It only took me 5 months to write up and post this, and it’s just in time for Halloween! I’ve had non-stop work travel and projects this year and I was lucky enough to even have time to bake for Vin’s cake, so I’ll take it as a win!

The Shining cake

This year marks the 40th anniversary of my husband’s existence. Facebook keeps reminding me of all the cakes I’ve made for Vin’s birthday (and how fucking long I’ve been THE Cake DealerTM) and how friggin’ stellar they are, so this year’s cake has to be EXTRA AMAZING to make sure my guy has the best birthday ever and show his exponentially increasing awesomeness. Yeah, no fucking pressure on me. I’ve done themed cakes of things that are important to Vin. For example, why would I ever make a vegetable cornucopia for his birthday? I’ve made a lot of food-related cakes and the meat idea is kind of “meh” for me now; to be honest that porterhouse is probably the best it’s going to get and that was seven years ago hahaha But this year’s idea was pretty much given to me by Vinnie himself.

Photo by @chubbychinesegirleats

He said it was silly that some adults who shall remain unnamed were throwing themselves 40th birthday parties and that it was the last thing he’d want. Naturally, I do the opposite and start planning for a big birthday bash b/c I’m just the best! I browsed large format dinners, considered renting a bus to get tickets for Medieval Times, booking part of a beer hall, thought about booking Sammi’s Roumanian (I think we’re not as young as we think we are so this would have been straight out insanity, hangovers and digestive issues all around), and then came across this list that suggested renting out a movie theatre. It honestly was more along the lines of what I wanted: a private space where everyone could be grouped together for a proper “SURPRISE!” and still be fun and I could have interchangeable guests knowing how some people have a tendency to say “YES” and not show up and others may not respond and then you’re gifted with their presence at the event. (Yes, I’ve learned my lesson from wedding planning. These things are the worst for a Type A planner like yours truly.) Also, I kind of liked the private theatre idea for ME, too. I always wanted a movie theatre birthday as a kid, the kind where you watch a movie with your friends (and all the other strangers who bought tickets for that movie time as well) and then go into a private room with super bored movie staff and have shitty cake and pizza… it sounded way more fun before I said that out loud, didn’t it? But I liked this idea and wanted to do it right. So I did my research and contacted a few locations in the city, and got quotes for different days and times for Vin’s potential birthday bash. The pricing is just like a wedding; the prime times for Friday evening and Saturday cost much more than a Sunday evening shindig, and to have the party on Vin’s actual birthday would have been double b/c 1) Memorial Day weekend and 2) “Solo” was premiering. The Sunday a week before his birthday it is! I email Vin’s family and close friends and ask if they’d be interested in coming to the city to surprise Vin and watch a movie (most likely horror) on a Sunday evening, and the RSVPs were pretty high! A lot of people were out of town or had family events, but I got a lot of “YES!” responses. In crowd sourcing the ideas, I also included a clearly worded notification that said “Don’t mention this to Vin or I will fucking hunt you down =)” with emphasis on the smiley face. I settled on the Alamo Drafthouse even though I had never been but heard great things: the seats were comfortable, the food and drink options were good, the stadium seating views were perfect, they had a good sound system, and you could be a lazy ass and order food/drinks and servers would just bring it to you. The manager there was a dream to work with and answered all of my 23497602 questions and gave helpful food suggestions and ideas for logistics… it made organizing this surprise remotely SO much easier. I never set foot in this place until the actual party and it was a breeze.

Snow on The Overlook Hotel Maze

The biggest concern I had was whether or not I could bring in a cake since the contract explicitly says no outside food is permitted, but it was not a big deal at all. Phew! I ordered a bunch of burgers and sliders and pizza and popcorn for the guests, and the manager was sweet enough to let people in early so that more people could be on time for the surprise AND she suggested that 80s music with movie clips would be playing in the background before the movie started. How’s THAT for amazing customer service?

