Friday, July 24, 2015

Ocean Mosaic Cake



This mosaic cake is inspired by the colorful blues found in the ocean. It's delicious, fun to make and it celebrates all things summer! I originally conceptualized it as a cupcake, decorated with blue frosting and topped with Swedish Fish. But I wanted something more exciting and creating a mosaic cake was the perfect excuse for me to break out a bunch of white chocolate candy melts I've been wanting to use.

Making mosaics out of white chocolate couldn't be easier, and it's actually quite fun. (Not as fun as eating an entire box of Swedish Fish while decorating this cake, 'cus I did that, too. But still...it's a good time. And, it's something you can do with your kids!) Although candy melts aren't top-quality white chocolate, they are really forgiving (meaning they're easy to melt and work with). Plus, they come pre-colored (a great shortcut!) I used three 12 oz. bags in this recipe and had a ton of "mosaic tiles" left over. But I think it's nice to have at least three colors on the cake, so if you're left with extra tiles, just bag them up and save them for another project. Or, you could always tint plain white chocolate with gel food coloring to your liking. 

The white chocolate tiles I made were roughly cut to about 1/2" long, making for a more "abstract" pattern. If you cut your tiles smaller, you can achieve a more intricate pattern. I added the Swedish Fish for a pop of color and to bring the "Ocean" theme to life. All looks aside, the real star of the show here is the buttermilk vanilla cake. It's deliciously buttery, topped with a cream cheese buttercream that has just the right amount of sweetness and tang. It's tinted blue to go with the ocean theme, but you could always just leave it white. This cake is perfect for a birthday party at the pool, beach or any summertime gathering. After this past winter, I promised to celebrate every gorgeous summer day. And while I might not make this cake everyday, it reminds me why I love the ocean so much. 


To create parchment circles, fold a large piece of parchment paper in half, then again. Place the the pan on top and trace a circle. Cut and you'll have 4 parchment circles that fit the pans perfectly. (You'll only need 3 for this recipe.)

Buttermilk Vanilla Cake
Makes one 8-inch layer cake

INGREDIENTS

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, grease and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

3. Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla.

4. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk until the batter is completely mixed and smooth.

5. Divide the batter evenly among cake pans and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean. Cool completely.

White Chocolate Mosaic Tiles
YOU'LL NEED
Candy Melts in Assorted Blues and White (12 oz. bags, found at any craft store)
Parchment paper
Baking Sheet 
Offset Spatula

1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Melt the candy melts according to the instructions on the bag. (Or in a heat safe bowl in the microwave in 20 second increments until fully melted.)

2. Use an offset spatula to spread chocolate in an even layer (about 1/8" thick) across the parchment paper. Set aside to cool. 

3. Once chocolate is hardened, use a sharp knife to cut 1/4" squares and place in bowls. It's OK if a few of the pieces aren't perfectly square! It adds character to the mosaic pattern.


Cream Cheese Buttercream 
INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened
4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Blue gel food coloring 
Mosaic Tiles (see recipe)
1 package Swedish Fish
Graham cracker crumbs (optional)

DIRECTIONS

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese until well combined. Make sure the cream cheese and butter are both at room temperature, otherwise they won’t mix properly and you’ll have streaks of cream cheese.

2. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until frosting is creamy and smooth. Mix in the vanilla and salt. If the frosting is too thick, mix in a teaspoon or two of milk.

3. Add a few drops of blue food coloring and mix until you have the desired shade.

4. Create a crumb coat by using an offset spatula to spread a thin, even layer of frosting all over the cake. Chill the cake in the fridge for a few minutes before you apply the final frosting layer.

5. Apply the final coat of frosting, then carefully press on the mosaic tiles and Swedish fish. Spread graham cracker crumbs around the edge of the cake to mimic "sand."










Monday, June 15, 2015

Sweet Envy is Available for Pre-Order!

I've got some really exciting news, you guys. I'll give you a hint…It's a project I've dreamt about forever and it's finally coming to fruition. (No, it's not a comprehensive biography of all the cast members of Saved By the Bell. Because, if asked, I could easily write that.) But, you're close. It is a book! I couldn't be more excited to share my book Sweet Envy with you! It hits the shelves on October 5th, but you can pre-order it today. I've spent the good part of this year taking this book from a small morsel of an idea, to a full-fledged shiny object. 


Here's the cover!
It's a coconut cake inspired by the ever-awesome Almond Joy candy bar. If you're intrigued, know that I've got an entire chapter devoted to desserts based on candy.There are also desserts inspired by nature, art and even a bunch of boozy sweets! 

