Pass the Pie, Please!

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday that just passed and in anticipation of holiday dinners in the near future, I decided to do a post on pie.  While I love baking cakes and consider them my go-to baked good, I grew up baking pies with my dad so I’ve got a special place in my heart for pastry.  My favorite to bake: good old-fashioned apple pie, with a few tweaks I’ve added over the years.

Pies are not as complicated as people think!  I hear people all the time talking about how they get their pie crusts from the pre-made stuff that comes in a box or a tube at the store because making the crust from scratch is “too hard” or “too tricky.”  That is just not the case!

First things first, gather all of your ingredients to be sure that you’ve got everything you need.

Crust Ingredients

For an 8 or 9 inch two-crust pie you will need:

2/3 of a cup plus 2 tablespoons of shortening

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

4 – 5 tablespoons ice cold water

Mixing bowl, pastry cutter, wooden spoon, rolling pin

Four ingredients!  How hard is that?  There is one teeny-tiny thing about making pie crust that makes it a little complicated – everything has got to be COLD. I’ve done without this step with my shortening recipe and it works out fine, but it is definitely a MUST if you use a butter-based recipe for pie crust.

For example, measure out the flour and salt and whisk thoroughly in your mixing bowl.  Measure out your shortening and measure out your water as well.  Put all the separate ingredients in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes, including the pastry cutter!  If you don’t have a pastry cutter, take 3 butter knives and tie the handles together with a rubber band, and put that in the freezer instead.

The reason everything needs to be cold is to make sure the fat (shortening or butter) in the recipe stays semi-solid until you are ready to bake the pie which will result in a flakier texture for the crust.  This is especially true when you use a butter-based recipe.  It doesn’t complicate things too much because while you’re chilling your crust ingredients, you have time to get started on the pie filling.  As always, lay it all out to make sure you have everything you need.

Filling Ingredients

For Awesome Apple Pie you will need:

One batch of two-crust pastry

About 3# of apples, which is about 5-6 big apples. I love to use Granny Smith and/or Honey Crisp apples.  I think the tart flavor of the Granny Smith apples really balances well with all the sugar you add for the filling and Honey Crisp also brings out the sweetness and makes it nice and juicy.  If I use both apples, I generally use more Granny Smith than Honey Crisp, i.e. 4 Granny Smith and 2 Honey Crisp.

1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus additional for garnish

1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting

2 tablespoons margarine or butter, diced

lemon juice, to prevent apples from browning

1 egg for garnish

Pie plate, aluminum foil, toothpicks

Optional Ingredients that I highly recommend you play with:

1 cup raisins, cranberries, dates, apricots, or other dried fruit.

1 cup walnuts, pecans, almonds, or your favorite nut not listed.

I typically go the raisin and walnut route.  As the pie bakes, the dehydrated fruit soaks up the yummy, sugary apple juice and the nuts add a woodsy flavor that pairs beautifully with the spices in the pie.  Be sure to keep the amount of “extras” in the pie to about 2 – 2 1/2 cups total.

Now, back to the crust.  After you’ve laid out all your filling ingredients, your crust ingredients and equipment should be sufficiently chilled.  First, add the shortening to your mixing bowl and cut it into the flour and salt mix using your pastry cutter (or butter knives) until it forms fine crumbs.  Then, add water, about a tablespoon at a time, and use a wooden spoon to incorporate it into the dough.  Keep adding water until the dough begins to leave the side of the bowl and form a ball.  At this point, you can use your hands to quickly form the dough into a tighter ball.  Separate the dough into two even balls for a full-coverage top crust, or make one ball slightly larger if choosing to make a lattice top crust.  I elected to do the lattice top.

Crust

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place the dough in the refrigerator while you work on the pie filling.

Wash your apples before you begin prepping them.  Prepping the apples takes the longest amount of time, and just how long depends on what kind of equipment you use.  My dad has an awesome apple prepping machine that peels, cores, AND slices the apples simultaneously.  I, unfortunately, do not have such a contraption.  I am ashamed to say I do not even own an apple corer.  However, there are ways to improvise.  If you are lucky enough to have a apple machine, use it!  If not, read on.

