Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cake for Kristen

Cake decorating class is on hiatus for the Christmas holiday. So far I've been averaging baking and decorating a cake a week. I was starting to wonder what I would do for this week/past weekend. Kristen, a friend in my class, mentioned her birthday was on Saturday and wanted a cake, but felt weird making one for herself. Bingo! I offered to make her cake for her. I needed the practice and something to do with the lovely fondant roses I had been working on. It helped to have something to do being snowed in on Saturday too.

I had some leftover chocolate buttercream from the Oreo cake. I mixed some raspberry preserves into it and used that for the filling between the 3 layers; 2 milk chocolate and 1 white in the middle. The exterior is chocolate buttercream.

My problem is, I start making cakes without thinking about how I am going to transport them. I have a cake carrier from my grandmother, but the cover was too low for this cake. I ended up using the bottom portion of my cake carrier inside a large cardboard box, balanced on the seat in my car. It made it to Kristen's with few noticeable smudges. One leaf fell off the bottom border, but it was easily re-attached.

You should check out Kristen's work on her blog Let Them Eat Cake.
She makes some really beautiful cakes.

On a side note, I had a very positive admissions interview at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts on Monday. By the time I was sitting in the unemployment office an hour and a half later, I got a message from the director of admissions telling me the wonderful news: I had been accepted in to the Pastry Program starting in January 2009! I bet no one has seen such a look of joy and happiness on the face of someone waiting to file for unemployment.

I'm still working out the details and trying to secure financing (the big IF factor) before I can officially announce my student status. So everyone hope that it comes through. I got the will, now I just need the way.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Break from Cake

Tonight I tried out a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks: Bread Tomato Garlic by Jill Dupleix. This cookbook is based on a lovely concept of quick cooking recipes that require only 3 main (and very few supporting) ingredients to make. The format is great and the recipes even better. This one is called Pear, Chocolate, Cream. I made a few changes to the recipe to make it my own. I used smaller seckel pears, poached them in sparkling apple cider, used 60% bittersweet chocolate to make the ganache, added a tiny pinch of cinnamon, and made my own ginger caramel sauce to compliment it all. Simple, warm and comforting dessert.

And 5 minutes later.......

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blessing in disguise?

Do you believe in omens? I do. In the summer of 2004, I was barely two years out of college, living and working in Columbus, OH and feeling very stuck and stagnant. Since college I had dreamed of moving, traveling and living a very full life. Instead I found myself working a job that sucked my soul, living with a roommate that kinda made me crazy, and had a boyfriend who, well things just were not working out there. I started looking for my escape.

I had visited Boston several times before and always felt kinda drawn to this area. (though now I'm not sure why) My brother Philip offered to let me come live with him in Massachusetts. There were many "what ifs", but somehow things fell into place. I was working for Bose, which is headquartered in Massachusetts, and it turned out my current job in Ohio was available at a location in MA, 15 mins from where Philip lived.

I started to make my transition. A week or so before I was to move, I was still nervous, being 24 and not sure what I was getting myself into. I stopped by a consignment shop I had sold clothes at to collect my earnings and explain that I would be closing my account since I was moving to Massachusetts. I collected my money: $14.50. When I looked at the two quarters I was given, they were both Massachusetts quarters. Coincidence?

Fast forward 4 1/2 years. They seem much like a blur to me. Being in Massachusetts had it's challenges at first, and still does, but I don't regret the move and the chance I took at all. It has lead to some amazing experiences and wonderful friends. I eventually left Bose to take a job at EH Publishing as a front desk/office assistant. I enjoyed working with the people at this company and quickly made many friends. 2 years ago in October I was promoted to Traffic Coordinator for the Internet group at EH. Things got a little trying in this position and that is when I really started questioning what I really wanted to be doing and cooking/baking started to become the evident answer.

Once again I was nervous to take a leap. Despite not being completely happy in my job position, I was comfortable. I knew the people, I knew what was expected of me, I knew the hours, the routine.....I wanted to break out of it and go do something that made me wildly happy, but I was scared of leaving that zone.

December 16th, (this past Tuesday) due to the slumping economy, I was informed that my job was being eliminated at EH and I was being laid off. I cried. No, I sobbed. Not because I was sad to be leaving EH, but because I didn't think I was ready, and I never imagined this would happen to me. Coworkers shared my tears, hugged me and assured me that I would be ok. As I took their words of comfort to heart, I started to realize this was supposed to happen now. This was the 'nudge' I needed to get out of the comfort zone and start living my dream. I reminded each person as they wished me luck, that if they need cakes or pastries of any type, to call me!

