A mom's journal of the sweet things in her life...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spiderman Birthday Cake and a Birthday Party

I feel obliged to state for the record that I am not a cake decorator. I'm not good at it, never have been. It's not for lack of trying, however. I just lack in the skill department, we can't be good at everything, right? I also lack in the patience department. 

Please don't see this is a ploy or a fishing expedition for compliments. I'm just being honest. I don't lack in self-confidence. I know I'm good at other stuff and I am okay with not being a talented cake decorator. It's not up for debate. It's a fact.

So when my son saw the Spiderman cake in the Co-op bakery showcase and declared that that's the one he wanted for his birthday, I resigned myself to spending the absurd $70 for a dry, tasteless cake covered in that sickly sweet icing that I hate so much.

And then that voice in my head started in on me. Damn I hate it when she pipes up. She said things like, "How hard could it be?" "You should really try this." "He's only 3, he won't care if it looks hideous".

To be fair, the cake in demand was nothing more than a square block in the shape of a building with a little Spiderman figurine standing on top. I mean, C'mon.  Even I could manage that, or so that bitch in my head kept telling me.

So I set about the planning. I baked 3 cakes in a 13 x 9 inch cake pan and froze them. I started googling for ideas. I bought a Spiderman figure. There was no turning back.

In the very least, I knew my cake would taste good, I used my favorite chocolate cake recipe that always turns out moist and delicious. Then I started contemplating the icing. As luck would have it, I was blog surfing and stumbled upon a recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream icing on WhiskWhiskWhisk. I'd never attempted a Swiss Meringue Buttercream but the author used words like "gorgeous" "silky" and "smooth" to describe this icing and also stated that it held up well and wasn't too sweet.  Bingo. That's exactly what I wanted.

I built my cake while it was still frozen, so I'd know how I wanted it assembled before I began icing it.
The icing was actually quite easy to prepare. I was initially alarmed by the fact that you have to warm the egg whites to 140 degrees but it didn't take long. After whipping the whites to a stiff meringue and then adding the butter I was delighted to have the the most delicious icing I'd ever made. Seriously. It was rich, buttery, and silky smooth. And not too sweet. It was also easy to work with, as it held the cake together making the assembly of my 'sky scraper' much easier than I had anticipated. Thanks for the post WhiskWhiskWhisk, I'm a fan.

The only issue I had was that I iced the cake while it was still partially frozen. The icing is primarily butter - butter hardens when spread on cold surfaces. It worked to my advantage as far as acting as a glue for holding the layers, but it did make it pretty much impossible to get a smooth surface. A minor glitch in my plans.

I completely forgot to take pictures earlier in the day and was rushed to get a good shot without the benefit of good lighting (or time for that matter) before we cut into it.  So what you are about to see are crappy real life shots. Not the nice ones where we clear our counters, use natural light, remove the background clutter, use the right lense, or have pretty little props. These pictures are a more accurate representation of what actually goes on in my kitchen when you're about to serve cake to an impatient 3 year old and have a house full of people.

So, with no further excuses, I present to you my very humble rendition of a Spiderman cake. Or a sky scraper cake with a store bought Spiderman mushed into the icing on the top. 
Those are Hershey's chocolate bar squares representing the windows. 
In case it wasn't obvious.
Here I am proudly presenting my 'masterpiece' to the birthday boy. He was MIA. 
Too preoccupied with his new toys. 
We won't be discussing how bare my walls are today either. 
It's a problem but it's not relevant to this post.
Once we were able to tear him away from his toys and over to the crappy cake masterpiece, the little jerk immediately grabbed the Spiderman figure from the top of the cake and began licking off the icing. Not unlike how a dog marks its territory by peeing on something. 
How proud we were. 
What's a party without cheap paper face masks?
And, really, what's the point of having a dog if you can't her and force her to wear one of the cheap paper face masks?
That's my niece. Self-appointed gift opener assistant. And very efficient at her job. 
She takes it seriously.
And there I am trying to break up a dog fight without dropping my camera. 
Why did I get another puppy?
So that's it. A summary of our Saturday night. Great friends, family, dinner, a funny looking cake, way too many presents, and a dog fight. My, how things have changed. 

Perfect Chocolate Cake Recipe:
(adapted from Hershey's website)
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cups cocoa (sifted)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup freshly brewed espresso or coffee
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.
Whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of mixer for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (or coffee of espresso). Pour batter into prepared pans.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
(Source: WhiskWhiskWhisk, adapted slightly)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) of egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 pound of butter, cut into cubes (I decided to use salted butter and skipped the pinch of salt, but you could use unsalted butter and add salt if you prefer)
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine the egg whites, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl and place over simmering water. Beat with a whisk continuously until the sugar is dissolved and mixture reaches temperature of 140 degrees. Remove from the heat and place on the mixer. Whisk on medium speed until meringue is stiff, and the mixing bowl is cool to the touch. Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter a few cubes at a time on medium speed. If the meringue is not completely cool, the butter will melt. Continue beating until all the butter is incorporated. (At one point it may appear as if the mixture has broken, looking curdled and separated. Continue mixing, it will all come together.) Increase speed to high, add the vanilla and beat until smooth. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Happy 3rd Birthday to My Little Man

Dear Dylan,

I always knew you'd be a handful. I really did. 

You gave me a run for my money from the first day I knew you were coming. A trip to the emergency walk-in clinic for the pains I thought were a near fatal bladder infection turned kidney infection is what tipped me off to your impending arrival. Oh, how excited I was to find out my self-diagnosis was wrong.

My back went out, while I was pregnant with you and I quite literally couldn't sit down for months. Crazy new chairs were invented by your grandfather in an effort to give me relief. They didn't work. 

Then, when you decided to join the rest of of the world, you did so in a hurry and didn't allow your poor mommy the time required to get the drugs she so desperately wanted. Needed. I will tell you this story in more detail at a time in your life when you are fully able to grasp what that means. Several times, in fact. Yes, I'm one of those moms.

You are one strong spirt. Your eyes tell a story long before you open your mouth.

One minute you make me want to pull out my own hair and then the very next minute I can't kiss you enough.

You have finally retired your ratty stuffed Elmo and are now obsessed with Spiderman.

Last week you said, "I'm cool, mom. I'm cool.  I'm cool, right? Mom? Am I cool?" You are super cool.

You call your Ipod your "Ipot".

You call popcorn "c*ckporn" and, though I know I should correct you, I simply refuse.

You are a "momma's boy" according to your dad and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

You ask unabashedly for cuddles. You are a world class cuddler. 

You tell me that you love me about 76 times a day. 

You enjoy telling your sister that you don't love her.

Your favorite foods are hot dogs and spaghetti and fruit roll-ups. 

The only vegetable you willingly eat is cucumber.

You can make your sister cry in 3 seconds flat. You do it with a smile on your face. Sigh.
The only time you even remotely grasp the concept of "sharing" is when someone else has something you want. The concept is lost on you any other time.

You're smart.

You went through a phase where you drew on furniture and walls. Here's a picture of your first adventure with a black permanent marker. It was not your last. Mommy finally got smart and only has washable markers in the house now.

I told you once rather flippantly (about 6 months ago) that you could have gum when you turned 3. You remembered. You've remind me every day that you're turning 3 soon and you want gum. Please stop swallowing it. It makes mommy nervous.

It takes you a very long time to pick out your pajamas every night.

You wake us up twice a night when you've kicked off your covers and want to be tucked back in.
You like wearing mommy's shoes and your sister's head bands around the house.

We made a deal, you and me.  You promised not to grow up anymore, and stay my 'Little Man' forever. Your sister flat out refused to participate in this pact. But you... you were quick to agree. "Okay, mom" you said. Then you hugged me. I thought the deal was sealed, but you're not holding up your end. You hit me with 2 major milestones in the same week. Your first day of pre-school, and your third birthday. Why must you torture me so?

Yes. I was right about you. You are a handful. A deliciously sweet, adorably irresistible handful that I love more than you could ever imagine. 

Happy 3rd Birthday, my sweet Little Man.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hot Chocolate-Triple Chocolate Cookies

I'm feeling overwhelmed and not the least bit clever. This is our first week of school and I haven't found my groove. I'm also in the planning stages of my son's 3rd birthday party this weekend and I'm attempting a Spiderman cake. I'm no cake decorator and I'm quite certain it will be a disaster, but I will share it with you regardless. Stay tuned. In the meantime...

Chocolate chip cookies with hot chocolate mix in the dough.  You say "Why?". I say "Why not?"

I'm always looking for a new and interesting twist on a chocolate chip cookie.  I found this version on Savory Sweet Life and I kind of love them.

Yes, they are on the sweet side. But not that sickening sweet that makes you want to brush your teeth after eating them. Pleasantly sweet. Satisfying.

The dough looks like chocolate ice cream when you add the hot chocolate mix in.

The recipe calls for 3 cups of chocolate chips (1 cup of milk chocolate chips, 1 cup of white chocolate chips and 1 cup of semi-sweet).  I didn't have milk chocolate, and after I added 1 cup each of the white and regular semi-sweet chocolate chips, I was glad.  There was plenty of chocolate in this recipe without the addition of a further cup of milk chocolate chips.

I made the dough in the morning and then refrigerated it so that we could have warm cookies after lunch for our play date last week. They probably sat in the fridge for about 3 hours and I found the dough hard to scoop initially.  However, I was really happy with the cookies' thickness and texture, and would recommend chilling the dough for a couple hours if you can.

Recipe for Hot Chocolate-Triple Chocolate Cookies
1 cup of salted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs 1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/4 cups flour
4 packages (1 ounce package, not sugar free) Hot Chocolate mix
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup each milk, white and semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar till smooth. Beat eggs and vanilla till combined. 
In separate bowl, combine flour, Hot Chocolate mix, salt and baking soda.  
Add to wet ingredients in 3 or 4 parts, mixing until well-combined.  
Add chocolate chips. 
Chill dough for an hour or longer.
Use 1/4 cup as your scoop to scoop dough onto parchment lined baking sheets. 
Bake 9-11 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. 
Let cool 5 minutes before removing to cooling rack.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mini Vanilla Ice Cream Cheese Cakes

Cinnamon Toast Crunch:  the bain of my existence this summer.  I bought a huge box of it at Costco. Why? Because my son asked for it and I was feeling tired and defeated and the idea of him consuming sugar for breakfast for the next 3 months was slightly more appealing than dealing with a 2 year old's temper tantrum. My bad.

We took the giant box of cereal on our holidays where there would be 4 kids around to help tackle its contents. And tackle it they did. They had it for breakfast and would continuously fill containers with it for snacks throughout the day. I don't know how many I stepped on, as they were transported (and spilled) throughout the house. In fact, it got so bad that a policy was implemented that no one was to consume any sugary cereals after breakfast. The kids were devastated for a mere minute or two and then they focussed their attention on the fruit roll-ups.  So fickle.

Despite my best efforts, we still managed to come home with some of this cereal and for some reason, I couldn't bring myself to just throw it away.  It's a good thing too, because I took the last remaining 3 cups, threw it in the food processor, and added some melted butter.  Alas, I had a delicious base for cheesecake!  Much tastier than the run of the mill Graham Wafer crumb variety. Is it worth going out and purchasing a box in lieu of graham wafers?  Hell yeah.  Just hide the box from your kids.  Trust me on that.

I decided to make 'ice cream' cheesecake. I remember my mom making something like that when I was a kid and I loved it. I didn't have a recipe, but hard could it be? I also dug through my cupboards and pulled out my mini cheesecake pan.  I love that thing and feel guilty that it sits in the back of my cupboard, collecting dust.  It was definitely time to liberate one of my favorite baking gadgets.

I started by whipping 8 ounces of cream cheese with a dash of vanilla, adding icing sugar until it was lightly sweetened, and then started adding vanilla ice cream until it tasted right. I used my stand mixer for the whole procedure and wound up with a decadent and creamy soft ice cream with just the right amount of tanginess from the cream cheese. I topped my Cinnamon Toast Crunch crust with this luscious mixture and popped it back in the freezer to harden slightly.  Couldn't have been easier.
The variety of toppings is limited only by your imagination. Mine was confined to chocolate shavings. But that's just me. I trust that you can do better than that.

This is a great recipe for when you're in the mood for cheesecake but don't feel like waiting the hours required for a cheesecake to bake, cool and set. Super versatile - it can be made into a larger 13 x 9 inch cake, and could easily be flavored with any add-ins your pantry has to offer. There were slim pickings in my house - so I kept mine simple this round. But I see Skor bits in this recipe's near future.

Definitely give this one a try.

Recipe for Mini Vanilla Ice Cream Cheesecakes
(makes either 24 mini cakes or one 13x9 inch cake)
3 cups of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
Process the cereal in food processor until they form fine crumbs.  Add your melted butter and pulse until combined. Press into your cake pan(s).
8 ounces of cream cheese
4 Tbsp. icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
4 cups vanilla ice cream
Whip cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract in a stand mixer until smooth.  Add half the ice cream. Mix until smooth. Add other half of ice cream, stirring until smooth.  Pour onto your prepared crust and freeze until firm.

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