Learning to Let Go of the Perfectionist Baker Gene (yeah… right)

I’m sure it’s happened to everyone.

You make a cake.  Situations arise.  You run out of time and have to just give the cake as it stands at that moment.  You are disappointed with yourself and want to beat your head against a wall.

This past weekend, I was to make a “Chicago” cake for a friend who was having a surprise party for her girlfriend who finally moved to town.  I was told chocolate cake with peanut butter buttercream, and other than that, just a “Chicago” theme.

My mind exploded, and I had all sorts of grand ideas for this. I finally nailed down some stuff a few days before – I wanted to make the Bean (I love the Bean), the Chicago Theater sign, the Wrigley Field welcome sign, and the Picasso (if possible) – and to have a skyline across the bottom of the cake.

I know, I know… I’m a little ambitious.  But my mind doesn’t understand the word “no” when it comes to cake decorating.  You try to tell me that when I’m in the midst of a cake.  I dare you. Continue reading

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Christening Cake II (aka how to save a cake)

Happy Monday everyone!

Well…it finally happened.

Just a couple of weeks after reaching my first baking milestone of creating my own recipe, I reached another baking milestone.

My first cake disaster.

I got lucky with this disaster – it could have been MUCH worse.  This wasn’t me slipping and falling with a cake on top of me, this wasn’t finding one of my cats with its head fully enveloped in cake.

But it was bad enough.

I was so close to being done.  I had finished the decorations on the bottom tier of the cake, and all I had left to do was put polka dots on the top tier and figure out where the name was going to go.  The cake was sitting on my super nifty tilting turntable, which I love.  Or loved. Continue reading

Love, Loss, and Peanut Butter Pie Friday

It’s amazing to me how in this day and time, someone we don’t know and have never met can really affect your life.

A few days ago on Twitter, I saw mutiple people sending wishes towards a woman named Jennie, and from the tone of them, I knew something tragic had happened. It turns out her husband, still very young and in his prime, had suffered a fatal heart attack suddenly last weekend. Just reading her story, and seeing the video post on her blog of the “last dance” between her husband and daughter brought tears to my eyes and sadness to my heart.

Along with the emotions, it brought back memories. A few years back, my family also lost someone incredibly dear to us, my aunt. She was possibly one of the most amazing people I had ever met – someone who was always upbeat and sunny, someone who managed to overcome all trials in her life, and someone who always seemed to believe that things would work out.

Just like this man, she was taken from us far too young, and from a sudden heart attack. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her in some way, whether it’s in association with my family members, from looking at the last family picture we took, or just thinking in passing of something that reminds me of her.

It’s amazing how things change with an event like this. It feels like a piece of your heart, a piece of your being is missing, and you aren’t quite sure how to find it. It is just gone, gone into oblivion, and you are hopelessly searching to put your heart and self together again.

But time does pass. And no matter how hard it is to hear, time really does heal wounds. Sure, they can be opened again, and you will never forget this person or what they meant to you, but the pain changes. It becomes more bearable. And one day you realize that it doesn’t hurt like it once did, and that this person has just become a part of you in a different way, has been integrated in your life and soul. That you are a better person because of this individual. That no matter what, this person will never truly leave you.

On the first anniversary of my aunt’s death, my cousins (her children), my mom, and my aunt’s fiance put together a memorial for her. They passed out tulips to everyone, something that could grow every spring to remind us all of my aunt, right around her birthday. And every year, these tulips seem to sprout first, eager to burst into bloom and give us all a memory of someone so special.

Jennie, however, has her own way of asking people to help her and honor her husband.

This amazing woman was able to actually respond to those around her who wanted to help by putting up a blog post – a post in which she asked something simple from everyone.

She never got a chance to make her husband his favorite pie again – she kept thinking she could make it tomorrow. Now, in wake of this tragic change of course, she has asked everyone to make a peanut butter pie for their loved ones in honor of her husband, Mikey. She wants everyone to pass it along to their loved ones, and to “hug them like there’s no tomorrow because today is the only guarantee we can count on.”

I don’t know Jennie, and I never knew Mikey. I doubt I will ever meet her or her children. But this woman’s story has touched me, and I’m sure has touched so many others who have gone through their own losses.

In honor of Mikey (and Jennie), I will make my own peanut butter pie and share it with those important to me.

I hope you can do the same.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cake

I have a confession.

As a child, I hated cake.  The only part I liked was the royal icing flowers on top.  I think I still ate funfetti cake and the like, but that was it.  Whenever we had birthday cake, I would just turn up my nose and eat my royal icing roses (which, by the way, my mom/aunts had to always ask for a specific number of those so there wouldn’t be fighting among us cousins).

Oh – and I also didn’t like chocolate.