You’ll be prepping one apple at a time to lessen the chances of browning.  Peel one washed apple and then slice it into sections using a sharp knife or an apple wedge cutter.  I have a wedge cutter, but I find the wedges are a little too thick so I end up cutting the individual wedges in half.  I find that when using the apple machine, the slices are a little too thin for my liking, but you don’t want the slices too thick or they won’t cook down properly.  My apple wedge cutter yields 8 pieces and I end up cutting them in half, so aim for 12 – 16 slices out of each apple and do try to make them uniform.

Place the apple slices in a large bowl and squirt generously with lemon juice and toss the apples to coat.  This applies to using the apple prepping machine as well – the lemon juice helps prevent browning.

After you’ve finished peeling and slicing all your apples, add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss together.

Glorious Filling

At this time, turn your oven on to 375 and turn back to the pie crust.

Remove the crust from the fridge and place one ball on a lightly floured surface.  Use your rolling pin, also dusted with flour, and roll out the pastry into a circle.  Turn your pie plate upside-down and use that to check the size of the crust.  The crust should be at least 2 inches larger than the circumference of the plate all around.

Next, dust the surface of the crust with granulated sugar and press the sugar into the crust.  This adds a hint of sweetness that I like.  Fold the crust in half and then fold in half again.  Place the center point of the folded crust in the middle of your pie plate and unfold.  Gently maneuver the crust to ensure even placement and ease it into the bottom of the plate.  Leave excess crust attached for the moment.

Pour the pie filling into the waiting crust.  It will seem like a LOT of apples, but they will cook down quite a bit.  I usually move the pieces around until they interlock, like a puzzle, to fit them closely together.  Be sure to try to evenly distribute the spices and additions throughout the layers of apple slices.  Place diced butter or margarine on top of the filling.

I forgot to do this, so I just placed the margarine through the holes in the lattice top.  With a full coverage crust this is a little trickier, but you can always slip the butter through the slits you cut in the top of the pie to let out steam.

Filling the Bottom Crust

Now that the filling is in place, you can roll out the dough for the top crust.  For a full coverage top, make sure the crust is larger than the circumference of the pie.  For a lattice top it can be about the same size, but a little extra always makes it easier to work with.

If you’re doing a full coverage top, repeat the folding procedure and place the crust on top of the filling.  Trim the edges of the top and bottom crust using a sharp knife and then crimp the edges together using your preferred method.  Check out this website or your favorite cook book for ideas.  Cut at least three 1″ long slits in the crust to let out steam as the pie cooks.

For the lattice top, keep the crust flat and using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, slice the crust vertically into fairly even strips. Place five strips of pastry vertically along the surface of the pie.  First, pull the longest strip of pastry from the center of the crust and place that on the center of the pie.  Next, pull up strips # 1, 3, and 5, and lay another long pastry strip horizontally across the pie.  Then, you will fold the vertical strips back down and fold the other two vertical strips up while you place another strip horizontally below the first horizontal strip.  Fold up 1, 3, and 5 again and lay another horizontal strip.  Repeat the process on the opposite side of the pie.  Make sense?

Lattice Top

After you’re done placing the strips, go a head and trim the extra crust so it just barely hangs over the edge of the pie plate.  If you’re a little patchy in places, brush the crust with a little bit of water and attach a piece of extra crust you trimmed off.  The water will “glue” the pastry together.  Crimp the pie crust via the method of your choosing and you are almost done!

Final Steps

After you have crimped the edge of the crust, take about four – five toothpicks and put them in a bowl of water to soak for a few minutes.  While they soak, lightly beat the egg and mix with about 2 tablespoons of water to make an egg wash.  Brush this over any exposed crust and sprinkle with granulated sugar.  This will make your crust sparkly when it is done.  The same can be done with a full coverage crust.