A short 2 days, many, many phone calls to my family, friends and now ex-coworkers, emails back and forth to the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and one pastry class observation later, I feel like nothing has ever felt so right in my life. I am almost giddy. There is a tiny voice way in the back of my head that tries now and then to freak me out, but I squash it quickly. Some people told me to take some time off, I haven't. I'm on a roll chasing my dream and forging it into reality. I am determined like never before to make life submit to my will.

So what have I been doing in my free time other than phone call, class visits, and filling out loan applications? I'm going to the gym, I'm enjoying sleeping in a little, I'm making fondant roses as you can see. I bought 18 eggs, a bag of flour and some more powdered sugar and tomorrow during the snow storm, I'm going to bake up a storm. And somewhere between here and there (where ever there is?) I'm going to clean.

A new chapter starts now.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Ambitious Oreo Cake

This weekend I took on my most ambitious cake thus far. Not only was it the biggest and most work intensive cake, it had to be done in secret because it was for Pete's surprise birthday party on Saturday. Pete is known to many of his friends as, "Oreo" (rhymes with his last name), so when I thought up the design for this cake, I couldn't think of anything more fitting.

I found a 16" round cake pan at Michael's. Kristen, a fellow cake decorator, pointed me to a blog with a great recipe for an Oreo cookie cream filling, and 3 batches of chocolate cake batter, 1 liter of heavy cream, and entire bag of Oreo cookies, 4 sticks of butter and about 2 1/2 lbs of powdered sugar later. Oh and about 4 hours of labor. Voila!
Next time you eat an Oreo, take a close look at it. There is a lot of detail on one little cookie. I wasn't able to completely recreate the design, but I think I got it pretty close. Pete seemed pretty pleased.

The Oreo cookie cream filling is highly addictive. Sandwiched in between two layers of moist chocolate cake and covered in chocolate and vanilla buttercream. Goes great with a tall glass of milk.

Tomorrow night we are playing with Fondant again in class. We will be making Fondant roses and flowers. Then next week is the final class for level 3 and then I will start level 4, which is more Fondant and Gum Paste.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I've got competition

The following is an email I received this morning from one of my blog followers. It was a great start to my day. Make sure to see the photos below that were attached to the email.


I realize of course that you have a few entry cooking "classes" under your belt and have made a few fancy cakes and deserts, but it is tough to beat true culinary talent. Especially when it is concentrated in one family like ours. Please note the hard work going on in the icing department (cookie decoration is serious business) along with our award winning taste testing department (he not only can eat the cookies, but he knows the word for it!!) Also note the wonderful consistency of the base cookies and combine that with the fanstastical decorations ranging from super heroes and villains (Iron Man and the special "why so serious" Joker cookie) to our loaded sugar bomb special with more sprinkles on it than you can shake a stick at (or at least the shaker itself). Keep up the good work and we look forward to watching you progress and hope to one day welcome you to the true elite of the baking world.

CEO Brown Baking Company

President and VP of the company hard at work.

Their workers take decorating seriously

This one is the taste tester.

Can you see Iron man and the Joker?

Look at those lovely sprinkles!

Derek is my brother-in-law. The photos are of my sister Elizabeth and my nephews, Joshua and Thomas. Joshua loves cooking with my sister and especially likes to help stir the batter when making muffins. It makes me happy to see that he loves cooking and decorating, much like his Aunt Jenni.

Looks like a fun place to work. I'm going to have to apply for a job there when my skills have improved enough to meet their expectations. :-)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Almond Snowflake Cake

Tonight's cake class was the introduction to Fondant. I have mixed feeling about Fondant. On one hand you can do some really cool stuff with it (anyone who has ever seen an episode of Ace of Cakes knows what I'm talking about). Fondant is like edible silly putty and just as much fun to play with. The downside of Fondant is, well it doesn't really taste like anything and it's got a heavy in the mouth texture. None the less, I was looking forward to playing with Fondant tonight.

Last week I let my coworkers vote on the flavor of cake for this week. Almond was the flavor picked. I picked the recipe, "Grandmother's snow-high almond cake" from the Pillsbury's Best Baking Book originally published in the early 1950s. It's a butter cake, meaning the fat comes from butter. Most cake mixes today rely on vegetable oil for the fat. I'm struggling with my "from scratch" cakes, despite my courses at the CSCA. Oil cakes turn out pretty good for me, but butter cakes are still not producing the exact results I'm looking for. This one wasn't an easy one either. After creaming all the wet ingredients minus the 4 egg whites, you then beat the egg whites to stiff peaks with some sugar and fold into the remaining cake mix right before pouring into pans and baking. I hoped with the beaten egg whites the cake would have a nice fluffy texture. The cake came out with a nice softness and a light almond flavor, but did not rise nearly as much as I had hoped it would. Back to the drawing, er uh mixing table.

I think the best part of this cake is the all butter almond buttercream frosting. There is a nice thick spread of it between the two layers of almond cake. Then the entire outside of the cake was frosted with the remaining buttercream and then robed in Fondant. I tried to roll it as thin as possible in order to not have it completely mask the flavor of the buttercream. I'm hoping they will meld a bit.