Sweet Envy has something for everyone. If you’re ready to create a pastry presence, this book will equip you with the techniques to impress. (Read: here's how you can kick ass at the bake sale.) The recipes range from sweets so easy your kid could make them, to mini cheesecakes adorned with spun sugar nests and fondant bees. Whether it’s a quick go-to cookie recipe, or a hand painted cake, the recipes are a solid foundation to build upon. These recipes really are designed for any skill level and they'll always look just as amazing as they taste. The book will feature a few favorites from my blog (like a more detailed succulent cupcake how-to), but most of the recipes are brand spankin' new and super creative. 

Here's a sneak peek at some of the images in the book. 







I hate to play favorites, but these are my two favorite recipes from the book: Faux tacos (they're cookies, I swear) and a Mint Chocolate Trifle. Yum.



I shot them all in my kitchen/dining room (and occasionally on the front porch if the lighting was just right:) Aside from writing, testing, styling and photographing every recipe, I also designed the book! A true labor of love. It's been a year of endless hours in the kitchen, editing, cursing and ultimately sweet triumph. (Not to mention the good 15 pounds I gained while writing this sucker.) But I couldn't be happier with it. It's full of really approachable and fun recipes. 

So today I'm asking you to pre-order it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And when it comes out on October 5th, go to your local bookstore and buy another copy to show the local shops some love. This book is the answer to all the complexities in life. Ok, maybe it won't solve everything, but Sweet Envy will most certainly make you a more creative baker. Flex those creative baking muscles—being envied never tasted so sweet.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Banana Bourbon Milkshakes with Cardamom Whipped Cream


I'm feeling bourbon inspired as of late. Mostly because the Kentucky Derby takes place this week and mint juleps are all the rage (for me at least). In fact, when people mention any horse race (doesn't even have to be the Kentucky Derby), the mint julep is the first image that pops into my head. This year, however, I wanted to create a dessert that was more bourbon focused and less of a "julep-esque" creation. Don't get me wrong, I think a minty, bourbon-kissed cupcake is the bees knees. But for this Derby, I've got something better….a banana bourbon vanilla milkshake! The idea of a bourbon vanilla milkshake is nothing new. Pretty much every bar displays a boozy shake in some form or another. But the addition of bananas to said shake is so incredibly delicious, you may never make a shake without bananas again. 

In an effort to keep our kids from crazy sugar highs, my sister has been pushing the whole "Let's make ice cream with bananas" thing for a while now. From a health perspective, I get it. But as an ice cream purist I've been quite reluctant to swap that rich milk and cream for bananas. In this recipe, I've compromised and combined both bananas AND traditional ice cream. Together, they make for one heck of a milkshake. Top it with cardamom scented whipped cream and you've got a go-to dessert that will never lose its appeal. 

The most exciting thing about this recipe is its simplicity! The milkshake AND the whipped cream are both made in the blender. Just as I was about to make the whipped cream in the stand mixer I thought, "Well, this is annoying--needing two kitchen appliances to make such a simple dessert…Why can't I make the whipped cream in the blender!?" Turns out, you CAN make whipped cream in a blender! Just be sure to keep a close eye on it so you don't over-whip the cream. Am I a little bit nuts for getting so excited about making whipped cream in a blender? I should probably get out more. Or drink a few less boozy milkshakes…

Banana Bourbon Milkshakes
makes 2 large, or 4 small milkshakes
INGREDIENTS
1 cup heavy whipping cream, very cold
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 bananas, sliced
1 pint high-quality vanilla ice cream
1/4 cup bourbon

DIRECTIONS
1. Combine the heavy cream, cardamom and confectioners' sugar in the blender. Cover and blend on high for about 10 seconds. Uncover, stir the whipped cream and continue to mix for another few seconds if needed. Make sure not to over-whip!

2. Carefully scoop whipped cream into a bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator until time to serve shakes. Rinse out the blender. 

3. Combine the milk, banana's, ice cream and bourbon in the blender. Blend on high for about a minute, or until smooth. 

4. Pour into chilled tumblers, top with a large spoonful of whipped cream and enjoy!



Instant whipped cream in the blender! Make sure the cream is very cold. 
Let's shake things up a bit, shall we?


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

White Chocolate Eggs


The age-old affiliation between eggs, bunnies and the religious holiday of Easter will always baffle me. Then again, Santa doesn't make much sense either, but I still love that jolly guy in red. I believe the eggs symbolize new life, but the bunny bit still has me confused. I really can't complain though, the Easter Bunny always delivers for me on the candy front. It does seem, however, that the older I get the less generous the bunny is with candy and the more insistent he is that I get travel-size toiletries, chap stick, and socks. Can never have too much dental floss, I guess... 

Easter is just a couple weeks away and spring has finally sprung. (Well, sorta.The arrival of sunny spring days beckon me outside and away from the kitchen. I absolutely love to bake, but after a winter like this–at least for the Northeast–the last thing I want is to be indoors. I created this dessert as the essential "I'd rather be outside" Easter dessert. It's easy to assemble and absolutely delicious. It's the perfect dessert to finish off a heavy meal, plus the fact that it looks like a giant egg is too darn cute! 

