Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cake Wrecks

Melinda over there in England sent me a couple of emails recently.

#1: she told me about her mishaps in the latest Lazy Bakers assignment, and sort of warned me off of it. It was the Pecan Toasting Bread Thingy, and I just may heed her advice. I'm not making any promises--I might just try out of sheer stubbornness.

#2: she alerted me to a freaking good website that is now going into my blogroll: Cake Wrecks.

Cake Wrecks posts about these appalling cakes baked by "professionals." There are ridiculous grammar mistakes, terrible color choices, poor excuses for piping, and at least one amazingly sunken wedding cake. And these are from professionals! People paid for these!

I love Cake Wrecks. Thanks Melinda!!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shannie's Engagement Cupcakes

As some of you may know, my sister is getting married in five weeks.

Five weeks!!!! Holy crap!

Last weekend I flew down to California for her bachelorette celebrations. One of Michele's bridesmaids, Shannon, offered up her parent's house in Carmel Valley for the weekend. Michele really liked the idea of a relaxing weekend by the pool with her best girl friends, so it was a go.

Shannon had a hard winter/spring with a cascade of illnesses that had us all worried. She kept telling me that she was determined to be better by the bachelorette weekend, and that she wanted us to keep our original plans, which meant she would be hosting all of us at the house. We crossed our fingers, made contingency plans, and waited.

Then, the weekend before the bachelorette, Shannon got engaged! She was also sounding much, much healthier, and so the party was on.

My sister wanted to do a little something for Shan, a little champagne toast and maybe cake, to celebrate her and all the good things coming her way.

I perked up at the mention of cake, and told Michele that I was thinking of baking cupcakes anyway. So it was agreed that I'd do some engagement cupcakes for Shannon. And it was agreed that I would cheat, so that I wouldn't spend too much time on them.

July 12, 2008
Name of cupcakes: Shannie's Engagement Cupcakes
Occasion: Shannon's Engaged!
Constituents: Chocolate and Butter Cupcakes (from a mix) frosted with Chocolate or Vanilla Frosting (from a tub) with Silver Dragees

There isn't much to blog about regarding these cupcakes as I made them from mixes, and frosted them with tub frosting. I made four different kinds of cupcakes: chocolate/chocolate, chocolate/vanilla, vanilla/vanilla, and vanilla/chocolate. Obviously my favorite was the vanilla cake/chocolate frosting.

I will say, in defence of cheating, that these cupcakes were the best box cupcakes I've had. So if you are going to cheat, use Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe. That Golden Butter Mix requires you to actually use BUTTER, not oil, and that is probably why it was so surprisingly good.

The girls made a significant dent in the cupcakes that night, and many were brought home to their husbands and children. Michele and I brought back 4 to share with mom and dad, and everybody was happy.

shannon's engagement cupcakes!

Michele's Bachelorette Weekend--a flickr photoset

Sunday, July 06, 2008

GF Carrot Cupcakes, With or Without Carrot

My dearest friend Regenia, one of my gluten-free girls, hoofed it off to Thailand and India last fall with her man David Spencer. There was a whole lot of uncertainty around their returning to the States and our little corner of it, so when I dropped them off at the airport it was with much excitement for them and a little sadness for me. I was going to miss my friend and her boyfriend who kept me laughing.

About six weeks ago, I got an email from them that said they were coming back! My other gluten-free girl, Annmarie, and I conspired to throw them a "hey you came back!" party. Annmarie asked me to make the GF, sugar-free carrot cupcakes that were such a hit last year for Allie's party. And so I did.

July 6, 2008
Name of cupcakes: GF Carrot Cupcakes, With or Without Carrot
Occasion: Regenia and David Spencer came back!
Constituents: Gluten-free, sugar-free carrot-pecan-coconut cupcakes, carrot optional, and sugar-free cream cheese frosting

GF Coconut-Pecan-Carrot Cupcakes

I have posted this recipe before, but I changed it up with great improvement so I am reposting it. If you like your carrot cake/cupcakes spicy and bursting with layers of flavor, this one will be your new favorite. If you are trying to stay away from cane sugar, this cake is for you. If you are trying to cut down on your fat intake, this recipe is for you. And obviously, if you have celiac or are gluten-sensitive, this cake is for you.

