Thursday, January 12, 2017

Baby Cakes (and a Recipe!)

Last week one night, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and a baking blogger that I follow had posted a picture of an incredibly gorgeous chocolate cake.  I showed it to my husband and exclaimed that I needed to bake cake more often - we are not enjoying enough cake like this!  Back when I worked at Phillips Exeter Academy a few years ago, I was the self appointed birthday cake baker and I spent many hours pouring over recipes and choosing cake recipes for each of the monthly employee birthdays in my department.  I never made the same cake twice and I always made two or three cakes at a time to bring in.  I would combine all the birthdays that fell in any given month and choose a particular day that would be our Cake Day.  Everybody loved and greatly anticipated cake days and I loved planning for them.  Nowadays, I make cakes just a few times a year.  When there are only two of you at home, making a huge layer cake just doesn't make sense unless you are going to pig out and eat it over a couple of days.  We just can't do that (we really want to but we won't).  So, inspiration struck - baby cakes!  I have a really good recipe that I actually found on the back of Trader Joes baking cocoa and it's called the "Easiest And Greatest Chocolate Cake Ever" or something like that.  I am going to share that recipe with you shortly.  You want this recipe in your file box!

Last Saturday night, I made a batch of the cake batter that I am going to spell out for you and I divided it in to the 9 pans you see above and baked them.  I wrapped them all individually and very tightly and stored them all in the freezer but one of the little ones.  On Sunday, right after church, I made a bowl of rich chocolate ganache and we split one of the baby cakes and layered on ganache and chocolate peanut butter ice cream for our Sunday splurge.  Heaven!  Then, tonight, we had two of our missionaries over for dinner and I thawed out another baby cake and this time I made a chocolate cream cheese frosting and made a wee layer cake sprinkled with mini chocolate chips.  That wee cake was cut in to four tiny pieces for our dessert - perfect.  Now, anytime we crave a bit of cake, we can have one with no leftovers.  I plan on making a few other types of cake batter and bake and freeze them too for variety (though chocolate is the favorite).

Here's the recipe and it truly is easy because you throw all of the ingredients in one huge mixing bowl and beat it all at once - no separating wet and dry although sometimes I do out of habit.  The cake is moist, rich, not too sweet, not too tender but not dense - just right!  It's a perfect devil's food type cake and it makes a ton of batter - more than you would need for a typical two-three layer cake.  If you want cupcakes, it makes 48!  When I make it for a layer cake, once I pour the batter in my pans, I use the leftover batter for however many cupcakes can be made.  For baby cakes, it filled four 4 inch pans and 4 six inch pans and I over filled them so the cakes would be high enough to split in layers themselves.
Typical 9 inch pans bake for 30 minutes; cupcakes and the wee cakes, start at 20 minutes - just keep an eye on the smaller pans and not all ovens perform the same.

Greatest AND Easiest Chocolate Cake (Trader Joe's)

3 1/3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbl baking soda
1 1/3 cups baking cocoa
3 cups buttermilk (don't use regular milk)
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 sticks softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
5 eggs
Beat it all together on high (start on low or it will go flying) for 3 minutes.  Grease and flour your pans and bake at preheated 350 degrees.  

On another cooking note, yesterday I made a huge pot of Alphabet Soup for our church Women's meeting; we had a wonderful Grammar Refresher class taught by a high school English teacher and it seemed appropriate.  The soup is made with hamburger, onions, carrots, green beans, corn, peas, beef broth, tomato sauce, and various herbs.  It was pretty tasty and we had leftovers so I served it again tonight to our dinner guests (and the baby cakes).

I meant to get a picture of the dessert - my friend Taryn made large sugar cookies and she frosted them with a delightful green icing and wrote (with icing, very finely) words that we associate with grammar, like noun, adverb, pronoun etc.  Clever and delicious.  I highly recommend a grammar refresher for all of us - you have probably noticed how poorly we speak as a nation, even journalists and writers, and our kids and grandkids are not being taught grammar as thoroughly or consistently like we older folks were.  Forgive me if you ever find a grammar mistake in my blog posts -  I do overuse commas and hyphens but at least you will never hear or read incorrect subject or object pronouns from me.  Bits from last night's class - don't say "me and my sister" are driving to the lake - say instead, "my sister and I".  You wouldn't say "me drove to the lake" so why would you say "me and my sister" did?  And "fewer problems and less pain" - know the difference.  Lesson over!  Fun class!  Now go make baby cakes!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

It's A Wrap (Almost)!

I always feel a bit blah for the first several days after Christmas - it's still "vacation" so I don't go back to my usual routines, yet I can't wait to do so - instead, I do things I don't usually do on weekdays like binge watch movies, do puzzles, eat too much sugar, read books during the daylight hours - it's like I can't allow myself to "be productive" until January 2nd.  It's both pleasurable and frustrating.  I'm really just complaining because I feel fat and gross from excessive cookie and candy consumption.  I'll just wrap up the year by filling you in on what went on since my last post.

