Thursday, October 30, 2008

So cute, it's SPOOKY!

ok.. I know I've actually had a good month in terms of baking... but it HAS been a while since I got back to basics and decorated some cookies.

On the doorstep of Halloween... I thought it'd be only fitting to make a few ghoulish treats.

I ended up with some ghosts, some bats, and some pumpkins.

Perhaps not the SCARIEST looking cookies.... but that could be a good thing. wouldn't want anyone afraid of sinking their teeth into them.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

LESSONS LEARNED: yes.. even on my basic cookie I learned something. I am NOT good at making bat faces, for one... and another? the ghosts looked FAR better outlined in black, as compared to the white. I went over the white details with black.. and while it stands out more.. I find that my lines look a bit more wobbly, cause the black was balancing on the white.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Not-so-Perfect Pumpkin Cake

It's really hard for me to resist making pumpkin things when October rolls around. Usually it starts off with me getting a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Bigbucks... then... well.. you saw I caved and made a pumpkin flavored Happy Jane.

Last week I realized that I don't make many cakes. and that's really a shame... cause people.. I love cake. The idea of a PUMPKIN cake was enough to get me to wear my contacts, get dressed up, and bake a cake... totally Stepford Style.

I found this recipe from the Joy of Baking. hook, line, and sinker. and forget about the idea of adding MAPLE to the cream cheese frosting. I was seriously swooning before I even cracked the first egg.

Now.. I did go into a more detailed description of the events that occurred while I was baking this cake on my other blog... but because my narrative involved many curses, I'm going to let you use your imagination here. (sorry.. I try to keep this blog clean, folks.)

Things started off VERY WELL, though. Dare I say I believed I had made some perfect cakes. I'm a bit of an ego-centric... I'll admit that. But I RARELY use the word 'perfect' to describe my culinary attempts. I like to recognize what I do right, but want to always better myself.. so again.. I don't throw around 'perfect' too much.

but these cakes??? I went there. I even said it out loud. which was probably my downfall... but they were sooo beautiful. and the smell!! again.. SWOON, I say!

It all went to pot when I attempted the frosting, though. it was too runny (probably from my over-zealous addition of maple syrup) and I kick myself cause there was a point in the mixing process that I felt I had the right (read THICK) consistency... I forged ahead with the recipe instructions, and added more maple. GAR!

but I'll spare you all of that and just get to the awful evidence.

Despite letting the frosting sit for a few hours (thinking it would thicken or harden..) it was still a gloppy mess.

hence.. my cake became a gloppy mess.

ooey-gooey, yippy drippy MESS.

Now.. fear not.. it didn't stop me from EATING it. and I will say that the taste WAS superb. and moist. oh MY do I love a nice, fresh, moist cake! Really.. this recipe is fantastic for the cake. the icing? I might say to stick with what you know, even if it means buying a canned cream cheese frosting. The maple did add a nice layer to the frosting... but the thin consistency threw me for a loop.

The second cake I made came out a bit nicer looking. maybe because I used the frosting a bit more sparingly... knowing too much would get the gloppy side effect. SO yes.. the second one came out better.. but very far from something I'd call perfect.

The second cake was donated to my husband's work... and supposedly all who had it were very pleased. Hey.. they're computer nerds... maybe they're not as picky?

LESSONS LEARNED: So yeah. one.. NEVER use the word perfect. call me superstitious, but being that bold = murphy's law to happen = far from perfect results.

I will for sure use this recipe again... but next time I will use double the cream cheese, and single or slightly LESS than single proportions of the liquid ingredients. Next time.. I'll be going for a thick frosting. Like ability-to-pipe thick.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tricks and Treats

SO clearly I'm all about the treats on this site. I DO love me some treats!

a good friend of mine, whom I have already named to be my executive talent scout should I ever get too big for my britches. (and by that I DO mean money wise.. not pants sizes. if I LITERALLY get too big for my britches, then said friend will be the one duct-taping my mouth shut and putting my rear back on weight watchers. Cause she and I know I have to look good for that day when our kids get married. Just sayin'. )

ANYWAYS! Susie, in many ways, is my eyes and ears. She finds the coolest stuff, and that definitely includes recipes and fun ways of doing or presenting everyday stuff. A few months ago.. Suser passed on a link to a Martha special featuring a treat called Cake Pops.

I was immediately enthralled.. but I'm ashamed to admit I did not even ATTEMPT those little bad boys until this past bake sale. I was GOING TO... just... life took over for a little.

I thought it would be fun to make some cake pops in a ghoulish theme... I was thinking ghosts and goblins. or at least ghosts and pumpkins.

that's where the 'trick' part came in

On the original site of the cake pops creator... she was coating her pops in candy melts for the round pops... and the 'cupcake' shapes were 'dipped' on 2 different occasions.

