Monday, November 9, 2009


It might have been the drop flowers. Drop flowers are fun. Leaves are difficult. Rosebuds take some work (and roses are impossible to learn in half a day). But drop flowers are fun.

Really, though, I think it was the shells. It was the little delicate border shells that made me realize decorating a cake can be a lot of fun. Even if you don't have artistic talent. Even if you usually buy frosting in a can.

The fine folks at Piece of Cake, from owners to decorators to cakemakers, welcomed me into their bakery as I tried to frost a cake to look more special than the ones I usually make - just icing glopped on top, then smeared on the sides.

Kristi White was my guide through the process of learning to ice a cake, then trying the special touches I've usually left to those candy stick-ons.

She suggested some "must-have" equipment:

* A straight-edge spatula.

* Plastic (throwaway) triangles that become bags to hold different colors of icing.

* Gel paste food coloring.

* A Lazy Susan for turning the cake so you'll have easy access to the top and sides.

* Cardboard or covered "rounds" a little larger than your cake pan (8- or 9-inch).

* Tips designed for everything from leaves to drop flowers to borders.

* A coupler ring for changing tips on the outside of the bag.

"You know, in a pinch, you can put icing in a (plastic sandwich bag) and snip off a tiny corner and use that, especially if you have a tip you can throw into the corner of the bag," White said.

* Use gliding motions when working. White cautioned that it's important to get the tip down in the cake's surface icing, but still keep a light touch. "This is not something you can go into heavy-handed."

What I can share from a half-day's work:

* Be careful when icing the top. Use a light gliding motion, then swoop the icing off the edge. If you lift it, you're likely to get crumbs into the icing.

* Don't put a large amount of icing in the center of the cake. That tends to make it lopsided.

* Lengthy add-ons, such as vines, are among the most difficult to master because they take very fine tips, thinner icing and a steadier hand.

* As I worked, jaw set, determination in high gear, I watched as tiny shell after tiny shell joined to make a border. But make sure you have them placed just right. Fifteen minutes later, when I looked at my cake, five or six shells had fallen off, leaving a gaping hole at one arc. White said to pick them up and put them back on the cake - or just make new ones.

* Don't get too excited when you make that first rosebud; chances are the next two or 10 will look strange. Mine certainly were all shapes and sizes.

Use royal icing if you want to make rosebuds, drop flowers or leaves. It's not in a can, but it's easy to make and easier to work with than canned icing.

* Don't stress out. "It should be a fun thing to do, not a tear-your-hair-out thing," White said.

* In most cases, goofs are repairable. If you have enough icing on top, lift off the goof, smooth the icing and start over.

* Look for new items to use when decorating. You can find everything from colorful confetti to edible glitter to fondant (a thick, hard, sugar-paste icing).

* There's nothing wrong with canned frosting, White said. "It's not as stiff as baker's frosting, but you can make it work." Want to stiffen it up? Add a little powdered sugar.

* Mostly, have fun. Icing (or frosting) a cake isn't brain surgery. It isn't even minor surgery.

"It's a cake," White said. "Even professionals sometimes have to scrape and start over. Remember that it's for yourself, or your family, or your friends. They're going to like it because you created it."

By Rebecca Coudret
Wednesday, August 22, 2007 in the Evansville Courier & Press

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Mmm...chocolate. The product of the cacao tree has been winning fans
since Aztec leader Montezuma introduced the beverage (chocolate candy
as we know it didn't appear until the 1800's) to the Spanish
conqueror Cortez, who subsequently took it home to Spain. (While the
original drink was rather bitter, the Spanish made a few creative
innovations - using sugar instead of chilies, and adding cinnamon and

What is it that makes chocolate so irresistible? A large part of
chocolate's allure, of course, lies in the taste - a deliciously rich
concoction that satisfies the most intense craving. But several
chemical reactions are also at work. For one thing, chocolate
stimulates the secretion of endorphins, producing a pleasureable
sensation similar to the "runner's high" a jogger feels after running
several miles.

