For more about the recipes we made for the cakes, check out my posts:
Sometimes ideas and projects grow, and grow, and grow. What started out as me volunteering to make some cake for a friend’s birthday quickly turned into a two-person project that took a minimum of 10 hours and involved a tiered cake, two different sized cupcakes, and my first time working with fondant.
See, I hate fondant. I think it tastes awful (sorry to the fondant lovers). I’ve had my fair share of fondant from professionally made cakes and it always ends up being something I scrape from my cake. Sure it looks nice, but most people I know don’t care for the taste and considering it’s something that’s pretty labor intensive, it just doesn’t seem worth it to me.
So when the idea of using fondant came up I was very dubious. At the very least, I thought maybe we should practice with fondant first since I’ve heard mixed results on working with it. Some say it’s easy, some say it’s difficult. In the end we threw caution to the wind and started working with fondant a mere 8 hours before a milestone birthday event began. Are we crazy? Maybe.
I think I’ll start off by saying we pretty much only made three cakes. I’ve made a fair amount of cakes and making one isn’t that difficult, even if it has a curd or custard filling or is in layer form or cupcake form. One might think that making three cakes for an event is only three times the work. Eh, not so much. While far from impossible, or even difficult, the amount of work was way more than I thought it would be. Working in a small kitchen with limited supplies resulted in a lot of dish washing. Then when you add in fondant, you’re destined to spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen.
Before we even started baking, we went to the store to buy our ingredients. Somehow we miscalculated and overbought almost everything. For some reason I was positive we would need 6 pounds of butter, two boxes of cake flour (in addition to the box I already had), 10 pounds of powdered sugar, and 10 pounds of granulated sugar. At the very least I was right that we needed 2-dozen eggs.
While baked goods in general are always better the day they’re made, we spread out the process over the course of two days. On the evening of day one we made lemon-lime curd, vanilla custard, white cake, and chocolate cake (layer and mini-cupcake). We let the curd and custard cool in the fridge that night and when the cakes had completely cooled, triple wrapped them in plastic wrap. Thankfully the cakes were still moist and fresh tasting the next evening. On day two we baked yellow cupcakes for the Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes, made all of the frostings, decorated, and colored/rolled out fondant.
Baking the cakes and preparing the frostings and fillings was pretty straightforward. The fondant itself wasn’t even that difficult, more time-consuming. Not wanting to spend too much on fondant supplies, we were pretty minimal in what we bought (simply some cut-outs for decoration) and otherwise used items I already had for the fondant and cake decorating.
To roll out the fondant we used a silicon mat and a rolling pin (although for the base layer of the cake I just lightly sprinkled the counter with powdered sugar as the mat wasn’t big enough). If I do fondant again I might consider getting a fondant-specific rolling pin as the one I had did only an okay job. A bench scraper did a nice job of smoothing out the fondant (I’m not sure a fondant smoother is that necessary) and we used various cutouts and a small knife to make the decorations. If you’re using fondant for the first time I highly recommend a silicon mat. I thought it did a great job of preventing the fondant from sticking.
A few observations and things I’ll do differently next time:
- You definitely need to have a fridge stocked with beer or alcohol of some kind to enjoy while working in the kitchen. Two six-packs were nowhere near enough.
- A long music playlist is imperative (preferably something with “Blurred Lines” and plenty of Macklemore and Adele).
- Fondant is a pain, but not as bad as I thought.
- Wear comfy shoes. I’m used to sitting at a desk, so being on my feet for a whole day wasn’t something I was used to.
- Be sure you have something to eat. After having a waffle for breakfast I didn’t eat until 7:30 pm. I was getting hangry by then.
- Can I hire someone to wash dishes? I didn’t mind washing out my stand mixer bowl the first 15 times, it was the 16th time when it started to get to me.
- Disposable gloves would have been nice for coloring the fondant. That gel did a nice job of coloring hands red.
- A fondant roller would be quite useful.
