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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You know that annoying trait some couples have where they are like, “Ohhhhh my GAWD! We are so perfect for each other because I started saying, ‘I haven’t eaten all day and good thing it’s dinnertime because I’m—‘  and you just KNEW I was going to say ‘starving’ and finished my sentence so you’re totally my soulmate! Yay!” and you just want to simultaneously roll your eyes and punch them at the same time?  (OK, not necessarily both of them, but it’s usually the chick that says it.) That cutesy sh*t irritates me to no avail.  (Side note: Hyperbole and a Half is back so I feel more at ease being evil and sarcastic.)

Birthday typewriter cake

Birthday typewriter cake

YET, it relates to this cake post because this is all about Vin’s birthday.  And, as much as I hate to admit it, he and I take that sentence finishing crap to the next level because I like, OMG, can totally read his mind, too!  I can tell the exact moment when he wants to spit out gum, the exact words he’s going to say about shows watching TV (think Gob and Tony Wonder from the new “Arrested Development” season where they’re like “…same”), and the best example: when we were getting frustrated designing wedding invites during lunch hour @ our respective jobs, and I got fed up and drew a picture of discharging male genitalia in Microsoft Paint and scribbled “Come to our wedding.   Vin & K” and emailed the “invite.jpg” file to Vin, only to get an email reply 2 seconds later that said “OMG I was seriously drawing wedding invite mock ups with penises and pubic hair before hahahaha!!!”  At first, it was kind of creepy and I’m pretty sure I weirded Vin out (“How did you know that???” was said a lot), and it probably freaked him out more when I deadpanned, “I read your mind.”  Now it’s just normal  <3

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Twinkies on a sleigh

A couple weeks ago, Hostess announced it would close down operations and stop production of Twinkies, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, and the plethora of subversive-sounding, “tee hee hee”-inducing, apocalypse-proof overly processed sweets.  “Zombieland” memes and jokes ensued.  Supermarkets stocks were wiped out.  Ridiculous eBay listings were posted.  Freezers were packed (though… I thought there were so many preservatives and chemicals in these things they’d last for ten years anyway).  A ton of recipes for homemade Twinkies popped up.  I was never a huge Twinkie lover, but I figured I’d give it a shot =)

Homemade Twinkie ingredients

Homemade Twinkie ingredients

Originally, I wanted to make these for Thanksgiving but I just didn’t have enough time.  I don’t have cake pan molds that are Twinkie-sized nor do I have the time or interest or zen-like calmness right now to make a couple dozen of these things out of foil.  I DO, however, have these mini loaf pans that are bigger than regulation Twinkies (about 1.5 to 2 times the size), so I planned on making extra large sweets from scratch for a dinner party with some close friends.

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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

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My carefully packaged care… packages =)

Vin’s pic of my apple turnovers

It’s starting to feel a little crisp in the mornings, which means fall is here!  This season makes me think of apples and cinnamon, and I had a hankering for baking something with apples.  Not only do I love anything with apple pie filling, baking apples makes the house smell so good!  And it totally reminds me of my dad; I remember going grocery shopping with my mom and picking up packages of Entenmann’s fruit danishes and turnovers for my dad to bring to work for his lunches.  He ate these things for years… every time I see the triangular puffs I think of my dad  =)  I never was a huge fan of store-bought apple turnovers b/c the ratio of the filling to puff pastry was always like… 1:4 and there was too much sugar in the filling and on the top.  I decided to give these chaussons aux pommes (“apple slippers”) a shot for a quick Sunday morning baking session, making sure the filling to pastry ratio was closer to 1:2  haha

Prepping some of the ingredients

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I bought a bushel of Macintosh apples… too bad we didn’t have time to go apple picking!  Sorting through the produce selection @ Stop ‘n Shop doesn’t count =(   I honestly don’t know what kind of apples are recommended for these fruit pastries and just kind of winged it.  I liked the tartness of the Macintosh apples and figured it would balance out the sugar, so why the hell not?  After peeling and chopping the apples, I cooked them in butter and added sugar (both brown and white), cinnamon, vanilla, and a splash of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey b/c the bottle has been sitting around for a while and it’s not like I’m going to pound shots of it, so I reasoned that the alcohol would burn off and I could still use the booze AND eat this.  This smelled SOOOO good, and it tasted a bit tangy and just sweet enough and I could have easily eaten this plain without the pastry shell  =P

Filling the turnovers with apples

While the filling cooled a bit I cut up the rolled out pastry dough I had chilling in the fridge.  I love that this stuff can be made well in advance and frozen for later spontaneous baking use.  I scooped out the filling onto six pastry rectangles, then cut quick slashes on the other halves of the pastry for the top pieces of the turnovers so the pastry could expand in the oven without breaking or splitting the egg-sealed seams. I whipped a quick egg wash to hold the pocket o’ pommes together, sprinkled some sugar and cinnamon on top, and popped them in the oven.

