My Baking Obsession

Dairy Free Chocolate Maple Bacon Cupcakes

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Yes, you read that correctly–I put chocolate, maple and bacon together. In a cupcake. Win, win, win, win!

I got the idea from this bacon cupcake but honestly didn’t really follow that recipe at all. For starters, that cake recipe called for sour cream, which is really impossible to substitute for when one is trying to make it dairy free. But the part that really turned me off of that recipe was that she put chopped up bacon inside the batter. I do not like soft bacon, and I knew that there was no way for the bacon to stay crispy after being baked inside a cupcake. So I took this marvelous idea for a bacon cupcake and made it my own.

The cake recipe is from one of my favorite dessert cookbooks: Hershey’s Recipe Collection. I’ve had this since my single days, and I love it! Since I knew that the bacon and maple frosting was going to be pretty heavy, I wanted to go with a light and fluffy cake instead of dense and moist like I would usually pick. Hershey’s “1st Birthday Cupcakes” were exactly what I was looking for. Light, soft, fluffy, chocolately goodness, but not dry. There’s not as much cocoa powder in this recipe as compared to most other chocolate cake recipes, putting it more in the family of red velvet, but without all the food coloring. It’s perfect if you want a chocolate cake that still has all the glory that is chocolate without weighing you down.

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A note before I dive into the recipe: it calls for buttermilk, which can normally be substituted with a regular milk that is “soured” by distilled white vinegar. If you decide to use soy milk (or regular cow milk if you don’t have any allergies to worry about), then you can add the vinegar to the milk and then add that mixture to the batter. However, if you are using almond milk like I did, do NOT add the vinegar directly to the milk. It causes it to separate and when you add it to the batter, it doesn’t incorporate well. You have to add the milk and vinegar to the batter separately. Moreover, if you are a dairy eater and are using buttermilk, then omit the vinegar completely.

So here’s the recipe for these little lovelies (it will make a little over 2 dozen cupcakes).

Ingredients for Chocolate Cupcake:

  • 1/2 cup of all vegetable shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups of sifted sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups of sifted flour
  • 1/2 cup of sifted cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups of almond milk
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons of distilled white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions:

  • Pour the almond milk into a glass measuring cup and mix in the baking powder. Baking powder is liquid reactive, so this will allow it to start activating before you add it into the batter, and give the batter a fluffier texture.
  • Cream the shortening with 1/2 cup of sifted sugar with the flat beater attachment until smooth.
  • Add the eggs, mixing well after each one.
  • Add the remaining sugar.
  • Add the baking soda, salt, and vanilla extract, allowing them to mix in.
  • Next, add the flour and cocoa powder. As you start the mixer, slowly add the almond milk so that the batter stays moist and doesn’t get crumbly.
  • Once everything is incorporated nicely, add in the vinegar.
  • Pour into cupcake pans and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until it springs back when touched.

Now that the cupcakes are baked, let’s move on to the maple frosting.

As is the case with all of my frosting recipes, I did use a stick of margarine, which is not 100% dairy free. It contains the milk derivative ‘whey’. So if you have an allergy that cannot tolerate whey, you can use all vegetable shortening instead. Trust me, it will still be just as delicious!

Ingredients for Maple Frosting:

  • 1 stick of room temperature margarine
  • 1 cup of all vegetable shortening (or 1 1/2 if using all shortening)
  • 1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons of maple syrup (Please buy the real deal; Aunt Jemima ain’t gonna cut it this time! Pure maple syrup is the only way to do these babies justice.)
  • 4 cups of sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions:

  • I used to roll my eyes whenever I read “room temperature” anything in baking recipes, but I am noticing that it really makes a huge difference to use room temperature margarine where frosting is concerned. It’s just too hard to get it to smooth out nicely if it’s too cold. What’s that? You don’t have the patience or planning abilities to remember to set a stick of margarine out 2 hours before you’re ready to start baking? Me neither! Here’s a nice hack for you: put the stick of margarine in a microwave safe bowl, cover it with a paper towel to contain potential splatters, and pop it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. And just like that, you have room temperature margarine! Just be careful to not over heat it, which can happen quickly in the microwave. If it gets melty then you’ll have to trash it and try again. Runny margarine will completely ruin the texture of the frosting.
  • Once the margarine is room temperature, cream it using the flat beater attachment on the ‘2’ setting until it’s smooth.
  • Add the vegetable shortening and cream it on the ‘2’ setting, again until smooth. This may take a bit, and you may be tempted to up the speed, but don’t do it! Incorporating too much air is the death of smooth frosting.
  • Add in the first 2 cups of sifted powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, allowing it to completely mix in before adding more.
  • After the second cup of powdered sugar, add in the maple syrup and vanilla extract.
  • Add in the remaining 2 cups of powdered sugar, again 1 cup at a time. (I know this seems like a lot of powdered sugar, but the salty bacon will off set it. Plus the maple syrup makes it pretty soft; it really needs the extra powdered sugar to help it thicken up.)
  • Lastly, add in the sea salt. I feel that this part is all a matter of preference, so start with 1/2 teaspoon and taste it before adding in the other 1/2. I ended up going with a full teaspoon, but honestly once I topped it with bacon, it was almost a tad too salty. So take the sodium in the bacon into consideration too. Don’t get me wrong, the cupcakes were still awesome. I just realize that it might be a bit much for some people.

Then of course, there’s the most important component–the BACON! I used a total of 8 pieces of bacon. Personally, I like to cook my bacon in the oven because then there isn’t a bunch of grease splatters to clean up. 375 degrees for 20 minutes on a foil lined cookie sheet (it has to be a cookie sheet with a lip so the grease doesn’t spill out). When they’re done, pat the grease off with some paper towels. Then chop them up into little crunchy bits.

I chose to swirl the maple frosting on with my large open star tip, but use whatever you fancy. The frosting really just serves as the pillow to hold up the real prize of this cupcake–the bacon.

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It’s definitely more of a savory cupcake because it really isn’t very sweet. The chocolate and maple flavors are perfect side kicks to help highlight the salty, smokey, awesomeness that is bacon. I made them for Father’s Day, because they just seemed like a ‘manly’ cupcake. I mean, what guy doesn’t love bacon, right? Now I won’t lie to you–not everyone was crazy about them. They’re definitely a unique flavor that not everyone will be keen on. But the majority of people at the celebration really enjoyed them.

Bottom line–if you love bacon, you need to try these, because I don’t believe you will be disappointed!

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Happy Baking, Everyone!

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Butterfly Cupcake Cake

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A week or so ago, my 4 year old got invited to a birthday party for one of her dance friends. As per usual, I offered to do a cake for her as a gift, because I just love being able to bless people. Especially with cake. I mean, what better gift can you give than one that is loaded with sugar?

The theme of this party was butterflies. Her mom sent me this pin from pinterest for inspiration:

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I agree with whoever wrote the description–the mini butterflies are overkill. Plus, they don’t even make sense. Why would a butterfly have other butterflies all over it? And what’s with the ginormous daisies (?) on the wings? Probably the cake decorator was just trying to jazz up an otherwise boring design. Needless to say, I was not very inspired by this picture. What I took from it were the two most important requests: they want a cupcake cake in the shape of a butterfly and they want the color scheme to be pink and green. Pink and green is my least favorite color combination. But, this is not my cake! The birthday girl wanted pink and green, so I was going to give her pink and green.

