Sunday, November 22, 2009

Down on the Farm

I'm so excited because I've had my first request for a cake (I've done cupcakes for folks before, but not cake). And not just any cake, a birthday cake. And not just any birthday, but a first birthday. A farm themed party at that! The birthday boy (and Dad):
Daunting task, being one of the most significant birthdays in a human's life and I was terrified of a repeat of Erik's birthday. But I went with a tried and trusted recipe that I love and trusted for this cake and it was a perfect choice.
The Magnolia Bakery is located in NYC, but published their Vanilla Birthday Cake recipe in a cookbook. I love it because it's a super simple recipe, super easy to put make, and tastes like a sugar cookie. Since the party was outside in November, there was a chance of it being pretty warm. I realize that may sound absurd to most people, but this is Phoenix and we've recently been having temperatures over 100, so it's always possible. Traditional buttercream must have been invented in a temperate climate because it melts in the heat. I turned to a Crisco-based frosting that is really tasty and can withstand any Phoenix day.
So how does 4 pounds of butter, 3 pounds of Crisco, and 10 pounds of powdered sugar turn into a cake for one tiny little dude? Pure bakery magic! And of course a GIANT mess in the kitchen. Every chef needs awesome attire for baking, so check out the footwear (props to Corynn, the birthday boy's mom):
These look way more sinister when they're on my feet than when they're not.
Everything needs to come to room temperature before the baking begins. And since I was making 5 batches of the recipe (yes, that was FIVE, it was a big party), it took up most of my counter space. But of course, it's when the real baking starts that things get interesting and my kitchen smelled awesome! The cake looked great coming out of the oven. So did the cupcakes.
Then came the best part, all the frosting! I didn't get pictures in the process, too busy. But I got pictures of the results. The cake:
How freakin' cute is the Little People Farm set? This may be the most adorable cow ever.
You may also notice that I finally found an excuse to buy myself a grass tip. :)
I pitched the idea of a cake just for the birthday boy after seeing quite a few "smash" cakes online. These are so you can get pictures of the birthday kid playing in the cake, but everyone else gets one without the handprints. Jake's cake: And the whole spread, complete with the cupcakes plus the birthday boy and Mom: So what was the verdict? I think he liked it:
Big thanks to Corynn and Cameron for letting me make the cake and inviting me and the hubbin' to the party. These two are awesome parents and super cool people and have one of the cutest kids on Earth. Thanks for putting the hubbin' to work for them setting up, keeps him out of trouble.
And to a big thanks to Melinda who took pictures for me when I had other commitments and was super late to the party. Since this was my favorite picture of Jake that I found on my camera, I'll leave you with it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Getting into the Holiday Spirit

I spent an entire afternoon last year calling grocery stores. Why? I needed some pumpkins. I called every single major grocer within a 100 mile radius from my house. Whenever they'd answer, I'd ask for produce, then tell the person on the other end of the line that I was looking for sugar pumpkins. These aren't your Jack-o-lantern pumpkins, they're smaller, full of sugar and meat, and used for pies. I'm a pie snob. I make my own crust (finally got that figured out, but it took a while) and I make my own fillings. No canned stuff for me. Which is why I was on a mission. But it was to no avail. The folks at A.J.'s (a snooty, high-class grocer) weren't much help at all. But the lady from Trader Joe's was super friendly. I learned from her that last year was apparently a bad year for pumpkins. Trader Joe's suppliers couldn't get any in stock at all. And so I brought a pie with canned pumpkin to my friend Melissa's giant Thanksgiving shin-dig, head hung in shame.
So I felt all sorts of giddy when I walked into my normal grocery store the day after Halloween and saw the display of tiny pumpkins. Even with nearly a month before Thanksgiving, I knew I had to have them. Cooking them is almost as easy as opening up a can of "pumpkin." Did you know that most canned pumpkin is not really pumpkin at all, but some other squash? The first step is to cut them in half. And who doesn't like getting all stabby?
You may notice all the pumpkin guts already on the counter. I'm a messy person in general and this project isn't for the clean freaks anyway. But it's all worth it in the end. Of course, the next step is to get out all the goo from the insides.
Once the pumpkins were all cut, I put them face down on a cookie sheet and baked them until they smelled good. That comes out to about 45 minutes or so. How do they smell so cinnamony already? I love the color of the pumpkin here.
The easiest part is getting the good stuff out of the pumpkin skins. You'd think that you should let it cool so that you can scoop out the flesh, but since they're already face down, they easiest way is just to peel the skin off of the still warm pumpkins. Once everything was cool, I ran the pumpkin through a food processor to smooth it all out. Four little pumpkins make an awful lot of goo. Here's the results after getting processed. It'll probably give me two pies with enough left over for pumpkin bread. Awesome. And since I still had nearly a month until Thanksgiving, it all went into the freezer. But I'll have a real pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving this year at Melissa's.