Tag Archives: cake

Baking challenge

My challenge: to make a cake that looks like Mickey from In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak with minimal equipment and without using any traditional (commercial) food coloring.

First, we ran out of propane, so I had to bake the cake at a friend’s house. Oops.

Second, I have almost zero experience in making cakes look pretty (I bake a lot, but I don’t DECORATE them much) and no icing tips or bags or supplies.

Third, the cake was in honor of my sister, who can’t eat commercial food colorings or dyes.

Fourth, it needed to be a SHAPED cake. A cake shaped like Mickey. Which I’ve never done before.

So! A challenge!

I experimented with what might make a dark-colored dye after soliciting some suggestions from friends. (The suggestions included beets (!)(How on earth would BEETS make a BLACK dye?), squid ink (because I can just go pick that up here at the fish monger here in BFE), and corn smut (aka huitlacoche, because nothing is more delicious on a cake than agricultural mold). I ended up using ground-up black tea and poppy seeds (done in the spice grinder) and it made a dark gray-brown icing that wasn’t objectionably flavored.

I found a spice cake recipe, multiplied it by 1.5, and added some cocoa powder to it to add a bit more flavor, and baked it at my friend’s house in two pans (a 9×13 and an 8×8). The 9×13 became the base of the cake and I cut the 8×8 up into a variety of pieces to make the added on parts of Mickey (head, elbows, milk bottle, feet). To my delight, the 8×8 cake gave me exactly the right number, size, and shape of pieces. I had none left over.

I covered some cardboard with freezer paper and set the 9×13 and the 8×8 pieces on it for display, then made some buttercream frosting and did a crumb coat over the whole thing, using some icing to stick the pieces onto the main cake. I reserved a bit of the plain white icing and juiced a carrot and half a small pomegranate in our juicer, using cocoa powder and some of the carrot juice for the brown ‘cake’ part of Mickey and a splash of the pomegranate and tiny bit of carrot juice for his face skin. I iced the brown parts of the cake, the face, and the white milk bottle, which took up the entire batch of buttercream. Then, I made up a new batch of plain icing (powdered sugar with a bit of milk) and added the ground black tea and poppyseeds. It all mixed up into a goopy dark mass, which I scooped into a plastic quart baggie and snipped the tip off one of the corners. I piped the dark icing on to outline details on the cake and gave Mickey his features and hair, with a printed out picture that Dan photoshopped for me as a guide.

Here’s how Mickey turned out. He was pretty delicious, completely homemade, and had zero artificial coloring.

I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me!


Food on Friday: Seasonal edition

Any longtime readers may remember that once upon a time, I wrote about food all the time. Then, for several years, Dan did almost all of the cooking and so I stopped having much inspiration. I’m great at coming up with good food combinations (the idea person) and Dan’s great at turning my ideas into actual food. But now that he’s spending every weekday away from home, I’ve had to start feeding myself again. Cooking for one isn’t my favorite thing, and I’ve actually lost some weight that I probably didn’t need to lose because I’m so uninterested in spending time to make a good meal for just me.

That being said, I tend to make really yummy things on Friday nights, so when Dan gets home he gets a good homecooked meal. Sometimes I feel like Donna Reed, but mostly I’m glad it’s given me a chance to branch out a bit more and remember why I liked cooking in the first place. So here are the two things I made this week that I liked and I bet you’ll like, too.

First, we still have a meellion apples on one of our apple trees, and second, it’s suddenly gotten really cold. I’ve been loathe to turn the heat on because propane is expensive (and also because why heat up the whole house when I’m pretty much just using one room during the day?), so yesterday when it was 57 degrees inside I decided to bake something with a few of the unidentified apples leftover from this week’s apple butter. I decided to bake something in easy-to-grab form, and settled on cupcakes (or, really, muffins, because they aren’t that sweet). I adapted a recipe I found for an apple spice bundt cake on allrecipes.com and made it my own.

MLE’s Spiced Apple Cupcakes (makes 12)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp warm water
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 small apples – cored and chopped into small pieces. I decided to leave the peels on for extra fiber, and because I know they’re organic and unwaxed.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare your cupcake pan/muffin tin (add paper cups, grease& flour, or if you have silicone ones like I do, do nothing).

2. Cream together butter and sugar. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Stir together soda and 1 tablespoon warm water, and mix into the sugar mixture. Stir in flour, spices, and salt. Stir in apples.

3. Fill each cup about 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool before icing.

Apple cupcakes with browned butter icing


Note: Last weekend Dan made biscuits that turned out like hockey pucks, and my cupcakes didn’t rise very much. This leads me to believe we need new baking soda. It can get too old to function properly!

If I weren’t married to a crazy person that doesn’t like cheese involved in anything that could remotely be considered a dessert, other than tiramisu, I would have made cream cheese frosting for these cupcakes because it would be a perfect marriage. Sadly, had I done that he wouldn’t have eaten any of them, so instead I made browned butter icing.

Browned butter icing

1/3 cup butter
~3 cups powdered sugar.
splashes of milk
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Brown butter in a saucepan and let cool. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Add 2 cups powdered sugar, a splash or two of milk, vanilla, and salt, and beat with a hand mixer. Add more powdered sugar and another milk splash if needed to get icing to spreading consistency.

