Sunday, September 25, 2011

How behind am I?!

I've baked bacon and chocolate chip muffins, pillow cookies, cake pops, and pie pops since my last blog! 

But baking isn't the talk of the night! My biggest news since, well, ever... I passed the CPA exam!! And to reward myself for the accomplishment, I purchased a brand new, computerized Brother sewing machine!

I cannot wait to use it. I already read the Kate Haxell sewing guide that I picked up at Michael's. There were quite a few "Ah ha!" and "So that's how you do that!" moments as I was reading. I also bought Emma Hardy's pattern book of adorable (hopefully fairly basic) kid's clothes. Of course, now the huge dilemma is what to sew first! 

I'm sure I'll be unboxing the machine tomorrow after a trip to Hancock Fabrics for a soft material I've yet to find at Hobby Lobby. Stay tuned for successful projects! (Hopefully) And feel free to share patterns you've already tested and approved!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gourmet cake pops

Adult-only cake pops were my latest endeavor. They were delicious and quite pretty I think! I don't imagine they would be a kid favorite, but the flavors were definitely adult approved at work where I took them for a birthday celebration.

Chocolate Nutella, caramel macchiato & coconut pecan cake pops
Here are the recipes:
Chocolate Nutella cake pops
Makes 40-50 cake pops
1 Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix and applicable ingredients
1 13 oz. jar of Nutella (You won't use the whole jar.)
1-2 Tablespoons of peanut butter
1-2 bags of chocolate candy melts
Wilton Turtle Crunch sprinkles (I found these at Michael's.)
Pop sticks
Styrofoam (or some stand for your cake pops)

Bake the cake in a 9x13 inch pan as instructed on the box. Cool. Crumble into a large bowl, removing any hard edges from the cake. Add about half the jar of Nutella and the peanut butter to the crumbled cake. Mix well. Add more or less Nutella or peanut butter to achieve doughy consistency. Shape the doughy cake mixture into bite size balls and place on a wax-paper-lined tray. Put the cake balls in the freezer for 15-20 minutes or until firm but not frozen. 

While your cake balls are in the freezer, melt a bag of chocolate candy melts in a cereal-sized bowl. Add about a tablespoon of Crisco to thin the melted chocolate. Remove your cake balls from freezer once they are firm. Dip a pop stick into the melted chocolate about 1/2 inch, stick halfway into a cake ball, and put your almost-cake-pop back on the tray. Repeat with all your cake balls. Stick the tray back into the freezer for a couple of minutes so the chocolate and stick can set.

After a few minutes, remove your tray from the freezer. Be sure that your cake balls are not frozen as this will cause your hardened chocolate to crack after you dip it. Grab an almost-cake-pop and carefully reshape if necessary. Gently dip into your melted chocolate, making sure to cover the entire cake ball and the top of the pop stick as this helps stabilize the cake pop. Sprinkle some Turtle Crunch on your dipped cake pop, and stick into a piece of styrofoam to dry (for an easy display idea, check out my blog post "All about cake pops").Voila! Your first Chocolate Nutella cake pop! Repeat with your remaining cake balls.

Caramel Macchiato cake pops (For coffee lovers only!)
Make 40-50 cake pops
1 box of Duncan Hines French Vanilla cake mix and applicable ingredients
Instant coffee
1 can of Duncan Hines Homestyle Caramel frosting
White candy melts
Ivory or brown gel food coloring or meltable caramel candies
Pop sticks
Frosting decorator bag and size 1 Wilton piping tip
Styrofoam stand

This cake pop is a little different. You're not going to follow the cake mix instructions exactly. Follow the mix instructions, except for the 1 1/3 cups of water and one egg, substitute 1 2/3 cups of double strong instant coffee. After you've dissolved the coffee granules into 1 2/3 cups of boiling water, you need to let the coffee cool a bit before you add it to your cake mix. You can speed the cooling process by pouring the coffee into a large open container and stirring for a few minutes. Once the coffee has cooled some (it's okay if it's still warm), add the coffee and oil to the cake mix. Mix a bit before adding the two eggs. Continue to mix and bake in a 9x13 inch pan as instructed on the box. After the cake has baked, cool, and then crumble into a large bowl. Mix in 1/2 to 2/3 of a can of caramel frosting to achieve doughy consistency. 

