This past Father’s Day my daughter decided that she wanted to make something fun for dessert for her dad– and since she’s recently been obsessed with “food impostors,” we thought it would great to make cupcakes that looked like cheeseburgers– mini cheeseburger sliders, of course, since full-sized ones would be a bit too much for even my husband’s sweet tooth to handle!
We decided to keep things simple and use box mixes as our base ingredients– a box of french vanilla cake mix, and a box of fudge brownie mix (though to avoid having a gigantic plateful of cupcakes we only used half of the cake mix).
Given my love for fancy, multi-component desserts, it’s not surprising that someone gifted me a silicone mold perfect for making mirror-glazed mousse cakes. What’s surprising is that the mold has been sitting in my cabinet for months without ever having been used!
With all this extra time at home lately, I decided that it was time to take the plunge. Since we’re coming up on strawberry season I figured that I could use them as my base flavor, and when I found myself with a half-drunk bottle of prosecco I knew that I had a winning combination. After that it was just a matter of browsing recipes online to find components that I thought would work well together.
So what we have here is a strawberry-champagne mousse, encasing layers of white chocolate panna cotta, strawberry gelée, and genoise cake. It’s all topped off with a mirror glaze. The panna cotta turned out a bit bland on its own, but the mousse was delicious– the champagne flavor really came through– and the gelée was nice and fruity, providing a good contrast. While I was initially dubious about the sponge cake (it was a bit tough the first day), it softened up well and I’ve come to realize that a sturdy cake is necessary to keep its shape in a moisture-heavy dessert like this.
These adorable teacakes are one of the results of my foray into lilac/sugar recipes. They’re tiny vanilla/lemon cupcakes frosted with a glaze made from powdered sugar and lilac syrup, topped with candied lilac blossoms! So springy!
I will note, though, that my first attempt (involving pulverizing lilac blossoms into the sugar before using it in the batter) didn’t turn out all that well– honestly, I think the lilac flavor needs something to play off of to avoid tasting like soap. So I tweaked things a bit, and here’s an improved version:
This cake (I call it my Un-Party Cake because I didn’t have a specific occasion to make it for) is the result of a bunch of different situations– first (of course), we’re stuck inside due to coronavirus, so grocery shopping isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Second, the other day I was making egg salad and realized that we were out of mayonnaise, so I made some from scratch (fun!). However, that left me with a bunch of extra mayo on hand that I had no immediate use for, and to keep it from going bad I decided to use it to make a cake. It had to be chocolate, because I’d used a touch of mustard in making the mayonnaise to help it emulsify, and I was worried that the flavor might come through in a vanilla cake.
Third, I had plenty of random stuff available to garnish this cake– half a can of chocolate frosting left in the refrigerator that I could use as the base for a larger batch, some seedless raspberry jam I wanted to use up (because I prefer the flavor of the seeded kind), and the dregs of various packages of cookies and candy that had been pushed to the back of our pantry over time. So we got to work.
Lately I’ve been searching for a favorite store-bought orange marmalade– one that’s got the perfect balance of bitterness, sweetness, and orange flavor. Of course, marmalades that don’t turn out to be perfect have to go somewhere, and rather than waste my buttered toast on sub-par marmalade, I’ve been trying to figure out creative uses for the extras.
This cake (made from Bonne Maman marmalade, which had too much jelly and not enough peel for me) combined the idea of a cake with jam swirled into the batter, with the ricotta/chocolate/orange flavor profile of my favorite cupcakes in the world. I was kind of going for a cannoli flavor– heavy on the ricotta with a kiss of chocolate and orange to make it interesting.
It’s citrus season, and while my family usually just eats clementines as snacks (my daughter goes through three a day on a regular basis!), I decided this time to try something a little different for a lunch gathering– a cake! I wanted to keep things simple, with a minimum of equipment and effort, which ruled out a butter-based cake (since that requires creaming and my stand mixer), and also many other recipes that involved 2 hours of boiling the clementines to make them palatable. Instead I went for a recipe that called for just buzzing the clementines in a food processor and working from there.