I used white chocolate, and it was NOT EASY to work with. it was very gloppy and thick. I found that my ghosts looked a bit more like round and fat mummies. oh, and my food writing markers?? did not work so well on the white chocolate. I ended up using my Wilton dye gels for the eyes.

Look at these poor things... it's like they're BEGGING for someone to help them look better.

and lo and behold.. my 'grand' ideas of doing pumpkin balls got SQUASHED because I didn't have a good way of letting the balls 'dry' without setting them up-side-down. (thus giving them a Frankenstein-esque flat head.)

Thinking fast I dunked the orange 'balls' in theme-colored sprinkles, and chalked it up to inexperience.

All in all I think the treats turned out cute enough, and they tasted fine. (though ENTIRELY too sweet in my opinion. My 4 yr old daughter didn't seem to mind, though.) They seemed to be as dense/fudgy as a brownie coated in a too-thick layer of white chocolate.... just not as rich and heavy as a brownie would be.

I'm in no hurry to try these again, but that's not to say I won't. I think that like anything, practice would make me more proficient at making them... and perhaps using a thinner consistency outer shell (such as candy melts or adding paraffin!!! again with the paraffin!) would make this project a little easier.

or having a stand of some sorts so the pops could harden upright?

overall... I'll give it a "boo!" rating. Really... not my best work. Try me again next year?

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I'm sure you're wondering what in heck a PBE is. no.. I assure you it's not the newest blue-collar beer. It's another new flavor of my Happy Janes.

I know.. I have yet to even market these things enough to sell ONE, and I'm coming up with new flavors. ISSUES! But it's all in the spirit of creativity.

If you recall, a while back, I hosted a contest. Well, given that the winner wasn't really a HUGE fan of any of the flavors I was offering, I decided to come up with something better for her 'prize'. I also had a 4-month-late birthday present to send... so all of that coupled with another bake sale at church... and well.. two new flavors were born. I've already posted about the Pumpkin Truffle flavor.
(as a matter of fact, I actually just made another batch of them. my parents were visiting and are heading back to jersey tomorrow, and my mom requested that I make some for her to give as part of a gift basket to give to her doctor. So I GUESS you can say I got my first order. except I wasn't paid for them. Though my folks will tell you that they paid in some free babysitting while they were here. but my first order!!! though it's my folks... and they're supportive like that. oh well. I'm chalking it up as a win-win. I get to practice my skills and get my product to a new mouth without having to pay hand-over fist in shipping. but NEVERMIND!! back to PBE's!)

So the other flavor was made with the previously mentioned belated birthday girl in mind. Erin of Erin Cooks had a birthday back in June, and I had promised to send her some CDs. oops. So, to make up for my tardiness, I tried to make the CD package more than just music for her ears. you see... Erin is a fan of peanut butter. like a BIG fan. A while back, Erin posted a recipe for her own take on a recipe called "Melting Moments". She decided to make it in a peanut butter version. The recipe she posted looked pretty good.. so I used it for inspiration and as a base for a filling for a new Jane.
I made a few changes.. like using crunchy peanut butter, and using like 5x the amount she calls for. but still... it was sweet. and pea-nutty good.

I used a chocolate cookie base... and spooned some filling on each before freezing. (note.. yes, I DID say SPOON. the filling was too thick/crunchy to be piped on using my bags. I mean, I did start to pipe it on, but it came out like little logs, and I ended up using a spoon to round them out... so I stuck with the spoon for the rest.)

You know the rest... dipped them in chocolate, let them cool, and served with some milk!

Oh. it occurs to me I never did explain what the PBE stands for. The PB is easy.. Peanut Butter. duh! but the E? Gotta give credit where credit is due. SO since I used Erin's recipe for the filling... I think it's proper to have the E stand for Erin. But Jane is a vain little cookie... and can't be havign another woman's name in the mix.... so just a plain E will have to suffice. The taste makes up for it, though.. cause there's nothing plain about them.

Lessons Learned: I noticed I may have yet another reason to use paraffin in my chocolate. I'm not quite sure if it was the shoddy sprinkling of gold dusting powder I did on the PBE's, or if it was the EXUBERANT amount of peanut butter I used (hence creating a very heavy oil-base for the filling) but I noticed an odd crystallization happening on the outer shell of the chocolates. (if you look closely, you can see it on the last picture.) It did not affect the taste.. but I'm big on appearances, and seeing those spots bugged me. I really need to look into the paraffin.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fall into Happy Janes

Autumn is probably my favorite season, and has been just about all my life. As a child in NJ, I recall the crisp mornings, the hearty foods and bursts of color every where I turned. When I lived in Florida, it was the time of year when we finally got a break from the heat. awwww, heck... I have reasons for every place I lived why Fall is my best season.

