what a difference a year makes

Today is my dear husband’s 44th birthday! For the occasion, I baked the same cake I made him last yearCook’s Illustrated‘s Devil’s Food Layer Cake with Whipped Cream Frosting. The difference between last year’s cake and this year’s are 3 1/2 Wilton courses.

Last year’s cake

This year’s cake

The whipped cream isn’t as easy to work with as buttercream icing, but I think I did a decent job. I made the flowers in Course 2 and dried them for future use (I have boxes and boxes!). The leaves are buttercream icing tinted with moss green icing tint.

red velvet package cake

This is the cake I decorated today in my Wilton Course 3 class. It’s far and away my favorite of those that I’ve done so far. Underneath all that fondant is a Red Velvet Layer Cake (from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book) topped with Philadelphia Cream Cheese Frosting.

lemon blueberry muffins

Here are the facts about me and blueberry muffins. I’ve never had a store-bought or bakery-made blueberry muffin that I’ve liked. I generally like my own homemade (from scratch) blueberry muffins (made from a variety of recipes). Lastly, my favorite blueberry muffins are from the packaged mixes that contain the little cans of “wild blueberries.”

My son L. is a great connoisseur of blueberry muffins. He loves them so much that they are his chosen birthday breakfast each July. So who better to critique these muffins from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book? L’s verdict — “They’re really good.” Did I mention L. will be 15 next month? He’s a teen of few words. 🙂

I will elaborate — they are tender and moist, and surprisingly very lemony (there’s only zest in the batter, no juice). In fact, the lemon flavor almost overwhelms the blueberries. This won’t be my go-to blueberry muffin recipe, but it’s wonderful for a change of pace (or for the lemon muffin lovers out there).

oatmeal date cookies

Essentially the same cookie as the oatmeal raisin cookie I made a couple of weeks ago — I just substituted dates for the raisins. I thought they would be amazing, as I LOVE dates, but they were just okay. The relatively pure sweetness of the dates just didn’t contribute anything special to the cookies. I also inadvertently overbaked them; I used my new cookie scoop instead of shaping them by hand, so these cookies were about half the size of the earlier cookies. The overbaking actually makes them quite crunchy and somewhat more interesting texture-wise, but I still prefer the raisins.

san francisco-style sourdough bread

I fed my sourdough starter last week (over six months along now and still alive and well!) and made a couple boules of San Francisco-style sourdough bread. I wasn’t sure what being a “San Francisco-style sourdough” meant exactly, so I did a little research.

According to Peter Reinhart’s Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas For Serious Bread Bakers:

What makes this a San Francisco-style bread is a sour rather than mild starter, a wet rather than firm mother sponge (as in pain au levain), and an intermediate “build.” Using both wet and firm starters develops a more rounded flavor. You could make a dough directly from the barm sponge but it will be slacker and spread out rather than up. It also won’t have as much complexity of flavor. The firm starter makes a big difference; it allows you to step beyond good bread to incredible bread.

And incredible bread it is. In the past 3 days, we’ve had it just about every way you can imagine, including countless grilled cheeses (made with jalapeño jack cheese — so good). In fact, as I type, another batch is proofing… 🙂

awesome pb lovers’ cookies (aka get well soon cookies)

I love reading food blogs, as is evidenced by the lengthy list on the right sidebar. One of my favorites to comb through is Anna Ginsberg’s Cookie Madness. Some months ago, Anna posted the recipe for the Get Well Soon cookies she had created for a sick friend and I immediately bookmarked it for future use. I made them today for L.’s book group gathering and have taken the liberty of rechristening them (just for today) “peanut butter lovers’ cookies,” because (hopefully) none of the kids present are sick. These soft molasses-tinged peanut butter cookies, with chopped up Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Dove Dark Chocolate and Reese’s Pieces, are quite addictive. P., who is not normally a big peanut butter cookie kind of guy, couldn’t stop eating them.

david lebovitz’s strawberry frozen yogurt

I bought an ice cream maker last June, and spent much of last summer making ice cream from the recipe booklet that accompanied the machine. I even made up some recipes of my own. And I was pretty content to leave it at that. There was one ice cream cookbook that piqued my interest though — pastry chef David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. Every time I saw it at my local bookstore, I would look through it longingly but decided I would wait to buy it this summer. Since I am now on a cookbook acquisition moratorium, that purchase will have to wait. Thankfully, David’s recipe for Strawberry Frozen Yogurt is posted on his blog so I don’t have to miss out. The recipe is so simple. First you cut up strawberries, add sugar and let sit for a couple of hours.

