Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Choo Choo, Amelie is Two!

I cried at least one tear on February 13th.  Two years have flown by.  Amelie and I always read books at bedtime, but that day I had to rock her to sleep.  I sang Happy Birthday over and over to put her to sleep, in response to her prompts, "again, again."  What a happy day it was because we have an extremely happy, silly, hungry, healthy two year old little girl.  We know this because we hear the word "no" more than any other word every single day. We have so much fun seeing the look in her eyes as she feels proud of doing something as simple as looking in the mirror to see herself brush her own hair. We spend many hours crafting, getting messy, learning, playing, arguing, loving and I don't think either Johnny or I would trade a single second of them for any other experience.

I picked a few party pictures that describe her the best:

Spending her birthday with Thomas and taking advantage of any moment to steal some jewels.

I had a lot of fun with her birthday cake.  Almost too much fun because I might have gotten a little carried away, even so I still loved her cake. I usually try to keep things simple but I just didn't want to stop.  I made a little train and a number 2 out of a fondant, gum paste mix. The train cars are carrying her birthday candles and they sit atop a 10" round cake.  
fondant train

train themed party

Here is our Miss Amelie holding tight to her beloved "Cranky" the crane.  Cranky has many layers of chapstick on, and is adorned daily with my stolen necklaces.

On another note.....February 13th was also my first "bloggiversary."  I have to thank every one of you for reading!  I can see the count of every page view and your region through google's analytics (but not who you are) and even though I started this blog to document for myself and share with those who are closer to me, I can see that I have reached many more people. I feel happy at the possibility that I may be inspiring others to create! 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Cake, Strawberry Filling, and Vanilla Bean Ice Creammmmmmmm

White cake recipe number three. I've been testing white cake recipes in hopes to find the most moist white cake ever baked in the history of cake baking.  I'm afraid this is an impossible task.  Recipe number two was very, very moist but I just feel the need to try more recipes. I'm starting to feel like one of those people who never finishes what they started because it's just not good enough.  I have plenty of sewing projects that fill that description.  I won't even mention the yards of fabric purchased that I've glanced at now and again. 
White cake tends to be on the dry side because the majority of egg added to the recipe is in the form of egg whites where as the yolk would add more tenderness/moisture. Also, not to mention color (yellow - if you couldn't figure it out.). Most white cake recipes seem to use cake flour, and other oils/fats are used in place of the majority of butter ( I'd rather have yellow cake, thank you.)
Anyways.....I don't usually share my cake recipes because I'd like to be the one that makes them for you :-). But in this case it's just not ready yet......

Red heart cake topper

This cake is frosted in Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I will tell you that I have never knowingly eaten Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  I'm sure I have had it before since I am a professional cake eater, but it definitely did not have a name.  Same goes for Italian Meringue or French Meringue or a meringue of any other ethnicity.  I certainly am not prejudice, especially in the name of sugar. All I know is that all these meringues must be delicious because I have never met a frosting I didn't like.
So in case you don't know her and you'd like to meet her, here she is.  Friends meet SMB, SMB meet my friends. She is not as sweet as American Buttercream whom we all know and love, but don't let that fool you.  She is created on your stove top; egg whites and granulated sugar heated to a safe 160 degrees.  The mixture is then whisked by your electric mixer until room temperature.  This takes a whole 10 minutes or so. At this point the mixture is a meringue. Or so it should be but I didn't take a picture so...good luck.
Then cool (not cold) butter is added in chunks. I took this picture below and realized that if you were even contemplating a diet of some sort I'd lose you right here.  Not that cake would be in your diet anyways but this definitely looks like an army of butter. I assure you that your best friend, American Butter cream is every bit of buttery as my best friend, SMB so get off your high horse right now.

After an extremely unattractive curdly stage, your SMB becomes a smooth, creamy, dreamy frosting.