The truly spectacular part of our dinner tonight came from a recipe that my friend Caitie posted on twitter for pumpkin gnocchi. I’ve always wanted to try making gnocchi but never got around to it, and when I saw how simple the recipe was I decided I had to try it. The only change I made to this recipe was to substitute a gorgeous butternut squash that Karen and Andriy grew in their yard for the pumpkin, which turned out to be a great choice, especially considering how sweet it ended up being.

Delicious orange flesh

So first, I roasted the squash.

All cooked!

Once it was finished, I decided to rock it old-school style and put it through the ancient food mill rather than get the food processor down and have to clean it. I’ll say one thing for that Foley mill; it cleans up really easily. Plus, that way I didn’t have to add any water and the puree was already at the perfect consistency and moisture level for the gnocchi recipe.

Perfectly riced texture

A hollow shell of its former self

I added the egg yolk, flour, salt, and nutmeg, and followed the rest of the recipe as written. It cooked beautifully and I made the suggested browned butter sage sauce to go with it. It was amazingly delicious, and definitely a recipe I’ll make again!

Labor-intensive, but worth the effort

Food on Friday: Bonus Photo Edition

Fall is here, my friends! With it comes cooler, snappy dry air, sweaters and tights, and my desire to eat things that involve apples and pumpkin. We had our first honeycrisps last week, and they were nothing short of fabulous. To celebrate my friend’s fall baby, I made pumpkin chocolate chip muffins for her shower, and boy, were they tasty.

MLE’s pumpkin chocolate chip muffins (makes 12, plus a few additional cookies)

1.5 cups all purpose flour (or 1 cup white, 1/2 cup whole-wheat)
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp baking powder
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk or water
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpin
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour or add baking cups to muffin tin. In a smallish bowl, combine dry ingredients, set aside. In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar together until fully mixed, then add eggs, vanilla, and pumpkin. Mix in dry ingredients. Add milk or water if batter is dry. Add chocolate chips. Scoop into muffin tin and bake for 15-20 minutes. With any leftover batter, grease a cookie sheet and plop remaining batter onto sheet, leaving quite a bit of room between each plop. Bake for around 10 minutes. Makes 12 muffins and 7-8 large soft pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.

Here are some photos I took on my way to work this morning. Everything is in transition; some trees have completely turned while others are just beginning.

City aspen will turn to gold when it Damn Well Feels Like It.

Here is the cake I made for Steve last weekend. I doubled this recipe, except I only used one cup of sugar and used bits of strawberry intead of raspberries. It was superdelicious.

And, apropos of nothing, a car in our neighborhood.

Yes, those are large, pink-lined, furry rabit ears.

An outing

On Tuesday night, rather than sit at home glued to the teevee, Dan and I actually went out in the world and did something.

How many of you read Cake Wrecks? Well, Jen and John of Cake Wrecks are doing a “world” book tour, and last week when I saw that they were going to be at the Tattered Cover in Denver, I said, “Self, that sounds like a rollicking good time.” And it was.

We ate turkey sandwiches about 2 hours earlier than we normally eat dinner and then headed downtown, took the 16th street mall shuttle, and arrived at the Tattered Cover about a half an hour before the event started. I bought a copy of the book (because how could I not?) and Dan secured us seats. All told, I think over 200 people showed up, and before things got started I got some photos of the cupcake “cake wreck replica” contest entries.

My favorite one.

Jen and John presented a slideshow of some of their favorite wrecks, told funny stories, and then judged the contest. The winner received an apron with the official mohawk plastic baby carrot jockey Cake Wrecks World Tour logo.

We all flipped through our copies of the book while waiting in line to have our books personalized. It was a great event. Plus, everyone got a free cupcake!

Food on Friday: Party edition

The recipes for the party food I made for last Saturday’s festivities have mostly been previously included on my blog: guacamole, hummus. The onion dip consisted of mixing a packet of onion soup mix with 16 oz of sour cream and letting it sit in the fridge for an hour. I made pita chips by cutting up each pita bread into 8 slices, brushing with olive oil, sprinkling with salt and garlic powder, and toasting them in the toaster oven.

The lemon cake was modified from this Smitten Kitchen recipe. In order to modify the original recipe (scaled to fit bundt pans), I decreased the ingredient ratio by 1/3. Here is my version:

MLE’s tasty lemon cake (makes 1 9×13 sheet cake or 2 8 inch rounds)

1 1/3 sticks butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
zest of 4 lemons
2 cups flour
1/3 tsp baking soda
1/3 tsp baking powder
2/3 tsp salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and zest. Sift dry ingredients in separate bowl. Combine lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla in a 3rd bowl. Add flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to butter and sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Pour into cake pan that has been generously greased/floured (or better yet, use parchment paper, which we were out of). Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Meanwhile, combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice in a pan over low heat until sugar is melted. Let cake cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto a plate (or, if you’re like me and you can’t get the cake out of the pan, leave it in) and poke a lot of holes with a toothpick. Spoon sugar/juice mixture slowly over the cake to allow it to soak in.

