First baking projects post move!

My precious...

My precious…

Let’s just be quick about it, shall we?  I had to bake for 2 special little boys: one hasn’t even been born yet, and the other is one of my super cute, super crazy godsons.

Underwater cake collage

Underwater cake collage… complete with a lurking shark!

The theme for the baby shower cake was the ocean, so I played around with some ideas to use on a small cutting cake for the parents-to-be.  The first order of business was to ice the little cake in blue frosting.  I was going to cover it in fondant, but liked the effect of the bubbles in the frosting, so I just cleaned and sharpened the edges for my canvas.  Light brown sugar was pressed along the bottom of half of the cake; for some reason I didn’t want all of it covered in sugar and liked the half-and-half effect.  I had used star cutters to make fondant starfish before and they worked wonderfully, so I knew I wanted starfish.  Then I found leaf cutters meant for roses, but used the shapes haphazardly to create these great seaweed/algae pieces.  I bought a whale cookie cutter from my new favorite store, Sur La Table but it ended up being rather disproportional to the algae and starfish.  I mixed a small piece of grey fondant and shaped a shark fin on top, and carefully placed little schools of fish sprinkles around the cake.  I don’t even think it’s ecologically correct… I mean, do starfish hang around the bottom of the ocean and cling to seaweed like that?  Who knows.  It looked cute and was a nice and quick little project.

Ta daaa!  A crappy 360 video clip of the cake

The order included cupcakes, so I swirled the same blue frosting over vanilla cupcakes (side note: I LOVE my new oven.  It’s huge and bakes everything so evenly AND I don’t have to guess the timing and temperature anymore!  #inheaven) and used extra pieces of seaweed and starfish as cupcake toppers.  Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of the cupcakes BEFORE bringing them in =(

handmade fondant starfish

handmade fondant starfish. eww, what dry hands have I.

seaweed cupcake

seaweed cupcake

 

For my oldest godson’s 3-year birthday party, I whipped up a little bowling pin cake.  This little boy is one of the cutest little human beings on the planet, and he’s also one of the craziest.  haha  Since he’s my godson, of COURSE he gets special treatment and I just had to make a little SOMETHING for his party.  He’s currently obsessed with bowling and planets, so bowling pins and a ball that had Jupiter-like swirls it was.  And when I say whipped up, I mean, I hand shaped and cut 10 bowling pins with stripes and a bowling ball during the time it took for Vin to go on his morning run.  I iced that baby in minutes and added extra fondant stars, and voila… a little cake with knocked over pins.

Left: Look at that perfectly straight and clean edge. I'm GOOD.  Right: Fondant bowling pins for Timmy!!!

Left: Look at that perfectly straight and clean edge. I’m GOOD. Right: Fondant bowling pins for Timmy!!!

As soon as he saw it, he wanted to stand them up but didn’t quite get why I said no and that they’d be all sticky.  Later on, he was throwing a tantrum about having to take his shoes off and started yelling and crying, so I picked him up and took him to look at his cake.  Within in the span of 2 minutes, this little guy ate about 6 of the bowling pins.   Such an insane but adorable little kid.  <3

The birthday boy and his cake

The birthday boy and his cake

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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A delicate display of frosted chocolate rosettes

A delicate display of frosted chocolate rosettes

I take back all the times I thought I was busy.  I’ve been in beast mode working late every day for the past couple months and bringing home work on weekends.  A lot of people have been asking to place orders, and I feel so bummed out I have to decline due to the fact that I f*cking need sleep.  Any baking I do has to be carefully planned in advance and done given 3 hours of shut-eye.  My little baby cousin’s birthday was coming up, and since I didn’t get to see this little sweetie and her crazy awesome bro last month at our family get-together, I was determined to bake something for the party.

Left: The birthday girl is enjoying her cupcake cone treat; Right: Her superhero big brother gets his own "birthday" cupcake

Left: The birthday girl is enjoying her cupcake cone treat; Right: Her superhero big brother gets his own “birthday” cupcake (Photos by Paul Do)

A couple weeks before X’s birthday, I got one of the best emails from a then-potential customer.  She said, “Hello, First, I find your website fantastic – you’re witty, direct, and balls out. Of course, your work is amazing…” It was like, YES, this lady totally gets it!!! She was planning a party for her parents’ 50th anniversary (kudos to them!) and wanted classy cupcakes for the celebration to be delivered the day after my cousin’s birthday.  The order was basic enough, so I decided, “F  it.  I’m going to make TONS of cupcakes for BOTH events.  I can totally do this!”  I guess I was too excited to factor in sleep for that weekend, per usual. Read More

A small, summery cutting cake for the bride and groom.

A small, summery cutting cake for the bride and groom.

Summer means wedding season, and I absolutely love baking and decorating for special occasions like these.  A family friend asked if I could bake for her son’s wedding brunch, and I couldn’t refuse, especially since it was such a simple request: 36 packaged cupcakes as wedding favors and a small cutting cake for the bride and groom.  At first, she wanted simple vanilla cupcakes with sage green swirls and nice wrappers, but after seeing this, she asked if I could make grass and flowers on each of the cupcakes.