Seeing as this was the first time either of us used fondant I’m pretty pleased with the results. Far from perfect, but overall I was pleased, especially since the kitchen I cook and bake in is tiny and has about half a square foot of counter space…
When making something for a large group of people (like for my friend’s birthday) I try and use tested and successful recipes. It would be hugely disappointing for me to serve a subpar dish to tons of people. However, there are a few recipe sources (Barefoot Contessa being the main one) that have never let me down and even if I haven’t tested out the recipe I feel confident they’ll be successful.
I knew I wanted a chocolate cake (among others) to serve at my friend’s birthday and while I’ve tested out successful chocolate cake recipes, I wanted something different. Seeing as this has 1,701 reviews that average 5 out of 5 stars, I figured it would likely be delicious.
When I made this cake I made it in cupcake form and loved how moist and tender the crumb of the cake was. When you make this recipe you’ll notice the batter will be shockingly thin. Since it’s oil-based (instead of butter) I was expecting a thin batter, but this was way thinner than I expected. Not to worry, it baked up nicely.
Beatty’s Chocolate Cake
From Barefoot Contessa
Makes 24 cupcakes
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cups cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cupcake tins with cupcake liners.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry.
With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Fill cupcake tins approximately 3/4 of the way full. Bake 18-22 minutes, although definitely check at 18 minutes (test by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the cupcake–you’ll want a few moist crumbs to cling to the toothpick once removed).
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
- 6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)
- 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons rum (optional but highly recommended)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; add instant coffee powder. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add the rum and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the powdered sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy.
On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Use immediately to frost cupcakes.
A dear friend recently turned 40 and in honor of such a milestone birthday she had a pretty big birthday bash. She’s definitely known as an amazing baker (although… ahem… she hasn’t baked anything for me… hint hint) and I knew she would be expecting an awesome cake. While the initial plan was a store-bought cake, after a few drinks I came up with the brilliant idea of making her cake(s). Thankfully this wasn’t a solo project. I had an awesome partner-in-crime and the two of us whipped up some great desserts for our friend’s special day.
While cupcakes are a great way to go, there’s something special about blowing out candles and slicing a cake, so we knew there would be cupcake and cake involved. Wanting to bake to impress, we decided to do a tiered cake, with the bottom layer being the following cake.
The white cake was incredibly light and fluffy. It had an amazing texture and it felt like you were eating a cloud. The decadent richness of the curd (which has a fair amount of butter) provided a great juxtaposition in texture while the immense amount of citrus still kept it light. The initial recipe calls for a whipped cream topping, which I think would be very nice. But seeing as we were eventually covering the cake in fondant, we opted for a simple, vanilla buttercream.
- 12 large egg yolks (save 6 of the whites for the cake and either save the remaining 6 whites for another baking project or discard)
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup finely grated lemon zest (from about 6 to 8 medium lemons)
- 2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 6 to 8 medium lemons)
- 1/4 cup finely grated lime zest (from about 4 to 6 medium limes)
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 4 medium limes)
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 2 1/4 sticks (9 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 9 pieces, at room temperature
Zest, zest, zest, and zest… and then juice, juice, and juice. It took a bit to zest and juice all the citrus. It was fun though. I guess.
In a double boiler (water just simmering), place all ingredients except butter and cook over medium-low heat for roughly 13-15 minutes, stirring constantly. The mixture will thicken and should resemble the consistency of an aoli, or yogurt. You’ll want to periodically lift the top of the double boiler off to ensure the water isn’t boiling. If the water boils, reduce heat to ensure the eggs don’t curdle.
Once you’ve reached the desired consistency (mine took exactly 15 minutes), remove from heat and immediately whisk in your butter, one cube at a time, waiting until each piece of butter has melted before whisking in the next piece.
Set a fine-mesh sieve or strainer (or cheese cloth) over a large bowl and strain the curd. You’ll see there’s a tremendous amount of zest that would otherwise get in the way of the silky texture of the curd. I typically skip the straining step with a custard, but with a curd I think it’s pretty important. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the strained curd (to avoid skin forming) and refrigerate at least three hours, or up to 3 days.
