Monthly Archives: April 2012

Birthday Train Cake

Max asked for a train for his birthday cake, so I started looking around and found these very versatile instructions for building or assembling, rather, a three-dimensional train made of cake and candy.  I was a bit concerned about it since I’ve never made anything like this before, but I can honestly say that this is a very friendly project to those of us with little cake decorating or cake building (a more correct term for what’s happening in this recipe) experience.  I think the thing about it that’s so off-putting for me is that this cake is more about structure than it is about flavor and texture, which I am inclined to snub my nose at, initially.  But, then I look at that face.  That beautiful little adorable face and I say, “ok  choo choo train cake it is!”.   I then decide that if I’m ever going to get good at this cake building thing, I must start from the beginning.  And so I did.   A very basic and very easy busy-parent-friendly recipe for a train cake.

In this “recipe” there’s no specific recipe for the cake or the frosting; it’s more like blueprints than a recipe, honestly.   So, while this project put me out of my element, the joy on his face when he saw it was well worth exploring outside of my comfort zone.  Next time, however, I will definitely use homemade cake and frosting, since the store-bought stuff the recipe called for left something to be desired in my opinion, as far as taste goes.  As for overall effect in a time-crunched way, it got the job done.   This recipe is perfect for busy parents.  The one problem with the original recipe (besides all the store-bought items in the ingredients list), is that it’s pretty dated.   I mean, “cereal straws”?  What is that?  Do they still make those?   I think I remember seeing a commercial for that once.  Needless to say, this one required a bit of improvisation.

Now, before I go ahead and try to write this in a technical way, let me just say, that it’s basically a geometry/tangram problem.  You want to  have two rectangles (rectangular prisms) that are the same size for the train cars and you can frost them and then “fill” one with whatever candy your child likes, you don’t have to use the specific cookies or candies that I chose.  In addition to the two cars, you want the front part of the train, a cylinder, which they recommend by frosting together ring dings (I didn’t do that, but I left it in the recipe since it was very dimensionally specific) and one brick shaped piece of cake that sits behind that cylinder. Then you just stick the kids cone on top of the frosted cylinder and that makes the engine.

 

Train Cake

  • 1 family-size frozen pound cake (16 oz), thawed
  • 2 cans (16 oz each) vanilla frosting
  • Yellow food coloring
  • Red food coloring
  • 1 Kids Cone (mini-ice cream cone, which I couldn’t find, so I used a regular flat bottomed cone)
  • 2 Tbsp yellow decorating sugar
  • 4 ring dings (or something else you prefer, that’s the same shape as a ring ding that you can easily frost together)
  • 3 yellow starbursts
  • 1 cup dark-chocolate frosting
  • 12 mini-Oreos
  • 4 Oreos
  • mini-marshmallows (about 1/4 cup)
  • mini fudge striped cookies (to cover the top of the middle car)
  • kit-kats (about ten sticks)

 

 

Trimming the cake:

(diagram from parenting.com)

 

