Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Mini-Treat Mini-Series: Part 2 - Mini Cakes

Contrary to what you may think, this is NOT a cupcake! At least, not in my opinion. I prefer to think of this as a mini cake - just large enough for 2.

It's made in Wilton's Dimensions Multi-Cavity Mini Cupcakes Pan. Yes, I know, they call it a "mini cupcake pan," but I think they're confused. Mini cupcakes usually only measure 1-2 inches wide. These babies are approximately 3 inches wide and 4 inches tall! So I guess we can call these jumbo cupcakes cakes! For argument's sake (and because I'm the one writing this blog), we'll refer to them as mini cakes today.

Let's get to the baking already!

Fill the pan cavities about 2/3 full. The amount of batter you use will change depending on what recipe you use for your cakes. For example, I made these with Pamela's Gluten-free Chocolate Cake Mix so they didn't rise as much as a from-scratch recipe would.

Bake the cakes, according to your cake recipe's instructions, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few crumbs. When the cakes are baked, allow them to cool in the pan for approximately 5 minutes. Then, place the cakes on a wire cooling rack to cool completely. The cupcake tops need to be cooled upright and the bottoms need to be cooled upside down so that the shapes don't get distorted while cooling. Basically, cool them like this:

Once the cakes are completely cooled, level off both halves.

Place a small amount of icing (raspberry cream, in my case) between the halves, and put them together.

Now, you're ready to ice it! For ease in handling the mini cake, I put a simple cupcake liner on the bottom. This way, you're touching the cupcake liner, and not the actual cake. Much less messy this way! Crumb coat the top half of the mini cake. Not sure what I'm talking about? Check out this post from April. Place the mini cake in the refrigerator for a few minutes until the buttercream crusts.

Then, add more icing to the mini cake, being careful not to disturb the crumb coat that's holding all those ugly crumbs in place.

Finally, just add a few simple sprinkles and stick a candle in! Viola! It's a perfect little gift for a friend's birthday, to cheer up a coworker, or to just say "I was thinking about you!"

I know what you're thinking. My candle looks funny, right? That's because it's a singing candle! It sings "Happy Birthday" when it's lit! I got it at Publix, but you can also buy them online from many different vendors.

In other news, there will be yet another attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the World's Largest Cupcake on October 3, 2009 in Boca Raton, FL. A 1,500-pound cupcake will be revealed just before the THINK PINK ROCKS concert, which raises money for breast cancer research. According to Laurie Braden, President of Global TV Concepts and Bit Top Cupcake, the huge cupcake will "call attention to - and raise money for - breast cancer research, screening, and treatment by selling pieces of the 'World's Largest Cupcake.'"

What does it take to bake a 1,500-pound cupcake?

-240 pounds of eggs
-225 pounds of sugar
-510 pounds of flour
-225 pounds of baking powder, oil, vanilla, cocoa, salt, milk, and water
-350 pounds of icing
-24 hours of baking time
-5 bakers
-an oven 10 feet wide x 10 feet high

Wowsers! Check out the full story at

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cake Walk....or Run?

No offense to you avid, long-distance runners out there, but I've always thought you were crazy. I don't see the need nor do I understand the desire to run for 26 miles. That's why we have cars, scooters, bikes, roller blades, and skateboards! Right???

Honestly, the things that bother me most about running for that long are: "What if I have to go potty?" and "How am I supposed to have my bi-hourly snack if I'm running?" Yea, I eat something every 2 hours or I get really cranky. Imagine, here I am running mile 10 (wow, that seems like a lot, doesn't it?)...and all of a sudden, I have to go potty!

Pit stop!

Ok, back on track....entering mile 11...wait! Now I'm hungry! I have about 16 miles to go - if I don't eat, I'm gonna be like an angry momma bear when I cross that finish line...but if I eat, I'll get a cramp... What a dilemma!

Anyway, it just seems like a lot of unnecessary stress when you can easily avoid the whole thing by not running at all. Let's face it, running long distances is not for me. In fact, running in general is not for me!

At least that's what I thought.

Then, Elise emailed and asked me to do the Disney Princess Half-Marathon with her in March 2010. My initial thought was "no way" as I thought about all the aforementioned stress. Then, something weird happened. I read her email again, and it became a challenge of sorts, feeding into my competitive spirit. "Are you challenging me? Oh, now you've crossed the line! Let's do this, sista! Oooh, and BONUS I'll have to go SHOPPING!"

