Pistachio Pudding Cake

When someone successfully defends their PhD thesis in our department, we have a much-loved tradition of making them a personalized cake that ties into their research topic. This week, someone from my group defended, so of course it was cake baking time!

I did some reconnaissance at his practice talk for decoration inspiration, and quickly noticed something distinctly unique: every time “organic aerosol” was mentioned, this little face showed up:

OA_face

OA_venn

He had worked up his own silly image to reference organic aerosol throughout his talk, and boy oh boy did that make decorating a cake easy! Because who wants a cake that looks like this?

OHExposure

No one. Sorry, Dr., it’s a lovely figure for a science paper, but cakes ought to be more fun!

(Well, okay, maybe that would make a very impressive and colorful cake… but I’m a one-woman show here, and holy moly does that look difficult to translate into a cake!! Round faces are much easier and more forgiving.)

Additionally, his research involves putting organic aerosol (not actually living things, just FYI for anyone out there who’s confused by the faces) into a UV-light chamber and “aging” it via oxidation:

OA_chamber

Which he hilariously compared to a tanning bed:

OA_tanningbed

So, BOOM. Theme ready for cake execution!! Only one thing remaining: colored frosting can sometimes be… suspicious. How much coloring do you really want to consume, right? Needing green frosting meant I was looking for a green-flavored item; mint and pistachio sprang to mind. After consuming a fair bit of mint ice cream (three cheers for ice cream for dinner!), I wasn’t feeling the mint cake. I WAS, however, very intrigued by the prospect of a pistachio cake (hello, new flavor I’ve never worked with before!). So, without further ado, the cake to celebrate our newly minted Dr:

PistachioCake

Those ridiculous purple-rolls-in-a-white-box are meant to represent the UV lights in the chamber (hence the label of “New Dr.’s organic aerosol Tanning Bed”)… cut a girl some slack, okay?! I tried my best! And despite the fact that it would be AWESOME, my lab mates wouldn’t let me bring the actual UV lights out of the lab. Apparently something about contamination, safety, blah blah etc… whatever. It would have been cool, and you know it.

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PISTACHIO PUDDING CAKE

*Courtesy of Karlynn Johnston at The Kitchen Magpie*

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons cornstarch

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ cups white granulated sugar

1 (99g) package of instant jello pistachio pudding mix

4 large eggs

¾ cup chopped pistachios (¼ cup reserved for topping, if you desire)

1 ¼ cup whole milk

⅓ cup canola or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

green gel food coloring (if you want a brighter green)

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INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour three (3) 8-inch round cake pans, or one (1) standard Bundt pan (12 cup capacity).

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add in the pistachio pudding mix and combine thoroughly.

4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure each is well mixed.

5. Mix in the chopped pistachios.

6. Combine the milk, oil, and vanilla extract in a bowl.

7. Starting with the dry ingredients, alternate pouring a third of the dry and wet ingredients into the bowl. Mix thoroughly after each addition. After the last addition (which should be wet), mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add a few drops of gel food coloring (before the 2 minute mix) if you’d like brighter green cake.

8. Pour the cake batter evenly into the three cake pans and bake for approximately 50 minutes. The cake is done when a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

9. Invert the cake on a baking rack to cool.

10. Frost with pistachio pudding buttercream icing when the cake is completely cool, and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of pistachios on top if desired.

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PISTACHIO BUTTERCREAM ICING

*Courtesy of Karlynn Johnston at The Kitchen Magpie*

½ cup salted butter, softened

½ cup milk

3 tablespoons pistachio pudding powder

~3 cups powdered sugar

green gel food coloring (if you want a brighter green)

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INSTRUCTIONS

1. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy.

2. In a small bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix until completely dissolved. This is very important! If it is not completely dissolved at this point, you will have gritty icing! And no one likes gritty icing.

3. Beat the pudding mixture into the butter completely. Add a few drops of gel food coloring at this point if you’d like brighter green icing.

4. Add in the powdered sugar slowly (about ½ cup at a time), beating in completely.

5. Chill for approximately 20 minutes to allow the jello and butter to set.

6. Decorate your cake! This makes about 2 cups of icing.

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Mmm pistachio cake… such an unusual, unexpected flavor. It was quite the hit with everyone! Even the doctor of the hour, who normally doesn’t care for cake, said it was very good. Success!

Next time you need to bake a cake, why not venture outside the realm of the obvious and try a pistachio cake? Most people have never eaten a pistachio cake before (me included), so if you’re going to break that wall down, you may as well do it with an exceptional recipe like this one (instead of most pistachio cake recipes that use a boxed cake mix). I promise you won’t regret it. It’s tout à fait délicieuse!

