Right after I won a prestigious NY news behemoth’s holiday party (and still wondering if it’s a conflict of interest since I work @ ANOTHER famous and notable NY-based news media organization), I had to bake for my company’s finance department holiday party.  Since I was really busy trying to wrap up year-end testing, I just planned on whipping up simple bite-sized eggnog cupcakes the night before the event and figured it would be quick and easy and get me off the hook for dessert. (I had threatened to go buy Chips Ahoy! cookies since I heard, “Oh, you should bring in a big [holiday themed item] made of cake for the Finance party!” 2345 times and I could refrain from blinking/staring/pointing @ the occupational hazard of dark bags under my eyes only so many times.)

Tasty, festive, sweet balls

Tasty, festive, sweet balls

HOWEVER… my friend A in the newsroom (a super talented pastry chef whose baked good photos should be in “Food & Wine”) told me about the annual dessert contest that happened to ALSO be the same day as the finance holiday party (it’s open to everyone at the company but the participants tend to be from News/Marketing/Sales).  At first I was like, “Whhhaaaaaaaa???!!!  Why didn’t you tell me sooner?  It’s less than 2 days before the contest! OH MY GOD WHAT AM I GOING TO MAKE I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME AAGGGGHHHH!!!” But after a brainstorming session with my esteemed baking buddy, I narrowed it down to a few ideas and thought maybe… just maybe, I can pull something off…

Quick shot of the winning display

Quick shot of the winning display

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Psych out.  This post is not all about sweet, sugary, calorie-laden cake balls.

Psych out. This post is not all about sweet, sugary, calorie-laden cake balls.

Oh God.  I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, but the following post documents my attempt at baking low cholesterol, high protein, non-dairy and *gasp* gluten free/low carb cupcakes.  Even the thought goes entirely against my principles. (Disclosure: Due to my own health issues, I am technically not supposed to eat a lot of the sweet goodies that come out of my kitchen, but I make them anyway using flour, sugar, fat, eggs and milk, just the way my grandma bakes as a proper old school baker should.)  The only reason I’m not vomiting in my mouth as I type this is because… apparently I’m a sorceress and I did not just spend the day creating a cardboard-styrofoam hybrid in my oven. My experiment actually tasted… good.

Healthy cupcakes masquerading as normal, fatty cupcakes

Healthy cupcakes masquerading as normal, fatty cupcakes. I tricked you!

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Easter weekend was a huge baking ordeal this year.  Not only did I plan on bringing some desserts to the T house per usual, but my little cousin’s 4th birthday party was also the day before Easter.  My aunt just got a new job in Philly, so she and my uncle now had tons of space to host the little guy’s party, plus, I hadn’t seen him in a while and he requested “chocolate and vanilla” so I had to HAD TO make something for his birthday.  In addition to these 2 major events, I agreed to donate a bunch of baked goods to this awesome charity I worked with last year.  They were hosting an event a couple days after Easter, so I figured I might as well make some extra mini cupcakes and bring them to the charity event.  I mean, Easter + WWJD but pull off a miracle and make tons of baked goods appear, right? =)

Creamsicle and berry cream mini cupcakes with a mixed berry cake ball egg

Creamsicle and berry cream mini cupcakes with a mixed berry cake ball egg

I planned out my post-work calendar the week before Easter weekend.  It went a little something like this:

Monday: berries & cream frosting; (orange & cream) Creamsicle® frosting; vanilla frosting

Tuesday: Mix and roll out cake balls

Wednesday: Dip and decorate cake balls for the birthday party

Thursday: Bake & frost chocolate cupcakes

Friday: Dip and decorate cake balls for Easter

Saturday: Bake lemon cupcakes and Creamsicle® cupcakes; frost

I think I only got 3 hours of sleep on 4 of the 6 nights.  I’m a little slow and perfectionistic when it comes to this, and I didn’t have anything prepped so it just took FOREVER.  And once I get in the groove and I’m plugged into Pandora on my phone (after dropping my phone countless times during baking sessions, I finally got a Velcro sleeve that will hold the phone so I can listen to music and bake at the same time), the minutes just fly by and before you know it, it’s almost 3 am.

I took over the fridge with all this frosting!

I took over the fridge with all this frosting!

So the first night, I made at least 6 pints of vanilla frosting, then divvied the buttercream to make berries & cream frosting and a frosting concoction that tastes basically like a Creamsicle®.

Chocolate birthday cake balls with rainbow sprinkles for the birthday boy!

Chocolate birthday cake balls with rainbow sprinkles for the birthday boy!

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A bouquet of purple cupcake roses

Our family friends J & D are getting hitched and Vin and I have the honor of being in their wedding next month (so soon!).  J’s bridal shower was hosted @ our house, so I took a day off to bake cupcakes for the bride and the guests, make the shower favors, and CLEAN.

