Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Little Advice from the Baker at Law

*Please note that all information provided in this post is purely for delicious purposes.  The advice given is of a purely general, non-legal nature.  Any decision to follow or disregard the provided advice in no way forms an attorney-client relationship or gives rise to any rights under the law.*

Today’s topic of discussion is wedding cake.  Yes, I have a ton of experience in this category.  Between the onslaught of TV shows about all things wedding and cake, and the four weddings I have attended in the last 10 months, I feel I have a good basis of knowledge to give out this advice. 

There is a tradition that exists were the newlyweds save the top tier of the wedding cake, place it in the freezer, and share it on their first wedding anniversary.  While this tradition sounds nice (in theory) to reflect on fond memories of the wedding day while eating sugary deliciousness, let me break it down for you- it is year old, freezer burnt, smell/odor absorbing cake.  It is not at the peak of freshness and regardless of what miracle of modern science that was used to preserve it for a year, it will not in taste, texture, or appearance be close to what was enjoyed on the original wedding day.

First piece of advice- Just say “NO” to the year old wedding cake!  But you say, “I want to look back and relive those sweet moments a year later with my sweetie.”  No problem.

Second piece of advice- Hire a baker that is willing to make you a replica top tier of your cake for your first anniversary.  This is more than a growing trend and is really becoming popular.  Do not have any qualms about asking your baker to include this service.  As a baker, I do not want my clients eating a month old cake, let alone year old cake.  I want all things associated with my name to be tasty and fresh.  Stale, year old wedding cake will not be the last thing a couple remembers my name by.  Your wedding cake baker should be willing to include this service with your cake order. 

Which brings me to my third piece of advice- Get it in writing.  Make sure the replica first-year anniversary cake term is in the contract you enter into and sign with the baker.  While the baker may freely agree to your request for a replica cake when trying to obtain your business, it may be a forgotten promise a year later when you ask them to honor it.  Having the replica cake provision in writing will help to “remind” the baker of what they agreed to.

Advice is best illustrated by a cautionary tale to bring the point home.  For her wedding a friend of mine contracted with a great and reputable bakery; they agreed to make a replica top tier for the couple’s first anniversary.  The wedding cake was gorgeous and tasted wonderful.  The bakery lived up to the hype surrounding their name.  One year later when my friend contacted the bakery about scheduling the replica top tier, the bakery recanted and refused to make the replica top tier.  Though the bakery orally agreed to make the replica, it was never reduced to writing.

My friend was left high and dry by this (supposedly) reputable bakery.  For her one-year anniversary, her and her sweetie would not have a sweet reminder of their wedding day.  That was unacceptable.  While my friend battled with the bakery, but foreseeing that a cake would not be produced by her anniversary day, she asked me to make a stand-in top tier wedding cake.  I immediately agreed and asked her what flavor(s) they wanted.  She gave me free reign to make whatever I wanted.

Even with that much freedom, I wanted to tie back to the wedding.  I did not want to duplicate the cake flavors from the wedding (lemon and red velvet); I wanted to create some new, warm memories.  My friend’s wedding was in the fall and the couple loves fall flavors.  So, I immediately thought of spice cake.  Additionally, for their wedding favors the couple made and canned apple butter.  I still had my unopened jar and used that in the filling.  I frosted the cake with a brown sugar swiss meringue buttercream to keep the appearance in the warm golden tones.  Lastly, I decorated the cake with marzipan pumpkins painted gold.  My friend and her husband loved the cake.  They were touched by the details that I included to remind them of their special day.

The above story does have a yummy ending, but view it as a word to the wise.  The above is the exception, not the rule.  You may not have a baker in your life able and willing to make you a stand-in wedding cake top tier.  While I am grateful for anyone reading this, I cannot personally make you all a replica first year cake, but I can give you some sound advice to hopefully ward off a similar situation.  So remember- say NO to year-old wedding cake and YES to a replica cake a year later, written into your contract with the baker.

Spice Cake


2 cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Baking Powder
2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Allspice
1/2 tsp Cloves
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1 3/4 cup Sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) Butter, room temperature
4 Large Eggs, room temperature
1 cup Sour Cream, room temperature
scant 1/2 cup Whole Milk
2 TBS Vanilla Extract

This recipe would likely make two 8in circle cake layers.  I used a 6x4in circle pan and had enough batter left over to make 6 cupcakes.