Chocolate also contains a neurotransmitter, serotonin, that acts as
an anti-depressant. Other substances, such as theobromine and
phenylethylamine, have a stimulating effect. However, the truth is
that scientists are still not positive how the over three-hundred
chemicals contained in chocolate make us feel so good.

Harmful Effects?

With so much going for it, it's unfortunate that chocolate has
developed a bad reputation on the health front. Confirmed
chocoholics often worry that indulging their craving will lead to
everything from rotting teeth to acne, not to mention the need to
lose a few pounds.

Fortunately, scientists are beginning to disprove some common myths
about the dangers of eating too much chocolate. For example, it is
not true that eating chocolate can cause acne or make it worse. Nor
is chocolate the threat to healthy teeth that it was once thought to
be. While both cocoa and chocolate contain sugar, they also have
properties that work against sugar's tendency to produce the oral
bacteria that eventually leads to dental decay. In fact, researchers
at the Eastman Dental Center in Rochester, New York, have concluded
that milk chocolate is one of the snack foods that is least likely to
contribute to tooth decay, since it contains phosphate and other

Furthermore, while chocolate may not be the most healthy snack
around, it does contain a number of nutrients. High in potassium and
magnesium, chocolate also provides us with several vitamins -
including B1, B2, D, and E. As for calories, no one is going to
claim chocolate is the quintessential diet food. Still, the average
chocolate bar contains approximately 250 calories - low enough for a
dieter to enjoy one as an occasional treat. Besides, indulging your
chocolate craving from time to time can help prevent the bingeing
that is a dieter's worst enemy.

Chocolate Tips
* Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Studies based on dark
chocolate tend to show benefits that milk chocolate does not.
* Partner your chocolate with nutrient-rich foods, like chocolate
covered strawberries, apple slices or bananas. Add a few chocolate
chips in your berry-nut trail mix. Try a refreshing glass of
chocolate-flavored milk or soymilk.
* Buy smaller sizes of chocolate bars or hot fudge sundaes, since
research shows you tend to eat the entire amount you are served.
* Order fruit for dessert, with a small chocolate truffle on the side.
* Savor, don't chew, your chocolate. Sit down, take your time, and
focus on the taste in your mouth. Enjoy it thoroughly. If you pop it
in your mouth while you are driving, watching TV, or talking on the
phone, you?re likely to keep reaching for more.
* Give in to your chocolate cravings! Every try to stifle a craving
by eating something else? You usually just end up eating more and
more foods, eventually giving in to your original desire anyway. Save
yourself the calories and the torment! A small portion may be all you
need for satisfaction.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Baking is a piece of cake, for me. As long as it's cookies or brownies.

Now, cake is another matter. I don't remember if I've ever baked a cake before, but if I had, I'm sure there was a mix involved and a can of icing. Since I love to eat cake, I decided it was time to try the homemade version.

Cakes fall into two main categories: foam cakes (angel food or sponge cakes) and butter cakes (pound, carrot, devil's food and most layer cakes).

This time we're tackling butter cakes. The butter in these cakes is creamed with sugar before the remaining ingredients are added. If the batter isn't completely mixed before baking, the center will fall and still be gooey when the rest of the cake is done.

Most layer cakes with flat bottoms and smooth sides don't have to be baked in greased and floured pans. Instead they can be lined with parchment paper. If you grease the pan, use a thin layer of solid shortening or vegetable oil spray. For a pan that also needs to be floured, sprinkle a tablespoon of flour into the greased pan and move the pan around until the surface is completely and evenly coated. Then turn the pan upside down over the sink or trash can and tap out the excess.

Baking requires more precision than cooking does. Ingredients must be measured exactly. The easiest way is to weigh ingredients. If that's not convenient or if you prefer measuring cups, sift the flour before measuring when the recipe calls for sifted flour. Spoon the dry ingredients into the measuring cup, and level the ingredient by sweeping a knife across the top of the cup. Results will be better if you use the size of measuring cup or spoon that's called for and avoid using tableware to measure ingredients in smaller amounts.

Ingredients should be at room temperature so the butter, liquid and eggs can mix properly. The butter should be cool, firm but malleable when squeezed - not soft and squishy.

The oven rack should be in the lower third of the oven unless otherwise instructed. This means the cake pan will be just below the center of the oven rather than in the upper half.

By Cheryl Martin
Wednesday, August 22, 2007 in the Evansville Courier & Press

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Anyone can scoop out a bowl of ice cream, but for a last-minute twist on summer tradition, turn store-bought ice-cream treats into fabulous desserts.
These no-bake goodies take less than 15 minutes to create and are simple enough for children to make. At the same time, desserts made from freezer favorites such as ice-cream sandwiches and fudge bars can be sophisticated.
"You use the freezer treats from your childhood, but add ingredients like pistachios or white chocolate to appeal to adults who want more than something cold and sweet," says chef Andy Broder, owner of Andyfood, a Culinary Studio in Scottsdale, Ariz.Broder created three freezer desserts, no-bake creations that can be made in the morning and frozen until ready to serve.

Other ideas for quickly turning ice-cream treats into desserts:
Cut an ice-cream sandwich in half. Stack halves diagonally and top with whipped cream and fresh, sliced strawberries.
Fill a parfait or wine glass with alternating layers of crumbled fruit-flavored ice pops, chocolate syrup and blueberries.
Top chocolate-covered ice-cream bars with caramel syrup and crumbled Heath candy bars.

Ice Cream Sandwiches, No Longer Frozen in Time
* The ice cream or sorbet should be just soft enough to spread on the cookies. You can use it right out of the machine, but press very gently with the top cookie to avoid smushing it over the edges.
* Freeze pre-made sandwiches on a large baking sheet (without stacking, or again, you'll smush) until they're hard, then wrap individually in plastic wrap for storage.
* Self-defrosting freezers are the bane of ice cream sandwiches. As the temperature fluctuates to prevent frost, ice crystals build up in ice cream or sorbet -- a familiar sight in a store-bought carton after a few weeks. Store sandwiches for no more than a week.
* If you're buying the cookies for the sandwiches, look for large, soft, chewy cookies. Best to go to the bakery at your supermarket and see what they've got. Remember: A crunchy cookie means ice cream in your lap.
* If you're buying the ice cream or sorbet, go for the premium varieties, most often in one-pint containers. There's less air beaten into the frozen dessert, so it's creamier and smoother.
* If you're buying both cookies and ice cream, select cookies of about the circumference of one-pint ice cream containers. (If you're making the cookies, use the carton lid as a cookie cutter.) Turn the container on its side and use a sharp, serrated knife to slice right through the carton, making 1/2 -inch-thick rounds that fit on the cookies. Peel off the carton and you've got wheels of ice cream for sandwiches. Some slices will be narrower than others, because the pint container tapers, but the difference is slight -- and a little less ice cream only means more cookie per bite.
* Keep the ice cream-to-cookie ratio at 2-1. You don't want it too thick, like a club sandwich; you should be able to easily bite it.
* Feel free to accessorize: Roll or press the sides of the sandwich in sprinkles, shaved chocolate, chopped nuts, coconut or granola.
* Be bold with colors. Sugar cookies with vanilla ice cream and a dusting of coconut would be a tad white-on-white-on-white, but sugar cookies with raspberry frozen yogurt and colored sprinkles would be a small slice of rainbow.

By Andrea Sachs Washington Post

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A tender, buttery crust combined with just the right amount of fruit, custard or chocolate is beautiful to look at. But most tarts sold in bakeries and delis let you down when it comes to taste.