I frosted the cake using a basic vanilla buttercream, but you can use anything that sounds good!

For Sunday’s brunch, I made a variety of things. The recipes for the Broccoli Slaw and Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble also came from Smitten Kitchen and were not modified (or if so, very slightly). The quiche, however, was my own creation.

MLE’s Asparagus, Mushroom, and Turkey Sausage Quiche with cheeses

1 single pie crust (I used a premade frozen one since that seems to work better for quiche)
1/2 pound slim asparagus spears, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 button mushrooms, sliced
5 turkey breakfast sausage links
5 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/3 grated cheeses of your choice. I used smoked gouda and Irish Dubliner, which both have a lot of flavor

Preheat oven to 425 F. Sautee asparagus, onion, and mushrooms in a skillet with some olive oil, garlic powder, and a splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar, plus a generous pinch of salt and pepper until veggies are tender. Cook frozen sausages in a small saucepan until cooked through and browned, turning regularly. When done, let them cool and then chop into small pieces. Poke a few holes in the pie shell with a fork and stick it in the 425 oven for a few minutes, then remove it and turn the oven down to 350F. Whisk eggs with milk until thoroughly scrambled, add cheese. Pour veggies, sausage, and egg/cheese mixture into pie shell and bake for 30-40 minutes or until egg is set and cheese is melted. (It helps to put a baking sheet under the pie pan to catch any overflow.) Serves 8 as a component of a large brunch or 4 as a main dish.

The only other thing I did that could reasonably be considered “cooking” was to chop up some red grapes, strawberries, and kiwi and mix it with blackberries for a fruit salad.

3 successes, one EPIC FAIL

Today was my work softball team’s bake sale. I decided to go all out and bake a whole crapton of stuff, because I really wanted to help but also because I like an excuse to bake stuff that I won’t end up eating. After I decided what to bake and took stock of our supplies, I sent Dan to the store with a list and got started on my first project, dark chocolate cupcakes.

When I had finished mixing the cupcake batter I realized I had enough batter for twice as many cupcakes as I had planned, and only one muffin tin, so I decided to bake the rest of the batter in a regular round cake pan. This was perhaps not the best plan, especially since I’d already put the cupcakes in the oven, but I didn’t want the batter to go to waste (and figured I could come up with some way to dress up a single layer chocolate cake to make it desirable for bake sale patrons).

I also made rice krispie treats (had to look up how to make them, since it had been so long!) and found a great recipe for lemon bars on Smitten Kitchen. I hand juiced and zested the lemons, and I think that made a big difference in how they turned out.

The cupcakes came out just fine (and I made some tasty buttercream frosting to go on top), and the lemon bars and rice krispie treats turned out great as well. The cake, not so much. First, I must have way overfilled the pan, because it overflowed. Second, it took a lot longer to bake than I expected. Third, I think it must have been a little underbaked or maybe all the oven opening got to it, because when I tried to get it out of the pan a huge chunk stuck to the bottom. I thought maybe I could fix it with a crumb coat and then frost with the rest of the vanilla buttercream, and had reserved a little bit to turn a different color (to make stitching and write our team name on it, making the cake look like a softball) but I ended up needing all of it just to get the top of the cake to stick together. And it looked like absolute shite. I was out of butter so couldn’t make more frosting. And it was late and I was burnt out. Plus, we were out of red food coloring. Ultimately I made the call to just skip the cake and bring the other stuff.

The goodies I baked ended up being a big hit today, and we made $160 toward our league fees. Hooray! (And at home there is a supremely ugly but probably very tasty dark chocolate cake. At least it’s a small one this time.)

Cake? or death?

Dan asked for chocolate cake, so I decided to look for a chocolate cake recipe I hadn’t made before (I’m always up for a challenge!) I turned first to my favorite recipe site, Smitten Kitchen, because I knew that rather than a buttercream frosting I wanted to do a chocolate ganache. So I put that search term into her seach engine and found a recipe for Chocolate Stout cake. Dan likes chocolate, and he likes beer, so I thought this sounded right up his alley. I did make a few changes to the recipe, so here in all its glory is my version of SK’s Chocolate Stout Cake.

Chocolate Stout Cake ala MLE

1 cup stout (I used extra stout Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar (her recipe called for 2 cups; I thought that was a little much so cut the sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup nonfat greek yogurt (her recipe called for sour cream; I think nonfat greek yogurt works just as well in most cases)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and sugar (I use sugar instead of flour for dark cakes) two 8 or 9 inch cake pans. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Beat eggs and yogurt in another large bowl to blend. Slowly add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and stir just to combine. Add flour mixture a bit at a time and stir until completely combined. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer cake to rack; cool completely in the pans, then turn one cake out onto plate for drizzling ganache.


6 ounces (3/4 cup) good semisweet chocolate chips (plus I added a bit of 82% dark chocolate we got at Target, I think it’s Ghirardelli brand)
6 tablespoons whipping cream
1-2 tsp Irish whiskey for flavoring

Melt the chocolate and cream in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Add whiskey. Drizzle in between layers and over the top of cooled cake.