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Operation Baking Gals

November 25, 2011

I am honored to be writing this blog post.  Normally I try to be witty and draw you into my blog post, but this one needs to no wit or special introduction.

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and so many of us are spending time with our loved ones, stuffed to the gills, or bundled up, waiting in line for Black Friday deals.  Perhaps you’re beginning your plans for holiday baking. ;-)

As you begin your preparations for your holiday season, won’t you consider sharing some of that holiday spirit?

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Prime Minister Winston Churchill

I have signed up Team Star-Spangled Bakers for Round 37 of Operation Baking GALS and would appreciate anyone able to participate.  It’s really quite simple, especially during the holidays when so many bake so much already!  Check out Operation Baking GALS today to sign up.

Team Star-Spangled Bakers will be shipping to not one, but two Marines (and their teams) this season.  Shipping runs from December 1-21, so there’s plenty of time to send some love and gratitude to a few of those we owe so much to!

Finally…fondant!

September 11, 2011
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Why is it once you’re an adult, you find all the things you hated as a child much more fun in adulthood?

Play-Doh, for instance.  It used to be the “uncool” toy growing up.  The last thing you wanted to play with.  This was before the days when they had all sorts of Play-Doh toys, like Mega 36-Packs, Ice Cream Shoppe sets, or aspiring cook Kitchen sets.  I thought you only got like 3 or 5 colors or if you were really one of the cool kids, maybe 8 colors!

(Can you imagine how much fun a 6-year old Culinary Cheesehead would’ve had with that Kitchen playset?  Instead, my Mom, bless her heart, let me just randomly mix things together and bake in a loaf pan.  It always came out incredibly salty, dense, and disgusting.)

Or remember making your own Play-Doh?  (It always felt like cookie dough and smelled/tasted weird!)

But now… Play-Doh is more fun to play with.   It brings to mind childhood playdays, even if I didn’t care for them then because I had the uncool toys in limited colors!

Here’s your chance to relive those glorious days of goo smeared into everything… only tastier and hopefully we’ve all outgrown smearing things into the carpet!

Fondant.  It strikes distaste in the heart of so many (and fear in a lot of bakers’ hearts!)  With good reason, most of the time.  (A lot of it tastes terrible, if you haven’t tried it.)

So when someone told me that Marshmallow Fondant was like working with Play-Doh that tastes like marshmallows, I went for it.  “How hard can it be?”

Not that hard, really.  It does take a little extra work, but it’s very worth it.  It can be fun… and, yes, very much like Play-Doh.  And it really can take your cakes (or cupcakes) to a different level.

I will point out that Marshmallow Fondant is not best suited for sculpting type projects that need to hold their shape.  Exhibit A:

That is Marshmallow Fondant on the top of the cupcake, as well as the butterfly and flower.  Typically to make decorations such as this butterfly, you make the fondant, cut it out and let it dry in the shape you want it to hold for a few days.  That butterfly, all 40-some of its butterfly buddies, and those flowers sat drying in my basement for approximately 3 days.  When I went to use them, this size butterfly and flower held up okay (still fairly floppy), but anything larger just flopped.  Literally… the butterfly wings on the larger butterflies wouldn’t hold at all and I didn’t end up using more than maybe two.  No real drying had occurred (on the flip side, the fondant was still chewy!)

For covering cakes or flat details that don’t need to hold a stand-up shape, this fondant works well, is incredibly easy to make, uses ingredients you’ll likely have in the cupboard, and is tasty. :-)

Let a little of your inner child come out and have fun with this Marshmallow Fondant!

I’ve made this a few different times and I usually can’t find the printed off copy of my recipe, so I end up going back to the two sources I saw the recipe on: Beantown Baker and Proceed with Caution.   It’s the same recipe, really, but Jen (Beantown Baker) uses her mixer to incorporate the powdered sugar.   The most recent time I made Marshmallow Fondant I was feeling particularly lazy and tried it.  Of course, I was making a batch and a half.  FYI: in a 5 QT KitchenAid, that’ll fill your mixing bowl right up to the bottom of the dough hook.  I wouldn’t recommend making that much in that size mixer at once.  But it was awesome… I didn’t have to knead all that powdered sugar in! (I did knead some in after the mixer did most of the heavy work, but to have 2/3 of the sugar already kneaded in?  Seriously awesome.)

