September 8, 2013

Celebration Cake: S + P Get Engaged

I'm ecstatic for my friends Sarah and Patrick, because they've just gotten engaged! It's a cause for celebration, colorful cake, and sprinkles on top!

When Patrick tipped Sarah's friends off that he was planning to propose and wanted to gather in celebration afterward, my first question was, "what can I do to help get this shindig off the ground, please?" I couldn't have been more pleased when his initial response of "nothing" was changed a few hours later to, "actually, how about a cake? for 30?"

Celebration challenge accepted. Let's go.

I hemmed and hawed over how to best feed a crowd. I'm used to baking round layer cakes, but ultimately (after much paralysis and an emergency phone call to my resident baker friend/blogger Alyssa in the baking aisle of Walmart) decided on a 4-layer, 9 x 13 inch cake.

Later, I got to work doubling the already big recipe for fail-proof vanilla cake. When I got done with the butter and sugar creaming steps I realized there was no way I'd fit the rest of the ingredients in my standing mixer.

A 53 second crisis emerged. I looked around my kitchen, scouring for a solution. Crapppp, I always do stuff like this!

My eyes landed on my enormous lobster pot-slash-wedding registry item I thought I couldn't live without but really won't have use for until I maybe have 10 children to boil pasta for.... except for now.

When it's time to call in the big guns.

Hee hee. That standing mixer bowl looks like a dwarf. 

Okay, so after mixing the batter I divided it up into about 7 cups each in two bowls. Sarah and Patrick met at the University of Delaware, colors blue and yellow. I also wanted a way to party-up this traditional white on white bridal style cake, so boom, let's go throwback to kindergarten finger painting time and mix it up with primary colors.

Pour each bowl into a separate pan, smooth out and bang on the counter to release those pesky air bubbles. 

Then bake. 

This is the ultimate surprise party cake, because the cake itself is hiding its own party surprise. Creamy white on the outside, quiet, unassuming.... suggesting nothing but the norm inside.... Then wham! Layers of color! 

There are a bunch of pictures missing of... how burned this cake was on the very outer parts. I admit it, I'm not going to pretend I baked this flawless, picture perfect thing. Through much stress, wondering how the heck I could have burned the cake, wondering whether I would have to start again, I was ultimately able to rescue this cake. 

It involved shaving off lots of sad, completely overdone pieces. My garbage was quite full. It also involved brushing the cake with a delightful mix of vanilla, sugar, and water, which addressed my fear that the cake I saved would be somehow overdone. Which I don't think it was. It was just a weird situation where for the first time ever the outer parts of the cake got incinerated. 

Well, it wouldn't be a party without someone hitting their head on the ceiling fan while dancing on the table, would it? 

After an entire day and night in my kitchen, the time was nearing 11 PM and I hit a wall. I simply could not bring myself to color more frosting to pipe a message on top of the cake. 

For the millionth time that day, I looked around my kitchen for an escape to the corner I'd backed myself into.

I used the squared off end of a fondue skewer to carve a path of S + P into the frosting (this way, if I messed it up I could simply smooth it out and trace the initials again.) I then used a tiny spoon to carefully fill the message with colorful sprinkles. Fun!

You could use any sort of sparkly, sugar, or chocolate sprinkles for this. 

It's your party, you can do what you want to. 

After all was said and done, the cake weighed as much as a third grader.

Sarah was surprised twice in one weekend, a party was had, dessert was a hit, and love was all around.

Congrats Sarah and Patrick!

Celebration Cake: makes one 9 x 13 inch four layer cake
1, 2, 3, 4 Cake:
Note: to make two 9x13 inch panfulls, you must make this recipe twice in two batches.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temp
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
3 cups sifted self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 t. pure vanilla extract
food coloring of choice

Prepare 9x13 pan with nonstick spray and dust with flour. Preheat oven to 325. In an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy, then add the sugar and continue to cream for about 8 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Add vanilla and beat until just incorporated. Color with food coloring as desired. You can either use one mix for a smaller cake and divide into two colors, or use one color for this batch. Mix well but don't beat or the batter will become tough.

