Friday, September 11, 2009

the thing about Kate

well... i just realized i have two friends with the initials AM who read this blog... and now i am utterly confused.
not totally confused.
just a little...
combine that with 2.5 glasses of Pinot Noir, and you have a decent explanation.

but that doesn't matter, not compared to the subject of this post: my dearest, most wonderful Kate. if you have a sister even sort of comparable to Kate, you might be near the brink of understanding how it feels to be half a country away from her. but i don't expect you to be related to anyone nearly that special... that would probably be setting the bar too high. half a country, hmph. might as well be an entire universe. by the way, Kate is the prettier one in the photo.
she got the looks.
i got the guts.
not that she doesn't have guts... she's just probably smarter than me. more common sense, you know... someone has to have it in the family, you know, and i'm sure you're thinking about the sibling in your family that has the most common sense. maybe it's you, too lucky to be true, just like Kate. and i do mean "lucky" in the best sense possible.
such talent! such kindheartedness! how does a person get born with the most optimal combination of qualities?? it could be because she is the baby of the family. my brother and i must have gotten all the ornery genes that kind of floated to the top, first to be taken by the older kids, then the baby sister ended up with the more gentle, more patient attributes that were perfectly content to wait for that special child to be born.
Catherine Lorraine, my sweet baby sister.

i have to stop writing, now, or i might cry.

i love you, Kate.


Monday, September 7, 2009

RecipeShare #2: Triple-Decker Carrot Cake- Decorated!

And welcome, my friends, to my 2nd RecipeShare, at long last... until I get the hang of the second job I recently added to my work schedule, my blog posts will be less frequent. I'm sure I'll catch up one of these days. But, for now! I present to you a tried, true and delicious family recipe from an OLD church cookbook (Country Cooking, Marion ALCW, Gunder, IA)- with a few of my modifications, of course. If any of you have even heard of this town, I'll send you a dollar.... just kidding. I'll be truly surprised (let me know, will ya?).
For all veteran chef-o-nados and wizened cooks, you may have found my recipe presentation style a bit tedious... "Just get to the verb, will ya?! Geez!" All I can say is, this is my blog, not the Food Network, and I'd rather walk readers through the process as interestingly and informatively as I can. Thanks for reading.

Triple-Decker Carrot Cake

Foods you need:
Cooking oil (canola, corn or vegetable)

All-purpose flour

Ground cinnamon

Baking soda
Pure vanilla extract (use the good stuff)


(of the "baby" variety, if you have a food processor)
Canned crushed pineapple

Water (plumping the raisins)
Butter/Shortening (greasing the pans)
Flour (flouring the pans)

Tools you need:
Oven 3 round cake pans (9-inch diameter)
Cooling racks
Parchment paper (optional)
Pencil/pointed utensil for tracing the pans (optional)
Scissors (optional)
Mixer (hand or stand)
Small saucepan
Paper towels
Food processor or grater

Sharp knife/cutting board or nut chopper

Measuring cups/spoons

What to do:
Preheat oven to 300F (not a typo, for real, just 300).
Boil a cup or two of water in the small saucepan, remove from heat and add 1 c. raisins. Stir together and set aside until you need them later.
Grease and flour all 3 cake pans (use 9-inch if you've got it, I had a heck of a time with my dinky 8-inchers, as I only have two, and had to dump the significant overflow into my 9-inch springform... can you say, Christmas List??). If you're doing this for something special and really want to make sure it come out of the pans nicely, trace the bottoms of your cake pans onto pieces of parchment paper and cut just inside the traced circles. Place paper right on top of the greased-and-floured pan bottom for a guaranteed smooth removal after baking and cooling (sorry, I don't have pictures of this).

In the mixing bowl, combine:
1 1/2 c. cooking oil
2 c. sugar

3 eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. salt

Mix thoroughly.

Sift into egg mixture:
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda

Beat well, and set bowl aside (you can remove the mixing bowl from the stand mixer if you're using one).

And now for a little prep work...

A food processor will make the carrot-grating part a snap. If you don't have one, manually rubbing peeled, whole carrots against a cheese grater will do, obviously, but it can sure be a bear. God bless you for taking the time if this is the case. I'm sure your cake recipients will taste a lot more love in your cake than mine...

