Saturday, January 16, 2010

Root Beer Float Cupcakes

Okay, so you know I like to do cakes and play with new thing, right? And I believe I've talked about this fun cupcake book more than once but I haven't had many chances to actually try the recipes in "101 Gourmet Cupcakes in 10 Minutes." So tonight, since I had a few extra people staying at my parents' house to share with, I tried out the Root Beer Float cupcake recipe I've had my eye on for a while.

First off, can I just say how easy this recipe was? Tonight when I was in a rush, easy was perfect for me and I literally had them in the oven within 10 minutes of pulling out my cookbook for directions. Since I already had some plain buttercream in the fridge leftover from my last cake project, I just added the flavoring and whipped it up while the cupcakes baked, so it really was super simple for me. (By the way, buttercream frosting can be stored in the fridge for two weeks after you make it if it's in an air-tight container, so if you know you've got another project coming up soon, just store it for later.)

As for the taste, we had mixed reactions. Well, let me qualify that--the cupcakes were super good, and everyone loved them, including the kids who said they didn't like root beer. The frosting was root beer flavored also, and some people weren't so crazy about that, but I thought it was great. Some of them would have been happier with normal butter cream frosting, so you may want to make a few of each if you're going to mix up a batch for a party.

Also, the batter is thicker than a normal cupcake batter, so you don't fill the cups as full as you normally do. My mix only made 17 cupcakes instead of 2 dozen, but it would have been better if I had filled them a little less so it didn't run over the top. Because of the extra sugar in the mix, they also fall just a tiny bit when they cool, but not enough to worry about, so just added a bit more frosting to the depression and enjoy!

I haven't gotten permission from author/chef Wendy Paul or the publisher to post any recipes, so you'll have to check out the book. Maybe down the road I'll get permission to post a couple as I give them a try. I'll post more of my reactions to the recipes as I work my way through the book, so check back for an update. =)

Monday, January 11, 2010

My latest cake projects

I've had a lot of fun in the past month with cakes, and here are three more to prove it.

First is the Barney cake. I had a friend ask me if I could do one for her little girl, who suddenly decided she HAD to have Barney. Miraculously I found a barney shape pan at a second-hand store, but when I baked it the first time, big chunks of the cake stuck to the pan--which my sister has since informed me is fairly common with chocolate cake. Who knew? That cake became trifle (and was it ever tasty!) and I tried again. The second cake was even worse even though I was incredibly careful about making sure the pan was greased and floured properly--seriously not fixable at all. The chickens got to enjoy that one.

Finally I decided to do a rectangle cake with a buttercream transfer (thanks to my sister's brilliant suggestion.) I had never done one before, but they are actually really easy. First I found a picture of Barney online, cropped it in Irfanview so it showed what I wanted it to, then imported it into Publisher so I could blow it up to the right size. Then I printed it. I was told to use a piece of pleiglass under the transfer to provide a stiff surface, but I didn't have any on hand, so I used my cookie cooling rack, which has pretty small squares. I put the paper on top of the rack, then covered it with plastic wrap. Remember to do the small detials first (like the eyes), because the plastic wrap side is the side everyone will see. As long as that comes along nice, the back doesn't matter. I then outlined and filled the picture. You want the buttercream to be fairly thick. Mine was probably about 3/16" thick all over. This way it is easier to handle when it's frozen. Next I moved the whole thing to the freezer--still on the cooling rack. Half an hour later, when the cake was otherwise done, I pulled it out and removed the plastic wrap from the picture, and set it on the cake. It was really stiff so it worked out great! I put a dotted border around Barney to finish the edges. Also, be aware every little line shows up in the buttercream, ans you will have to smooth some of them out. No worries, though. I just used the flat tip of a butter knife to smooth things out after it had a little time to defrost and it turned out just fine.

Next, my snowflake cake. I saw a picture online somewhere where they used the daisy cutout kind of like this and did the whole thing in white for a wedding cake and it was gorgeous, so I decided to play with the idea. This is just your basic white fondant with white snowflakes cut out. I did use some shimmer dust on the snowflakes, which you can't see in the picture, but it turned out kind of cool. If I were going to do this again, I would roll the fondant thinner for the snowflakes so they didn't pop quite so much, which would facilitate overlapping more. My critique group really enjoyed this one at our party.

Looks like there should be a story behind this one, does it? If you don't know James Dashner or his books, you need to run out and check one of them out (he has two new ones out this year in two different series, check out his blog for details). Last weekend was the LDS Storymaker's annual Christmas party--admittedly a bit after Christmas, but we were all kind of busy before. I signed up to bring dessert (because any time anyone asks me to sign up to bring something, of course I'm going to go for dessert, even if I don't bring something cakish.). After looking around a bit for idea, I decided to do a book cake because we're all writers and it seemed appropriate.

I used a variation of the standard Which Almond Sour Creak cake (I got this variation on Cake Central, but I generally use this one on recipezaar.) this was pumpkin spice cake with cinnamon buttercream filling. Now, if you're going to decorate a normal round or square cake, you can use a box mix if you like, but if you plan to carve it at all, you need to use a heavier cake like the WASC type because it holds its shape better. This cake was done in a normal 9x13 cake pan (Okay, it was decorator pan, with square corners and straight sides, but it was still the standard shape.) I trimmed the sides a bit, cut it in half and stacked it, then trimmed a tad more to make it the right shape. I did need to use a firmer cake for this, even though it's perfectly square because it had to be rotated a bit while I put on the fondant, so it wouldn't fall apart. After filling and stacking the two layers, I set the cake on one long side and put buttercream along the three other sides of the book and applied the white fondant for the pages. You might be able to see the lines for the paper in the fondant, which I put there with my pastry cutter tool (like you use for cutting fats into flour for pie crusts and things). I wrapped the fondant around the tops and bottoms a bit so you wouldn't see jagged edges where the cover met it.

