookies,  chopped

For the frosting:

½ cup unsalted butter

2/3 cup cocoa powder

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/3 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350°.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

Stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).  Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks.  Cool completely.

To make the filling, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.  Beat on low speed until all sugar is incorporated; increase speed to high and whisk until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold in chopped cookie pieces with a rubber spatula.

To make the frosting, melt the butter in a medium bowl.  Stir in the cocoa.  Alternately add confectioners’ sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.  Add small amount additional milk, if needed.  Stir in vanilla.

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cardboard cake circle.  Pipe a ring of the chocolate frosting around the outside edge of the cake.  Fill the area inside the ring of frosting with a thick layer of the cookies and cream mixture.  Place the second cake layer on top.  Frost the sides of the cake layers with chocolate frosting.  Pipe a decorative border of the chocolate frosting on top of the cake.  Fill the area inside this border with a thick layer of the cookies and cream mixture.  Garnish with extra chocolate sandwich cookies and whipped cream if desired.

Taste and Create: Italian Pizza Macaroni

I decided to participate in Taste and Create for the first time this month. I had seen other bloggers participate, and it looks like a really fun way to get to know other people in the food community and try a new recipe. My partner for this round was For the Love of Food. She has some amazing recipes in her blog, and it was hard to choose what to make. I decided to make a main dish since I’ve been wanting to try a new dinner recipe. I was in the mood for pasta and as I was looking through the pasta section, I was drawn to the Italian Pizza Macaroni. It looked to delicious and cheesy, and I knew this is what I wanted to make. I really enjoyed it. I think next time I would add more sauce and more spices to the sauce, but otherwise it was great. It didn’t take too long to make- it was about an hour from start to finish, including baking time. It’s a great weeknight meal to put together.

Italian Pizza Macaroni

Ingredients:
500 grams Macaroni Noodles (I used a 1-pound box)
400 grams Whole Peeled Tomatoes (I used a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes)
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 teaspoon Paprika
1 teaspoon Salt
a dash of Pepper
1/2 a very small Onion, diced
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 a Recipe of Homemade Italian Sausage
2 balls (about 400 grams total) of wet Mozzarella Cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven to 200°C (392°F). (I set it on 390).

In a sauce pan heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and saute the onion in it. Then, add the whole tomatoes – break them up with a spatula – as well as the tomato paste, paprika, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Adjust the flavors as you see fit.

In the mean while, prepare the Italian sausage according to the recipe and cook the macaroni according to package directions. Drain the macaroni and set aside.

One the sauce is done, mix in the macaroni and then pour it into a casserole dish. Top it with Italian sausage and cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and started to golden.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Penne alla Vodka

I had been craving a good pasta dish. We hadn’t had pasta in a while, which is very unusual for us. I love pasta and could probably eat it even more than I already do 🙂 I had been wanting to try this dish for a long time, and I decided to finally go ahead and make it. We really liked this meal. It was very similar to Penne a la Betsy, which we both enjoyed not too long ago. I really like cream and tomato sauces, and this one was perfect. Sometimes sauces have too much cream and not enough tomato, or vice versa, but this sauce had a perfect balance between the two. The red pepper flakes gave the sauce the perfect amount of flavor. The only thing I would do differently is cut back on the onions just a bit because there was just a little bit too much in there. Other than that, this was a great dinner that I would definitely make again.

Penne alla Vodka (Cook’s Illustrated November 2006)

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ small onion, minced (about ¼ cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
¼ to ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
Table salt
1/3 cup vodka
½ cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Puree half of tomatoes in food processor until smooth. Dice remaining tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine pureed and diced tomatoes in liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1 2/3 cups). Add reserved liquid to equal 2 cups.

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are light golden around edges, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Remove pan from heat and add vodka. Return pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until alcohol flavor is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower heat to medium if simmering becomes too vigorous. Stir in cream and cook until hot, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and transfer pasta back to Dutch oven. Add sauce to pasta and toss over medium heat until pasta absorbs some of sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Stir in basil and adjust seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls and serve immediately, passing Parmesan separately.