Pretty white picket fences for the pretty little garden cupcakes

Pretty white picket fences for the pretty little garden cupcakes

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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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I’m totally not in the holiday spirit this year.  I thought I was kind of blah about this last year, but after Sandy, it’s been kind of depressing and sad and a bit selfish to be spending all this dough (*kneeslap*) on presents when some people barely have basic food/water/shelter/clothing  =/  I’m so incredibly grateful that we were lucky, but ever since Halloween, I just haven’t been into it, and it’s tough b/c I LOVE the holidays.  I’m one of those weird people that gets her Christmas gift shopping done before November 1, and this year I’m just having a complete brain fart when it comes to anything holiday-related.  The only thing we’ve done is ordered Christmas postcards, and that was somewhat half assed because Vin designed them, they’re postcards, and I’m only sending them out to you if I already have your address on hand.  I don’t know what presents to get anyone and I don’t feel like decorating and I don’t feel enthusiastic about baking.  Thanksgiving is in T minus 3 days from the time I’m starting to write this post and I still have no clue what to make for the T house dinner and when I see my parents on Saturday.  I’m just… blah and frustrated.

A repeat of pumpkin cream cheese whoopie pies with caramel cream cheese and pecan filling

I spent the 2 days leading up to Party Time Wednesday (apparently Thanksgiving eve is one of the biggest nights out of the year and clubs and bars are ridiculously stuffed *ba DUM tsssss* with people gearing up for that mega dose of family time), flipping through food magazines and clicking on a bunch of sites to try to spark any ideas.  Bread?  Cakes?  Cupcakes?  Tarts?  Maple syrup?  Pear?  Cranberry?  Apple?  Bacon?  Pumpkin? Chocolate?  ALL OF THE ABOVE???  It just fizzled.  I didn’t want to make any pies because Vin’s other relatives always bring them, and his sister makes one of THE best cheesecakes, so I steered clear of those desserts.  I scribbled all my potential pastry prospects in my cake notebook and it looked like the musings of a madman, an Einstein that inhaled too much sugar, perhaps, but definitely not the plans of a sane, organized chef.  AND I still had to work on Wednesday, so I wouldn’t have time or energy to do anything elaborate, like a cake that looked like a turkey.  (Maybe next year, if I had a day off before Thanksgiving.)  My indecisiveness had bested me yet again! Read More

I went on a baking binge last weekend (note: this was the weekend before Halloween; keep reading to see the dramatic turn of events as to why this post is super late).  I haven’t really made anything in a month and really wanted to do SOMETHING, but I had too many ideas.  The frazzled and flustered conversation went something like this in my head: Should I do something with apples? But I did that last time…  Oh, but I’m craving bananas and fruit… what about muffins and bread?  Do I REALLY want to deal with finding the bread pan?  But I want something with fall spices… Hmm, butternut squash?  No, it’s just because I was craving butternut squash soup… I don’t really feel like making it…  what about, what about… PUMPKIN?  Oh yes, Vin suggested I do something with pumpkin…

A beautiful pumpkin and cream cheese whoopie pie with caramel-pumpkin-cream cheese filling and chopped pecans

And that settled the decision.

Vin and I went to the supermarket so I could buy baking ingredients (eggs, milk, cream cheese, whipping cream… perishable things like that) and the rest of the town was there stocking up on batteries and water and bread and snacks for their storm sustenance.  We had heard that this hurricane was coming but figured it would just be this blue balling storm like Irene was for us.  Plus, we already have a stockpile of non-perishable/no heat required food items and tons of beverages in our basement that I accumulate anyway for non-storm use, so we figured we’d be fine, expecting we’d lose power for a day or two, tops.  (dun dun DUNNNN…)

Barenaked cakes; Left: pumpkin cinnamon vanilla cakes, Right: pumpkin and cream cheese mini cupcakes

So we went on our way as people were freaking out and driving like maniacs (all caution goes out the door @ the sign of a storm and riot mode takes over… geesh!) and I finally decided to make 2 pumpkin items: the equivalent of a Boston cream pie but with PUMPKIN… and pumpkin and cream cheese whoopie pies.

Halloween plates. The spider and the bat look so sad… they’re the cutest ones!

I made a vanilla cake batter with pumpkin puree and cinnamon and baked a couple small fillable cakes.  There was extra batter so I baked a tray of mini cupcake wrappers.  While these cakes cooled, I stood over the stove to make pumpkin spiced pudding (to substitute as the vanilla cream filling) and a brown sugar and cinnamon caramel glaze (instead of the chocolate ganache topping).  I had these Halloween themed plates (I won a pumpkin carving contest a couple years ago after spending almost 5 hours making the Death Star and these were my prize) and little mummy and witch figures and thought, “Hey, why not make this Halloween-y?”  Uhh, the assembly wasn’t as pretty as I had hoped, but it tasted delicious.  I whipped up some orange frosting for the mini cupcakes and sprinkled some crunchy toffee pieces on them.

