Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sack Lunches And Thanksgiving Preparations

Our dedicated young volunteers who are always a pleasure to work with - Maya, Eleanor, Elise, Ava, Ian, Quinn and Colin.

We handed out sack lunches at the Wednesday Community Meal today because the kitchen and dining room were being used to prep for the Thanksgiving Community Meal at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral tomorrow.

We also had the help of some dedicated young volunteers who were on break from school. In the sack lunches were turkey and cheese sandwiches, juice, chips, cookies and an orange. Because of the cold weather we also decided to serve cups of hot soup.

In addition to preparing the sack lunches, the volunteers helped assemble fruit centerpieces and candy dishes for the Thanksgiving tables. And, we got the gravy going for the meal by making a thick gravy base that we can add turkey juices to tomorrow.

Assembling the sack lunches.
Volunteer Karen helped us get the gravy started for tomorrow's Thanksgiving meal at Trinity.
It takes a lot of work, volunteers and donated cooked turkeys to pull of such a large event but it's always worth it because it's a treat for the wonderful people we serve.

We handed out 294 sack lunches today.

Cherry Chocolate Guinness Cake

My good friend Fred who was my partner in organizing the Wednesday Community Meal back in 2004 and is still the program's hardest working volunteer today loves Black Forest cake, but I hate to make him the exact same cake over and over.

So to change things up this year, I created this Cherry Chocolate Guinness Cake using my favorite Guinness cake recipe from Nigella Lawson and dividing the batter in half to get two cake layers.

Between the layers I added a thick coat of dark cherry filling and topped the whole cake with a traditional whipped cream cheese icing.

I'm pretty positive Fred is going to love it. This cake proves that simple can be a standout.

Here's the recipe:

Cherry Chocolate Guinness Cake

Guinness Chocolate Cake
1 cup Guinness
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup sour cream ( or substitute plain yogurt)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter and line two 9-inch springform pans.

Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan, add the butter in slices and heat until the butter is melted. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and pour into the beer mixture and finally whisk in the flour and baking soda.
Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Leave the cakes to cool in the pans before inverting them onto cooling racks.
Let the cakes cool removing them from the pans.

Cherry Filling
1 16 oz package frozen pitted cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch

The frozen cherries that I used.

In a saucepan over medium heat combine the cherries, sugar and almond extract. Cook until simmering, stirring and using the back of a spoon to break apart the cherries.

In a small bowl whisk together the cream and cornstarch. Add the cream mixture to the simmering cherries and cook until thick. Remove from the heat and let cool before using.

Cream Cheese Icing
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

Whip the cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar and whip again. Add the cream and whip again until it's becomes light and spreadable.

To Assemble:
Set one of the cakes right side up on a serving platter or cardboard round and top with just enough of the cherry filling to give it a good thick and even coat (Extra filling can be saved and used as jam).
A nice thick coat of cherry filling.

Add the second cake right side up and frost just the very top with the cream cheese icing so that it resembles a frothy top of Guinness.
Letting the filling and cakes cool well before assembling keeps the filling from running out the sides and the cake looking pretty.

Ice just the top of the cake.

Keep the cake chilled before serving.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cookie Place Cards

These cookie place cards will serve double duty at my Thanksgiving table — They will clearly show guests to their seats and they will be a sweet treat for them to enjoy.

The inspiration for these was a new copper plaque cutter that my sister Ursula and my sweet niece Maya gave me just last week and I couldn't wait to use.

The place card cookies were fun to make alongside my sister, Maya and my sister's boyfriend's daughter Syd who decorated some to take to her family's Thanksgiving celebration.

My new copper plaque cutter - Thank you Ursula and Maya!

Syd cutting out the cookies.

Outlining the cookies with piping consistency royal icing. Notice the tip of the pastry bag is above the cookie. This is because you want the icing to fall onto the cookie as opposed to dragging it on the cookie. When you allow the icing to fall you get much cleaner shaped curves and lines.


