Aug 212012

I feel like my blog has been one big party this summer!  We’ll get back to “regular meals” by the end of the week, I promise.  But first, I have to share the story of The Great Train Cake.

The bar for first birthday cakes was set pretty high back with these Monkey Cakes of 2010.  But of course we had to do something different for my youngest nephew.  I am not sure who came up with the idea for a train cake first, but the project was planned with many Google searches, Pinterest surfing, sketches, and long lists on legal sized paper.  But all the details aside, we had a lot of fun.  Hop aboard for the full story, or scroll to the bottom just to see an adorable baby toddler eating cake.



The Baking

My Mom used Smitten Kitchen’s Best Yellow Layer Cake recipe, and multiplied it by 1.5 to yield a 13″x9″ cake and a 9″x5″ loaf pan.  She baked another 13″x9″ cake using Hershey’s Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake recipe.  She used one half of Smitten Kitchen’s Two Layer Banana Cake recipe to yield another 9″x5″ loaf pan.  You might be thinking that 1) that’s a lot of math; 2) that’s a lot of baking; and 3) why did they need 3 different types of cake?  My Dad helped a bit with the math, my Mom did the baking over the course of 2 days and stored the layers in the freezer, and yes, we’re a little crazy and wanted some variety in the flavors.

The Decorating

First, we started with a cake board.  It’s important to have a sturdy surface, especially since the cake must be stored in the refrigerator.  We placed the 13″x9″ cakes side by side to form the base layer.  The majority of the cake was frosted with Smitten Kitchen’s Vanilla Buttercream Frosting, but we used canned chocolate frosting for the engine.  We colored the vanilla frosting in small bowls as we went along.

We coated the top and sides of the base layer with the vanilla frosting, and then piped on chocolate icing for the train tracks. The loaf pan of banana cake was cut to form an engine, using this Betty Crocker video as a guide.  The loaf pan of vanilla cake was cut into thirds, to form 3 train cars.  You’ll notice that only 2 of those train cars fit on the cake; sadly, one car had to be left behind in the station.



My Mom’s kitchen looked like a scene out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  We had a lot of different ideas on what to use for wheels and other train decor.  In the end, we used generic chocolate sandwich cookies for wheels.  We used Twizzlers to outline the top of the train car.  Other candy we used includes M&M’s, Junior Mints, and peach rings.


It was a hot August night, and the frosting was melting, so we put it in the refrigerator at this point.  It just fit.  The next day, we did some touch-up work with frosting, and added a “1”.



The Serving

Finally, it was time to bring out the cake and serve it.  We all sang “Happy Birthday” and he got some help blowing out the candle.  Note that my sister removed the pieces of candy which could be a choking hazard before placing the engine in front of him.


All he wanted to do was stick his fingers in the frosting, which he decided he liked.  I am not sure he even got to any cake!


The cake project was a lot of fun, and we’ll remember it for a long time!

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Aug 152012

In addition to the ravioli, my Mom had one other request for her birthday – homemade ice cream.  Specifically, she wanted to try this Cinnamon Graham Cracker Ice Cream recipe from Penzey’s.  We put together the ingredients, and poured them into our Cuisinart ice cream maker.  The ice cream maker produces a soft-serve consistency, so we placed the ice cream in the freezer after that to harden further.  After what seemed like a long wait, the ice cream was ready.  My nephews were very excited to help blow out the candle in a container of ice cream!



The recipe uses a combination of heavy cream and Greek yogurt for a thick and creamy texture.  I really liked the cinnamon flavor, but the recipe calls for both honey and maple syrup which made it too sweet.  The Heath Bars and graham crackers are fun mix-ins, and add plenty of sweetness on their own.  A dish of ice cream on a hot and humid August night made for a better celebration than any cake!  Our family has ONE more birthday left this summer, and it’s going to be quite the event.  Stay tuned…


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 Posted by at 6:00 am
Aug 022012

Sometimes it’s tough to be a food blogger.  I have to ask difficult questions like, “can brownies be too fudgey”?  Because these are the most fudge-like brownies I’ve ever made.  I used Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate Chips, cocoa powder, and Trader Joe’s 72% cacao Dark Chocolate.  That’s some serious chocolate power!  These brownies not only have a rich texture, but they also have an interesting flavor with the addition of crystallized ginger and sea salt.

I was not entirely sure that I was happy with how the recipe turned out.  Of course, that didn’t stop me from bringing them to a party.  It also didn’t stop me from eating the brownie edges.  (You know, the pieces that weren’t suitable to bring to the party.)  These are not classic brownies, but rather like squares of ginger and sea salt fudge.  Once your taste buds know what to expect, they’ll be happy indeed.





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Jul 312012

Birthday cakes are a pretty big deal in my family, and my sister’s request this year was a carrot cake with thick cream cheese frosting.  We made this Alton Brown Carrot Cake back in 2010, which was pretty good, but there’s always room for improvement, right?

I found this Spiced Carrot Layer Cake recipe from Saveur and then my family pretty much did the rest.  My Mom managed the cake baking process and once again, my Dad was in charge of grating the carrots.  The frosting in the original recipe uses mascarpone cheese and probably tastes amazing, but we went with a more traditional cream cheese and powdered sugar frosting.  I did actually help with this part, and finally we were ready to sing.  Someone was pretty excited to help blow out the candles!



This carrot cake was really unique with fragrant spices, coconut, and orange juice and zest.  The orange flavor in particular really stood out and made the cake taste very fresh.  There are a lot of ingredients, but even my Mom agreed that this cake was worth the effort.  Be sure to note that the recipe makes an exceptionally large cake.  We actually ending up freezing the 3rd layer to use another time.  Then again, perhaps we should have had a larger party.  🙂




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 Posted by at 6:00 am
Nov 282011

The good news is that I have a week full of posts which highlight some great recipes, even if I can’t take credit for much of the cooking.

I took note of this Red Wine Chocolate Cake from Smitten Kitchen a couple of months ago.  Then my friend Susan made it, and told me it really was that awesome.  So when my sister asked what cake she could make for my birthday, this seemed like the perfect choice.

This cake also requires relatively little effort for such a large reward.  You need just one bowl and one cake pan.  The cake itself was really good,  like a flourless chocolate cake with a hint of sweet.  But the mascarpone and whipped cream topping was even better.  The instructions say to “dollop generously” and so we did, even though this was the night before Thanksgiving.  Although I love apples and pumpkins and cranberries in the fall, chocolate is always in season.



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