Cake Balls Just Keep Flying!

It twas the season of cake balls, and all through the festivities, not another dessert was to be found, not even cupcakes or small candy mounds.

Ahhhh, cake balls, which my sister and I recently dubbed the cupcake of 2011 as it’s become my most requested dessert and recipe. Friends and family are making them like crazy – they’re putting them on sticks and making pretty displays, and experimenting with fun new flavors and recipes.

This season alone they were highlights of Thanksgiving dinner, our Hanukkah celebration, Festivus and even New Years Eve. I blogged a while ago about the method, but thought now was a good time to revisit it along with two of my favorite cake recipes.

Just remember, cake balls are really all about the method so use your favorite cake and have fun being creative with the decorations and presentation!

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Key Lime Cupcakes with Toasted Meringue

Key Lime Cupcakes

Key Lime Cupcakes

There’s something about key lime that conjures up the delightful warmth of basking in the Florida sunshine. The flavor is so bright and tart that eating key lime pie or any other key lime treat magically transports me away from the cold, wind and snow, to sunny south Florida.

It’s for this reason key lime pie is one of favorite desserts and is really the only non-chocolate sweet I willingly order in restaurants, aside from the occasional fruit crisp. Never lemon meringue; it has to be key lime, the tartiest of the tart.

As I’ve slowly become more and more excited about my upcoming Florida getaway, I started thinking about this classic dessert and decided to create my own treat using key lime juice.

I admit it, I used bottled key lime juice. Please don’t judge me – you just try finding fresh key limes in Chicago!

As for my creation, it was delicious miniature key lime cupcakes speckled with lime zest and topped with a toasted meringue that just mellowed the cake’s tartiness, making for an incredible bite.

These sweet and tart morsels of Florida sunshine are the perfect prescription brighten up a drab day.

Key Lime Cupcakes

Key Lime Cupcakes

Here’s the recipe:

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Obsessive Chocoholic Foodie Seeking Amazing Microwave Chocolate Cake Recipe

It’s no secret I have a sweet tooth and a serious weakness for just about anything chocolate. Okay, not anything. I wouldn’t enjoy chocolate licorice (I HATE all licorice – I think it’s a texture thing) or chocolate-covered olives (I don’t dig olives either), but almost anything else is fair game.

But when it comes right down to it, nothing satisfies my sweet tooth like rich chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. And I’m not even snobby about it. I really love the chocolate cake from Portillo’s and wouldn’t shy away from a box mix. I’m a bit more particular about the frosting, but let’s face it, today is really all about the cake.

I don’t make cake often. I’m not a baker and don’t really like to have it sitting around because, obviously, I’d eat the whole thing. Throughout the past year I’ve taken to making microwaved versions of individual chocolate cakes in a mug and have tried more recipes than my hips care to recount.

The problem is they’re never quite right: always a little dry or too sweet or not chocolatey enough.

I’m thinking the biggest taste/texture issue is lack of frosting. After all, the purpose of this cake is to quickly make a single serving and that doesn’t include whipping up a buttercream. Plus, I’m trying to keep the calories somewhat in check.

Today I took a different route that I thought would be more successful. Instead of making a batter that contains baking powder and/or baking soda, I scaled back a very simple molten chocolate lava cake recipe. I thought the flowing, ooey, gooey, lava would make up for the lack of frosting. Makes sense, right?

Well, not if there wasn’t any lava. Microwaving the batter resulted in a mostly cooked through cake that was just so-so in taste. Not that it stopped me from eating it, but again, that’s another issue.

The way I see it, I have four options:

  1. Try the lava cake idea again with some tweaks. I wonder if I can microwave the cake in a water bath?
  2. Come up with a fresh idea.
  3. Give up on this ridiculous obsession all together because these sad little microwaved cakes just aren’t cutting it.
  4. Get my expectations in line and accept that the microwave version will never be as good as the real thing.

Thoughts?

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Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Apple Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Apple Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes with Apple Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

This week I was lucky to escape the windy city in favor of sunny Florida where I’ve been vacationing with my family. While I’ve been enjoying relaxing by the pool with my sister, walking with my dad, and doing puzzles with my mom, I haven’t been able to get in much cooking. And this is especially sad given that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite eating holidays, right up there with Passover and that’s just because I’m a sucker for matzo ball soup.