Step-by-step “egg magic”

Friday morning started off nice and easy and I loved the natural light that came in through the kitchen window.  I prepped for vanilla cupcakes, EXCEPT I used the water bottle method to separate my eggs.  The ol’ yolk extraction and drop off trick.  This is totally my new favorite thing.  I want to make custards and ice cream and macarons or meringue just to have an excuse to play with my food like this!  It was so easy and squeals of excitement ensued, and Vin watched me demonstrate the technique on my last yolk.  I just wanted to point out that the bottle loses some of its vacuum suction power after a dozen or so squeezes.  After I was done getting a kick out of sucking up and squeezing out egg yolks, I baked a few dozen vanilla cupcakes and a bunch of minis to bring to Vin’s family and give my co-workers.

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Part 1 comes with big news: I made my first official wedding cake for one of my closest friends.  Em and I met while we were camp counselors for inner-city kids (it was hilarious b/c a lot of them were bigger than we were) and we shared a cozy apartment in Jersey City during college.  Our boyfriends (now husbands) got along b/c they were both conservative and liked talking politics and Em and I got along b/c we were both super sarcastic tiny tough cookies.  =)  When we turned 21 (our birthdays are just 5 days apart), we trudged over to the fancy Astor Place Wine and Liquor store during a blizzard so we could proudly whip out our legal drinking age driver’s licenses.  We bought some obscure orange-flavored vodka just b/c they were giving free samples of it and @ the register…  nothing.  I distinctly remember that we were bundled up and had cute woven hats and big puffy winter jackets b/c it was so cold and sh*tty outside so I’m pretty sure to most people we looked like we were eleven… MAYBE twelve years old, but the cashier didn’t card us or ask for ID @ all.  That was a relative bummer.  haha  I was super psyched when she told me S had proposed, and when she and her fiance asked me to do their wedding cake and favors, I said, “YES!!!”

Em and S's pastel themed wedding cake

I met up with Em and the now-Mr. Em for lunch several months ago and they brought me a tear out of the cake they wanted from some bridal mag.  I took one look @ it and said I could definitely do it.  I asked them about what flavors and how many people, the color and theme, etc… and it seemed pretty straight forward.  Em wanted the cake and favors to be pastel themed, and I said I could make her cake look exactly like this picture (minus the flower toppers)…

Requested cake pic from magazine

…and for her wedding favors… I suggested cake balls.  I would make them pastel pink, packaged in white boxes in pale green tissue paper.  The future Mr. Em was more interested in the cake flavor itself, and gave his input for one tier being chocolate, one tier red velvet, and one tier vanilla.  I hugged them both and said, “You got it!” and started buying ingredients and equipment for their cake.

The local Michael’s has a big cake supply aisle, but the stock changes on a weekly basis.  I’d say that half the stuff in that aisle is useless to me.  I found they had cake pans, but wasn’t thrilled with the selection so I bought them on amazon.  They DID however have a sale on the candy coating I needed for the wedding favors AND I had a coupon for the entire order, so I stocked up and filled a whole cabinet shelf in our pantry with candy melts.  And when Stop ‘n Shop had a sale on butter…  I stuffed AT LEAST 20 pounds of it in our freezer and downstairs fridge.  For the next few months, I just collected equipment and materials needed for their wedding cake so that I’d just have to buy fresh eggs and milk to bake a couple days just before the wedding.

My twin set of 6 qt. KitchenAid stand mixers

I requested 2 days off before their wedding to have ample time to bake and decorate.  With this big project, I needed additional equipment.  I broke out the “twins” and opened the 2nd mixer I bought myself as a Christmas present.  I used both Thing 1 and Thing 2 to mix the chocolate and red velvet cake batter, baked one tier @ a time and while the cakes were baking in the oven, I cleaned out the mixer to get ready for the vanilla cake batter. Preparing 2 batters at the same time is WAY more efficient than prepping one at a time.  It was so awesome.  While the cake layers were baking (they took MUCH longer than cupcake batches), I prepped bright pink fondant for the the flower accents on the middle tier. Once all the cake layers were baked, I set them on the dining room table to totally cool and whipped up gallons of frosting: vanilla to go with the chocolate and vanilla tiers and cream cheese frosting to go with the red velvet.

Perfectly spaced fridge shelves for iced cake tiers

I dirty iced the cakes and left them in the fridge overnight.  Look how awesome my packrat and storage skills are in the above pic; after readjusting the shelves I made use of every nook and cranny in that refrigerator and crammed everything into the “Snacks/Fruits”, “Vegetables” or “Meats/Cheese” drawers to make room for the cakes.  That was end of day 1.  Day 2 started with mixing crumbled cake with vanilla frosting and hand-rolling cake balls.  I let them harden in the fridge and melted pastel pink candy melts for dipping, then hand-punched white fondant blossoms and added pink sugar beads to top off the favors.  The favors were the easier part of the wedding project; out of the 79 balls I made, I only had two f*ck ups.  Nice job, Me.  Anyway, I wrapped up the balls in pale green tissue paper and boxed them up as individual favors.  I wish I had more time to let the fondant harden though… I realized the pressure of the tissue paper may have squished the fondant flowers a tiny bit =/

Pink cake balls... the lone ball in the top-middle of the pic was a lucky save. It fell off the candy dipper but it wasn't damaged @ all since it landed perfectly and didn't hit any other balls.