Following the egg wash, cover the edge of your pie with aluminum foil to prevent the edge of the crust from burning.  This is where the toothpicks come in.  I have struggled with this for years – how do you get the damn aluminum foil to stay put on the freaking crust?  I have ripped my hair out many times trying to get it to stay put and just this summer my aunt clued me in to an awesome tip – use toothpicks that have been soaked in water to hold the aluminum foil in place.  GENIUS!  Talk about a game changing moment!  It works really nicely.  You can use those pie-shield devices, but unless yours is adjustable or is made for your pie plate, it can be a little tricky to get the right fit.  When using either method, don’t forget to use cooking spray to make sure the crust doesn’t stick to it!  I’m notorious for getting the foil in place only to have the dang crust stick to it and get torn.

Once the foil or shield is in place, your pie is ready to go in the oven!  I bake my pie for 55 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly, at 375.  Do keep an eye on the uncovered crust to make sure it’s not browning up too fast.  If it seems to be getting a little dark, place a small circle of aluminum foil over the top of the pie as well.  I never had this problem with my old oven, but since I moved, the center of my top crust tends to brown up too fast.  Luckily with this pie I caught it before it got burnt too badly.

Remove the aluminum foil from the edge of the pie when there’s 15 minutes left on the timer.  After the final 15 minutes, your pie is a masterpiece ready to eat!

It is true that pies are definitely time consuming, but I would not say that they are too “tricky” or “complicated” for anyone to make from scratch.  Some people may be leery of the time commitment, but isn’t there a phrase that says something along the lines of “the best things in life are worth waiting for?”  I must say I wholeheartedly agree; homemade pies and cakes are definitely worth it.

Happy Pie Baking!

Lattice Top Blueberry Pie

Here’s a variation of lattice top with blueberry pie.

 

 

 

 

Basket Weave Orchid Wedding Cake with SMBC

As I mentioned previously, Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC) is my absolute favorite frosting.  It is so unbelievably good, once you try it you will NEVER want a different kind of frosting again.  I first discovered SMBC when I was preparing for my wedding cake back in 2012 and I have never looked back.  It may come off as a tricky frosting at first, but it is really not that bad to make and it is actually quite forgiving.  So, as promised, here the is post on SMBC!

My dear brother and wonderful sister-in-law have been married for five years now, however, they never really got to properly celebrate with the extended family due to circumstances beyond their control.  Long story short, my brother was in the Marine Corps stationed in California, was about to be deployed, and wanted to make it official with his sweetie before he went overseas.  So my dad and I hopped on a plane and had the privilege and pleasure of being present at their wedding, which was really heart-felt and sweet.  Unfortunately, all the other family members and friends in the Midwest did not get to come.

All smiles after the ocean-side ceremony!

So, in honor their five year anniversary (and for an awesome excuse to have a party) they decided to have their wedding reception.  Naturally, they asked me to do the cake and I was super pumped.  The cake was a three-tier, fresh raspberry cake with fresh raspberry filling, and mint SMBC.  I did a basket-weave pattern on all three tiers and added (fake) orchid blossoms.  It turned out really pretty and quite delicious.

Orchid Basket Cake

Bride and Groom

My brother is such a dork…

Now, without further ado, the SMBC!  Below is the recipe I used for this cake.  I ended up with about 3 cups of frosting left over.

Mint Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients/Equipment

15 egg whites, LARGE ONLY, room temperature

3 3/4 cups granulated sugar

9 sticks of UNSALTED butter, room temperature, cut into cubes

*A note on the butter:  Please DO NOT substitute salted butter in this recipe.  The added salt will bring out the butter flavor WAY too much and no amount of flavoring will mask it!  Trust me on this.  The first time I made SMBC I only made a tiny batch to test out the technique.  I didn’t want to run to the store for unsalted butter so I used the salted butter my mom had in her fridge.  YUCK.  The texture was great and I could see the potential for the frosting, but it tasted like whipped butter.  Once again, DO NOT use salted butter!

a pinch of salt

2 teaspoons mint extract

Electric mixer with whipping attachment, beating attachment, and detachable mixing bowl.