Skinny Tie

My awesome whipped cream machine (ignore the shopping list temporarily penned on my wrist)

I bought this Tovolo Easy Prep Quick Hand Mixer and had been meaning to use it.  It’s this awesome little mechanical contraption that whips fresh cream or egg whites or aioli by hand; no need to take out the hand mixer and bowls… this thing will whip perfect light, airy fluffy deliciousness in less than a minute.  AND it’s dishwasher safe!  If you can’t tell, I absolutely love this thing.  If I had my own TV show I’d totally endorse it.  An entire episode could be about meringue or macarons and I’d do both the mind-blowing yolk separating trick and crank out perfectly whipped egg whites in no time.  In this case, I whipped fresh whipped cream.  It was perfect: not too much powdered sugar, a splash of vanilla, 30 seconds of hand cranking, and done!

Apple turnovers fresh from the oven

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The smell of baked apples and cinnamon was starting to get pretty powerful so I checked the oven.  The pastries looked just the right shade of golden brown so I took them out and arranged them on a bamboo cutting board to cool a bit.   And then Vin came into the kitchen…

Vin: Wow, those look good!  Did you just heat them or did you make them?

Me [slightly furrowing my brows and blinking]: …What?

Vin: Were these ready made and you just put them in the oven or did you–

Me: I MADE them.

Really???  I wanted to say, “Impostor!  Vin would never ask me such a rhetorical and silly question!  Who are you and what have you done to my husband?”  But then Vin says, “Baby, they look PERFECT!”  =)

A plated turnover with whipped cream canelles

I was really pleased with myself.  I plated one of the turnovers and put two canelles of whipped cream on top, then sprinkled a dusting of cinnamon and ground sugar over the dish.   The outside puffed to just the right height, and it was flaky, crisp and featherlight, and there was a distinct faint “crunch” noise each time the side of my fork pushed through the delicate layers.  The apple filling did not overflow and spill out and burn onto the pastry, indicating that I did a good job of sealing the turnovers, and I personally think the amount of filling was just right.  It wasn’t a thin layer, but each forkful came with a bit of baked apple pieces, instead of biting into a mouthful of just pastry (I’m talking to you, Entenmann’s!).  The still chilled fresh whipped cream had a hint of sweetness that just melded with the tartness of the apples.  I was worried that everything would be  a little too sweet since there was sugar in the filling, on top of the pastry, and in the cream, but it was just right.  (By the way, how’s THAT for a food review?  We just caught up on Top Chef: Masters and the final episode was all about how food writers/critics were trying to one up each other in creatively describing how “sensual” and “unctuous” the dishes were.  God. It was like, give me a break… who did you **** to get such an awesome job at such a young age and you’re clearly a pretentious, self-entitled d*ck?  Sometimes I wish a lifetime of SPAM on some people.  hahaha)

Spectacularly amazing apple turnovers

Update: I’m questioning Vin’s sanity again.  This is what happened when he ate a turnover later…

Vin: These are really good! Did you buy apples to make this?

Me: … What?

Vin: Did you buy apples and make the filling or is this like… from a can?

Me [incredulously blinking]: Baby!  I made it!  Everything! That’s why I was looking for the peeler, to peel the apples and then chop them up and I cooked them… hahaha

Vin: Oh!  It’s REALLY good!  I figured you made it… I don’t know why I even thought you used canned filling…  I just didn’t know we had apples.

Me [still blinking and trying to hide a smile]: … You’re silly.

Maybe Vin’s overtired or just not thinking correctly; he’s been holed up @ the computer editing photos for days and went drinking with friends last night.  Maybe that attributed to his temporary memory loss and why he just happened to forget what I’ve been doing in my spare time for the past 2.5 years.  But I appreciate the compliment on my baking, baby <3

Shutterfly 50 Free Prints

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Last weekend, I just was craving a little bit of PB&J and PB and chocolate.  I’m not one to just stick my finger in a jar of peanut butter and eat it plain; I just wanted a tiny taste of it.  Preferably with a classic food pairing and a glass of non-dairy milk.  haha

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Vin is a big PB guy so I just decided to make PB print cookies:  PB cookie dough with either a pointer finger or thumb print, and then filled the impression with either grape jelly or this dangerously amazing Jif Mocha Cappuccino Hazelnut spread.  I’m not supposed to be eating any of the above, but I really wanted a little, itsy, bitsy bit…  and my reasoning was that Vin would like it, too, and I could bring them into work to share with friends.  =P

They came out so cute and tasty looking that I ended up eating 2 of each (oops).  Hey man, they were fresh from the oven and perfectly soft and chewy.  I gave Vin a few and packaged the rest in the fridge, estimating that I made about 36+ cookies.

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I brought a small container of cookies to work to give my friend Diane.  It just so happened that on that day, I had just picked up molds of my teeth.  I had impressions taken a week before to get custom trays of my chompers for nighttime teeth grinding and gnashing purposes; the dentist was going to toss the molds so I asked if I could take them  =D  I displayed the molds on my desk and told D to come up and check them out, and she and I happened to have this silly idea to make a little movie of my “teeth” terrorizing and chomping down on a cookie.  D had fortuitously saved one last cookie, so our little project was definitely meant to be.