After a Google search for pink and green butterflies, I saved these two to base my design off of:

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I loved the color gradient in both of these, and knew that would be the best way to blend the pink and green together. I decided to do a light pink, a dark pink, a light green, and a dark green, to give it a smooth transition.

To make this cake I used:

I made an exciting discovery through making this cake–foam craft boards do not absorb the oil from the frosting, and therefore do not get grease marks! Plus they come in different colors and are much larger than your average cake board, which is ideal for cupcake cakes. But since they are so large, be sure to measure the width and length of your fridge shelf and cut that bad boy down to size with an X-Acto knife before you start building your cake.

First thing is to color your frosting.

Take your first batch of vanilla frosting and divide it in half and separate into two different bowls. Using a toothpick, add a little bit of pink gel color to one bowl and mix it in to get a light pink. Again using a toothpick, add pink gel color to the other bowl of frosting, but this time add just a smidge more so that you end up with a darker pink. Adjust both colors until you are happy with them, but be careful not to add too much gel color. You can always add a bit more to darken it, but you can’t take any out if you add too much and need to lighten it.

Take the second batch of frosting, repeat the process, this time using green gel color.

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When you’re done, you should have a nice gradient of color ranging from light pink to dark green.

Take your third batch of frosting and scoop about a quarter of it into a clean bowl. Then add some black gel color and mix it in. It takes quite a lot of the gel color to get a nice black, so don’t bother with the toothpicks on this one; just squeeze big drops in until you’re happy with the tone of black.

For the veining detailing on the wings, I decided to use grey, because I thought black would be a bit harsh. In retrospect, I think white would have been the best pick. If you want to use grey like I did, then take another quarter of that last batch of frosting and color it grey using a toothpick and the black gel color. If you want to do it in black, then instead of coloring a quarter of a batch above, color half of the batch black. If you want to do it in white, then obviously, don’t do anything to it.

Once all your frosting is tinted, it’s time to put the cake together. If you haven’t already cut your foam board down so that it will fit in your fridge, do that now. Since the board is so thick, I found it was easiest to score the board to get through the first half of it, and then go over the line with the X-Acto again to cut all the way through.

Then, assemble your cupcakes. Don’t attach them with frosting just yet; you’ll want to be able to move them around until you get the shape just right.

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Once you’re happy with your shape, carefully lift the cupcakes one by one and put a dollop of white frosting on the bottom and then reattach to the board. After you’ve done this to all of the cupcakes, fill in the gaps between cupcakes by piping white frosting directly into the holes. You don’t need to do this in between every single cupcake. Just fill in the larger holes so that when you’re frosting the “cake” the frosting won’t fall in between. You want to give the illusion that the top is one surface, so it has to be level and smooth.

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Then you need to let it sit in the fridge for 20 minutes so that the frosting can harden. This is a really important step so that the cupcakes don’t slide around on you.

While it was setting up in the fridge, I worked on the fondant pieces. I already had white marshmallow fondant on hand that I had made a couple weeks back, so I took some of that out and colored it black with the gel icing color. To do this I took a toothpick and dipped it into the gel color, then wiped the toothpick on the fondant. Then I kneaded it like a dough until the color was evenly distributed. Even though it was only a small amount of fondant, it still took forever to knead all the black in! Helpful tip–wear disposable gloves while doing this so you don’t stain your hands. Once it was black, I took a bit of fondant and rolled it in between my hands to make a long tube for an antenna. When I was happy with the thickness and length, I laid it out on the board to come out of the butterfly’s head. Then I repeated that process, trying to match the second antenna to the first as best I could. Since this was for a kid’s birthday, I decided to give the butterfly a face. Using a #5 Wilton decorating tip, I punched out eyes. Then I rolled out a little smile with my hands. I set the eyes and smile on a plate while I worked on the rest of the cake.

Once the frosting is set, it’s time to decorate. I started with the wings, so that if any of the frosting accidentally got smeared on the butterfly’s body I could just cover it up later. I put the light pink frosting in an icing bag, but didn’t bother with a tip; I just cut the end of the bag. I was using the piping bags so that I could better control where I placed the frosting, but ultimately was going to smooth over it with a spatula, so it didn’t need to be super precise. Then I piped columns of frosting up and down the two columns of cupcakes closest to the butterfly’s body. I covered the next “column” of cupcakes with the dark pink frosting.

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Then I took my offset spatula and starting at the body of the butterfly, slowly smoothed out the frosting. You’ll have to do it a couple of times, so be sure to wipe the spatula clean before going over it again so the dark pink doesn’t get mixed up in the light pink.

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Once the pink is smoothed out, get your light green frosting and pipe it onto the next column of cupcakes. I wanted the pink to bleed a bit into the green, so when I went to smooth it out, I started in the dark pink and dragged it into the light green. It took a few strokes and you don’t want too much pink in the green, so be very careful to wipe the spatula clean each time.

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Finally, pipe on the dark green on the remaining cupcakes to make the wing tips of the butterfly. Since the dark green has the least amount of surface area, I didn’t want too much of the light green to bleed into it. Use extreme caution on this last smooth out. Then take the black frosting and pipe it onto the body of the butterfly. Smooth it out with your spatula, being really careful not to get any of it on your beautiful wings. You can put the fondant eyes and mouth on at this time.

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Using my butterfly pictures as a guide, I took a piping bag that was filled with the grey frosting and fitted with a #2 tip, and piped the veining. I’m right handed, so the right side was easier for me to do. The left side did not come out perfect, but since I was using regular frosting, I couldn’t just peel it off and try again like I can with royal icing, because regular frosting doesn’t harden the way royal does. Due to all of my kids being sick with colds and ear infections (and actually having to take our 2 year old to the ER because it got in her chest and she was having a hard time breathing), I had to do all of the decorating for this cake the night before the 11 am party. Thankfully, the baby allowed Daddy to hold her so she actually slept, allowing me to bang this bad boy out. Needless to say, I didn’t have time to make royal icing so I had to use regular frosting. If you have the time, I would highly suggest using royal icing for the veining. It’s much more forgiving.

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It looked a bit harsh to me like this. So in the haze of 1 in the morning logic, I decided to try a new technique: brush embroidery. Please note that this was really stupid, and I do not in any way endorse trying new things at the eleventh hour when you have no time to fix any potentially catastrophic mistakes. But that’s just kind of how I roll. I’m a perfectionist, and if something doesn’t look exactly right, I can’t just leave it. Since it was soft frosting on top of soft frosting (this technique is supposed to be done with royal icing), I thought using an actual paint brush would blend the grey frosting into the pink and green too much. So I chose to use the tip of a toddler butter knife instead. To do the effect, you simply put the brush (or knife, in my case) and place it on a spot of the line. Then you gently pull the frosting, giving it a brush stroke look. Repeat a gazillion times until every inch of grey frosting has been brushed.

My gamble paid off, and it gave the effect that I was looking for! I like to think that it gives the wings the illusion of fluttering. It took forever to do, but I feel it was well worth it.

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To finish it off, I placed white nonpareils on the wing tips.

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There you have it! A beautiful ombre butterfly cupcake cake.

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The birthday girl was very happy, and her mom called it, “Stunning!” I was very happy with the way it turned out and really enjoyed putting it together. If any of you try your hand at this cake, please share pictures of how yours came out!

The Best Dairy Free Chocolate Frosting

wpid-wp-1421600809992.jpegLast week I shared my favorite dairy free vanilla frosting with you, and today I am going to share it’s chocolate counterpart.

I know that dairy eaters would read the title of this post and scrunch their noses at chocolate that doesn’t have milk as if it were a mutant bastard child. But trust me–they would never know that this frosting didn’t have their precious dairy in it! It is not bitter at all, but is smooth and sweet, while still packing a full chocolate flavor.

I used it for my husband’s birthday cake this year, and he declared it his favorite frosting of all time. Considering that he’s a dairy loving Midwestern (from Wisconsin, no less), this was a very high compliment!

Try it out–you will not be disappointed!

A quick note: stick margarine is not 100% dairy free. It contains a milk derivative called ‘whey’. If you cannot tolerate whey, then use all vegetable shortening. The result will be just as delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 2 containers of marshmallow fluff (also called marshmallow creme)
  • 1 stick of margarine
  • 1 cup of vegetable shortening (or 1 1/2 cups, if you are omitting the margarine)
  • 1/2 cup of sifted cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 cups of sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 splashes of vanilla almond milk

Directions:

  • Mix marshmallow fluff until smooth with the flat beater attachment on the ‘stir’ speed setting.(*HELPFUL TIP* Run a rubber spatula under hot water before scooping out the marshmallow fluff to make it come out super easy. It makes a world of difference getting all that sticky deliciousness out.)
  • Add half a margarine stick and mix on the ‘2’ speed setting until smooth. Then add the other half and mix until smooth.
  • Add the shortening half a cup at a time, allowing it to smooth out completely before adding more.
  • Add the SIFTED cocoa powder, again allowing it to smooth out completely.
  • Add 1 cup of SIFTED powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Add the rest of the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the frosting to completely smooth out each time before adding more.
  • Add the vanilla extract.
  • If it seems a little thick, add a splash of almond milk. I usually end up adding 2 splashes, but this again is all a matter of preference.

The trick to this frosting is to not over whip it. If it gets too much air in it, then you will see holes in it when you are covering your cake. Do not put your mixer any higher than the ‘2’ speed setting. It will take longer, but be worth it when it comes out nice and smooth!

This recipe will yield enough frosting to cover two 8″ or 9″ round cakes, a 12″ x 9″ rectangle cake, or two dozen cupcakes. It will keep at room temperature for a couple days and for a couple of weeks in the fridge. It also freezes really well if you double wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then store it inside a freezer Ziploc bag. I can’t say how long it will last in the freezer as I’ve only kept mine in there for 3 months, but I would think that as long as it’s not freezer burnt that it would be fine. If you freeze it, allow it to come to room temperature and mix it in your mixer on the ‘stir’ speed setting for a minute or two until it’s smooth.

Enjoy!

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The Best Dairy Free Vanilla Frosting

It’s taken me quite a long time to craft the perfect dairy free vanilla frosting. Using only sticks of margarine gives inconsistent results. I’ve managed to get it to a nice consistency before, as seen on my Thomas the Train cake:

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But I also had major issues with it turning out way too soft, like with my art deco smash cake:

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With both cakes, I used the exact same ingredients. Yet, as you can see, got completely different results.

I almost always have issues coloring all-margarine frosting too. More times than not, I would be left with white specks where the color didn’t quite stick.

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However, I think this was more of a mixing problem. I have found that mixing SLOWLY is the key to a good frosting. And you MUST soften the margarine before adding any powdered sugar. I’ve never been known for my patience, so this took me many years to figure out.

The smoothest frosting comes from using vegetable shortening. It still tastes good, but the margarine adds a depth of rich flavor that the shortening lacks. So, I wasn’t ready to give up on using margarine all together. I began experimenting with mixing margarine and shortening, and found that the best mix was 1 stick of margarine and 2 cups of shortening. The frosting was smooth, the color mixed through well, and the flavor was on the mark.

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The piped design is made of royal icing, but you can see how smooth the “buttercream” is underneath

Then I stumbled on this recipe for ‘Strawberry Dream Frosting’ on Pinterest. She uses marshmallow fluff with butter to create a really yummy flavor. I tried it for my daughter’s 2nd birthday, because she LOVES marshmallows. I modified the recipe a bit, using 1 stick of margarine and 1 cup of shortening, and using 3 cups of powdered sugar. Why more powdered sugar, you ask? Because frankly, I like my frosting sweet. And it wasn’t thick enough in my opinion with just 1/2 cup.

The result is a delicious frosting that pipes easily and can be used for frosting layer cakes as well. However, the marshmallow fluff doesn’t give a super smooth finish. As you can see in this Frozen cake, there are lots of air bubbles. But a lot of that could have been avoided if I would have kept my mixer at the speed ‘2’ setting.

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So if you’re looking for super smooth, this isn’t the recipe for you. But if you don’t mind a more “home grown” look, so to speak, you should try this recipe. It’s really delicious!

I can say that it pipes really well. I used this recipe for both the Tardis and the time vortex swirls on my Doctor Who cake:

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I also used it for this butterfly cupcake cake:

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I mixed it low and slow that time and, as you can see, got a much smoother result.

Let me state now that sticks of margarine are not 100% dairy free; they contain a milk derivative called ‘whey’. I would not suggest using tub margarine because it’s too soft. If your allergy is bad enough that you can’t tolerate whey, then simply use all shortening. I’ve successfully used 100% shortening with this recipe and gotten just as great results.

So here it is, my perfect vanilla frosting:

  • 2 containers of marshmallow fluff (also called marshmallow creme)
  • 1 stick of margarine
  • 1 cup of vegetable shortening (or 1 1/2 cups, if you are omitting the margarine)
  • 3 cups of sifted powdered sugar
  • Vanilla Extract
  • 2 splashes of vanilla almond milk

Directions:

  • Mix marshmallow fluff until smooth with the flat beater attachment on the ‘stir’ speed setting.(*HELPFUL TIP* Run a rubber spatula under hot water before scooping out the marshmallow fluff to make it come out super easy. This is written on the jar in the tiniest print imaginable, so I just barely learned this tip after months of making this stuff. It makes a world of difference getting all that sticky deliciousness out.)
  • Add half a margarine stick and mix on the ‘2’ speed setting until smooth. Then add the other half and mix until smooth.
  • Add the shortening half a cup at a time, allowing it to smooth out completely before adding more.
  • Add 1 cup of SIFTED powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Add the rest of the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. If you feel you’ve reached a consistency and flavor that you like before adding all 3 cups, then don’t feel the need to add more. It’s all a matter of preference.
  • Add the vanilla extract (or whatever flavor extract you want). I don’t measure when I add extract. I just add it a bit at a time until it tastes right. Again, it’s all about preference.
  • If it seems a little thick, add a splash of almond milk. I usually end up adding 2 splashes, but this again is all a matter of preference.

The trick to this frosting is to not over whip it. If it gets too much air in it, then you will get holes as seen in the Frozen cake above. Do not put your mixer any higher than the ‘2’ speed setting. It will take longer, but be worth it when it comes out soft and smooth!

This recipe will yield enough frosting to cover two 8″ or 9″ round cakes, a 12″ x 9″ rectangle cake, or two dozen cupcakes. It will keep at room temperature for a couple days and for a couple of weeks in the fridge. It also freezes really well if you double wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then store it inside a freezer Ziploc bag. If you freeze it, allow it to come to room temperature and mix it in your mixer on the ‘stir’ speed setting for a minute or two until it’s smooth.

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I hope you enjoy this delicious frosting as much as I do!

Double Barbie Frozen Cake: Redemption Edition

For those of you who have been following me know that I did a Frozen barbie cake for my girls’ birthday last November. It was the first time I had attempted a barbie cake and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. The dolls were leaning because the structural integrity was so poor, the fondant seams were a mess, and the detailing was unfinished because I ran out of time.

I learned a lot from that cake.

A neighbor kid turned 5 earlier this month and had a Frozen party (of course!). For the first time I was on the fence about offering to do a cake. The baby has not been sleeping well; she usually wakes up 4 times a night, despite co-sleeping. This throws a wrench into any baking, because I usually get all of my cake work done at night once the girls are asleep. So with the baby’s schedule being so unpredictable, it seemed too risky to roll the dice this time. I would die if I wasn’t able to get a cake done after saying I would do it. Just when I was leaning strongly towards not doing it this time, my 4 year old asked me, “Mom, can you make a cake for my friend?” Looking into her big brown eyes brimming with excitement, I could not deny her request.

So I got in touch with my neighbor and told her that I would be happy to make her daughter a cake as a gift. “Maybe they’ll want something simple”, I said to myself. Kids love cupcakes, and cupcakes are easy! After browsing Pinterest, they sent me a picture of what the birthday girl wanted…

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Definitely not a cupcake. Of course she wanted a barbie cake. What 5 year old girl wouldn’t want this cake? BUT I DON’T KNOW IF I CAN DO THIS CAKE!!!

After the initial panic subsided, I actually thought about it and realized that I could make this cake. Sure, my first attempt at a barbie cake was kind of a disaster. BUT – – I learned a lot from that disaster:

  1. Bake the top layer in a bowl. That way, the shape of the dress is already there and won’t need to be carved.
  2. Don’t make the frosting in between the layers too thick. You want a thin layer, really. Enough to act as glue and add some flavor, but nothing like what you would put in a tiered cake. Too much frosting causes instability.
  3. Don’t pick a cake recipe that is super moist, because it doesn’t hold up well to stacking high or carving. This has always been an issue for me because I believe that there is nothing worse than dry cake. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how pretty a cake looks if you get dry crumbs when you go to take a bite. The taste must match the beauty of the decorations, or else there’s no point. However, it’s very difficult to find recipes that are the perfect balance of moist yet sturdy.
  4. Chill out. No seriously–this cake needs to be chilled. Over and over again. So set aside enough time to do that.
  5. Details are key. I had to have enough time for the details of the dresses, otherwise it’s not a very interesting cake. Just a dome with dolls popping out.

That weekend was kind of busy for me, because aside from the birthday party, I also had committed to helping my mother-in-law with a jewelry party the night before. She is a stylist for Stella & Dot and one of her clients booked a party, where she brings all of her jewelry samples and the guests get to try everything on. These parties are always a lot of fun, but also a lot of work because my mother-in-law has a lot of samples. As in, it takes the two of us working together for an hour to set everything up. I knew that it was going to take up all of Friday night, and I knew that I couldn’t count on the baby sleeping. Since the birthday party was bright and early at 11 am Saturday morning, I knew that I had to get the cake done before I left for the Stella & Dot party on Friday evening or I would be screwed.

So I planned out my design. I found this YouTube video, which shows exactly how to make a single barbie cake. This is where I got the trick of baking the top tier in a bowl. Aside from the bowl cake, I knew I was going to need two 8″ rounds as well. I decided I was going to use this white cake recipe, swapping the milk for almond milk to make it dairy free. This recipe was perfect. The cake was strong enough to hold up to the stacking, but still moist and delicious. This will now be my go-to recipe for vanilla cake, because it’s kind of perfect in my opinion.

I decided to forgo the fondant this time around because it was already going to be challenging enough without adding the stress of frigging fondant. I wanted the frosting to be nice and firm, so I went with my fail-safe vanilla frosting. 4 ingredients: vegetable shortening, powdered sugar, a dash of almond milk and vanilla extract. Dairy free, delicious, and perfect for this job. One of these days, I’ll do a post with the recipe.

Elsa’s dress has a delicate ombré effect, which I decided to honor. Even though her dress doesn’t actually have snowflakes on it (those are only on the cape; can you tell I live with Frozen fanatics?), I couldn’t figure out a way to replicate the fancy ice shards seen on her skirt. If I was going to use fondant, I could have made scratches and dusted it with luster dust for sparkle. But scratch marks in buttercream just looked like I didn’t know how to frost properly. So, Elsa’s dress would need 4 colors: 3 shades of blue and white.

Anna’s dress has beautiful detailing along the hem of the skirt. The stripe at the bottom is a lighter shade of the blue of the skirt, but I wanted it to pop a bit more, so I decided I wanted to go with purple. A lot of artists had made that choice too, so I wasn’t too concerned about kids calling me out on it (except my own 4 year old, who is very detail oriented and noticed that it was wrong). The stems for the embroidered flowers are also a lighter tone of the blue of the skirt, but again I decided to go with a teal to make the design pop. I didn’t want to do all the work of piping all these details on if no one was going to notice them. Just like her sister, Anna was also going to require 4 colors: dark blue for her skirt, purple for the bottom stripe, and teal and fushia for the flowers.

Despite my well intentions of giving myself enough time to do this cake, motherhood got the better of me yet again and I wasn’t able to start it until Thursday night. Mind you, when I say ‘night’  I don’t mean right after dinner. I mean after the girls were in bed. Thankfully, God took mercy on my poor soul, and I was able to lay the baby down in her crib! Since I was going to be around people the next day, I had to make showering a priority. She was still sleeping when I got out, so I made a mad dash to the kitchen and got to baking! She slept long enough for me to get most of the batter done for the bowl cake; I had to fold the whipped egg whites in with her on my hip because she was not happy with Daddy.

I set the oven to 325° instead of 350° so the outside wouldn’t burn before the inside could bake. It ended up taking 70 long minutes to cook through, so if you do one of these cakes, be sure to plan for that extra bake time.

I hit the ground running Friday morning and baked the two 8″ rounds and made the frosting. The baking took awhile because I only have one 8″ pan. I contemplated using one of my 9″ pans so the cakes could bake at the same time, but I didn’t want to have to carve anything. I really didn’t want to mess anything up because I would not have the time to fix it. Coloring frosting takes for. ev. er. The dark blue for Anna’s dress didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. The “dark blue” icing color that I bought looked more grey than blue. So I had to futz with it a bit, mixing in a lighter blue to get it to look blue. Note to self: buy more than 1 type of dark blue next time, so that I have more to work with!

Time was really getting away from me and I at least wanted to have the cake stacked and crumb coated before I had to leave. The last 8″ round was still a little warm, but I decided to flip it out of the pan anyways so it would cool faster.

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That was a bad idea.

Luckily it split in a nice line down the middle, so I was able to save it.

I followed the lead of my YouTube video and used a circle cookie cutter to create a well in the middle of the tiers for the dolls’ legs. This was a huge saving grace when it came to structural integrity! With my first barbie cake, I just stuck the dolls in the cake without removing any first, and the moment I did that, the cake started cracking. Cutting holes in the middle worked beautifully!

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I put my cracked cake at the bottom and patched it together with frosting. Luckily, it held up just fine and wasn’t a problem.

I put a thin layer of frosting on it to lock in the crumbs and popped it in the fridge while I went to the jewelry party.

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In case you were wondering what I did with the baby while I was working – I stuck her in her activity chair on top of the counter.

As I anticipated, I didn’t get home until 9 that night. But God took mercy on me again, and I was able to lay the baby down in her crib! I went straight to the kitchen and started working again.

The first step was to wrap up the dolls’ legs in plastic wrap to protect them from the frosting. I did this by putting the dolls back to back and taping their legs together. Then I wrapped their legs in plastic wrap and spun tape around the plastic to make sure it would stay put.

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I put the arms up so that they were out of the way, and then I slid them through the hole in the cake.

Using my spackling tool (which I only use on cakes, obviously), I marked where the two dresses met.

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Next, I took my extra large cake icer icing tip (Wilton #789) and piped the icing for each skirt on in horizontal stripes. I used a small round #2 tip to get the icing on the dolls’ hips, and used a toddler butter knife to smooth it out on their backsides because it was too small a space for my icing spatula.

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Next, I took my icing spatula and carefully smoothed the frosting. This was tricky with Elsa’s skirt in particular because of the ombré effect. I couldn’t just slab more icing on like I would with any other cake, because it would ruin the effect. You’ve really only got one shot at it, so make sure you use enough icing the first time you’re applying it and that you don’t scrape too much off when you’re smoothing it out. I started at the top, smoothing the flat part of the dome first. Then after wiping the spatula off, I lined it up vertically with the bottom of the skirt and smoothed the rest of it in one go.

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I wasn’t able to get the frosting as smooth as I wanted because I couldn’t scrape over it more than the one time. But the ombré effect turned out nicely.

By the time I was done icing the skirts, the baby woke up. So I popped it in the fridge and called it a night.

The next morning I woke up early, hoping that I was giving myself enough time to finish the detailing before we had to leave for the party. Luckily, the older two girls ended up sleeping in until 9:30 so I wasn’t getting interrupted every 5 minutes. But the baby was wide eyed and bushy tailed, so I still had my hands full.

Since Elsa’s dress doesn’t technically have snowflakes on it and since I did the ombré effect, I decided that Anna’s detailing was more vital and focused on her first.

I started by piping a straight purple line along the hem of her skirt using Wilton tip #47.

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Then I used my #2 tip and piped on the peaks.

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If you wanted to be precise, you could use a ruler and toothpick to mark out exactly where each peak should hit. I free handed it because ain’t nobody got time fo dat!

Continuing with the #2 tip, I filled in each peak.

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Then I smoothed it out with my handy dandy toddler knife.

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Now on to the flowers. I started with the long stems, working it from the tip of the peaks up. Again, if you have the time, then you can measure and mark before piping. But I was really cutting it close, so again, I free handed it. After the stems were piped, I used a different #2 tip and did the simple pink tulip. Then I went back to the green and piped on the smaller leaf design that’s in between each peak.

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This didn’t take that long, so I decided I had time for some snowflakes on Elsa. That was 100% free hand. I just took it one snowflake at a time, adding swirls to break it up. I then used a small closed star tip to pipe a line of white flowers along the seam where the two skirts meet so that it would look tidy.

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I ended up finishing at 10:30! Luckily the venue was only 5 minutes away and my oldest girl and I were able to get ready fast.

The birthday girl loved it! Seeing her face light up when I brought it in made all the work worth it.

And that is how I was able to conquer the barbie cake.

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My Doctor Who Cake

Last July, my husband convinced me to watch Doctor Who. He had already seen all of the episodes of the recent seasons (Christopher Eccleston and on), and was hoping to get me hooked and caught up before season 8 started up. Being the nerd that I am, I of course became an instant fan. But the new season started a month from when I started watching, and I had a little over 100 episodes to watch if I was going to catch up in time. We only had 2 kids at the time, but I still didn’t have much TV time. Somehow, I managed to do it, which you could either see as impressive or embarrassing, your pick.

I love Doctor Who.

Now I want to get my hands on the original seasons from back in the day so I can be a true Whovian.

So when I was thinking of ideas for my birthday cake, I immediately went to the Doctor. I wanted to do a Tardis cake. Since my birthday is January 6th, I decided to go with a Christmas Tardis theme. We had the flu over Christmas, so I still wanted to hold on to Christmas because I had kind of felt cheated.

My conception art

My conception art

My mom found an awesome video tutorial on YouTube of how to make a Tardis cake.

I was only having a small gathering of friends and their kids over to celebrate, so I was sure the Tardis cake alone would be enough.

I am not very good at sculpted cakes. I have yet to find a cake recipe that holds up well to being sculpted. So I took a risk and tried a recipe that I had never tried before: vanilla pound cake. Since I was going to need 5 squares for my Tardis, I needed 2 square cakes. I only had 1 square pan though, so I had to do them one at a time, which took forever because the bake time for this recipe is an hour and fifteen minutes! My first cake burned on the bottom and along the edges. I was able to cut it away, but it made my squares smaller than the ones in the tutorial video. For the second batch, I reduced the oven temperature to 325°, and that cake came out perfectly. So if you try this recipe, I would suggest lowering the temperature. (It was a very tasty cake.)

It took to sculpting ok. But since my squares were smaller, I ended up doing 4 instead of 5. I was unsuccessful in leveling, so it wasn’t the sturdiest of structures. Despite me using a ruler, I still managed to cut each square a little differently, so they weren’t all the exact same size when I stacked them. Which left me to cut down my already small cake in an attempt to make it even on all the sides. My husband ended up helping me shape it down because it was not looking pretty.

I now did not have enough cake to feed the people I was expecting, so I changed the plan and made two 9″ chocolate rounds for my tardis to sit on, using my moist dairy free chocolate cake recipe. Instead of going with a Christmas Tardis, I decided to ice the rounds to look like Van Gough’s Starry Night with the Tardis sitting on top, recreating the iconic painting from the Van Gough episode. I was sad to have to scrap my Christmas theme, but excited about the new direction.

I focused first on decorating the Tardis, following the instructions from the YouTube video. The blue icing that I had on hand was not Tardis blue, unfortunately. Lesson learned: always buy a few different shades when you need such a specific color so you can mix up your own. But painting the fondant panels really helped with the color. In the video she used a paint powder, but I didn’t have access to that. So I just mixed a drop of water into gel icing colors inside a painter’s palette to get a more “paint like” consistency, and it worked really well.

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How many panels does it take to cover a Tardis?

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The panels post painting

 

I mixed white & black gel icing colors to make grey, and used that around the edges of the window pieces to dirty them up a bit. The Tardis has been around the block a few thousand times after all; she should look worn in.

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I wish that I would have painted the sign grey before writing the words on, but hind sight is 20/20.

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Obviously, I ran out of space for all the words. I had to make this panel slightly larger than the others just to get these to fit. But the important ones are on there.

I almost forgot about the door handle & key hole, but remembered with enough time to whip them up.

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The Police Box panels

 

My mom got me a fondant rolling mat system, conveniently called The Mat, for Christmas. If you are serious about cake decorating, you need this mat! The fondant didn’t stick to it at all.

I mean, look at that!
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Absolutely incredible.

Once all the pieces were cut and painted, it was just a matter of putting them on. I let my 4 year old help with this part. She was so careful & methodical while placing each panel. I saw a piece of myself in her in that moment, which was so beautiful to witness.

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We got the Tardis done 2 hours before people were set to arrive. That may have been enough time to frost the Van Gough design on the rounds if we were already dressed, the house was already cleaned, and if the baby would sleep the entire time. But none of those things had happened, of course. Time got the best of me yet again. It is not easy getting these cakes done when I’ve got 3 girls 4 years old and under to take care of.

But I couldn’t bring myself to slap plain white frosting on it; it had to have some kind of design to it. My new plan: pipe swirls to make it look like the time vortex. Since I was completely out of time (pun intended), I chose 3 colors: blue, purple, and white.

I stuck the blue and purple icings in their own piping bags and then shoved them side by side into another piping bag, so that they would come out at the same time.

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Too bad I ran out of frosting before the whole cake was covered.

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I only had blue leftover, so the colors were off balanced. Then I ran out of the blue!

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It was not looking like what I was going for. Out of pure panic I decided to add white dashes, partly to hide the spots of crumb coat that were peeking through, and partly to try to add a…wibbly wobbly timey wimey effect… Again, I was panicking.

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I stuck my leaning tower of Tardis on top and called it a day, because I had about 10 minutes to get myself dressed before people showed up.

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Let’s just say that it was meant to look off kilter because it was bumping around the time vortex…

Is it the worst thing ever? No. Did it look anything like what I set out to create? Not in any way. Did the perfectionist in me want to throw it on the street and run it over with my car? Absolutely.

But my main goal in life lately has been to not stress out. Especially on days that are supposed to be fun like my birthday. Despite everything that went wrong with this cake, I had a lot of fun making it. I mean, it’s a Tardis cake! Plus, my girls helped me bake and make frosting, on top of watching me work on all the Tardis pieces. I was actually surprised at how interested they were to just watch me work.

Of course having them in the kitchen with me meant extra messes…

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But the extra clean up was worth it, because it meant I got to spend my birthday with the 3 greatest kids on earth.

Good thing I took pictures of my cake right away, because while I was upstairs getting dressed…

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The Doctor crashed the Tardis on my stove.

At this point, I just had to laugh.

We ate the tie dye swirl cake at my dinner party and then the girls and I devoured the Tardis for breakfast the next morning (eating leftover birthday cake for breakfast the day after a birthday is my favorite birthday tradition).

Death of the Tardis

Death of the Tardis

Structural integrity has never been a strength of mine in cake decorating. But I’m working on it. I’ve decided to make a Tardis cake for my birthday every year until I get it right. I’m only 27; I’ve got plenty of time.

I’ll take the long way, Doctor; you meet me on the year I nail it.

Dairy Free German Chocolate Cake

One of my friends had a birthday today. As usual, my gift was a cake. She requested one that I had never made before, so I was instantly excited: German chocolate cake. I’ve never even tasted a German chocolate cake, because with my dairy allergy I have to make my own cakes.

Upon doing some Pinterest research, I knew I was going to like this one. Who wouldn’t, with the rich, moist chocolate cake, ooey, gooey toasted coconut and pecan filling, and decadent, smooth ganache?

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As you can see, my filling turned out a bit runny, but I think it looks pretty sexy having it ooze over the side.

The German chocolate cake recipe that I used required heavy cream for both the filling and the ganache. Heavy cream is always a tricky one to substitute for because almond / soy milks are obviously much thinner. Since I was supposed to warm the cream, egg yolks, and sugar on the stove for the filling, I decided to put half a cup of almond milk. Since it was too runny, the next time I make this, I’ll do a quarter of a cup.

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For the ganache, I used a quarter of a cup of almond milk to substitute for the heavy cream. Since the liquid is being reduced to a quarter of what the original recipe requires, it didn’t yield quite enough to cover the whole cake…

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So I had to whip up another half a batch so I could finish it off. I decided to only do piped dollops on the top, so if you wanted to do the bottom as well, I’d suggest doubling the ganache recipe so that you have enough.

Also, there was not enough liquid to melt the chocolate like the original recipe. I ended up popping it in the microwave in 10  second bursts until the chocolate and margarine was melted, stirring each time.

Can I just say how finicky chocolate is? I made the original batch of ganache the night before and let it sit in the fridge overnight. But it was rock hard the next day, so I had to microwave it in 10 second bursts until it was softer. It hardens up again pretty fast once you get it on the cake, so you need to work quickly. Then you have to get it at an exact temperature which is cool enough that it isn’t liquid, but still soft enough to pipe. Tricky business this chocolate stuff. But oh so worth it.

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I used my own moist dairy free chocolate cake recipe instead of the one in the link. My policy is: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. My chocolate cake is the best. Everyone always says how moist and rich it is. It worked beautifully with this cake.

I chose to omit the rum syrup more for time’s sake than anything else. My 2 year old has been down with a stomach bug for 5 days, so I was really pressed for time with this cake (especially since I had to make 2 of these on top of 2 dozen cupcakes). I had a 24 hour period to do it all in, no rum on hand and no time to pop to the store. I knew my cake was moist enough without it, so I wasn’t worried. However I will try that the next time I tackle this beast because I’m sure that the rum flavor would send this already awesome cake into whole new levels of deliciousness.

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It was definitely time consuming with all the different elements, but it was worth it! It was so. good. If you love chocolate and have a birthday to celebrate, you need to make this cake. Or if it’s a Wednesday and you’re craving chocolate, make this cake. I mean, I think we should celebrate Wednesdays more often.

Here’s to Wednesdays. And chocolate. Here’s to chocolate.

Basket of Roses Cake

My Mother-in-law’s birthday is today. When we got the flu over Christmas, I wasn’t sure if we were going to recover in time for me to do a cake for her. But, we got healthy just in the knick of time and the stars aligned just right, allowing me to bang this cake out in 2 days for her. Normally my cakes take a minimum of 3 days for me to complete because I’ve got 3 kids 4 and under. It’s taken me years to learn how to efficiently make cakes in the stop-and-go rhythm of motherhood. It’s hard to do cakes in piece meal, because once I start, I go into a zone and don’t want to be interrupted. Except, I’m ALWAYS getting interrupted.

Here’s what 2 minutes of cake decorating looks like for me now: put the baby in her seat; cut a hole at the bottom of my icing bag; tell the 2 year old that she can’t stand on a chair to watch, and take the  chair that she dragged into the kitchen back into the dining room; put coupler and icing tip in icing bag, and maybe even put icing in the bag; get snacks for suddenly starving children; pipe a quarter of basket weaving on the side of a 9″ cake; answer 4 year old’s questions about how I’m doing this technique; swat 2 year old’s hand away from the cake, as she’s standing on the chair that she dragged back into the kitchen.

It can get frustrating very quickly, because my thought process is being CONSTANTLY interrupted. I’ve lost count how many times the 2 year old has messed up the side of my cakes, because she was eating the icing off when I wasn’t looking. I typically lose sleep when I do a cake because it’s just easier to work at night when the girls are asleep. So why do I do this?

Because I love it.

It’s one of the only things I do for myself anymore. It’s a much needed creative outlet for this hibernating actress. So I learn to fully think out my designs before I start so that I know exactly what I need to do when I get in the kitchen. I research on my phone while I’m nursing, absorbing as much information from YouTube as I can on new techniques I can try. I’ve learned to break the whole process up into steps, and to spread the steps out over days, because it’s going to take me longer than a professional in a bakery. I let go of my desire to tunnel vision, and accept the interruptions. I make extra icing in anticipation of having to fix whatever the 2 year old is going to mess up.

Before this cake, I had never done a basket weave, piped a buttercream rose, or piped a buttercream leaf. This is by far the most technical cake I’ve ever endeavored. But every time I do a cake, I do something new, so that I’m always learning. Sometimes I crash and burn like I did with my mom’s piano cake (which I plan on redoing for her one day). But sometimes, like today, I hit it out of the park.

I really wanted to do a flower themed cake for my mother-in-law because gardening is her passion. She has one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen and she meticulously plans out each and every flower, tree, and bush. The over zealous part of me wanted to create a basket of different flowers, but I knew I didn’t have the time for it. Different flowers mean different colored frostings, which means more work. Plus, I would have had to learn how to pipe more than one type of flower. In 2 days. No way. I picked roses because they’re so classic and beautiful.

I watched this tutorial video on YouTube, which goes through how to do the basket weave technique, as well as how to pipe the roses. I followed her instructions step by step and was really happy with the results! If you are interested in learning how to make this type of cake, I strongly recommend watching the video.

My mother-in-law just got me a cookie dough recipe book for Christmas. In this book is a recipe for a egg-free chocolate chip cookie dough cake filling, so I knew that I wanted to try it out for her cake. The recipe is really easy. Normally I always add less almond milk when using it to substitute for heavy cream. But since this was going to be a filling for a cake, I wanted to be sure that it was wetter than actual cookie dough, so that it would spread easily. But even still, adding the whole 1/4 cup of almond milk instead of heavy cream like the recipe calls for made it too wet. I ended up adding an additional 1/4 cup of flour until it was the consistency I was looking for. If you don’t have to worry about allergies, then just follow the recipe. But I wanted to throw that out there for my fellow dairy allergy people.

Cookie Dough Filling from The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook by, Lindsay Landis:

-1 1/2 sticks of butter

-1/2 cup white sugar

-1/2 cup brown sugar

-1/4 cup cream

-1 teaspoon vanilla extract

-1/2 teaspoon salt

-1/2 cup of flour

-1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Prepare it the way you would normal cookie dough: cream the butter (or margarine, in my case) with the sugars; add the dry ingredients; add the milk; stir in chocolate chips. I used regular sized chocolate chips because they don’t make dark chocolate in the mini size. I don’t think it made any difference, but if you’re using dark chocolate and want the pieces to be smaller, just pulse them in a blender first.

I went with my go-to dairy-free moist vanilla cake, and did chocolate buttercream frosting since I needed the basket to be brown anyways. I wanted white roses, but didn’t have clear vanilla extract, so I flavored that icing with peppermint.

First thing is to bake your cakes; you’ll need 2 rounds for this design (mine are 9″). Once the cakes are cooled, dam and fill them (check out this great YouTube video on how to dam and fill cakes if you don’t know how).

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I decided to not level my cakes, because I hate doing it. It’s tedious and they weren’t that bad. After finishing the cake though, I wish I would have taken the time to do it because it made the basket weaving difficult. (You’ll want to level the cakes before filling and stacking.)

Then I dirty iced the cakes to lock the crumbs in. This technique is actually one that I’ve only recently learned, and one that I wish I would have known about years ago. Crumb coating makes a night and day difference when icing cakes! If you don’t know how to do it, watch this video on crumb coating.

Next, you’ll want to score the sides of the cake where you want the vertical lines of the basket to fall. I have a dry wall spackling tool that I used to do this, but the blunt edge of a chef knife would work as well. I spaced mine out too far originally, so I ended up cutting the spacing in half from what you see in this picture. But you get the idea.

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Then just take your time. I used a Wilton tip #47 for texture. The video will explain how to do the technique much better than I could, so go watch it if you haven’t already.

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It really wasn’t difficult after watching the tutorial video. Just take your time and follow your lines, and you’ll be fine.

Then I piped a rope detail along the edge of the top of the cake using a Wilton tip #18. The video shows you how to do this detail as well. It really helps finish the look off.

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Then I used a Wilton leaf tip and piped leaves around the outer circumference of the top of the cake.

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Then I said a prayer and tried my first buttercream rose. I used a Wilton tip #104.

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I was holding the tip upside-down, so the petals looked fat. Oops. I dumped that one back in the bowl of icing and did it right the second time. But then it flipped upside-down when I tried transferring it to the cake. Oops. So I carefully scraped it off and tried again.

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My buttercream was too soft, so it was impossible to get the very center of the roses to be as tight as they needed to be, and all of them leaned to one side. But for it being my first go at them, I am damn proud of these babies.

There were some gaps in between some of the flowers because I wasn’t able to lay them as closely as I wanted to. So I just filled them in with leafs and pretended that that was the plan all along. Fake it till you make it!

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Salted Caramel Peppermint Cookie Dough Christmas Bars (Dairy Free!)

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This recipe was born from me tweaking this salted caramel cookie dough billionaire bar. I first tried these billionaire bars over summer. My mother-in-law had made some after finding the recipe on Facebook, and was sure that it would be impossible to make a dairy free version. My response? Challenge accepted! It was an easy conversion, really; I just used a sugar cookie dough that was dairy free (Pillsbury), made my own caramel using margarine instead of butter, replaced the butter with margarine in her chocolate chip cookie dough recipe, and used dark chocolate instead of milk.