So what was next… step 1: I picked a date and location, and the next big decision was what movie to show??? I wanted it to be horror because that is Vin’s absolutely favorite genre. I, on the other hand, I can watch any Marvel movie or Pixar flick on repeat but “Paranormal Activity” made me scared of my own house and I couldn’t stand to be alone at home thanks to that stupid movie. But it’s not for me, it’s Vin’s special day so I was determined to suck it up and watch a scary movie. I gave suggestions like “The Shining” or “Creepshow” or other 80s classic horror films, and after conferring with Vin’s brother and the movie theatre manager, “The Shining” was the winner. Vinnie’s brother said it was Vin’s favorite, and also the manager said it was probably easiest to get the licensing rights to show and that since it’s a classic horror movie it would appeal to more people, so this was the theme of Vin’s birthday. (Little did I know, a LOT of people had never watched nor wanted to watch “The Shining” so half the theatre cleared out after cake was served hahaha)

See what I mean? Photo credit: Ben Hon

Step 2: Designing the invite. I knew JUST the design I wanted and it was perfect for this party. You know the scene where Jack Nicholson sticks his head through the door and is like, “Herrrrre’s Johnny!” Vin has this really endearing tendency to give crazy eye and look deranged in most of his photos, so it was pretty easy to find a pic of him looking mildly psychotic. I asked our friend Ben if I could use his high res photo of Vin giving such a look, and then asked Vin’s brother to Photoshop the photo to be just like the door scene and the invite would read, “Herrrrre’s Johnny Prime!” How fucking fitting is that? I know, I’m a great creative director, too. I sent out e-invites to Vin’s nearest and dearest to “come play with us!” and based on all the “YES!” responses, I ended up renting a larger theatre at the Alamo.

“Herrrrrrre’s Johnny Prime!” Photo: Ben Hon. Photoshop: Frank Todarello

Step 3: Cake. What is the first thing you think of when someone talks about “The Shining”??? Is it the hotel? The creepy twins? “REDRUM”? The weird bear performing sexual acts on some dude in a tux? For me, the most iconic thing of the movie is the hedge maze. I had it in my mind from day one that I would be making a cake of this, and it would involve the most intricate planning and secrecy and if… just IF, all of this worked out, it would be spectacular. However, the more people asked what kind of cake I was making, the more I started to doubt myself and think I was crazy.

PRETEXT:
Crystal: What’re you making for Vin?
Me: You know the maze from The Shining?
Crystal: No, I’ll have to look it up…

Step 4: I laid out my plan and told Vin I had a baking order that had to be delivered in Brooklyn the day of the surprise party, and I was being paid well to just make a sheet cake and some cupcakes for a kid’s birthday. (My being paid in seeing Vin’s shocked reaction at the party: priceless.) I said I needed his help carrying the cupcakes and getting the doors for me, so to make up for it I’d take him out for food afterwards. I was not entirely lying to my husband. =D I spent a good three lunch breaks looking up all high res images of “the shining maze” I could find on google.

The Shining images: movie and minecraft. These were taped to the kitchen wall while I was decorating. I ALMOST forgot to take them down when I finished assembling the maze while Vin was at work.

Some of the images were shitty and inaccurate, like there were all these drawings and recreations of completely symmetrical mazes. WTF? If you look at a screen grab of the scene where Jack Nicholson is peering over the replica of the maze in the hotel it’s clearly not the same on both sides. What lazy half assery is that? So yeah, I pored over tons of images and studied tons of pics and read all about the Mythbusters guy making his own replica of the hedge maze.

MY MATH WAS PERFECT. I ALMOST became an engineer, believe it or not.

After I found a relatively helpful Mindcraft-looking layout, I had to recalc all the measurements because the sheet cake I baked was not exactly the same size as this piece of paper I printed. Also, there was NO way the hedges on this cake could be as thin as the tiny squares on the paper, so I had to take that into account, too. Thank you, engineering and math skills for helping me in my time of need!

Now comes the fun part. It took about 5 days to make everything from start to finish.

