Archive for January, 2010

Hummingbird Cake…my version

Thursday, January 28th, 2010
My Version of Hummingbird Cake

My Version of Hummingbird Cake

Baking is a science. Unlike cooking which allows you to add a pinch of this and a tad of that to taste, baking recipes need to be followed to a tee.  Otherwise, the result can be disastrous.

I, like many great bakers, borrow recipes and ideas from the pros.  There are always certain things you can do to put your signature on a recipe and make it your own.  Let’s take Hummingbird Cake for example…there are so many variations of this cake out there for you to try.  My personal favorite is Paula Dean’s version of Hummingbird Cake. Her version is delicious as is, but I wanted to make this recipe my own and give it a personal twist.

As a guideline, I never mess with the amount or type of flour used in a recipe.  The leavening agents are also something I stay spot on with.  When it comes to sugar you can probably get away with adding a bit less, but I wouldn’t recommend changing the actual “type” of sugar. Brown sugar has more moisture than granulated sugar and some sweeteners such as Splenda or Equal don’t translate the same as granulated sugar.  I must not forget to mention that calorie-free sweeteners can leave an unpleasant aftertaste in your baked goods as well as cause them not to rise up. 

Changes should be subtle…adding a different kind of nut, chip or spice.  Making a recipe your own can even be as simple as adding slightly more of one ingredient.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a cuckoo for coconut – it is one of my favorite ingredients to work with.  Simply adding a ½ cup of sweetened flake coconut to this Hummingbird Cake created a whole new layer of flavor and a bit more texture.

The next twist I made on this Hummingbird Cake recipe was replacing the finely chopped pecans with more roughly chopped toasted pecans.

***Chefs Note on Toasting Pecans***

To toast pecans simply place them in a dry pan over medium heat.  Be sure to keep an eye on them and stir often.  Pecans have oil in them that left unattended can burn. And no one wants burnt nuts in their cake.  You will know when they are done when they smell aromatic and are slightly browned

toasted-pecan-hummingbird-cake

The last change I made to this Hummingbird Cake recipe was to kick up the cinnamon.  To bump up the warmth cinnamon can add, I increased the amount of cinnamon to 1 ½ teaspoons. 

I finished the cake with cream cheese icing, toasted coconut and whole toasted pecans. 

I am still learning about the science behind cake baking.  For more information on this topic check out these sites:

About.com – Baking Ingredient Science

WilliePrejean’s Baking and Baking Science

Hummingbird Cake

Ingredients
Serves 12

FOR THE CAKE

  • Nonstick vegetable spray
  •  All-purpose flour, for pans
  •  3 cups self-rising flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  •  3/4 cup vegetable oil
  •  1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  •  2 very ripe large bananas, mashed
  • 1 (8-ounce) crushed pineapple, with juice
  •  1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 large eggs, beaten

 FOR THE FROSTING

  • 1 pound (1 box) confectioners’ sugar, (for the frosting)
  • 1 (8-ounces) cream cheese, room temperature (for the frosting)
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened (for the frosting)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, (for the frosting)
  • 1 tablespoon milk, or more if needed (for the frosting)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, (for the frosting)

****(My changes to this recipe include…adding ½ cup sweetened flake coconut, larger toasted pecans and ½ teaspoon more cinnamon)

Directions

1.   Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray and flour three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans, tapping out excess flour; set aside.

2.   Prepare the cake; in a large bowl, stir to combine self-rising flour, sugar, oil, pecans, bananas, pineapple, vanilla, cinnamon, and eggs.

3.   Divide batter evenly between prepared pans, smoothing with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the tops spring back when gently pressed with your fingertips, 26 to 28 minutes.

4.   Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto wire rack. Re-invert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.

5.   Prepare the frosting; in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk on medium speed until frosting is smooth. If needed, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to achieve the proper spreading consistency.

6.   Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Spread the top of the first layer with 1/4 of the frosting. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another 1/4 of the frosting. Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top with pecans. Remove parchment paper strips; refrigerate until ready to serve.

A Winter Wedding Cake…

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
winter-wedding-cake-3

Photo courtesy of Joshua Wood Photography

December is a month full of activities.  Holidays, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and if you have children, well they are home from school for half the month.  This past December I took on a new task, one that was not only stressful but also worthwhile as it would test both my organization and baking abilities…I signed on to do my first wedding.

Weddings are a whole other department in the baking world.  This isn’t just someone’s graduation cake or birthday cake…this was someone’s WEDDING!  Most brides want it to be the most perfect day of their entire life…that’s a lot to live up to. 

The bride and I met back in April for a cake tasting. She sampled the four flavors of cake I had so skillfully prepared…Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Swiss Meringue Butterceam, Spice Cake with Cinnamon Buttercream, Funfetti with Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and Strawberry Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. 

