Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daring Bakers - March '08 Challenge!

My first Daring Bakers challenge! I can't tell you how psyched I have been. Not only am I hooked up with this extremely cool group of people who, like me, love to bake, but this is also the beginning of a new time of personal creativity. I've been languishing for a while, and am making a new start of it. And I deserve it!

This month's challenge was hosted by Morven, who selected "Dorie's Perfect Party Cake" from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. I'd heard of Dorie but have never done any of her recipes (*gasp*); however, she is definitely a goddess in the blogging baking community. My little girl's 5th birthday was March 19th, so I knew the exact purpose of my party cake. Yay! How convenient.


Morven allowed us a lot of leeway in size, shape, and flavor; I decided to stick close to the original the first time. I did have a little brainstorm and came up with a list of different cake flavors and complimentary jam flavors that would be really good, I think, to do - I'll be glad to share the list with you if you merely contact me at amyjdavis93 [at] gmail [dot] com. :)


I got all of my ingredients together on a lovely weekend morning, and my daughter was all about being The Helper.

Mise en place (except for the wine bottle - Ha!)

I must say that she does a really good job for a 5-year-old and really seems to enjoy the process! I'm so proud of her - but I digress.


Dorie's cake was a beautiful white cake flavored subtly with lemon, and I didn't deviate from that. We mixed the lemon zest and sugar together, and Lord have mercy! It was the most fragrant stuff, and I seriously did NOT want to bring my head out of the bowl! My little fat lemon yielded exactly the amount of zest I needed, and I used the microplane that my mother-in-law gave me a while back - fun! I hope you can tell by the picture below what it looked like: the grainy sugar speckled with bright golden flecks of zest, and moist with the oils dispersed throughout.... Ahh!

I mixed the butter in, and we had a lump of rich, yellow, sugary bliss.

After adding the lemon extract and alternately blending in the flour mixture and buttermilk/egg white mixtures, I came out with this heavenly-looking, perfectly white batter that was simply amazing. It looked like marshmallow fluff (but since I don't like marshmallow fluff, it was infinitely better).

Then, into the nicely buttered and papered pans we go, and into the waiting oven! The pan on the right had just a wee bit more batter in it than the other one, and I'd scooped some over to the other pan to even it up; I apparently needed to scoop a wee bit more, though. One was done after 30 minutes, but the other pan still needed a bit more time. It was funny, because when I pulled the second one out I was like, 'ga!' at the color. The first was this pretty, delicate cream color; the second was a little browner. Not overdone, though - and they were both beautiful! Like a best friend, the finished cake did not give away my little secret. Bwahahahahaha.....

Out cooling on the racks

My initial idea was to make the cakes, freeze them, and decorate a few days later. But when I asked the Birthday Girl about it, she said (to my delight), "TODAY, MAMA!" How can a mom turn that down, I ask you?! I felt compelled to oblige. =:D



The recipe called for raspberry jam as the filling, but I decided to go with blueberry jam this time. I've always heard of the complimentary flavors of lemon and blueberry but have never cooked with them. Again, the feeling of compulsion arose within me. :D

It was really fun whisking the egg whites and sugar over the simmering water. Even more fun was the resulting white fluffy goodness that ensued. How'd it do that?!

Our finished product was this dreamy light meringue buttercream that "someone" just had to dip their finger into!

Oh yeah...nobody else put their finger way....


No...the icing on face and nose was NOT staged! HA!

I made buttercream icing last year for Kiddo's birthday (to top vanilla cupcakes), but this version was far superior. Last year's recipe was good, but had a residual greasiness that was kind of like, "eh?". This one, however, was light, fluffy, and heaven on earth, with a nice tang from the lemon juice.


As far as constructing the cake, it wasn't too bad. I definitely need more practice in halving a cake to make layers, but considering that this was my first time to do this, I'm quite satisfied. At least I didn't have the major trauma of layers breaking on me or anything. It almost wanted to happen, but I'm cool like that. :D


I took note of some comments from other Daring Bakers with the filling. I spread on the jam, then spread the buttercream on the bottom of the soon-to-be upper layer and put it on top of the jam side.