But hey, if you don’t have a super-sturdy mixer, or really want to get in touch with your inner child, slather up in some Crisco and do it the old-fashioned way.  Both work equally well!

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Pictured in the slideshow:

  • “Chocolate Overload Cake” – chocolate cake filled with ganache, dark chocolate buttercream, and chocolate Marshmallow Fondant & colored regular marshmallow fondant.  (Chocolate Marshmallow Fondant recipe below.)
  • The flavor combination I’ve fallen in love with: Vanilla Bean Cake, Swiss Meringue Buttercream, Marshmallow Fondant!  I love it so much, I made it for both the yellow-orange fondant covered cake with SMBC details as well as the human’s cake at Xena’s birthday (covered in SMBC with fondant pawprints, dog bones, and rope border).
  • Chocolate chip and chocolate layers of cake with vanilla cream filling, covered in SMBC and Marshmallow Fondant will have you saying anything but “Uff Da!”  (This cake was a hit at my family reunion, with our Norwegian heritage.)
  • The cupcake pictured earlier, covered in Marshmallow Fondant with butterfly & flowers out of Marshmallow Fondant (standard buttercream accents.)
Marshmallow Fondant
  • 16 oz white mini-marshmallows (heads up: watch the size of the bags when you buy them! A lot of manufacturers now sell bags of 10-12 oz, not 16 oz!)
  • 2-5 T. water
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar
  • 1-2 t. extracts (vanilla, almond, etc.  I’ve been using a mix of pure vanilla, even though it tints the fondant ivory because it’s not clear, and almond for extracts.)
  • Shortening, in a small bowl or on a plate (approx 1/2 cup, possibly more if you use mixer)
Grease a large, microwave-safe bowl and spatula or wooden spoon.  Pour marshmallows, water, and extracts into greased bowl and microwave on high in 30 second intervals, stirring with greased utensil between intervals, until marshmallows are just melted.  (Typically about 2 minutes total.)
 
To use the Beantown Baker mixer-method:
    • Thoroughly grease bowl of stand mixer and dough hook with shortening.
    • Pour 2/3-3/4 powdered sugar into the greased mixer bowl and then melted marshmallow on top of the sugar.
    • Attach greased dough hook and turn mixer on low to medium speed until mixer has incorporated all (or most) of the powdered sugar.  (Most of my sugar was mixed in, but some of it was stuck to the greased bowl.  My fondant was definitely sticky, still, so I turned the fondant onto a greased countertop and kneaded in a little additional sugar.)
    • Roll fondant into a ball, coat with Crisco, and wrap tightly in saran wrap and store in a plastic bag.
To use the Proceed with Caution method and hand-knead:
    • Thoroughly grease a clean, dry surface (countertop.)
    • Pour 2/3-3/4 of powdered sugar on top  of marshmallow mixture and use greased spatula to incorporate.
    • When most (or all) of the sugar is incorporated, grease hands and turn fondant onto greased surface.
    • Knead like you would bread dough, adding more powdered sugar  as necessary, until fondant is no longer sticky but not so much that the dough won’t hold together.
    • Regrease your hands and the counter as necessary!
    • Roll fondant into a ball, coat with Crisco, and wrap tightly in saran wrap and store in a plastic bag.
Chocolate Marshmallow Fondant
  • 16 oz mini marshmallows
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar
  • 1/2 c. cocoa powder
  • 2 T water
  • 1 T light corn syrup or glucose
  • 1-2 t extract flavorings
Same concept as standard Marshmallow Fondant – melt marshmallows, corn syrup, water, and flavorings in a greased bowl.  Add cocoa powder in (whichever method you use) with the powdered sugar.

A dream come true!

September 6, 2011

I never realized bananas were such a hated fruit.  Some people apparently don’t like the texture, others just dislike anything banana flavored.  I’ve spent my 28 years in a banana-naivete apparently.

