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.
As I mentioned in my previous post about fudge frosting made with ganache, I’ve been experimenting with frostings lately– specifically, chocolate frostings. And while the ganache frosting ultimately came out as the winner I have to put in a good word for this one, which intrigued me due to the unique use of a food processor rather than the stand mixer– it promised to be done in seconds, which seemed like it would be convenient for a quick recipe. On the other hand, it also called for softened butter (which always takes a while) and melted and cooled unsweetened chocolate, which not only takes a little time due to the cooling of warm chocolate, but also uses what I consider a specialty ingredient– unsweetened baking chocolate (I usually keep bittersweet in my pantry). Still, it was interesting enough for me to give it a shot.
The resulting frosting was amazingly smooth and silky, though not particularly fluffy– an expected side effect of the food processor, which doesn’t beat much air into the frosting– and as promised it came together in 60 seconds flat. The chocolate flavor was excellent as well, so I would definitely recommend this for when you want a denser frosting that doesn’t need a mixer.
So, once I’d made my cake layers, my fudge frosting, and a peanut butter cream cheese frosting (no real recipe here, I just beat together 4 oz. each of butter and cream cheese, added about 3/4 cup of peanut butter and a splash of vanilla, and then added powdered sugar until the texture was right), it was finally time to assemble the cake.
First, I removed my frozen cake layers and set them on the counter to thaw. After about 45 minutes they were cold enough to be firm but thawed enough to be workable, so I used a long, serrated knife to level off the tops. I stacked them with peanut butter frosting and ran a thin crumb-coat over the whole thing before setting it in the refrigerator to chill for another 20 minutes or so. At this point I will note that I made a mistake in using crunchy peanut butter (what I had on hand) for the frosting, because peanut chunks do not make for a smooth crumb coat. Oh well…
So, having found a new chocolate cake recipe, I decided to try a new chocolate frosting recipe! I’d previously decided on this one as my go-to, but I think it may have been beaten (heh, baking joke) by this new one!
This recipe, from Serious Eats, starts off with a basic cocoa buttercream, but then adds a healthy dose of bittersweet chocolate ganache to really amp up the chocolate flavor. The reviews were excellent, and boy, did it deliver! This is officially my new favorite chocolate frosting, and you’ll see how I use it in my next post!
Sure, it takes a little extra time to make and cool the ganache, but the results are amazing. Smooth, creamy, and a nicely deep, dark, chocolate-y flavor. It does whip up just a little bit loose at first, but some time in the fridge will fix that if you stir it periodically to keep the chilling even.
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!
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.
The other day I was reading my daughter a bedtime story that had a particularly tasty-sounding description of brunch, featuring fluffy omelettes and sugar-dusted donuts. For some reason the latter caught her attention, and before I knew it I was promising to make sugar-dusted donuts of our very own!
Of course, I really don’t like the hassle of deep-frying, but I find baked cake-style donuts to be not particularly donut-y, so I searched the internet for a recipe for yeast-raised baked donuts. Preferably with a minimum of kneading, because I didn’t want to have to break out the stand mixer. Eventually I found one that looked pretty good— it had a two-stage rise, one at room temp and one overnight in the fridge, and could be baked up in the morning. Reviews were decent. So I gave it a shot.