Here are the steps to making them:

  1. Bake a batch of cookies.
  2. Outline the cookies with piping consistency royal icing using a #2 tip in the color of your choice. We chose to use an apricot color.
  3. Fill the cookies with flood consistency royal icing using a #2 tip or #3 tip in the color of your choice. We mixed a tiny bit of the apricot with a lot of white icing to get our color.
  4. Let the cookies dry for a bit - 20 to 40 minutes. This is so the lettering won't sink into the flood icing.
  5. Pipe your names with piping consistency royal icing using a #1 tip in the color of your choice. We chose black. A guest list with proper spelling is very helpful. You can't risk forgetting someone.
  6. Let the cookies dry before packaging.
  7. Set your table with your cookie place cards and prepare for happy guests.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Decorated Cakes

Alana with her iced carrot cake topped with a carrot made out of fondant.

Here are the finished cakes and cupcakes from a fun afternoon of cake decorating with Alice and her daughter Alana.

Since fifth-grader Alana is very interested in cake decorating, her mom and I mostly sat on the sidelines and encouraged her as she decorated all three cakes and boy did she impress me. She wasn't afraid to jump right in and just go for it yet she was still very thoughtful and focused as she worked - traits of a successful cake decorator.

When it came time to decorate the berry filled vanilla cupcakes, Alana and her mom took on the task together.

It was a fun day and I'm pretty positive Alana has many more beautiful cakes in her future.

Decorating the red velvet cake with icing swirls.

The finished red velvet cake.

Iced berry filled vanilla cupcakes.

A chocolate cake iced with espresso Swiss meringue buttercream. It was the cake with a little of everything - Swiss dots, a shell border, filigree, flowers and leaves.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

An Afternoon Of Cake Decorating

Red velvet cakes ready to be baked. Look at that color!

Some of the baked cakes cooling. The most common mistake made when it comes to frosting cakes is not letting the cakes cool completely. Warm cakes fall apart when you try to transfer and stack them. And, don't forget that warm cake melts buttercream. Be patient and you'll have success.

Today is the day that the generous family who purchased a private cake decorating session with me at a recent benefit auction claims their purchase.

I spent yesterday baking four kinds of cakes - red velvet, carrot, chocolate and vanilla cupcakes.  By late this afternoon they all will be decorated by others with me acting simply as a guide and I have no doubt they will all be beautiful since cake decorating isn't hard it just takes learning a few tips and some patience and practice.

I promise to share the results.

In the meantime, here is a review of some of my decorating tips:
  1. Cool your cake completely before even attempting to frost it. The colder the cake, the better the icing will adhere. Plus, watching your frosting slip and melt on a too warm cake can induce tears.
  2. Use a serrated knife to even out a cake if necessary. You can't hide an uneven cake with icing. Start out with a even cake and you'll end up with an even cake.
  3. Crumb coat your cake and then chill it before doing a final icing. A crumb coat is just a quick thin layer of icing to hold the crumbs in place. It's an extra step but well worth it.
  4. Invest in a revolving cake decorating stand. Being able to turn your cake as you decorate makes a world of difference.
  5. Invest in a long thin spatula for spreading the frosting.
  6. Invest in a heavy offset spatula for lifting the cake layers.
  7. Make a frosting that's light and easy to spread. The following recipe for Chocolate Buttercream is ideal.

Chocolate Buttercream
3 large egg whites
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of fine sea salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder, dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water, cooled

1/2 cup dark chocolate pieces, melted and cooled

Place the whites in a clean mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar and cream of tartar.

Place bowl over a double boiler on medium heat, stir frequently until the mixture is very hot (120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit).

Move to mixer and whip whites on high for 2 to 3 minutes; turn down to medium low until cool (use the bowl as your guide).

In a separate bowl with a wooden spoon, stir butter to soften.

With mixer on medium/high speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, adding the next tablespoon just as the previous one is blended in. Once all the butter incorporated, add in vanilla, salt, coffee and chocolate whip on high speed until fluffy.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

I created this Mint Chocolate Chip Cake for my friend Anne's birthday celebration because I know she likes white cake, peppermint and chocolate.

The combination was also inspired by what I consider one of the best ice cream flavors ever. I hope Anne is pleased.

To make it, I stacked three layers of a white buttermilk cake flecked with mini chocolate chips between coatings of a light pink peppermint and mini chocolate chip Swiss meringue buttercream.

Peppermint extract is super intense so I used just 1/2 of a teaspoon of it in the buttercream so that it didn't overpower the cake. The addition of mini chocolate chips in the buttercream adds texture and flavor but does make it a bit harder to spread.

Usually, I coat the sides of all the cake layers at once but this time I coated the sides one layer at a time. Just be sure you've given the cakes enough time to cool before you frost or you'll be frustrated.