- 2 cups cake flour, plus more to coat the pans
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature, plus more to coat the pans
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from about 1 large lemon)*
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
- 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
*note: the original recipe called for 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 teaspoon lime zest. While I enjoyed the flavor the lime brought into the cake, I found it a bit disconcerting to see bits of green in the cake and would double up on the lemon in the future. I believe my exact words after seeing bits of lime zest were: “is the cake moldy?!?!?!”
Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans; set aside.
Whisk the measured flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the 6 egg whites on high speed until medium peaks form, approximately 1 minute. Add ¼ cup of sugar and continue whisking until glossy, stiff peaks form, a minute or more longer. Remove egg whites into another bowl and switch the whisk attachment with the paddle attachment (you don’t really need to even clean the bowl).
Place the remaining 1 1/4 cups of the sugar and the measured butter in the bowl of a stand and beat on medium speed until the mixture is airy and light in color, about 5 minutes. Add the zest and vanilla and mix until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the paddle and the sides of the bowl.
Add a third of the reserved flour mixture and turn the mixer to low speed, mixing until the flour is just incorporated. Add half of the milk and mix until just incorporated. Continue with the remaining flour mixture and milk, alternating between each, until all of the ingredients are incorporated and smooth.
Using a rubber spatula, fold a quarter of the egg whites into the cake batter until evenly incorporated; gently fold in the remaining egg whites until just combined and no pockets of white remain.
Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and spread into an even layer. Bake until the surface of the cakes springs back when pressed and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 30 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven, place on wire racks, and let cool for 15 minutes before removing cakes from the pans and cooling completely.
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks or half a pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk together the sugar and butter on low speed until blended (to avoid clouds of powdered sugar, I find it helps a bit to add the sugar first, with the butter on top), then increase speed to medium and mix together for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and whipping cream (start with 1 tablespoon) and mix for one minute. Add remaining tablespoon of cream, if needed, to further thin frosting. Use immediately.
Using a serrated knife, trim a very thin layer from each cake top, just enough to even out the surface (we skipped this step, as the top of our cake was naturally pretty even).
Slice each cake in half horizontally so that you have 4 layers.
Re-whisk the lemon-lime curd until smooth. Place a cake layer on your serving dish (it helps if you have a few strips of parchment underneath the cake, as it keeps your serving dish neater and cleaner).
With a knife or offset spatula, evenly spread a third of the lemon-lime curd (about 1 cup) over the top of the cake, leaving a 1/2-inch border.
Top with a second cake layer and evenly spread another third of the lemon-lime curd over the top of the cake, leaving a 1/2-inch border.
Repeat step with third cake layer, before topping with the fourth and final layer of cake.
Refrigerate for at least half an hour to firm up.
Once cake has set, remove from refrigerator and frost. My frosting skills are… ummm…. They could use improvement. The crumbs of this cake kinda got in the way. I would highly recommend starting with a crumb coat (which is where you put on an extremely thin layer of frosting on your cake and freeze for 15 minutes) before fully frosting. Thankfully we covered our cake with fondant, so ugly frosting wasn’t the end of the world.
In 1996 Boston Cream Pie was declared the official dessert of Massachusetts. Huh. Thanks, Wikipedia. You learn something new every day. Also, it’s not mass-produced in Boston.
I guess because I’m a total weirdo I’ve probably only had one or two Boston Cream Pies in my day. Even when I briefly lived in Boston I don’t recall ever having Boston Cream Pie. I think I once had Boston Cream Pie at my grandparent’s house. My grandfather got terribly lost in Boston once and held a bit of a grudge. He insisted on calling it Massachusetts Cream Pie.
In January I made my first Boston Cream Pie and I was pretty pleased with it. I thought the cake to filling ratio was a bit off though. It could have used more custard, and probably some more chocolate topping. But I like chocolate and custard and really I think most desserts need more custard and chocolate.