Set up the food processor with the grater attachment (make sure the grater part is facing up, as opposed to the slicing part- you'll just make a huge mess). Add baby carrots through the chute (no peeling!) and process away until you have 2 cups (about 2 cups of baby carrots should turn into 2 cups of grated baby carrots... approximately).

Let the carrots hang out while you drain the raisins, which should be fat and juicy by now. Dump the contents of the saucepan into the colander, gently press out any excess water with a few paper towels.

Go ahead and chop approximately 1 c. pecans in your nut chopper or on a cutting board. Give or take a few pecans, leave them out if you like (but that would be a huge culinary mistake... raisins must have nuts around to keep them company).

Last of the prep work:
Peel off the top of an 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple (don't drain it!).

Add to mixing bowl:
2 c. grated carrots
1 c. plumped raisins
1 c. chopped pecans
8 oz. can crushed pineapple, juice and all

Stir together just until uniformly blended and pour evenly between the 3 prepared cake pans. Yes, you will think the batter is too thin, but it is not. Trust me on this one. Bake in preheated oven for almost an hour, or until cake is firm to the touch, and/or a toothpick comes out clean. Warning: will smell FANTASTIC. Cool cake layers in their respective pans on racks (they'll cool faster). After cooling completely, invert onto waxed or parchment paper and carefully peel off the parchment paper circles if you used them.

I will now give the recipe for the cream cheese frosting, in addition to details (and photos) on how I decorated the cake. I must thank Pinch My Salt for the frosting recipe (scroll down to see the frosting recipe), as I LOVE it and have used it several times in several cake-like applications since discovering it (and her blog) a few weeks ago. I give her ALL the credit for the frosting, just for the record, and I do hope I am going about this properly, as I am new to the world of recipe blogging (and the associated unspoken rules):

16 oz. cream cheese (2 packages), softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
pinch of salt

With an electric mixer, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Turn mixer to low speed and blend in powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Turn mixer on high and beat until light and fluffy. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. If refrigerated, the frosting will need to be brought to room temperature before using (after frosting softens up, beat with mixer until smooth).

Recipe Notes: If you prefer a sweeter and/or stiffer frosting, more powdered sugar can be added (up to four cups). But remember, the more sugar you add, the less you’ll be able to taste the tangy cream cheese!

"And now, back to your regularly scheduled program..."

*Please note, the cakes should be baked the afternoon or evening before you actually plan to do the decorating. This is so that the cooled layers may be filled and frosted with what we decorators (okay, so I'm amateur) call the "crumb layer." The crumb layer has to set for several hours before adding all the fancy frosting-work, so you don't just end up with a vague mound of frosting on top of the layers you worked so hard to make.


Using the basic frosting recipe above (no extra sugar added), fill the layers with a generous amount of frosting, stack evenly (some trimming of the layers may be required) and cover the whole thing with a modest layer of the heavenly stuff. And I do mean "modest," as the idea behind the "crumb" layer is simply to trap all the crumbs in the sticky frosting, so you don't have to worry about brownish-orange stuff marring the flawless appearance of the final product.

Thanks to an old friend way back when, I have a cake dome (see photo, left), a glass one.... ooh-la-la. This is my Triple-Decker Carrot Cake with its crumb layer after spending the night in the fridge (thus, the condensation). If you don't have a cake dome (seems like most people don't), just build the layers on a large plate and cover with an inverted mixing bowl. The trick is finding enough space in the fridge to accommodate this monster pastry.... not my problem, friends... And don't forget to put the extra frosting in the fridge, too!

Sometime the next day, take the leftover frosting out of the fridge and get out your hand/stand mixer. According to my experience with this particular recipe, you won't have to let it "warm up" at room temperature for too long, if at all, before mixing. Add powdered sugar until stiff enough to decorate with (3-4 cups), blending well.

Divide and color the frosting as desired, leaving plenty of plain white for smoothing out the surface and sprucing things up (cake's still in your fridge, right?).

As you can see, I used orange and green- orange for the words, carrots and accents, green for the carrot leaves and accents.

