Holiday Baking: Turtle Pie, Gingerbread Igloo, etc.

Excuse this extremely belated post, but I baked some things over the holidays and never wrote about them. So now I must step out of chronological order and try to remember all the things I baked. Inevitably, I’ll forget many of these things.

Before Christmas, my friend threw a Christmas party and we attempted to make gingerbread houses the weekend before at my house. I will never make gingerbread houses again. All the fussiness and labor is for naught, since no one eats them anyway. To simplify things, I made a gingerbread igloo, wrapping an inverted bowl with dough. It sort of looked like a cow patty. Luckily, I also made non-fucked up soft pretzels.

Cow patty meets gingerbread meets Santa Fe aesthetic

Cow patty meets gingerbread meets Santa Fe aesthetic

For Christmas, Casey and I headed to Crested Butte where we enjoyed THREE days of powder! Certainly a false omen for what is shaping up to be a poor snow year. By day 3, I could scarcely complete a turn.

Uinta claiming a snow mound in Crested Butte

Uinta claiming a snow mound in Crested Butte

While there, we went to a Christmas Eve potluck where we drank more than we ate, resulting in nasty Christmas Day hangovers. On Christmas, we made dinner at a friends. I attempted to roast a ham without a roasting pan, or any pan really. Instead, we wrapped it in foil and shoved it into the oven, letting it drip its juices and eventually filling the apartment with an absurd amount of smoke. This meant that I couldn’t bake my pumpkin crescent rolls in the oven, so I tried to bake them in the toaster oven instead, which resulted in burnt exteriors and mushy interiors. Fail!

Turtle Pie

The non-fail of the night was this Turtle Pie. Casey had requested a pecan pie, but I had just made one for Thanksgiving. So instead, I made my first successful homemade caramel and created a layer of caramel at the bottom, and a layer of chocolate ganache on top, and decorated with more caramel and pecans. Literally, every time I’ve made caramel, I end up burning it or rendering it into a hardened crystallized mess. It turns out, patience and precision–not my fortes–are key, as well as an excellent recipe and instructions from Sally’s Baking Addiction!

Caramel

In Minnesota, where we spent New Years, I ate nothing but drank absurd amounts of alcohol and ate way too much cheese, as is the Minnesotan way.

Latin Winter Salad

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Since my New Year’s consisted of a five-day drinking/fried food bender in Minnesota, I figured the first dinner I cooked back in Golden should be healthy. At work, we had recently gotten a copy of Richard Sandoval’s new cookbook, New Latin Flavors. Richard Sandoval is known for the Latin-Asian-everything fusion served in his restaurants in Colorado, D.C., New York, and elsewhere (Zengo, Tamayo, etc.).

I decided to adapt two of his recipes to make a sort of eccentric, wintry taco salad. You can get my recipes and read the full adaptation on DiningOut’s website.

First, I adapted his recipe for garlic shrimp to use pre-cooked salad shrimp. I know that sounds kind of weak. But they were on sale at Sprouts! And they were wild-caught, and sustainable seafood certified, and deveined! I was not in the mood to hover over the sink for 20 minutes with a pair of tweezers and cold hands as I wiggled the intestinal tracts out of crustaceans! I also used tequila and lime juice instead of white wine and lemon juice because I was not in the mood to buy a bottle of white wine just to cook shrimp in.

Then, I adapted Sandoval’s recipe for Venezuelan Corn Cakes to be for lazy people. Meaning, I used frozen, not fresh corn, and hand-whisked everything together instead of using a blender so that I wouldn’t have to wash out a whole blender! Also, I subbed heavy cream for some buttermilk which was on the brink of going bad.

Finally, to make a composed dish of this craziness, I roasted some butternut squash and seeds, added black beans, and julienned up some cheddar. Then, rather then get into it with one of Sandoval’s sublime yet effort-requiring sauces, I mixed up some bottled salsa, ranch, and hot sauce for dressing.

Healthy, super tasty, and not difficult, all in all. Take that, run-of-the-mill taco salad!

The only downside was that while we were in Minnehaha, our pipes froze and our sink clogged up and that meant 30-plus minutes of dishes (no we don’t have a dishwasher in our century-plus old home!) in the morning.