A few months ago I made yellow cupcakes filled with lemon curd and topped with a whipped mascarpone topping. While the notion of filled cupcakes wasn’t new to me, I had never made them myself and I began to think of all of the different things I could fill cupcakes with. While there’s a pretty long list of filled cupcakes, the first one on my list was Boston Cream Pie cupcakes. Seeing as I volunteered to make cupcakes for a birthday I decided I’d give Boston Cream Pie cupcakes a shot. And I have to say they were pretty tasty.
Yellow Cake Cupcakes
From Smitten Kitchen
The first time I used this recipe (in layer cake form) I noticed the batter rose a lot while baking. To make sure they didn’t overflow in cupcake form, I erred on the side of caution and filled my tins up about 2/3 of the way instead of 3/4 of the way. While it made for 30 cupcakes, they were all a consistent, perfect size, and a few extra cupcakes never hurt anyone.
- 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks (1 cup or 1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 12-capacity muffin tins with paper liners (or butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter and flour parchment).
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. I’m a strong believer that you cannot over-mix butter and sugar. The fluffier and lighter the better. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until incorporated and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated. Scrape down bowl.
Fill muffin tins 2/3 of the way full and bake for 18-22 minutes. I always test my cupcakes at 18 minutes and then bake for longer, if necessary, checking again a minute or two later. For the longest time I used to believe a cake tester should come out clean; however, a better judge of doneness is if a few moist crumbs stick to your cake tester.
Since I could only bake 24 cupcakes at a time, I put the extra batter in the fridge while the first batch was baking. I found the refrigerated batter needed an extra minute more.
If baking in layer cake form, divide batter and spread evenly between the two cake pans. Bake until golden, approximately 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan and cooling completely.
Vanilla Custard Filling
Adapted from AllRecipes.com
- 1 cup light cream
- 1 cup milk, divided
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 teaspoons cornstarch
- 4 eggs
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine cream with 1/2 cup of the milk and cook over medium heat until bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan. Immediately add 1/4 cup of the sugar and the salt, stirring until dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of the milk with the cornstarch and whisk to remove lumps. Whisk in the eggs. Add the hot cream mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Return mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens and is smooth (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. If you’re super meticulous you can strain your custard. This ensures there are no eggy bits or lumps, but so long as you constantly stir while cooking, it should be smooth and you can be lazy and not strain. Yay! Place a layer of syran wrap dirrectly on the surface of the custard. This ensures a film or skin doesn’t develop. Let cool completely.
This can be made one or two days in advance and stored in the fridge. It gets really gloopy and thick when it’s completely chilled. I thought I had messed up somewhere along the way the first time I made it, but it gets a silky smooth texture after bringing back to room temperature and whisking.
Instant Fudge Frosting
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
A Boston Cream Pie typically has more of a glaze or ganache, but since I was making cupcakes I decided a rich, chocolatey frosting would look nicer.
- 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
- 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (yes, that’s tablespoon. It may seem like a lot, but it’s the perfect amount)
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee
- ½ teaspoon salt
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together all ingredients besides chocolate until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Gradually add in the chocolate. You want to ensure the chocolate has sufficiently cooled, as hot chocolate will melt the butter.
To assemble cupcakes:
After cupcakes have cooled completely, you’ll want to create a well to add the custard filling. There are cupcake corers that I’m sure work nicely but I don’t have one. I found using a melon baller worked nicely (but simply creating a slit with a knife also works).
You can fill the cupcakes in a variety of ways, but I find using a disposable pastry bag with the tip cut off (or using a small pastry tip) is the fastest. I think I filled my cupcakes in roughly 45 seconds. Fast and easy.
They won’t look very pretty at this stage, but that’s okay. You still need to frost them. Also, please ignore how unevenly brown the cupcakes are. Oops.