I was making a surprise cake for my neighbor and all I knew was she likes chocolate cake.  Since it was summer, I just could not bring myself to put chocolate frosting on an already rich chocolate cake… it just seemed too much!  (Stop giving me that look.  I know, I know, most people don’t care if it’s 100 degrees – it’s never too hot for chocolate!  But I just can’t get on board with that.)

So it occured to me… what about banana buttercream?  Kind of like a chocolate covered banana.  Or maybe some Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey…summer, ice cream.  Logical connection, right?  It sounded like a different, but delicious, combination.

Then I did the worst thing a baker or cook can do.  I posted it to the nation of Facebook and within 5 minutes got an alarming number of responses to the tune of people not liking bananas!

I didn’t know if my neighbor liked bananas.  I can assure you I wracked my brain for days trying to recall ever seeing her eat a banana.  (It’s not often I see my neighbors eat, period, let alone enough that I’d know anyone’s fruit-preferences!  Short of digging through their trash bin, which I thought might be taking it a bit too far, I couldn’t come up with a way to casually bring up fruit in a conversation.)

I eventually wound up making something entirely different for her cake to avoid the banana issue!

Of course, that did not end the banana issue entirely.  Noooooo, the banana debate continued.

You see, I kind of make birthday cakes for my co-workers… unofficially.  We do this semi-secretive dance behind the birthday girl’s back to plan a “food day” or “snack day” and now I generally get the response of “My cake won’t be as good as yours…why don’t you make it?”

(FYI: I do not discriminate when it comes to cake.  While I personally do a lot “from scratch”, that doesn’t mean I won’t inhale a store-bought, super sugary delight from Festival or even Walmart just as quickly as something homemade.  I am, in fact, the person who usually aims for the corner piece and can be found licking the frosting from my paper plate afterward.  Hi, I’m Paula… I’m a cake-aholic.)

So… as the last of 2011′s birthdays rolled around, I knew I wanted something different.  I was already making a chocolate cake for another co-worker and when I ran across Jessica’s blog post about Banana Dream Cake, it fit perfectly.

These events happened fairly parallel to one another – the neighbor’s cake and the co-workers’ birthday cakes.  So as I was sorting through the cobwebs of my brain to remember if I’d ever seen a banana peel hanging out of my neighbor’s trash bin & trying to recall any fruit allegiance being sworn, I realized my co-worker may also be of the banana-hating camp.

Sheer Cheesehead-panic.  If I had been driving Mr. Cheesehead up the wall before, I think he was ready to drive right out of town!

After much discussion with my dear baking friend Kat (who constantly saves my sanity for listening to me ramble about cake, filling, and frosting!) and Mr. Cheesehead talking me off the cake-ledge, I found another cake.  I was super excited to make an Orange Dreamsicle cake.  (In fact, Kat and I actually talked about it so much that she actually went for it!  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3!)

Until the week before co-worker’s birthday, she and I were talking and I mentioned the Facebook banana debate…and she weighed in on the debate.  In favor of banana.  In fact, her mom used to make a banana cake with cream cheese frosting.  (If that doesn’t send bells ringing in your head, you need to skip ahead and follow the link to Jessica’s blog!)

Immediately, I knew what I had to do.

Scratch the Orange Dreamsicle cake.

And it was totally worth it.  This is right up there as one of my favorite all-time cakes I’ve made.  It was as delicious as Jessica says it is.

(I will point out that I have the worst luck with cream cheese frosting and used more powdered sugar than was called for in Jessica’s recipe.  I believe I also made 1 1/2 times the frosting recipe because Jessica’s pictures had so little frosting and I knew I’d need some for decorating.  Big mistake.  I had so much frosting leftover!  Oh, we should all have such problems!! LOL)

Definitely check out this delicious Banana Dream Cake!  I kind of scoffed at it being called “dream cake” but it really is a cakey delicious dream!

America’s Favorite Pasttime

June 21, 2011

One of my favorite things about summer is baseball.  And with baseball comes superstition as baseball is reportedly the most superstitious sport.  Completely irrational, it makes logical people do odd things – eat a particular meal before a game, turn a hat inside out (a rally cap), approach the batter’s box in the same manner every time…

Or throw away a perfectly good t-shirt because the arch nemesis (Cubs) won three of four games against the Brewers and it was the first time you’d worn the shirt.