Now that the wedding is over, I have a confession to make; I almost had a baked good breakdown @ 10 pm on day 2, a mere 12 hours before I had to deliver the cake.  I didn’t have time to make tons of marshmallow fondant (also known as “MMF”), so I shopped and sampled around and found a readymade fondant that actually tasted pretty similar to MMF.  I ordered a huge @ss 10-lb tub of it and didn’t open the container till last night b/c I didn’t want to expose the fondant to air before actual use.  When I ripped off the lid, I found that the plastic covering for the fondant was not airtight and secure, so the fondant was pretty damn stiff  to the touch.  A wave of panic started to set in and I sliced off a small section of the ten-pound chunk to see if I could zap some life into it in the microwave.  Thank God that trick worked, otherwise I would have just broken down in tears since the only other option was to make my own fondant, and I was already on a time crunch.  I would never, ever tell Em all this BEFORE the wedding since that’s the worse thing you could do to a bride before she gets married!

Vanilla cake balls with pink candy coating, white fondant flowers, and pink sugar beads

I started off kneading pink food color into a hunk of fondant for the top layer.  Kneading salvaged fondant is a highly recommended upper body workout… wow.  I’m surprised full time cake decorators don’t all have Michelle Obama arms.  Around 1015 pm I started getting tired so I decided to take a powernap.  Vin was all irritated with me and was like, “… Baby, what are you doing you have so much more to do you can’t sleep now!” And I just told him to wake me up in an hour and I needed a little sleep @ SOME point to recharge a bit, so might as well do it now. @ 1115 he poked me to get up and I said, “15 more minutes.”  @ 1145 he was going to bed and I mumbled something in my state of half-consciousness about my cell phone alarm waking me up @ midnight, but like a good husband, Vin made sure I got up.  I rubbed my eyes, tied up my hair, washed my hands, and got back to decorating the tiers.  It took a couple tries to put fondant on the cake tiers.  The fondant was too sticky and would start to tear, or I didn’t roll out a big enough piece… or it was always SOMETHING.  The top layer was the first one I did, and to be honest it looked a little rough.  Luckily, I knew there would be white ribbon covering the bottom so that would hide some of the wrinkles.  The middle tier had blue fondant, and it took three attempts to get it right.  By the time I got to the bottom tier I finally figured out to patch 2 pieces of fondant together and knew this would be fine since strategically placed fondant stripes would cover it. I rolled and punched out white fondant circles for the top layer and worked on measuring and cutting the fondant ribbons for the bottom tier. I tried my best to match the colors from the photo (I’ve been studying it everyday for the past month as if I were the bride-to-be getting married and couldn’t wait to see her cake haha). For the middle tier, just measured and marked where the fondant flower buds would go.  The last prep step was putting in hidden straws to keep the cake from collapsing into itself.  I put in @ least 10 straws on the bottom tier (these cakes were wayyyy heavier than they look) and stuck 7 in the middle tier.  I found a box that would fit the bottom tiers, and my 10″ cake boxes were used for the top and middle.  The sun was coming up as I let the cake fondant dry out a little and started to get ready for the party.

Hot pink rolled fondant flowers

When we were packing up the car with the cake tiers and rest of the decorations (and emergency disaster supplies), paranoia and fear started to set in and I was on the verge of freaking out.  We had secured the cake boxes with random boxes of stuff from the house, just to stabilize the cakes and HOPEFULLY prevent my hard work from sliding around in the car.   The night before Vin had said, “I worry about the drive up… I hope the cakes will be OK, ya know?” and I said, “Eh, they’ll be fine,” and brushed it off.  But just as he backed out of the driveway and made a sudden stop to avoid hitting a cute bunny, we heard a quick distinct “swoosh” of something heavy shifting in the trunk.  I gasped and held my breath and the color drained from my face as the doubt started to set in…  Did I secure it enough?  Maybe I should have put them in the back seat instead of the trunk of the SUV?  Were the boxes too big?  Too small?  Would the fondant sag?  Would the cakes get dented?  Would the fondant tear and crack or fall off?  WOULD THIS BE A COMPLETE DISASTER???

If this ended up being a mess, I would have cried more than Em about the cake; she’d brush it off and say it was fine, I’m sure of it.  haha  It was the most nerve wracking 90 minute drive ever.  I was so neurotic and kept saying things like, “Maybe we should pull over so I can check…  Maybe I can climb into the backseat and peek into the trunk to make sure the cakes are OK… Maybe–” and luckily, when I’m a bundle of nerves, Vin takes his turn being the sane, calm one (usually my job) and wouldn’t stop the car and wouldn’t let me look and kept reassuring me everything would be fine.  As soon as we pulled into a parking spot @ the restaurant, I jumped out of the car and made a beeline to the trunk and moved the junk boxes away and… they were pretty much OK.  Thankfully, Vin was right <3 I think I finally let out the breath of air I was holding the whole drive.  There were a few tiny dents in the fondant on the bottom tier and top tier, but it really wasn’t bad at all.  Vin and Em’s sister helped me carry the tiers into the restaurant and I started to set up the cake.

