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Dark Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream

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I’ve said it before, and more than likely, you’ll read it here again, but just to be clear: I. LOVE. FROSTING.  You know that person at every birthday party who hovers around the cake table with her eye on a corner piece, ever so graciously offering to cut the cake “just to be nice?”  That would be me.  The closer I get to the cake, the more likely I am to snag the corner (Read: BEST) piece.

For the most part, I’m an equal opportunity frosting lover, too.  Tooth-achingly sweet, tangy and cream cheesy, rich and chocolatey, light and fluffy, fruity, buttery, gooey, citrusy…sigh.  I love them all.  (Full disclosure: I even have a place in my heart for “Bettercreme.”)    I scoff at people who scrape the frosting off before gingerly pushing their plate of cake away after only a few delicate bites.  Weaklings!!   I have been known, on more than one occasion, to quietly sidle up to the dessert bar just to scrape my fork along that little edge of frosting left on the cake plate after everyone has been served.  (So wasteful just to leave it there!)

 

BUT.  I have a confession to make.  I don’t really like Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  Sure, it’s the one of the prettiest and fluffiest frostings around.  Cakes covered in Swiss Meringue are often those with the most perfectly clean edges and smooth sides.  And it pipes like an absolute dream.  But the thing is, the flavor is perfect for people who DON’T like frosting…in that it doesn’t have much flavor at all.

It’s always kind of bothered me to be prejudiced against such an innocent and lovely buttercream.  So recently I decided to go ahead throw an entire cup of homemade salted caramel sauce into a batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream, just to spice things up a bit.  And then I tasted it.  And swooned.  And was reborn…a SMBC hater, no more.  I feel so much better now.

Let me know if you’d like recipes for this one.  It’s a doozy but, SO worth it!

 

 

Spice up your Valentine’s Day {Snickerdoodle Cake with Gooey Cinnamon Filling}

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Vanilla Cake with rich Caramel Cinnamon filling and Browned Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

       Okay.  I am a huge, HUGE, huge fan of chocolate.  I crave it daily.  Hourly.  Minute-ly.  I put it in my coffee at breakfast, enjoy a little bite or three after lunch and indulge in some form of it most evenings after dinner.  As such, you can safely assume that I’m also a BIG fan of any holiday that is known for being celebrated with heaps and gobs of chocolate.  BUT.  There is a great big world of people out there and, as aghast as it makes me to think about, many of them just. don’t. like. chocolate.

Well, even if chocolate doesn’t get your LUVAH all hot and bothered, I say he/she still deserve some sweet, sweet love on Valentine’s Day in the form of something a little sassier than your average chocolate cake.  Break out your spiciest Saigan cinnamon, your softest Tahitian vanilla (a natural aphrodisiac…HEYOOOO)and smoothest Euro-butter and whip up this rich, spicy, gooey cake for someone you adore.   Just think of it as the naughty version of a Snickerdoodle.  And when your better half swoons over it (if you KWIM :::elbow, elbow, nudge, nudge::::), don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Ooey-gooey-caramely-cinnamon filling.

RECIPES

*Vanilla Cake (I prefer the creaming method for this one.)

*Ooey-gooey Caramel Cinnamon Filling

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups, or enough to fill one 8-in, two (or four) layer cake

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 in. chunks
1/2 cup water
1 tsp good cinnamon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
DIRECTIONS:
In a very deep saucepan, whisk together sugars, salt, cornstarch and water.  Stir in butter.  Over medium high heat, bring the mixture to a boil and let cook for 3 minutes, whisking often.  Mixture should be thick and slightly reduced.  Remove from heat and whisk in cinnamon and vanilla extract.  Pour into a heatproof bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on top.  Refrigerate to cool completely before using.
*Browned Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream
5 egg whites
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
pinch Cream of Tartar
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, divided
2 tsp vanilla

1. Heat two sticks of butter in a deep saucepan set over medium heat until browned and fragrant.  Immediately transfer to a heat proof container and cool to room temperature. (I use a glass Pyrex measuring cup.)

2. Cut the rest of the butter into 1/2 in. chunks and bring to cool room temperature.

3. Whisk egg whites and sugar together in double boiler or a VERY clean large metal mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Keep whisking until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers and the mixture is VERY hot (almost too hot to touch).

4. Immediately transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  Beat until mixture has cooled some and stiff peaks form.  Scrape bowl and whip again to make sure all whites are incorporated.