In the here and now, however... Autumn is more than a season of weather to me. It's back to school, it's birthdays and socials time, it's holidays, and most importantly.. it's GOOD FOOD.

I once joked with a friend that I only eat pumpkin from September through late January. While I know it's entirely silly to put stipulations of when I eat a particular food... 'saving' pumpkin for this time of year just means it's that more special to me.

Imagine my glee, then, when I came across this recipe for Pumpkin Truffles. pumpkin. chocolate. spices.

my tongue about fell out of my mouth.

At the heels of a bake sale, and eager to get back into the kitchen, I concocted a new flavor of Happy Janes inspired by the Pumpkin Truffle recipe and this SO-EASY recipe for home-made graham crackers.

I set out by making the graham cracker rounds, my signature shape for the Janes. As I said, this was much easier than I expected it to be. I think once you get used to working with cut-table cookie doughs, this falls right in line. (A word of warning, though.. if you choose to make graham crackers.. this recipe was far stickier than a regular sugar/butter cookie dough. I suspect it's from the abundance of honey.)

Then I made the pumpkin truffle filling. I followed the recipe, then made some changes. First.. I only used about HALF the amount of chocolate and heavy cream that was called for, and used about one and a half TIMES the amount of pumpkin required. I did this because I knew I wasn't making truffles as much as I was looking to create a pumpkin truffle FILLING. Also, since I knew the Jane would be COATED in chocolate.. I wanted a nice strong pumpkin flavor to emerge. (oh, and I used CLOVES.. not Gloves, as stated in the recipe.)
After the filling set and cooled... I piped some on the rounds.

Froze those bad boys and dipped in a bittersweet Belgian chocolate, then piped on an orange-colored candy drizzle for decoration.

I was very pleased with the flavor combination. it was like a chocolate covered piece of pumpkin pie. Yes.. I think I actually swooned a little after my first one. What a way to bring in Autumn!

Lessons Learned: I got two big things out of this project. The first is that those graham crackers are VERY POROUS. Within 24 hours, I noticed the cookie began to soften from absorbing the pumpkin's moisture, and by day three, they were a soft crumbly mess. The taste was still there, but texture means a lot to me.. and I was disappointed when they lost the cookie crunch. Some possible work-arounds are dipping the cookie in chocolate FIRST.. to form a protect barrier? maybe. we'll see.

The other lesson I learned is that my husband has very hot fingers. Every time he touched a Jane he ended up looking like a toddler playing with dark brown finger paints. Not so pretty. I may explore the addition of just a bit of paraffin to my chocolates to solidify that outer shell a bit more. This should prevent the messy fingers, as well as prevent the chocolate from absorbing oils of the fillings, and just being affected by things like humidity. Not that I want the Janes to have a shelf life of a twinkie.. just being able to hold their shape, color, and taste for more than 24 hours could open up a lot of doors for me in terms of sending Janes as gifts to friends around the country.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Ten Dollar Cake

So we had another bake sale for church. It was good to get back in the swing of things, as I missed last month for family obligations, they had taken the summer 'off', and I was in NJ for the June sale.
One of the items I made was a peanut-butter chocolate layer cake. yeah. sounds good if you like that stuff!
I had some leftover peanut butter filling from a new flavor of Happy Janes. (a post about them is coming, I promise!) And since I was making some chocolate cake for my own version of cake-pops.... I decided to make a small round cake.

SO after the cake was cooled, I smoothed some 'filling', and layered the other half of the cake on top.

Made some chocolate icing, and frosted the cake.

At that point, I decided to 'purty' it up and piped some edging around the base and the top.

It occurred to me that I do not have much practice with icing cakes, so this was a good exercise. I was happy to see that it sold at the bake sale for $10 dollars. not sure *I* would have paid that much.. but it was a fundraiser, and sure enough.. I was there to see a couple buy it. Felt good to see the guy pick it up and pay for it.. as it did to see his girlfriend or wife walk away with a very coy smile. like she KNEW they were gonna knock that bad boy out with a jug of milk that afternoon. (or so I imagined...)

lessons learned... I need to invest in some flat off-set spatulas for a smoother finish. and maybe a leveler.. as the cake looked a teeny bit lop-sided. but overall, the cake was relatively simple to make, and decorate. I may just make some more next time I'm invited somewhere for dinner or coffee. The size was just right, in my opinion. (assuming it's to feed a group of six or less) small enough to be eaten before it starts to get stale.