So this weekend, that's exactly what I did. I went to Lloyd Clark Sports (I highly recommend them) so someone could watch me walk and help determine what type of support system I need in my shoes. The very first pair of shoes I tried on felt fabulous. SOLD!

Next up: socks. Cotton socks are not ideal for long-distance running because they retain moisture and can cause blisters. The salesperson recommended these Balega socks with Drynamix air conditioning fabric. One thing I loved about them is they have a small lump that sits around the middle of the Achilles heel to keep the sock from getting sucked into your shoe while you run!

While I was there, I decided to buy a couple of running shirts and shorts. If you've ever tried to run long distances in a cotton T-shirt, you know it's miserable. Sweat makes the shirt unberably heavy and takes a long time to evaporate. So, I bought a couple of Asics shirts and Nike shorts that are very lightweight and have "breathable" material.

What else can I spend my money on??? Ahhh, every runner needs a good pair of sporty sunglasses, right?!Then, I ordered a Timex sports watch online. I can't wait for it to arrive!

Ok, now that I've got all my's time to get running! Elise and I have designed a 16-week training schedule that will begin on November 16, 2009. The schedule is set up so that we should be able to run 3-4 miles before we begin training so...I guess I'd better get started!

Last night, I donned my gear and ran 1.66 miles! That's a lot more than I've run in the past year. In fact, it's 1.66 miles more than I'm used to!

At the start of the run, I thought, "I feel so lightweight with all my new gear. Maybe I should run 3 miles today!"

Shortly after: "Ow, my knee is hurting! Note to self: look up knee-strengthening exercises to do."

Then: "It's so dang hot today. I thought a cold front was coming through. Where did the breeze go?"

"Ok, forget the 3 miles. That was crazy. I'll be proud of myself for finishing this 1.66 miles!"

"Wait, what was I thinking? How can I run 13 miles in March!? Is it too late to back out?"

" Phew! I...think...I'm...gonna...hurl!" (Don't worry, I didn't.)

Finally (30 minutes later): "That wasn't so bad! I can't wait til Wednesday when I have time to run again!"

After I got home, I did a little strength training with free weights and some crunches. If you're just joining us on this blog, my dog Nani has a licking problem. Seriously. She goes especially crazy when someone is working out or doing crunches. This is what I came home to yesterday and endured for what felt like an eternity:

Look at her! She's possessed! I've got to figure out a way to get that under control.

Anyway, here's my challenge to you: Train for the half marathon with us! I'll post the training shedule in November. Until then, get yourself comfortable with running 3-4 miles at a time. A friend recommended for determining the length of your runs (thanks, Jeanette!). You can do this!

Vacation v. Stress

I saw this comic on PHD Comics. It hit too close to home to not share it with you (click the image to enlarge):

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Mini-Treats Mini-Series: Part 1-Truffles!

For the next few days, I'll post recipes and instructions for new and exciting mini-treats! My hope is that you'll learn something new and maybe even try something you've been reluctant to do before.

First up - truffles!

Ah, that's a yummy-looking bunch!

This summer, I took Autumn Carpenter's truffles class at the ICES Convention in Chicago, IL. She made the truffles look easy so I just had to try them.

Here's what you'll need for the shells:
Candy Melts
Multi-purpose squeeze bottle or disposable piping bags
Candy molds
A microwave-safe bowl
chocolate transfer sheets

For the shells of the truffles, it's easiest to use candy melts instead of real chocolate (what's the difference?). Melt the candy melts by microwaving them for a few seconds at a time. Then, you can use one of those cute multi-purpose squirt bottles or just put it in a disposable piping bag. I started with the squirt bottle, but decided it was totally unnecessary. Just go straight for the inexpensive, easier-to-use disposable piping bag! (Side note, I put the cute Mickey Mouse bowl in this photo...but it turns out that it's not microwave-safe. Bummer! If you have these bowls, do not use them for melting the candy melts.) Grab your favorite candy molds - I'm using a peanut butter cup-style and a truffle-style mold. Also, get out those Chocolate Transfer Sheets you've been dying to use.

What's a Chocolate Transfer Sheet? It's a very cool cocoa butter design printed on a large sheet of acetate paper. When the sheet is placed onto warm, melted chocolate, the cocoa butter transfers from the acetate to the chocolate. You can have a very cool design on your chocolate - without even having to hand-paint it!