5. Beat in cooled browned butter, 1-2 spoonfuls at a time, making sure each addition is completely incorporated before adding the next.  Continue with the rest of the butter, adding only a few pieces at a time.  Beat and beat and beat until all of the butter has been added and mixture is extremely light and fluffy.  Texture should be close to very thick whipped cream or mayonaise (gross, I know, but it’s really the best texture comparison).

6. Beat in vanilla and a pinch more salt, if necessary.  Use buttercream immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to use, rewhipping if necessary before use.

NOTE: Swiss Meringue Buttercream is notoriously temperamental.  My best pieces of advice are to BE PATIENT when adding the butter and to make sure everything is at the proper temperature when you make it (i.e. the butter is not too cold or too warm).

A Berry Sweet Cake

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A Berry Sweet Cake

 

 

 

Just an obnoxious little drive-by post to show some shots (and a few poorly lit photos) of a three tiered birthday cake I made for an adorable 3 yr old!  The top tier of the cake is strawberry cake, filled with ganache and iced with Swiss Meringue buttercream before getting a blanket of rolled fondant.

I’ll confess that I had far too much fun designing this wee little house for the birthday girl’s “berry” favorite character, Strawberry Shortcake!   I would have absolutely swooned over a cake like this when I was a little girl, so I was definitely channeling my inner 6 year old while creating it.  Were you a fan of Strawberry Shortcake, once upon a time?

Okay, raise your hand if you kind of want to knock on that wee door and step inside for a “berry sweet” visit and perhaps a cups of tea with one Miss Shortcake.

The two bottom tiers were strawberry cake (recipe HERE) frosted with my own strawberry cream cheese buttercream (let me know if you’d like the recipe) and accented with rolled fondant dots, sweet strawberries and a swirly, sculpted number 3.

And now for the slightly-offensive-to-the-eyese, very poorly lit shots.  Apparently I have no shame.

 

A Tale of Two Vanilla Bean Cakes

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The cakes you see above have exactly the same ingredients, in exactly the same ratios.  They were both baked in 6 in. round pans at 325 degrees in my convection oven.  I prepped both pans the same.  I mixed both in the same mixer (though separately).   They are both frosted with a simple American buttercream using the same batch of icing.  So why do they look different?   Why is one taller than the other?

(Once again, please excuse the heinous photography.   It’s obviously not my strong suit.)

The secret lies in the mixing METHOD, which was different for each cake, rather than the ingredients.

 Cake A (with the sprinkles on top) was mixed using a traditional creaming method.  This is the mixing method many home bakers are most familiar with, as it is commonly used for butter cakes.

      First, room temperature butter and sugar are beaten until light, fluffy and creamy.  This provides aeration to the cake by creating tiiiiiiny bubbles that will then expand with the heat of the oven. Next, eggs (which provide further lift) are incorporated, one at a time, until completely combined.  Flavorings are usually added at this time, too.  In a separate bowl,  the dry ingredients are sifted together (usually flour, leavening agents and salt).  The dry ingredients are then added into the butter/sugar/egg mixture, alternatively with the remaining wet ingredients (usually dairy products), in two or three addtions.  This method creates a fluffy cake with a nice, tight crumb, making it a little shorter and denser than cakes made with the other method (explained below).

Cake B (with robin’s egg blue frosting), was mixed using a method called the “Two-Stage Method,” made popular by renowned cake expert, Rose Levy Berenbaum.

     In a nutshell, the baker simply combines the dry ingredients with fat, then mixes in a portion of the remaining liquid ingredients.  This mixture is whipped into a frenzy of fluffy deliciousness before the rest of the ingredients are added.  The batter is then scooped into prepared pans and baked, resulting in a cake with a very tender crumb.  It is the method you want to use if you prefer cakes that are very light and fluffy, rather than a little denser and more buttery.

    Initially, if you are used to hearing the “DON’T OVERBEAT” mantra known by bakers across the world, the two-stage method can feel a bit unnerving.  BEAT the BATTER mercilessly?!!??!?   Won’t this develop gluten and make my cake TOUGH???  The short answer is no.

The long answer?  When the butter is mixed with the dry ingredients in the first mixing step, the fat gets cut into eensy-weensy pieces and begins to coat the flour particles.  This layer of fat surrounds each spec of flour and works as a little protector, allowing the baker to beat the heck out of the batter (thereby aerating the batter) without activating the gluten.