 

Chips on Pizza

Mo' chips, mo' better

Mo’ chips, mo’ better

In case you haven’t heard, they’re putting chips on pizza now. Some people consider this to be an affront to the art of pizza. I think it’s great. That’s because I love chips. I didn’t always loved chips–I found them to be too crunchy and sharp-angled, not very tasty at all. But then, in college, I acquired a taste for chips and went on to co-found a Chip Club with the one and only Jackie B. and even co-author a chip column in the newspaper. In fact, this post goes out to the late Matt O’Connell, an esteemed Chip Club member and great friend who passed away last year. He’s the one in the back row in the plaid shirt with glasses just right of center. He was always the life of any chip club meeting or party.

A 2014 Chip Club meeting at my college reunion

A 2014 Chip Club meeting at my college reunion

Given all that chip-infused history, I was thrilled when Taco Bell began serving Dorito shell tacos, even though I still haven’t tried one. And recently, Papa Johns began topping their pies with Fritos! So I decided to do the same.

This chip-alicious pie went down on a snowy November weekend in the beautiful town of Telluride. My friends Kate and Don were in town and had struck a deal with a wealthy second (possibly third) homeowner wherein we rented out his mega-mansion for a reduced rate in exchange for a promotional video made by Don. The house was ridiculous. You can see Don’s video of it here.

My friend Nathan being super creepy in the mine-shaft-esque, totally unnecessary elevator

My friend Nathan being super creepy in the mine-shaft-esque, totally unnecessary elevator

Elevator? Check. Multiple decks? Check. Movie theater? Check. The only thing amiss was the glaring lack of a hot tub! It was so big, that you could become lost. Naturally, we had to play hide and seek in this mansion. By candlelight. To the tune of Phillip Glass.

A pimped out-chandelier hung from the high ceilings

A pimped out-chandelier hung from the high ceilings

I packed my pizza stone and a huge tupperware filled with dough made from Cook’s Illustrated thin-crust recipe that had been fermenting for several days. We topped one pie with elk sausage, marinara, pepper Jack, and Fritos. The other, we spread with pimiento cheese, cheddar, tomatoes, and Fritos. The combination of pimiento cheese and Fritos brought me back to the first time I ice climbed, when Kate and I huddled close in the frigid cold, horrified by the ice wall we were supposed to ascend, nervously dipping Fritos flavor twists into a tub of pimiento cheese. This was the first time I’d ever tasted this Southern delicacy.

A Southerner's delight

A Southerner’s delight

Do you even have to ask? Of course, Fritos on pizza is a great idea. It adds an awesome crunch and just sinks into all the gooey cheese. I’d do it again without question.

The end of this story is that, sadly, I forgot about my pizza stone and left it in the oven at the house. I’m sure this will puzzle the owners when they fly in for the weekend. Luckily, my parents bought me a baking steel for Hanukkah so the pizza-making can continue.

 

The Grateful Dad

Here he is, carving up a turkey with my cousin Ari and Casey looking ecstatic about poultry!

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I have Jerry Garcia on the mind today which is why I was trying to come up with some sort of play on the Grateful Dead for this post. Why? Good question. I was in the mood to listen to “Cats Under the Stars” after I learned that the Denver Cat Company was opening today! Then I looked up Jerry Garcia because I was curious about his background. Apparently, he had 3-4 wives! So, yes, my dad was grateful–that we were all in town for Thanksgiving, gathered around one table, enjoying each other’s company. But we were all grateful alongside him, too.

The day of Thanksgiving, my Grateful Dad and I–having communicated sparingly in the days prior–realized we were both planning to bake breads and pies for the big feast. I spied his biga (a mixture of water, yeast, and flour that is made early to add flavor) bubbling on the countertop and asked him what he was up to. Focaccia, that’s what!

But I had planned to make spiral breads, filled with cheese, sundried tomatoes, basil, and caramelized onions! And then he began whipping up a whole wheat excuse for a pie crust. “Pumpkin pie,” he replied when I asked him what he was making. But I was planning to make a Pumpecan Pie! After unsuccessfully attempting to convince him to abort his baking projects, we laughed it off and agreed to each press forward with our baking plans and hope everyone was hungry.

So, I made two rich loaves–using this great King Arthur flour recipe–swirled into an S (for Silver of course), and stuffed with Manchego, mozzarella, basil, and caramelized onions (Daniela forgot to buy sundried tomatoes). My dad made butternut squash-topped focaccias. All loaves in question disappeared by the time I flew back to Denver.