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare pans with parchment on the bottom and flour/shortening spray on the sides.

2. Combine first 7 ingredients.  Whisk together and set aside.

3. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

4. Mix together sour cream, milk, and vanilla.

5. Alternate adding flour mixture (in 3 additions) with adding milk mixture (in 2 additions) to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour.

6.  Pour into pans and bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, Oct 1999

Apple Butter Cream Cheese Filling


4 oz (1/2 cup) Apple Butter
8 oz Cream Cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) Butter, room temperature
4 cups (more or less to taste and consistency) of Powder Sugar


1. Beat cream cheese until creamy.  Add butter and cream together.

2.  Beat in apple butter.

3.  Add in powder sugar, after sifting, in 2-3 additions until desired sweetness and consistency for filling.

Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream


5 oz egg whites
9 oz Brown Sugar
15 oz (2 TBS short of 4 sticks) Butter, room temperature

These are just the measurements for the ingredients I used.  The same method that is used for making the swiss meringue buttercream with granulated sugar is used for brown sugar.  For the method, look here.


1. Tort cake, if necessary, into desired number of layers.  I used four.

2. Pipe a buttercream ring around the first cake layer.  Fill in the middle of that ring with the apple butter cream cheese filling.

3. Repeat in between the 2nd and 3rd layer.

4. The cream cheese filling is very soft and will need to set-up before continuing.  If the cake is sliding too much, place two skewers in the cake to stabilize it and refrigerate it until it is complete set.

5. Frost the cake with the buttercream, and smooth and decorate cake as desired.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Only Half Crazy

I ran a HALF marathon last weekend!  That is 13.1 miles, which is half of a full marathon distance of 26.2 miles.  That is why I am only half-crazy, not full on bananas, though my sore little legs, chest, and stomach would beg otherwise.   I have been training for this race for quite a while and finally it has come to pass.

The race was not easy at all.  Not that I had expected it to be a walk in the park, but I did not think it would be as painful as it was.  I trained with my longest training run, two weeks before the race, being 12.5 miles.  That training run was not too bad at all.  Considering a half marathon is only .6 more, I felt more than prepared.

Race day came and I started feeling pain in my hip at mile 2.  I am used to some joint discomfort early during any run, but with continued use the discomfort disappears.  On race day this was not the case however.  The hip pain in mile 2 never went away and was joined by knee pain (in the same leg) in mile 3.  I took my first walk break at mile 5, which was a lot earlier than I expected to walk, if at all.

Miles 6-8 were inside a tree covered, hilly park.  During this dark part of the race, I started to experience chest pain.  It felt like my heart was being poked and constricted.  At this moment I was so uncomfortable that I wanted to stop.  I questioned why I was putting myself through this voluntary torture.  I kept thinking, why is this all going wrong today.  I. Trained. For. This.

After making it out of the park, I tried to keep my spirits up, but it was so painful.  My legs just hurt for no good reason.  I never felt as much leg pain and fatigue during training as I did on race day.  From miles 9-13 I ran and then walked, running more than walking, but still walking a lot more than I planned and wanted to. 

In the last miles of the race, I had to make a decision.  If walking hurt and running hurt, then I would have to just choose my hurt.  I chose to run… it would get the race over with faster.  I found new energy and lift coming into the finish.  I sprinted at top speed for the last .3 miles.  Just throwing caution to the win and yelling out that I was ready for this to be over.

I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 2 hours and 51 minutes.  Slower than my low effort goal of 2 hours 45 minutes and far slower than what I knew I could accomplish based on my training.  Considering how horrible I felt during the race and how much I had to walk, my time is commendable.  Plus, hello, I finished the race under my own volition and within the course timeline of 4 hours.  But I should have done better.  

I know this is not a running or fitness blog, but I had to tell you about my race experience to explain why I made this COOKIE or I made this COOKIE so I could justifiably include information about my race on my baking blog…Whichever works.  I made this cookie prior to my race as a way to celebrate the race I would run and to inform those around me of the accomplishment.  Maybe this cookie jinxed my race performance.  If it did, I know a few people who would argue this cookie was worth it.  Being the actual individual who suffered through the pain, I would not go quite that far, but the cookie is phenomenal.

The cookie is the perfect blend of salty sweet, a favorite of mine.    Because there are so many add-ins, each bite is different.  The flavor of the cookie changes and expands with every bite.  The flavors are complementary, but stand out on their own.  In the cookie I taste tested, the first bite was chocolate and pretzels; the second bite contained the crunch of the M&M’s; and the last bite was strong with butterscotch flavor.

