Monday, April 26, 2010

White Wedding Cake with Strawberry Cream Filling and Swiss Buttercream Icing

THE wedding cake...done!

So here it is...the project that I thought would be the end of me. (Side note: this post makes me regret not taking more photos while I was making and assembling this wedding cake, but you're lucky that I took this many).

You guys, I've never been more nervous. Well, maybe I was in school - it made me think of those late-night studio sessions, you know the ones where you stay up all night working on a project and then by the time you present it, you're so tired and exhausted and consumed and whatever that you think you've lost your mind.

This is how I felt. Did I eat that day? Nope. Did I talk to my husband at all? Nope - when he came into the kitchen to chat I had to brush him off, shoo him away with floured hands, I'm busy here. Did I stop at all, to enjoy the sunny day or to feed my animals? No, no, and no (don't worry, my lovely husband took care of them). All I could think about was cake. Getting this cake right and not messing it up.

I got up early that morning to start on my to-do list, which went something like this: make frosting, make strawberry filling, fill all three layers, ice all three layers, chill, re-ice all three layers with final coat, decorate, box up, drive to wedding site, deliver cake, make a big drink to celebrate. And this is exactly what happened - no real hitches or problems at all. Either I'm incredibly lucky, or my crazy planning actually paid off.

Some things I learned along the way include:
a) Strawberry freezer jam makes an excellent cake filling when blended with swiss buttercream.
b) Wax paper under the cake when you start icing the layers is essential. Once you have the wax paper in place, don't be shy with the icing.
c) Refrigerating the layers between icings will allow the buttercream to set up very nicely.
d) You will mess up. You will have places of icing that aren't smoothed to perfection. It's ok, they will probably cover it up with flowers anyway (they did)
e) You can make up the cake decorating pattern as you go. This is what I did (terrible, I know!). I played with different ridges in the icing until I liked what I saw. You can re-smooth icing quite a few times until you get it just right.
f) The scalloped shells at the base of the cake are really not my style, but they helped incredibly when it came time to hide the cardboard base at the bottom of each cake.
g) When actually delivering the wedding cake that you just spent the majority of the past two months thinking about, practicing on, and obsessing over, you will drive 20 miles per hour, highway or not. And you will sweat.
h) Don't ever be above purchasing pre-made fondant decorative flowers in case you need to hide a goof. I was so thankful that I did.
i) Don't really sweat the small stuff - most definitely, people will love what you did, and the bride won't even notice (or, in my case, show up a teeny bit inebriated). Yes, she did.

Some other details, in case you were wondering:
- Cake: White Cake, from Joy of Cooking
- Icing: Swiss Buttercream Icing, from Smitten Kitchen
- Filling: Strawberry freezer jam + icing + lots of red food coloring (if you don't do this, your filling will be a fleshy pale pink color. Not appetizing.)

Any other questions? Just ask!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Food, Inc.


Awhile back, I spotted this post on Black Eiffel titled "Food Conscience". I read through it, and even commented on the post, saying how much I love when people bring these issues to light about our food and where it comes from. She highlighted several other movies about the issue, and also discussed some books that focus on natural and organic food, so I made sure to add them to my Amazon wish list, and then went about my day.

And that was it. Yes, I always cook from scratch and try to completely avoid anything that's pre-packaged or loaded with preservatives, but I never thought much more about it, until last night. Food, Inc was airing on PBS, and I sat, transfixed, for the whole thing. Have you seen it yet? I cried. A lot. It showed me what I was afraid to see, but deep down knew all along - that the path that our food takes to get to us is one big, convuluted trip, full of nightmarish scenes. Animals, human workers, and the environment are all being mistreated, abused, and disrespected, all in the name of fast, cheap, and quick eats. The statistics that the movie highlights are staggering.

It made me thankful that I can afford to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and organic foods, which, as one researcher mentions, is the whole problem with the system. Rates of obesity are directly linked to income level. This makes perfect sense - we've created a world where a hamburger from McDonald's costs less than a head of broccoli.

I could go on and on, but I'll just stop here and tell you that if you're at all interested in making a difference, or at the very least eating better, go rent this movie. You will learn a lot, it will make you sad (and may make you cry, like it did to me), but it will make you aware of what's going on with your food. It may even convince you to start eating locally, or at least only buy organic. And that's a great start.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mini Cadbury Egg Cookies

cadbury egg cookies

Wow, a little late with this post, eh? Easter candy? It's almost May, for crying out loud.

Well, that's what baking a wedding cake will do you to. It puts you a bit behind schedule. More on that in the next post.

I finished up that wedding cake on Saturday, and you'd think that I would be sick of baking. People, I went through almost 20 sticks of butter, almost as many eggs, and more sugar and flour than I care to think about. And yet, once all of the pressure was off, and my job was done, I thought, now I can bake for fun! Yes, I am weird.

A little bit about these Cadbury eggs - you know the kind, the ones that come in the purple bag. My sweet mother sent me two large bags of these right before Easter. I had called her a few days earlier, lamenting the fact that I couldn't seem to find them in Memphis (of course, I only checked at two Walgreen's, so my search was far from exhaustive). Thinking that I'd be without my favorite candy on Easter, she sent me some.

And some, well, is just too much. I reluctantly opened one bag, and I've almost eaten the whole thing. It's awful. The floodgates opened, and it was like all of a sudden that purple bag became a very strong magnet. I. Couldn't. Stop.

So I thought, why not put them in cookies? Brilliant! Don't, however, make my mistake of thinking that you can chop these buggers up in your food processor. Maybe it's possible, but when I turned mine on, it sounded like the blade was coming to bits and that it would explode at any moment. Really, it was horrific. Of course, my food processor is from the 1970's, so perhaps the newer models have stronger blades and motors. So I chopped them. By hand. Yes, I am weird.

Mini Cadbury Egg Cookies
8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed (either dark or light is fine)
6 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup + 1 tbsp flour, loosely scooped
1-1/2 cups chopped mini cadbury eggs

1 - Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Have ready an ungreased cookie sheet.
2 - Beat the butter, sugars, and vanilla until creamy. Add in egg. Once egg is well blended, add salt and baking soda, beating well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated. Add the flour and stir (do not beat) until it is almost incorporated. Add the cadbury eggs, and still until the flour has all but disappeared.
3. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets, about one inch apart. Bake one sheet at a time on center rack for 8-10 minutes until edges are golden. The cookies should get pretty brown around the edges. Be careful not to let the bottoms get burned - keep an eye on them!
4. Remove from oven, and set the cookie sheet on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Remove from sheet, place on cooling rack, and allow to cool to room temperature.