We left the last day of November for a whirlwind 6 cities in 12 days trip in the west to see family and some friends.  We spent two days in each city - Boise, Seattle, Alamo/Livermore CA, San Diego, Phoenix and Dallas.  We saw our parents, a couple siblings, three children, eight grandchildren, and friends who are serving as mission presidents for our church in WA.  While it was super fun, I sat, ate and talked more than I usually do.  The pictures on this post are not in perfect order - Sorry!
I am standing behind Dan's 98 1/2 year old mom and all the parked walkers as we went to the dining room for dinner.  She lives in a wonderful assisted living facility.
 So excited to go in to Yogurt Mill in El Cajon CA - been going there since 1978!

I couldn't finish this one - I intended to eat it all during the drive from San Diego to Phoenix but I just couldn't do it.
 My mom's painted tree - it died many years ago so she painted it and decorates it with the seasons.
 That's me and my mama!

 The view from our hotel in San Diego.  We didn't stay with my parents but rather downtown.

 My big brother Scott - also known as Scotty Wamps!
 Scott does all my mom's gardening now and he especially loves to work with succulents.  I am inspired by this medusa type one and I'll be on the lookout for a pot just like it.
Here's a not so professional picture of the Sampson's - Dan's daughter Brooke and her family (minus son Koby). We went to the Mesa AZ Temple with them one night to see all the Christmas lights.

 In Seattle, before we met up with our mission president friends, the Blatters, we walked all over that town and went to a bakery I've been hoping to visit one day - I have the cookbook from that bakery and it's fabulous - Dahlia Bakery.  We ate lunch there and bought a box of goodies.
 Of course we went to the famous Pike's Public Market and perused all the stalls.
Took at bite out of everything we bought.
Our dear friends, John and Diane Blatter.  They are serving a three year mission as heads of the Tacoma Mission of our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (you know, the Mormons!).

 In Livermore/Alamo, we stayed with Dan's daughter Kara's family.  I made Nilla wafer banana pudding at her son's request and we dug in right after church and before dinner.

 The two pics above are of a house in Livermore CA where Dan's daughter Kara lives and she and her family took us to a house owned by "Deacon Dave" who starts putting up lights on his property in October for Christmas.  It is so spectacular that people line up every night to tour his yard.
 Below are some lights we saw in Dallas neighborhoods.  Those Santas are all in one front Dallas yard.
 Here is Dan balancing baby Vivi (daughter Krista's 7 month old) at their Dallas home.

 As soon as we got home from the trip I put up a little live tree in a large terra cotta pot (I'm done with big trees) and decorated the mantels, some table tops, and put wreaths outside.

 We did a day/night trip to Boston and saw the Boston Pops mid December - wonderful wonderful!  We stayed at the Eliot Hotel on the corner of Commonwealth and Massachusetts Aves - beautiful, European style, boutique hotel (we decided that from now on, when in Boston, that is where we will stay).  Every room is a lovely suite and the Japanese restaurant in the hotel is said to be tops.  We did not eat there but rather ate across the street at a French one called Deuxave - the food and service were most excellent!
Then the baking began.  I made nine different kinds of cookies and/or candy and Dan made his chocolate covered cherries and mints he has made for years and years.
 Chocolate covered truffles.
 This is my "cookie candy" - I tweeked a recipe I found years ago in a big way and this is my version.  It is so addictive - chocolatey, crunchy, nutty, fruity - incredible!  I included the recipe too and it's super easy.

 I made wool yarn pom poms watching a youtube video (Kristen Nichols) and using Clover pom pom molds.  Very fast work - each one takes about two minutes.

 It snowed a couple days before Christmas but it melted the day before so we didn't have a white Christmas after all.  Today was 58 degrees in Rye!

After Christmas "fun" - a puzzle - I haven't put one together in 15 years I bet.

 When Gabe and I went to Prince Edward Island two months ago, I bought two kinds of wool yarn and asked Gabe to make me a hat and mittens in whatever style she wanted as a Christmas gift to me.  The finished products are adorable!  Below I have donned them for a Boxing Day walk

 Our boys; my son Dane and Dan's son Caleb holding their Christmas stockings.  We so enjoyed having them home for the holiday.
On Christmas Eve after the game, Dan and I took a 12 pound prime rib and slathered it in butter, fresh rosemary and thyme.  We made slits and inserted garlic slices in each.  We roasted the meat the following day for a couple hours after we got home from church and it was so so so delicious.  We had 15 people at our table for prime rib, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, salad, rolls, scalloped corn , a made-from-scratch green bean casserole (not the campbell's cream of mushroom soup one) and tons of cookies.
Some of the goodies I made.

 These "sugar whoopies" are a family favorite.
 Gabe also made me some vases for Christmas.  She made the one in back her freshman year of high school and the two in front just recently.  Love!

On Christmas Eve Day, Dan and I and our sons went to see the Patriots destroy the NY Jets.  It rained pretty hard most of the game but our ponchos kept us more or less dry.  In the pic above, you can see that the skies cleared and the sun came out the last half hour of the game.

Dane (Binky) and I here :)

I'll endure a few more days of loafing around and then I have so many projects to work on in the new year.  Dan and I have also planned four trips for the winter months; little week long get-aways at warm beaches here and there.

Okay, back to the puzzle table!