For another (READ: better) explanation of this method, check out Ms. Berenbaum’s book, THE CAKE BIBLE or click over to this awesome tutorial: http://pastrychefonline.com/blog/2009/01/06/the-two-stage-mixing-method/

Now the choice is yours.  Do you want a rich, buttery cake that will stand up to even the most assertive  fillings and frosting?  Then follow the directions for Vanilla Cake A, The Creaming Method.  Do you prefer a very light, fluffy cake with a melt-in-your-mouth crumb (my favorite for coconut cake)?  Follow Vanilla Cake B, The Two-Stage Method.

The good news is that there are no wrong answers.  Either way you’ll end up with a delicious, moist cake, perfect for any celebration!

NOTE: I spent many months of trial and error developing this recipe.  Please be respectful of sharing it with others and link back if you post on your own blog.  Thank you! :)

Sarah’s “SweetCakes” Vanilla Cake Recipe  (The Creaming Method)

Yield: 2-8 in. or 9 in. round cakes or 24 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350F and prepare pans by generously buttering, lining with parchment, buttering again and flouring.  For the highest cake, make sure all ingredients below are at room temperature.

1. Cream:
2 sticks butter
1 2/3 cup sugar

2. Beat in, one at a time:
4 eggs

3. Beat in: 3 tsp tsp vanilla bean paste (or pure vanilla extract)

4. Sift together in separate bowl:
2 cups cake flour
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

5. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 installments,beginning and ending with dry, alternating with milk.

6. Divide evenly into prepared pans.
7. Bake at 350 for approx. 30-40 min. or until top springs back when lightly pressed and toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.   Check cakes as soon as you see the sides of the cake pull away from the pan.
8. Let cool completely before frosting with your favorite buttercream. 

Sarah’s “SweetCakes” Vanilla Cake Recipe  (The Two-Stage Method)

Yield: 2-8 in. or 9 in. round cakes or 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
2 cups cake flour
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 tsp vanilla bean paste (or pure vanilla extract)
4 large eggs, room temp
1 1/4 cup whole milk
-Preheat oven to 350 and prepare 2, 9 in pans by greasing and flouring or line 24 cupcake tins with paper liners.
-Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl or stand mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment.
-In a separate bowl, whisk together 4 eggs, vanilla and milk.
-With mixer on low, drop in small pieces of butter, a little at a time, until all of the butter has been added.  Increase speed to medium-low and beat, scraping down the sides as needed, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Mixture should hold together when pinched and all butter should be completely incorporated (this isn’t pastry crust, people!). 
- On low speed, pour in 1 cup milk mixture and beat on low until combined.  Increase mixer to med-high speed and beat for 1 1/2- 2 min until batter is extremely fluffy, stopping mixer to scrape sides at least once or as needed.  
-Reduce mixer to low and slowly pour in the rest of the milk mixture.  Increase speed and mix until completely incorporated.  
-Pour batter, which should still be very light and fluffy, evenly into prepared pans
-Bake at 350 for approx. 30-40 min. or until top springs back when lightly pressed and toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.   (Check cakes as soon as you see the sides of the cake begin to pull away from the pan.)
 -Let cool completely before frosting with your favorite buttercream.
I’d love to hear how either of these methods work for you!  Which do you prefer for cupcakes?  Which one for layer cakes?

Pumpkin Layer Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream

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So, the thing is, I made this cake last week after days of poring over recipes and flavor combinations and thinking through exactly which components and ingredients and mixing methods might make the very best pumpkin layer cake.  (It must be CAKE rather than glorified pumpkin BREAD!  It should be light and fluffy but still very moist and deeply pumpkin-y. The spices should accent the pumpkin flavor rather than overwhelm it.  And the frosting needs to be nutty and assertive enough to complement and stand up to the intense flavors of the cake!)

And then, just as I finished licking the plate  eating the last bite of my first piece, I opened up my Google Reader to discover that one of my favorite bloggers had already baked, photographed and posted a very similar cake.  The major differences between my cake and hers being that she is, you know, wildly talented, very successful and has MAD photography skillz.  And her cake is, per usual, absolutely flawless in appearance.  So all of a sudden my “brilliant” idea for a spicy, fluffy, sweet brown sugar frosted pumpkin (okay, hers was sweet potato,but still) layer cake seemed a little late to the party.

But since I’d already taken the photos and written up the recipe, my husband convinced me to share it here anyway.  After all, great minds,or should I say bakers, think alike…right?  I hope?