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Red Velvet Fourth of July Cupcakes

red velvet fourth of july cupcake stars

Have you thought about the fact that we’re days away from July, the SEVENTH month of 2013? Where did the first half of this year go?!

red velvet fourth of july cupcakes stars

This also means we are rapidly approaching the Fourth of July! Just for you all, I made these cupcakes in advance so you can try your hand at them for your own July 4th celebrations. Just for you, I endured the puzzled looks of my professors and fellow grad students, who weren’t sure if I had just gotten the dates mixed up (“You do know the Fourth of July is on July 4, right?”) or if I was feeling suddenly patriotic (perhaps as a celebration of the recent SCOTUS rulings?). Just for you, I stayed up way past my bedtime to make these cupcakes and stars, then woke up early to cut out each red and white striped cupcake wrapping, whip up a batch of beautiful blue frosting, and assemble these star-spangled cuties. I did all of this so you can impress your family and friends at your own parties. So please, try these out and let me know how they are received!

fourth of july star spangled red velvet cupcakes

Reasons why I am extra excited about these cupcakes:

  1. I am utterly obsessed with the ease and beauty of adding chocolate decorations to everything (see: my last two posts).
  2. I found these red and white striped cupcake wrappers at You Make Do. For only $1, you get a pdf download of three wrappers with different stripe sizes, and can print off as many as you want! The only downside is you have to individually cut them out, but it’s much cheaper than purchasing pre-made striped wrappers.
  3. I finally ordered some large Wilton tips for decorating cupcakes, and I am completely in love with them. Frosting these cupcakes was such a cinch and so fun. You’ll be seeing more cupcakes on here now that I can actually make them look pretty! If you’re interested, I got: 1M, 2D, 6B, and 2A. A large coupler helps so you can easily switch between decorating tips for the same bag of frosting.
  4. I got a soft gel paste set from Americolor that is absolutely gorgeous (did you see that red velvet above? and how about the vibrant blue frosting?!). I may or may not be regularly pulling the box down from my cupboard just to gaze lovingly at the sweet little bottles of so many beautiful colors just begging to be used…

red and white stripes cupcake blue frosting stars

I’m usually a normal human being. I promise.

july 4 cupcakes american flag

I searched for cupcakes like this when the idea popped into my head, but couldn’t find anything. I found loads of red white and blue cupcakes, cupcakes with sprinkles, swirled cupcakes, american flag cupcakes, etc. but nothing quite like what I wanted. Which is surprising, because these cupcakes are designed to resemble American flags: red and white stripes on the cupcake wrapper, red velvet cupcakes, and blue frosting with white stars on top. Maybe someone’s done this already and I just couldn’t find it? Either way, I am quite pleased with how these turned out and hope you like them, too!

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RED VELVET STAR-SPANGLED CUPCAKES

Makes: 24 cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes:

Barely adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Saveur

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tbsp. cocoa powder

1 tsp. salt

2 large eggs

1½ cups vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk

3/4 tsp. red food coloring gel (liquid requires 2 tbsp.)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. distilled white vinegar

Buttercream frosting:

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

3-4 cups powdered sugar

2-3 tbsp. milk or heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

a pinch of salt

a few drops of blue food coloring gel

Stars:

~8 oz white chocolate chips

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1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line cupcake pans with foil cupcake liners (paper will work, but the grease will stain your red & white outer wrappers more).

2. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt; whisk to blend. In a separate bowl using an electric hand mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar. Beat on medium speed until well blended. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients on low speed and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes.  Let cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. While the cupcakes are baking and/or cooling, make the star decorations. Lay wax paper down on a moveable flat surface (cookie sheets, cutting boards, etc.). Place chocolate in a microwave-safe plastic bowl (not glass). Microwave in 10-second bursts, stirring after every burst. Between 3-5 rounds, you should be able to stir until smooth; you can microwave for additional 5-second bursts once it’s smooth, but do not over-heat! This video by How To Cook That provides a fantastic tutorial for this process. Put the chocolate in a plastic bag and snip off just the tip (don’t cut off too much). Pipe stars of various sizes onto the wax paper, making sure to add a thick “stem” to one of the bottom points (at least 2 cm) that will stick in the cupcake and hold the stars up. I made 3 stars per cupcake for a total of 72 stars, plus a few extras in case I broke any. Put the chocolate stars in the refrigerator to harden up.