Then I flipped the cake on the white fondant edge, applied buttercream to the three remaining sides and put on the blue fondant for the cover. One thing to note, I had planned to have the cover actually hang over the edges a bit, but forgot that marshmallow fondant shrinks slightly when you pull it off of the counter and put it on your cake, so next time I try something like this I'll provide a whole lot more edge space. I wasn't sure how to get nice smooth edges without folding it over, which make the cake a bit bulky, but it turned out all right overall. It was definitely a fun learning experience.

The accents are white buttercream with silver pearl dust covering them, which I applied with a little brush.

In the end I was trying to decide what the book should say on the outside and decided that poking fun at James Dashner would be entertaining. Thankfully, he was not only not offended, but genuinely seemed to think it was cool, so it was a hit with everyone. I had to actually cut the cake myself or it wouldn't have been touched. People seem to forget cakes are for eating, no matter how cool looking they are.

Okay, so these last ones are cookies, not cakes, but I was pretty happy about how they turned out. Since cookies spread when you bake them, I used the same cookie cutter to cut out a piece of fondant so it fit the shapes perfectly. I used a bit of buttercream frosting to cement the cookies to the fondant. This gave me a nice, smooth surface to add details to. The bells have silver pearl dust for the ringers, I used pearl dragees for the details on the snowflakes. I have a set of kids watercolor brushes that I bought specifically for my cake decorating. I brushed the spot where the dragees would go on the fondant with water (just a tiny smidgeon), and because sugar tends to get sticky when it's wet, with a little pressue when I pushed them on, they all stayed great. I used buttercream for the details on the snowmen.

In other news, my book has been climbing the list at Deseret Book and in the the past coupel of weeks in the General Fiction category has gone from 183 (of 184) to 43. I know, there are still a goodly number of books selling much better than mine, but I'm still very pleased to see the constant upward creeping of the count. Thanks to everyone who has helped get the word out!

Monday, January 4, 2010

New happening, giveaways and resolutions

Yeah, I know it's been nearly three weeks since I blogged last, I've been distracted with candy and cookies and cakes--and I've had some fun projects and finally managed to get some editing done on "Blank Slate." So here's what's new in my world:

Kathi Oram Peterson interviewed me on her blog. Yeah, it was a couple of weeks ago.

Charlene Hirschi with the Logan Herald Journal gave my book an awesome review--thanks Charlene! You can read that review here on page 5.

I did two cakes last week, but alas, don't have access to the pictures where I am right now, so I'll have to post those pictures later.

I enjoyed taking two weeks off from promoting my book to celebrate the holidays, but I'm getting ready to jump back in for the new year, so you should soon be hearing about upcoming signing and hopefully a few more school visits.

January is Tristi Pinkston's quarterly writing challenge, so I'm announcing my goals for January: First, I need to finish editing Blank Slate and get it submitted to my publisher. Second, I need to finish editing Family By Design and gt it sent out for critiques from a few other authors. And thirdly (if I can squeeze it in), I need to do a minor revision of Rebound and get it back to my editor. This one isn't desperate until March, but I'd like to clear it off my list this month because it's been on my mind. I can probably complete it in a full day or a couple of long sessions. On top of this is bringing a new chapter of my WIP to critique each week.

No one ever accused me of not thinking big, right?

Now, anyone out there like free stuff? Anne Bradshaw is doing a weekly giveaway with"A Time to Blopssom", a young women's conference being held in Juen this summer--but the giveaway is for a pendant that goes with the theme. You can learn more about the conference and see a picture of the pendant on Anne's blog here.

Also, Cami Checketts is giving away a TON of books, one every couple of days all month long. Check out this list:

January 2nd - 101 Gourmet Cupcakes by Wendy Paul
January 4th - Where the Wind Blows by Caroline Fyffe
January 6th - Guided By Him…to a Thinner, Not So Stressed-Out You by Julie Morris
January 8th - Chickens in the Headlights by Matthew Buckley
January 9th - Loyalty's Web by Joyce DiPastena
January 11th - Altered Plans by Rebecca Talley
January 13th - My Son, John by Kathi Macias
January 15th - Discipline Me Right by Mary Simmons
January 16th - The Sister Pact by Cami Checketts
January 18th - Counting the Cost by Liz Adair
January 20th - Methods of Madness by Stephanie Black
January 22nd - Altered State by Gregg Luke
January 23rd - A Tapestry of Spells by Lynn Kurland
January 25th - Women of Virtue by Jodi Robinson
January 27th - Torn Apart by Diony George
January 29th - All the Stars in Heaven by Michele Holmes
January 30th - Love Your Body by Brooke Parker

You can learn more about this on Cami's blog here,

As for New Year's resolutions: I have big goals like getting at least two of the three books I've got in various stages of editing submitted this year (hopefully all three, but we'll have to see what happens). I want to actually do something with my garden this year--you know, watering the flowers does seem to help them survive, so that would be good, and if I could pull a weed or two a week, that would be good too. =) And then, of course, like most people I know, I could stand to slim down a bit, so I'm making goals to be more physically active and to eat healthier (shouldn't be hard to be more active and eat better than I have this past two weeks, anyway). Oh, and blogging more than once every three weeks--definitely near the top of my goals! Have a great new year!