A few nights ago we were eating dinner with extended family and I was excited, not to mention a little surprised, when my sister, Marci, volunteered the two of us to make a dessert to bring to my aunt’s house for the big dinner. It was a little daunting because the home we’re staying in has a kitchen that isn’t equipped with much more than a mixing bowl, hand-mixer, half-sized cutting board, paring knife, and non-stick egg pan. Despite this, I was up for the task.

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 1 Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 2 Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 6

Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 1 Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 2 Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes 3

And quite a task it was. Marci decided we should make apple cinnamon cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting. Sounds great, I thought, as I turned to the Internet to find a recipe to work off of. Well, it turned out a to be a bit more challenging than I’d anticipated.

For starters, there were very few recipes for apple cupcakes and those that did exist had less than stellar reviews or seemed like they’d turn out more like muffins, which are more dense and often dryer than cupcakes. But eventually we came across this Food Network recipe that I adapted to better fit what we were going for. And it still took a bit of trial and error to reach the right level of apple-cinnamony goodness that Marci was hoping to achieve, but we did it!

The final cupcakes were moist with great cinnamon spice flavor and speckled with small bits of apple pieces. And then there was the frosting. Oh my, it was fantastic, both sweet and tangy with just a hint of apple flavor and was a perfect compliment to the cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting 1 Cream Cheese Frosting 2 Cream Cheese Frosting 3

Here’s the recipe:

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Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

I’m not a baker. At all. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it from time to time if it’s for fun. This is probably because as a kid baking was the only thing I could help with in the kitchen. I remember helping my mom make cookies when I was young and baking brownies and cupcakes with friends in junior high. It was enjoyable then, easy.

But as I began cooking professionally I realized just how scientific and precise baking can be. While precision isn’t a problem, the scientific part can be challenging for me and my slight ADD tendencies. But I do still like to bake for fun and for my family who will eat anything sweet. It’s just sometimes I lack the patience to bake the same thing again and again, tweaking a little each time until I get it just right. But there are a few exceptions when the results are really, really worth the effort, like with this carrot cake.

Carrot Cake

As long as I’m confessing, I should add that until recently I had very little experience with carrot cake. In fact, the only carrot cake I’d ever eaten was when I was working the pantry/dessert station at a restaurant and one of the menu items was deep fried carrot cake. The cake itself was made off-site and while tasty, it was also very dry. My job was to make a beer batter to coat the cake squares, deep fry them and inject the centers with a thin cream cheese filling. I’d then arrange three deep fried carrot cake squares on a plate, dust with powdered sugar and send it to a table with a side of thick cream cheese dipping sauce. It was tasty although a bit strange.

Carrot Cake10 Carrot Cake15 Carrot Cake11

Carrot Cake12 Carrot Cake13 Carrot Cake14

So you can see how I was at a bit of a loss when I had a sudden craving for carrot cake about two months ago. In fact, I’d actually dreamed about it (and subsequently tweeted that dream), so I was really excited when I had the opportunity to make a carrot cake for Rosh Hashana dinner at my sister’s house.

To toot my own horn a bit, the cake was fantastic! It was flavorful but not overwhelming and had a scrumptious moist crumb that made each and every bite heavenly. The frosting, well, that was another story.

Make a parchment circle 1 Make a parchment circle 2 Make a parchment circle 3

Make a parchment circle 4 Make a parchment circle 5 Make a parchment circle 6

Something went horribly wrong when I made the cream cheese frosting (I suspect it was because I used low-fat cheese the first time) and it became very thin and watery. Although the frosting tasted great with the cake, the presentation was off, so much so that the layers kept sliding apart because the frosting couldn’t hold them.

Happily for my family, I had to make the carrot cake again so I could perfect the frosting. The second time was the charm. The cream cheese frosting was thick yet spreadable and both a little sweet and tangy, and absolutely perfect for the carrot cake.

Carrot Cake

Here’s the recipe:

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