5. When you’re ready to assemble the cupcakes, make the frosting. Beat the softened butter, vanilla, salt, and blue food coloring gel together until uniform. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, adding milk or cream as necessary to reach your desired consistency. If you decide to add extra blue food coloring, make sure you mix it in evenly. Scrape the sides of the bowl often.

6. Put the cupcakes in their red and white striped cupcake wrappers. Fill a decorating bag with frosting. Pipe frosting in large swirls on each cupcake, switching decorating tips throughout if you want a mix like I have here. When all cupcakes are frosted, remove the chocolate stars from the refrigerator and gently push them into the tops of the cupcakes.

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red white and blue stars and stripes

Beautiful and easy – my favorite. These sweet cupcakes will make you look like a professional cupcake decorator even though we all picked up paper-cutting and star-drawing skills before kindergarden. They’re just so cute, with the vibrant colors and patriotic vibe!

wilton frosting tips cupcakes

red white and blue cupcakes stars stripes

Have a wonderful Fourth of July!

Black & White Cake

Before I recently moved to my new apartment, I had no idea how I was going to get everything over. Being in the middle of end-of-semester stress, I didn’t have time or energy to think about logistics. I kind of just hoped it would work out somehow. Because that’s how responsible people operate, right? Just fail to plan and keep your fingers crossed that something will come along. It’s exhilarating! (←lies)

Lo and behold, I have some pretty darn amazing people in my life. Alex and her family helped me load and transport my larger pieces using the U-Haul they had rented. They were literally heaven-sent! I couldn’t have made it without them. Furniture moved, I now had to bring over all the “things” I left behind. I didn’t have my bike yet, so I thought briefly about walking stuff over. I estimated I could finish within a week, if I never slept or took any breaks. The appeal factor for this plan was dismal. Luckily, Tommy (ZipCar member) and Dave came to my rescue. I packed up my stuff in bags and boxes, and we transported it to the new apartment… only to find that the elevator was broken.

And of course my new place is on the top floor.

Much laughter ensued as we carried everything up all four flights of stairs. And by “we” I mean “the boys,” because while I was carrying things like lamps and pillows, they were competing to see who could carry the most weight – and I’m pretty good at packing things to be obnoxiously heavy (hey! I wasn’t thinking that the elevator would break!).

In addition to a much-deserved dinner and drinks, I promised the boys a cake for all their assistance. Plus, it’d be perfect because Tommy could come back (with Erika!) and see the place once it was all set up and pretty. I got the requests (Tommy likes chocolate; Erika likes white cake; Dave was down for anything) and put them together to create this:

Black and white cake

Lest you think I simply frosted this cake to be half buttercream and half chocolate frosting, please observe the complete division of flavors:

black and white cut

Yes, this is a cake that is literally half chocolate and half plain white. Yes, I did eat two pieces. Naturally. Who wouldn’t?! You have to try both sides! This cake was a solid winner, although we could barely get through the slices. You see, Erika works in a fancy bakery and is therefore extraordinarily talented at cutting slices. Not just any slices, but thick, decadent works of art. Evidence:

WhiteCakeSlice

Can I please never be in charge of cutting my own cakes ever again? Erika, you are officially hired! Pay will consist of cake slices, and you’ll have to cut them yourself, but hot damn look at how pretty that is…

We mostly all agreed that, while both halves were delicious, the chocolate cake wins because it’s so over-the-top rich and moist. In fact, I’m tempted to make an entire cake of the chocolate side, because the “frosting” is more like a rich fudge ganache that blends seamlessly together with the cake to provide a death-by-chocolate sort of experience. That is not to say the white cake side wasn’t good; it was soft and delicate as white cakes are, and the buttercream tastes like sugary goodness. But I accidentally overcooked the cake (still adjusting to the new oven and I’m convinced it runs too hot), so it bordered on being too dry. Watch your baking times carefully, and you’ll be sure to impress with a cake that pleases both sides of the chocolate vs. plain cake war!

Finally, before I get to the recipe, some notes about orchestrating the creation of this masterpiece without taking all day:

  • I recommend making the chocolate cake first; while it’s in the oven, make the chocolate frosting. This goes in the fridge to harden up.
  • When your chocolate cakes come out of the oven, let them cool for at least 10 minutes before inverting them onto a cooling rack. Wash up your cake pans (if you don’t have four; if you have four pans, you can make the white cake while the chocolate one is in the oven) and get them ready for your white cakes.
  • Make the white cakes and pop them in the oven. While they are cooking, put the chocolate cakes in the freezer and give the chocolate frosting a stir to make sure it’s cooling evenly. This is good time to tidy up the kitchen, because it probably looks like a science experiment gone wrong at this point in the process.
  • When the white cakes come out, let them cool for about 10 minutes and then move them to wire rack and put them in the fridge to cool off a bit (they’re studier than the chocolate cake, so they don’t need to be placed in the freezer). Prepare your cake stand (put down strips of wax paper in a circle that you can remove after decorating – this prevents frosting and crumbs from getting all over your stand).
  • Make the buttercream frosting. Remove the white cakes and cut them in half. Stack these, alternating cake layers with buttercream frosting. When the cake is fully stacked, slather the flat, cut side with a thick wall of buttercream (if the buttercream has “dried” a bit by this point, blend in some extra butter (softened) or milk to make it “sticky” again).
  • Remove the chocolate cake and frosting. Stack these, pushing them against the wall of buttercream as you go. Alternate cake layers with chocolate frosting. You’ll have to cut the last half-circle so that it’s even with the white cake side (you don’t want your cake to be too lopsided!).
  • Put the cake (now with the white and chocolate cake halves stuck together, but no frosting on the outside) in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the cake. Frost the chocolate side with the chocolate frosting, then frost the white side with the buttercream frosting (the buttercream is easier to work with and is thicker than the chocolate frosting, so it should go on second).
  • Finish off with any decorations! I used white and brown sprinkles on opposite sides of the cake to tie it together, but feel free to get creative!

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BLACK AND WHITE CAKE

For the chocolate cake: 

From Smitten Kitchen, originally from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups water

2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs

For the chocolate frosting (but really more like fudge ganache):

12 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

3 tbsp. light corn syrup

4 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 1/2 cup heavy cream

For the white cake:

Adapted slightly from Group Recipes

1 cup + 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

6 large eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

2 tbsp. milk

For the buttercream frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened

1-2 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. heavy cream

3-5 cups powdered sugar

(Sorry I don’t have better estimates on these, I basically just combine things until I like the taste and consistency!)

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Make the chocolate cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Cut out a circle of parchment or waxed paper and line the bottom of each pan; grease the paper. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the oil and sour cream; whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well-mixed. Pour into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly.

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for 10-20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. Like Deb notes, these cakes are incredibly delicate. Put them in the freezer for half an hour to make your life infinitely easier. In fact, it’s going to be essentially impossible for you to make a layer cake out of these cakes if you don’t firm them up in the freezer. They’ll defrost once assembled, don’t worry.

Make the chocolate frosting/ganache:

Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and butter. Heat the cream just until it begins to boil.  Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.  Let stand for 1 minute, then stir until smooth. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator or freezer until firm enough for decorating. (Mine took about 2+ hours to thicken up satisfactorily.)

Make the white cake:

1. Your oven should already be at 350 degrees F, but if you are doing this at a later time, preheat it now. Grease the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, two at a time, and then stir in the vanilla.

3. Combine the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and then gradually add to the creamed mixture until well-mixed. Blend in the milk.

4. Pour into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly. Bake for 30-40 minutes (the recipe calls for 40-45; mine were done at 30 – it just depends on your oven, and I’m still adjusting to our new one), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out just barely clean. Let cool in the pans for 10-20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks and let cool completely. Put them in the fridge to cool even faster.

Make the buttercream frosting:

In a stand mixer, beat together 1 cup of the sugar and softened butter. Mix on low speed until well blended, gradually adding the rest of the sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla extract and cream; continue to beat on medium for 1 minute more, adding extra cream or powdered sugar to reach a spreading consistency. (I used a hand mixer this time because I moved to a new place and won’t have a stand mixer until I can ship mine over from California; it worked just fine, but the frosting was a bit thicker and less fluffy than I would prefer. That’s the magic that only a stand mixer can bring!)

Assemble everything:

1. Starting with the white cakes, cut them in half so you have four half circles. Stack them, alternating cake layers with buttercream frosting. When the cake is fully stacked, slather the flat, cut side with a thick wall of buttercream (if the buttercream has dried a bit by this point, blend in some extra butter (softened) or milk to make it “sticky” again).

2. Next, work with the chocolate cake. Cut them into half circles, and stack them, alternating cake with frosting. This time, though, push each layer against the wall of buttercream as you go. You’ll have to cut the last half-circle so that it’s even with the white cake side (you don’t want your cake to be too lopsided!).