If you eat wheat, butter, and bleached white cane sugar this cake is still for you. I guarantee that you will never notice the difference.

Oh yes, and if you are carrot intolerant, this carrot cake recipe is for you, too.

Gluten Free Coconut-Pecan Carrot Cupcakes

based on a recipe from Three Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery by Seppo Ed Farrey with Myochi Nancy O'Hara

makes about 36 cupcakes

  • one cup gluten-free flour mix
  • 1 3/4 cup brown rice flour (I was going to use sorghum flour here but the grain moths got to it) (but if you try it with sorghum, let me know how it turns out)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3 tsp xanthan gum
  • 3 tsp ground Saigon cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom (the freshly ground the better)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup light agave syrup
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup, grade B
  • 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 3 1/2 cups packed grated carrot
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted

Now pay attention to the ingredients, kids. There's a lot of prep time in them. You've got to grate carrots, chop and toast pecans, toast coconut. You've got to zest the orange, let the eggs come up to room temperature. There's a lot to get in place here. And be sure to keep those grated carrots in plain view.
Assemble all your dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together to aerate and mix well. Set aside.

Using a stand or hand mixer, blend the applesauce with your sweeteners. Mix well. Add the eggs and beat until frothy. Add the vanilla and orange zest and blend together for a minute or so.

Add the dry ingredients and mix well to aerate the batter. If you are using a stand mixer, beat at medium speed for a minute or two. If you are using a hand mixer beat on high.

Using your favorite wooden spoon or silicone spatula/spoonula, mix in the coconut and pecans. If you are making carrot cupcakes with carrot, add the carrot now too.

Or, if you want to be like me, forget to add the carrot to your carrot cupcakes until you've scraped the batter into all the cupcake cups and have slid the first 12 into the oven to bake. Then, as you are cleaning up, you'll notice a very full bowl of grated carrot on the counter and think to yourself, "did I really forget the carrot?


Your batter will be thick and a little sticky. Spoon the batter into your cupcake cups and smooth out the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Fill each cup about 3/4 full if you would like a nice high cupcake. These guys don't rise much.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes; remove cupcakes from pan and let cool completely before storing airtight.

In my case, I scraped the batter out of the remaining cupcake cups and back into the bowl. And then finally, I added in about 1.75 cups of grated carrot and mixed well.

My friends were hanging out on the couch and we all laughed that I forgot the carrot in the carrot cupcakes. That's like forgetting the chocolate in a chocolate cake!

The first batch of carrot cupcakes, the without-carrot batch, came out of the oven looking pretty silly. I only have one cupcake tin so I usually line up a bunch of foil cupcake liners on a cookie sheet and use that for one of the batches. In this case it was the without-carrot batch, and I didn't take the time to smooth out the batter so the little guys baked up looking like little rocks! I was very amused. They were cute, in a very silly way.

GF Coconut-Pecan-Carrot Cupcakes

But they taste good, even without carrot!

The cream cheese frosting is a hybrid of the one in the Three Bowls book and the one I pilfered from the internet many years ago.
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting, sugar-free

  • 3/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 boxes cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • light agave syrup, to taste

Beat the butter until light and creamy. Add the cream cheese, vanilla, salt, and orange zest and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides.

If you prefer your frosting thick and dense, mix in the agave syrup by hand. Sweeten to taste.

If you prefer a light, airy frosting, beat in the agave syrup with your mixer. Sweeten to taste.

Use immediately, or store in refrigerator until ready to use. Let frosting come up to room temperature (about 30 min) and rebeat until desired consistency is reached before using.

(Post Party Report)
The cupcakes were a big hit with all the partygoers. People allowed themselves to indulge in these little cupcakes since they weren't so terribly unhealthy, which made me feel good. We left the cream cheese frosting on the side, for those who like to avoid dairy, but pretty much everyone frosted their cupcakes. Some even went back for just a spoonful of frosting!

