Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Annual Cake...

I'm not sure if I posted it last year, but I started a tradition last year (our first year married) to make Tim a fun homemade cake each year for his birthday. His birthday is in December so it can sometimes get lost in the holiday shuffle, but the last few years we have made it extra fun :) by going away for the weekend and having a family party with a super-cool cake.

It took me forever to figure out what I was going to make this year. I knew I wanted a layer cake and I wanted it to taste really good, but I also wanted something different from the standard buttercream frosting and cute decorations. So, first I went square. Then, instead of vanilla or chocolate, I did both. And finally, for the frosting, instead of buttercream, I went mascarpone. Oh yeah. You know that sounds good. And it was.

Here are the details:
  1. Cake layers - I decided on a 3-layer cake, with 2 vanilla layers and 1 chocolate layer. I used this recipe for Golden Vanilla Cake from King Arthur which was so easy and really light and wonderful. For the chocolate layer, I went with the blog-popular Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake recipe. It was good, but definitely not as good as the vanilla cake.

  2. Frosting - so, originally, my idea was to make a tiramisu layer cake with a mascarpone cream on the inside and a light buttercream on the outside. I did make both frostings and fortunately for me, the buttercream recipe didn't make nearly enough and I didn't have time to make more so I went with a changed up version of the filling for the outside layer of frosting and it was so good! Recipe below.

  3. Decorations: I went super simple on this as the square design of the cake made it look pretty nice to begin with. I added some cocoa powder to the top to give a tiramisu-type feel. I also added some bittersweet mini-chocolate chips to the top and the layers on the inside.

Mascarpone Cream Filling/Frosting Recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen, recipe from Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours)

1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Few tablespoons of strong coffee
Whipped topping or whipped cream, about 1 cup or more

It could not be easier to make. Put the mascarpone into a medium bowl and whip with a whisk until creamy. Add sugar and mix until uniform. Add vanilla and coffee. When all is combined, fold in the whipped cream or whipped topping until you have the consistency and taste that you like. Use as filling or as frosting. If you are using it for filling, you might leave it a bit thicker and thin it out with whipped cream for frosting. The frosting should be refrigerated so its good to frost the cake and then chill the entire cake until serving.

I piped the same frosting onto mini-cupcakes for Christmas eve and regular cupcakes for a holiday party this past weekend. Super easy and a nice twist on regular cupcake/cake frosting.


ps. I do have a few holiday things left to post, as I got a bit behind this year and maybe (just maybe) made my to-do list longer than anyone could ever complete. oops.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Need a quick gift?

Try this Apple-Cranberry Bread!

Super delicious and easy - I don't totally care for quick breads, but I really like this Apple-Cranberry Bread. I have been making it as mini-loaves for a few years and they are perfect as favors, or as a gift for neighbors or in gift baskets. Click here for the recipe!

A few quick notes on the recipe from me:

  • Make sure to butter/flour the pan very well. There is a lot of fruit in this recipe and the cranberries especially, have a tendency to get stuck to the walls of the pan.

  • Even better - bake in pans that you can give as part of the gift! Try a few of those mini-holiday ceramic loaf pans you see in the dollar or craft stores. Then you can wrap each and not worry about them coming out of the pan perfectly!

  • The batter seems lumpy and thick, but it will turn out great. Make sure to smooth out the top of each mini-loaf before baking.

  • I got about 4-6 loaves with each batch depending on the size of my pans.

  • A good wrapping trick - if you need to give a gift in a pinch, use a ziploc/plastic bag and trim off the zipper/closure to make a cute treat bag. Tie it with whatever string you have laying around (I keep a ball of all-purpose brown twine that works great) and tie on one of these free gift tags (check out these, and these and these too!) and you are all set! You can also wrap with parchment paper and tie with a cute ribbon if you don't have any bags.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holiday Brunch

While Katie will take you through the do's and dont's of having a holiday brunch, I will just offer a great tart recipe that is easy and perfect for brunch. This Apple Danish Tart is another recipe from the Pillsbury Fall Baking Booklet (where I found those awesome cranberry apple butter bars). I meant to post this last week but we ended up going out of town (maybe you can guess where from the few photos below). I will have an onslaught of holiday baking and cooking gifts, ideas and recipes coming in the next few weeks - I can't wait! Onto the recipe...

Apple Danish Tart (adapted from Pillsbury Fall Baking Booklet)
1 pie crust (I made my usual - Martha's tart pastry, but the recipe recommends store-bought roll-out dough which is fine too)
2 golden delicious apples and 1 macoun apple, diced (about 2 1/2 cups - granny smith would work well too)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 package (8oz) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 teaspoons milk

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Pre-heat a sheet pan as well so the tart pan will have something to go on while baking. Prepare tart pan (removable bottom) with prepared dough (either store-bought or homemade).

2. In microwavable bowl, mix apples, brown sugar, flour, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Microwave uncovered on high for 2 minutes and stir. Microwave 1-2 minutes longer, stirring once, until apples are slightly soft.

3. In another bowl, beat cream cheese, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, the vanilla and egg with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Spread this mixture over the bottom of the tart crust. Top evenly with apple mixture. The apples don't completely cover the mixture because the cream cheese bubbles up a bit through the apples while cooking.

4. Bake 32 to 37 minutes or until filling is set, apples are tender and crust is light golden brown. Cool on cooling rack and then refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

5. Before serving, mix 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon milk. Stir in additional milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle glaze over tart and serve. Perfect as a dinner dessert or for brunch! If you love danish, this definitely tastes like a danish or apple cheesecake tart.

Here are a few pics from our weekend. We had a great time - definitely did some relaxing and checked out all the awesome spots to eat & drink :). Now we're back to get ready for the holidays!

Check out this salsa spread!
If the 2nd pic didn't clue you in, I'll give it away...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The last of it...

Thanksgiving leftovers! I used the rest of the turkey up last night to make an awesome (and super easy) turkey and wild rice soup. Although I'm kind of over Thanksgiving food, this soup would be great with chicken too, so I decided to post it. Plus, its cheap :). And delicious. And did I mention easy? Who doesn't need something simple after the cooking madness that is Thanksgiving!

Turkey & Wild Rice Soup
Leftover turkey or chicken, diced (as much as you like - I used about 1 cup or so)
Chicken/turkey/vegetable broth (homemade or store-bought), approximately 64oz.
1 onion, diced
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
Few stalks celery w/ leaves, diced
Few carrots, cut into coins
1 cup wild rice
Extra virgin olive oil
Smallest bit of butter :)
Kosher salt/freshly ground pepper

1. Add a bit of olive oil to a stockpot or large saucepan and heat pan on medium. Add garlic and onion and saute until soft, but not brown. Add celery, carrots, salt & pepper. Continue to saute for about 5 or so minutes.

2. Add rice and broth, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer until rice is tender, about 1/2 hour (but it depends on your type of rice). Then add turkey and little bit of butter (just a tiny, tiny amount :) and allow to simmer for about 5 more minutes.

3. Serve and Enjoy! Makes a great lunch too.

To finish off the holiday for this year, here are a few pictures from our Thanksgiving:

I was in charge of the desserts, but my mom always makes the pumpkin pie...

This is my cous-niece, remember her from St. Patrick's Day? She loves dessert :).
Recipe for these super easy & adaptable mini-cheesecakes coming soon...