3. Put the cake (now with the white and chocolate cake halves stuck together, but no frosting on the outside) in the fridge for at least 10 minutes. Remove and frost the chocolate side with the chocolate frosting, then the white side with the buttercream frosting (the buttercream is easier to work with and is thicker than the chocolate frosting, so it should go on second). Finish off with any decorations you like. I used white and brown sprinkles on opposite sides of the cake to tie it together, but feel free to get creative!

black and white top view

Sprinkles-Coated Chocolate Cake

sprinkles cake side

 

Well, hello there! So good to see you again.

A few updates, since I’ve been gone so long:

1) The past few months were utter insanity. I didn’t have time to bake, or when I did, it was simple chocolate chip cookies so I didn’t bother sharing with y’all. It was rough: I was so stressed, I couldn’t spare any time to bake. But because I wasn’t baking, I didn’t have a way to properly relax and release stress, so the stress just compounded. Not a fun cycle.

2) I moved! This new place? There are no words to describe its perfection. Huge and spacious, 2 bedroom/2 bathroom (I HAVE MY OWN BATHROOM!!), a private patio deck facing west with killer sweeping sunset views (and coincidentally, looking toward California – lest I forget my return plan!), floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room, beautiful wood floors, a ginormous closet (I could sleep in there comfortably), and a kitchen that is drool-worthy. I’ll post a picture sometime so you can see how glorious it is!

3) We bought a plant for our apartment and named him Martin. He’s an umbrella plant from the tropics and brings some greatly appreciated life to the living room:

martin

4) I finally got a bike! It’s yellow and vintage perfection (3-speed from 1972). I named her Susie. (I’ve been on a naming kick lately. Don’t worry about it. I think it’s a stress-coping mechanism…?)

yellowbike

Summary: I’m sorry I’ve been MIA! I’m sure you did just fine in my absence, but I do apologize. I’m so thankful for summer’s arrival and some time to finally get back into baking and posting again. Although the humidity has me cursing my decision to move here. What happened to weather perfection?! Oh, right. That’s California. *sigh* 4-5 more years…

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Enough of that. Let’s talk cake. Specifically, let’s talk sprinkles on cake. Like this:

sprinkles cake

Drooling yet? I am. But then again, I have a full-blown addiction to sprinkles. So when I noticed a giant jar of sprinkles on the “free” table in the kitchen, I snatched them immediately and began dreaming up this cake. What resulted is a beautiful, deceptively simple, and delicious cake: my favorite chocolate cake + buttercream frosting + chocolate ganache + loads of colorful sprinkles? Yes. I’ll have a huge slice, thankyouverymuch.

By the time I remembered to take a "slice" photo, there was barely any cake left. THAT is how tasty this cake is!

By the time I remembered to take a “slice” photo, there was barely any cake left. THAT is how tasty this cake is!

I’m not going to wax poetic here. This cake needs no justification. Either you adore sprinkles (like me) and will make this purely because LOOK AT IT, or you don’t care for sprinkles and you’ll simply click away from this recipe. Either response is fine.

(Except if you don’t like sprinkles, there’s something wrong with you and you should probably see someone about that.)

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SPRINKLES-COATED CHOCOLATE CAKE

For the cake:

From Smitten Kitchen, originally from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups water

2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs

For the buttercream frosting:

From Gale Gand, on the Food Network

3-4 cups powdered sugar

1 cup salted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. whipping cream

For the chocolate ganache:

From Smitten Kitchen

10 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or a bag of chocolate chips – I won’t tell)

2 tbsp. light corn syrup

1/2 cup half-and-half

Finally, the most important ingredient and the star of this show:

SPRINKLES!! (about 1/2 to 1 cup)

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Make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 8 or 9-inch round cakepans. Cut out a circle of parchment or waxed paper and line the bottom of each pan; grease the paper. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the oil and sour cream; whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well-mixed. Pour into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly among all three.

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. Like Deb notes, these cakes are incredibly delicate. Put them in the freezer for half an hour to make your life infinitely easier. In fact, it’s going to be essentially impossible for you to make a layer cake out of these cakes if you don’t firm them up in the freezer. They’ll defrost once assembled, don’t worry.

Make the frosting:

In a stand mixer, beat together 1 cup of the sugar and softened butter. Mix on low speed until well blended, gradually adding the rest of the sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla extract and cream; continue to beat on medium for 1 minute more, adding extra cream or powdered sugar to reach a spreading consistency.

Make the chocolate ganache:

NOTE: Do not make this until you are ready to pour it on top. You’ll want to pour this while it’s still warm, so wait until you’re ready for it.

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. (Cheater’s shortcut: microwave in short, 15-30 second intervals for a maximum of 1-1.5 minutes and stir until smooth.)