 

My pumpkin-y take on a Boston cream pie. It ain’t that pretty, but it sure is tasty! Cake: pumpkin + cinnamon + vanilla; Filling: pumpkin spice pudding; Frosting: caramel-pumpkin-cream cheese; Glaze: cinnamon brown sugar caramel

For the whoopie pies, I added pumpkin puree to a light angel food cake batter and scooped it out onto this whoopie pie pan Vin got me last Christmas.   I added a sweetened cream cheese zigzag topping and popped the tray in the oven and then piped the extra batter and extra cream cheese into mini cupcake wrappers.  For the filling, I whipped up a pumpkin-cream cheese-caramel frosting and it went perfectly with the cake.  I was worried it would be too sweet, but the cake part balanced it out, and I smashed up pecans to add to the pies.  They looked pretty awesome, in my humble opinion  =)  I topped the minis with the extra frosting and crushed pecans.  This experimental combination tasted REALLY good.

Step-by-step pumpkin-cream cheese whoopie pies

So I finished my baking and decorating on Saturday, and then spent all day Sunday making a vat of pho in preparation of the hurricane.  We didn’t expect much to happen… maybe power would be out for a day, but we were without power for more than 5 days and the wind was super strong.  Luckily, Vin’s parents had a generator and his mom had prepared a TON of food, so we spent some time there eating properly cold food and having microwave-heated meals.  I also brought some of the beef pho and extra cupcakes and cakes to share, and we pretty much just ate and slept and ate all week until the lights came back on.  We bought some Twix and Almond Snickers for trick-or-treaters, but we didn’t get that many kids stop by.  Halloween was just a bummer this year…  We were cleaning up our busted fence and watching for costumed kids coming for candy @ the same time.  =/

A variety of pumpkin flavored mini cupcakes! Left: light pumpkin cream cheese cupcakes with caramel-pumpkin-cream cheese frosting and pecans, Middle: minus the pecans, Right: pumpkin cinnamon vanilla minis with vanilla frosting and toffee sprinkles

When I came into work the following Tuesday, people shared their war stories and some of the tales were heart wrenching.  I mean, we didn’t have electricity for a week and our fence was destroyed and there was some damage to the roof, but that was nothing in comparison to what so many other people lost.  And it was one of those situations where I just listened and all I could do was say, “Oh my God… I’m so sorry…  Oh my God…” over and over.  As soon as we got power, Vin and I turned on the lights in the basement and sorted out warm clothes and coats and extra non-perishables we could donate.  As soon as the supermarkets were restocked with fresh food, I wanted to restock our fridge with the basics and bake something for coworkers that lost so much more.  I quickly made some mini blueberry muffins for a couple coworkers and packaged them properly in pink boxes with signature ribbon and Cake Dealer labels.  Admittedly, they weren’t my best offering, but I just wanted to give something to try to cheer them up.  When I gave the care packages to a friend that had to flee from her apartment in Coney Island and another coworker that lost her house and car in Long Beach, I got appreciative smiles and huge hugs… the best thank yous ever.

These are my “I’m glad you’re safe” blueberry mini muffins

**This post was delayed because I just had to add one more pic of apple turnovers I made for another coworker that has been displaced due to Sandy.  The first day I came back to work, I emailed him and asked how he and his family fared because of the storm and if he could give me an update on his part of a project we were working on.  He didn’t answer all day, and finally I get a response saying he didn’t forget about it and would get back on the work ASAP but he was tied up with a few things since his entire ground floor apartment was destroyed.  Guess who immediately felt like an @sshole for nagging about the progress of this not-so-dire quarterly project?  So this guy has been in and out of the office for the past week and every time I had a chance to bake something, he was out.  I asked if the dude would be in tomorrow and he said yes, so I scrambled to Stop n Shop after dinner and got some ingredients together and basically made apple turnovers in speed mode.  I peeled, cored, and cubed 4 Granny Smiths in record time, and cooked them in Jack Daniels (come on now… booze makes things better!), sugar, butter, and spices (Vin’s apple turnover moment of the day: while the cooked apples were cooling, I took a break to watch Top Chef with him and he goes, “Why does the house smell so good?”  This, after he had seen me cutting up and cooking the apples =) , and rolled out some puff pastry.  After a sloppy wash of egg and sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon, I popped the filled turnovers in the oven for 15 minutes.  In my haste, I forgot to put slashes on top so some of the pastries started splitting on the sides (… oooops) but they still came out well.  I boxed them up and will bring them into work… hopefully my coworker and his wife will like the apple-y efforts to cheer them up a bit =)

Granny Smith apple turnovers on speed

To donate hurricane relief funds to the Red Cross, click here.

My carefully packaged care… packages =)

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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