Follow the same instructions I gave for the Chocolate Nutella cake pops, using white candy melts instead of chocolate. Once all your cake pops have been dipped in white chocolate candy melts, you'll want to pipe a caramel colored design onto the cake pops. For my caramel piping, I mixed ivory gel food coloring and a bit of melted chocolate with white candy melts to get a caramel tinted color. Melted caramel would work too. I then used an icing bag and a size 1 Wilton piping tip to create a design atop each cake pop that looks like the caramel design I've seen on the foam of a real caramel macchiato. 

Haphazard grid design atop the caramel macchiato pops
Coconut Pecan cake pops
Makes 40-50 cake pops
1 Duncan Hines Coconut Supreme cake mix and applicable ingredients
1 can Duncan Hines Coconut Pecan frosting
White candy melts
Pop sticks
Styrofoam stand

Mix and bake the coconut cake as instructed on the box in a 9x13 inch pan. Cool. Crumble cake into a large bowl, removing any hard edges. Mix in 1/2 to 2/3 a can of coconut pecan frosting to achieve a doughy consistency. Follow the same instructions I gave for the Chocolate Nutella cake pops, using white candy melts instead of chocolate. After you dip each pop, cover in vanilla sanding sugar before the candy coating dries. I might add that if I had planned ahead better, I would have toasted some shredded coconut and used that instead of the sanding sugar. I did like the texture of the sanding sugar though. It added a nice crunch to the coconut pecan cake pop. 

And that's it! These three flavors went really well together, and I will definitely be making all three again sometime. Per my husband, I now have to limit my baking to special occasions for the sake of our finances... party pooper. But I anticipate a special occasion occurring at least once a week from now on! So check back  in about a week for a new recipe!

Labor Day Mass Chaos... er... family gathering & everything you need to know about cake pops!

So here's the thing about my family... my grandparents have four kids. All four are married. Three of the four have four kids each. One of those kids (me!) is married. The other of the four has twelve kids! (That's no typo-- there are really twelve of them!) And three of the twelve are married. One has two kids. Mix in a few boyfriends and girlfriends, and that brings the grand total to FORTY-THREE people at my cousins' rental house at Smith Lake last weekend.

See! I totally wasn't kidding... Count us!

I always love gathering with this side of the family. Chaotic doesn't even begin to describe it, but the laughter, Bible discussions, music, board games, boating, laughter, photos, and laughter are precious and irreplaceable! When Jim and I decided to make the weekend trip, I knew I had to take cake pops. Since we decided Friday evening to leave for Alabama Saturday morning, I decided against my better judgement to stay up all night making cake pops.

And wasn't it worth it!? Check out some of the cake pop photos from the weekend...

Chocolate caramel, Strawberry lemonade, and Funfetti 
cake pops! Nearly 200 of them!
Adorable cousin Jordan
Cousin-in-law Caroline
Cousin Mary and boyfriend Matt 
Cousin Lexie

So what's the recipe, you ask!? A lot of time, a little creativeness, and some boxed cake mixed and cans of frosting! Not one thing about a cake pop needs to be homemade. I used the following for my nearly 200 cake pops: 2 Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge cake mix & 2 small cans of Duncan Hines Homestyle Caramel frosting; one Duncan Hines Lemon Supreme cake mix & a can of strawberry frosting; and one box of Funfetti cake mix & a can of Duncan Hines Homestyle Cream Cheese frosting. The combinations are endless, so have fun with the flavors! 