Here's the recipe:

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

For the cake:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mini chocolate chips, tossed with 2 tablespoons flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans. I also like to line the bottoms with a round of greased parchment paper.
A prepared cake pan that is lined with a round of parchment.

Cream together the butter, shortening and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the sugar, a cup at a time, and whip again. Add the eggs, one at a time and mix until well combined.
The batter before adding the dry ingredients, buttermilk and chocolate chips.

In another bowl combine the flour with the baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture 1/3 at a time, alternating with the cup of buttermilk.
Getting ready to add the dry ingredients and buttermilk.

Mix just until combined. Finally, fold in the chocolate chips.
It's important to toss the mini chocolate chips with two tablespoons of flour or they will sink to the bottom of the cakes.

The finished batter.

Divide the batter among the three cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
The cakes before baking.

Let the cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes before inverting onto cooling racks. Let the cakes cool completely before icing.

For the Buttercream: 

6 large egg whites
1 1/4  cups granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon of fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
pink food coloring (optional)
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Place the whites in a clean mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar and cream of tartar.

Place bowl over a double boiler on medium heat, stir frequently until the mixture is very hot (120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit).

Move to mixer and whip whites on high for 2 to 3 minutes; turn down to medium low until cool (use the bowl as your guide).

In a separate bowl with a wooden spoon, stir butter to soften.

With mixer on medium/high speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, adding the next tablespoon just as the previous one is blended in. Once all the butter incorporated, add in vanilla, salt and peppermint and whip on high speed until fluffy. Color as desired and whip again.
Finally, add the chocolate chips and mix until well- combined.

To Assemble:
Ice one layer.

Add a second layer.

Ice the second layer.

Add the last layer.

Ice the third layer and the cake is ready.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Comforting Casseroles And A Generous Gift

We had a full dining room and a long line to get in during most of our two hour service today. In the end, we served 405 meals.

Every so often it's freezer and refrigerator cleaning time at the Wednesday Community Meal and we just pull things out and get creative.

Today was one of those days so we devised Mexican inspired casseroles made of rice, ground beef, chicken, onions, celery, spices and cheese.

Sometimes I worry that the guests will be disappointed when we utilize leftovers but that's never been the case. Casseroles are always a big hit and I think it's because they are so flavorful, homey and comforting.

A serving of casserole and roasted zucchini.

Alongside the casseroles we served roasted vegetables, soup, salad and dessert.

We served 405 meals today and we also received a surprise and generous $25 donation from one of our guests who said she just wanted to give back because we do so much for her. So nice!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Chewy Oatmeal, Coconut And Dark Chocolate Cookies

 The only way I could think of making my favorite recipe for oatmeal coconut cookies any better was to add dark chocolate chunks, so that's what I did recently and now there's no going back to the original.

These chewy cookies are downright addictive. One batch makes three dozen so be sure you have a plan of how your are going to share them before you make them. If not, you'll be in danger of eating way too many.

Chewy Oatmeal, Coconut And Dark Chocolate Cookies
(makes 3 dozen)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, loosely packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
2 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 12 oz package dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whip together the butter and the shortening. Add the sugars and the vanilla and cream until light and smooth. Add the eggs and beat again.

Add the salt, baking soda and baking powder and mix well. Add the flour and mix until thoroughly combined. Stir in the coconut and oatmeal until evenly distributed. Finally, stir in the chocolate.

Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on parchment lined baking sheets. Leave at least 2-inches between cookies. Use your hand to slightly flatten the balls.

Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until golden brown. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes before removing to place on a cooling rack.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Coconut And Chocolate Macarons

Calling all Almond Joy fans, you are going to go love these coconut and chocolate macarons.

To assemble them I coated the bottom of each macaron shell with a dollop of melted dark chocolate and sandwiched them between a coconut filling made by combining a vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream with oven toasted coconut and coconut extract.

No coloring was added to the macaron shells since they don't need the extra bling. These macarons are simple standouts.

Here's how to make them:

Coconut and Chocolate Macarons 
For the macarons:
180g ground almonds, sifted
270g powdered sugar, sifted
150g egg whites, aged 2 to 4 days in the fridge and then brought to room temperature
100g granulated sugar

Line four heavy baking sheets with good quality parchment paper and set aside. Also, set aside two pastry bags for the piping of the macarons.

