Monday, November 19, 2012

American Flag Cake


Bust out your patriotism, brothers and sisters.  

It's time to fly those stars and stripes... in cake form.



For the cake...

2-1/4 sticks unsalted butter

3 cups sugar

6 whole eggs

1 cup sour cream (full fat, babies)

1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups flour

1/3 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon kosher salt 
(use 3/4 tsp regular -- iodized-- salt if kosher salt is not available... however, get into the habit of using either sea salt or kosher salt when baking and cooking.  Tastes better.  Iodized is for the uninitiated.)

1 teaspoon baking soda 

For the frosting...
1-1/2 pound cream cheese (3 [8oz.] packages, full fat -- this is a party cake, child!)

1 pound unsalted butter (4 sticks)

1 pound powdered sugar

1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 pint blueberries

2 pints strawberries, halved vertically 

Preparation Instructions

In a mixing bowl, mix unsalted butter and sugar together on high until light and fluffy, about a minute or so. Add eggs, two at a time. Mix after each addition. Add sour cream and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix together flour, cornstarch, kosher salt and baking soda. Turn mixer to low and gradually add flour mixture to butter/sugar mixture, one scoop at a time. Mix after every addition. Keep adding the flour mixture, mix until just combined. Do not overmix!

Line an 18 x 13 baking sheet pan with cookie sheets and press to fit into the corners of the pan.  Be sure to leave a lip on all sides, big enough for you to grab but not enough to drape down into the oven and burn.  You will pour the batter on top of this, and the cake formation will bake on top of it.  Later, when you have to pull the cake out of the pan for decorating, this adds as a nice sling of sorts to help you lift the cake and keep it in shape.

Pour the thick cake batter into the pan -- don't be alarmed if you are a cake pro and this cake seems too goey; it’s much thicker than regular cake batters.  With a knife or offset spatula, spread the cake batter evenly over the pan.

Place the pan into a preheated 350-degree oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. I baked mine for exactly 20 minutes, so you probably want to start checking then.  Your time will vary due to differences in oven temperatures.

Once finished, take it out and let it cool.  Once cool, remove the cake from the pan by hoisting it out via that little cookie sheet sling I had you make before.  Set it somewhere flat.  

Now wash your cookie sheet or find some fancy "cake presentation" glass display pedestal.  Using your sling, flip the cake upside down on your washed-and-dried cookie sheet or fancy display pedestal.  Peel off the cookie sheet.  If your bottom is lumpy, which it may or not may be, then do a little trimming to make an even top.  

Here's a nice video explaining "shaping a sheet cake."  Hopefully you've read this entire recipe through before attempting to create anything, as this video will help illustrate why I recommend using a cookie sheet to line your cake pan.

Shaping a Sheet Cake

Secondly, the frosting!

In a mixing bowl, add cream cheese and butter. Whip to combine. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Mix until thoroughly combined, scraping the sides once during mixing.

Put about 1/2 the frosting on the cake. Mark off the area of the stars with a toothpick. (No need to be proportionately accurate; just guesstimate.) Prepare a pastry bag with a large star tip and fill up to 2/3 with icing. Fold down both corners to keep icing from splurging out the top. 

** Someday I will have a pastry bag with tips.  Until then, you can use a gallon-size freezer bag.  Just fill the bag and snip off a lower corner.  Boom -- pastry piper.  You would also be able to insert tips if you have them to create different shapes with the frosting.  

HOWEVER... I just bought an aerosol can of frosting from the baking aisle of my supermarket, which came with interchangeable plastic tips.  This cake was already a lot of work, so I wanted to cut corners somewhere without being too lazy.  If you do go the aerosol can route, be sure to smear the rest of the homemade frosting evenly on the cake for more of a creamy delight.

Start squeezing two lines of frosting at the bottom of the cake. Make two rows of strawberries on the cake, then add another two lines of frosting.

Keep repeating: two lines of frosting, two lines of strawberries, two lines of frosting, etc.