Me setting up the cake: wrapping ribbon and inserting wired fondant flowers

I got a little anxious seeing that I was supposed to finish stacking and decorating right out in the open while people were watching, but after the initial “whoa” I just focused on getting this done. I bought this nice white cake base and put the bottom tier on it.  Centering and stacking the middle tier was tricky; you kind of only get one shot and you have to be quick about it.  I held the second tier with the edges of my fingertips, looked down over the bottom and eyeballed the center… and then basically just dropped it on to the bottom with a big plop.  I did the same with the top layer, but since it was tougher to gauge the center as it was more elevated and I couldn’t look straight down, I think it was a TEENY bit off center.  And I was mad @ this stupid air bulge that had formed under the fondant.  Bah.  But the cake was solidly stacked and was totally even and stable and I was glad the hardest part was done.  Not bad for an engineering school drop out, eh?  I wrapped pink and white ribbons around the bottom of the tiers (yay for masking most of the unsightly amateur fondant wrinkles!) and poked the fondant flowers into the middle tier.  Em’s mom had given me the cake toppers (they were cute little bride and groom birds that looked like the Twitter logo and matched perfectly!) and I placed them facing each other.  Once that was done, I think I finally smiled a little for the first time in a couple days.

Wedding cake close ups

I ran up to the bridal suite to get changed (my pants were covered in powdered sugar and Vin said I got it all over the passenger seat) and I got to see the bride.  Em looked absolutely stunning.  So beautiful!  S looked spiffy in his suit and Vin complimented his cool vest.  They had such a nice ceremony with the sun shining and a gorgeous view and special tear-jerking vows they wrote for each other.  I gave her and her new husband a huge hug and was so happy for them.  They looked so sweet and in love.  <3  While they were busy with photos, Vin and I mingled and sampled some delicious food.  Everything was excellent.  It really was a perfect wedding day for a wonderful couple =)

Vin and me <3

I still didn’t feel like I was off the hook yet until the bride and groom tried the cake.  Em fed her newly minted husband a forkful from the bottom tier (chocolate) and I wiggled my way up front to watch their reaction.  He gave a thumbs up!  Then he fed Em a bite and she gave me this knowing smile. I think that’s when all the worry slipped away.  I was finally satisfied and relieved and had this huge grin on my face.  I slipped in and got a pic with the lovely bride and groom with the cake and Em pointed out to everyone, “This is the baker.  She made the cake AND the delicious cake balls you have as favors, too.” =)  Our table was served the middle vanilla tier (though I was the lone wolf and was given chocolate… but it was good I could check to see how that tier came out) and I got feedback saying it was light and fluffy and tasted really good.  I was so incredibly happy everything turned out well and that my friends loved their cake.  Em said that everyone kept telling her how beautiful the cake was, and she had gone around telling the guests that her old roommate made it.  Actually she said, “People keep coming up to us raving about the cake and saying how amazing it is and I just keep saying to them, ‘See that pretty little Asian lady?  My friend Katherine made it.'”  <3

Left: This is such a sweet photo that epitomizes love; Right: After Em and S cut and tried their cake, I got props for the baked goods =P

I passed out in the car ride home and I wanted to type up this post, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open for long.  But all the work, worry, and lack of sleep was well worth it to make a special bride and groom happy.  As long as they’re happy, I’m happy.  Congratulations, you two!!!  =D

My first official wedding cake wasn't bad... not bad @ all...

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming right up!

Guess who had a full day of work and was still behind on writing cards and wrapping presents and still had not made Christmas Eve dessert by Friday afternoon on December 23?  MEEEEE!!!  That break I had the week before was more like a short gasp of air; there was so much to do @ the office before everyone else was trying to escape for the holidays.  Fun.  When I got home I couldn’t even think about making dessert @ the time and just rushed to wrap all the gifts for Vin’s family and tried to @ least sort out gifts for my family.  I took a break to give Vin the rest of his presents (super awesome knife cufflinks, shoes, tickets to see pro bull riders @ MSG,  Japanese thermal long johns).  Our romantic pre-Christmas dinner @ Maloney and Porcelli was my gift to him the day before (I don’t care if you’re vegetarian; you MUST get the crackling pork shank!).  Vin gave me mine super early: I got a second 6-quart KitchenAid stand mixer (I have now christened them Thing 1 and Thing 2) and some neat baking pans a week before Christmas =P

I woke up early on Christmas Eve to get started on the cake balls.  I had a clear vision in mind for this Christmas dessert, and it was basically making really fancy, hand-decorated cake balls that were to resemble ornaments on this wooden tree stand I bought from Godiva last year.  The tree came with wrapped chocolate truffles, but those are long gone and all that remains is this simple wooden display.   Although these aren’t my favorite things to do, I admit I’m getting quite adept @ making cake balls now.  Plus, I had some leftover cupcakes from last weekend, and what better way to salvage dry cupcakes but to process them into cake ball dust?