  1. Using a bread knife, trim a ¾-inch piece off both short ends of the first pound cake to make the cake about 9 by 4 ½ inches.
  2. Cut the pound cake as indicated on the diagram to make two 2 ½ by 4 ½-inch cars, one 4 by 3 ½-inch car, and one 1 by 4-inch slice. Reserve the 1 by 4-inch piece and set aside.
  3. Spoon the contents of 1 can of vanilla frosting into a bowl. Add a few drops of blue food coloring to tint it a light blue.
  4. Divide the remaining can of vanilla frosting in half and spoon into separate bowls. Add yellow food coloring to one bowl of frosting to tint it yellow; add red food coloring to the other bowl of frosting to tint it red.
  5. Lay the trimmed 1 by 4-inch slice flat on a serving platter. Spread the top with some blue frosting.
  6. Stack the 4 Ring Dings, spreading frosting in between each cake, and lay the stack on its side to make the cylindrical front engine.
  7. Place the 4 by 3 ½-inch piece upright behind the stack of Ring Dings.
  8. Spread the entire engine with blue frosting to cover and make smooth.
  9. Lightly frost the kids cone bottom and sides with yellow frosting and sprinkle with yellow decorating sugar. Place on the top front third of the cylindrical engine
  10. Cut one kit-kat in half. Place cut side down, sticking straight up out of the engine behind the kids cone on the cylindrical part of the engine.
  11. Place two starbursts on the sides of the rectangular part of the front engine to create windows (D).
  12. Spoon the chocolate frosting into a resealable plastic bag. Snip a small corner from the bag and pipe a 1-inch-high layer of chocolate frosting at the base of the cake.
  13. Add 2 mini- and 2 regular-size Oreos to either side for the engine’s wheels.
  14. Cut one starburst’s corners off evenly to create an octogon.  Place starburst onto front nose of cylindrical part of the engine.  Lightly frost one minimarshmallow and stick onto the starburst to create a front headlight.
  15. Fill the kids cone with mini-marshmallows for the engine’s steam.
  16. Cut twos kit-kat in half and place on the board directly in front of and behind (touching) the engine’s base to create train tracks

Middle car:

  1. Set one of the 2 ½ by 4 ½-inch pieces of pound cake behind the engine. Frost with the yellow frosting.
  2. Trim the kit-kats with a knife to fit the length and width of the top edges of the cake.
  3. Fill the top of the cake with mini fudge striped cookies (or whatever you prefer).
  4. Pipe a small band of chocolate frosting along the base of the cake to create a border along the bottom of the train.  Attach 4 mini-Oreos as wheels.
  5. Cut another kit-kat in half and place behind (touching) the middle car, at the base to add more tracks.

Caboose:

  1. Set the remaining cake piece behind the middle car and cover completely with the red frosting.
  2. Pipe a band of chocolate frosting around the base of the cake. Press 4 mini Oreo cookies in as wheels on either side of the caboose.
  3. Gently push 2 whole kit kat bars into the top of caboose, all the way down the car so they are sticking straight up.
  4. Cut another kit kit in half and add to the back of the caboose at the base to create the last of the tracks.

Original recipe found at parenting.com

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French Baguettes: Homemade

The problem with bread baking at home is the lack of steam or moisture in the home oven. The crust is just not right.  The lack of moisture makes the crust form too soon, which hinders the inside from becoming light, chewy and tender.   So, the question is, how do we create steam in an oven in exactly the amount we need without opening and closing the oven door so much that the temperature drops and ruins everything?  I had tried just about everything over the last couple of years and ultimately I had very few successful results with only some exceptions.  I had yet to find a really successful baguette recipe.  There were some good recipes and some good breads, but it just wasn’t the same as when you get it from a bakery.  I had pretty much succumbed to having to pay four dollars if I wanted a decent loaf of French bread, honestly, until yesterday.

I was halfway through my workout when I turned on the cooking channel and this lovely young woman appeared to be baking baguettes.  She threw some ice cubes onto a pre-heated sided sheet tray and put the bread that she folded like an envelope into the oven with the ice cubes.  As the cubes melted and evaporated, they added the necessary steam to create that light crackle on the crust.  This was the one issue that I could not overcome!   The light crackle!

That’s genius!  Would that work?   I think so.

Why didn’t I think of that sooner?    Didn’t I try that already?

Maybe I didn’t…I thought I did…

Anyway…

Much to my delight, it is true!   The crackle on the crust is exquisite.  The rich and hearty interior is chewy yet tender.  It was not only AS good as a bakery baguette, but I’d say it was better, just because of how uniquely fresh and simple it was.

Immediately, I grabbed my camera and took a picture quickly.   Baguette success.  Finally, one to cross off the list.  I will always use this ice-cube method from now on.

French Baguettes

By: Kelsey Nixon    Show: Kelsey’s Essentials     Original recipe found here

  • 2 envelopes dry active yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Canola oil, for greasing bowl
  • Cornmeal, for dusting pan
  • 3 to 4 ice cubes
  • Serving suggestions: ricotta cheese and acacia honey

  

Combine the honey, yeast and 1/2 cup warm water. Whisk to combine and let the mixture sit until the yeast begins to foam, 5 minutes.

Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl with a dough hook and slowly add in the frothy yeast mixture. Gradually add 1 cup warm water and mix until the dough comes together into a ball that is not too sticky (you may not need all of the water). If the dough is too wet, add a little bit more flour. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic and springs back to gently applied pressure, 2 to 6 minutes

Form the dough into a ball, place it in a lightly-oiled bowl and cover, so it doesn’t dry out. Let rest in a warm environment until doubled in size, 25 to 30 minutes.

Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Shape into 2 baguettes by making a flat rectangle out of your dough, then folding the longer sides (top and bottom) towards the middle, like an envelope, and sealing the seam with your fingers.   Repeat the folding and sealing on these sides, stretching the rectangle lengthwise as you go, until it’s about 12 to 14 inches long and 2 inches wide. Fold the ends in once  and crimp into an oval to seal off into the traditional baguette shape. Flip the dough seam-side down and place on a sheet pan or baguette pan that has been dusted with cornmeal. Score the tops of the loaves, making deep diagonal slits 1/2-inch deep ( or 3/4 of the way through the height of the dough, not all the way through), cover with a dishcloth and let rise in a warm environment until they have doubled in size, 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and position your oven racks with one on the bottom and the other in the middle. Place an oven-safe (non-glass) bowl or pan on the bottom rack.

When your bread has doubled for the second time, remove the towel and quickly and simultaneously, slide the sheet tray with the baguettes onto the middle rack while carefully throwing the ice cubes into the bowl on the bottom rack. The ice will create a burst of steam that will give you a nice crispy crust. Quickly shut the oven door so no steam escapes. Bake the baguettes until golden brown, 15 minutes.

Cook’s Note: If you have a glass window on your oven, place a towel over it when throwing the ice in, hot glass can shatter if ice touches it.

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Strawberry Jam

Strawberry Jam

This recipe is so perfectly sweet and tart and seasonal and phenomenally simple, that I just couldn’t help myself from making and sharing it with you, immediately.   Isn’t it just beautiful too?  I think so.  It cooks up within minutes and captures the purity of  how strawberries should taste, which is why I absolutely love it.  It’s like a delicious strawberry gemstone liquefied itself to smother whatever your little heart desires.  It perks up any bread…or ice cream…or yogurt…or cake…or muffins…
Well, you get the idea.   It’s almost too easy for the taste you get out of it and it’s very few ingredients, which I enjoy.  It’s seasonal (or will be soon for most of us, if it isn’t ).   It’s awe-inspiring to the taste and so ridiculously fast and easy that even the highly busy and not so heavily skilled home cooks can whip this one up without anxious clamoring or fuss.  Enjoy it within minutes while warm on some buttered toast and let it last up to two weeks!  You’ll not only amaze yourself with how awesome you are and how awesome real strawberries are, but also everyone around you will think you’re brilliant in the kitchen.

It’s spring break and I had experimented with all kinds of yeast breads (What? That’s not what you do with your vacation time?)  So, I’m overflowing with all different bread products at the moment, so fresh, homemade, strawberry jam just seemed like the perfect pairing to give away to people.  Who’s going to turn down homemade bread and fresh organic strawberry jam?   If they do, then don’t associate yourself with those people any longer because they’re obviously nuts.

 

I’m just sayin’.

 

 

Strawberry Jam

 Bon Appetit, April 2012: Recipe By Melissa Roberts

  • 1 pound fresh organic strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

 

In a large heavy skillet over medium-low heat, combine strawberries and sugar. Stir in grated Granny Smith apple.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring and breaking up any large chunks of strawberries until sugar dissolves.  Simmer until jam is thickened, which should take about 10–15 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.  Let cool slightly until warm, about 5-7 minutes.  Pour into glass storage container(s). Cover and chill to keep.  Use within 2 weeks.

 

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