Fill the square in the corner with a nice layer of blueberries. With the star tip, squeeze little dollops of frosting all over the blueberries.  Yay, STARS.

I then added bunting to the sides to complete the presidential display.  If I were a Bond girl, my name would be Bunting Galore, check out that picture at the top.

Now, take your concoction to a soiree or invite people over to stare at it.  
People will be impressed, I promise you.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tres Leches Cake

This is what your cake will look like after you have poured in the cream.  Do not be disturbed.
Yes, your cake may ooze on your plate.  This is normal.  Just think of it as brains and pretend to be a zombie.

For those of you whose Spanish is limited to Taco Bell menus and Ricky Martin ditties, 'tres leches' refers to the three milks -- usually whole, condensed and evaporated -- that soak this sponge cake to a gooey, custardy consistency, after which it's covered with tangy meringue or sweetened whipped cream.  

After much research, all of which led to nowhere, the only certain origin story I can pinpoint for this delight is as follows:

"Pastel de Tres Leches" is descended from a long and respectable tradition of desserts that extends back through colonial Mexican history to medieval Europe.  However, the version we have all grown accustomed to became popularized via Nestle Evaporate Milk, who had published the recipe on the outside of cans shortly after WWII.  So there you go.





6 large eggs, separated 

2 cups granulated sugar 

2 cups all-purpose flour 

2 teaspoons baking powder 

1/2 cup whole milk 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 


Cream topping

1 14-ounce can evaporated milk 

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup heavy cream

** It is not unheard to also add rum, khalua, or amaretto at this point to add a little extra kick.  I added tequila to mine.  Dump in as much or as little as you want to taste... but remember, you idiot, the alcohol bakes out leaving only the flavor behind.  You will not get drunk with your little baked White Russian experiment.



3 tablespoons water 

3/4 cup granulated sugar 

3 large egg whites 

1 ripe mango, peeled, seed removed, and thinly sliced 

1 ripe papaya, peeled, seeds removed, and thinly sliced

** I'll be honest...  I just bought jarred papaya and mango fruit slices, found in the jam aisle of my grocery store.  This cake was too much work to also have to chop up and deseed fruit... plus, the jarred versions are already glazed with a preservative, so it won't rot in your fridge when you're storing away your leftovers.



To make the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer, beat the egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually with the mixer running and peak to stiff peaks. Add the egg yolks 1 at a time, beating well after the addition of each.

Sift together the flour and baking powder and add to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk. (Do this quickly so the batter does not lose volume.) Add the vanilla. Bake until golden, 25 minutes.

To make the cream topping

In a blender, combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream and blend on high speed.

** I don't have a blender.  A food processor or even your beaters will work just fine.

Remove the cake from the oven and while still warm, pour the cream mixture over it. Let sit and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

To make the icing

Once the cake is completely chilled, in a saucepan combine the water and sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cook until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage, 235 to 240 degrees F. Remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. While beating, add the hot syrup in a stream. Beat until all the syrup has been added, the mixture cools, and a glossy icing forms.

To assemble

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the icing evenly across the top. Arrange the mango and papaya slices over the top and serve.

Spaghetti with Roasted Tomatoes and Pancetta

Though this recipe is indeed time-consuming, it's incredibly simple to prep and a fun dish to serve! 

To eat, you just crush your tomato on top of your pasta... it makes for a nice, albeit light, sauce.  I have found while devouring this that the meal itself is actually quite dry... I don't know if I just need more crushed tomato topping per serving or if the noodles need to be tossed in a separate marinara first, but it definitely needs some kind of extra sauce.  Do a little experimenting yourselves and let me know!


3 oz diced pancetta 
(bacon can be used as a substitute, though I'm a little over this "bacon is the best" trend... 
I would sub in proscuitto if anything)

6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the pasta

2 anchovy fillets... or more.  They are surprisingly delicious when added to meals!

