Food Photography: Our 100th Post!

Can you believe it? It’s already our hundredth post! Oh, how time does fly… Now, this picture may not look like much (poor lighting, bad framing, grainy, etc), but it has special significance. Back when Heather and I were just (re-)getting to know each other, we took a fondant class together at a local cooking supply store. This is my result.

The class was an… interesting experience and one that we both enjoyed. As far as I’m concerned, this is where it all began. It’s been good working with ya, Heather; and I’m sure I speak for both us when I say it’s been great writing for all you loyal readers. Happy 100th, and I hope we see you for another 100 (and beyond)!

Fondant Cake - Part of the Beginning

I know I said that I wouldn’t be baking anything on Saturday for Valentine’s Day, but… I lied? I saw one too many Tastespotting photos of heart-shaped desserts and I just couldn’t take it anymore!

blackberry swirl cake

Usually when I make cakes, I don’t worry too much about decoration. Spending a long time on decorating a cake seems onerous to me. I’d rather focus on the ingredients and the taste; I’m satisfied with simple decoration, like a few fresh flower blooms on a smooth frosted cake.

But on Friday night/Saturday morning I decided to bake a heart-shaped cake, focusing on decoration. I planned to make two 8×8 square cakes and cut them to the shape of a heart – I didn’t want my husband’s head to explode by buying a heart-shaped cake pan (I have, um, a few specialty pans).

blackberry swirl cake2blackberry swirl cake cooked

To make the cake batter, I adapted a recipe for Cherry Cheesecake Cupcakes from Cupcakes! From the Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn (a good book if you’re looking to move past box cake mixes but still not quite ready to bake completely from scratch). I combined one package of plain yellow cake mix, vanilla instant pudding mix, whole milk, vegetable oil, eggs and almond extract. I lined the pans with parchment paper and poured the batter into the cake pans, swirling 3/4 of a jar of blackberry preserves into the batter.

I cooled the cakes for 15 minutes in their pans, lifted them out by holding on to the parchment paper and then chilled them in the refrigerator overnight (to make sure they were firm enough to work with easily).

first heart cut

The next morning I gently stacked the cakes on top of each other and cut a small square off of one corner to make the dip of the heart and trimmed the points off. Then I cut the corners off of either side, to make the sides of the heart less pointy. I then carefully removed the top cake and set it aside.

final heart cut

I made a simple chocolate buttercream frosting, also from the Cake Mix Doctor book. With a thin layer of chocolate buttercream, I frosted the top of the bottom cake, leaving a little extra frosting around the edges (the outline of the heart) to make a sort of pool. I mashed 1 cup of fresh blackberries with a few spoonfuls of confectioners’ sugar (or you could use more blackberry preserves) and spread it on top of the chocolate buttercream frosting.

buttercreamfirst icing

I lightly frosted the bottom of the top cake with buttercream frosting so that the top cake wouldn’t get soggy from sitting on top of the blackberry preserves. I then set the top layer on top of the bottom cake.

blackberry preserves

I finally frosted the entire cake with the chocolate buttercream frosting, setting the cake in the freezer when I finished. After 15 minutes, I removed the cake from the freezer and refrosted any areas that needed to be smoothed or where crumbs had gotten into the frosting (this wasn’t much of a problem since I had refrigerated the cakes overnight before frosting).

top layerheart shaped cake

I bought some Wilton fondant, tore off a few pieces of it and separated it into separate bowls. I let one drop of food coloring on each and massaged it in to create the colored fondant. I worked it into a thin layer and then gently rolled it to make the fondant flowers.

heartshapedcakewithfondantflowersheart shaped cake with flowers

My husband and I really enjoyed this cake, and of course, I was really proud that I had the patience to work on my cake decorating skills! So keep this post in the back of your mind if you have an anniversary coming up or even a kid’s birthday. It’s actually not terribly time consuming, and it’s a lot of fun!

blackberry yellow cake with chocolate frosting and fondant flowers

Happy Valentine’s Day… almost!

mini chocolate cakes

My husband, Morgan, and I have never been big on Valentine’s Day. I generally don’t care for holidays with a lot of expectation involved because they make me nervous! Morgan and I have a great time just going to a low-key restaurant/brewery or sitting in pajamas and watching a movie. But you want me to go somewhere fancy… and dress up… and have it be the most romantic day of the year? Well, I’ll take a rain check!

But wait, that doesn’t mean I don’t want a box of chocolate! And you can keep all the gourmet chocolates and truffles; I just want some good old Russell Stover.