Pillsbury is selling peppermint sugar cookie dough that has actual crushed up candy canes inside the dough. I LOVE candy canes, so I was all over it! It got me thinking about making a Christmas version of these billionaire bars, and I came up with these delicious salted caramel peppermint cookie dough bars. They are perfection: rich caramel and dark chocolate, yummy cookie dough, icy blasts of peppermint, and a bit of salt to cut through the richness and round off the sweet. I personally think these would make a fantastic gift, so I thought I’d share the recipe, just in time for Christmas.

These dessert bars have 4 layers:

-Peppermint Cookie
-Salted Caramel
-Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
-Dark Chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt and crushed candy canes

The first thing you will need to do is work on the peppermint cookie layer. You will need to line a 12×9 pan with parchment paper; that way it will be easy to pop out once the whole thing is set (make sure that the parchment paper goes up the sides). Then take the Pillsbury peppermint cookie dough and press it into the pan, creating one even layer. Bake according to the package instructions. Once baked through and browned, allow to cool completely.

While the cookie layer is baking, get started on your caramel. I use this recipe for salted caramel that I found on Pinterest. To make a dairy free version, I swapped margarine for the butter, and almond milk for the heavy cream. Obviously, almond milk has a much thinner consistency than heavy cream, so whenever you are substituting for heavy cream, you must be conscious of this. Instead of the 1/2 cup used in the recipe, I only used 2 tablespoons of almond milk. It resulted in a thicker consistency caramel, which I prefer for these bars. You can add one more tablespoon if you want a thinner, more “saucey” caramel. But be aware that you won’t know the true consistency of the caramel until it cools down to room temperature.

Once the peppermint cookie layer is completely cooled, spread the salted caramel evenly over it. I found it easier to spread when it was warmed up, so if your caramel is already at room temperature by the time the cookie layer is cooled, I suggest warming the caramel back up in the microwave. It warms up quickly so start it off with 20 seconds and do 10 second intervals after that until it’s thin enough to pour.

Next, you need to make the chocolate chip cookie dough. I used the recipe from the billionaire bar link above, swapping margarine for the butter to make it dairy free. I chose to completely omit the heavy cream because I don’t feel that it needs the moisture. Of course, I used dark chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate. Once that’s mixed up, gently spread it over the caramel. This part needs a delicate touch because the dough likes to stick to the rubber spatula and it’s easy for the caramel to push it’s way through the dough. Try to get it as evenly spread as you can.

On to the last layer! Melt 1 1/2 cups of dark chocolate chips. I like using a microwave because I find it’s too hard to control the temperature in a double boiler. To do it in the microwave, put the bowl of chocolate chips in for 20 seconds. Stir, and put in for 10 seconds. Continue stirring and heating in 10 second intervals until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Then pour it over the cookie dough and gently spread with a rubber spatula until it’s even. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of sea salt and crushed candy canes and you’re done! Let it firm up in the fridge for an hour and you’ve got yourself a delightful Christmas treat that is sure to make anyone happy.

My Frozen Cake

Here’s the thing–I’m the cake lady. For the past 7 years, if someone from my close circle of people needed a cake, they came to me. My cakes didn’t look that pretty when I first started out, but I’ve gotten good enough now that I would be confidant in selling one of my cakes. What I’m trying to say is–cakes are my thing.

I had grand plans for the Frozen inspired cake for our daughters’ combination birthday party. The (now) 4 year old wanted a Barbie cake, and I wanted to do a tiered cake. Our compromise was to do the Barbie cake and set it on top of a sheet cake that was tall enough for me to do the snow capped thing with winter wonderland detailing. I found this tutorial on how to make Frozen barbie cakes but I didn’t have/didn’t want to purchase the special doll dress pan that she had used. I didn’t think it would be a big deal to just carve the skirt shape out of stacked rounds.

Boy was I wrong.

Sticking the dolls in the cake instantly compromised the structural integrity of the cake. Once I started carving, it began crumbling and falling apart.

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Hot. Mess.

Even though it was already crumbling on me, I decided to still try to put in Elsa’s slut slit.

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That was dumb. I was panicking and not thinking clearly.

Right when I was in tears and ready to throw it in the trash, my husband stepped in, took the knife out of my hands, and did his best to save it. Although it didn’t fall to pieces, the shape was not what we wanted it to be and the cake as a whole resembled the leaning tower of Pisa. Since we didn’t need this cake for serving, we wrapped it in plastic wrap to help hold it together, then slapped some icing and fondant on it. Let me just say that it is hard wrapping barbie skirts in fondant. Especially when it’s two skirts that are melded together.

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I did the best I could.

To cover the cracked fondant and ugly seams, I piped some stars on that I was hoping to pass off as “snowflakes”. I threw some detailing on Elsa’s dress along with silver luster dust to make it shimmer like her dress. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and wasn’t able to get to Anna’s detailing. I was pretty sad about that because the detailing on her dress is so pretty; I was actually looking forward to trying my hand at it.

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I wanted to redeem myself with the sheet cake, but I had fondant issues with that one as well. It was such a beast of a cake that it was really hard to get the fondant to cover the whole thing in one piece. Plus, I was completely out of time. I had to just get it done.

This was the largest piece that I had to patch.

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I told myself that it would be fine because I could just cover it with the white “snow” fondant, but of course that part had a seam in it.

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Time was ticking though, and I had to get it done, so I moved on.

To add insult to injury, Baby Ary the destroyer nicked a piece off one of the sides when I wasn’t looking.

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I patched it with leftover fondant, grabbed the royal icing, and piped some quick snowflakes and Christmas trees (the trees carefully placed to hide other fondant cracks), hoping people would focus on those instead of the nasty fondant work.

wpid-20141123_203902.jpgUnfortunately, I literally ran out of time and left an unfinished tree on one side!

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Let’s just call it modern art.

I was able to make fondant Christmas trees (sprinkled with white sugar for sparkle) to plunk on the top, although I didn’t get around to piping snowflakes or even a ‘Happy Birthday’.

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Definitely not my best work, but also not my worst.

When cake is your thing, you always think that your kids will have the absolute best you have to offer. But that has not been the case in my experience. When it’s someone else’s party, all I have to worry about is the cake. The cake gets 100% of my attention, so it turns out fabulous. But when it’s my party, I have to worry about every single little detail on top of the cake. My parties always have 5,000 details, so something always drops. Since I feel comfortable with cakes, I leave them to the very end, run out of time, and produce something that is unfinished. FOR MY OWN KIDS!!!

But, my girls were happy. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, Mom. I think it looks great!”, Eowyn told me. I wanted to correct her, to point out every single thing that was wrong with it. But instead, I took the compliment and told her what an angel she is.

Is my Frozen cake going to end up on Pinterest? Hell to the no. Does that matter? Absolutely not. What matters is that the birthday girls were happy. They had an absolute blast at their party and loved their cake. That is a job well done.

Every time I do a cake, I get better at my craft. I will continue to push myself, I will learn, and I will get better. But at the end of the day, if the client is happy, then we have to be happy.

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