The best way to describe this cookie is to expect the unexpected.  You do not know which flavor will come through next, but as long as you use quality ingredients the end result will be a complex cookie of complimentary flavors.  I guess I could say the same for the race.  Regardless of the training, expect the unexpected.  Although race day may not go as well as training went, as long as you put in the time and dedication to training you will finish the race.

Half Crazy Cookies (or Half Marathon Cookies)

I am only half-crazy running a half marathon.  These cookies have a standard base with 13 add-ins, one for each of the 13(.1- don’t forget it, that last .1 is serious) miles I covered.

Basic Cookie:

1 cup (2 sticks) Butter, room temperature
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar
2 Eggs, large, room temperature
1 TBS Vanilla Extract
1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour (optional, can use all AP Flour if desired)
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt.

Add-ins (in random order):
Totaling: 4 cups of Add-ins

1. White Chocolate Chips (1/4 cup)
2. Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips (1/4 cup)
3. Toffee Bits (1/4 cup)
4. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, chopped (1/4 cup- about 8 little cups)
5. M&M’s Minis (1/4 cup)
6. Old Fashion Oats (1 cup)
7. Pretzels, roughly chopped (1/4 cup)
8. Candied Sunflower Seeds (1/4 cup)
9. Dark Chocolate Chips (1/4 cup)
10. Toasted Pecans, chopped (1/4 cup)
11. Peanut Butter Chips (1/4 cup)
12. Butterscotch Chips (1/4 cup)
13. Cashews (1/4 cup)


Preheat oven to 350F.

1. Prepare all add-in by measuring them out and chopping where necessary.  Combine in one bowl and set aside.

2. Cream together butter and both sugars.  Add eggs one at a time.  Add vanilla.

3. Add both flours, baking soda, and salt.  Mix until just combine.

4. Fold in add-ins.  Do not over mix; you do not want to break down the pretzels.

5. Using a 3 TBS capacity cookie scope, scope batter onto a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Leave space as these cookies do spread.

6. Bake for 12-13 minutes until the edges are brown, but the middle will still look slightly under baked.

7. Allow to cool before moving.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Halloween- Part II

Does any of this sound familiar:

1) So, Halloween was a week ago and despite your best efforts to control yourself and slowly eat through your leftover candy, a lot of candy still remains. 

2) Your kids have picked all of the fruity candies out of their Halloween candy and what is left is pure chocolate deliciousness of which you do not want to partake.

3) You just want something cool to share with others.  Well cooler than handing someone a fun sized candy bar…for no reason…a week after Halloween.

If you have candy still left from Halloween (or like in my case, stocked up on half priced candy after Halloween), I have the perfect recipe for you to re-purpose the candy into something even yummy-er than before.  This year with my “leftover” candy, I made Halloween Candy Bars.  The bars are made by covering a shortbread cookie crust with caramel (like a Twix bar without the chocolate coating) and then pressing all different types of candy, treats, and snacks into the caramel.  There you have it.  Simple, easy, but ohhhhh so good!

Do you have any Halloween candy remaining?  If so, how do you plan to use it?

Halloween Candy Bars
from Torts to Tarts

Shortbread Crust
This recipe was written to fit a 15x21in pan.  I had a lot of candy to use.  The recipe should work by cutting it in half and using a 9ix13in pan.


4 sticks (1 pound, 16 oz) Butter, Cool-ish
1 1/2 cups (250g) Granulated Sugar
2 cups (240g) All-Purpose Flour
2 cups (240g) Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (optional--you can use all, all-purpose flour)
4 tsp Vanilla Extract
Dash of Salt


Preheat oven to 350F.

1. Cream together butter and sugar.  I suggest using a stand mixture due to the firmness of the butter.  If not using a stand mixture, let the butter come to room temperature before creaming.

2. Add vanilla extract.

3. Add Flours and salt.  Mix until just combined.

4. Line baking sheet with parchment paper, with additional paper extended over the side like handles.

5. Poor the crust mixture onto the baking sheet and press into an even layer using your hands.  Spray hands with non-stick spray or use a little flour to prevent sticking.  I also used a rolling pin to help flatten and even the layer.