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Then I made my Pumpecan Pie, a pumpkin filling layer beneath a pecan filling layer in a flaky crust, served with chocolate whipped cream. Everyone but my Grateful Dad loved it–he claimed not to like pecans.

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And most importantly, I made Gobbletinis. Actually, technically this was a Thanksgiving Punch. Into a giant bowl, I dumped unknown amounts of Tito’s vodka, ginger beer, cranberry juice, hard cider, and freshly-squeezed lime juice. I gave that all stir. Then, I ladled this mystery punch into a glass over ice, floated with Champagne, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, and garnished with a twist of lime. Needless to say, these Gobbletinis were gobble-licious.

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When Grandma Shirl arrived, I asked her what she wanted to drink–water? wine? a Gobbletini? “What’s in that?” she asked. “Vodka, cranberry juice …,” I said. “Vodka? I’ll take that,” she replied. And so I poured her one. She proclaimed it delicious. I scurried off to check on something in the kitchen, and by the time I returned, she had relaxed into the sofa, her cheeks were slightly flushed, and she seemed to actually be enjoying her conversation with my estranged Cousin Beth.

My adorable grandmother playing the piano! The game was guess the composer. I guessed Bach correctly!

My adorable grandmother playing the piano! The game was guess the composer. I guessed Bach correctly.

Once she polished off Gobbletini #1, she requested another so, naturally, I fetched it for her. “I want to get a little tipsy for the ride home!” she said. Note: she was not driving, my uncle was.

“What’s in that drink?” my uncle asked grimly from across the table after I delivered it to Grandma Shirl. I began to rattle off the ingredients.

“Your grandmother doesn’t drink,” he said. And then my dad teetotaler that he is piped in, along with my aunt, and all of the sudden, everyone was shaming me for giving my grandmother the drink she’d ordered. In retrospect, yes, perhaps I should have stopped at one. But she does drink–a glass of wine on occasion. And she’s a cogent adult who requested the drink, and it was making her so happy! Anyway, lesson learned. Do not give your grandmother more than one cocktail, possibly not even one to begin with.

 

 

From Pond to Plate

Ducks!

Casey has a new hobby: duck hunting! Every Thursday, he wakes up at 1:15am. Yes, that’s 1:15 in the morning. Then his friend Ditch picks him up and they drive an hour or so north to a pond where they set up duck decoys and sit in the cold for several hours until a hapless Mallard or teal-backed or other web-footed, billed bird waddles along. Later that day, he comes home cold and tired with anywhere from 1-3 ducks. Last Friday, we ate them.

The truth about hunting is that its mostly sitting and waiting .... and waiting

The truth about hunting is that its mostly sitting and waiting …. and waiting

I’ve eaten duck maybe 2-3 times before, and I must have misremembered what duck tasted like–or perhaps these ducks are different, being wild. I couldn’t believe how similar to red meat these duck breasts were. If someone would have told me that I was eating elk or venison steaks, it’s highly likely that I would have fallen for it. Then again, I used to be a vegetarian so my palate for meat is far from that of a lifelong carnivore. We each had one breast of Mallard, one of teal-back, and one of a species called scoup who apparently likes to hang around the muddy banks of ponds. Casey marinated them overnight in a very acidic sauce to try to extinguish any trace of “pondiness.”

The Mallard was sensational–hearty, richly flavored. The teal-back was much smaller, a bit more delicate, and similar in taste to the Mallard. The scoup was–to be frank–gross. Casey had warned me that it might taste “pondy,” and I  had no idea what that meant. “I’m sure it will be fine!” I’d said, thinking of all the gamey elk and venison that I’d developed a taste for. Now it makes perfect sense to me. It has a sort of dirty water, mud taste to it that even the most potent of marinades cannot obscure. I took a few bites and then gave it to Casey, noting that I would definitely eat it if it were a matter of survival. But it wasn’t, so instead I polished off my mashed potatoes.

Only time will tell how many more duck breasts we’ll be eating in our kitchen this winter (duck season runs through January). Hopefully, one day, I’ll actually put my hunter education certificate to good use and go duck hunting, too.

