Friday, August 20, 2010

a light yellow butter cake frosted with vanilla buttercream and decorated with dense, sweet fondant


Fondant is a smooth, sugary frosting that can be rolled out, colored and shaped. It's popularly used in wedding cake and the magnificent cake constructions made on about five different shows of the Food Network. Traditionally, it looks pretty and tastes terrible--it's considered a wrapper and is left discarded on most plates. However, this recipe, made with marshmallows (seriously) and powdered sugar, is quite tasty. This is my first adventure with fondant or any kind of fancy cake decoraintg.

First we must start with making the fondant. It lasts very well in the fridge (several weeks, some say), so I advise making it in advance so all you have to do on cake-constructing day is take it out and unwrap it. Making the fondant takes a goodly amount of time--or, rather, cleaning up afterwards does.


Marshmallow Fondant
16 oz. white mini marshmallows
2-5 Tb water (a thought: change this out with a flavored liquid like orange juice for a slightly flavored fondant)
2 lbs powdered sugar
1/2 C Crisco, for greasing hands (I never said this wasn't messy, boys and girls)

First, put on an apron or some old clothes. Then, clear a space in your kitchen. Get a clean space to knead your fondant on (a cutting board works nicely) and put a small bowl of Crisco beside it. Grease the cutting board a little, too.

Next, melt the marshmallows and the water together. You can do this in a large glass bowl in the microwave or, as I did, in a metal bowl put over a small pot of simmering water. Dump about half the powdered sugar on top of the marshmallows and dump the whole thing onto the cutting board.


Grease your hands generously. Trust me, this sticky. Knead, carefully, until the sugar is fully incorportated, then add the rest of the sugar in batches until smooth. Knead until the fondant can be rolled into an elastic ball. If it's tearing or you see little patches of dry sugar, add a little water, but conservatively.

When you're done, roll it into a ball, coat it in a little Crisco, wrap it in plastic wrap (I suggest two layers), and refrigerate until you're ready to use it.


Now we have to consider the cake. I didn't want to do white cake, because that says weddings, so I went with a nice yellow. The difference between a white cake and a yellow cake is the white cake has egg whites and the yellow does not (sometimes; I'm sure there are different kinds of white and yellow cakes too). This recipe is from, one of my favorite baking sites (my favorite scone recipe hails from here, as does my lemon curd). The procedure is not the normal cake procedure; it's much more like a scone with extra liquid. The batter is not very smooth, and I was a little worried, even though I trust this site. The cake comes out fine in the end, however.

If anyone recognizes this symbol, you have excellent manga tastes. This cake was for a friend who definitely recognized this symbol.

I baked this in small straight-sided ramekins or custard cups. I wanted to be able to make several different cake designs; the major purpose of this whole endeavour was to practice my nonexistent cake decorating abilities.

Yellow Cake
I got about ten little cakes out of this recipe
2.5 C cake flour
1/2 C AP flour
1 1/2 C sugar
4 tsp baking powder
12 Tb butter
4 egg yolks
1 egg

1 C milk
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.

Beat butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, 3/4 tsp salt (if using unsalted butter), and 1/4 C milk for about two minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the yolks, remaining milk (3/4 C), and vanilla. Beat to combine.

Fill baking dishes halfway and bake for 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted at their centers comes out dry. Let cool.

For a bird-watcher friend.

Before doing anything with the fondant, you have to crumb-coat each cake with buttercream frosting. The frosting serves both to smooth out the surface of the cake and to act as an adhesive for the fondant.

Buttercream Frosting
Betty Crocker's Vanilla Buttercream recipe
3 C powdered sugar
1/3 C butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
splash of milk (enough to just get it the right consistency, 1-2 Tb)

Beat sugar and butter together until smooth, then add vanilla. Slowly drizzle in milk until it reaches a soft, spreadable consistency. If you accidently add too much, just add a little more sugar.


Constructing the cakes

In the center of your serving platform, place a dab of buttercream. This will help hold the cake in place. Ease a cake out of the ramekin and place it on the frosting. Frost the cake with the buttercream. This does not have to be very pretty. Mine certainly wasn't.


Now, set up a playing-with-fondant area. You need:
a board to roll the fondant on; if you are coloring the fondant, get a second cutting board to roll out the colored fondant on.
a rolling pin
a bowl with a few Tb of Crisco
a bowl of corn starch
a few toothpicks
a pizza cutter
a paring knife or other small knife
a cake spatula, if you have one
food coloring of your choice

I'd also recommend an apron.