Vin’s favorite cake: FUNFETTI. This is like wallpaper.

On the first day, I prepped all the cake batter (vanilla + a shitload of sprinkles b/c Vin’s favorite cake is funfetti™) to make a dozen cupcakes and three layers for the sheet cake. Every time I make a sheet cake, I always forget the baking sheets are never quite as large as I think they are, so I ended up with a sheet cake that was much smaller than I originally anticipated. Fuck. And I overbaked the cupcakes by like… an extra minute so I wasn’t thrilled with how this project was starting. I stayed up late the first night to dirty ice the sheet cake to trap in the moisture and covered that shit in saran wrap. The naked cupcakes were stored in the freezer to be used if ABsolutely necessary. Oh yeah, Vin was 10 feet away from me the whole time I was baking. Hah!

The next morning I woke up early while Vin went on a run to roll out black fondant and cut out the letters for “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I found the PERFECT font type cutters on Etsy @katobakingsupplies and they had custom sizes (2”!!!) and 3-D printed me a custom “A” too. The letters looked exact from that screenplay scene where Olive Oyl flips the hell out at Jack’s desk. I intended for this phrase to wrap around the bottom of the sheet cake, but honestly, I wasn’t sure how this was going to turn out. I cut out the letters and let them air dry and harden and hid them under a blue silicone mat so Vin wouldn’t see it. Again, this was “hidden” in plain sight on my workbench all week.

Hand cut fondant letters…

That evening I baked MORE cupcakes and made a crapload of plain white frosting for the cake and cupcakes. Our fridge was getting pretty full. I couldn’t work on anything for a day and a half since we had a dinner event with a bunch of friends, so I just took the next day off from work to do the BIG part: the hedge maze. Have I ever made a hedge maze before? Let alone an edible yet structurally sound hedge maze that is proportional to a blurry screenshot from a movie? Well we were going to find out. Vin left for work and I took the day off to really get started on this cake.  I taped printouts of a couple images to the wall in the kitchen and measured and calculated ratios and estimated lengths and just tried my hand at it. I made one batch of Rice Krispies treats per the recipe on the box and it was just wayyyy too soft and gloopy. This was not good. I mixed in two different shades of green and a couple handfuls of cereal in and just covered my hands in PAM and went at it. I rolled out the green glob on a large silicone mat and then used a multi-strip pasta cutter (it was a random find from Williams Sonoma that is one of the best investments ever for cutting fondant and for apparently rolled out Rice Krispies treats and I have yet to use it for actual pasta) to cut out 2” strips for the hedges. The consistency was relatively solid, yet still pliable enough so I could score the edges and bend the strips to make corners. They had to be rolled out as thin as possible because I wanted to be as accurate as possible in making the maze, and it was a super tough fit. I started off putting the border around the cake and then honestly took a good half an hour to brace myself to start constructing the rest of it. I took a sticky green strip and measured it and started from one corner and just put it down. That’s how it began. I couldn’t lift it up again to replace it or move it so I just had to continue with what I started. And it wasn’t just taking a ruler and measuring out the squares, but measuring the distance from the border to the center open area, where the arch was supposed to be, making sure things were proportionate… I honestly didn’t have a game plan, like if I was going to start from one corner and branch out from one end to another, or focus on the center first and then expand out… I ended up kinda jumping all over the place because there were main focal points that needed to be centered, and I didn’t want the spacing to be completely distorted.

The Shining cake: And so it begins…

I started on one corner, jumped to the corner across from it, planted pieces in that connected the center to the border, marked up the open section in the center, then jumped from the archway border and worked my way in. I’d say about ¾ of the cake is pretty accurate; the remaining part I improvised b/c I was getting fucking tired and running out of space, so I just winged it. I didn’t know how to best make the arch so I literally bent a strip of green Krispies treats into an arch shape and “voila!” It was a bit thin and kept leaning over so I stuck a couple toothpicks to reinforce the arch, but all in all the maze still looked pretty damn decent. I made good time for establishing the base of the cake decorations and had to run out to meet Vin for dinner, so I covered the cake in this massive cardboard cake box and put it in the fridge. That evening I couldn’t work on anything because we both were home, soooo on that day I rested. Hey, even God needed a break, too.

Bits and pieces of The Shining Cake

On Saturday, I was expecting Vin to have a press dinner with his friends so I’d have the time I needed to put the finishing touches on the hedges (did you notice those pointed pyramids on the outer border or how the center hedges have that beveled castle top structure? No? Well, I did. And they have to be on the cake!), but of course… that dinner was canceled. My Uncle Rob came to the rescue and devised this plan to take Vin out for cigars and steak dinner and it gave me the few hours I needed to finish the little decorations and to stabilize the weak parts of the hedges (I silently screamed when a part of the border broke off, but luckily, soft Rice Krispies treats are like cement and I just plugged that piece back in and patched up some of the thinner areas of the hedges. Phew!). I took a small shaker full of powdered sugar and sprinkled that all over the hedges so the contrast would show up better, and then arranged the black fondant letters around the bottom of the cake. They fit perfectly. I padded the top of the box with bundles of saran wrap and put the top of the cardboard cake box over this and taped the edges shut so Vin wouldn’t be able to peek anyway. (He doesn’t dare touch decorated cakes lest he ruin the design and endure my wrath.) And then I cleaned up the kitchen and waited for my uncle and Vin to come home. It was extra funny because Vin kept asking me if I wanted to go to the cigar bar, and I said I wasn’t feeling it so I’d stay home. And then when they decided to stay out longer to get steak nearby (aka I needed another hour or so and my uncle stalled for time for me), Vin kept asking if I wanted to join them for dinner and I kept replying I wasn’t in the mood for steak. Haha This is what happens when you marry someone that actually likes your company and wants to hang out with you all the time <3

The Shining cake – with snow

Some more angles of The Shining cake – with snow

The next day was THE day. That morning Vin went to run and I decided it would be fine to finish the cupcakes in front of him. The cupcakes followed the theme of the movie, too, but you kind of had to really think about it and be a fan to get the abstract concept. Also, the whole hiding in plain sight thing was really working out for me with his birthday so I was just going to run with it haha I mixed the perfect shade of light blue frosting that was identical to the dresses the “twins” wore. I tied light pink ribbon around the cupcakes because the creepy ass girls had pink ribbons around their waists, and with two dozen quick swirls of light blue frosting my baking and cake decorating was DONE. Vin came by and was like, “Baby, these look so nice!” And I extra smilingly said, “Thanks!” He even took a pic and sent them to his friends (who were also coming to the party) and they were like, “Are those for a gender reveal?” Good going, guys. That was brilliant. hahaha

just some gender reveal cupcakes?

“Come play with us, Danny…”

I cleaned the kitchen AGAIN and showered and packed up the cupcakes in a sturdy bag and ordered a Lyft to head to Brooklyn. Vin was all, “Did you confirm the reservation for food?” And I was all, “Yeahhhh, uhh, they said we could go whenever and it’s a block away from the drop off… it’s fine don’t worry about it,” and Vin actually texted one of our friends (who was attending the party!) what to get at this place. I was not prepared for that and didn’t have the chance to warn the guy, but luckily he replied to Vin, “Everything is good.” hahaha I tried to gauge the timing as best I could, but given unpredictable NYC traffic, Google said that it would take anywhere from 30 min to an hour 15 to get there. Geesh. I gambled that it would take 45 min so we left at 330 to get there around 415. But here’s the thing: we had been driving for about 10 min and I realized I forgot Vin’s glasses. He kinda needs them to see the freaking movieI should have snuck them in my bag while he wasn’t looking, but I completely forgot. I made the driver turn back (and tipped him well for the trouble!) and said, “Shit! I forgot… the cake topper! I can’t believe I forgot it! Shit! Shit shit shit!!!” So I set the cake on the seat, ran up to our apartment with my tote bag, grabbed Vin’s glasses case, threw it in my bag, and then ran back to the car. This caused a 15-20 min delay in timing, but actually, it was good because people tend to be late no matter how much you drive in that they have to be on time for the surprise. I had a dependable and responsible friend run point and get to the theatre early and I kept her updated with the traffic and when we were getting close. She kept texting updates about the food and guests and said that some stragglers were trickling in at 415, so it was good that we were a little late. I called her when we were about 3 min away and said, “Heyyyy, we’re getting close with the cake. See you soon!” and then went up the elevator with this massive covered cake and right into the theatre. Vin’s holding the bag of cupcakes (just in case he drops it during the surprise!) and he’s like, “They just let us walk in? How do you know which theatre number to go in?” and I’m all, “Yeah, the Alamo knows I’m delivering a cake and they said to deliver to theatre #3. Can you walk in front of me b/c I have to adjust carrying this cake.”