The cake itself turned out nice and moist, with a sweet tang from the clementines up front, a roundness from the olive oil in the background, and a slightly bitter finish from the rind. A clementine syrup helped give it some extra sweetness, which cemented its suitability as a dessert– without the syrup it was almost breakfast-like.
For my daughter’s woodland creature birthday party, we decided to decorate it to look like a tree stump, with chocolate bark on the outside and a hidden “tree ring” effect on the inside.
For the batter I adapted a basic vanilla cake, and while it was delicious, it didn’t work particularly well for the tree-ring effect because the batter was too thick to spread out into thin rings. That being said, the texture of the cake was fine-grained and smooth– definitely worth making again as a regular cake! And we picked the best of the tree-ring layers for the top of the cake, which we left bare.
I used my favorite chocolate ganache frosting between the layers and as a coating on the sides, then melted some chocolate chips– a combination of milk and dark, swirled together with a few “knotholes” here and there– and spread it out on parchment to let it set in a thin layer. I’d anticipated that I would then break up the chocolate sheet to press into the frosting around the cake, but to my amazement, the chocolate had set into a flexible sheet that I could peel off the parchment and wrap carefully around the cake without too much breakage! The result was just perfect.
I accessorized the cake with meringue mushrooms, which I’d actually never made before but which were pretty easy– the tricky part was using a paring knife to make holes in the bottom of the mushroom caps to let me stick the point of the stems in. Make these the night before so they have time to dry out in the oven!
So for her birthday party this year, my daughter chose “Woodland Creatures” as her theme. I admit to nudging her a bit in the right direction a few months ago because I thought it would provide an opportunity for lots of cute themed food, but she really got into it, even giving me a list of things she wanted to include. I’ll give details of how I made things in the next few posts, but take a look at the resulting dessert table…
Included above are a tree stump cake, meringue mushrooms, decorated animal cookies, white chocolate fudge rocks, moss-covered cupcakes, candy acorns, and pads of “moss” made of green-dyed sugar cookies. (Also edible pinecones but they didn’t turn out all that well so I’ll forego posting a recipe until I get it right).
I had *so* much fun putting this party together. I raided the 80% off Christmas decoration section at my local craft store to get the artificial greenery, but aside from that all of the decorations on the table were edible– my version of the infamous Willy Wonka chocolate room. Honestly, I think this is one of the best dessert tables I’ve ever done!
For Thanksgiving this year I originally intended to make a marbled pumpkin cheesecake, but my seven-year-old responded with a firm “no,” insisting on cake. Since she’s been getting into baking lately, I figured I’d enlist her help to make this one, which has a lot of components (you saw a few of them already) but ends up looking and tasting really impressive. The pumpkin cake is lovely and moist, and the candied nuts add a wonderful textural contrast. The decorative garnishes were just icing on the cake!
That being said, I really like using brown butter in recipes, but I have to admit that while the batter smelled amazing I couldn’t really taste the flavor in the cake itself. The frosting had more brown butter flavor, but again it wasn’t prevalent enough to really make it worthwhile, particularly when the cream cheese kind of took over. In the future I’d probably use regular butter in the cake, at least.
It’s fall, which in baking terms means pumpkin and spices and all things warm and cozy! That being said, while I’m perfectly happy to bake standard pumpkin muffins at home, when it comes to parties I always have to try something more interesting. That’s why, for a recent potluck, I came up with this recipe, which combines pumpkin and ginger and all those other spicy fall flavors with chocolate– and it was a great combination!
That being said, while I increased the original cake recipe by 50% to make a taller cake (big crowd expected), in retrospect I think this was a mistake– the cake-to-frosting ratio was off. I’ve reduced the cake amounts back down for this post, so your cake will not turn out as tall as the one in the photo– this will be a good thing! I’m kind of tempted to try to make this into cupcakes next time so I can really pile on the frosting– you should try it!