Saturday, October 6, 2012

First Birthday Celebration

I can't believe it's already been a year!  My little guy turned one last week, and we had his party the weekend before.  I spent the couple months before the party scouring the web (and joining pinterest) to find ideas to plan the perfect party.  I even did a few craft projects.  I made a birthday bunting, a photo banner with a picture for every month, and a birthday hat to match the onesie I ordered from Etsy.  I had also purchased a number of decorations, but the high winds made nearly impossible to put them all up.  Besides I realized that I probably should have shared my grand plans for decorating with my husband and dad who ended up doing most of that work since my number one job is tending to my son.  I had planned to make a smash cake, cupcakes, decorated sugar cookies, and chocolate covered Oreos, but in the end I decided a smash cupcake was fine for the first birthday.  Yes, I like to go a little over the top for big events.  Maybe someday I should go into party planning as a career. ;)

I had planned to put the banners above the food table, but the wind was too strong.  It kept blowing the plates away.

I put a number 1 on the birthday boy's cupcake to make it stand out from the rest!

I love decorating cookies even though it's a bit time-consuming.  I was curious how much cookie places charge, and couldn't believe that some charge around $90 for a dozen decorated cookies.  Crazy!

I hung up the bunting and photo banner at home after the party so we could enjoy it the week of his birthday!

He did not want to keep the hat on, but we managed to get a few decent pictures with it on!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Brooksters and Baked Bars

Last Sunday the authors of the three Baked cookbooks were in Austin for a book signing at William Sonoma.  Since I took a class with them a couple years ago at Central Market when their second book came out I had to go.  At the book signing the had a demo of the pumpkin cake in the new book and samples of pumpkin brittle and their salted caramel.  It was all delicious!  After watching them make the salted caramel again I really want to try it again myself.  I've always had problems making caramel - either burning it, undercooking it, or having it boil over when I added the cream.  I think I just need to practice and I will get it right.  Plus, I've had some fleur de sel salt sitting in my baking cabinet just waiting for the perfect use.  

In honor of them coming I decided to do a little more baking from their books again because their recipes never disappoint.  Earlier this month I was in the mood for chocolate and coconut, and when I found the Baked Bars which are also known as Hello Dolly or kitchen sink bars I couldn't resist them.  How could you go wrong with chocolate chunks, butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, and walnuts surrounded by sweetened condensed milk on top of a coconut and graham cracker crust.  They were quite delicious.  I normally have a sweet tooth, but the comment in the recipe about these being good in small doses was definitely correct.  I think when I make these again I will have to take them to a gathering, cut the recipe in half, or just freeze the other half for later.

For my first recipe from their latest book Baked Elements I decided to bake along with the Baked Sunday Mornings group and make the Brooksters.  I didn't have time to finish mine until Monday night, but I'm hoping to participate a little more in the future (after I get through my son's first birthday party because that is going to take most of my time over the next week).  So, this recipe combines two of my favorite desserts - chocolate chip cookies and brownies.  It's simple to make but does require a bit of planning because both the cookie and brownie dough have to cool for at least 3 hours prior to baking them.  I actually started making the dough Sunday afternoon after the book signing but didn't get to finish them until the next day.  Fortunately I knew there would be extra cookie dough so I threw a half dozen in the oven for my husband and I for Sunday night dessert.  The recipe has two options for baking these either in their special Brookster pan that William Sonoma carries or a muffin pan.  I opted for the muffin pan because I just can't see paying $20 for a single purpose baking pan (at least not anymore).  If I make these again I would probably try making them in mini muffin pans instead because like the Baked bar these are also very rich.  They were very good and even better heated with a little vanilla ice cream, but like so many other bloggers commented I think I still like brownies and chocolate chip cookies on their own a little more.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mile-High Vanilla Sponge Cake

I try to bake along with the Avid Baker's Challenge, but I just haven't been very consistent this year.  I'm starting to find a little more time to bake lately - about once a week which is almost perfect with only two of us eating desserts in my house right now.  So, I thought I would join them this month.  I'm a little late posting this though I did make this cake last week.