Cousin Becky & boyfriend Kyle
Here is a recipe for about 40-50 cake pops depending on the size you make:
1 box of cake mix 
1 can of frosting to match your cake flavor (You won't use the whole can.)
2-4 bags of candy melts (I've yet to figure exactly how many candy melts are needed. Play it safe and buy some extras.)
Gel food coloring, if desired
Sprinkles, sprinkles, sprinkles!
Pop sticks

Prepare and bake the cake as instructed on the boxes in a 9x13 inch pan. When the cake is done, let it cool, and then crumble it into a large bowl. Mix two-thirds to three-fourths a can of frosting into the crumbled cake. The consistency should be slightly doughy-- firm enough to roll the cake into bite-size balls.

Wrapped for 5 hour drive
And that's the next, long, boring, meticulous step. Roll each of your doughy cake mixtures into bite size balls and place them on a wax-paper-lined tray. This takes forever, so turn on the radio and sing along. Don't worry about making your cake balls perfectly round. I'm convinced that only Bakerella can do this because she is a magic cake pop queen or something to that effect. Just go for a roundish shape. Place your cake balls into the freezer for 15-20 minutes until they are firm but not frozen.

While your cake pops are in the freezer, melt some candy melts in cereal-sized bowls. My estimate is 2 bags of candy melts per box of cake mix, but I could be off. When you make 200 at a time, some measurements get lost in the madness. You're going to want to add about a tablespoon of Crisco per bag of candy melts. This thins the melted candy a bit. If you decide to add gel food coloring, you'll need to add more Crisco. Use your own judgement. You want fairly thin melted liquid. During this whole process, be careful not to overheat your candy melts. They are nasty burnt!

Sister Casey & boyfriend Adam
Now that your candy melts are ready, grab your cake balls from the freezer. For each cake ball, take a pop stick and dip one end into the melted candy before sticking it about halfway into the cake ball. Put the now-cake-pop back on your tray and repeat for each cake ball. You'll need to stick them back in the freezer for about 5 minutes to let the pop stick and melted candy set in the cake ball. Use two trays to eliminate wasted time, or take the 5 minute break to start cleaning your now-messy kitchen!

Get your cake pops out of the freezer, making sure they aren't super cold. If they're too cold, you're candy coating will crack after it dries. Take each pop, reshape carefully if necessary (sometimes the top gets flat from the tray), and carefully dip into the melted candy. Be sure you cover the entire cake ball and part of the stick as this helps to stabilize the cake pop. Avoid a lot of twisting in the melted candy, as you will loosen the cake ball from the stick. After your pop is coated, carefully air-tap the pop to get off some of the excess melted candy. If you're decorating with sprinkles (which I highly recommend!), add those now before your candy hardens. If you're decorating by piping a different color of candy melt onto the cake pop, you can do that now or wait until later. 

Place your cake pop into a piece of styrofoam to dry. And you're done!

If you're looking for a cute way to display your cake pops, here's what I do (an idea I got from Bakerella's book). Buy a block of styrofoam in the size of your choice and wrap in pretty wrapping paper. On a separate piece of paper the same size as the display surface of your styrofoam, mark dots two inches apart, starting in the top corner about one inch from either paper edge. Place the paper template over the wrapped styrofoam and use a pin to poke and twist small holes in the styrofoam every two inches. And now you have a pretty drying and display stand for your cake pops!
Cake pop styrofoam stands

So now it's all clear as mud, and you can go create! Really though, have fun! My first cake pops looked much less cute than these. Also, remember that sprinkles are your friend! They cover blemishes in your dipped cake pops and add color and spunk! You can pick up a variety of sprinkles, along with pop sticks, gel food coloring, frosting tips and piping bags, styrofoam, and wrapping paper, at Michael's or Hobby Lobby.

Happy cake popping!

Mini cupcakes... Black bottom and Strawberry lemonade

So I'm behind on my baking blogging. Turns out working full time can be pretty time-consuming! A couple of weeks ago I made this cute little cupcakes for a treat at work. 

My favorite (due to my addiction to chocolate and cream cheese) are the black bottom cupcakes on which I alternated regular and chocolate cream cheese frosting.