Along with eating cake we discussed her vision for the wedding.  One thing that remained an unchanged constant was the wedding cake.  She brought me a photograph from Real Simple, the cake was elegant and understated…quilted white fondant with silver floral and pearl accents – perfect for a winter wedding. 

Fondant that has a quilted effect and pearl accents.

Fondant that has a quilted effect and pearl accents.

The wedding cake was going to be used simply for display and the cutting ceremony; whereas, the cupcakes were to be served as the actual dessert. The bride wanted each guest to receive three mini cupcakes, in three different flavors: chocolate, spice and funfetti.  Each cupcake would be decorated with a gum paste flower that would mimic the flowers on the wedding cake. 

The wedding cake consisted of three layers, each a different flavor.  The bottom layer was Funfetti Cake; Funfetti being the bride’s favorite cake flavor from her childhood.  The middle layer was Chocolate Cake…who doesn’t like chocolate?  The top of the wedding cake was Spice Cake; her fiancé’s personal favorite.

Once the month of December hit, my stomach went into knots.  I found myself thinking about it day and night.  Was I up to this challenge?  I found my mind racing at night while lying in bed.  “How much butter?”, “How many eggs?”, “How much gum paste is needed for 650 daisies?”. 

Gum Paste Daisies, 650 of them...

Gum Paste Daisies, 650 of them...

One thing I knew for certain is that I needed to organize myself by creating a timeline.  The timeline was crucial for staying on task. Baking is the easy part in my eyes.  The real time comes in the decorations and details. 

The gum paste flowers for 650 mini cupcakes were definitely the first order of business. The next step was figuring out how much butter, sugar, flour, etc. I would need.  I did this by breaking down recipes and with a couple of calculations…viola, the list was together. 

The week of the wedding came and I had briefed my family on the rules.  There was to be no whining, no hanging out in my work space, no friends over, and we would be doing a lot of carryout meals. 

The kitchen became more of an assembly line on certain nights with my good friend Bridget and my husband Tom working the line. They were incredibly helpful…love you guys!  Somehow it all came together just in time.  I officially have a wedding under my belt, and boy am I proud of myself and my work.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Wood Photography - www.JoshuaJWood.com

Photo courtesy of Joshua Wood Photography - www.JoshuaJWood.com

Special thanks to photographer, Joshua Wood, for the use of his gorgeous photos of the cake and wedding. www.JoshuaJWood.com

New Year’s Eve Menu

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

colorful-menu-cards

How much do I love entertaining?  I guess I like taking care of people, or perhaps it just satisfies that need to always have something to plan and look forward to. 

This year, like many past years, we decided to have a few friends over to ring in the New Year.  This was a last minute decision, so the menu was rather last minute. My menu had to be tasty…comforting…and logistically easy to eat. Luckily, Martha had some great suggestions for me.

……………………………………………
My New Year’s Eve Menu

Baked Chick Pea Nibbles

Grilled Tomato Crostini

Artichoke Parmesan Crostini

Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Tarts
thyme & honey

Twice Cooked Potatoes
chihuahua cheese & chives

Chicken Satays
spicy peanut sauce

Beef Tenderloin
gorgonzola cheese, arugula on crostini

White Chocolate Fondue
mixed berries, pineapple, banana slices & almond biscotti
……………………………………………

The Baked Chick Pea Nibbles are a healthy alternative to other snacky type food and they taste pretty good.  I would suggest baking them a bit longer, and seasoning them a bit more heavily.  You want them very crunchy.  I also put out mixed nuts along with these.  I always appreciate something to nibble on when they are sipping cocktails.

Chick Pea Nibbles and Cashews

Chick Pea Nibbles and Cashews

The two crostini recipes are a no brainer.  Grilled bread and good toppings, easy to eat and satisfying. 

Grilled Tomato Crostini

Grilled Tomato Crostini

I love caramelized onions with goat cheese – it is a classic combination of flavors.  I dress these little tarts up with a drizzle of honey for an unexpected surprise of sweet. 

Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Tarts

Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Tarts

The Twice Cooked Potato recipe was modified.  I omitted the caviar (couldn’t find any), and added cheese and extra sour cream to make them more like a miniature twice baked potatoes. The Chihuahua cheese melts really well, which made them nice and gooey. I ended up pressing the potato mixture through a mesh strainer, so the mixture ended up smooth and creamy.  

I marinated the Chicken Satays in the soy mixture a few hours ahead of the party.  I doubled the soy, omitted the sesame oil and replaced with a hot chili oil – I also added a bit of honey.  At party time, I simply threw them on my indoor grill, and served them up hot with the spicy peanut sauce. Since I used natural peanut butter, I needed to modify the recipe by adding honey for sweetness.  I also thinned it out with about a tablespoon of soy.