Sift together your ground almonds with the powdered sugar and set aside.

Whisk the egg whites (at room temperature) to glossy firm peaks adding the granulated sugar gradually in four parts.

Incorporate the dry ingredients into the beaten egg whites using a large rubber scraper.  Mix well. 
Fold the mixture with the rubber scraper by pulling down the sides and flipping the mixture over. Do this until you have a smooth mixture that falls like a “ribbon” off the scraper.

Transfer the mixture into the two piping bags. Use rubber bands to close the piping bags. Clip the tip of the bags, one at a time, and pipe small quarter sized rounds, leaving 1-inch of space between each because they spread as they set.

Macarons resting before baking.

Leave to set for about 30 minutes or until the top has formed a crust and is not sticky to the touch.
While they are setting, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. A convection oven is preferable. 

Bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven for about 12 minutes or until the cookie is firm, matte and doesn't wobble when touched.

Leave on the baking tray until cool then lift them all off the parchment carefully. You may need to use a thin knife to help lift them off.

Let the macarons cool before removing from the sheetpans. You may need to use a thin spatula to ease them off.

Toasted Coconut Buttercream:
2 large egg whites
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar
2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup shredded and sweetened coconut, toasted
Pinch of fine sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the coconut on a lined sheetpan and bake for 7 to 12 minutes or until the coconut is toasted and golden brown. Set aside to cool.
Place the whites in a clean mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar and cream of tartar.

Place bowl over a double boiler on medium heat, stir frequently until the mixture is very hot (120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit).

Move to mixer and whip whites on high for 2 to 3 minutes; turn down to medium low until cool (use the bowl as your guide).

In a separate bowl with a wooden spoon, stir butter to soften.

With mixer on medium/high speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, adding the next tablespoon just as the previous one is blended in. Once all the butter incorporated, add in the extracts and sea salt. Whip until light and fluffy.
Finally, add the toasted coconut and transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a tip large enough to allow the coconut to go through or skip the tip and use a clipped disposable piping bag.

Chocolate Filling:
Place 1 cup of chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate)  in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Remove from the microwave and stir. Keep microwaving for 10 to 20 second sessions and stirring until the chocolate is melted. Let the chocolate cool a bit before transferring to a piping bag. 
To Assemble:

Sort the macarons into pairs and flip them over. Pipe a dollop of chocolate onto the back of each macaron.

Use a small knife to spread out the chocolate a bit.

Pipe a dollop of coconut buttercream onto one of each of the paired macarons.

Top with the other macaron and gently press together. Store the macarons in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.

An easy way to package macarons is place two of them in a cupcake paper.

Slide two sets of the macarons into a self-sealing cellophane bag, seal and and you have a nice little gift to give your friends.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fresh Salads

Salad superstars Leah and Linda.

Every week at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral's Wednesday Community Meal, we do our best to offer a well-rounded and healthy lunch to our hungry guests. And, one of the ways we do that is by always offering a fresh green salad.

Preparing hundreds of individual salads during our two hour service is busy busy work and requires nonstop standing and assembling in a small corner of the kitchen.

Ace volunteers Leah and Linda took on the task today and they made beautiful salads that were appreciated by our guests.

Work can be fun when you do it alongside nice people and that is crystal clear every Wednesday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

We served 355 meals today.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Shades Of Red Sugar Cookies

These bright cookies will be part of a red themed auction basket that is being put together by the Martha's Guild of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and will be auctioned for charity.

The cookies were decorated with five shades of red, the lightest for the base coat and the other four for decoration. The ombre red cookie and the floral designs were both made using the brushed embroidery technique.

To create the shades of red, I put the same amount of white icing into five bowls and added one drop of red gel paste in the first bowl, two in the second, three in the third and so on. I find this is the easiest way to get the same color at different depths for ombre designs.

After mixing the icings, I used the lightest colored icing for the base coat and covered the remaining bowls with plastic wrap. I wasn't ready to use them until the base coat was dry.

Waiting for the base coat to dry.

This cookie was made by piping a line with the lightest icing and using a square tipped brush to pull it down and create ridges.  I then repeated this two more times with the lightest shade of icing before moving onto the next lightest shade and so on, ending with three rows of each shade. A piped border that matches the color sections finishes it off.

A piped border also nicely finishes off the floral brushed embroidery cookie.