Spatula

Wire whisk

Large sauce pan, which you will place your mixing bowl on top of; make sure it’s a snug fit.

Lemon juice

Ingredients

As with any recipe, lay out all of your ingredients to make sure you have everything you need.  You don’t want to be running to the store for more butter halfway through the recipe!

The first thing you want to do with Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and you absolutely MUST do this, is lay out your equipment and wipe EVERYTHING down with lemon juice.  This eliminates any traces of grease that may be present which would ruin your meringue and thus destroy your SMBC.  DO NOT FORGET TO WIPE EVERYTHING!  The saucepan, the whisk… EVERYTHING!

Put about an inch of water in the sauce pan and get it simmering, but not boiling.  You want it to make steam, but not bubble up and splash.  Place your room temperature egg whites and sugar in the mixing bowl from your mixer and place on top of the sauce pan with simmering water.  Using a wire whisk, whisk constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.  To test if the sugar is fully dissolved, stick a clean finger in there and rub some of the mix between your thumb and forefinger – you should not feel any grains of sugar.  If you feel grains, keep whisking; if it’s smooth as silk, you’re ready for the next step!

Simmer Whites and Sugar

Bring your mixing bowl over to your mixer and while using the whisk attachment, begin to whip your egg whites and sugar mixture until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of your mixing bowl feels room temperature to the touch.  FYI, this can take a while.  Most recipes I’ve seen call for up to 10 minutes, but every time I’ve made SMBC, it takes me at least 20 – 30 before the meringue is stiff enough.  Could be because of strength of my mixer, my crappy whisk attachment, or kitchen environment.  I don’t know, but if it takes longer than 10 minutes, do not panic!  Keep on whipping!  You’ll know it’s the right thickness when you can make medium-stiffness peaks in the meringue.  If you reach proper thickness and the bowl still feels warm, stopping mixing and let the bowl cool off.  You do NOT want to add butter until the bowl is room temperature because it will melt!

The Whipping Process

Now that your bowl is room temperature and your meringue is gorgeous, you can begin to add butter.  And yes, it is a lot of butter.  This frosting is not for people on any sort of diet.  Switch to your mixing beaters instead of the whisk and turn on the mixer to low.  Add butter one cube at a time, incorporating between each addition.  This is the scary part of making SMBC.  Adding the butter ends up being not pretty for a while – your frosting will look like cottage cheese for a few minutes.  You may find yourself thinking, “What have I done?!”  Once again, DO NOT PANIC!  Keep on mixing!  It will come together, and it if doesn’t it could be a number of factors which I don’t have the time or expertise to diagnose, however, if you follow the recipe carefully, it should be fine!  My overall advice is have hope and keep on mixing!  Also, it doesn’t hurt to consult the All-Knowing Google Machine for trouble-shooting wisdom on the subject. Continue adding butter until you run out and continue mixing until the SMBC magically turns into velvety goodness.  This can also take upwards of 10 minutes.

Adding Butter

Once your SMBC baby has reached the velvety smooth texture you’re seeking, add the flavoring extract of your choosing and the pinch of salt.  Continue to beat on low speed until well combined.  It is at this point that you can add additional flavor extracts, fruit purees, or melted chocolate to achieve the perfect SMBC of your dreams.

If you’re not using it right away, store it in an air-tight container in the fridge.  Just be sure to bring it to room temperature and re-whip it before you use it on your cake.  As I mentioned in my post on American Buttercream, do not, I repeat, DO NOT microwave the frosting!  I know it takes forever to come to room temperature if you just set it out on the counter, but you must be patient!  You do not want to melt the frosting you worked so hard to make!

That being said, keep in mind that this frosting is essentially all butter, therefore, it does not hold up particularly well in hot or humid environs.  If you’re doing a wedding cake, say, in the middle of July, like I did, keep the cake in an air-conditioned room or the fridge if it will fit until right before you serve the cake.  That way, the frosting will retain its shape and yummy texture.  Nobody likes melted frosting, so be sure to err on the side of caution!