For the business of decorating, you will need:
Butter knife
3 decorator bags (disposable ROCKS)
2 standard-sized pairs of rings and couplers
1 large pair of ring and coupler
Wilton decorating tips (#s: 352, 3, 2D, 12)
1-2c. finely chopped pecans

(Cake's still in the fridge? Good.)
Prep the decorating bags (cut off ends, couplers on the inside, pushed to the very edge of the open ends). Put white frosting in the one with the large coupler, leaving some frosting in the bowl- use tip 2D, tighten ring over the top. In the bag with the orange frosting, use tip 3, with the green frosting, don't add a tip, yet. Place bags in a bowl, put in the fridge.

Time to get the cake out of the fridge...
Go ahead...

And find the chopped pecans (or chop them)...

Using the plain frosting still in the bowl, touch up any "crumby" places remaining on the cake. If you need to, glop it on with the spatula and smooth it out with the butter knife. Make sure the sides get coated, but rather thinly, as they are about to be covered with chopped pecans, which will need something to stick to. If the frosting's too thick, they will fall off in crunchy-creamy lumps... which maybe wouldn't be so bad, on second thought...

The next part is messy. Messier, I guess.
For easy clean-up (hindsight's 20/20, you know), I'd recommend putting waxed paper under the cake and pecans... I did not, and had to toss that nice green tablecloth in the wash as soon as I was done in order to prevent greasy-pecan stains.

There may be an easier way to apply the pecans generously to the sides of the cake, and I welcome all suggestions, but I just can't think of anything better than just grabbing a handful and gently patting the pecans against the fresh frosting on the sides of the cake. So that's what I did. And boy, was it a mess... for an even look, press on as many pecans as that frosting will take, until the entire circumference of the cake is perfectly nutty.

And now the decorating fun really begins. I love using my decorating bags with those fancy tips. I highly recommend the investment, in order that you, too, may experience the girly, giddy excitement of seeing the frosting you worked so hard to make squirt out of the bag in a pretty design. A tip: try to work quickly with this cream cheese frosting, or it will start to droop at room temperature.

Decorate! Decorate! Decorate!

I will tell you how I piped on the frosting, but I have no doubt you will take your creative liberty and make this cake a billion times more beautiful. And I know mine will look better next time, too...

1. Take the bowl with the frosting in decorating bags out of the fridge. They haven't been in there that long, right? So you shouldn't need to let them "warm up" for any time at all.

2. We begin with the lettering, using the orange frosting with tip #3. Applying even pressure, write "happy birthday" as prettily as you can on top of the cake, right in the middle.

2. Next, take the white decorating bag with the big tip on it and pipe an even ruffle all around the base of the cake, partly on the cake, partly on the plate it's sitting on.

3. Using the orange frosting with the same tip (#3), scatter a few "dots" at various points along the "ruffle" around the bottom of the cake... like so:

4. Now for the carrots! Replace tip #3 on the orange frosting bag with tip #12. You might have to practice a couple times on a piece of waxed paper or other flat surface, but creating carrots with this tip is pretty easy, even for a gal like me who can't make roses to save her life. Carrots are basically a line that starts out skinny (light pressure) and ends up fat (more pressure). You'll catch on quickly... Go ahead and make your first carrot above "happy birthday," and the second one facing the opposite direction right below it.

5. The leaves on the carrots didn't exactly work out textbook-perfect for me, so I'm definitely not the authority on the subject. I used tip #352, like my Wilton decorating guide said, but I don't think my frosting was firm enough to make a decent leaf... ended up with a green swoosh at the fat end of each carrot... convincing enough for my almost-mother-in-law's birthday cake, eh? Here's the official method, if you like (note my practice carrots in the photo).

6. Next, rinse out tip #3 and place on the green frosting bag (it had orange frosting in it, remember?). Do the "dot thing" on the white ruffle at the base of the cake, just like you did with the orange "dots."

7. Last, but not least, take the white frosting bag again, same large tip 2D, and create a beautiful star-flower border around the top of the cake. Holding the bag at a 90 degree angle, apply heavy-to-light pressure to make it look like the flowers just dropped right onto the cake, framing the happy birthday greeting with the perfect finishing touch.

Put the dome on carefully (or inverted bowl) and get that puppy back into the fridge before everything melts! Okay, so it won't melt really, but the flowers and ruffle will start to droop a little, at least enough that you'll notice it if nobody else does.
Your cake will look and taste fantastic- the best combination in cooking, in my opinion.

Enjoy this demanding undertaking (totally worth it if you're a nerd like me)!