With the cold spell we had today in the Boston area, the first light snowfall we had yesterday, and the recipe title, I thought a snow themed cake was very appropriate. A slice of this and a steaming hot mug of tea or cocoa might be all you need to beat the winter chills.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas came early......

In the form of a Kitchen Aid Pro 6 mixer! I really wanted a red one, but when I found this one going for a good price on craigslist, color was the least of my concerns. I have been drooling over the idea of having a Kitchen Aid stand mixer for some time and after using one at the CSCA during my baking classes, there was no going back to my $20 hand mixer I bought at Wal-mart. I want to play in the big league now; I need big league equipment.

I thought last years gift of my Anolon non-stick cookware was the one of the best Christmas gifts ever, but Pete has managed to top himself this year. When he said he would like to buy the mixer for me as my Christmas gift, I questioned him, "are you going to do the same thing you did to me last year? Because if you are, I'm just going to buy this myself, I have things I need to make with this BEFORE Christmas!". Last year I was with him when he bought me the cookware. It was early December. Since I was with him and knew what my gift was going to be, I figured that meant I would get it right then and there. NOPE! He took it home with him, wrapped it and then presented it to me at his family's Christmas gathering. Oh, gee I wonder what is in this box? He said he'd let me have the mixer this time. I offered to let him take the dough hook with him to give to me on Christmas, but he left it here. Good thing, I want to try making brioche.

I also got some nice gifts from my Mom when I was home for Thanksgiving. A cook book that had been my Grandmother's, a metal milk can we used to keep the pasteurized goats milk in when I was younger, some mixed dishes that have been retired from her kitchen, a much coveted jar of her homemade salsa (which I had ask for with my fingers crossed) and a jar of sour cherry jelly- made from the cherries that grow on the bushes around my parents house. Mmmmm! This may turn out to be the tastiest Christmas yet.

The place I call Home

These days people move around a lot, living in many different places. I've lost track of the number of apartments I have lived in, considering I've moved at least once a year for the past 6 years or more. I remember my boss at the radio station in Dayton talking about calling Indianapolis "home" even though she had grown up someplace else. Indianapolis was where she has spent a good amount of time and felt most like Home to her. I was living in Miamisburg, OH at the time, in a house with my older brother Paul. This was my first residence post living with Mom and Dad.

Now after living in Massachusetts for almost 5 years and in now in my 4th apartment here, I am adjusting to the crazy driving, stores closing at 10pm or earlier, and the winter, well not so sure I will ever get used to that. However, Ohio is and probably will always be HOME. It amazes me how much changes while I am gone. I grew up in Farmersville, Ohio, and for those of you who don't know it, it is pretty much everything the name conjures up in your mind: small midwestern farming community. But it is growing quickly. House are springing up where corn and soybeans used to be all you could see. There is now a paved walking/bike path that covers the 1 mile between Farmersville and the community park next to my parents house. Even the community swimming pool has been completely redone, now looking more modern and includes a water slide.

While visiting my parents the day before Thanksgiving, I thought about how much things had changed and wonder how much they will change still between now and my next visit. I took out my camera with the intention of having proof of my farm upbrining for my coworkers who laugh at my, "Jenni on the farm" stories , but it turned into more of trying to make things stand still so I can remember how it was years from now.

Here is my Thanksgiving trip down memory lane just outside of Farmersville, OH, and a little glimpse into where I came from and what makes me, ME.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Tarts

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and yes it has a lot to do with the food. Or maybe I love food because of Thanksgiving? Either way this holiday has always been dear to my heart. All the way back to my childhood days when my family got up early to drive to Cincinnati to visit my Dad's Godmother and attend Thanksgiving day mass with her. We would return home ravenous, and as soon as you opened the door the smell of turkey greeted your nose, and made your tummy rumble even more.

My family's Thanksgiving fare was always traditional. A Large turkey (some years a large as 40lbs!), green been casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows baked on top, dinner rolls and Mom's Cranberry Salad where annual stars of the table. Don't forget dessert: pumpkin pie, apple pie and sometimes my Dad's favorite- Mincemeat.

This year my brother David and his wife Lynn hosted the family gathering in their Lucasville, Oh home. There was no lack of food this year as always. I really wanted to make a dessert since I had just bought these adorable little tart tins, but I got beat out by other bakers in the family. I just had to use the tins, so I made some little sweet onion quiches, inspired by a recipe from a friend.

To add some color and different flavors, I topped some of the tarts with slices of asparagus spears, halved cherry tomatoes, and slivers of mushrooms. I especially liked the asparagus ones and will definitely make these again.

And no doubt you'll be seeing products of these tart tins again soon.....