Welcome back to Oregon, Regenia and Spencer! No matter where the winds take you, may you always be surrounded by people who love and feed you in every way.

GF Coconut-Pecan-Carrot Cupcakes

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

Joelf's niece recently married her college sweetheart in New Orleans. I'm told it was a very humid and sweet ceremony, but her side of the family was a little underrepresented. Most of her extended family and their friends live up here in Oregon, Washington, and Montana. So this weekend, they rented a lovely house on the beach in Lincoln City and hosted a Pacific Northwest reception for all of their friends and family. Joelf's sister, the mother of the bride, asked if I would make a cake for the reception. In the shape of a guitar, to go with the Victorian Rock 'n' Roll theme of the wedding.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes


June 28, 2007
Name of cake: Hey We Made a Guitar!
Occasion: Scarlett and Hunter Tied the Knot
Constituents: Two Half-Sheets of Red Velvet Cake, filled and frosted with vanilla "butter"cream frosting, cut and arranged in the shape of an electric guitar

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

First off, Joelf helped me with this project every step of the way. I couldn't have done it without his help, so thank you Joelf!! We are awesome!

Since the wedding theme was Victorian rock 'n' roll, the wedding colors were red and black, and the groom as well as the wedding and where they met and live is the South, it seemed obvious that the cake had to be red velvet.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

I gave Joelf the task of finding a nice graphic of an electric guitar and printing it out--preferably as big as the cake would be. He found a pretty good photo that we needed to enlarge just a little bit, but it was good.

I hoofed it over to my favorite cake place, the Decorette shop, to buy a half sheet pan (12x18x2). The ladies over there may not be the friendliest ladies ever, but they sure are knowledgeable. My gruff lady helper reminded me that a full sheet pan wouldn't fit in my oven (I asked if they carried any), told me that the pan I was holding requires 3 boxes of mix and serves 80 people if we cut 1 inch by 2 inch slices.

Over the next few days we also bought from the Decorette store:
  • three 3 lb tubs of "butter"cream frosting (I know--cheating! Yucky! But also: sanity!)
  • spray-on pink frosting tint (like edible spray paint)
  • one full sheet cardboard base
  • one half-sheet cardboard base
  • enough decorative black foil to cover both cardboard bases
  • one full sheet cake box
  • one half sheet cake box
  • red food paste gel stuff
  • brown food paste gel stuff
  • small silver dragees

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

I also put Joelf on the task to round up a scrap piece of lace. More on that in a minute.

When the gruff lady told me that the pan would hold 3 boxes of mix, I thought about exactly how much cake batter I could possibly be creating from scratch...A LOT. That's a lot of potential ECL meltdowns. Since I already bought fake frosting, why not? Why not buy cake mix from a box??

So that's what I did--I bought 6 boxes of cake mix. And it was on sale!

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

However, nobody in Portland carries Red Velvet cake mix anymore. Luckily, I happened upon a copy of The Cake Mix Doctor while shopping and looked up Red Velvet cake...she suggested using a German Chocolate cake mix, and adding to it 1 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup oil, 1/2 cup water, 3 eggs, 1 bottle red food coloring, and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Excellent.

Joelf asked me to bake up the cakes on Thursday while he was at work and I wasn't. No problem!

I looked at my cute little KitchenAid and decided it was too small to mix all three boxes at I mixed 2 boxes in one stage, moved it to another big bowl, mixed the last box, added it to the big bowl, and hand mixed in the food coloring. I wished for an electric hand mixer, because with one of those nifty appliances I could have mixed all 3 mixes plus the food coloring in one fell swoop in the big bowl and saved some time, plus some shoulder and arm pain. Oy, my aching shoulder!

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

Rose recommends baking a 12x18 pan for 35-45 minutes, so off the first layer went and I began to clean up. Annmarie and I were going to the Death Cab For Cutie show in about 90 minutes--I had to get the next round of cake mix ready and I was starting to panic about getting the cake done before I left for the show. I got all the ingredients readied for the second round and got myself ready too.