Whew.  That’s a huge weight off my shoulders.  Feel free to throw words at me like “are you insane??”

Now I’m normal and like both chocolate and cake (a little too much for my own good, in my opinion).  I guess that’s one of the good (bad?) things about getting older, your tastes changing.

When we had the double baby shower at work this week, I knew one of the women was a chocoholic, so I decided to make the same cake I made this past weekend for the christening cake

One of my favorite memories of high school was Market Day.  Does everyone remember that?  That “grocery” service through the school where you paid a semi-crazy amount of money for what was basically a bunch of junk food?  Mmmm Italian Dippers.  My favorite thing we got were these frozen Chocolate Puddin’ Cakes.  They were slices of a super moist but not super chocolatey cake, riddled with chocolate chunks.  Sometimes I wouldn’t even let a slice thaw – I would just eat it still frozen (and it was still amazing). Continue reading

Christening Cake

Happy Monday – it’s cake time!

This past weekend was a christening in my family.  I’m not exactly sure of the link – it’s my dad’s cousin’s son’s son… is that my second cousin once-removed?  Something like that… I think… but regardless – this new lil guy is my cousin! 🙂

Trying to figure out what to do for a christening cake was a feat unto itself… try googling it. Seriously.  You get everything from cross-shaped cakes to cakes with teddy bears to cakes with booties and balloons.  Basically, it seems like whatever is blue works well, and most people seem to shove the religious part by the wayside.  After spending days and days searching for something to give me inspiration, I gave up, feeling no more inspired than when I started.

Then I ran across a forum post on Cake Central (if you are a baker, check it out, it’s awesome!).  For billowing fondant.

And I was hooked.

Continue reading

Dreamy Creamsicle Cake – Part 1 (cake)

I think every baker dreams of the day of when they make up their first recipe.  For me, that day is today! 🙂  (or I guess technically it was yesterday.  But still.)

I was talking with my friend The Culinary Cheesehead about various cakes that you can make for summer – especially in this insane heat that we are having here in the Midwest. (In case you have missed it, in Chicago we just broke the record for the highest “low” – we never got below 80.  And today is supposed to be 99 with a heat index of 112.  Sigh.)

In the midst of our chatting, Paula mentioned an Orange Creamsicle cake, which sounded absolutely delectable… and after she mentioned it, it just didn’t leave my mind at all.

Continue reading

Luau Cake!

Hello there boys and girls, it’s time for a recipe-less update!

This past weekend was a surprise party for my aunt, and I got hired to make the cake (wahoo!).  When I asked, I was told the theme was “Hawaiian luau”, so that of course led to millions of ideas instantly going through my head.  In my first iteration, it was a cake with a lei gracefully draped down the side.

Until I thought it through.

While leis are beautiful, the amount of gum paste flowers I would have needed for this image in my mind was… extraordinary.  So… that idea kind of got kicked to the curb of my brain.  After that I just started Googling like there was no tomorrow.  Unfortunately, when you look up “Hawaiian Cake” or “Luau Cake” under Google Images, most of them look like the creators took every single piece of Hawaiian plastic/decor the could find and stuck it on a cake (seriously – most of them should be on Cake Wrecks, just for the amount of weird stuff on the cake)

Eventually I started sketching out some ideas, and this is what I came up with:

It’s a little hard to see as I sketched lightly so I could erase easily, but it’s just a simple topsy-turvy cake with some Hawaiian accents.  I figured this would be easy enough for me to do, as it was my first topsy-turvy cake, and still impressive enough for all the non-bakers out there.

The weekend making this cake was unreal.  I only had one of each size cake pan, so I had to waste time baking one layer of each tier at a time (luckily they were only two layers!).  It was a weekend and cake full of new things.  New vanilla bean recipe, new chocolate recipe, new fondant recipe, and new cake construction.  Looking back on it now – I was kind of an idiot for doing this, because had one thing gone horribly wrong, I could’ve lost it (very very easily).  In the midst of fondant that kept tearing, I decided it would be fun to break the faucet head off the sink and spray the entire kitchen (seriously – it was a blast! (pun intended)).  But after all of the work and craziness, the cake finally got finished.  My feet ached from standing, but I was very proud of what I got done:

For this, I made a vanilla bean cake for the bottom tier and the island (courtesy of my friend Paula, aka The Culinary Cheesehead), and found a recipe for a moist chocolate cake for the second tier on Kitchen Addiction (doubling the recipe and switching the milk for buttermilk).  I made my own version of a strawberry mousse filling topped with diced strawberries, coated the cake in Italian Buttercream and Michele Foster’s Fondant.  I purchased some Mercken’s candy melts and made little chocolate seashells (on top of the green layer) and the flip-flops, flowers, and palm-tree are all made of gum paste.