Let's get started! Squirt some of the melted candy melts into the candy mold...

Then, using a clean paintbrush (that has never been used on anything but food), gently brush the chocolate up the sides of the candy mold. The chocolate will begin to harden as you do this so work relatively quickly.

After you've coated all the molds in the tray, put the tray in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes, until the chocolate is hardened.

Meanwhile, make the chocolate truffle filling (each recipe makes approximately 60 truffles, and I made a batch of white and milk chocolate so I made 124 truffles total!).

2 1/2 cups (3/4 pound) finely chopped real milk chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon flavoring

Melt milk chocolate a few seconds at a time in the microwave or over a double-boiler. Cool to at least 98 degrees F. Whip cream until it holds a soft peak. Add the cream to the chocolate, a little at a time, in a plastic bowl that doesn't retain heat, stirring with a spoon. When all the cream is added, stir in salt and flavoring.*

*At this point in the recipe, I divided my milk chocolate into 4 separate bowls. The following are the flavorings I added:
Bowl #1: Grand Marnier Truffle - 1/2 teaspoon Grand Marnier
Bowl #2: Coffee Truffle - 3 drops LorAnn coffee flavor
Bowl #3: Raspberry Truffle - 3 drops LorAnn raspberry flavor
Bowl #4: Milk Chocolate Truffle - 1/4 teaspoon vanilla flavor
And I divided my white chocolate into 3 bowls:
Bowl #5: Coconut Truffle - 4 drops LorAnn coconut flavor
Bowl #6: Key Lime Truffle - 4 drops LorAnn keylime flavor
Bowl #7: Banana Truffle - 4 drops LorAnn banana flavor

Chill the truffle mixtures in the refrigerator until firm, but not stiff (15-20 minutes). Beat with a spoon only until fluffy. Do not overbeat.

Now, you're ready to fill your truffle shells! Place the truffle filling in a disposable piping bag and pipe a small amount into each truffle shell. Don't fill it all the way to the top because you still need to seal the truffle with more candy melts.

Freeze the truffles for a couple more minutes until the truffle filling hardens. Now, pipe some melted candy melts over the truffle filling, completely sealing it inside the truffle shell. Place the truffles back in the freezer for a few more minutes. Then, you should be able to invert the candy molds to remove the truffles. If they do not fall out, tap on the counter.

You're doing great! Ready to take it a step further? Let's make a "truffle sandwich" with the chocolate transfer sheets!

Squirt some of your melted candy melts onto the rough side of your chocolate transfer sheet (that's the side with the cocoa butter on it). Watch out! Those multi-purpose squirt bottles have an unpredictable squirt pattern. In fact, I managed to blow the screw-top lid right off the bottle TWICE and got chocolate all over my kitchen. Like I said before, just stick to the disposable piping bags.
Spread the chocolate into a thin layer (maybe 1/16 of an inch thick).
Try to get the chocolate relatively smooth, but it doesn't have to be perfect. Place the chocolate transfer sheet on a cookie sheet or flat surface, and put the whole thing in the freezer for a few minutes to let the chocolate harden. Once the chocolate is hardened, remove it from the freezer. Place it on your countertop so that the chocolate is under the transfer sheet.

Gently peel back the acetate sheet. See how the pattern has now magically transfered to your chocolate??? It's a chocolate transfer sheet - get it now!?
Using a cookie cutter, cut round circles out of the chocolate, and set them aside.
Place one disk, pattern-side-up, on your work surface. Using a 1M decorating tip, pipe a small swirl on the disk. Top it with another disk, also pattern-side-up.

Now for the finishing touches. You need to decorate the truffles a little so you can tell which flavors they are. Let's just go through the batch:

These are the milk chocolate truffles. They're pretty distinct on their own, so you're done with them!

These are the banana-filled truffles (with both white and dark chocolate shells). I dipped them in graham cracker crumbs.
I dipped the raspberry truffles in red sprinkles.
The coffee truffles were dipped in chocolate jimmies (yummy!).
These truffles were made in the peanut butter cup candy mold and have a thin layer of coconut truffle filling topped with a key lime truffle swirl. No need to decorate these little guys!The last ones, the Grand Marnier truffles, were hand-dipped. To do that, use a melon baller to scoop some truffle mixture onto wax paper. Freeze the scoops until they're firm. Then, quickly shape them into balls, or flat disks in my case. Freeze them again until they are very firm. When the centers are cold and firm, dip them in melted candy melts. While the chocolate is still wet, place a small square of chocolate transfer sheet on top of the truffle. When the truffle has hardened, peel back the acetate to reveal a patterned, dipped truffle!