And maybe it’s because I don’t like all the expectation associated with V-Day, but as of right now I don’t intend to bake anything on Saturday (it’s Russell Stover or bust!). But if you’d like to tempt your honey, I highly recommend this melt-in-your mouth, warm and chocolatey little cake.

mini chocolate cake

I found this recipe in an old Kraft foods magazine. It was described as easy to prepare and, “under 200 calories, wonderful chocolate taste without being overly sweet.” Though I’ve heard people use the phrase “overly sweet,” I can’t say I understand the concept. My mantra is closer to, “bring on the sweets!” so I made a few small changes by adding about 1 cup of peanut butter chips along with 1/2 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips. It’s likely that these are no longer under 200 calories as advertised… whoops!

This recipe is also listed on the Kraft website, and I noticed in the comments that a lot of people complained that the cake completely fell in the middle just a few minutes after taking it out of the oven. I had this problem as well, probably because these cakes are flourless so the structure just isn’t the same, but a simple dollop of Cool-Whip disguises that instantly. And because you’re serving it warm out of the oven, they’re really not sitting around long enough for anyone to notice.

These little cakes are very easy to whip up, so you don’t have to worry about spending a lot of time in the kitchen instead of with your significant other. And because they’re individual serving sizes you get instant portion control! These sweet little cakes are truly heavenly.

mini chocolate cake cut open

Flourless Triple Chocolate Fudge Cups with Peanut Butter Chips
adapted from Kraft

3 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate (I used Baker’s brand)
1 tablespoon oil (I used Smart Balance)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
4 egg whites
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons thawed Cool Whip Lite Whipped Topping

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a microwave safe bowl, microwave semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate and oil for 20 second intervals, stirring between each interval until melted. Stir in cocoa powder and set aside.

Beat egg whites and sugar on high for approximately 3 minutes. Reduce speed and blend in melted chocolate. Stir in peanut butter chips.

Spoon batter into 6 paper muffin cups (I decided not to use paper cups when I made them, but I think it would be easier if you did… as I’ll describe in a minute).

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until center is puffed and set. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. The tops will fall in as they cool. Gently slide out of the muffin pan when cool. Because the tops have fallen, it will be a little difficult to get them out without breaking the top more. Do the best you can, and plop Cool Whip on the rest to serve!

Makes 8 little cakes.

Edible Art – Rainbow Cake!

As Heather mentioned yesterday, we’re going to be adding some new kinds of content to the site. There are other aspects of the cooking/baking/food that we love and we want to share that with you. One of the new sections is food photography, where we share some awesome beauty in edible form.

First up, rainbow cake! This has got to be one of the coolest looking cakes I’ve ever made. More to come on this in the future but I wanted to give you all something to look forward to. 😉

Taste The Rainbow

As always, we welcome your feedback. Tell us what you think of the new features and let us know if there’s something you’d like to see.

UPDATE: We got a flurry of interest in this cake and decided to run a RAINBOW WEEK theme. You can check out it out by clicking here for tips on how to make your own cake as well as other ideas you can do with the rainbow theme. Enjoy!

We’ve had a couple readers who were following our twitter posts already try it out themselves. If you do the same, be sure to share it with us!
– Kelly took great shots during the various stages of the process.
– Stephanie rocked this as well.

Breaking Mom's Rules to Make "Dad-approved" Blueberry Lemon Loaf

My dad does not eat red meat.

He doesn’t eat real cheese, eggs, butter, or anything that was baked in a pan greased with Crisco, either. So when he called yesterday and asked if anything I was bringing home for Thanksgiving was “dad-approved,” I got a little quiet.

 "Dad-approved" Blueberry Lemon Loaf - Gradually Adding Flour Mixture

Then I remembered a recipe I saw on Smitten Kitchen a few months ago for Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Loaf. I knew that my dad would love it… if it wasn’t for the whole-milk yogurt, three eggs and oil.

One of the first rules of holiday baking I learned from my mom was to always use fresh, high-quality ingredients. I’m not sure that Egg Beaters and fat free yogurt comply with this rule, but I had to try!

 "Dad-approved" Blueberry Lemon Loaf - Cool in the pan

Egg Beaters have no fat or cholesterol, and they’re made with real eggs. The egg whites are separated from the yolks and combined with vitamins and thickeners. In some recipes you may not even notice a difference, in others a lot could change. I replaced the whole-milk yogurt with a combination of Stonyfield Farm’s organic, fat free plain and lotsa lemon yogurt. I also used Smart Balance Omega Oil in place of canola or vegetable oil.

My blueberries sank a little bit, but I think if I had been more cautious while pouring the batter into the pan I could have avoided some of this. In any event, the result was an incredibly moist cake bursting with tart lemon flavor. Hopefully dad feels the same way!

