Remember how I used half a box of vanilla cake mix to make a small batch of cupcake sliders? Well, since I had the other half on hand, I went looking for a recipe to use it in– it was just kismet that we also had several jars of our Juneberry Jam in the refrigerator, which inspired me to make jam-oatmeal bars!
This recipe couldn’t be easier, and it’s very kid-friendly since there’s no special equipment needed! My daughter and I had it mixed up and in the pan in five minutes flat, and they turned out fine– a bit sweeter than I generally like due to the sugar in the cake mix, but the kids liked them. Definitely something that’s easy to whip up on short notice from pantry staples– you can double it to use up a whole box of cake mix and make a 9×13″ pan of bars!
Growing up, a staple of my family’s holiday season was a fruitcake from the Collins Street Bakery. At the time, my mother was the only one who really liked it– for some reason the combination of sticky candied fruit and masses of pecans just didn’t do it for the rest of us– but as an adult I’ve actually grown to enjoy it. We don’t buy them anymore (they’ve gotten so expensive, particularly with shipping), but this past Christmas, inspired by a fruit-and-nut-heavy mooncake recipe, I decided to make a reasonable approximation in individually-sized servings.
I was casting about for an idea of what to bring to a Halloween potluck when I came across a video showing someone unrolling some canned cinnamon roll dough, arranging the coils of dough in a pan to look like intestines, and then topping the dough with cherry pie filling to look like blood. It looked delightfully creepy, but since I’m not really a fan of canned cinnamon rolls I decided to go a step further and make the dough myself.
A little searching online turned up this fabulous recipe for a similar dough made with red velvet cake mix– brilliant idea! Unfortunately for me it didn’t turn out quite as planned– the dough was very soft and sticky,* and after I rolled it up with the filling it refused to unroll so I could form the intestine-coils. I ended up just pulling the dough apart and plunking it into the pan– I didn’t expect it to turn out well, but by the time it puffed up in the oven it looked pretty great, particularly with the addition of some edible eyeballs (canned lychees). Nevertheless, I’ve adjusted the flour/water ratio below so you’ll hopefully get dough that’s easier to handle!
So after baking up the six layers of my galaxy rainbow cake (and seeing how short they were) I was unaccountably struck with the fear that there might not be enough cake for all of the guests. (Spoiler: there was tons of cake left over) I decided to make some extra treats for the party, just in case– cake pops. I hadn’t made them in a while, but a little internet research turned up some new techniques for making them look fantastic, so I thought I’d give them a shot, using an extra box of cake mix and some leftover buttercream, plus candy melts.
Step 1: making perfectly smooth, round balls for dipping.
In the past I’ve crumbled up my cake and mixed it with cream cheese or frosting by hand, just because it was easier. However, the results have been somewhat lumpy, probably because the crumbs weren’t quite fine enough and the mixing was uneven. I think I’ve been trying to avoid making the mixture too gooey from overmixing, but it really wasn’t a problem. Solution: use the stand mixer to completely mix the cake and frosting into a smooth, homogenous dough. Add frosting sparingly to avoid your mixture being too soft.
Once you’ve got the dough set, portion it into balls and hand-roll them to a generally round shape. If you want them to be even more perfectly round, you can do this:
(though 14 seconds is way longer than you need)
When they’re shaped, stick them in the freezer for a few minutes while you prep your candy melts.
For a Halloween party this past weekend I was tasked with bringing something sweet– last year I made iced pumpkin cake balls, which were a rousing success, so I decided to revisit the idea and try again with a different theme. Eyeballs!
This time I started off with a regular box of white cake mix, doctoring it up with some sour cream in place of the water– in this case 1 1/4 cups of it. This really is necessary to make the cake batter thick enough to properly fill the wells of the cake pop maker– otherwise the batter is so thin that when it rises it just overflows, rather than doming to fill out the ball shape.
Once my cake balls were cool I popped them in the freezer for a little while to firm them up a bit while I prepared my coatings.
So… about the title. I know, the word “mayonnaise” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when applied to a cake recipe, but using mayonnaise in cakes is actually pretty common, and makes sense– after all, what is mayonnaise but oil, eggs, and a little acid? And when you’re trying to add richness to a cake without adding dairy (sour cream is my usual go-to for stuff like this), it sounds like a great option.