The first cake came out after about 40 minutes and I set it to cool. I suspected that with such a giant cake it would need more than 10 minutes to cool enough before it would be safe to take it out of the pan, but I wanted to get the second layer's batter in that freakin pan now. As soon as 10 minutes passed I hauled the cake out, and it didn't fall, but it certainly looked a little worse for the wear. Who cares, I thought, it can be the bottom layer.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

After scraping the second round of cake mix into the pan, I shoved the whole mess in the refrigerator, turned off the oven, ran out the house and called Joelf to instruct him on how to bake the cake when he got home.

Annmarie and I experienced a great modern rock 'n' roll show by Death Cab for Cutie. It was at an outdoor venue on a lovely summer evening. It was great!

Death Cab for Cutie at Edgefield

That night I came home to two baked red velvet cakes. I wrapped them both in lightly greased saran wrap (no easy task) and hit the hay.

Joelf took Friday off of work so that he could pack up most of the apartment to take with him to the beach (did I mention the party was at the beach?) and to help assemble the cake. We had decided to cut the cake into 3 parts: the guitar body, and the fret board in 2 pieces. I reminded Joelf that we needed to fill and layer the cake before cutting it, so I used about 1.5 pounds of frosting to make a thin layer, and he helped me flip the top layer onto the bottom one. I am telling you, these cakes were huge. Each layer was just about 2.25 inches high so when put together it was quite a tall cake. Just after we layered the cakes, I realised I forgot to level them off which I didn't think was too big of a deal; the top layer was fairly level to begin with.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

While I was filling and layering, Joelf copied the guitar template onto paperboard. He free handed the drawings, as he needed to make them a little bigger than the graphic he had printed out. He then cut out the three pieces, laid them on the cake, and with a bread knife, began cutting the cake. His naturally OCD ways really come in handy with this type of work. With a careful, sawing motion he cut around his templates, and we piled the discarded cake on a plate as we pulled it free.

Within minutes we had three distinct pieces of an electric guitar-shaped red velvet cake on the table...and lots of discarded cake to munch on. We felt awesome. It looked so great! All we had left to do was frost it! No problem!

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

We frosted the top of the guitar body with untinted frosting. We had a plan, don't worry.

About this time we noticed that I had gone through almost a whole tub of frosting, just for the filling and the top of the guitar. We still had the 4.5 inch high sides to do, plus the top and sides of the fret board. Joelf and Wilman went back to the Decorette store for another 3 lb tub, and I got to work making red frosting.

I decided to use the KitchenAid to mix up the frosting with the food dye, and I am glad. Otherwise I would have thoracic outlet syndrome on both shoulders. It took pretty much the whole bottle of red food dye (there were two bottles of red food gel at the beginning of this story) to tint 3 cups of frosting a reddish color. I began frosting the sides of the guitar.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

Frosting the sides of a wavy object is quite difficult. At this point I wished I had done a crumb coat and sat the cake in the refrigerator for a bit, as I was smearing crumbs all over the place. I finally discovered that if I left a thick amount of frosting between my spatula and the cake, the crumb smearing could almost be prevented. And anyway, the cake was red and so was the frosting; not a big deal.

I finally got the whole guitar body frosted, and I was thankful that this was the crusting kind of frosting as this kept the red and white frostings from smearing into one another at the top corners. Cookie, the crusty frosting enthusiast, will be getting a 3 lb tub of this stuff for Christmas.

On to the fret board. Only half of the fret board would fit with the body of the guitar on the full sheet board. The other end of the fret board was on the half sheet board, and would be transported separately. Joelf and I planned to bring all the leftover frosting with us so that we could slide the two halves together and patch them up with some frosting.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

There was a small problem concerning the fret board and the guitar. The half that joined to the body of the guitar was leaning at a very serious angle, in fact we were afraid it would fall over entirely. This is when I wished I had leveled both cake layers. We tried to shove some cardboard under the edge that was tilting to right it, but as I began frosting the fret board (with tinted brown frosting) it began to fall towards the other side. What the hell, I thought, and pulled out the wedge. Who cares! Everybody is going to be impressed as it is, nobody will care that it is crooked!