White cake ball with red and green Christmas trees

I took out a Godiva truffle to gauge what size to roll out the balls (1 Tbsp scoop) so that the wooden tree display would cup the balls ever so snugly.  I had a bit of candy coating leftover from last month’s wedding favor order to cover a few balls, and broke open a package of white candy coating to make different colored “ornaments”.  I made the white balls first one @ a time: dipping, setting them to dry, artfully arranging Christmas tree sprinkles, and wash, rinse, repeat with the remainder of the yellow and green coating.  The candy coating dries rather quickly (man, I thought the white coating was fickle… no way, the green coating dries super fast!), so I couldn’t just dip a few balls @ once or the decorations would never stick.  And I couldn’t just throw all the sprinkles on or it would look like crap.  These were delicate, handcrafted, ornate cake balls with a coating that dried pretty damn quick.  I’d liken this to decorating a Fabergé egg, but on speed.  haha

The three final designs were:  white balls with red and green Christmas trees, yellow balls with clear/red/green sugar sprinkles, and green balls with white snowflake sprinkles.  I WANTED to make a fourth design: red balls with crushed peppermint sprinkles, but my downfall was not having actual red candy chips. I thought I was being sooooo innovative and smart by adding red food coloring to the white coating after making several white balls…  but I overheated the candy by just a tad and didn’t have enough time to fix that mess.  It was 1055 am and Vin was already hovering over me to pack this up and get ready to go, so I just brought a not-so-Christmassy variety pack of balls.  I mean, yellow?  Come on now… =/

Hand-decorated cake ball Christmas tree

We set it up @ the T house and it did look nice. Someone said it was a really great cake ball dispenser and Vin’s crazy cute nephew Patrick was very adamant on having a “gween ball wif white snowfwakes!!!”  I made extra balls to refill the empty spots on the tree and hoarded some to bring to my parents’ house for Christmas Day.  My mom, dad, and grandma had never had one before and said they were good, my sister and her boyfriend were quite familiar with my baked good experiments, and my brother just popped the whole thing in his mouth, grinned, and ate it.  =P

And with that, I give you the end of Christmas 2011 baking. (Phew!)

Happy 2012!

Sometimes, a girl needs a good challenge.  Something she really needs to do b/c it’s fun and rewarding even though she barely has time to breathe… or b/c she’s just mental.  I’d like to think this is a little of both  =)

Mardi Gras cake ball set

A while back, one of my friends referred her engaged friend to me and suggested that I do her wedding favors.  (To be consistent, R also recommended me to do the baked goods for the bridal shower.)  Her friend was planning a Mardi Gras-themed wedding and wanted party favors that could double as escort cards.  I got really excited about being hired to do this and had sooo many ideas, I kinda went overboard in making suggestions.  haha  But the lovely bride-to-be and I finalized the favors to be cake balls.  This would probably be best option for easy transport and set up since the guest list had about oh, I don’t know…like, 400 guests.  Other options would have been nice, but just for the sake of making things easier for organizing and alphabetizing purposes and having gone through last minute things on my wedding day (i.e., sorting escort cards while getting my hair done an hour before the ceremony), I wanted to make things go as smoothly as possible for her.  So we decided to have cake balls and small cube favor boxes and labels.

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Here's lookin' at you, kid...

On off weekends, Vin and I catch up on all the shows we missed during the week and one day, we got reeled into watching “Along Came Polly” with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston.  It’s not a must-see, but there’s a memorable scene where the man-of-a-million-voices Hank Azaria shows up as this jacked up scuba instructor in a Speedo with a super thick French accent who tries to assure Ben Stiller nothing will happen to his new wife.  He’s like, “Louban [Ben Stiller’s character’s name is “Reuben”], look to me in my eyeballlluuuuhhh, I promEESE you I take care of LEEsa…”  When Vin imitates Hank Azaria and says that line, it makes me laugh and I was reminded of it when I made these cake balls.

I wanted to make these last weekend for Halloween but just didn’t have time.  There was too much going on @ work for both of us and we just weren’t that into it this year.  No parties, no dressing up… total lameness, I know.  We didn’t get that many trick-or-treaters last year, so I only bought one regular bag of candy in anticipation for the holiday. Vin and I didn’t get home till close to 8 on Monday night and all the kids were done trolling for sugar by then, and since no one showed up we’re stuck with a bowl full of Whoppers, Reese’s PB cups, Take 5s, KitKats, and Jolly Rancher lollipops.

bloodshot crazy eyes

We had some time yesterday before heading to the T house so I decided I’d try out these eyeballs.  Just b/c Halloween is over doesn’t mean I can’t still make weird cake balls, dammit!  I wanted to test  out some sizes and designs for cake balls anyway b/c I have a wedding favor order to fulfill and wanted to triple check they’d fit in the favor box with a fondant design on them, too.  I took out some homemade fondant and colored and rolled tiny chunks of it, then cut out circles for the iris and pupil pieces.  I made an assortment of brown, green, blue and yellow eye parts, and as soon as I put the brown eye pieces on the cake balls, I started giggling to myself.  I laid out the pieces to make a crazy yellow eyeball and hand painted some gel for the bloodshot eye vessels.  That made me chuckle, too.  I made a bunch of different colored eye sets looking in all different directions, and I kept cracking myself in the kitchen.