From there, frost as you would any cupcake. I like the look of using a pastry bag to pipe on the frosting, but a just spreading on with a knife works perfectly as well.
About 10 years ago I used to eat packaged, pre-made hummus by the gallon. I just couldn’t get enough of it. Then something happened and the thought of store-bought hummus just didn’t appeal to me. People I knew started making their own hummus and I had the really, really good stuff at specialty restaurants. I just couldn’t stomach the gummy, flavorless junk from my local supermarket after having far superior hummus.
After craving hummus for far too long I decided to take matters into my own hand and make my own. It can’t be that difficult can it? Feeling ambitious, I decided I might as well make my own pita as well. For some reason the pita I’ve purchased at the store has been disappointing. Very cardboard-esque.
So, project pita and hummus commenced.
Adapted from Anne Burrell
- 1 ¼ cups warm water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 envelope active dry yeast
- 1 ½ cups bread flour, plus a little more for dusting
- 1 ½ to 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoons table salt
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling bowl
1. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, sugar and yeast and let sit for 15 minutes.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the dough hook, combine the bread flour and 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, cumin, salt and cayenne.
3. Add the yeast mixture and the olive oil and mix on medium speed to combine and knead the dough. It should take 6 to 7 minutes. At about 4 minutes into kneading my dough was super sticky so I gradually added more all-purpose flour a tablespoon at a time (it resulted in roughly half a cup more). After 7 minutes your dough should be very firm and not sticky or tacky.
4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
After an hour mine was (waayyyyyy) more than double in size, so just check along the way.
5. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and roll into 7-inch rounds (1/4-inch thick), using an additional sprinkle of bread flour if your dough is sticking (my dough hardly stuck at all). Divide the dough between sheet trays (I have little baby sheet trays so needed to use 3), cover them loosely with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes. As you will see, I chose to roll mine into abstract circles. I suck at rolling… errr…. I like the rustic, handmade look.
After researching other recipes I discovered a few different ways of cooking the pita and I wanted to try both to see which was most successful.
Stovetop method: Preheat a cast iron skillet or griddle on medium-high heat. Lightly grease the skillet and cook pitas, one at a time, for 15 seconds on one side, flip and cook for one minute, then flip again and cook an additional minute. The pita should lightly brown and puff up and the total cooking time should be less than 3 minutes per pita. This method seemed straight-forward but was disastrous for me. After burning two pitas (even after turning down the heat and cooking for a shorter period on the second pita) I decided this wasn’t for me.
Oven method: Lightly spritz the pitas with water and bake in a preheated, 500 degree oven for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the pitas over and bake for 2 more minutes. Let cool slightly before eating. I prefer warm pitas and almost immediately started ripping these bad boys apart to dip into my hummus.
This was definitely my preferred method.
From Ina Garten
While I only went to one store in search of tahini, I was somewhat shocked at how pricy it is. I mean, it’s not obscenely expensive but considering tahini is simply ground up sesame seeds and a bit of oil, I thought the $11 price tag for the teeny, tiny bottle was a bit obscene. After googling “homemade tahini” on my iPhone, I decided it would be easy and much cheaper to make my own. I did so by grinding 4 cups of lightly toasted sesame seeds and 1/3 olive oil in my food processor for a few minutes, until it was a smooth, thick paste. It stores in the fridge for a few months.
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 cups canned chickpeas, drained, 2 tablespoons liquid reserved (cooking dried chickpeas tastes so much better, but using canned results in a delicious, but less tasty hummus)
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
- 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (approximately the juice of 2 lemons)
- 2 tablespoons water or liquid from the chickpeas
- 8 dashes hot sauce (Frank’s is my preferred hot sauce)
Turn on the food processor fitted with the steel blade and drop the garlic down the feed tube; process until it’s minced. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and process until the hummus is coarsely pureed. Taste, for seasoning, and serve chilled or at room temperature with pita and/or an assortment of vegetables. Sprinkle with paprika, if desired.