1 cup coarse bread crumbs

4 tomatoes, tops sliced off, seeds scooped out

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 

small handful fresh thyme, parsley, or basil leaves, chopped

salt and pepper

8 oz spaghetti

1.     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.   

2.     Fry the pancetta in a skillet over medium heat until browned and crisp around the edges.  Lift the pancetta out of the skillet to a plate.  Leave the rendered fat in the skillet.   

3.     Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the anchovies to the same skillet.  Use a wooden spoon to mash the anchovies until they dissolve.  Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring often, until they are golden. 

4.     Put the tomatoes, cut side up, in a baking dish and slip some garlic into each tomato.  Mound some bread crumbs onto each tomato, getting some inside the tomatoes.  Scatter herbs on top.  Drizzle 4 tablespoons of olive oil over all.   

5.     Roast the tomatoes in the oven until they have browned a bit and the interior is supple but the tomatoes have not collapsed, about one hour. 

6.     Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water.  Drain, but reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. 
7.     Return the pasta to the pot and remove the tomatoes from the baking dish and set aside.  Stir the oily tomato juices and any bits of bread crumbs from the bottom of the tomato roasting dish into the pasta.  Add a little olive oil and the reserved pasta water and toss.   

8.     Pour the pasta into a serving bowl, place the tomatoes on top, sprinkle the pancetta over all and serve.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Stuffed Bell Peppers

I, being of a relative "foodie-limited" upbringing in good ol' Rice Lake, WI (pop. 8000), decided to branch out one fine Boston afternoon.  The opportunities were endless!  Fresh overpriced oysters? Terrible burritos at the less-than-authentic taco joints of MA?  Italian cuisine that your Italian boyfriend can make better at home?  Ethiopian?  

Yes, Ethiopian.  A Boston cuisine that had yet to tantalize / disappoint my taste buds.  Now, mind you, Boston does indeed have some deeeeeeeeeeelightful dining options.  Today was just one of those "glass-half-empty" kind of days, so Boston culinary scene, here's my wrath.

But back to the Ethiopian.  One, you eat it with your hands.  Two, they had some fine stuffed bell peppers.  Perhaps I was only jazzed because it was my first (yes, first) stuffed bell pepper experience, or perhaps they really were that great.  Either way, I vowed to make them at home.  Granted, I failed to try a more "Ethiopian" version, which would call for the emission of the pasta sauce and cheese, including instead more spices and herbs (cumin, cilantro, mint, tumeric, red pepper, mushrooms, etc)... 

However, this was the recipe I tried.  It was lovely regardless.  Om nom nom. 


1 medium green bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
 4 oz ground protein (beef, turkey, chicken, tofu, etc.)
1/3 cup cooked rice
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup your favorite pasta sauce
2 tablespoons shredded mozzarella

1.     Preheat oven to 350F.

2.     Fill medium pot about 2/3rds of the way with water. Bring to a boil. Chop off top inch of green pepper. Take out seeds and white membranes of interior. Parboil the pepper for 5 to 8 minutes, until it bends ever-so-slightly to the touch. Once finished, make sure there is no water in the pepper and put the pepper into a glass baking dish, open side up.

If the concept of "parboil" makes you wrinkle your forehead and feel inferior, here is a helpful link on finding instructions:

What is parboiling?

3.     In medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until crisp-tender (not soft). Add garlic. Cook 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add meat. Cook until meat is browned, breaking up the chunks as you saute. Add rice, oregano, and 2/3rds of the sauce. Cook until hot / warm throughout. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4.     Carefully use your spoon to stuff the pepper with the meat mixture, exceeding the top of the pepper by about 1/4 to 1/2 inch.** Pour the rest of the tomato sauce on top of the pepper.

5.     Cover dish loosely with tin foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes (if baking several peppers, increase baking time to 45 mintues). Uncover. Top with cheese. Bake without cover for another 10 or 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

**Any remaining meat mixture in the skillet makes for great "sloppy joe-esque" leftovers.