Cake eyeballs and eyeball parts

Vin hears the giggling and thinks I’m chatting with my sister online and we’re making silly jokes. It’s almost time to leave (he likes getting to his parents’ super early so he can play with the dog) and he comes into the kitchen while I’m still laughing to myself and he’s all exasperated and goes, “Baby, you’re TOTALLY not ready–oh cool!!!” when he sees what I’ve been working on.  Then he heads straight back into the office to get his camera to take pics.  I grab his 80s computer guy/pedophile glasses and put the yellow googley eyes behind them and I’m laughing hysterically @ my creation while Vin’s snapping away.  It just looks too funny AND freaky @ the same time.  I go and get my glasses and put the other eyes behind them.  They look creepy, but I think it’s so hilarious and I’m so proud of myself b/c they DO look realistic. I brought them over to the T house and Vin’s fam thought the balls were fun, too.  His mom looked @ me like I was nuts for making creepy edible eyeballs, but she smiled and it was a loving look that said “no wonder my son loves you.”  <3

Fleur de lis cake ball

I also did a few quick prototypes for the wedding favors, and they came out just the way I wanted so I was extra psyched about this cake ball experiment.  =)

Coconut banoffee pie

Oh, and I decided to make a variation of banoffee pie, but this time I made coconut whipped cream instead of regular whipped cream. That sh*t was GOOD.  I brought 2 little pies to the T house and Vin’s brother and his wife loved it.  They ate one and took the other home.  Vin’s OK w/that just b/c he knows I have the rest of the homemade coconut cream and toffee @ home in the fridge and can make him his own deconstructed coconut banoffee pie parfait later. haha

AND, last but not least, a few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if I could help out with baked goods for a play she was involved in, and I was more than happy to oblige.  The play is “The Laramie Project” and proceeds from the sale of the cupcakes are going to support a great cause.  I made a whole bunch of mini cupcakes with colorful frosting and delivered them to the director herself on Friday.  My friend told me the cupcakes were awesome.  I’m just glad I could help out and benefit The Matthew Shepard Foundation and Interweave.  The last performances of the production are next weekend (November 12-13) so check it out if you have the chance.

A rainbow assortment of cupcakes

Next weekend and week after will be cake ball mania @ my house.  And then it’s Thanksgiving and it’ll be cream puff mania.  And then it’s Christmas.  And sometime in-between now and New Year’s I hope to get some sleep.  Even better if I was sleeping AND catching some rays on a nice, warm beach, but thanks to Paul Sarbanes and Michael Oxley, the odds of that happening before year end are mathematically impossible.  And now, it’s the end of Sunday funday…

I promised my mixer and oven some time off this week since they were worked to the point of slave labor during most of July (my poor oven… it seriously needs a cleaning).  But I felt like I still had to make SOMETHING and ended up using the stove and microwave instead.

I had about a dozen leftover red velvet cupcakes from last weekend’s bake-a-thon.  These were the f*ck-ups; they were a tray of red velvet gone wrong and was slightly overbaked in my inferno oven.  They didn’t taste bad; they were just a little dry but I would have been mortified to give them out to anyone b/c they weren’t absolutely perfect.  Plus, a week had gone by and they were starting to take up prime real estate in the fridge.  I also had 2 boxes of strawberries I bought last week that were about to turn, so it was getting to the use ’em or lose ’em stage.  However, being Asian, I felt guilty letting good food go to waste (thanks, mom!  =P)  so I gave myself a “Chopped”-like challenge with a subconscious spherical theme in mind.  What to do with very ripe strawberries and stale red velvet cupcakes…

Strawberry-rose mochi with red velvet cake balls. Yes, I know the plating attempt is cheesy. haha Vin's photography just made it look nice =)

The cupcakes were an easy save: cake balls.  They were actually a pretty ideal consistency for crumbling into… um, crumbs, and I just mashed it with some leftover cream cheese frosting.  I got a dozen little balls out of this and dipped half of them in melted Hershey’s milk chocolate and the other half in the never-ending supply I have of green candy coating.  I think I got the hang of making cake balls now that I figured out what tools work best and I’m pretty deft with the whole dunk/swirl/gently-yet-quickly-get-dipped-ball-off-stick-to-dry-on-tray-with-minimal-touching thing.  It took muuuuuuch less time than my first time w/the balls and I’m sure I’ll be a ball-dipping machine come fall for those wedding orders.  (TWSS!)  And there you have your basic reconstructed cake –> cake balls.

Now for the strawberries, there were so many options.  At first, I was thinking of making strawberry shortcake but then I’d have to bake the buttermilk biscuits and that would go against my “no baking” rule.  So I looked through my flour and spice collection and saw a box of rice flour I bought a while back from this Korean grocery store in LI.  (It’s a b*tch to get to though, and even then I still have to ask my sister to smuggle me some goods from Manhattan’s Chinatown b/c this place doesn’t have much in terms of Viet ingredients).  I’ve been meaning to make mochi, so I decided it would be good to try to test out strawberry mochi.  I chopped up 2 pints of strawberries into 1/4″ pieces and made a fresh compote for the filling.  I don’t know why, but I felt like throwing in some vanilla, rum, and rose water in the compote and now the whole house smells like roses.  I mixed in some drained liquid from the cooked compote to enhance the strawberry flavor in the mochi dough.  It was sooo sticky.  I kept coating my hands and the roller with powder so it wouldn’t stick to everything, and that probably changed the whole consistency.  This was definitely an experiment.  I mean, it IS pretty unconventional and non-traditional b/c I didn’t use red bean or green tea filling, but hey, what the hell, you can’t die from eating it and personally I thought it tasted good.

