Monday, September 19, 2011

From the Kitchen: My Full-Size Sheet Cake Adventure

*Here’s a little catch-you-up post from the heat summer… I started it but never finished it, possibly due to lack of final product photos...? Oh well. In an effort not to have wasted that time, here it finally is.*

I have many, many wonderful friends, and a particularly special set of them are celebrated their 10th anniversary this summer. They organized a vow renewal Mass and a reception for their family and friends, and were in need of a cake on a budget, and I was in need of a special gift for them. So… I just couldn’t help myself… I volunteered to make the cake.

I was being optimistic about my skills (I got to experiment with icing under the eye of a professional helped decorate a wedding cake once) and my available time (I was trying to keep it together with a 3 month old and 3 other kids had no babysitter). But I did it! I baked, frosted and decorated a giant cake to feed about 100 people! And it looked OK! Some parts even looked great! And it was very tasty. It took a long day, but I was proud that I accomplished it, and can now check this particular feat off my bucket list.

I baked four 11” by 17” pans… two white cake, two devil’s food. I was really nervous about cooking it thoroughly without toasting the edges, and having it bake evenly to avoid excessive doming. For each layer, I used 2 boxes of Betty Crocker cake mix, prepared with 1 extra egg per mix. I greased each pan, poked 2 flower nails (to help the center cook by conducting heat) through parchment paper to line the bottom of each pan, then greased that too. I baked them at 325 for about 38 minutes each, and flipped them successfully onto wire racks to cool after 10 minutes in the pan after baking. They domed a little, but were baked just right.

Getting them onto the board was tricky, but I was ultimately successful. I piped a buttercream dam around the edge to hold the filling (a chocolate Bavarian cream mousse on the chocolate cake, and a strawberry peach cream mousse on the vanilla).  I then awkwardly managed to get the two top layer cakes on almost straight, and gave up trying to get them perfect to avoid tearing the cake. I leveled by eyeballing with a large thin bread knife.

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Then I did a little dirty icing (I prefer that term to “crumb coating” because it sounds like more fun, don’t you think?). I am no good with thin layers, and I needed some depth to cover a multitude of ugliness underneath, but it worked. It was finally iced, as smoothly as I was willing to work for, with no visible crumbs. Hooray!


I used a toothpick to draw a heart on the top to define the area for text, then used a red thread as a rough guide to help me write in straight lines. It didn’t work… my writing on this cake was terrible. It was mostly straight, but I used a calligraphy tip I had never used before (big mistake), didn’t plan out exactly where the text would go, and it didn’t help that I was leaning over the gigantic cake in a weird way to avoid a) smashing it and b) further straining my already strained back. Meh. I’ll eventually get over it, and all my friends were much too polite to comment.


Then I slapped on a piped pearl border and some buttercream roses. Don’t I make it sound easy?  Well, it wasn’t, actually. They were difficult for me and took a long time. It was good practice though, and maybe the next time I’ll make them it won’t be in a hot, humid house destined to wilt even the stiffest butter-based icing. The end result looked good enough to me.


Then I added leaves (those really were easy), and it was done! Frosted, it measures about 23” by 1” by 4”, and is the cake equivalent of about 192 cupcakes. Dangerous. I would have liked to have weighed it, just out of gross curiosity, but since I couldn’t even lift it by myself, that was never going to happen.


Ta da! One giant cake. Final cost… about $40 and 6 hours of my time, but the experience was priceless.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Get Crafty: Bunting Birthday Banner

Today my baby… my oldest baby… turned seven! My how the time flies  when you’re having fun :)

For a long time I had wanted to make a reusable birthday banner for the family - something to easily put up and take down, that complemented our decor and which would last many years. Just yesterday, an unexpected request came in from one of my very favorite local portrait photographers, Melanie Reyes, for a cute wedding/engagement banner, and that started me off with a close deadline to get something done in this vein. The birthday banner tested my planned process, and I’m happy to say that today I succeeded! I’m terribly impressed with the accuracy of my process and the overall end result...


We celebrated the big day with an unexpected roast turkey Thanksgiving-type dinner (our garage freezer died several days ago, so the partially thawed turkey found gainful employ in feeding tonight’s crowd). The vintage garden-inspired banner added to a festive atmosphere and, since it rained, we stayed inside and it was actually seen by our guests rather than just noted in passing. It makes me happy, just like my wonderful daughter, and I look forward to keeping them both around for many, many birthdays to come.


Happy birthday, honey bun… I’m so lucky to be your mom!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From the Kitchen: Chicken and Pasta in Lemon Cream Sauce

This recipe was a bit of a surprise winner, actually. I wasn’t sure if the lemon would go over, but I needed to use up some cooked chicken (long story) and my husband required pasta before last night’s hockey game. I used several recipes for inspiration, then just worked with what I had on hand. It was easy, tasty and filling. Cooking the pasta in the broth gave a real depth of flavor to the dish, and my husband, after one bite, said, “This is good… whatever it is.” I had debated adding some vegetables to the dish, like broccoli or zucchini, but at the last minute I decided to serve them raw with dinner because then my kids would eat them instead of picking them out (you know how it is). But you could add them in if you wanted.



6 cups water

4 chicken bouillon cubes or 4 tsp chicken soup base

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

juice of one lemon

1 tsp lemon zest

2 large cloves of garlic, pressed or finely minced

1 lb pasta (I used bowties)

2 cups cooked chicken, pulled into bite-size chunks

1 cup sour cream


Bring water to a boil. Add bouillon, pepper, lemon juice, lemon zest, and garlic. Add pasta and cook on medium until pasta is all dente and there is about 1/2 cup liquid left in the pot. Add chicken and continue heating for about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream until well combined and creamy. It may still seem a bit runny, but the sauce will thicken as it stands. Serve hot and enjoy!


I’m sure this recipe could be modified a million ways and still be wonderful – rice instead of pasta? roasted peppers in the sauce? mushrooms? - but the basic concept of creamy lemon was the big winner of the day. Unexpectedly extraordinary :)