Election Day Buckeyes

buckeyes

Okay, so I actually made these fudgy candies for Halloween, not for Election Day. But I’m writing about them on Election Day, and since I discovered the humble buckeye back in my Ohio college days, I’m thinking of a particular Election Day in my Midwestern past. Yes, the year was 2008 and at Oberlin College, penultimate school for liberals and hippies, we free-thinking students were convinced that someone was trying to sabotage our ability to vote.

The estimated wait time to vote in 2008–no doubt an important election year–at our liberal outpost of Ohioan civilization was somewhere between 4-6 hours. We ate gut-wrenching amounts of candy. We played games. We lamented our conservative environs and our stupid country. This was at a time when my hate for America was at an all-time high. I wanted nothing more than to live abroad, feign Canadian citizenship (so as not to invite the wrath of Bush-hating locals), and forget about boring Maryland, and gentrified DC, and flat Ohio. This was before I discovered the joys of being a citizen of the West.

Anyway, it was during my Ohio days that buckeyes came into my life in all their tree nut-imitating glory. Now, they’re a time-tested standby in my repertoire of dessert dishes. A crowd favorite at parties. The rolling and dipping of balls a fun way to pass the time with friends.

So for a Halloween desk trick-or-treating day at the office, I made buckeyes. Here’s the thing. You really don’t need a recipe for buckeyes. They are just peanut butter, butter, and confectioner’s sugar, dipped in chocolate. The ratio of peanut butter to butter to sugar should be something like 2:1:4. Just beat it until the consistency seems rollable. Add in vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and other flavorings if so desired. Stick the peanut butter fudge in the freezer until solidified enough to roll. Then roll balls of whatever size you deem appropriate. Real buckeyes seem to be about chestnut sized. I usually aim for a tablespoon or so. Then freeze the balls again and melt some chocolate while you wait.

The most challenging aspect of creating buckeyes is the dip. Usually, I use a toothpick stabbed into the middle of the ball–which creates a little eye–and gently swirl the ball around a deep bowl of chocolate. Take care not to be too aggressive with your swirling or you might excessively widen the toothpick hole, or lose the whole ball. Some people lower the ball into the chocolate using a fork, but this never works out well for me. You might need to reheat the chocolate half way through if it starts to solidify.

Then you can either leave as is or pimp out your buckeyes with things like sprinkles, coconut flakes, or nuts. If you voted today, you definitely deserve a buckeye or similar confection. If the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-chef-pants instruction is hazy for you, here’s a recipe.

For my wedding, I’ll be making a ton of buckeyes ahead of time and freezing to scatter throughout the dessert table as part of my nut theme! The jury is still out on whether they’ll be fancy or simple-as-Ohio buckeyes.

The. Whole. Enchilada.

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No, I did not recently cook an entire pan of enchiladas and eat them all myself, though that would be an impressive feat in and of itself.

The Whole Enchilada (WE) is a world-class bike ride in Moab, aka the Mormon-lite outdoorsy capital of the beautiful state of Utah. People apparently travel from all over the world to ride this trail, as evidenced by the people we encountered throughout our day on the WE.

This trail was to be the crowning jewel of Casey’s recent Utah birthday trip. We warmed up the day prior on a nearly equally world-class trail, Slickrock. While I’ve encountered patches–even stretches–of slickrock before on trails around Colorado, never in all my measly three years of mountain biking have I ridden an entire trail forged of slickrock and slickrock alone! It’s like a colossal boulder was dropped from the sky, flattened into a pancake, and then bubbled up with hills hewn from rock. It was terrifying (think ascents and descents so steep that you feel as though your bike might just flip over itself). It was stunning (bright red rock stretching toward the La Sals, dramatic shadows, etc.). It was a ton of fun (read: fast).

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After a night spent under the stars, we rose early to catch our shuttle to the WE trailhead. Some diehard crazy people apparently bike up to the trailhead, but that adds an uphill climb up a dirt road that would be technically classified as the opposite of fun. Our shuttle was filled with about ten men from various countries and myself. Most of our fellow passengers spoke loudly and confidently about their biking game, which only served to increase my anxieties about the trail, as well as my dislike of biker “bras,” like the kind alluded to in this video.

WE is 30 miles of downhill mountain biking and is considered such a treat because it features a vast variety of terrain–everything from  switchbacks amidst shaking Aspens, to berms through tall brush, to blocky double track, to desert slickrock, to trails that hug–uncomfortably so at times–the edge of a very tall cliff.