What else can I say?  Swiss Meringue Buttercream is AMAZING and everyone should try it at least once!  But beware, once you have SMBC, you won’t want anything else!

If you have further questions or for trouble-shooting tips, check out these excellent blog posts on the subject:

Sweetapolita – SMBC and Happy Cake Bakes – SMBC

Life is All About Changes

So, it has been a while since I have made any posts, and it is for good reason.  My husband and I moved!  We sold our house and moved into a new one (a mobile home) all within about two weeks.  We have been crazy busy with the move, preparing for our first baby’s arrival, and getting settled into his new job and mine, which is to be our full-time household manager and soon to be full-time mom.

Most unfortunately, I am no longer able to run my cake business, as the mobile home community where we now live does not allow business activities to take place on the property.  I am saddened by this development, but our current housing situation is a stepping stone to our dream home, which we will build, and is only temporary.  A couple of years of sacrifice is worth it to achieve our ultimate goal.  I will still be doing cakes for my family, friends, and for the fun of it – just not as a business.  I do love what I do after all.

Despite no longer being able to operate as a cake business, I do not plan to dismantle this website.  I will leave the Michigan Cottage Food Law (MCFL) information available in case anyone is curious about how it works.  I have had a wonderful experience with the MCFL and I encourage any other aspiring cake bakers and decorators out there to see how they might be able to benefit from the MCFL or a similar law in their state(s).  Plus, if I leave the posts, one day, hopefully, I will have my business back up and running and I won’t have to retype the information!

If anyone has any questions for me regarding the MCFL, please don’t hesitate to ask and I will try to point you in the right direction!

Raspberry Mulberry Cake

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Looks like it is going to be a gorgeous day to celebrate our country’s independence.  For me however, this is the first year I will actually be celebrating the holiday for its intended purpose.  You see, July 4th always meant something different in our family.  Sure, our celebrations included family gathering, sweltering in the hot Grand Rapids sun, and cooking various foods on a grill.  It even included fireworks.  But it also meant cake and a lot of candles and it meant celebrating a remarkable life – it meant it was time to celebrate Bushia’s birthday.  “Bushia” is the three-generations-of-Americans version of the Polish word for “grandmother”.

My bushia was born July 4th, 1918 and was one of the most wonderful, amazing, multi-faceted people I ever knew.  She lived in a time where she remembered the doctor coming to her house in a horse and buggy to deliver her siblings.  One of her brothers, who was born premature, was placed in a box with blankets on their wood stove and he lived.  Bushia only went to school until 8th grade, and later earned her high school diploma when her youngest daughter graduated high school and her eldest daughter graduated college.  She was devoted to her faith, but was never preachy about it, and prayed the rosary every day while she walked on her treadmill.  She married my grandfather, a WWII Veteran, in 1947, and they had seven children.  She used to complain at 60 years old that she would never have any grandchildren – she ended up with 18 of us. That’s 23 of us now if you include our spouses.  Not long ago, she began accumulating great-grandchildren, 10 of them, and became known as “Bushia the Great.”

Bushia 2

Bushia passed away last year; one week after making her 96th birthday; one week after the whole family gathered one last time.  The funniest part about it is that she had been ready to go for years; she often said so.  But it was last year that her age, and her complications from having cancer, seemed to finally catch up with the fast paced woman.  She was 71 years old when I was born, so I count myself lucky every single day that I had her in my life for 25 years.  She was a true spit fire, an independent, opinionated woman with great insights on life.  I miss her every day.  This July 4th will be hard, as it is our first without her, so I did what I do best – I baked a cake.