6. Poke the shortbread crust all over with a fork.

7. Bake the crust for 25-30 minutes, until the edges are deep brown and the middle is brown.  Make sure to rotate the pan half way through the baking time.

8. Allow shortbread crust to cool completely.

Caramel Layer


3 bags (approx. 33 oz) Kraft Caramel Bits
7-8 TBS Heavy Whipping Cream


1. Place all ingredients in a microwave safe bowl.

2. Microwave for approximately 6 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until the caramel bits are completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Candy Layer

You can use any type of non-fruity candies (not skittles or starburst, for example).  Also, I would be leery of using peppermint candies, as the flavor would not match well with peanut butter and to me, peanut butter is a requirement.

The candies and approximate quantities I used (all candies are fun sized):
6- 100 Grand Bars
10- Almond Snickers
20- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
8- Butterfingers
14- Kit Kats (Orange, White Chocolate, and Regular)
2/3 bag- Candy Corn M&Ms
12 Hershey’s Mini Bars (Krackle, Dark, and Mr. Good Bar)

And to cut some of the sweetness and just because I love salty sweet, I added about 2 very full handfuls of pretzels and 2/3 cup of salted peanuts.

Chop all ingredients, excluding M&M’s and peanuts, while the short bread is in the oven or cooling.  Mix together all candy layer ingredients and set aside.


1. Rub the edges of the baking pan with butter or non-stick spray to help the caramel release a little easier later.

2. Pour still hot caramel over shortbread crust.  Use the spoon or spatula to spread the caramel into an even layer.

3. Immediately, sprinkle the candy mixture over the caramel layer fully covering it.  Gently press the candy into the caramel.

4. Refrigerate the entire pan until the caramel and candy is completely set (about 1-2 hours).  Do not leave in the fridge too long or the M&Ms will lose their sheen.

5. Using a sharp knife to cut into squares and enjoy.

Friday, November 02, 2012

No Problem (You’re Welcome) Cookies

A few months ago, the morning radio show I listen to had a discussion on how the host responds to “thank you.”  He stated that saying “no problem” seems rude and like you are doing that person a favor.   “You’re welcome” is the more appropriate route to go.  I never thought it that way.  But, it got me to thinking, if he sees it that way maybe other people see it that way as well?  What do I say when someone says “thank you?”  Evaluation and analysis must now occur.

It depends on the situation.  I tend to say “you’re welcome” to people I do not know very well or when I am at a loss for words.  It seems more formal to me.  I tend to say “no problem” or “no problem at all” when I responded to people I know better or in less formal situations.  Am I conveying that my baked goods are doing them a personal favor and that they had better get down on their knees and bow at my awesome baking magnificence?  Well maybe, in my head, a little queen worship is desired.  Of course not; it was literally no problem.  I wasn’t asked to make something and I fulfilled a request.  I decided to go into my kitchen and bake something and then voluntarily gave it out to whoever wanted it.  No personal favors here.

I like saying “no problem” because it is less formal and really when you talk about baked goods, it is usually never a problem for me to whip something up.  I love to do it.  So now, when I get “thank you,” I seem to follow it with “No problem.  I loved doing it.”

In true appreciation fashion, I was gifted a bag of Ghirardelli Chocolate chips and a gift cards to my favorite grocery store from my office.  It was a please bake use more stuff thank you gift in appreciation of all the stuff I bake and bring in.  In response to their thoughtful gesture, I decided to make them a treat with the chocolate chips-- a thank you for the thank you gift cookies, which seemed redundant and could start a repeated cycle of thank you for the thank you for the thank you…, or No Problem Cookies.

These Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies are pretty simple but super tasty.  I mean you can never go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate.  They are firmer on the edges and chewy in the center.  The oats provide a nice toothsome quality to the cookie and textural contrast from the firm chips and soft cookie.  These were a very welcomed way to say “No Problem; I loved doing it.”

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies


2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg, large, room temperature
2 1/2 cups rolled oats, old fashion is best
1 bag (12 oz) chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

3. Cream together the butter, peanut butter, sugars and vanilla extract. Add eggs and beat to combine. Add the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the oats, and then the chocolate chips.

4. Use a 3 tablespoons cookie scope, drop dough onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Lightly press down on each cookie to flatten, slightly.  Bake for 12-14 minutes,  until the cookies are lightly golden.

5. Cool completely and enjoy with a glass of milk, if that’s your pleasure.

Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker