Flamingo Fun

Last week, we celebrated a very special birthday. My awesome friend Karen turned 30, and we took it upon ourselves to surprise her with a “flamingle” get-together. We kept things fairly low-key (although we did get party hats and a giant flamingo balloon), but as we started planning the party, I knew one thing had to happen: an awesome cake.

As you can see, we also had an inflatable flamingo because why not? 🙂

Making the cake without talking to Karen about it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my kitchen. She’s number one on my speed dial whenever I’m baking a cake, and we talk about cake designs whenever one of us is baking. But I knew that she’d get suspicious if I told her about a giant cake covered in flamingos. (Plus, Karen kept the birthday cake AND party a secret when I turned 30, so she deserved it.) 😉

I think three-layer cakes look more festive, so I made a batch and a half of the chocolate cake that I tested last April. Karen told me that she’s been really into all things cookie dough lately, so when this recipe for cookie dough frosting came through my Facebook feed, I knew that would be the perfect filling for the flamingo cake. I covered the rest of the cake with my regular go-to buttercream and decked it out with hot pink sprinkles and plastic flamingos.

Happy birthday, Karen! I’m so glad you’re part of my life!


Cookie Dough Frosting

1-1/2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (1 cup) milk
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, flour and salt, and mix until well-combined.

Slowly add the milk to the mixture until the frosting reaches your desired consistency. (I am Baker suggests adding it a tablespoon at a time.) 

Add the chocolate chips to the frosting and stir until well combined. Spread between cake layers or on top of cupcakes.

From I am Baker, who adapted it from AllRecipes.com

Click here for a printable version.

My Kind of Cake

I know I said I’d try to keep things balanced around here, but it’s birthday month, which means that it’s all about the chocolate. Being the birthday girl AND the baker means that you get what you want for a birthday treat. 😀

For as long as I can remember, chocolate (cake or pie) has been my birthday go-to. So, when this recipe popped up in my Facebook feed, I knew that I had to try it. I’m sure glad I did!

I was surprised to discover that this recipe is very similar to my standard chocolate cake recipe. It uses buttermilk and coffee instead of regular milk and hot water. I also really liked the fact that Sally provided the weights for the ingredients, so I’m including them as well. It’s SO much easier to weigh out ingredients than it is to scoop with a measuring cup. And it’s more accurate. And there’s fewer dishes to wash. I did use the volume measurements for the liquid ingredients, since I figure there’s less room for error there. Plus, my scale only goes from ounces to grams, not milliliters. (Don’t worry, I’m including the volume measurements too, but seriously. Go buy a scale.)

The cake was fudgy and super-chocolately. It had a great texture (not too dense, but not so delicate that it would fall apart), and it stayed nice and moist from the day that I baked it (Thursday morning) until the last crumb was gone (Monday night). Hmm. Guess that means we need another cake around here. After all, there’s still a couple weeks left in birthday month!

It’s birthday season around here. Sprinkles are mandatory.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting 

For the cake:
220 grams (1-3/4 cup) AP flour
350 grams (1-3/4 cup) sugar
65 grams (3/4 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
240 milliliters (1 cup) buttermilk
120 milliliters (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
240 milliliters (1 cup) hot coffee

For the frosting:
290 grams (or 1 1/4 cups or 2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
360 –  480 grams (3-4 cups) powdered sugar
65 grams (3/4 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
45-75 milliliters (3-5 tablespoons) heavy cream or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Sprinkles, for decoration

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour two 9″ cake pans and then line the pans with parchment paper. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla until well-combined. Slowly add in the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Mix in the coffee. The batter will be very thin.

Evenly divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake until cakes test done with a toothpick, between 25-30 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Flip the cakes out of the pans and let cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Turn the mixer off and add the cocoa powder and 3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar to the bowl. Turn the mixer on to low and mix until the cocoa powder and sugar are absorbed by the butter. Increase the mixer speed to medium and add the vanilla, half-and-half and salt. Increase the speed to high and beat the frosting for another 1-2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar if you’d like a stiffer frosting.

To assemble the cake, place the bottom layer on a cake stand (or serving plate, or cardboard cake round). Spread a layer of frosting on top of the cake, then place the second cake layer on top of the frosting. For a smooth finish, cover the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting and then place the cake in the refrigerator. After 15 minutes, remove the cake from the refrigerator and frost with the rest of the frosting. Garnish with sprinkles as desired.

Store cake covered, at room temperature, for up to 4 days.

From Sally’s Baking Addiction, originally adapted from Ina Garten

Click here for a printable version.

A Perfect Pair

We’ve played this game before. Chocolate + what = happiness?

If you said peanut butter, then you’ve either been reading for a while, or you’re simply one of the many, many people who side with me on this. I mean, there’s a reason Reese’s cups are so popular.

So, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that when I decided to make cupcakes a few weeks ago, I went with a chocolate cupcake and a peanut butter frosting. I mean, why not? The only thing better would have been topping the cupcake with a Reese’s cup. Or filling the cupcake with peanut butter AND topping it with the Reese’s cup. Because you can never have too much of a good thing. 😀

This frosting is easy to throw together, and while I think it’s the perfect companion for my favorite chocolate cake, it would also be good on brownies. Or sandwiched between two graham crackers. Or eaten with a spoon. (Not that I’d know anything about that…) 😉

Peanut butter frosting and sprinkles on a new cake stand!
Chocolate sprinkles are almost as good as a Reese’s cup. Almost. 🙂

Peanut Butter Frosting 

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all of the ingredients except the cream. Mix on low until the mixture combines, gradually increasing the speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl. When the powdered sugar is all worked into the butter/peanut butter, beat on medium-high for a few minutes to lighten the frosting. Add the cream and increase the speed to high. Beat the frosting until it is light and smooth.

Store leftover frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Makes enough frosting for about 12 cupcakes.

From the Food Network (originally seen on Annie’s Eats, but the link for that recipe is no longer there.) 

Click here for a printable version.

S’mores + Cake. Oh yes.

So, apparently, I’ve developed a reputation. I’m the destroyer of good intentions. The diet-breaker. The one who shows up to Bible study with a dessert that features 3 sticks of butter and 3 cups of sugar. (Cut me SOME slack here… it was a 9″ x 13″ pan; there was fruit in it; AND I used some whole wheat pastry flour. And they were every bit as good as they sound. Moving on.) 🙂

In spite of the evidence against me (all circumstantial, of course), I do make some things that aren’t complete calorie-bombs. Mango pineapple salsa. Maple walnut granola. Chickpea pasta. Quinoa with mango and black beans. I do my best to make sure we’re eating our veggies, and I’m trying to get outside for a walk at lunchtime each day.

But… let’s be honest. Making fancy desserts is FUN. At least for me. Give me a Saturday in my kitchen, just me and some butter, sugar and the KitchenAid mixer, and I’m as happy as a clam. (Side note: Can anyone explain what exactly makes clams happy? They sit in the mud/sand all day, hoping they don’t end up in somebody’s chowder.) 

And that brings us to the cake I made for the first cookout of the year, hosted by my partner-in-cake-decorating-crime. What’s better at a cookout than s’mores? Especially at a cookout with a bonfire! I went back and forth, trying to decide between s’mores cupcakes and an actual s’mores cake. Finally, I went with the s’mores cake… simply because I’ve made the cupcakes before, and I love to try something new. Especially when I have a willing bunch of test subjects.

Oh, and I got to play with my kitchen torch too. Best. Day. Ever. 😀


S’mores Cake

For the cake:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pans
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups graham cracker crumbs, finely processed into a powder (this takes about 14 graham crackers)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar (I did the ‘add molasses to light brown sugar” trick here.) 
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well shaken

For the filling:
1/2 lb. milk chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 pinches of salt

For the frosting:
4 large egg whites (save the yolks and make some ice cream!)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9″ round cake pans, and then line the cake pans with parchment paper. Then, butter your parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars until they’re light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Once the eggs are beaten into the butter, add one-third of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix briefly. Add about half of the buttermilk and mix briefly again. Add another third of the dry ingredients, and then the rest of the buttermilk, giving the batter a quick mix in between. Add the rest of the dry ingredients, scrape the sides of the bowl, and mix until combined.

Evenly divide the batter between the two prepared pans. (I channeled my inner nerd and got out my kitchen scale, weighing each pan to be sure they were even.) Smooth the batter in the pans, and then bake until the cakes test “done” with a toothpick, about 30-35 minutes. (I checked at 28 minutes, and then at 33.) Remove pans from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Flip the cakes out of the pans, and peel off the parchment paper. Let cool completely before proceeding.

To make the filling, place the chocolate in a small, heat-proof bowl. Pour the cream and the salt into a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for a minute. Whisk until the chocolate is smooth and melted. Fill a large bowl with ice water, and then place the bowl with the chocolate in the water bath to thicken and cool, stirring occasionally.

When you’re ready to assemble the cake, place one round on a cake stand. Spread the chocolate filling on the top of the layer and top with the second cake layer.

Next, make the frosting. (Since this is a marshmallow frosting, you’ll want to use it as soon as it’s done.) Place the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of a stand mixer. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk the mixture constantly, cooking until the sugar is dissolved and egg whites are warm to the touch. Place the bowl on the stand mixer, and, using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff, glossy peaks form. (You’ll want to start at a low speed and gradually work your way up to a high speed.) Add the vanilla and mixture until combined.

Frost the cake with a thin coating of the marshmallow frosting, sealing in all of the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake for 10 minutes or so, to firm up the crumb coat. Using an offset spatula, spread the rest of the frosting all over the cake in thick dollops. Take a spoon, and create swirls in the frosting with the back of the spoon (similar to this technique). When the cake is swirled to your liking, brown the frosting with a kitchen torch set on the low setting.

Serve within a few hours. (I baked the cake on a Saturday morning, then frosted about an hour or so before the cookout. We cut into the cake about four hours after it was finished, and it was still in good shape. And while the leftovers tasted great the next day, the frosting had started to melt/dissolve.)

From the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Click here for a printable version.

Andy’s Cupcakes

In a way, I feel like this post is cheating: I’ve shared this cake/frosting combination before. But these are green for St. Patrick’s day! (No, I’m not Irish, but Pat seems to be more popular than Urho.) Not to mention the fact that **shameless plug** I really like the picture. 😀

So, why not call them Urho’s cupcakes? Or Patrick’s cupcakes? Because these are Andy-fied. My husband loves the chocolate/mint combination. He might even love it more than I love the peanut-butter chocolate combination, which is saying something. His favorite ice cream flavor? Mint chocolate chip. (Although, some days, it’s a close tie with vanilla bean…) His favorite thing about eating at the Olive Garden? The Andes mints.

And since Andes mints are green… and the cupcake wrappers are green… and March holidays seem to be green, well… it was a match made in cupcake heaven.

I did experiment with chopped mints versus whole mints, and while Andy preferred the whole mint, I liked the chopped pieces better. And since it’s my kitchen, chopped it was. The cake recipe is super easy.(I had these ready to go in the oven in under 20 minutes, start to finish.) You can easily halve the cake recipe, giving you a more manageable number of cupcakes. The frosting is my favorite chocolate frosting, and it comes together quickly as well.

I have to say, I LOVE the way this picture turned out. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then!

To make Andy’s cupcakes, you’ll need a batch of chocolate cupcakes and a batch or two of chocolate frosting. I find that I need about a batch and a half of the chocolate cream cheese frosting to do an entire batch of cupcakes. (Of course, I recommend making two full batches and then just eating the leftover frosting with a spoon. What? You don’t do that? Hmm…) You’ll also need a package of Andes mints, unwrapped, of course. 🙂

Click here for the recipes: Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Fluffy Pink Perfection

What’s the most important part of a birthday cake? The filling? The tender layers of moist, delicious cake? The number of blazing candles on the cake?

That’s a trick question. Clearly, the most important feature is the frosting. Especially when you’re celebrating your fourth birthday. Before I made Elliana’s birthday cake, I asked what kind of cake she wanted. The response? “One with frosting.”

I can do that. 🙂

I opted to go with a funfetti cake, filled with vanilla custard and frosted with strawberry buttercream. (If you’re curious, I used Annie’s funfetti recipe, which leaves you with six homeless egg yolks. Perfect for making a double batch of this custard from Smitten Kitchen.) I read through several berry buttercreams (strawberry, raspberry, etc.) and discovered that people added anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of pureed fruit to a basic buttercream. So I turned to the simple buttercream recipe I like the best, and went from there! The results were exactly what I’d hoped for – a sweet, pink frosting perfect for a little girl. I did use a little bit of icing color to deepen the pink, but not too much.

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

2 1/2 sticks of butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup pureed strawberries*
1 tablespoon heavy cream, give or take
pink icing color, if desired

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add in the salt and powdered sugar and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy (and way too easy to eat straight from the bowl).

Pour in the pureed strawberries and vanilla, and mix until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add cream to reach desired consistency. Tint with icing color as desired.

Frosting adapted from Annie’s Eats, as seen on The Way the Cookie Crumbles, originally from Cook’s Illustrated

*The week before I made Elliana’s cake, I did a test run of this strawberry cake, in cupcake form. While we liked it, mine didn’t turn out “pink” enough to be considered for the birthday girl’s cake. (I have no idea why this is.) However, the recipe did yield a nice amount of leftover strawberry puree, which is what I used for this frosting. I thought it had a great flavor and would recommend using that puree/technique. Feel free to simply puree some frozen strawberries with a little sugar, and then strain them to remove most of the seeds, if you’re not feeling the whole “cooked puree” method that Elly describes. 

Chocolate Love

This past week, I tackled the biggest baking challenge of my life thus far. (And no, I don’t think I’m exaggerating here.) I made (and successfully transported!) a wedding cake!

The bride is a girl after my own heart – this was a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. After all, if we’re going to have cake, why bother with anything else?

In spite of my somewhat irrational concerns (would the top layers crush the bottom layer? would the cake topple over in the fridge? what if the power goes out and the entire thing melts in the 90+ degree heat?), things went smoothly! I baked the cake layers on Monday, then froze them so they’d be easier to work with. I then made the frosting on Tuesday and began crumb coating on Wednesday. Thursday was the final coat of frosting, then doweling and assembly! Friday afternoon, I added the flowers and then sat with the cake on my lap while Andy carefully navigated around every bump in the road between our home and the reception site. (And then we went to Chipotle to celebrate… mmm, burritos.)

So, a big congrats to Katie and Daniel! Thanks for trusting me to be a part of your special day! 🙂

Close-up of the flowers and detail on the cake.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting 

8 ounces of cream cheese
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1/3 cup of dark chocolate cocoa powder
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk or cream, as desired

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy. Add in the cocoa and powdered sugar and mix until well combined. Increase the speed on the mixer and beat until frosting is light and fluffy (in texture, not color… we’re talking chocolate here!). Mix in the vanilla and then thin with milk or cream to reach desired consistency.

Store extra (umm, what?) in the fridge, or spread it on brownies, graham crackers, etc.

*Side note: I find this frosting a little too soft for super detailed piping. It works well for something basic, like the simple round trim I put between the layers of the cake, or for the large swirl on these cupcakes, but I can’t get it to hold up for stars or ruffles. But maybe that’s because it’s 95 degrees out. 

(This is my favorite chocolate frosting. It’s smooth and dark, super chocolaty, but not overly sweet. I could eat with a spoon, but I tried to restrain myself and only put it on the cake.)

From Peace, Love & French Fries

Chocolate Cake

2 cups & 2 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups & 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350. If using round cake pans, butter and flour pans then line with parchment paper. If making cupcakes, line cupcake pans with liners.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Pour the egg mixture into the mixing bowl and mix for 30 seconds on low. Increase the speed to medium and beat for two minutes. After two minutes, pour in the boiling water, then mix briefly to combine. (The batter will be thin – do not panic!) 

Pour cake batter into prepared pans and bake until cakes test done with a toothpick. (It takes about 30 minutes for me to do the 9″ cake and about 20 minutes for cupcakes.) 

Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes. Remove cake from pans and allow to cool completely before frosting.

This is my go-to chocolate cake. It makes enough for two 8″ or 9″ pans, or for 24 cupcakes. I obviously made a couple of batches to make the wedding cake! 

From Annie’s Eats

Pink or Blue?

Recently, I had the chance to make cupcakes for a friend’s baby shower. Since we were expecting quite a few people, I knew I’d have the opportunity to try out a couple different flavors. I spent hours days weeks way too much time thinking about what I’d make, when suddenly, inspiration struck! Since they’re having boy/girl twins, I’d do one batch chocolate with pink (because what girl doesn’t love chocolate?) and one batch vanilla with blue! Perfect! (This also meant a trip to my favorite bulk food/sprinkle store to pick out the perfect sprinkles and cupcake liners. And we should all be thankful that Andy was with me this time, otherwise I might still be there staring at the sprinkles.) 

Baby Boy Cupcake

Baby Girl Cupcake
See those two chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting in the background? They were "accidents" - I ran out of chocolate frosting before I ran out of cupcakes, so they were dressed in this awesome frosting! (And they ended up being my favorite combination!)

While both varieties were fun to make (and eat), the vanilla bean frosting was hands down the best part of the entire process. Not only did it taste amazing, but the little flecks of vanilla bean just look so cool in the frosting!

I’ve recently discovered Swiss meringue buttercream, and I don’t think I’ll go back to a standard buttercream again. I was a little intimidated by this frosting at first, but after a lot of reading and research, I decided to give it a whirl. And, I have to admit, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d feared. Plus, it just tastes SO good. Rich, buttery, and sweet (but not too sweet…), it whips up nicely and pipes well. I could have just eaten it straight from the pastry bag, but then I’d have to explain all of the naked cupcakes to everyone.

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

5 large egg whites
1 cup & 1 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pound butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoon-sized chunks

In the metal bowl of a stand mixer (this is one recipe where I am so thankful to own a KitchenAid!), combine the egg whites, sugar and salt. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook, whisking often, until the mixture is foamy, reaches 160 degrees, and the sugar dissolves. (I use my candy thermometer for this, clipped to the side of the bowl.) 

Remove the bowl from the pan and place on the stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. This takes about eight minutes, and the bowl should be cool to the touch when you’re done.

Turn the mixer speed to medium and begin adding the butter, two tablespoons at a time, and beat until all of the butter is incorporated into the meringue. Continue to add butter, two tablespoons at a time, until all of the butter is whipped into the frosting. (Sometimes, it looks soupy, but that’s normal… a little more beating/whipping and it’ll turn into frosting. I promise.)  Add in the vanilla extract and scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the frosting. Mix until well incorporated.

Pipe onto cupcakes, spread on layer cakes or eat with a spoon. Extra frosting (what’s that?) can be frozen or refrigerated or spread on graham crackers for a delicious snack.

Recipe from Annie’s Eats; inspiration, tips and courage from Sweetapolita