*Confession*  I haven’t had the chance to type up the recipe for the cake, dark brown sugar syrup or brown sugar buttercream but it’s written down (i.e. chicken-scratched) on a piece of paper in my kitchen.  Feel free to comment here or email me directly if you’d like me to send it to you!

Chocolate Caramel Cake ~ Happy Birthday To Moi!

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Two layers of this chocolate cake recipe+ two layers of salted caramel cake from this book + Milk Chocolate Browned Buttercream (my own recipe below).

      This was my birthday cake this year and it was four layers of rich, moist, caramelly, chocolatey heaven.  Sadly, my husband is a bit of a Dessert Wimp, and my little ones, ages 3 yrs and 12 mos, can only fit so much into their wee stomachs.   Thank goodness one of my favorite sweet-loving cousins happened to be in town that weekend to help out! (Please note the two pieces of cake on one plate.  That would be my plate, TYVM.  Because if you can’t have multiple pieces of cake on you birthday then what’s the point in celebrating?!!?)

Milk Chocolate Browned Buttercream

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), room temp
  • 2 lbs. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 T cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 T milk
  • 1 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Melt 1 cup butter and salt into a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Cook until butter turns a deep amber color and smells fragrant and nutty.  Immediately pour into a glass measuring cup and let cool to room temperature before continuing with recipe.
  3. Transfer cooled butter to mixing bowl of a stand mixer and add the rest of the butter.  Beat with whisk attachment until light and creamy.  Gradually beat in powdered sugar on low to medium speed, adding milk one tablespoon at a time as needed.
  4. Beat in cocoa powder and vanilla extract.
  5. Increase speed to high and whip until buttercream is very light and fluffy, adding more milk, 1 tsp at at time, until desired consistency is reached.  Use immediately to frost cake or transfer to an airtight container and chill until ready to use (bring to room temperature before using).

Tiny Tiered Lime + Blueberry Cake

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     Taking advantage of the happiness that is piles of very affordable, fresh, sweet blueberries this time of year, I decided to use them in some sweet buttercream to top a fresh citrus cake.  The buttercream is simply a small batch of Swiss Meringue buttercream with a large spoonful of homemade (strained) blueberry jam whipped in at the last minute (cake recipe and jam recipe to follow).  While the flavor was divine, I’m almost more in love with the gorgeous periwinkley-purple hue.  Thank goodness for blueberries…isn’t summer THE BEST???

Buttery Lime Cake

Yield: one 2-layer 4in or 6 in cake (or one of each layer)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup + 3 T granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup whole milk, at room temp
  • 1 egg, room temp
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • zest from 1 lime

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees if you have a convection oven).
  2. Butter, parchment line (bottoms only) and flour two 4in or 6 in pans. (Cake will be taller if 4 in pans are used.)
  3. In a small bowl, sift together sugar, flours, salt and baking powder.
  4. In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy, about 1 min.
  5. On low speed, slowly mix in dry ingredients.  Increase speed to medium and beat until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk together milk, eggs and vanilla.
  7. On low speed, pour all but 1/4 cup of the milk/egg mixture into the dry ingredients.  Increase speed to med-high and beat for 2 minutes, stopping mixer after 1 minute to scrape down sides.  Mixture should be very light and fluffy, almost like whipped cream.
  8. On medium speed, pour in the rest of the liquid mixture and beat for about 30-60 seconds or until fully incorporated.  Again, scrape down sides of the bowl as needed to make sure all ingredients are fully mixed.
  9. Gently fold in lime zest.
  10. Divide evenly between prepared pans** and bake at 350 degrees (325 for convection ovens) for about 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and top springs back when lightly pressed.  Cake should be just barely golden around the edges.
  11. Immediately (and carefully) run a knife around the edges of the pan.  Let cool in pans for 10 min then invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely before torting, filling and frosting.

**Note: Since I don’t have an accurate food scale, I prefer to use a standard ice-cream scoop to help me divide the batter evenly.  You should be able to put about 3 full scoops per pan if your pans are the same size.  If you are using one 4inch pan and one 6 inch pan (for a tiny tiered cake), use 2 scoops for the 4 in pan and 4 scoops for the 6 in pan.

 

Blueberry “Jam”

1.5 cups fresh blueberries

1 tsp lime (or lemon) juice

1/4 cup water

2-3 T sugar (depending on your taste)

pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often, until mixture is thick and reduced to about 1/2 cup.  Pour through sieve into heatproof bowl or jar and cool completely before using.

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