The cake was very similar to an angel food cake just a bit heavier since it used both the whites and the yolks of the eggs.  With as few ingredients as it had I thought it would be really quick to throw together, but with an 11 month old trying to "help" I don't think anything is really quick.  He has a fascination with the mixer since I made the mistake before of letting him check it out (when there wasn't anything in it).  Plus, it calls for the whites and yolks to be whipped separately

My mom used to make angel food cake fairly often when I was a kid though I'm pretty sure it always came from a box mix.  She would either make a quick glaze to go on top or top it with strawberries and whipped cream.  I ended up making the chocolate whipped topping for it.  The inside of this cake was very soft just like an angel food cake, but just like when my mom used to bake angel food cakes my absolute favorite part of the cake is the top crust that we always cut off and eat first!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mom and Baby Cookie Party

Last week some of my running mom friends and their little ones came over to my house to do some cookie decorating.  I had offered to teach them how to decorate cookies after bringing some cookies to our coach's baby shower.  It was a lot of fun (especially watching the little ones interact with each other), but I did forget just how much work it is to prepare to decorate cookies.  

I learned how to decorate from taking classes at All in One Bake Shop (now Make It Sweet) whose classes I would highly recommend to anyone in the Austin area.  One of the great things about their classes is they do a lot of the prep work for you, and the parts that we do in class they seem to have down to a science how to do it most efficiently.  I'm learning more each time I do them, and after this time I found some more tips online that  I think will make it faster.  Also, I really wanted to show everyone how to make the royal icing and flood icing (thinned out royal icing) and put it in bags, but next time I would probably do that myself so there's more time for decorating.  Some tips I have are:
  • Simplify! Just choose a few colors and styles rather than several.
  • Use glass measuring cups to mix each color.  Then put half of the color in the piping bag and thin out the rest to pour into the bottles.
  • If you have a lot of cookies to decorate and are pressed for time do all of the outlines of one color first that way you don't have to worry about the icing in the tip drying.  If you have a bit of an assembly line of cookies it goes faster.  
  • I have some piping tip covers that seem to help a little, but one tip I read online afterwards is to put a damp paper towel in the bottom of a glass and put your tip in there.

There were a couple of little ones in our group who were at the point where I thought they might enjoy decorating, but I figured that holding a piping bag was probably beyond their level.  I have some paint brushes that I use cake decorating so I gave them each a brush and put some of the flood icing (thinned out royal icing) in bowls.  That seemed to work pretty well, and thanks to their moms it actually wasn't a huge mess!

My 10 month old wasn't super cooperative with my decorating efforts so I think I only managed to decorate a few cookies during the party.  I was trying to figure out afterwards why I was having such a hard time piping (besides the fact that he kept trying to help), and then I remembered that I normally use my left hand to help guide a little bit.  I ended up decorating some more later that night, but I still had a lot left the next day that I wanted to finish.  I knew that the icing in the piping bags would be fine with the exception of what had hardened in tip (which can easily be taken care of with a toothpick), but the flood icing in the bottles separates overnight.  I did a little research and determined that I should be able to remix it.  I got out a liquid measuring cup so I could hopefully just pour it back in afterwards, poured the separated icing in, and just stirred it with a spoon.  I have two different types of bottles - one with a wide opening and one with a narrow one.  I was able to just pour the icing into the wide bottles, and for the others I had to use a funnel.  I think I might need to get more of the wide neck bottles and more liquid measuring cups sometime before I do another big cookie project.  It was so nice to sit down and finish the cookies while Lucas napped!

I really loved getting together with my friends to decorate cookies, and I hope we get to do it again sometime!  Holiday cookies?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summer Squash Trail Mix Cupcakes

I haven't posted in quite a while.  When I quit my job to stay home with my baby for some reason I thought I would have a lot more time than I did before, but really I only have a little more time for stuff like blogging and a lot more time with my son.  But, that's fine.  So, while I like blogging I don't guarantee that I will do it regularly, but I imagine that as he gets older and naps become more predictable that I will find more time to do it.  I have found more time for baking than I was in the early months of his life, but it typically isn't anything that requires a lot of work though I have done a couple of fancy cakes and decorated cookies.

So, I do still get a CSA share every other week, and I decided this time I would do a better job about using everything before I get the next share.  Only problem is I found out last night that they had me scheduled to get another share this week even though I shouldn't be getting one until next week.  I think something got messed when I went on vacation and pushed out one of my pick up dates.  Rather than dealing with trying to call them I changed my pick up day of the week to Saturday rather than Wednesday to give me the rest of the week to finish what I had.  I decided I needed to use up some of the squash by baking.

