Apple-Raspberry Tartlets

Well… it’s been FAR too long since I’ve been on here!!  I was officially on a baking break for a while – after all the cakes I made, I needed to just stay out of the kitchen for a lil bit.

(To start with – I apologize for the crappy pictures.  I had left my camera at my parents’ house and had to make do with my cell phone.  That likely won’t be happening again any time soon.)

My birthday was a few weeks ago, and for the second time my family went apple-picking for my birthday get-together, which was a lot of fun.  This place (Garden Patch Farms) is AWESOME.  We got Honeycrisp apples, two types of Asian pears, some peaches, bell peppers, pickles, broccoli, raspberries, blackberries, cabbage and who knows what else.  There was so much to pick from, and we didn’t even get into some of the other stuff (they also had a tomato section and grape section).

Anyway – when I got back to my place, I had a pint of raspberries and an entire refrigerator drawer full of Honeycrisp apples (yum).  “What could I do with this?”, I wondered.  Answer: tartlets.

I had made the strawberry rhubarb tart earlier this year, and I have made apple pie in the paste.  I figured that there must be some way I could make this work… although Internet searches only yielded various “crumbles” – and those are NOT easily transportable (or servable in my opinion).

So once again, I decided I could make this up on my own.  I had my strawberry rhubarb filling recipe.  I had an apple pie filling recipe.  I could totally do this. Continue reading

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

Anniversary Cake (frogs included!)

This past weekend was a full and crazy weekend – a cake and two family parties.  Lots and lots of work, ending with fun (and unfortunately, mosquitos).

When making this cake for my aunt and uncle, my aunt had mentioned that she liked frogs – so my whole idea of doing something kind of formal with their wedding colors changed completely into a cuter cake idea.  Running (or hopping) through my mind were thoughts of frogs and lily pads and cattails.  So I got to work doing my usual Google Image research.

The frog part was easy – form it out of fondant, just like you would with clay.  But I wanted to give some sort of identity to these creatures.  Since my uncle tends to wear a lot of Hawaiian shirts, I figured that would work well for one frog.  For the other, I wasn’t so sure.  I wanted to do a little pearl necklace, but figuring out a way to do that was making me want to chuck the frog across the room after a bit.  But then… viola!  I took a very thin little snake of fondant and started pinching it with a pair of tweezers.  It wasn’t perfect (my tweezers were square edged), but it definitely gave the look I was looking for!  Add a couple flowers to the lady frog’s head and it was perfect. Continue reading

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.

An Ode to French Buttercream

Remember the first time you tasted your absolutely favorite food?  The feeling you got when you took that first bite, had all the tastes run across your palate, and just fell in love with this marvelous culinary masterpiece?

That’s how I am with French Buttercream.

Sigh. 🙂

French Buttercream (FBC) is the oft-overlooked but oh-so-good kind of frosting/filling that has you taking more than anyone’s fair share of licks as you work on your cake.  (Or, in some cases spoonfuls.  But I don’t know who that could be.)

One of my favorite restaurants in Chicago is this place called Sushi Toro (or Toro Sushi, depending on what website you find).  One of their specialties is called the “Oh My God Roll”, because after you try it, it’s your first reaction to say “Oh my God!”  No joke.  It seems to happen every time I’m there with anyone new.

I think French Buttercream should just be renamed Oh My God Buttercream.  Continue reading

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