One of the biggest lessons from WE is that you always bring a map. From the very first turn, we were off to a bad start. We saw a group of people clustered around a trailhead, assumed that was the ticket, and went for it, when we should have kept going straight for a later turn. After riding through giant cow patties on a trail that seemed infrequently ridden, we realized our mistake–along with about 12 other riders, none of whom had maps! Casey was the only one who had one to get us out of the mess.

So we huddled around the single map and, rather than turning back, found a way to link the trail we were on back with the WE. This entailed “biking” (hiking our bikes) up some very steep, pretty much unridable trails. Finally, we connected back with WE–this mini-epic biking adventure (in my mind anyway) representing a mere eighth or so of the trail!

The rest of the ride went smoothly and was exhilarating. I have never had to concentrate so fully both mentally and physically for such a long period of time. Locked in my downhill posture of butt back, back flat, arms wide, legs wide, head forward, hands desperately gripping the handlebars with fingers hovering over the breaks, I held my breath more than I should have as I navigated loose rock, slickrock, big blocky rock drops, and more rock, rock, rock.

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Anxieties began to mount as we realized the trail was taking us forever (due to me being slow) and we had to pick up our dog Uinta from the boarder by 5pm in order to stick with our plan of leaving for Casey’s parents house in Park City that night. When we got to the halfway point, I was in astonished disbelief that we were only that far! Finally, when we had only 6 or so miles left, I ushered Casey to sprint down the rest of the trail without me (he’s approximately four times as fast as me) to get Uinta while I plodded my way down the remaining cliff-clinging trail.

And then 6 hours–or was it 7?–later, we were done, and on our way to Park City. I felt literally intoxicated with the experience. The trail has also increased my downhill biking confidence. And what did we do the next day? Bike, of course.

Man Candy: Not for Everyman

Man Candy

Don’t be fooled; this is no regular bacon. It’s spicy, sweet, and toothsome.

Recently, at work, I sampled something called Man Candy. Soon after, I procured the recipe and made it at home for Casey, along with two types of rolls. You see, I thought Casey might be mad at me. Why, you ask? Because my sister stayed in town for a whole week, then the next weekend I went to Chicago, and then to Fruita. After two weekends of being fully out of town, I made plans to go out Friday night. I attempted to return to Golden via Uber that turned out to be just a random dude driving, and ended up staying with a friend downtown. I didn’t slink through the door in Golden until well after 11am the next day. So maybe he wasn’t mad, but a little peeved? Perhaps.

Cinnamon Rolls with dulce de leche bottom.

Cinnamon Rolls with dulce de leche bottom.

In an effort to make up for my chronic absences, I cooked up a storm–all while rather hungover. Man Candy, which I assumed Casey would love because he’s a man who loves bacon, had been on my to-cook list for some time. I also threw in cinnamon rolls and cheddar-bacon-caramelized onion rolls for good measure.

Same dough, but filled with cheddar, chopped Man Candy, caramelized onions, and scallions.

Same dough, but filled with cheddar, chopped Man Candy, caramelized onions, and scallions.

Surprisingly, Casey is not man enough for the Man Candy. He found it to be too intense, so I ended up eating most of it, or throwing it in grilled cheese sandwiches to mellow that Man Candy out. He described the cheddar roll as heart attack inducing. Mission make-up meal: botched.

 

Man Candy (adapted from DiningOut, adapted from Ignite Burgers Lounge)

Ingredients

1 c brown sugar
1/4 c molasses (or a combo of malt barley syrup or maple syrup if you don’t have molasses, like I didn’t)
1 Tbsp Sriracha
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp freshly-ground black pepper
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp salt
1 lb bacon (about 15 strips)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine all ingredients except for bacon and mix well. On sheet trays, lay out bacon in a single layer. Brush the marinade all over the bacon. Cook for 10 minutes. Rotate trays and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or until bacon is evenly browned. Remove bacon from sheet tray and place on cooling racks to cool completely.

 

4 Things That Happened in Our Backyard

Sunflower

Nature porn at its finest.

1. Sunflowers created the natural wall we always wanted between us and our neighbors.
When I planted the flowers by digging a trench parallel to our wire fence and scattering seeds throughout, I really didn’t think anything would come of it. That was my first time planting from seed. Several months later, and the sunflowers surpassed me in height. A few have heads so gargantuan that they bow down toward the ground like my mom staring at the trail beneath her feet for the entirety of a hike to avoid falling. I would like to think these sunflowers act as some sort of sound barrier between us and the garage in which our long-haired chunky neighbor practices the drums, but sadly his lack of musical talent continues to sound crystal clear.