Grab a hunk of fondant and place on the board, which has been dusted with corn starch. Coat the rolling pin in corn starch and roll the fondant out into a large circle. Try to get it as thin as you can without it ripping when you pick it up. I got much better at judging this as the days went on (three of them! I like playing with my food).

Lay the fondant circle over the frosted cake and press it into the sides. Use the pizza cutter to trim away the extra at the base.

Now you can add decorations.


Color fondant by adding a few drops of food coloring and kneading it into a hunk of dough. If you don't like your hands being multicolored for days, wear food-safe gloves. I found coloring fondant made it more wet and likely to tear. Adding a little cornstarch dried it out and adding a little Crisco made it more flexible.

To make strips, roll out the fondant thin and use the pizza cutter to cut strips of whatever size you wish. Wet the cske's fondant lightly where you want to put the strip, and then carefully lay the strip down and press it into place.


If there are cornstarch sprinkles all over your cake, you can brush them off with your fingers or rub them into the fondant.

To make flowers, I liked using the scraps from the main fondant covering. Take a long thin strip of material and wrap it around and around, gathering at the base. Practice a little with scraps and see what happens.

Toothpicks can be used to adjust fondant on the cake or to make small details.

The letters were written with the flat of a toothpick. The sprinkles were applied with the wet edge of a spoon.

Be creative and have fun. If you do any playing, I'd love to see pictures!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

a moist and savory acorn squash and mushroom bread pudding, topped with sharp cheddar cheese


I had a big ol' acorn squash (after this recipe, I still have a big acorn squash because I used less than one quarter of it; for what I did with the rest click here) and a bag full of button mushrooms and I thought they'd work well together. These flavors together sort of put me in mind of buckle-hatted pilgrims and other elementary school illustrations about Thanksgiving.

The plan was for quiche, but this quiche turned out a little less like a quiche and a little more like a savory bread pudding, so that, I decided, is what it is. Tasty, though not what I intended. My custard soaked into the crust; maybe I didn't cook the custard long enough before I poured it into the crust; maybe I should've used cream or 2% milk instead of nonfat (all I had in the fridge). I think probably the latter. Your thoughts?

Savory Acorn Squash and Mushroom Bread Pudding
If you cut the quiche into twelveths, one slice has approx. 160 calories and 14 carbohydrates.

Make AB's Pie Crust. This is my favorite pie crust because it's both fairly simple and very delicious. It transformed into something rather different by the end of the evening, but it added its normal tasty, tender, flaky self to the party.


1 C acorn squash, cubed
2 C mushrooms, halved
1/2 onion, diced
3 eggs
2 C milk (I used non-fat, but feel free to substitue some 2% or even cream for a richer quiche)
1/4 C grated cheese (I used cheddar, because we had it, but pick any cheese you like)

Roast squash in the oven for 15 minutes. To save time, just stick the squash in the 425 oven when you're pre-baking the crust.

Meanwhile, brown the mushrooms and onions in a frying pan. Add the vegetables to the pre-baked crust.

Heat the milk in small pot. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Temper them together by adding small amounts of the hot milk to the eggs and whisking quickly. When about one third to one half of the milk has been added, pour the rest in and whisk together.


Pour egg and milk mixture over the squash and mushrooms. Sprinkle on the grated cheese evenly.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. The center will still wiggle a bit when shaken, but the edges should be firm. AB suggests you let it cool 15 minutes before serving.


What have you made that turned out tasty but completely different from what you expected?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

tender and flaky pie crust


This is my favorite pie dough by far. It takes some time, but most of that's just fridge time. It simple, clean, and easy--and, the most important, delicious.

Basic Pie Crust
adapted from Alton Brown's lovely "I'm Just Here for More Food (food x mixing + heat = baking)."

6 Tb salted butter
2 Tb shortening
1 1/4 C flour
cold water

Stash the butter and shortening in the freezer while you step up the food processor. It is important the fats be firm and solid while you form the dough and freezing them gives us a bit of extra insurance.


Put the flour (and a generous pinch of salt, if you're using unsalted butter. I use salted because I'm too lazy to buy more than one type of butter) in the bowl of the food processor. Add the cold butter and pulse 8-10 times. You should have pea-sized bits of flour-coated butter floating around. Add the shortening and pulse a few times more, until the mixture looks like rough bread crumbs.


Get your fingers wet and dash in a few drops of water. Pulse three times. Dash a few more drops of water in. Pulse three times. Keep doing this until the dough forms a ball. Be very careful not to over-water it. Sometimes it will seem too dry, but if you wait a moment, the water will soak in and the dough will roll itself up nicely without any extra water.