Finished Cake

I didn’t specifically make the cake for her, but I thought of her all the while I made it.  She was a great baker.  She taught my dad everything he knows, which he passed down to me.  He is now the keeper of her sacred recipe box so if I ever need a recipe, I just give him a call when before I used to call her.  Plus, one of my best memories growing up is picking mulberries from the tree in her backyard.  All of us cousins loved those things.  We never failed to come back to the house with purple-stained fingers, toes, lips, and clothes.  There are several mulberry bushes along the path that we walk our dog and every time I see them, I think of summers at Bushia’s house picking the berries.  So this week I picked some and planned to eat them in some way – I ended up making a cake, two actually.  I wanted to try out a recipe I had found for a raspberry cake which I intended to use for my brother and sister-in-law’s five-year anniversary cake later this month.  I had raspberries and mulberries, so I went for it.

Raspberry Cake

1 cup raspberries

1 tablespoon water

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

1 tablespoons baking power

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

4 egg whites, lightly whisked and room temperature

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon raspberry extract

Food coloring, red or pink, optional

As it turns out, the recipe is good, but the method is not.  Most cakes follow the pattern of beat the butter, add sugar and beat more, add eggs one at a time, add dry and wet ingredients, alternating in 3 and 2 parts.  This one was a little different, but I figured I would try it out the way the recipe was written for the raspberry cake and try the “normal” way for the mulberry cake.

I ended up making two two-layer 6 inch cakes, 4 inches tall each.  The raspberry turned out a nice shade of pink and the mulberry turned out a gorgeous purple.  So what did I do?  I torted each layer and stacked them all on top of each other because I’m crazy and apparently wanted a ridiculously tall cake.  The recipe yielded very moist, dense cake, which I like.  The raspberry wasn’t as strong as I would have liked, so I will tweak that.  Honestly, for the mulberry, it didn’t taste like the berries, it just had the extra kick of sugary sweetness, which is not a bad thing.  I would compare the texture and flavor of the cakes to red velvet, just without the hint of cocoa.  Overall, very good.  I will definitely store this one away for future use.  The way the recipe was written turned out fine, but the “normal” way with the mulberry cake fluffed up a bit more.  The raspberry cake just stopped level with the top of the cake pan.  I took pictures of the raspberry cake while I was prepping it, so I will follow those directions.

First, you’re going to want to cook the berries to release the yummy juices.  Put the berries, the small amount of sugar, and water in a sauce pan.  Stir until it starts simmering and cook about 10 – 15 minutes to release all the juices.  Take the sauce off the heat and let cool a bit.  Then, take a sieve and place it over a bowl to catch the juices.  Pour the berries into the sieve and press with a spoon to get all the juice out.  This can take some time.  A little pulp is okay, but you want to make sure you don’t have too many seeds, or in the case of the mulberries, any stems in the cake.  With the raspberry, I actually scooped about half the pulp into the cake.  I like the texture the seeds lend.

The Berries

Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl.  Then, add the softened butter and beat lightly until you have pea-sized butter chunks throughout the batter.  Do not mix until smooth.  After that, add the lightly whisked egg whites, milk, and vanilla extract in two parts, mixing between additions.  Lastly, add the berries.  Use a little bit of red or pink food coloring if the color isn’t dark enough for you.  Keep in mind that colors bake out of cakes, so always go a little darker than you think.

Mixing

Bake in two 6” round cake pans at 350 for 40-45 minutes.  Turn the cakes out on wire wracks and let cool.  Then, you can begin stacking.  I used an 8 inch cake board.  Spread a little frosting on the bottom to help “glue” the cake to the board and prevent sliding.  Then, stack away!  Put a thin layer of frosting between each cake.  I would not suggest using filling of any kind for a cake this tall.  Slippage would be inevitable.  If you make a cake half this height, be sure to pipe a tall circle of icing about a half inch inside the edge of the cake to prevent the filling from oozing out.  When the cake is stacked, place the center dowel and measure it a little below the surface of the cake.  This dowel will help keep the cake stable at this height.  Put on the crumb coat and stick it in the fridge for a few minutes.  Then, add another layer of frosting, keeping it as smooth as you can.  Now you can decorate as you see fit!