Given where we work we had access to a lot of video cameras and editing equipment, but given my position, using them for our goofy project would be a terrible idea.  haha  We decided that we would just take photos with my smartphone and use my little desk lamp to provide staged lighting (gotta love fluorescent office lights).  This was done during our lunch break and took all of 10 minutes; we both staged the props, I took the photos and D did the lighting.  She also strategically ate the cookie so the bite marks and crumbs were perfect.  ‘Twas was hilarious genius, it was.

Me: We’re like weird 5-year-olds with this idea.

D: No, we’re like normal 5-year-olds!

Me: This is true.

=)

That night I went home and put it together in MS Paint.  (This may come as a surprise to you, but I’ve been using MS Paint for ALL the beautiful baking related collages on this site.  *gasp*)  Et voila… our perfectly shot, beautifully edited, thoroughly developed, emotionally driven story with high tech special effects entitled “The Plight of the Cookie”:

The teeth and the cookie

 

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**This post is a couple weeks late… OK, a few weeks late.  We had some house-related catastrophes to deal with and much needed relaxing time to catch up on. Now that Labor Day has passed, I’ll be a little less lazy with the baking and the posts  =)

An array of mini chocolate cupcakes with blue rum and yellow vanilla frosting

Where has this summer gone???  I feel like I haven’t done that much baking (it’s just too humid and gross) and I have no idea where the time went.  It’s August and we hadn’t gone to the beach yet…

…Until my family came to visit this past weekend.  Originally, just my parents and little bro were coming over and my sister and her boyfriend were joining and we were all going to the beach and to get seafood and maybe go to the outlets and just hang out.  But my mom’s family didn’t have our usual summer get-together this year, so a last minute family BBQ was planned @ our house and my grandma, a couple of my aunts, and 2 of my little cousins joined in.  Vin and I went on a shopping spree @ the supermarket for meats to grill and bought packs of hot dogs and buns, salad, corn, ice, soda, beer, water… and we sweeped and vacuumed and cleaned and did yardwork… and then, on Saturday morning, I decided to bake.  I rarely get to give baked goods to my own family, let alone see them, so I wanted to make something special.  I bought these baking cups that looked like large disposable mouthwash cups, which would have been perfect for sno cone cupcakes.  Long story short, I wasn’t used to these baking cups @ all since they took twice as long to bake cupcakes (20 minutes for cupcakes? With THIS oven? Unheard of in this house!) and I was really rushing it with the frosting.  I used leftover frosting from C+H’s wedding and it wasn’t thick enough to hold the scooped ball shape, and it just looked sloppy.  I’m determined to try this again and put in more effort next time. Read More

I took a few weeks off to go on vacation (*sigh*  one week of vacation is too short) and to gear up for the rest of this summer’s baking projects.  This past weekend I had 2 orders for birthday cakes.  Coincidentally, both requests were for predominately yellow and black designs, making me think of the monstrously large bumblebees we saw in Playa del Carmen.  Thankfully, they were harmless.  I just remember them being very vividly yellow and shiny black, and they were my inspiration for the colors I mixed for this weekend’s cakes.

Black and yellow themed cakes – cheerleader pompoms and city skylines

The first cake was for a coworker’s bf’s birthday.  She wanted something symbolic and since they have a long distance thing (she’s in Manhattan, he’s in Chi-town), she was thinking of incorporating things from both cities for the cake.  Her first idea was for me to make a 3-D airplane to signify the mode of transportation to see each other. Instead, I suggested that since this was going to be a small cake, why don’t I just do a silhouette of both city skylines around the base of a small cake and have the buildings morph into each other.  This would totally fit a 6″ round and it was basic yet meaningful enough.   She picked chocolate cake with vanilla icing for the cake flavors and wanted the background in yellow with a black skyline.

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I made THE ultimate summertime cupcakes, the kind you want on a nice sunny day to have at a family BBQ, babies are playing outside, disposable plates and plastic silverware are out, and flies are trying to get at your food.  Super light margarita cupcakes spiked with just enough tequila and lime-flavored tangy frosting are the perfect way to end your meal.  My inspiration: this huge tub of margarita mix I bought when I must have been completely out of it b/c I can’t have citrusy stuff or alcohol right now anyway.  But just b/c I can’t enjoy it doesn’t mean everyone else can’t.

A beautiful bevy of boozed up baked goods.

I wanted to make these for a while and had to wait for a legitimately nice summer day.  The weather this year has been a roller coaster ride: a couple extremely warm days in February and March and a crapload of chilly, rainy days in May.  So this weekend was perfect.  Originally, I had planned to make them for the T-house mega party on Saturday to celebrate Vin’s mom’s retirement, his sister’s birthday, and Father’s Day, but since we were out late on Friday night Johnny Prime style, I didn’t have any time to bake and make fresh frosting.  But after getting a good night’s sleep after Saturday’s festivities, I woke up and started getting my things together to bake and make citrusy icing.

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