Then the strawberries go into the blender with yogurt, a smidge of lemon juice and a dribble of vodka or kirsch (if you wish). Pulse until almost smooth.

Then pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and whirl away until frozen. It takes about 20 to 25 minutes in mine.

Put it in the freezer to freeze until hard. It’s really yummy stuff — so bright and fresh tasting. And I love the simplicity of the ingredients. I just can’t wait for summer weather to come to New England so we can really enjoy it in earnest!

double chocolate chunks revisited

The last time I made these I ran out of confectioners’ sugar and wasn’t able to photograph them powdered as intended. I made these yesterday for an end-of-school-year party. The recipe is from King Arthur Flour and can be found here. Double Chocolate Chunks are soft and cakey, dotted with gooey chocolate chips. The espresso flavor really shines too. It’s rather hard to tell when they’re done since they are so dark and so soft… I’ve found that the best way is to taste one or two!

easy cinnamon bread

Last holiday season I picked up a bag of Hershey’s Cinnamon Chips (a seasonal offering in these parts) with this bread in mind. I’m embarrassed to report that it has taken me until now to get around to baking it. In any event, King Arthur Flour’s Easy Cinnamon Bread is a quirky little offering. Part yeast bread and part quick bread, it tastes like a not-too-sweet cinnamon coffee cake. The cinnamon chips are interesting too — I thought they’d be intense pellets of pure cinnamon flavor, but they are more like cinnamon-tinged butterscotch chips and lend pleasing bursts of spicy ooey-gooey goodness to the bread. I highly recommend having a thick slice, preferably toasted and buttered, alongside your morning coffee.

carrots, cream cheese and fondant

Today was the last day of my Wilton Fondant and Gum Paste class. It’s my usual M.O. to bake a chocolate cake for my Wilton class cakes, although it’s not necessarily my preference. I wouldn’t mind a white cake with raspberry filling or something different every now and again, but I’ve been told by the guys (well, one 11-year-old guy actually) that it has to be chocolate or else they (he) won’t eat it. And I don’t want to be the only one eating all this cake!

However, we’ve had a fair amount of cake in recent weeks, and will continue to, between all the birthdays and my next class, so I decided to be daring and veer off the chocolate path. I baked the Carrot Layer Cake from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book and iced it with Philadelphia Cream Cheese Frosting from the Kraft Foods site. America’s Test Kitchen‘s carrot cake is very basic — just carrots. Some of the other recipes I looked at contained nuts, raisins, coconut and/or pineapple. I couldn’t settle on which of those other ingredients I’d want in my cake so I just decided to go basic. (It’s a good thing too, because P. later told me he wouldn’t have liked any of those other ingredients.) I’ve made the Philly Cream Cheese Frosting many times in the past. It’s a cinch — just 4 ingredients (cream cheese, butter, vanilla and confectioners’ sugar) — and goes great with all sorts of cakes. Try it and you’ll never use canned again.

After icing, I covered the cake and cake board with fondant and added the final touches during the class. I like how it turned out although I do wish I had done something a bit more creative (the ideas were straight from the book) — I tried to come up with something different, but ran out of time. Also, I would’ve liked to use a different color combo (I used these colors in an earlier class) but I was trying to use up the supplies I had.

C. — I know I owe you a purple cake — we’ll see what Course 3 brings.

And lastly, as always, I’d like to thank my instructor, Evelyn, for her unwavering support and endless patience.

Favor box atop the cake.