I was a little challenged with the icing, because it seemed like I didn't have enough - either that or I was just expecting to have more to work with. I had to keep pulling from places I'd already covered in order to cover the rest of the cake. It had me scared for a bit, there, but it turned out fine.


I skipped the coconut flakes and went instead for these little decorative candies that I sprinkled all over. There were actually some white candies in the mix, but I picked them out because I wanted little pops of color. I thought that the end result, while not being a professional-level bakery looking thing *snort* still was really cute and fun.

So it's not perfectly centered on the platter - sue me! Phhhhhhtttt!

I would love to tell you that shape of the cake in the above picture is because of the camera angle or something like that; however, like George Washington (whose birthday follows mine by one day) I cannot tell a lie. Next time I will arrange the layers, dry, on top of each other and trim away parts that don't quite match up. But adding to the Fun Element of this cake, it kind of makes me think of something that would have been on the Mad Hatter's table when Alice came to his tea party. Don't you think?

Sweet Pea was really proud of her special cake.

After our munching on this lovely creation at our home, I took it the following weekend to my parents' house when we got together for Easter (it kept extremely well, by the way). Everybody adored it!! My father was REALLY into it and ate 2/3 of what I brought (curse him, he can eat like a horse and still be this tall, Cary Grant-type guy). Ha ha!


I will SOOOO make this cake again! I might try a whole teaspoon of extract next time in the cake instead of 1/2 tsp. but I haven't totally decided on whether that might be too lemony. I would definitely make more buttercream to make sure that I had plenty (probably 1.5 X's the recipe), but as far as any "flaws" in the recipe or cake there weren't any. This is such a versatile recipe, and a lot of fun to make as well. Try it - you'll love it!


Click here for the results of the many, many others in the Daring Bakers family! The recipe is posted all over the place, so I won't put it here since my post is already quite long.

Thank you, Morven, and thank you, Dorie!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Il neige! Nevica! Het sneeuwt! *

So the other day the weather people were saying that we were going to get some Real Winter Precipitation coming through the area. If you live in cooler climes, this is not a big deal, but for the South it's like WOW!! I still didn't totally believe that it was going to happen because, well, like I said, we live in the South. Usually if their predictions actually occur it will be an ice storm or something like that! Yecch!

I went to work yesterday and it started snowing lightly that morning. After lunchtime it was coming down big-time, and when my coworker and I left around 1:30PM it was like winter storm, man! A drive that usually takes me 20 minutes took me at least an hour this day. Poor Kid was dying to go out and play, but it snowed like crazy all afternoon.

However, as I suspected, the snowflakes weren't falling the next day, so we bundled up and took a trek around our yard. Because we don't get snow around here often, when it does come there is a magical quality that comes with it. A lot of it has to do with the silence. Because roads aren't cleared and tires aren't winterproofed, traffic is rare. Also, the acoustical quality of snow muffles or absorbs unnecessary sound. Things are peaceful, restful, and lend themselves to quiet contemplation. It reminds me that God is always giving us new beginnings, as well as desiring for us to look at the same old things in a different way.
We have a little over an acre and traipsed all around it. The dogs, giddy with excitement from the snow (as well as our being outside) played around.

Mojo is our yellow Lab, whom we have had for about 7 years now, and Maggie, the black Lab, is around 9 months old. (Our German Shepherd, Suzy, was incarcerated - she kept breaking out of the fence, so she was detained in the smaller dog pen that day!)

Nutty dogs playing around in the snow!

My little cutie loved tramping around, and we made snow piles and kicked around in what I guess to be 6" of white stuff (again, this is really a lot for where we live). We could hear plops and see snow fly as lumps of snow fell from tree branches.

It had gotten up into the high 40's by this afternoon, and by the next day the only snow in our yard was that which was in the shade of the trees. But, as always, it was fun while it lasted!

* ("It's snowing!" in French, Italian, and Dutch)