The other mini was a strawberry lemonade cupcake which had a great flavor, but the filling texture was a bit below par, likely because the cupcake lacked moisture to lock in the filling.

So here are the recipes!

Black Bottom Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Cream cheese filling
16-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 large egg whites, room temperature
2 tbsp sour cream, room temperature
1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips

Beat together cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth. Beat in egg whites and sour cream. Stir in mini chocolate chips, taste a spoonful or two, and set aside.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/3 cups water
1/2 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk together sugar, salt, flour, cocoa powder and baking soda. Mix in sour cream, water, butter and vanilla. Stir together until just combined, but don't over-mix.

So there are a few judgement calls in this recipe... this recipe makes about 24 regular size cupcakes or about 48 minis. I opted for minis and also chose to bake the cupcakes without liners. The cupcakes easily came out of my sprayed tins when they were done baking; I then placed each cupcake in a small paper liner, mostly for aesthetics. Size/liner/no liner is totally your choice! 

Be very careful not to overfill your cupcake tins! Normally, you should fill your cupcake tins about two-thirds full. These cupcakes won't rise quite as much as a regular cupcake, but since you still have to add cream cheese filling, two-thirds (or a tad less) is a good rule. Drop a tablespoon of cream cheese filling (or a teaspoon for the minis) on top of each batter-filled cup. Don't worry about getting the cream cheese into the cupcake-- it will sink as it bakes. Bake for about 20 minutes for regular cupcakes (about 14 for minis) at 350F. You should be able to stick a toothpick into the cake-only sides of the cupcakes and pull out cake crumbs. 

Cream cheese frosting from Glorious Treats
(The frosting is completely optional. Black bottom cupcakes are great without! I do love the extra cream cheese that the frosting adds.)

Cream Cheese Frosting
½ cup butter, room temp
8 oz. cream cheese
½ cup unsweetened cocoa (for chocolate cream cheese frosting)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups powdered confectioners sugar
2-4 Tablespoons strawberry preserves or puree (for strawberry frosting)
1 to 4 Tablespoons heavy cream, heavy whipping cream

Place butter in a large mixing bowl and blend slightly. Add cream cheese and blend until combined, about 30 seconds. If you are making chocolate frosting, add the cocoa now and mix so that it gets fully incorporated into the cream cheese. Add vanilla extract and powdered sugar and blend on low speed until combined. Increase to medium speed and beat until it begins to get fluffy. If you're making strawberry frosting, add your strawberry flavor here. I prefer the fresh strawberry puree flavor, but preserves work as well. Mix well. You may not even need cream for the strawberry frosting, as the strawberry puree thins out the frosting a lot. If necessary, slowly add the heavy cream, a little bit at a time until desired consistency is met. (Don't add too much if you want the frosting to stay in place when piped on cupcakes.) Beat until fluffy, about 1 minute. After your cupcakes have cooled, have fun decorating with the frosting!

And the Strawberry lemonade cupcakes...
Use a box of Duncan Hines Lemon Supreme cake mix and mix as instructed on the box. Now, if I make these again, I will try adding a couple of Tablespoons of sour cream to the cake mix in lieu of one egg. I think that would help moisten the cake enough to lock in the strawberry filling that baked into my cake in the oven, leaving a semi-empty middle.

For the filling:
16-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white, room temperature
2 Tablespoons sour cream, room temperature
4-6 Tablespoons of strawberry preserves or puree 

Beat together cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth. Beat in egg white, sour cream and strawberry puree. 

Fill your cupcake tins about half full with the lemon cake batter. Then top with a Tablespoon or teaspoon of filling, depending on whether you're making full-size or mini cupcakes. Do not try to get the filling into the unbaked cupcake as it will sink when you bake it. Bake at 350F for about 14 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the cake-only side of the cupcake comes out with only crumbs. 

Top with the strawberry cream cheese recipe above. I added a bit of pink gel food coloring to get a pretty bright pink frosting. It looked so cute on the yellow cupcakes!