Together, they make up quite a cute box of truffles, don't you think?

Still feel intimidated? Yea, I have the tendency to bite off a lot at one time. I'm actually surprised that they turned out as well as they did. This was my first time making them! That just shows you how easy they really are. If you're still nervous, just make one flavor for your first try. Your friends will still love you. After all, who can turn down a truffle? Or 10???

A Dance for the History Books!

I saw a post about this on one of my favorite blogs, Stacy Claire Boyd, and I had to share it with all of you!

Oprah started her 24th season with a huge party on Michigan Avenue (aka Chicago's Magnificent Mile). The crowd, which was roughly 21,000 people, performed a choreographed dance to the Black Eyed Peas' song "I Got a Feeling." The performance gave me goosebumps! Total strangers unified through song and dance - amazing! The song has so much energy that I wanted to be the girl in the front dancing all crazy! Don't miss this:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Baking Gifts for Everyone!

Are you searching for the best gift(s) for your baking-loving friend for Christmas??? Oh wait, it's only September, isn't it?! Well, you can always spend money on someone you love, right? And why not cross them off your Christmas shopping list early - less to do later! (Special note to my family and friends: This is not a desperate attempt for me to get these things for Christmas. If I don't already own these items, I will probably buy them myself before December even arrives!)

Anyway, I've compiled a list of some great gift ideas for anyone who loves to stand in the kitchen for hours, slaving over the oven the oven and then painstakingly decorating the goodies just so you people can destroy it. *sweet smile*

1. From the makers of Cook's Illustrated comes this amazing book that leaps to the top of my list: Baking Illustrated! I love this book with a capital L! The people behind Cook's Illustrated have long been testing and perfecting all kinds of recipes, but this book focuses on breads, pizzas, cookies, cakes, pastries, crisps, cobblers, and pies. Not only do they give you perfected recipes, but they explain the science behind why their tricks work. You'll learn things you never knew about baking - even if you thought you knew it all already!

Oh, and while you're at it, enter their sweepstakes to win a full kitchen of America's Test Kitchen recommended cookware, small appliances, and gadgets. Hurry, contest ends September 30th!

2. Every baker needs cute clothes that tell the world "I LOVE TO BAKE!" Adam got me this bakelove shirt from Bakerella for my birthday, and I've almost worn it out already. Look, I even wore it for my birthday party! Oh, can't really see it well in those photos, but trust me, I was wearing it. Anyway, it's a super cute shirt and fits very flatteringly. The best part is it gets its point across in 1 word (...or is that 2 words squished together?...). Love to bake? bakelove!

3. Have you seen the blog Cake Wrecks? If you haven't, get your bum over there (after you finish reading this post, of course), and get caught up! On a whim, Jen Yates began blogging about hilariously disasterous cakes in 2008. Now, she has a huge following and has won lots of blogging awards. She is currently on tour with her first book of cake wrecks with "75% new wreckage." The book is sure to make anyone laugh (baker or otherwise)!

4. Nicole Weston, who writes Baking Bites, is also releasing her first book. I have not personally tried any of her recipes yet (although a bunch of them are on my long to-do list...I'll get to them one of these days!), but they look fabulous. Her book is comprised of almost entirely new recipes that you can't find on her blog. Check it out!

5. And last, but definitely not least, you can't go wrong with a book by Debbie Brown. I have quite a few of her books, and they're written with instructions that are very easy to follow. My favorite? I have to pick 2:

Monday, September 21, 2009

An Outer Banks, NC Vacation

Adam and I just returned from a week-long vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I have been wanting to visit the Outer Banks for years now so we were so excited to be finally going!

One of the reasons I've been wanting to visit is my favorite author, Nicholas Sparks (think Nights in Rodanthe, Message in a Bottle, The Notebook, and A Walk to Remember which have also been made into major motion pictures), always uses North Carolina as his setting. He makes the North Carolina towns seem idyllic, the beaches like paradise, and the whole thing purely romantic. Anyway, check out his books, they're amazing!