 "Dad-approved" Blueberry Lemon Loaf - Cool Completely

“Dad-approved” Blueberry Lemon Loaf
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup plain, organic, fat-free yogurt
1/2 cup lotsa lemon, organic, fat-free yogurt (I used Stonyfield Farm)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup Egg Beaters (1/4 equals about 1 egg, but check your label)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup Smart Balance oil
1 1/2 cups small blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed
1/3 cup lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and spray your loaf pan with Smart Balance cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray again.

Sift 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. In a large bowl whisk yogurt, 1 cup sugar, Egg Beaters, lemon zest, vanilla and Smart Balance oil. Whisk the dry ingredients gradually into the wet ingredients. Rinse blueberries in a small bowl and mix with 1 tablespoon of flour. Gently fold the blueberries into your batter so that they do not burst.

Pour batter into loaf pan and bake for about approximately 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Note that using Egg Beaters may increase your cook time a little.

While the loaf is baking, combine 1/3 cup lemon juice and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan on your stove until the sugar dissolves. Set pan aside.

Cool your loaf for 10 minutes before flipping out onto a wire rack. Lay a pan underneath the wire rack and poke a few small holes in the loaf using a toothpick – pour the lemon and sugar mixtures over the loaf while it’s still warm.

Cool completely and wrap tightly.

From the moment Edwin and I saw this cake, we knew it was always our destiny to bake it.

And its creation had special meaning for me. I first learned of this cake a few months ago from mine and my husband’s friend Jeff. Jeff found the cake on Smitten Kitchen and demanded that we spend a day baking and gorging ourselves on it. He found out a few weeks after this that the cancer he’d had for two years was terminal, but he had such an incredible attitude that he just continued making plans for things he wanted to do, see and eat. Making this cake together remained on the top of his list.

young jeff, heather, morganold morgan, heather, jeff

Unfortunately things went down hill incredibly fast, and my husband, Morgan, and I were with Jeff when he died in mid-September. The three of us had been friends for a long time; he was the best man in our July wedding, one month before he found out he was terminal and two months before he died. I think there may always be a hole in our lives and in our hearts where he was.

Pouring the Batter

A few weeks ago Edwin sent me a link for this cake. I thought about the plans I had to make it with Jeff and I hesitated. Then I remembered how after Jeff’s death, at his request, we had thrown a celebration of his life where each of his friends either brought over a dish they had shared with him or some food that he loved. I realized that making this cake with Edwin was probably an excellent way to honor my friend and celebrate the things he loved most – food and friends.

Spreading Closeup

For the First Time on DINNERCAKES, Edwin and Heather Unite:

Thus, Edwin and I set a date and embarked on what we both knew would be a challenging journey. The elusive sour-cream chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and chocolate-peanut butter glaze had been taunting us to bake it for quite a while.

The result – “This might be the best cake I’ve ever had,” crowed Edwin.

Even Morgan agreed, who can usually take or leave cakes. Nothing was overpowering about the cake, and although it may appear dense in photos, it’s actually very light and incredibly moist.

Chocolate Glaze Pour

However, it is extremely rich. A cold glass of milk is vital for the prevention of a sugar-induced coma. This beauty of a cake packs away 2 ½ cups of sugar in the cake batter and 5 cups of confectioners’ sugar in the frosting. If you have diabetes or a heart condition, this cake is not for you!

But now that all is said and done, our dream cake has been enjoyed and divvied up between us, and we’ve exceeded our sugar quota for the entire week, we can’t think of a better way to kick off Thanksgiving week and the holiday season than to share this amazing recipe.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake - So GoodThe First Cut - Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Edwin and I are thankful for good friends, good food and good times past and present. And I am thankful that, although I did not get to make this cake with Jeff, I was able to share so many other wonderful memories with him.

Hope this beautiful cake kick-starts your Monday! Happy Thanksgiving week from Dinnercakes!

Perfect Slice - Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Triple Layer Cake
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans (we used three 9-inch rounds so our cakes came out a little thinner). Cut three rounds of parchment paper to line the bottom of each pan; butter the parchment paper.

Sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Add in oil and sour cream; whisk to blend. Beat in water gradually (we used a stand mixer, but you can also use a whisk). Add vinegar and vanilla. Beat in eggs until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure batter is well-mixed. Divide evenly between 3 prepared pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. Cool in the pans for 10-20 minutes. Turnout onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and firm them up in the freezer for 30 minutes.

To frost, place one layer flat side up on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread Peanut Butter Frosting evenly on top, repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting – you are going to make a crumb coat; this part is crucial (a crumb coat keeps crumbs from showing up on your final layer of frosting).