I had Vin try a test mochi ball while he was editing pics from a photo job.  Here’s how the exchange went down:

Me: Hey baby, you want to try a bite of the mochi?

Vin [eyeballs the pink ball in my hand like I just stuck an alien fetus in his face]: Uh… sure. [He takes a smaller bite than I thought he would.] …Interesting.

Me [I cock my head and raise my left eyebrow–it’s a reflex, I can’t help it–and blink @ him for a couple seconds]: You’ve HAD mochi before, right?

Vin: Uhhhh oh look, I was about to spell “Greene Ave” incorrectly for this caption…

[I blink @ him again, then quickly turn my heel and walk out of the room.]

Vin [calling out after me]: Yeah, I’ve had it before!  It tastes gummy… like edible gum… that you can eat…  [His voice trails off in the distance as I’m already back in the kitchen, sulking.]

PPPfffffttt.  Sorry, baby, but that was weak.  That was like, giving your wife the wrong answer when she asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?”… which, I can honestly say, I’ve never tricked Vin with that question with the intent of entrapment.  haha   Whatever, I’m just teasing…  he’s the best and most supportive taste tester ever <3  But I admit, “…interesting” was not what I wanted to hear. 

I decided to take a couple mochi balls into work to get better feedback.   It sounds like food snobbery, but well… some of my co-workers are Japanese and I’ll believe their critique over Vin’s on this one.  haha  I brought in a couple to one of the Admins and she was instantly impressed by their appearance (phew!).  I should probably disclose that she loves strawberries so maybe her opinion may be a LITTLE biased, but my co-worker was honest.  She said that my “homework was to make the mochi dough a little stickier”, but other than that they were “really good!”, she liked the flavor combination, and she said they looked really nice considering I don’t have a mochi machine (I wasn’t aware these things existed  haha)  Yay!  It wasn’t a terrible review @ all!

I’m pleased now and can go merrily back to baking.  This weekend is Vin’s brother’s birthday and the plan is to make something really special.  Stay tuned…

Cover of Real Simple magazine.  Just kidding. Vin’s just really good @ this photography thing <3

I have to warn you; there are “TWSS” situations coming up.  =D

I’m sorry for the lack of new posts.  I’ve been out of commission for the past month+ due to medical issues. I’m pissed @ myself for missing out on two wonderful opportunities (cupcakes for a gallery show and for an off-Broadway play… my sincere apologies to Mogan and Sunflower!) b/c I was physically incapable of baking and decorating.  Lifting a 6-quart metal mixing bowl filled with cake batter or frosting, slaving over cake pans and bending over to decorate cupcakes were not feats I could do less than 2 weeks after being discharged from the hospital.  I mean, forcing myself to go to work less than a week after surgery was tough enough.  Ugh.  I had to bide my non-baking time by wandering Michael’s, HomeGoods and Costco like a listless zombie spending $$$ on cake decorating supplies and butter and sugar.  But almost 6 weeks later, I’m doing MUCH better (I can walk @ my normal “get the F out of my way, tourists!” pace and do a few crunches, thanks to Aleve), and my foray back to the oven was for Easter/little Patrick’s birthday. With cake pops.  Which I THOUGHT would be an easy stepping stone to get back into real baking…

Please stop reading here if you’re a diehard fan of cake pops b/c I’m probably the only person in the world who doesn’t really care for them and yet, I will attempt to bake anything and make it look and taste damn good.  Still, I’m not in the mood to argue over sugar and feel that, as levelheaded human beings, we’re all entitled to our opinions… but note that this IS my blog  =P