(Yes, this recently happened in the Cheesehead household.  While the shirt in question -

- is perfect for a Milwaukee Brewers fan, neither Mr. Cheesehead nor I felt comfortable keeping it after the series.  Just in case… ;-))

More recently, Mr. Cheesehead and I planned a trip to Boston to see the Brewers play at Fenway Park.

What a great experience to see our beloved team play in such a historical ballpark.

Unfortunately,… the Brewers didn’t exactly seem to “play” the evening Mr. Cheesehead and I paid a visit to Fenway Park.  After the 45-minute first inning, even the most die-hard fans were restless in their seats.  It’s one thing to lose – we’re used to that – but what a horrible game as a fan to sit through!  Sure, they say the Brewers starting pitcher left due to a hip flexor injury (at the time, they were saying he left due to a leg or groin injury.  “Groin injury”… injured male pride… call it what you like!  Sounds like a case of “tomato” “toMAto” to me! )

Superstitiously, this has caused Mr. Cheesehead & I to ponder if we should discontinue future travel plans to stadiums other than Miller Park.  The game in Boston leaves us with a personal record of 0-3 at away games!

Ix-nay on the Brewers’ away games?  Or “tempt fate” and follow ‘em where travel plans may lead? ;-)

On a better superstitious note, I recently made these cupcakes for a bachelor-bachelorette party we were lucky enough to attend at Miller Park.  What a great group of people to be able to hang out with!  (AND…the Brewers won the game we attended! Which means… let Brewers fans have their cake & eat it too!)

This was the first time I’d done anything with chocolate & molds.  I can’t say it’ll be my last time working with them, but it was definitely a trying of my patience with just one mold.  (In case you’re not making the connection, it meant I filled the three baseball cavities in the mold and then put the mold in the refrigerator until the chocolate had set so I could safely – and in one piece – pop out the molded chocolates.  Repeat. Repeat again. And again, etc.)

The end result was worth it and a lot of fun (even when the sun melted the chocolate candies on top!  The chocolate kind of oozed into the frosting and cake, making it all a warm, gooey, yummy mess!)

(The little baseball is leftover marshmallow fondant.  Vanilla bean and double chocolate cupcakes topped with standard buttercream using my new tip!)

I interrupt your regularly scheduled cake-blogging…

May 26, 2011

to tug on your heart strings.

I am an animal lover, like many of you (all 16 of you who read my blog! You rock!) Growing up, my family rented an old farmhouse in the country.  Animals were everywhere.  I’ve lost count how many cats and fish I’ve had, and there was almost always at least one dog in the house.  We even briefly had a horse and to this day, my Mom will tell you it was evil incarnate.

After we married, Mr. Cheesehead and I quickly wanted to start our family.  On July 15, 2007, a little bundle of fluff was born into our hearts, but we didn’t know it until the end of September when Xena Cheesehead came home to stay.

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She is the love of our lives and a constant source of aggravation (sometimes), but moreso of laughter, love, and simplicity.  Give her a ball, some fresh air, and she’s the happiest creature in the world.  She may have four legs instead of two, but she is our “baby girl”.  She is our family.

It’s nearly impossible to be unaware of the devastation that has been ripping the middle of the nation apart (tornadoes, flooding, more tornadoes… just pure devastation.)  I wasn’t shocked by the destruction.  While it’s tragic & mind-boggling to consider, I was shocked that I hadn’t thought of the pets.

“If I had lost my home, possessions – everything we surround ourselves with, all the material possessions we usually think of as “home”, as long as I had my family…,” I thought.  As many pet-parents are aware, your four-legged children are rarely welcome in many places.  Instead, these family members are relying on the kindness of strangers to help them get medical attention and basic needs such as shelter and food.

So I’m sharing Blogs for Dogs.  If you can help, great.  (Feel free to check out their Amazon Registry for products.  You can even sort by “Love to have” or “Nice to have”.)   If all you can do is share this information, maybe someone you share with or someone they share with may be able to help.  If all you can offer is your thoughts and prayers, they are appreciated.