Put the cake (with a thin layer of the peanut butter frosting all over) back in the freezer for 20 minutes. The frosting will now be somewhat firm on the cake, now you can use the remaining frosting to cover the entire cake, without a crummy mess! When fully frosted, you may want to chill again for 10 minutes.

To decorate with the glaze, set the cake plate on a sheet of parchment paper to catch drips. Pour the glaze directly over the center of the cake, and using a spatula, spread it lightly over the top and to the edges so that it falls down the sides in large drips. To set the cake, you may want to refrigerate it again when you’re done. Edwin and I didn’t make it that far and instead we chowed down immediately.

Peanut Butter Frosting
0 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out)

Beat the cream cheese, butter and peanut butter until light and fluffy in a large bowl with a mixer. Add the confectioners’ sugar gradually, mixing thoroughly and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat until blended, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

I didn’t have a double boiler, so we used to the microwave method, heating for 15 seconds at a time and stirring after each 15 second interval. If you do have a double boiler or a metal bowl that you can set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook while whisking often until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Last, remove from the heat, whisk in the half-and-half and beat until smooth. Pour over the cake while still warm.

I’ve been experimenting a lot more with my cooking and baking since we started this the awesomeness that is DinnerCakes. Most of these forays in the culinary jungle have been met with limited success. My climbing cake was a dismal failure and my roasted stuffed turnips probably won’t knock any one’s socks off. I recently attempted to craft a red velvet cake for my six inch pans and once again the harsh gods of baking slighted me. Sorry Carly, guess you’ll have to settle on store bought cupcakes for your birthday. But hey, that’s life, right? You learn more through failure than victory. Let’s move on to a success story.

Oh, the possibilities...

There are some really great non-profits in the DC Metro area and I’ve had the opportunity so meet some really great people through them. One of the groups I’ve been working with for a few years is the Capital Hill Community Foundation. They’ve been working to renovate elementary school libraries in the Capital South area of DC. I gotta say, they’ve been doing some amazing work. I’ve been coordinating a few volunteer efforts with them recently and this last Sunday we had a really productive day at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary.

Ready For The Oven

It’s sometimes hard to get people to sign up for something like a Sunday morning project. I totally understand this. I love sleep. Sleep and I are tight, and on Sunday we try to catch up on all the time we’ve lost over the week. But alas, duty calls sometimes. I try to make sure the projects I organize are enjoyable for everyone and one of the ways I do this is food. People love free food. It’s insane. I mean, anyone can buy muffins at the local grocery store; but if you bring them for people, you’re guaranteed to hook a few.

Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

I got up (way too) early Sunday morning to once again attempt another culinary adventure. There was a lot riding on this one. People need their food. Perusing my ever-growing list of to-do’s I came across a tasty looking dish from the folk’s at Baker’s Banter. This blog will make you want to be a baker, people. One of their more recent posts was for a Cinnamon Streusel Coffeecake (side note: why must something so delicious be tainted with the label “coffee?”). It. Looked. Awesome. I felt the need to make my own modifications, of course (hey, that’s how we roll here at DinnerCakes). It was a big hit. Next time you need some quick and easy (and cheap) to impress, give this baby a shot to save the day.

Interested in service in the DC Metro area? Contact us for more information on how to plug in to the community.

Update: My friend Laurian tried this recipe with powdered buttermilk with no ill effect. In addition, she recommends adding some water to the topping for a more crunchy effect. Thanks, Laurian!

Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake
adapted from Baker’s Banter

1 cup brown sugar; light or dark (I used light)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter; melted
2 tablespoons water

1 cup butter
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar; light or dark (I used light)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups milk; any kind (I used skim)
3 3/4 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″x13″ baking pan.

Mix the filling together in a bowl and set aside. Mix together the topping in another bowl until crumbs form. Set aside.

In a large bowl with a stand or hand mixer, beat together butter, salt sugars, baking powder and vanilla until combined and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between until well combined. Be sure to scrape the sides. Combine the milks together in a separate container such as a liquid measuring cup.

Alternate adding the flour and milk to the butter mixture; three times adding the flour, two times adding the milk (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour). Be sure to scrape down the sides to ensure it’s well combined.

Pour half the mixture into your baking pan (since i don’t bother weighing, i tend to put a little more in this half. better on the bottom than the top). Sprinkle the filling evenly on top. Give it a light shake to make sure it’s even and reaching all the corners. Spread the remaining batter on top; evenly. If you have a pastry scraper, I recommend using this to help evenly spread the batter, but a spatula will work as well. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the pan. A bit more light shaking will help.

Bake until golden brown at the edges and passes the toothpick test; approximately 50-60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 20 minutes. Service straight from the pan and enjoy.