View Outer Banks Vacation in a larger map

First, we drove up to Roanoke Island and stayed at the White Doe Inn Bed & Breakfast. I highly recommend this one! It was a 5 minute walk to the waterfront and downtown dining, set in a quiet neighborhood, and had absolutely gorgeous grounds! They served a 4-course breakfast every morning that was delicious. I know what you're thinking..."4 courses? Aren't you stuffed afterwards?" Well, sure, you're full - but not overly stuffed. Course 1 is a light fruit parfait, 2 is southern-style grits (which most people didn't eat because they were from the north and weren't accustomed to them), 3 is the main dish (anything from pancakes, to hash browns, to French toast), and 4 is dessert. Oh yea, dessert! Adam & I usually skipped the grits and shared the dessert (cheesecake, strawberry crepes, etc). So yummy! Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the Inn, including the ones of the room we stayed in, the Garret Bedchamber:

On our first day there, we visited the Elizabethan Gardens, which are beautifully landscaped and usually filled with gorgeous blossoms. However, September doesn't seem to be the best time to visit because there weren't many flowers. In any event, the grounds were still beautiful (see the 2 photos on the right)! Then, we went to the Roanoke Island Festival Park where there was a replica of a boat used by the English settlers and an English settlement. Roanoke Island is where the English settlers first landed and set up camp - did you know that? Here, Adam played Skittles with a "settler," I swabbed the deck of the ship, and Adam lowered the ship's anchor.

The following day, we went further east and north to see the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Whalehead Club (the house with the large green lawn in front), which is a large mansion-like house that has been restored so people can see what life was like on the islands in the early 1900s. We ate our first vinegar-based North Carolina-style BBQ at the Duck Deli, and we've decided that we prefer the molasses-style BBQ we're used to down in Florida. We also stopped at the Monument to a Century of Flight (see the photo of the globe with the pilars around it), which lists all the major events in flight - from the first flight to our adventures in space.

On Day 3, we visited Kill Devil Hills where the Wright Brothers conducted their first flights, the Bodie Island Lighthouse, and Jockey's Ridge, which is the largest natural sand dune in Eastern United States. These pictures don't do it justice - the dune was huge!

Halfway through our trip, we relocated to a new bed and breakfast on Hatteras Island. The Inn on Pamlico Sound is located in Buxton, NC, and we stayed in the Jasmine room. The room had amazing views of the sunset over the Pamlico Sound but was a bit noisy because it was located directly over the restaurant. It was amazing how different the two bed & breafasts were. The first one was ornately decorated, and this one was definitely "not your grandma's bed and breakfast" (to quote an article written about the Inn). The Inn on Pamlico Sound had a 3-course breakfast that has been voted "Best in Outer Banks" by National Geographic. Course 1 was a fruit cup, 2 was a muffin, and 3 was a variation of quiche or souffle.

On our first day in the southern parts of the Outer Banks, we drove up to Rodanthe. The house in the top left corner is the one they used for the movie Nights in Rodanthe. It's beautiful, but very close to the water so it might not be standing too much longer. Then, we drove just north of Rodanthe and walked through the dunes to the beach. We had the whole beach to ourselves! The photo of the kite boarder you see below was taken on another beach (and it's not Adam), but I thought it was cool so I included it here. Later that night, we took a picnic to the ferry docks to watch the sunset.

The next day, we toured the Chicamocomico Life Saving Station and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. At the lighthouse, we saw the coolest thing in the sidewalk. An entire lizzard was fossilized in the cement! Have you ever seen anything that crazy??

Alas, our last day of vacation arrived. We spent our final day on Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry. We visited the Ocracoke Lighthouse, found some fun photo opportunities, and played in an abandoned lifeguart post. While we were walking around the island, we came across the cutest dogs! I just had to take a picture with them! Right after Adam took this photo, the puppy gave me a big sloppy kiss up the side of my face. Nice!

It was an amazing vacation, and I recommend you go too! The peak tourism season in the Outer Banks typically ends around Labor Day. That's why we had the whole beach to ourselves! If you love crowds, go during the summer. But if you want a quiet escape, go in September while the weather is still warm, many of the attractions & restaurants are still open, and there are fewer tourists!

Anyway, we're back home now, and I'm anxious to start cake-ing again!