2. We have produce!
We’ve got tomatoes, radishes, herbs, corn and pepper! So many tomatoes. I’m most excited about the corn. After I planted it, I told Casey that I couldn’t wait to pull those ears of corn out from the ground. He looked at me disparagingly. Yes, it’s true. I thought corn grew underground beneath the stalks. I probably shouldn’t publicize that, but there it is. Now I know better.

3. I took this picture.
I kept maple syrup in a Mason jar in the fridge for awhile. One day, I went to use it and saw that it had turned into maple rock candy!

maple rock candy

4. Uinta got bit by a rattlesnake.
This is the most significant event to transpire in our backyard. A few weeks ago, while I was at work and Casey was out downhill biking, Uinta must have encountered a rattlesnake at the far end of our yard that borders the public land on South Table Mountain, which is crawling with snakes. I’ve seen a few there myself, and sometimes I think about what it would look like if you gathered up all the snakes from the mountain and put them in one place. It would be a lot of snakes, and it gives me the chills.

Our visit with Uinta at the vet the day after she was bitten. Take note of enormous multiple chins.

Our visit with Uinta at the vet the day after she was bitten. Take note of enormous multiple chins.

Anyway, Casey came home to find Uinta on her bed looking sluggish. She lifted her head and he saw that her whole neck was swollen. He took her to the vet and they said it was probably a rattlesnake bite, and instructed him to take her to the emergency pet hospital. I met Casey and Uinta at the hospital. Sure enough, she’d been bitten, as dogs apparently often are. There were no assurances about her survival.

I was totally freaked out that she wouldn’t make it. There seemed to have been so much weird foreshadowing, too. I’d seen more and more snakes recently, and had been researching whether health insurance covers anti-venin for humans! The night before, as Casey and I sipped wine in the backyard, he said out of the blue, “It’s going to be really sad when Uinta dies.” Then we had ended up talking financial planning, which doesn’t account for the few grand it costs to treat a canine snake bite. Amazingly, Uinta did survive. 2 does of anti-venin and 3 nights in the hospital later, we took her home. Next summer, I’ll be enrolling her in a snake aversion class with non-venomous snakes so she learns her lesson!

Operation Wedding Cake(s): Samoas Cake Minus the Coconut

Reeses cake

One of the first few wedding plan decisions I made–before we even settled on a date (Memorial Day 2015) or a band (first Johnny Kongo and the All-Stars, then switched it up to The Stilettos)–was that I was going to bake my own cake.

Unfortunately, for an OCD, baking enthusiast like myself, I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Because if I didn’t bake a cake, a pang of regret would chart out a little space in my gut as I cut the cake at the wedding–a pang of regret that would last for the rest of my days as Casey’s wife. Because when else will I be able to bake for so many people I love? Alas, Operation Wedding Cake(s) begins!

Here are some fun facts that will make you think I’m less crazy:

  • I’ll be practicing my cake and frosting recipes beforehand, and have already made many before.
  • I’ll be baking my cakes in advance and freezing to reduce pre-wedding workload.
  • I’ll be enlisting the help of family members and bridesmaids with the frosting, transportation, and cutting of the cakes.
  • I’m not going to tackle some 3-tier, fondant-wrapped behemoth. I don’t like fondant anyway! And who wants to try to cut a beast like that? No, instead, I’ll do a series of cakes/pies with a theme.

I’ve already decided on my theme: nuts. Is a coconut a nut? I sure hope so. Everyone–except for people with nut allergies–loves nuts! Johnny Cash even wrote a song called “Everyone Loves a Nut” (though it appears he is referring to a crazy person, not a seed encased in a hard shell).

Originally, the first cake I had in mind was an Almond Joy Cake: buttermilk cake, chocolate filling, coconut buttercream, shredded coconut, and almonds on top. But now I’m thinking of doing a Samoas Cake (presuming a coconut can pass for a nut): butter cake, chocolate filling, dulce de leche buttercream, shredded coconut. The other nutty creations in the queue: Chocolate Hazelnut Cake, Pecan Pie, and a Carrot Cake with Walnuts. Casey has also requested an amalgamation of Snickers, Reeses, and Oreos for his groom’s cake, so I’m thinking of doing this in tart or cheesecake form. And then I’ll make 100-some buckeyes (a nut from the Buckeye tree, also a peanut butter fudge ball dipped in chocolate) to scatter around the dessert table.