I had made Martha Stewart's Zucchini Spice Cupcakes before using half zucchini and half summer squash so I decided to try all summer squash this time.  My son fell asleep for his morning nap and actually let me lay him down so I got busy getting ingredients out.  I soon realized I would have to improvise quite a bit as I didn't have vegetable oil or walnuts.  I ended up using a mixture of safflower, canola, and olive oil because that's all I had.  I've tried cake with olive oil in it before that I liked so I figured  it was worth a try.  I had a bag of trail mix with walnuts, almonds, raisins, cranberries, and dates.  At first, I thought about pulling out all of the walnuts, but then I decided I would just chop it all up and see how it works.

When they came out of the oven I thought they looked a bit more like muffins than cupcakes, but the inside is soft like cake.  They turned out delicious!  I think I still prefer them with just walnuts, but I would say this was a nice substitute!

These are great without the icing as a little snacking cake, but they're even better with a bit of cream cheese icing.  I mixed up some with half butter, half cream cheese, vanilla splash of milk, and powdered sugar to the consistency I want for piping.  I frost a few for the next couple days and then freeze the rest so they taste fresher.  It doesn't take long for them to defrost in the fridge.

I set one out on the plate to take a picture, but I had to go change my baby's clothes as he has decided that the dog water bowl is a fun place to play.  When I came back I saw my cat licking her lips and part of the icing missing from one side, but you'd never know that by looking at the picture above!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cranberry Orange Scones and Big Changes

This month's recipe for the Avid Baker's Challenge is scones.  We're baking out of the Weekend Baker cookbook which has become one of my favorite because the recipes tend to be pretty quit and always delicious.  This one disappoint.  We were given some flavor options in the cookbook, and I went with cranberry and orange.  In an effort to make them slightly healthier I substituted just over a third of the AP flour for whole wheat flour.  Then to negate that I sprinkled them with turbinado sugar right before baking and a orange juice and powdered sugar glaze right after baking.

The big change in my life right now is I quit my job to stay home with my son.  This week is my first week of not working.  I'm hoping to have more time to bake and blog (especially if I can ever get him to nap in his crib rather than on me).  If not, I'll just do what I did this time and put him in the Ergo carrier while I mix everything and put him in the highchair when I'm dealing with the oven.  It's a little slower that way, but I guess he gets to learn really early about baking.

Also, I got my first CSA share today!  Even though this blog has been primarily focused on baking I thought it would be fun to do a post every week or two about what I've made with my share.  I'm cooking and eating so many of these things for the first time so this should be interesting!

I think the directions were probably pretty standard for making these, but I've only ever made one other scone recipe.

Here they are just after glazing.  I'm not sure how much of the glaze actually stayed on the scones, but it seemed to add to the flavor.

My little helper looking on wondering "Mommy what are you doing?  Why is that so interesting?"

I was worried that substituting some whole wheat flour would make these too dense, but they were just perfect.  I baked them for 18 minutes like the recipe called for.  The bottom of them were a little dark, but the inside was soft and not at all dry.  The next day they tasted delicious heated for just 15 seconds.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ABC - Emergency Blender Cupcakes

The recipe for the Avid Baker's Challenge for March was the Emergency Blender Cupcakes. I've made them two or three times before and really liked them, but I've never actually made this frosting. I did actually make them early this month, but I'm just now getting a chance to sit down and type up a blog post. My life with a baby is definitely much busier than my life pre-baby, and I was a busy person anyway. Fortunately life got a little less crazy a few weeks ago when we decided to stay in our current house. We had planned to sell and even got it ready, but then decided it just wasn't worth it. The great thing is I get to keep my kitchen that I absolutely love! Now that we're done with that and I'm figuring out how to do more things with my little helper Lucas I'm hoping to do more baking again.

These cupcakes are so easy to make. My only problem is when I've made them before I've tried to use my blender which is a piece of junk. I always end up wanting to get a new one, but this is the only thing I would use it for right now. So, this time I opted for the hand mixing method which was much easier. The cupcakes turned out perfect - moist and delicious! The frosting was good though a bit heavier than I really prefer, but it was nice to try something a little different than my normal buttercream.