And then, it happened. He walked in and about 60 people yelled, “SURPRISE!!!” and Vin is shocked for a good 20 seconds. He’s stunned to see friends we haven’t seen in a while, he wasn’t expecting to see all his siblings and cousins, and he’s just smiling and shaking his head, “Seriously?” I came in behind him with this small smile just watching his expression, and luckily, the man doesn’t stop grinning. (You don’t understand how worried I was that day b/c I kept thinking all of a sudden, “What if Vin is PISSED I threw him a party???”) One of his friends takes the cake box from me and instinctively I’m like, “AhhhHHHH be careful!!!” like someone has just grabbed my newborn child from my arms. I mean, I haven’t checked on the cake for almost a day and just hope it didn’t melt in the sweltering heat! Thankfully, the cake was intact when I lifted the cover and the smell of butter and sugar wafted from the box. I finally let out a sigh of relief and could breathe again. Pictures were taken of the cake, I got shit for not putting a tiny Jack in the hedges, tons of hugs and hellos were given, and it was smiles all around. It was just great to see so many people come to say, “Happy birthday!” to Vin, especially since a whole bunch of friends and family came in from wayyy out of town, and it meant to ton to me. I mean, it was either that sentiment or people just wanted to come have some legit Cake Dealer cake and watch “The Shining” on the big screen. I was extra impressed everyone kept the surprise and Vin had no idea.  My smiley face threat worked!

Check out the guns on Johnny Prime

Vin tried to cut the first piece of cake but it’s not easy with the hedges. And so I am just mashing the cake b/c it’s still super moist (YES!) and this plastic knife is not doing the trick and the Rice Krispies are a bitch to cut through. Luckily, my brilliant point person friend (Allison, I <3 you!) helps a ton and we tag team the cake: she rips off the pieces of hedges, I cut the cake pieces, and she scoops them up into plates. I was told I outdid myself with design AND flavor and it was my best cake yet =D

@allisonkimchi is a huuuuuge help. I am just stabbing at cake and making a mess.  It’s a massacre. 

We had a small section of extra cake left and took home about 8 extra cupcakes. And I was worried there wouldn’t be enough cake. Psshhh! The servers were great and were on top of everything. No one was without a drink, they had plates and forks for the cake, popcorn was set up on tables so we were ready to go with the show. We didn’t get some food that I originally ordered, but that was fixed afterward due to the great customer service. I really can’t thank the theatre enough for managing this so well considering I had never been here AND was arriving at the party late. Unfortunately, some people couldn’t stay for the movie (or they had no interest in seeing a horror movie), but I was glad everyone was able to give Vin birthday hugs and a good time was had by all. And that I remembered Vin’s glasses for the movie. And that he fulfilled his dream of making fart noises in a movie theatre during a sexy scene. And that he didn’t get mad at me for throwing the party. hahaha It was a good surprise, and after all that we’ve been through, I was just happy that Vin was happy. Happy 40th, baby. I love you so very much. And note to self: if I ever make this hedge cake again, I’ll stick a small frozen Jack Nicholson in the maze or I will never hear the end of it. =D

Photos by Ben Hon

Vin's sneaker cake

Vin’s sneaker cake

*Because I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say “Just Do It TM” in the headline.

