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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Marbled Cake Pops

marble-cake-pops

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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Baked No-Knead Yeasted Donuts… Okay but not great

baked-donuts

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.

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Carrot Cake with Pepita Brittle

carrot-cake

This past Easter I was in a baking mood (when am I not in a baking mood?) so decided to make– what else?– carrot cake.

I love a good carrot cake, though everyone seems to have a different idea of what to add to the basic flavor profile. Some people use raisins, some nuts, or crushed pineapple. Some people use carrot puree, others go traditional with grated carrots, and some cakes use shockingly low amounts of carrot to begin with. Last year I even made one that incorporated graham cracker crumbs in the batter. I decided this time to try a recipe from Alton Brown, who rarely lets me down when it comes to good basic recipes.

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Chocolate-Strawberry Pocky Cake

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So remember when I made the three-tiered Pawprint Cake for my daughter’s birthday? At the time I wasn’t sure quite how much cake I would need in each color, so I ended up with extra layers– one 6″ layer and one loaf pan’s worth of pink cake, to be exact. I wrapped them in foil, froze them, and figured I’d find some other use for them eventually. That “eventually” arrived this weekend, when after buying several multi-packs of Pocky in various flavors to use for Valentine’s Day gifts for the kindergarten class, the teacher emailed everyone asking that we not give edible items for the occasion. (sigh)

Great, what was I supposed to do with 20+ packs of Pocky? Other than eat them, of course? But then it occurred to me that I had Pocky, I had cake, and I had Valentine’s Day coming up– of course I could put them all together to make a fabulous dessert!

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Creamy Chocolate Frosting

choc-frosting-tub

This frosting really is fantastic– it’s light and creamy, silky and smooth, and it has a nicely chocolate-y flavor without being cloying.

Unlike my favorite Vanilla Frosting, which has a thickened flour/cornstarch base sweetened with granulated sugar, this frosting uses powdered sugar for sweetness; however, it avoids the underlying grittiness of powdered sugar frostings by dissolving the powdered sugar in a cocoa slurry made with boiling water. The result is a perfectly smooth frosting without a trace of grit– plus, the water itself cuts the butteriness of the frosting and allows it to whip up into a light and fluffy mass that’s perfect for spreading over a cake. I really just can’t say enough wonderful things about this frosting, so go ahead and make it for your next cake– I promise you won’t be sorry.

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Dairy Free Vanilla Frosting

marshmallow-closeup

To go with the Chocolate Mayonnaise Cupcakes, I wanted to make a tasty dairy-free frosting for the birthday girl. I first thought about doing a standard marshmallow frosting, made of egg whites and sugar and cooked over simmering water. But marshmallow frosting just doesn’t say “frosting” to me– it’s too sticky and sweet, and not creamy enough. Besides, I had horrific visions of a roomful of children, all getting salmonella from not-quite-cooked egg whites, and quickly nixed that idea.

I thought about using canned frosting, but that seemed like cheating, and besides it’s pretty expensive when you’re using it to frost several dozen cupcakes (at least the way I frost cupcakes). So I decided to improvise.

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