Pink Peppercorn Cake with Raspberries and Rose Buttercream

So this was one of the treats I brought with me to my casting session for The Great American Baking Show. Given the timeframe I really only had a day or two to come up with the idea, but the flavor profile had been marinating in my head for a while, so it only remained to figure out how to implement it!

After some experiments with flavoring I concluded that rose-flavored cake was only mediocre and the pepper didn’t come through all that well in the frosting, so I used crushed pink peppercorns (which are really not peppercorns but are an unrelated berry) in the cake batter and made a buttercream flavored with rosewater to set it off. The floral notes really complement each other well (pink peppercorn cake may be a new favorite of mine), and adding fresh raspberries really added a punch of flavor to make it light and refreshing. I really, really like this cake as a whole, and will totally be making it again at some point.

I confess that out of paranoia over flavor and texture, I eventually made no fewer than four different versions of my cake layers for the big day, deciding at the last minute which one to use (the first one– go figure). And then my favorite cooked-flour frosting was too loose to properly frost the outside of my cake, so I had to make a second batch of frosting, this time with powdered sugar, for the outside. And while I made my initial batch of meringues with freeze-dried raspberry powder, the resulting grayish-purple color was very unattractive, so I made a second batch that was plain vanilla. So to summarize, there was a LOT of stuff leftover from making this perfect-looking cake!

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Trying out for The Great American Baking Show

Sorry for the delay in posting, everyone, but I promise I had a good reason– I was attending casting interviews/tasting sessions for the latest season of The Great American Baking Show!

I submitted an online application near the end of May, not really expecting to get any response, but a few days later I got a call from a producer saying that they’d loved my application (and accompanying personal video) and wanted to ask me more questions! The following interview was basically me talking about my baking background, what my experience was in certain types of baking, and then a 12-question quiz on some baking techniques to make sure I knew my stuff. Turns out I did, because after sending in more photos of my bakes (most of which have been featured on this blog!) I got invited to New York to bring some treats for a tasting!

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Egg Yolk Sponge Cake with Lemon Filling

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After making a double batch of white cake for my daughter’s Rainbow Galaxy birthday cake, I had eight egg yolks left over, plus a bunch of zested lemons, a block of cream cheese, and most of a can of sweetened condensed milk left from other party treats. Always loath to waste things, I decided to use the leftovers to make a dessert the following weekend. Fortuitously, the ingredients all worked out reasonably well.

The tough part was the egg yolks– ordinarily I’d consider a creme brulĂ©e, but I wanted something more portable and shareable, so I managed to find a sponge cake recipe that calls for all yolks rather than all whites. I was skeptical, but it came out okay. A little dry, I thought, though I don’t believe it was overbaked– I think a little oil or butter would’ve helped it retain more moisture. However, it had a nice flavor, a lovely golden color due to all the yolks, and it split easily after cooling to make two layers.

To use up the lemons, cream cheese, and sweetened condensed milk, it was easy to find a recipe for lemon icebox pie using those ingredients. I figured that if I made the filling and let it thicken most of the way before spreading it between my cake layers, it would work out. Oddly enough, it stayed pretty loose– more like regular pudding than like a firmer pie filling– but it tasted good. Not very lemony (likely due to the lack of lemon zest) but good. More like a cheesecake with a hint of lemon.

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Marbled Cake Pops

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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.

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Galaxy-Glazed Rainbow Cake

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For my daughter’s seventh birthday she declared that she wanted a Parry Gripp-themed party. Who is Parry Gripp? Try typing it in as a search term on YouTube and go down the rabbit hole of playlists…

The short answer is that he writes weird songs, most of which appear to be aimed at kids, with accompanying bizarre animated music videos. Current favorites in this house include “Neon Pegasus,” “Space Unicorn,” and “Pancake Robot.” There are actually a ton of food-related songs, which we used as inspiration for our party menu, but one thing my kid was adamant about was that she wanted a galaxy-mirror-glazed cake, which would relate to both Neon Pegasus and Space Unicorn. I’m not sure where she even found out about mirror-glazed cakes, but hey, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

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Eyeball Cake Pops

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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.

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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.

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Raspberry-Almond Mooncakes

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As you may have noticed, I make mooncakes every year– just not in the usual flavors. While I really do like my chocolate-cherry mooncakes and my gingerbread mooncakes, I thought I’d try a new recipe this year and go with something almond-flavored.

For the centers I baked up an extremely moist almond cake. I actually tried two different recipes to see which one I liked better– the first is from Chez Panisse and is mixed in the food processor, and the second is from Amanda Hesser has a bit more flour in it and is made in the mixer. The first one turned out more cake-like, probably due to the fact that it incorporated whole eggs rather than just yolks, but the second turned out moister and squidgier, despite the fact that it had twice as much flour in it. I ended up using equal amounts of each cake, crumbled up together, to make my filling– it was the perfect mix!

I cut the sweetness of the almond cake with a tart raspberry jam center– Smuckers is my favorite raspberry jam, but not the seedless kind!– which I piped into the filling balls before molding the mooncakes.

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