OK, this is a SUPER LATE post, but I figure it’s fitting since VIN IS RUNNING THE NYC MARATHON SOON!!!  This counts as carb-loading, right???  Now look at the pics….

Another year, another birthday for Vin. He started running last year for health reasons and now he’s one of those obsessed runners (meanwhile, I’m still a lazy bum that sleeps all the time as pointed out by the NYT), so the OBVIOUS cake this year was a sneaker.  To be specific, a replica of his sneaker.  The obsessed runner is very particular about his running kicks, and I wasn’t able to check out his actual shoe at home (we are physically glued to the hip when I’m not traveling and Vin is not running) so I sneakily asked Vin, “Oh heyyyy, baby… what’s the style name of your sneaker?  I think I saw it on sale and I know you wear a certain style so I wanted to make sure it was the same one…” So he told me, I looked it up, printed out enlarged pics of every angle of this shoe in black, and then hid the images under a pile of junk mail on my work bench.  (Vin NEVER looks through the stuff on my work bench; he only looks at the mounds of random shit piling up with disgust and dread and wants to throw it all out =P)

Read More

“Did you think I’d forgotten you?”– Frank Underwood. Man, I love that show.

One single square strawberry muffin with butter.

I hadn’t baked anything in 2 months and things had just gone to shit. Busy @ work, busy with other stuff, turning into a blob… I was so stressed and had sunken to new lows, eating chocolate (namely KitKats), cookies, Starbucks pastries and fries to quell the panic and busyness, and I even succumbed to eating… dun dun DUNNNNN Entenmann’s raspberry Danish. I sh*t you not. The 50% off price tag at the supermarket pushed me over the edge. The nutritional value alone made me feel like I’m a guilty shameful druggie with a deep dark food binge secret. This was extra bad b/c Vin has been eating super healthy for the past 2 months!

Read More

The holidays and my birthday kind of just mesh into this blob of a season that is both fun and stressful.  I’ve given up baking something for myself for my birthday (it’s quite silly b/c I probably wouldn’t eat any of it), but sometimes I just feel like I HAVE to bake something.

That something ended up being cream puffs.  And for two weekends in a row I churned out loads of cream puffs.  They’re so simple and yet so pleasing and they became my go-to item for January celebrations.  I think I kept making them mostly b/c I liked hearing ppl say, “Ooooh, these are so good!” and I liked replying, “Oh, these things?  They were SUPER easy to make.  I just whipped them up really quick,” and then getting that “….” look in response.  I guess it was like the equivalent of when chicks are like, “OMG you look fabulous? What’s your secret?” and the woman in question answers with, “Oh, nothing really.  I don’t work out and I just eat what I want,” and your expression just says “Bitch!”  hahaha  Hey man, it was for my birthday.  I’M bringing in homemade pastries for MY birthday.  I had an excuse to be a bit of a d*ck.  =)

Chocolate and vanilla filled cream puffs

Chocolate and vanilla filled cream puffs

Anyway, the first cream puffisode (I just invented that word!) was for my family’s after-Christmas Christmas party.  We never celebrate holidays on the actual day b/c my mom’s fam is so huge and it solves the problem of who’s family we’re seeing for which holiday (seriously, our in-laws don’t know how good they have it =) and per usual, I didn’t have a lot of time to bake, so I decided to whip up cream puffs.

Read More

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!

Read More

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.

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 =)

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

Add items from any website on the internet onto one universal gift registry

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

Save on Party Favors @ Beau-coup.com

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

Clip it!

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

Shop for Spooky Halloween Treats @ Beau-coup.com

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.

Shutterfly Photo Books

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

 

Clip it!