This dessert falls somewhere between a fool and lemon trifle, but since it's served in an edible white chocolate egg, it's so much more. Resting inside the white chocolate "egg" shell lies pound cake, perfectly topped with a sweet whipped cream and a spoonful of tart lemon curd. It's about the cutest thing since the Cadbury Creme Egg–but thankfully not as sweet–and about 5 times the size. Maybe calling them "Ostrich Easter eggs" would be more appropriate. Whatever you decide to call them, they're a huge crowd pleaser. Make all the elements in advance and this dessert really comes together in a pinch. That leaves you with all the time in the world for an outdoorsy egg hunt.





As you can see, there was one casualty. I got a little too excited and snipped the balloon before the chocolate had hardened completely. Patience isn't my finest quality.


White Chocolate "Eggs"
INGREDIENTS 
2 (11 oz) bags of white chocolate chips
8 balloons

DIRECTIONS 
1. In a microwavable bowl, melt the white chocolate in 30 second increments. Stir after each increment, until chocolate is smooth and melted. 

2. Inflate balloons to about 4-inch diameter, then knot. Wipe balloons with a damp paper towel to make sure they're nice and clean. Hold balloons by the knot and dip into chocolate, rotating to ensure plenty of chocolate coverage. Place balloon, knotted side up, on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining balloons to make 8 cups, then set aside to harden. 

3. Use scissors to snip a hole in each balloon. Once balloon is deflated, carefully peel away from chocolate. Set "eggs" aside until assembly. 



Lemon Curd "Yolks"
INGREDIENTS 
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

DIRECTIONS 

1. In a saucepan set over medium-low heat, combine the egg yolks and sugar and whisk until incorporated.

2. Add in the lemon zest and juice, stirring constantly until thickened, or about 8 minutes.

3. Strain the mixture into a clean bowl. Then stir in the cubes of butter until completely melted. (Don't skip this step! Straining the curd is essential.)

4. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming on the top. Then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.


The Greek yogurt thickens the whipped cream, making it rich and creamy.

Whipped Cream "Egg Whites"
INGREDIENTS 
1 pint (16 oz.) cold heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

DIRECTIONS 
1. Beat the cream and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Start on medium so the cream doesn’t splatter, then increase the speed to high once the mixture starts to thicken. 

2. Beat until stiff peaks form, then fold in the Greek yogurt until fully incorporated. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until assembly.

Normally, I'm not one to cut corners, but store bought pound cake is just about one of the greatest inventions of all time. It saves so much time and-assuming you buy a good brand-is actually really tasty. Or, you can always bake it in advance and freeze it for later. 


To Assemble:
1. Cut a pound cake loaf into 1-inch cubes. Place 4-5 cubes in each white chocolate "egg", then top with a few generous spoonfuls of whipped cream. 

2. Place a spoonful of lemon curd on top so it resembles an egg yolk. 

Keep any leftovers refrigerated. 


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Irish Cream Sandwich Cookies


When it comes to celebrating St. Patricks day, we Irish keep things pretty simple: Corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, Guinness, whiskey and Baileys Irish Cream. Baileys is smooth, creamy, goes great with coffee and aside from enjoying it on ice, I try to incorporate it into dessert whenever possible. (See: Baileys Marshmallows) Celebrate the luck of the Irish this year by making these delicious chocolate sandwich cookies, filled with Baileys spiked buttercream. They're festive, boozy and travel well. So whether you're stuck at the office, or lucky enough to be at the pub, bring them wherever your travels may take you this March 17th. 

Irish Cream Sandwich Cookies
Makes 2 dozen sandwiches
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons Baileys

Directions:

1. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. 

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and Baileys and continue to mix until incorporated.

3. Add the flour mixture, mixing until dough just comes together. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until firm.

4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with liners or parchment paper.

5. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the chilled dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Use a circle cookie cutter to cut out 2 to 3" rounds. (I used a 2 1/4" circle cutter.) Gather and re-roll scraps to make more cookies.

6. Place the cookies 1/2 inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes, then cool completely.










Irish Buttercream Filling
Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons Baileys
Pinch of salt
Green decorating sugar

Directions:

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter for about 30 seconds. Turn the mixer on low, then add the confectioners’ sugar.

2. Drizzle in 3 tablespoons of the Baileys and continue to mix until creamy. Beat at medium speed for about a minute, adding more Baileys if needed to achieve desired consistency.

3. Scoop out filling into a zip top bag and snip off about 1/2 inch of the corner.

Assemble the Cookies

Place the green sugar in a shallow dish. Pipe about a tablespoon of filling around the bottom side of a cookie. Top with another cookie, then roll the edge in the green sugar. Cookies will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for about a week.