Cake Building

Cake turned out pretty girly and cute. I rather like how it turned out. My only regret is that I didn’t quite have enough frosting to get the outside totally smooth.  I wanted to save it for the roses on top.  Not bad for throwing together a cake with leftover frosting I needed to use up.

After the Cut

This one’s for you, Bushia!  I love you and miss you every day.

Bushia and Cake

Have a great weekend all!

Some More Cakes

First up are the cupcakes I did for a recent craft fair.  I did three different flavors, all filled, about 110 cupcakes.  What was I thinking!?  It was actually a lot of fun and my mom helped.  After I decorated the cakes, she packaged them, which made it go much faster!  The first was carrot cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, and vanilla buttercream filling.  The second flavor was blue velvet cake with lemon buttercream frosting, and blueberry filling.  The third flavor was chocolate chunk cake with chocolate almond buttercream frosting, and raspberry filling.  They were a hit!  I would love to do another craft fair, but have been unable to find another one in the area that accommodates bakers who operate under the Michigan Cottage Food Law.  Bummer.

Cupcakes

This is the fresh strawberry cake with strawberry filling, frosted with vanilla buttercream, and garnished with fresh strawberries.  I must say, it was a little tricky to get those suckers to stick the frosting because they were so juicy!  Luckily after I laid the slices on paper towel to soak up some of the juice, they stuck just fine.  I was asked to make it for a former co-worker.  The banner says, “Best of Luck!”.

Strawberry Cake

These are a couple of other rose cakes I’ve done.  As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of this technique.  It’s pretty easy to do, forgiving if you goof up, and looks so pretty.  First one is a blue velvet cake with blueberry filing made for my husband’s co-worker.  Second one is Mary Todd Lincoln vanilla almond cake with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting that I made for my 25th birthday.

Rose Cakes

Last is a cake my mom hired me to do for her church.  The top half is chocolate and the bottom half is marble, both with vanilla pudding for the filling.  I cut the cake to replicate the front of the church and piped the front windows as well.

Church Cake

A Few Cakes I’ve Done

Just thought I’d post a couple of pictures of some of the cakes I’ve done.

First one was for my dad’s retirement.  It’s three 8″ red velvet cakes, torted, with alternating frosting and sweet cherry filling.  Buttercream frosting.  He loves to golf, so I wanted to do a golf themed cake and cupcakes.  Used a grass tip to create the grass, small chocolate cookies for the holes, white chocolate truffles for the golf balls, and crushed graham crackers for the sand traps.  This cake was a lot of fun, but it hurt my hand so bad after doing all that grass!

Next are a couple of birthday cakes I’ve done for clients.  First one was chocolate cake and chocolate buttercream frosting.  The next was white cake with vanilla buttercream.

Quarter Sheet BirthdayVine Birthday Cake

This was a Welcome, Baby! cake I made for a co-worker’s nephew and his baby. Sheet cake was marble cake, the lower tier was yellow cake, and the top tier was chocolate cake, all with vanilla buttercream.  The rattles are cake pops, just one larger and one smaller on each end.

Welcome Baby Cake

Last one was a cake I made for my work Christmas party.  I wanted to try my hand at a checkered inside with red and green velvet cake with chocolate almond buttercream frosting.  The “pinecones” are made out of conical shaped chocolate fudge blobs with sliced almonds glued to them with melted chocolate.  I sprinkled rosemary on top to look like pine needles. Turned out pretty awesome!

Christmas Pine Tree Cake

Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Buttercream frosting is probably the most commonly used frosting out there, mainly because it is extremely versatile and pretty simple to make.  If you start with a vanilla base, you can add extracts, melted chocolate, frozen lemonade, mashed fruit, and even maple syrup to customize the flavor to you or your client’s liking.  My most common requests have been for the classics – vanilla and chocolate.  I recently made a batch for the cake I made for my family to celebrate Father’s Day so I even have some pictures to share.  Here’s the recipe:

You will need:

3 sticks unsalted butter

2 – 2 1/2 32oz bags of powdered sugar (depending on how stiff you want it)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

about 3/4 c of milk or heavy cream

This recipe yields about 7 cups.  Depending on how you plan to decorate, this should be plenty for a 8″ round, three layer cake.