Pour into prepared pan and drop several times on the counter to release air bubbles. Bake 25-30 minutes or until the center is set. Cool in the pan 10 minutes before releasing gently onto a cooling rack. Flash freeze 1 hour in the freezer once its completely cooled, as cake is easier to work with when firm.

Meanwhile prepare frosting:

Thick Buttercream Frosting: I quadrupled this recipe for my 4-layer 9 x 13 inch cake.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
3-4 cups confectioner sugar
1-2 T. pure vanilla extract
1 T. milk

Cream the butter, then turn the mixer on low add in the sugar one cup at a time. Once the sugar is all barely incorporated, add the vanilla and milk and turn the mixer on high and beat until fluffy and smooth.

Cake assembly: Once my two sheet cakes were frozen, I sliced the tops horizontally to make them flat (its ok if they aren't perfect, I simply stack up thinner sides with thicker sides of the next layer when stacking and it all events out), and stacked the cakes on top of each other and trimmed the sides so the sizes matched.

I then carefully sliced horizontally through the center of each cake to produce 4 separate layers: two yellow, two blue.

I added a dollop of frosting to the bottom of my cake base, then placed my thickest layer, a yellow one, on the bottom. I smoothed out about 1.5 cups of frosting on this layer, then put a blue layer on top, repeating this process until I ended with a blue layer on top. I then coated the entire cake in a thin layer of frosting, the crumb layer, and set in the fridge to stiffen.

A couple hours later, I frosted the entire cake again to ensure a smooth and level outside with no crumbs. I decorated it and put it back in the fridge until ready to eat!

September 6, 2013

Cheesiest Cottage Cheese Baked Rigatoni

Oh, hi there. Have you noticed the weather cooling down?
Each day this week a breezy, cool evening sinks into a downright chilly night, which blooms into a crisp, sunny morning.
I have to put my sweater on to walk the dog. It's delicious.

I get excited in my bones for the change of the seasons. I'm sure you do, too.
And I get all giddy at the thought of piping-hot comfort food dinners. Like this one.
Don't call it low-fat, that's a term that makes me say, "boo, no flavor." It's got the hiss of that word "insipid." Call it lusciously sensible. There's no sacrifices here, and due to pureeing the cottage cheese into a ricotta-like texture, you don't even have to mention that you used the cheese that comes with a bland, bad rap and usually gets a boost from an odd pairing with pineapple.
Nope, let's just not mention it. Except for putting it smack in the recipe's title.

Your ooey, gooey secret's safe with me.

Cheesiest Cottage Cheese Baked Rigatoniserves 6-8

First, prepare the sauce. Of course, you can always use a quality jarred:
Sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat 2 T. olive oil over medium heat. Add 1/2 a largely diced red onion. Saute until slightly golden, 5-6 minutes, then add 6 cloves minced garlic and stir. Push onions and garlic to the sides to make a clearing in the middle of the pan, and add a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste. Caramelize the paste a minute, then add 1 t. dried basil, 1/2 t. dried oregano, 2 t. kosher salt, and 1 t. dried red pepper flakes. Stir, then add 1/4 cup red wine, 2 t. white sugar, and 1 28-oz. can Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes w/basil. Simmer 1 hour on low, stirring occasionally. Add up to 1/4 cup pasta water after cooking to thin it out a little bit, and season with salt + pepper to taste.

Then, boil 1 lb. rigatoni to very al-dente, about 4 minutes less than the suggested time on the bag. Drain. Meanwhile, prepare the cottage cheese "ricotta":

Cottage Cheese Ricotta: Food process together 1 16-oz container lowfat cottage cheese, 2 large eggs, a pinch nutmeg, generous pinches of dried basil, salt, pepper, and 3 T. grated parmesan cheese.

Shred: 1/2 lb mozarella cheese and 1/2 lb fontina cheese
Have some torn fresh basil on hand, too!

Once you've got all of the above on hand, coat an 8X8 inch baking dish with oil. Add a few scoops of red sauce to bottom of dish and spread. Add 1/3 of the pasta, 1/3 white sauce, and 1/3 shredded cheese. Repeat this, ending with a last layer of white sauce topped with shredded cheese and fresh basil. Spray top generously with cooking spray and bake 375 degrees covered with non-stick coated tin foil, then uncovered for 10-15 minutes or until bubbly and browned. Enjoy!


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