The Tree Cake

I love Christmas. I think the original reason behind it is pretty stupid, of course, but I love the commercialized, pretty, sparkly, gift-giving Christmas. I love Christmas trees and lights and cookies and ornaments and paper. I love wrapping gifts and tearing open gifts and giving the perfect gift. I love seeing the skirt under the tree slowly be covered by gifts. I love the smell of pine in the house. Okay, I will stop. I think you get the point.

Last year I decided to combine my love of cakes with my love of Christmas. Voila!

20131225_150340And can I just say that the frosting on this cake was amazing (it’s the rich buttercream recipe from the New Best Recipe). The star on top was a sugar cookie. The “gifts” are candy-coated grahams. Gumdrops, red hots, sprinkles and those little sugar pearls round out the rest of the decorations. In case you’re wondering, this is all cake and frosting. There’s a skewer down the center, but no other non-edible support.



The Pinkie Pie Cake

Last winter my niece turned 2. For her birthday she had, thanks to someone who does not, apparently, understand the brains of 2 year-olds, a Pinkie Pie Pool Party. Now what, you might ask, is a Pinkie Pie Pool Party, and, more importantly, why am I telling you about it?

A PPPP is a pool party with a Pinkie Pie (character on My Little Pony) theme. For those of you who do not know, My Little Pony is no longer a thing of the past. It made a comeback (along with a new phenomenon – the Brony). My sister hosted a birthday party for a 2 year-old in a hotel with a “water park”. I put water park in quotes here because it is only a water park if you are under the age of, say, 6. The plates, the table cloths, the rest of the decor – it was all Pinkie Pie. The crowning glory, in my oh so very humble opinion, was the cake.

Some of you may have seen past cakes of mine, although I have only posted about a few – the Texas cake, the dump truck cake, and the Colosseum (I am far prouder of the first two than the last). This Pinkie Pie cake is quite possibly my favorite. I switched from fondant (let’s face it, fondant does not taste good) to modeling chocolate with Pinkie Pie. It was the best choice I could possibly have made. I’m not even sure why anyone uses fondant given the existence of modeling chocolate (side note about this link: read the entire page before attempting modeling chocolate. In fact, read it twice. Excellent instructions, but you won’t be sorry you read it multiple times).

I had a few goals for this cake:

  1. Make a Pinkie Pie figure to sit on the cake
  2. Make it rainbow (special request from my sister)
  3. Make it awesome

The beginning:


The middle:


The end:


Actually, this was the end:


I enjoyed decorating this cake. Making it was another story, as making a truly rainbow cake is a lot of work. No really, a lot. I also loved the look on each person’s face when they saw the cake for the first time (and again when they saw the inside, and again when they ate it because it was actually quite delicious).

If you’re wondering how I made Pinkie Pie, it was freehand. I just pulled up a lot of Google image results for her (and then for her pet alligator, Gummy) and did the best that I could. I don’t have special tools so I just used what I had (paintbrush, tweezers, toothpicks, you get the idea). My only other tip is to use gel food coloring for the chocolate and remember to be careful about the temperature both as you make the modeling chocolate and as you mold it.

If you are wondering about how to make a cake rainbow there are plenty of how-tos out there. I would look for a how-to elsewhere, but add the caveat that many will have you make one layer rainbow and the other a reverse rainbow (as in purple is the biggest arc and red is the smallest). I hated that idea. If you are like me, you will need to divide your batter differently (you need more for the red and orange and a lot less for blue and purple) than most of the how-tos suggest.


Pretending to be a food critic

I finally had a chance to pretend to be a food critic on my business trip to Boston. I was there for a total of almost 4 weeks (minus two weekends), and I had a decent per diem to spend on food. Unfortunately, with no one to share my meals with and an aversion to wasting food I didn’t quite take full advantage. I tried, though. I really tried.

I could be forgetting a few restaurants, but these are the places I ate, sometimes more than once (I linked to the ones I like):

Three Cheese White Pizza with Fresh Arugula – Amanda’s version

I decided to try something different last week: meal planning. I’m usually a cook-or-not-cook-based-on-mood person. Thus dinner could consist of a homemade meal or just granola and yogurt. It’s mostly up to chance, but after almost an entire month of hardly being able to cook for myself (long business trip) I decided to take advantage of being home.

I Googled meal planning, because where else does one start? I came across this recipe for three cheese white pizza with fresh arugula – basically a salad on a pizza. It sounded good (well, the three cheese part sounded good, I wasn’t 100% on the arugula, but I went with it), and of course I couldn’t use pre-made pizza dough. I had to find a recipe for the dough that wouldn’t be terribly time consuming, but would still yield a good crust. I did not want to turn the recipe into a day-long ordeal. Nobody wants that.

What I found was a crust recipe from the kitchn – it had the perfect amount of prep time and will probably become a go-to. A few caveats if you choose to make the crust: The recipe makes double the amount of crust you need for the pizza recipe. Consider making a second kind of pizza, saving the dough, or doubling the white pizza recipe (which you’ll want to do if cooking for more than 3 or 4 people anyway). Parchment paper (at least the stuff I have) is only oven safe to 420 F. The recipe says bake the crust at 500 and recommends using parchment paper to deal with the sticking. It’s up to you how to handle this – perhaps you’re a pro with a peal and cornmeal and scoff at parchment paper. If you do decide you need the benefit of the paper, watch it closely, consider turning down your oven by 20 or so degrees, and make sure none of the paper overhangs your pizza stone/baking sheet. Finally, cut the salt. I found that 1.5 teaspoons was excessive and made the dough salty. I haven’t had the chance to try it again, but consider cutting it to 1/2 tsp or 1 tsp.
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