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

Joelf also suggested we put a bunch of roses right at the join, to cover up how funny it looked. Agreed.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

Small problem: we had placed large sheets of waxed paper underneath the cakes when we were flipping, filling, layering and cutting, and didn't bother to move them out before frosting. We were working right on the foil-lined cake boards and I didn't want a bunch of greasy frosting all over them, so I thought leaving the waxed paper would be great. Usually, I tuck in little strips of paper just under the edges to protect the work surface, but these big sheets were already there and so I didn't think anything of it. Except that, as I went to pull out the waxed paper, the cake started to come with it too leading to much cake tearing and a lot of swearing. The ECL cake tantrum began. I kept myself sort of in check, but I swore a lot and sent Joelf and Wilman away. (They were hovering. I can't handle that when I'm mad.)

Joelf, before I sent him packing (pun intended!) said to leave the paper and we'd just cut it off close to the edge of the cake. With a huff I told him he was doing that job.

I patched up the cake with more frosting (that stuff is like spackle!) and called Joelf for the fun part. We had decided to spray paint a lace pattern on the top of the guitar (for the Victorian part of Victorian rock 'n' roll). Joelf grabbed his lace square, laid it flush on the crusted white frosting, and spray painted away with the spray-on frosting. I wish we had black spray on frosting, but the pink was fine too. And it worked! Awesome.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

I put the cakes in their boxes; Joelf and Wilman headed out to the coast. I laid on the couch to regroup.

At about 9:30 that night (3 or 4 hours later) I finally got myself, my stuff, and two giant cake boxes into the car and on the way to the beach. Everything went fine until I got into Lincoln City around 11:45, when two stupid dogs wandered into the road, causing me to slam on my bakes. As I did so, I heard a sliiiide and a thump from the cake boxes. Stupid dogs.

At the house we took a look at the cakes and they weren't too badly damaged. It was gonna be all right. Really.

The next day Joelf attached the two pieces of the fret board (with more spackle) while I made a bittersweet ganache (I made about 4x too much ganache, and sadly we never ate it). I piped 3 guitar strings (good enough) and lined the top edge of the cake (covering up the holes where the red and white frosting did or did not come together). Then I lined the bottom edge of the entire cake (covering up some of the waxed paper, but Joelf did a really good job cutting that and you really couldn't tell in most places).

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

Joelf borrowed a pair of (disinfected and clean) tweezers from Charlotte and he applied the silver dragees in lines across the fret board, and made a heart on the guitar.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

Then he beheaded a bunch of red and white roses, which we scattered across the black foil. He took 3 roses and stuck them in the side of the cake to represent the tuning knobs. We covered up the weird join between the neck and the body with 3 roses and some baby's breath, and we were done.

Victorian rock 'n' roll cake? We kicked its ass.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

People ooohed and ahhhhed appropriately when it was brought out (they moved the whole table instead of just the cake; good thinking). We made Scarlett and Hunter stand with it so that we could get pictures. They cut a corner and fed each other very respectfully. It was sweet. Then Joelf and his brother Dana kicked the kids out so that they could get to work plating and serving the cake to the 45 guests. Them boys are professionals.


I thought the red frosting was bitter from so much food dye, but all in all the cake was tasty in a box cake kind of way. The frosting was crusty and sweet, just like you would expect from store bought frosting. Good stuff, for sure, and certainly the way to go to save money and sanity. I couldn't imagine what sorts of ECL tantrums I would have had if I was doing this all from scratch. It wouldn't be pretty. But I do wonder how much better the cake and frosting could have been.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes

We ate through the entire fret board and about half of the body. People loved it. They wanted the recipe. They were really very kind.

Victorian Rock 'n' Roll Guitar Heroes