I made a huge batch of cupcakes– half chocolate, half yellow cake– for a joint birthday party this winter, and when I say “huge” I mean “100+ guests HUGE.” And one of the birthday girls was allergic to dairy, so rather than single her out by making her a few “special” cupcakes, I decided to make the chocolate cupcakes dairy-free in their entirety.
I do have a dairy-free chocolate cake recipe that I use for all of my standard chocolate cakes, but honestly, when it came to making several dozen cupcakes I decided that it would actually be easier (if not cheaper) to start with cake mix. Duncan Hines chocolate fudge cake mix is naturally dairy-free, it was on sale at the grocery store, and I didn’t have to worry about measuring out dry ingredients or buying expensive cocoa. Works for me! All I needed to do was doctor it up!
A friend of mine complained to me one day that she was craving cake while at work, but there was no place nearby to get any. Can you imagine a sadder predicament? Cake should always be accessible, especially at work!
I immediately set to work looking for solutions for her, and came across a much-pinned recipe for a “just add water” microwaved mug cake. According to numerous sources, if you combine a box of angel food cake mix and a box of any other flavor cake mix, you can add water to the resulting mixture and microwave it for an instant mug cake. Apparently it’s something to do with the egg white content in the angel food cake that allows this to work, though I had my doubts. I had to try it.
It’s no secret that I adore cute food, and cute food that’s been miniaturized is automatically cuter than the original. So when I saw these cute-tastic Japanese animal donuts, I immediately tried to think of ways to make them myself, only extra-adorable. That’s where my mini-donut maker came in.
Another one of my kitchen unitaskers, the mini-donut maker churns out ridiculously precious little donuts, 6 at a time, without all that frying. No, the donuts don’t have the classic texture of a fried donut– firm to the initial bite, then giving way to pillowy softness– but they’re perfectly respectable baked donuts, and did I mention they’re cute?
I’ve made these with regular boxed cake mix before, but the soft fluffiness of the cake made the donuts one-dimensional and boring– plus, the relative thinness of the cake batter made the little donut wells more difficult to fill properly. I’ve learned that boxed pound cake mix actually works best for mini donuts– it’s thick enough that it can be easily piped into the donut wells, it rises to just the right height to make a nice rounded donut, and the pound cake flavor is pretty close to a classic old-fashioned donut, which is my favorite. Sure, I could make my own pound cake mix from scratch and use that, but these are so small and will be coated with so much sugary icing that no one is going to notice the flavor of the cake– at least not the difference between homemade and box mix.
Anyway, so I mixed up the cake mix per the box directions, piped it into the heated donut maker, cooked for 3 minutes (2:30 if you want them extra-soft), and pretty soon I had a big batch (about 6 dozen) of tiny donuts. On to the decorating!
So as part of a summer celebration my office held an ice cream party– Ben & Jerry’s dropped off several quarts of ice cream, with a bunch of different toppings in more quart containers… more toppings than anyone could reasonably expect to use. The question is, what to do with the leftover ice cream and sprinkles, especially when the ice cream has melted during the course of the party and re-frozen into an icy, un-scoopable block?
That’s where I come in. After a fruitless few minutes trying to chisel off a chunk of strawberry ice cream for my own consumption (sadly, the plastic spoons provided were not up to the task), I got permission to take things home and transform them into something the office could enjoy. What did I get? Over a pint of strawberry ice cream, plus almost another full quart of rainbow sprinkles… What to do?
You know how some people dream of shopping sprees in high-end boutiques or shoe stores? I dream of unlimited shopping sprees in cake decorating/kitchen supply stores. In my future dream house there’ll be a special pantry just for baking supplies, and it’ll be filled with specialty cake pans, every piping tip in the catalog, and a rainbow of sparkling colored sugars.
Okay, so most of that isn’t feasible (though I do have quite a collection of cake pans), but colored sugar is actually within reach, and I don’t have to spend $5 on a bag of each color just in case I might need it someday! Continue reading →