The Beef Tenderloin is something we always serve.  Simply cook the beef to your temp. liking and serve with a gorgonzola cheese, arugula and crostini.  I serve it all on a big platter, it makes a nice presentation. 

For an easy dessert, try the White Chocolate Fondue.  With this fondue, you don’t even need a fondue pot – you can simply heat it on the stove and serve it in a bowl.  It will stay smooth and creamy without hardening up on you.  It is also a nice change from the classic Milk Chocolate Fondue. 

White Chocolate Fondue with Berries & Fruit

White Chocolate Fondue with Berries & Fruit

I created colorful menu item cards for the table.  They were done in the same colors of my napkins and centerpiece.  At the end of the night, everyone left with some colorful sugar cookies – also in the same colors. 

Handmade Menu Cards

Handmade Menu Cards

A toast to the New Year with White Star and then we called it a night.  Another year in the books…. 

Colorful, Festive Sugar Cookies

Colorful, Festive Sugar Cookies

My Canon EOS Rebel XS

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

First I want to apologize for the lack of posts this past month, wow there was a lot to do.  It seems like there isn’t enough time in the day, let alone the month to fit everything in!  Now that it’s all over we can get back to business. 

Santa did bring me some wonderful presents and I plan to feature some of them on the site in the coming months.  I can’t wait to try out my sister’s new camera, the NikonD5000 to be exact.  But in the meantime this post is meant to pay homage to my baby, my good old Canon EOS Rebel xs.  I too, have not finished the manual (not sure if I ever will?).  This camera is a joy – I love taking pictures and having good equipment makes it that much better.  Here are a couple of Christmas season photos Canon Style!

Nutcracker

Nutcracker

 

christmas bulbs

christmas bulbs

 

My Stocking

My Stocking

 

Daisy

Daisy

 

Our New Addition...Boo Boo

Our New Addition...Boo Boo

 

Alex asleep in closet next to Boo Boo

Alex asleep in closet next to Boo Boo

 

Knex rollercoaster...only took 6 1/2 hours to build

Knex rollercoaster...only took 6 1/2 hours to build

Hope your Holidays were as wonderful as mine!

Peanut Butter Squares

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

 

A grade school legend...the Peanut Butter Square

Growing up we called them Peanut Butter Squares, some called them Hollywood Squares (anyone who grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) – these little peanut treats are sure to bring back memories of grade school lunches.  

I borrowed this recipe from the Hollywood Squares recipe originally printed in the Cuyahoga Falls News-PressAfter going over the ingredients, I was a bit hesitant in preparing it – it’s really nothing but sugar and fat.  Not the best recipe to be publishing so early in 2010 when many resolutions are already hanging by a thread.  

These Peanut Butter Squares are certainly delicious and very rich.  Kind of like a peanut butter cup on steroids.  One tiny square and your peanut butter craving will be cured.  Yep, I said “peanut butter craving” – I get them all the time.  I usually cure mine with a bit of Skippy Peanut Butter mixed with vanilla ice cream.   Now I have a new medicine.     

Peanut Butter Squares, aka Hollywood Squares 

Ingredients: 

  • 2 cups peanut butter
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup graham cracker crumbs
  • ½ cup melted butter

Topping: 

  • 4 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
  • 2 tablespoon peanut butter

Directions: 

1.)     Combine all ingredients except topping ingredients.  Mix well and place in a buttered 9″x13″ square pan.  

2.)     Melt the topping ingredients together and spread over the top of the peanut butter mixture. 

3.)     Chill until topping is firm. 

I’ve got a question…does anyone know where the term “Hollywood Square” originated?  In my school we simply called them Peanut Butter Squares, but in my husband’s they called them Hollywood Squares.   We grew up 40 minutes away from each other.   

Peanut Butter Squares on Let’s Get Cookin’ 

Hollywood Squares on Tasty Kitchen

My New Nikon D5000

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Well…we’re back.  We were MIA for about a month, but we are back! 

The holidays were great…relaxing and filled with family.  Some of my highlights of the last few weeks include Christmas shopping with my mom, Vegas, Los Angeles, babysitting my nephew’s new hamster and plenty of days filled with leisurely cooking.    

Another highlight of the holiday – my new Nikon D5000 camera!  Now I just need to figure out how to use it properly.  I feel like a true pro with this thing.    Here are some shots from Christmas day…

chocolate-covered-pretzels_1

christmas-cookies_1

christmas-rooster-ornament_1

christmas-tree-night_1

gill-christmas_1

There will be many more to come…  Off to read my manual.


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