The pastry can be hard or stale, the cream stiff and overly sweet, the fruit doused in a syrupy glaze. So I recently began learning how to make tarts at home in the hopes of having a dessert just the way I like it.It's not as hard as one may think, but it does require a little understanding of the process, specifically how to make the shell.

Here's what I learned both at a cooking class and through trial and (tasty) error.

Keep it cold.

When mixing the dough, the most important thing is to keep everything cold. This prevents the fat (usually butter) from melting into the flour. In the oven, the bits of fat trapped between layers of flour and water will melt, and the moisture will expand into steam, evaporate, and leave behind tiny air pockets, making a tender flaky crust.

After mixing the flour with the other dry ingredients, blend the cold (but not frozen) pieces of butter into the flour. This can be done by hand with the tips of your fingers or a pastry cutter, or with a machine such as a food processor or stand mixer. The food processor is the quickest and easiest way, but I've had luck with the other methods as well.

Many people even place all of their equipment in the freezer for 15 minutes before starting to help keep things cold while working.

What you're striving for at this stage is a texture that resembles coarse sand. The French call this process "sablage," or sanding.

Keep it quick

Work the dough as little as possible.

When flour and water are mixed to make a dough, the proteins in the flour begin to form strands of gluten that strengthen the dough. The more you mix it, the stronger it gets. This is great for bread, but not for pastry, which should be more fragile and crumbly after it's baked.

So when adding water, make sure it is ice cold and do so 1/2 to 1 tablespoon at a time, just until the dough holds together.

I prefer to do this step by hand rather than in the food processor, because it gives more control and prevents the dough from getting overworked.

Take a break

After you've formed your dough into a disc, wrap it in plastic and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This accomplishes two important things: First, it allows the gluten in the dough to relax, so it won't spring back when you try to roll it; and second, chilling the dough keeps the butter from melting and makes it easier to roll without sticking to the counter and the rolling pin.

You'll also want to take a second break after the dough is rolled out and in the tart pan.

Cover it with plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for at least another 30 minutes. This is a critical step and must not be skipped.

If you are blind baking your tart shell -- that is, baking it empty before filling--skipping this step will result in a tough crust that will shrink, possibly so much that your filling won't even fit in it.

Other tips

When rolling out the dough, use a forward-backward motion with the rolling pin to create an oval. Sprinkle the counter and the top of the dough with a bit of flour, turn the dough 90 degrees and continue that process until you have a circle. But always turn the dough, not the rolling pin. The repeated lifting and turning, with sprinkles of flour when needed, will ensure that it doesn't stick to the counter.

Use a tart pan with a removable bottom. Some recipes call for oiling or buttering the tart pan. I find this unnecessary because there is enough butter in the dough to keep it from sticking to the pan. For this reason, I also don't buy the expensive nonstick tart pans.

Practice makes perfect

Aaron Jackson, Associated PressWednesday, February 6, 2008

Monday, February 2, 2009


What's your favorite treat? Come on now ? If you could eat your way out of a room filled with one kind of food, what would it be? Cake? Potato Chips? Chocolate? Cheese? Ice cream? When you know that you can never have just one potato chip, it's tempting to swear off that food forever.. Especially now that you're focused on improving your health, diet, and physique. But as many of us have found out from experience, labeling Something as "forbidden" makes it all the more appealing!

A critical step in renouncing the destructive, all-or-nothing mind-set Is knowing how to walk the line between self-denial and self-indulgence. It is the middle ground that offers the best foundation on which to build your new life. Denying yourself little pleasures such as an Occasional glass of wine or a chocolate truffle will only make you feel deprived, frustrated, and ultimately hopeless about maintaining your discipline. A temptation is a lot less powerful if it isn't totally forbidden. This is where moderation comes in.

There is room for all foods, no matter how "bad" they are; it's just a matter of being conscious and careful of how often and how much. It's fine to have a piece of cake now and then, just not every day, and not the whole cake.

The Associated Press

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