Assemble everything:

1. Place one round of cake on your cake tray or stand (set it on top of wax paper strips so you can remove these at the end and have a clean stand!). Spread frosting on top, pushing it all the way to the edges. Repeat with the other two rounds. Coat the entire cake in a thin layer of frosting (aka a crumb coat) and put the cake in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. When the crumb coat has hardened a bit, pull the cake back out and generously coat it with the remaining frosting.

2. Pour a bunch of sprinkles in your hand, and then gently press them all over the sides of the cake (not on top – that’s going to be covered with chocolate ganache). I used an upward sweeping motion, starting at the bottom with just the edge of my hand and slowly moving my hand up the cake, tipping more sprinkles against the cake as I moved up. Wash your hands as needed to keep them from getting covered with frosting.

3. When the cake sides are covered with sprinkles, make the ganache. Let it cool a little; while it’s still warm, carefully pour it over the top of your frosted cake. Gently push small sections of the chocolate off the top so it drips down the sides in long lines. Take any remaining sprinkles you have and decorate the top with them (as you can see in the photo above, I made a circle).

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And that’s it! You now have a very festive, fun cake perfect for birthdays (what this one was used for) or graduation or anything else you want. You could even vary the cake or sprinkles to fit the mood (perhaps red, white, and blue for the upcoming Fourth of July?). Let me know if you find a creative way to dress up this cake! Enjoy!! 

 

Chocolate Cookie Dough Cake

cookie cake side 2

Sean’s list of acceptable birthday treats were as follows: vanilla ice cream, plain chocolate cake, and plain chocolate chip cookies.

Plain?!

You should know by now that I don’t do “plain.” In an attempt at making something slightly more exciting, I came up with the idea for this cake by combining two of these three acceptably plain desserts. But, before moving forward with my idea, I secured a guarantee from Sean that he would at least TRY the cake. Promise in hand, I searched the internet to see if someone had done anything similar before. The closest recipes I found were on Something Shiny and The Domestic Rebel, both of which made delicious-looking chocolate chip cookie cakes. But because I wanted (needed? I had a promise to fulfill, after all) a chocolate cake base with a buttercream frosting (so as to avoid cookie dough overload and satisfy the birthday requirements), I used those cakes as inspiration for my own creation. And you know what? The birthday boy ate an entire slice. Only folks in my lab will understand, but this is a major success. HUGE. This cake is a keeper for sure!

cookie cake cut

I combined a few great recipes to make this cake. The chocolate chip cookie recipe I adapted from Cooks Illustrated, the chocolate cake recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen, the cookie dough filling recipe comes from Fake Ginger, and the buttercream frosting recipe comes from Gale Gand, on the Food Network. The cookies can be made a day ahead, which makes assembly a breeze. This cake is moist and sweet, loaded with classic flavors and beautiful in its simplicity. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out and hope you like it, too!

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CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Feel free to use your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. This one makes fairly thin, chewy cookies with crunchy edges. It makes a lot more cookies than you’ll need, but who doesn’t want extra cookies? Adapted from Heather Homemade, originally from Cooks Illustrated.

2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour

¾  tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. cornstarch

¾ tsp. sea salt

12 tbsp. (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to just warm

1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg + 1 egg yolk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

(Optional: 1 tbsp. ground instant coffee)

Make the cookies: 

1. Adjust oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions; heat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare two large baking sheets by lining with parchment paper or spraying with non-stick spray.

2. Combine flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt in small bowl with whisk; set aside.

3. In a large bowl with an electric hand mixer, mix butter and sugars together until well combined, about 1 minute. Beat in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla just until combined. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

4. Place by rounded spoonful on the prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies are light golden brown, the edges start to harden, and the centers are still soft and puffy – about 15 minutes. Cool completely on baking sheet.

*Note: if you want to decorate like I do, make a mixture of medium and tiny cookies. For the tiny cookies, roll small balls of dough by hand, about the size of a dime, and cook for ~12 minutes.

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CHOCOLATE CAKE

From Smitten Kitchen, originally from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes.

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups water

2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 8 or 9-inch round cakepans. Cut out a circle of parchment or waxed paper and line the bottom of each pan; grease the paper. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the oil and sour cream; whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well-mixed. Pour into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly among all three.

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. Like Deb notes, these cakes are incredibly delicate. Put them in the freezer for half an hour to make your life infinitely easier. In fact, it’s going to be essentially impossible for you to make a layer cake out of these cakes if you don’t firm them up in the freezer. They’ll defrost once assembled, don’t worry.