Wrap the dough, which should be fairly soft, in plastic wrap and stash in the fridge for at least a half hour. This solidifies the fats and also gives the starch a chance to soak up the water and relax. Meanwhile, stash two pie tins and a cookie sheet in your freezer (this is more insurance for later). Leave the dough in the fridge until about an hour and a half or more before you want the quiche piping hot and ready.


AB recommends using a large ziplock bag instead of two sheets of plastic wrap like I am going to, but I didn't have any ziplocks available. (This was a spur-of-the-moment quiche crust). I do recommend ziplocks over plastic wrap, though, because there're a little simpler.

Unwrap the cold dough on top of the cookie sheet you stashed in the freezer. Cut a second piece of plastic wrap and lay it over top.


Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a large, thin, circle. The easiest way I know to do this is to roll straight away from yourself, and turn the cookie sheet a little before each roll.


Put one frozen pie tin face up in the center of the pie dough. (Grease the inside of the other.)


Carefully flip the cookie sheet, dough, and tin over. Remove the cookie sheet. Peel off the bottom (now top) layer of plastic wrap.

Lay the greased pie tin face down onto the dough.


 Flip the tin, dough, and tin over. Remove the first tin (presently on top).


Trim the edges of the dough. Dock the dough (poke a few holes in the bottom to let steam escape).

Blind bake (bake empty) in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Fill with something delicious.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Florida, the Space Coast


Papa, little sis and I just spent a week in Florida, visiting Mum, who has been there for a month and is staying for at least another half a month (providing the launch date does not slip any more than it already has). Her satellite, which she has been working on for years and years, is launching out of Cape Canaveral. Yes, my mom is just that cool.


My computer broke in the Denver airport, which is why this post is late. But you forgive me, don't you?


 So, by "we just went," I mean we got back a week and a half ago. And by "Mum's still there," I mean she got back last night and is presently watching Sabrina in the living room (the remake with Indiana Jones in it). But better late than never, right? Enjoy the pictures; they're courtesy of mostly little sis and I think one from Papa.


Before this trip, I had never had key lime pie, Dunkin' Donuts, hush puppies, or seen a man fish for crabs with a raw chicken leg and a string. I had never played Scrabble on a covered porch in a thundershower, tasting pie and sipping coffee.

We found a family on a river shore catching crabs by tossing raw chicken legs, tied to a string, into the water. 

On the Banana River, one afternoon, we stopped at a waterfront park named for the manatees that flock off its shore, occasionally gracing us with snorts of their nostrils at the surface or a flick of a mermaid tail. Patience was necessary for a sighting. A grumpy old fisherman was catching bait in the shallows.


He used the word "critters" and complained about the giant cruise boats bringing in barracudas that blocked in the shade underneath and scared away all of his fish. A great blue heron stalked him, waiting for the small wriggling fish the fisherman would toss to him. The heron would spear the fish, rinse it briefly, and devour, to his audience's delight. The grumpy old fisherman was not as grumpy as he wanted us to believe.


This kid was so thrilled to be in the water. His obvious excitement made the day even more beautiful.

Florida was big breakfasts, grits and hot coffee, pecan pie, Dunkin' Donuts (our first exploration of that chain), fresh fish, and a Cuban influence of tostones and platanos maduros, beans and rice, pork and soffrito. We counted restaurants along the road, comparing it to home. There were flurries of steakhouses, New England-style eateries, Cuban bistros, bbq joints, and Thai/Japanese restaurants (why this combination? I don't know, but there were tons). The chains were Publix groceries, IHOP, Waffle House (as Papa says, "a step below Denny's"), Cracker Barrel (as Papa says, "a step above Denny's"), Sonny's BBQ.

Stopping for a little gator jerky...

In a fit of adventure, we stopped at the edge of the freeway and bought alligator jerky and boiled peanuts from a man selling them out of the back of his red truck. He gave us tastes of juicy watermelon; peaches, honey, and oranges also lined the bed of his truck.


The gator jerky, made by his uncle (I asked), was flavorful and lighter than beef jerky, milder than turkey jerky. The boiled peanuts (another first; a request from little sis, who was not too impressed) were soft in their shells, like peanut butter but with slightly more body.

Alligator jerky and boiled peanuts, bought on the side of the Flordia freeway.

Florida was orange juice and grits, palm trees and climbing vines, and hanging, ghostly Spanish moss. The humidity was suffocating, but not as bad as expected. Florida was spiders and mosquitoes, alligators and manatees.

It was ribboned squares on the beach where sea turtles had laid their eggs in the dark of night. The Atlantic was warm and gentle on white sand beaches and the air smelled of crushed flowers and salt.

DSC_2730It was a good adventure.