Strawberries & Champagne

May 18, 2011

Strawberries and champagne, Culinary Cheesehead style.

(Champagne cake with strawberry puree & whipped cream mixed with champagne filling and strawberry (American) buttercream.)

I’m all for leftover cake.  But sometimes you just don’t want to share your cake.

Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary.  Since it’ll be just Mr. Cheesehead and I, I tried my hand at making another 4″ cake because that’s more manageable for just the two of us.

Yet again, the smallest cake seems to kick my butt.  Give me an 8″ or 9″ cake any day over one half its size!  As you can see in the “in progress” picture below, the filling was not cooperative!

In this picture, I had only stacked the second layer and already the strawberry puree is oozing out between the first and second cakes!  Okay, okay,… I probably just overfilled them.  But both last year’s and this year’s cakes tended to be a bit lopsided and the layers slid very easily!

4″ cake, we shall meet again!  This isn’t over!

Change of Pace

May 16, 2011

I know, I know. I’m probably the worst food blogger ever.  I disappear at random times for random amounts of time.  I have excuses.  Anyone want to hear them?

Didn’t think so.  Tough.

I dislike my pictures.  I have a point and shoot camera, which is unreliable and finicky, or my cell phone (which is about as temperamental. So much for that “HD video capable” sales pitch.  Worst provider & phone ever.)

But I’m a perfectionist about my writing, so I’ll write a post and save it to review later.  Three iterations later, I’m still not quite happy with it because it’s not what I have in my mind. So I won’t post it.

But I think I’m going to change gears a bit here, and I apologize. Even though my pictures aren’t so great, I’m going to try taking a “more pictures, less talky” approach.  For a few reasons:  1) When people ask to see cakes/cupcakes I’ve done, I don’t have to hand them my phone, 2) Unbelievably, not everyone is on Facebook these days, 3) I don’t necessarily want 1000 Facebook friends of people who just want to see cake pictures.  My Facebook wall would be insane if everyone who wanted to see my pictures only just became my Facebook friend.

Recently, in sorting through all the recipes and miscellaneous papers floating around my dining room/kitchen area, I ran across a list I’d made early 2010.  Kind of like my “bucket list” of cooking/baking.  What did I want to make?

It was nice to discover the list…but even better to be able to cross off a few things I’d made over the course of the past few months.  Ganache.  I successfully made it!  Of course, it still scares the crap out of me every time because I want to make it the right consistency (so let it cool to the right temperature, which I’m terrible about for being so impatient!)  So that’s crossed off, but not “complete.”

Marshmallows.  One of those foods I was “meh” about but added to the list because I could.   You need a sturdy stand mixer to whip up a batch of these puppies.  Even non-marshmallow fans such as myself have found themselves reaching for “just a few more” (numerous times!)  Who knew pure sugar could be this yummy? ;)

Fondant.  Notorious for tasting not-so-good, I thought for sure I’d never have a need for making or using this.  However, there is an alternative.  Marshmallow fondant.  I mean, who doesn’t like marshmallows?  (Okay…I normally don’t.  But the effect is absolutely worth it.  And similar to my surprise of homemade marshmallows, who knew if you took pure sugar (marshmallows) and added more sugar, it could be this good?)  It’s also a little fun (I emphasize little fun because it’s like working with sticky Play-Doh.  The homemade Play-Doh that you can eat!)

Jump back with me to where I said I was going to do less talky and more pictures.  I’m not going to dig up the recipes for these recipes, but I will be more than happy to help if you need them… just let me know.

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  1. Vanilla Bean and Double Chocolate Cupcakes covered in marshmallow fondant with marshmallow fondant butterflies & flowers. Buttercream accents.
  2. Vanilla Bean and Double Chocolate Cupcakes with buttercream grass and marshmallow fondant butterflies & flowers.
  3. “Chocolate Overload Cake” – Three layers of double chocolate cake alternating with chocolate ganache, dark chocolate buttercream, all covered in dark chocolate marshmallow fondant with marshmallow fondant decorations.
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