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COOKIE DOUGH FILLING

Doubled from Fake Ginger.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Make the cookie dough filling:

Combine the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the flour, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla until well-incorporated and smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

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VANILLA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

From Gale Gand, on the Food Network.

3-4 cups powdered sugar

1 cup salted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. whipping cream

Make the frosting:

In a stand mixer, beat together 1 cup of the sugar and softened butter. Mix on low speed until well blended, gradually adding the rest of the sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla extract and cream; continue to beat on medium for 1 minute more, adding extra cream or powdered sugar to reach a spreading consistency.

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ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS

1. Place one cake round down on your cake platter and cover the top generously with half of the cookie dough filling. Use your hands to press the cookie dough into the place, making sure you go all the way to the edges. Gently put another cake round on top of the filling and spread the rest of the cookie dough filling over it. Top with the third and final cake round.

2. Crumb coat the entire cake with some of the frosting. If you haven’t done this before, I explain it in my banana cake post. Essentially you want to cover the sides and top with a thin layer of frosting to “seal in” all the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake with the crumb coat for at least 15 minutes before frosting the final coat, to make sure the crumb coat sets up.

3. While the crumb coat sets in the refrigerator, cut about 5 large cookies in half. Remove your cake and coat generously with the remaining frosting. You’ll probably end up with some leftover frosting – might I suggest spreading it on your leftover cookies? Just a thought… Gently press the half-circle cookies around the bottom of the cake and small cookies in a circle on top of the cake. 

*TIP: It’s a bit difficult to cut through the cookies on top of the cake (the side ones cut just fine), so I pulled them off as I cut and placed them on each slice afterwards. I also brought extra cookies to put on slices that didn’t get the removed small cookies.

Dennis the Cat Cake (Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Filling and Buttercream Frosting)

A puzzle for you today! One of these photos is a cat and the other is a cake in the likeness of the cat. Don’t worry if you struggle to tell the difference – I know my cake decorating skills are exceptional ;)Dennis cat and cake

Didn’t fool you one bit, did I? Trying to rapidly decorate a cat cake less than an hour before a potluck shouldn’t seem like a good idea. Ever. I’m not sure why I thought that would work out, but let me tell you: it was crazy! So, Dennis the Cat Cake looks a bit rugged because I was running around the kitchen frantically mixing colors, hastily putting them in ziplock bags, and hurriedly pushing frosting around with a toothpick, all while watching the clock tick down and debating the merits between being punctual and bringing a pretty cake. Punctuality won, as you can see.

Dennis is the sweetest “old man” cat that my friends recently adopted… who also kind of looks like he could be in the mafia. To celebrate and introduce him to everyone, they invited us all over for a potluck party. There were some seriously incredible dishes to enjoy: garlic knots, “ants on a log,” warm bread and brie, potato latkes, spring rolls with a spicy sauce, noodles, asian coleslaw, wine… I could barely move by the end of it all! And all this before we even touched the cake. UGH. Luckily this cake was delicious, so it was worth the uncomfortable stomach fullness. But goodness, it was quite the meal.

I had to keep this recipe relatively simple since I’ve never made a shaped cake before and didn’t have any directions to go off of, so I stuck to basics: one of the best chocolate cake recipes ever + a gooey salted caramel layer + buttercream frosting = simple and delicious! Definitely worth trying, even if you just make it a normal layer cake and don’t shape it into a cat’s face.

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CHOCOLATE CAKE

From: Smitten Kitchen, originally from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups water

2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 8 or 9-inch round cakepans. Cut out a circle of parchment or waxed paper and line the bottom of each pan; grease the paper. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the oil and sour cream; whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well-mixed. Pour into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly among all three.

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. Like Deb notes, these cakes are incredibly delicate. Put them in the freezer for half an hour to make your life infinitely easier. In fact, it’s going to be essentially impossible for you to make a layer cake (let alone a cat face) out of these cakes if you don’t firm them up in the freezer. They’ll defrost once assembled, don’t worry.

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SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE

Adapted from: Ree Drummond, on the Food Network

1 packed cup brown sugar

1/2 cup half-and-half

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Directions to make the sauce:

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, mix the brown sugar, half-and-half, butter, and salt. Cook while whisking gently for 5-7 minutes, until it gets thicker (mine started bubbling and turned lightly golden at this point). Add the vanilla and cook one minute more to thicken further. Turn off the heat and remove from the stove. Set aside for use when assembling the cake.

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BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

Adapted from: Gale Gand, on the Food Network

6+ cups powdered sugar (add until you’re satisfied with the consistency)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. half-and-half (vary based on how much powdered sugar you have and what consistency you like)

Gel food coloring

Directions to make the frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together half of the sugar and all of the butter. Start on low speed until well-blended and then gradually add in more sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream or powdered sugar as necessary to reach spreading consistency. Gel food coloring should be beat or stirred in as desired (see directions below for details).