It spreads just as nicely as American buttercream. I'd say even better.  If I heat my spatula it will sort of melt the butter into a very smooth finish.  SMB can be a little tricky, but if it doesn't look quite right - don't throw it out, most likely you'll find a fix if you search online or ask me and I'll try to help.
Weird SMB icing consistencies tend to be related to temperature.

I made a couple accompanying flavors to compliment the cake.
Homemade strawberry filling and a vanilla bean ice cream. Strawberry filling is SO easy and quick to make - there is no excuse for buying a can, especially because in my opinion, fresh tastes better.

Strawberry Filling

  1. Dissolve 2 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch in 1/4 cup of water.
  2. In a small saucepan add 2 1/2 cups of coarsely chopped hulled strawberries (frozen works too), 1/2 cup sugar, and cornstarch/water mixture.
  3. Bring all ingredients to a boil, stirring constantly while crushing berries with potato masher. 
  4. Boil a few minutes to thicken and then pour into a bowl to cool completely.

Now this is where I realize that I have many wasted many months between last Mother's Day and today.  Johnny spoiled me last year with the ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen aid mixer.  I made chocolate peanut butter ice cream and then somehow forgot about this appliance stored in my basement freezer.  I don't even know how that's possible, that chocolate peanut butter ice cream was every bit as good as this vanilla bean ice cream.  
You really just don't know how good vanilla is, unless you've scraped it from a bean.  I mean this from the bottom of my heart. There can be a lot of explanatory words used in food blogs that make you roll your eyes and think - get on with the recipe already!  But the vanilla bean deserves a moment of silence and reverence.

scraped vanilla bean
I used the Pioneer Women's recipe. I don't feel the need to test any more vanilla bean ice cream recipes.

Half and half is heated with the vanilla and sugar.  I must mention that during this step I scooped a spoonful or two for my coffee.  I looked at my coffee and then at the pan, back and forth a couple times, and thought.....well, this is convenient.
Egg yolks are whipped, then tempered into the vanilla mixture. Heat until custard-like. Yum.

This mixture is then combined with heavy cream. Place in refrigerator to cool, then cycle through ice cream maker, freeze, and wait and wait and wait.

Aren't they just the cutest little vanilla bean flecks you've ever seen?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Valentine's Cookie Necklace

In preparation for valentine cookies this year I broke out my new airbrush (thank you Johnny) which I have been dreaming desperately about using since Christmas.  It definitely takes a bit of practice and airbrush food coloring costs quite a few pennies so projects will have to be chosen carefully.  I made a plain "love" cookie and then realized that one of the few stencils I have looks just like a doily.

Plenty of grandmas out there will love this cookie.  A doily has never been something that I thought was pretty.  I guess they have their practical uses and have saved many end tables from perilous scratches threatened by crystal candy dishes.  However, many times while visiting one of my elders I have turned my nose up at the thought of one of these doilies invading my house.  Seeing how pretty this is in a picture I now start to ponder my future living room decor.

Love cookie

I took some inspiration from online digital scrapbook paper and created the heart "flower" cookies and used my candy hearts for cupid arrows.

cupid arrow cookie

plaid valentine cookie

valentines cookie necklace

The cookie necklace would probably be my daily jewelry of choice if it were socially acceptable for an adult to wear a cookie around their neck. They do make a really cute valentine's gift if you have a few moments to make some cookies for the little sweeties in your life.  To modify the cookies for a necklace all you have to do is use a straw and cut out a tiny circle in which to thread your ribbon.
Amelie LOVED her necklace.   She's been stealing my jewelry from my closet lately so I could just see the disbelief on her face when she realized that she could eat her necklace and on top of that, it was chocolate.
I will even be so kind as to share my latest favorite chocolate cookie recipe with you.  These cookies are SO good.  And I'm not complimenting myself, I'm betting Amelie could make them.  The recipe is from the Lilaloa website and I like them better than the chocolate fish cookies I shared with you this last year.  Click on the "recipe" link and it will take you there. Take a minute and look at her cookies - extremely cute!  Here are my other Valentine's cookies from last year if you'd like more inspiration.