Vin’s sister mentioned she saw these a while back and I figured I might as well give them a shot for her son’s birthday since I don’t have enough energy to construct a statue of Woodyor Buzz out of cake for Patrick.  I’ve been trying to avoid making these cake pops for several reasons.  I’ve never made them before and usually I’m all for trying new things, but I’m just not a huge fan.  I mean, don’t get me wrong; they solicit “ohhh, that’s so cute!” reactions and they look nice and I’m fascinated by the cake pops book my aunt got me for Christmas and think all the designs are really neat, and if you love them, that’s great, fantastic, bully for you, who am I to stop you, I will never stand in the way of anyone’s specific sugar craving, etc. etc., but they’re just not my bag, baby.  First and foremost… I really don’t need to be purchasing more supplies that aren’t already part of my frosting/real cake arsenal. I feel like this is a bit of a cutesy fad, and cakes… well, call me old-fashioned, but I feel cakes are more timeless.  My mom gave me her cake decorating supplies, and many items are older than me and are probably of better quality than the tools I’m buying for myself now.   Second, I’m not a big fan of the mushy consistency and taste… not that I really eat these anyway.  Basically, a cake ball is mashed up cake (already sweet) mixed with frosting (sweeter) and doused with candy coating (reeeeally sickeningly sweet) with more sugar sprinkles or candies (omg cavities!) on top.   If you like sugar, then by all means, go for it, but personally, it took a lot to find a good balance with what cake and frosting creations I’ve made to make them NOT too sweet.  If my customers and taste testers say “they’re grrrrreat”, I don’t need to go around and f*ck up perfection.  =D  And the most important reason… these things are tiny.  One-bite, look-at-what-I-can-fit-in-my-mouth tiny, but in a way that is NOT the same as mini-cupcake tiny.  Allow me to explain: I love decorating with buttercream frosting.  I’m quite proud of having taught myself what little I’ve learned with frosting and concoct the flavors and designs that I’ve made. With a cake ball, the frosting is hidden and smushed à la Jersey Shore with cake.  You can still decorate with frosting on the outside, but the design area is very, very small and very, very not flat and stable.  Cake pops also come with more steps and time constraints, and with more processes come more clean-up (as Vin knows all too well) and with rushing comes stress.  I already make a huuuuuge mess when I bake, and for pops, you have to bake the cake, crumble up the whole damn thing, make the frosting, mix together the cake and frosting, shape tons of messy balls and put them on sticks, get all these containers out to melt the chocolate coatings, melt the candy JUST so, skillfully dip the ball in the mixture, quickly and carefully put those sprinkles and candies on before the coating completely dries, buy some Styrofoam or drill pegs into a board so the pops can set, and wash, rinse and repeat for each pop, the individual little divas that they are.  And you kind of have to do this all @ once or the candy coating dries up on the ball.  With cakes, I can bake one day, make frosting another day, and take my damn sweet time decorating and making flowers the next day, and the best part is if I mess up with the buttercream, I can fix it before it hardens. Of course, this is in an ideal world and things rarely ever happen that way, but I will say anything to defend my cakes.  haha

I need to confess that since I was pressed for time and not really into this thing…  I used a box of Betty Crocker’s cake mix and ready made frosting.  *gasp*  Not one of my proudest moments, but it saved some time instead of making everything from scratch and I guess it’s actually recommended to use store-bought cake mix for these pops.  I baked the “vanilla” factory-processed cake concoction, but I wasn’t thinking properly b/c I had to take time to cut off the baked browned edges to not contaminate the white cake pieces.  While that was cooling, I tried to lighten the flavor/texture by whipping more cream into the frosting to tame the sweetness.  I also used less of the frosting since the candy coating was already sweet.  Next step: mashing together the crumbled cake and frosting to make 39 little balls.  While those chilled in the fridge, I prepped the Styrofoam and poked 25 holes for the pops, covered the counter in wax paper, and set up the candy coating.

I made a mess with the white stuff

Being that it’s Easter and such, I bought pastel candy melt colors in green and blue.  Yep, blue coating.  Which means yes, I made blue balls.  I wasn’t used to working with this melty, sticky stuff and it took a while to coat one. ball. at. a. time.  And then rap it against the container so the excess drips off and deftly swirl it so the candy doesn’t dry in a huge glob on one side and hold it in the freezer for a bit to chill faster and constantly reheating the candy melts and… this took much longer than anticipated.  I think it was b/c 1) I was a noob @ this cake pop thing; 2) I’m a perfectionist and my balls look better than the ones from the book; and also 3) obviously I’m biased and I prefer my cakes.  haha  But, the chocolate was interesting to work with; it took a little time for me to get used to it and what temperature it needed to be for ideal dipping and decorating.  Because of that learning curve, the white chocolate designs on a few of the pops look like… a mess.  Well, OK I’m being a little hard on myself; Vin said they look awesome but a couple pops look a little sloppy to me.  The white chocolate cooled down much faster than I expected in the piping bag and just spurted out all over the place so a couple of the pops had slightly blobular stripes on them. Decorating the balls was a much easier process once I learned I had to pipe out the stripes within a couple minutes of heating the chocolate and those actually look professional  =D

I fit 25 pops in an Easter basket and we weaved yellow “grass” around the pops to make it look like a nest.  The leftover balls were arranged on my glass cake stand “nest” with some jellybeans.  I think that Vin’s family thought these were just part of the Easter decorations on the table and weren’t edible.  Once it was pointed out that these were “cake + frosting + chocolate,” they were a hit.  (I kind of hope not TOO much of a hit b/c I’m not exactly looking forward to doing this again…  haha) The biggest fans of the pops: the babies!  There were little toddlers double-fisting the pops; a green one in one hand and a blue one in the other.  I think I was happiest to see that those little guys loved them, especially the birthday boy.  Happy 2nd birthday, Patrick!

This looks like it belongs in Martha Stewart Living or something, doesn’t it? Yeah, I thought so, too.

This first experience with cake balls was a pain in the ass.  Next time, as I’m sure there will be, hopefully I’ll be more adept with the entire process.  I now can legitimately say I’ve made them and I’m still not terribly fond of them.  Anyway, I will make cake pops for orders and I will guarantee their awesomeness, but don’t expect me to really make these “for fun” again.  For me, “fun,” “cake,” and “balls” don’t belong in the same sentence.  hahaha