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Directions to assemble the cat cake (or a simple layer cake):

1. Remove the three cakes from the freezer. If they are not flat on top, level off the unevenness using a serrated knife. Place one cake down on your cake plate. Using the buttercream frosting, make a 1/2-inch tall and at least 1/2-inch wide “dam” all the way around the perimeter of this bottom cake. The dam will hold in your caramel, so make sure it’s tall and wide enough to prevent caramel from oozing out.

2. When you are confident in your dam’s ability to hold back the caramel, give your caramel a few stirs (at this point it should be a bit cool – don’t use it right off the stove or you’ll melt the buttercream frosting) and then gently pour it into the reservoir you’ve created in the center of your cake. *Note: if you are making a 3-layer cake (and not a cat face), only pour half the caramel in. Reserve the second half for the next layer, repeating this step.* Gently place a second cake circle on top of the buttercream and caramel.

3. Place the third cake on a flat surface, like a cutting board. From one of the edges, cut out a circle-ish shape for the mouth/nose area (use the edge of the cake as one of the “sides” of this shape, then line up this edge with the edge of your stacked cakes). Attach to the top of your stacked cake with buttercream frosting. From the remainder of the third cake, cut out four ears of the same size and attach them to the cake with buttercream frosting, stacking them two layers high so they are as tall as the cake.

4. Place the assembled cake in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes, then remove and do a crumb coat. If you haven’t done one of these before, it’s basically a very thin layer of frosting that covers the entire cake and seals in crumbs. This way, when you frost “for real,” you don’t end up with cake bits mixing into your frosting and making it look ugly. Refrigerate for another 5-10 minutes to harden the crumb coat.

5. While your crumb coat is setting up in the refrigerator, tint your frosting with the gel food coloring. Think about how many colors you want and how much you need of each color, then mix up colors in different bowls. For this cake, I made a tiny bowl of pink and a tiny bowl of green, and saved a small bowl of white. I colored the rest of the frosting orange. When you’re ready to frost, remove your cake from the refrigerator and have at it! Frost with an offset spatula and decorate with piping bags. Small plastic bags with the tips cut off make for good piping bags if you don’t have any fancy ones. Toothpicks are very helpful for pushing frosting around to make small details. Finish off with chocolate chips for eyes (I used mini ones).

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This cake went over very, very well with everyone – even Dennis! (Notice the hand restraining him? Poor Dennis, we put a tasty buttercream frosting cake in front of him in his honor and we wouldn’t even let him have a lick. We’re cruel.)

Dennis the cat and his cake

And of course, an inside shot. See that caramel oozing out everywhere? Oh, my! And note the buttercream strip at the edge of the caramel – that’s the “dam” I talked about, holding all the caramel in. This isn’t a pretty cake by any means, but I promise you that no one will care about aesthetics after one bite of this cake!

Dennis cake slice

Chocolate Oreo Buttercream Cups

Diabetes, anyone?
These are basically candy. Sugary, delicious candy. Like a chocolate bar. With Oreos and buttercream frosting. Yum. I made about 40 cups and went through four bags of chocolate chips. FOUR. Seriously! The original recipe is only designed to make four individual cups, which is great if you just want to make a few for yourself. But if you’re trying to feed a large group, get the following:

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1 pack of Oreo cookies (this will make 30; if you want more, get 2 packs)
3/4 cups (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
~6 cups of powdered sugar
3 bags semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
Sprinkles!

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Scaled up from: Picky Palate

Prepare according to instructions in the link. I used vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean seeds because, while I do have a vanilla bean, it was expensive and I’m saving it for something special. I also don’t have those cute little short cups she uses, so I made them in regular muffin cups spread out on a baking sheet. Which made them a lot bulkier with a lot more sugar… hence the label as “candy” far more than “baked good” (there also wasn’t any baking, so there’s that!).

A few things:
~I would use less chocolate next time. As they are in the picture, these basically are pure sugar. Go easy on the chocolate!
~Be generous with the buttercream frosting. It’s fantastic.
~Personalize this! For the holidays, use red/green Oreos. Also, dye the buttercream frosting red or green (I meant to do this but forgot; add ~5 drops of coloring when you’re creaming the butter and keep in mind that the color will dilute as you add the powdered sugar). Since the green Oreos are mint flavored, I’d put crushed candy canes on top instead of sprinkles!