**I recommend at the very least an electric hand mixer, if not a stand mixer.  There’s a lot of beating involved!

*** A note about the butter:  be sure it is UNsalted! If you use salted butter, it will taste different!  If all you have is salted or you bought it by accident, simply omit the addition of the 1/4 teaspoon of salt or you will have super salty frosting!

All Ingredients

First things first, lay out all of your ingredients to make sure you’ve got everything you need.  Luckily, the recipe does not have all that many to keep track of.  I also recommend leaving your butter out on the counter about a 1/2 hour before you’re going to use it to let it soften up a bit, although you can just microwave it if you forget to take it out ahead of time or it needs a little help.

Directions:

1. Place the sticks of butter onto a microwave safe plate.  Pop the butter in there for 15 second intervals.  The butter is soft enough when you can press your finger into it and it leaves in indent, but it doesn’t totally implode at your touch.  If you happen to melt your butter by accident, stick in the fridge for a couple of minutes to firm up a bit.  You need it to be stiff enough to whip up.  Add the butter into your mixer and begin whipping until it is light and fluffy, about 3 – 5 minutes.

Whipping the Butter2. Once the butter has whipped up, begin adding powdered sugar.  I recommend sifting the sugar before adding it to the butter.  Most lumps will come out while you beat it, but I think it combines better with the butter when it is sifted first.  I use my Bushia’s old school sifter.  Every time I use it, I remember what an amazing woman she was.

Sifting Powdered Sugar3. After you’ve sifted about half of the first bag, add it into the mixer on LOW speed.  Some of the sugar will fly out, but the lower speed helps keep it to a minimum.  After the first addition of powdered sugar, add about a tablespoon of milk with each new addition to help the sugar and butter continue to blend together so your mixer doesn’t work too hard.  You can also use heavy cream in place of milk; I find it creates a silkier texture and a slightly richer flavor.

Adding Sugar

4. After you’ve added the first bag of sugar, start on the next one and add the vanilla extract and salt. NO salt if you’ve got SALTED butter!  This is also the time where you can add the other extracts, fruit, syrup, or melted chocolate.  I don’t recommend adding food coloring until after the desired consistency is reached because adding more sugar will dilute the color.

5. Continue adding more powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached.  If you want frosting that will hold its shape when piped, a good rule of thumb is to stick your large offset spatula straight up in the center of the frosting without the tip touching the bottom of the bowl.  If the spatula stays put, your frosting is ready.  If not, add more sugar and keep on beating.

6. After you add the color, you’re done!  It does take quite a bit of color to get it good and saturated.  I actually ran out of green food coloring while I was making this frosting so it wasn’t quite as dark as I wanted.  Luckily, with buttercreams, the color always deepens a bit so even if you’re not sure it’s quite dark enough, it will get a little darker by the next day, even after you put it on the cake.

Final Consistency

The frosting is ready to use as is.  Keep it in an airtight container on the counter out of direct sunlight.  Has a shelf life of about a week to ten days.  You can make it ahead and freeze it or stick it in the fridge if you’re worried about it being too hot in your house.  However, just make sure it comes completely to room temperature before you use it.  DO NOT MICROWAVE!  You will melt the butter and ruin your frosting!  You must have patience; leave it out a whole day or two before you want to use it.  After it warms up, re-beat the frosting to fluff it up to the right consistency again.

Voila!  Classic Vanilla Buttercream.  It’s not super sugary (despite the huge amount of sugar, weird huh?) and it tastes 10 million times better than the stuff that comes out of the can or the store bakery.  Give it a shot!  It’s pretty much impossible to mess up.

Go on!  Get your aprons dirty!  I want to see some powdered sugar hand prints on the fronts of those things!