The first project up in Operation Wedding Cake(s) was the Almond Joy Cake. I made the buttermilk cake layers several weeks ago, froze them, and recently revived them for a friend’s birthday, stacked with chocolate ganache, cloaked in dulce de leche buttercream, and decorated with the autumnally-hued Reeses Pieces because fall-like temps were in the air. Side Note: after reading the ingredients in Reeses Pieces, I have decided never to eat them again! There’s no chocolate to speak of and they contain mostly “defatted peanuts” (whatever that means) and other mysteriously ambiguous inputs.

Reeses pieces cake

Samoas Cake, Minus the Coconut!

(High Altitude) Buttermilk Cake (adapted from Sweetapolita)

  • 5 whole eggs, room temperature
  • 1 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups (297 ml) buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract OR Princess Bakery Emulsion
  • 3 cups (345 g) ap flour, sifted
  • 1-3/4 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (4 g) salt
  • 1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small even pieces
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 c water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment rounds.

Whisk together eggs, yolk, 1/4 cup of buttermilk and vanilla. In a separate large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With a pastry cutter or your hands, work butter into flour mixture until it resembles wet sand. Add remaining buttermilk to flour-butter mixture and mix to combine. Stir in egg mixture a little bit at a time, and then stir vigorously until just-combined for one minute.

Divide batter amongst pans and bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick emerges with a few crumbs. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto wire racks to cool completely.

Trim cake tops to level surface. In microwave, boil honey and water to form a syrup. Brush cakes all over with syrup to lock in moisture. Wrap generously in plastic wrap, then in foil, and freeze.

Chocolate Ganache

  • 12 oz bittersweet chocolate (next time I think I’ll use semisweet)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat cream and pour over chocolate. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir to combine. Refrigerate until it reaches desired consistency, about 20 minutes.

Dulce de Leche Buttercream (adapted from The Cake Blog)

  • 4 egg whites, or 1 cup egg whites
  • 16 ounces (454 grams) granulated sugar- 2 ¼ cups
  • ½ ounce (14 grams) corn syrup, 1 tablespoon
  • 16 ounces (454 grams) unsalted butter softened but not warm- 2 cups (that’s 4 whopping sticks!)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dulce de leche (I homemade dulce using Alton Brown’s recipe)

Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat the mixture in the microwave for 2-4 minutes on high in 30 second intervals whisking well after each 30 second heating. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Be careful not to cook the egg whites (I did just a little bit and strained the mixture to get rid of the solid strands). Pour the syrup into a cake pan or shallow metal bowl and chill in the freezer for 20-30 minutes until it is cold.

Meanwhile, beat the butter in a mixer for 2 minutes on high until it’s light in color and aerated. Add the cooled syrup in two additions to the butter beating 1 minute after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat 30 seconds until smooth. Add the dulce de leche and beat until smooth.

Can be used immediately or stored in the fridge allegedly for two weeks. Rebeat to revive.

Decoration: Reeses Pieces

Not the best lighting, as usual, but here she is pre-Reeses pieces.

Not the best lighting, as usual, but here she is pre-Reeses pieces.

The Result: The cake looked beautiful, but I felt that it was a little dry. The buttercream was great, but could have used a little more salt. The chocolate ganache filling was too bitter.

Buttermilk cake

Lessons Learned:

  • Add a little more wet ingredients to the batter, and bake for a slightly shorter time for a less dry cake.
  • Use semisweet not bittersweet chocolate for ganache. Use a bit more cream.
  • Freezing the cakes worked very well, as did refrigerating the ganache. Make-ahead strategy still intact.
  • Buttercream is a bitch. It still managed to curdle a bit so I tried various strategies of refrigerating and rebeating, as well as microwaving a small portion of frosting, returning to the bowl, and rebeating. Also, just more beating. Always more beating. That seemed to work.
  • Don’t get overzealous win microwaving those egg whites with sugar! They cook before you know it.
  • Buy an offset spatula and a rotating cake stand.
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