“How-To” Baking – Working With Food Dyes

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Food dye is a great way to bring a little color into your baking. Used in the right amounts it can add visual interest and a bright “pop” into otherwise bland colored foods. Food dyes come in a few different forms: natural coloring, powdered coloring, gel or paste coloring, liquid coloring or liquid gel coloring.

  • Natural Coloring – These colorants are usually plant based therefore, they are a healthier option as they contain no artificial ingredients. The color comes from foods such as blueberries, beets, pomegranate juice, etc. Take note, natural colorants do not produce rich, vibrant colors. They generally have a more dull, light appearance which falls short in baked goods.
  • Powdered Coloring – Typically this colorant is found online or in specialty cooking stores. The number of colors available can be somewhat limiting so a good amount of color mixing is required. Take note, using too much powdered coloring to tint baked goods can result it them having a drier consistency. Use powdered colorants sparingly.
  • Gel or Paste Coloring – These colorants have a thicker consistency thanks to the use of corn syrup or glycerine in the ingredients. They are readily available in stores and because they are so concentrated, they produce very vibrant colors. They are a great option for cookie dough, icings and cake batters.
  • Liquid Coloring – These colorants are readily available in all supermarkets and generally come in tiny bottles. Because they are so watery they can thin out batters and icings so they are generally NOT recommended for use in baking. These are best used for coloring eggs.
  • Liquid Gel Coloring – These colorants are a cross between liquid food dyes and gel/paste food dyes. The consistency isn’t quite as thick as in a gel paste but it’s better than the liquid dyes. These are usually found in a squeeze tube or flip-cap bottles and are a great option to use in baking.

When working with food dyes, it’s important to start small when adding the color. Building the color up over time allows for more control, it’s much easier to darken a color than to take color away and lighten it. When tinting batters, icings, fondant etc. it’s important to note that the color will develop and deepen over time. Refrain from adding more and more dye to achieve the desired color. Instead, allow the batter, icing, fondant etc. to sit for 15-20 minutes so that the color has time to deepen on its own. If necessary, adjust the coloring after that waiting period.

When mixing colors, try to do it in natural light which will provide a more accurate view of the colors. Artificial lighting can give an “off” appearance to the colors so if possible, set up your workspace near a window. Lastly, to achieve the best results when tinting it is essential to use the right ingredients/materials. For example, French Buttercream isn’t ideal for coloring as it is yellowish in color. That yellowish hue will mar the vibrancy of the colors that are mixed with it. However, a great choice for tinting is batters and icings that are pure white such as Swiss or Italian Buttercream .

QUICK COLOR MIXES

Purple – Mix equal amounts of red and blue together

Pink – Add a small amount of red

Orange – Mix red and yellow together

Green – Mix equal amounts of blue and yellow together

Brown – Mix equal amounts red, blue and yellow together

 

Sugar Cookie Strawberry Cake

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This is a fresh and flavorful cake that is perfect for birthday parties or spring/summer holidays such as Easter. The original recipe is from a fabulous book entitled, Cakes by Melissa: Life Is What You Bake It by Melissa Ben-Ishay, which is filled with great recipes for cakes, frostings, fillings, and toppings! I decided to combine this strawberry cake with her scrumptious recipe for sugar cookie dough which is perfect for nibbling since it contains no eggs. I could eat this sugar cookie dough ALL DAY LONG! The recipe makes a lot of sugar cookie dough, more than you need for this recipe, so you can either halve the recipe or tightly wrap the leftovers and freeze for later use.

The wonderful thing about this cake is that you don’t have to make it strawberry flavored, the recipe calls for a homemade fruit puree for the flavoring so you can feel free to play around and experiment with whatever fruit you like best! Try mixed berries, pineapple, peaches, or even mango! The possibilities for this cake are seemingly endless. For the frosting, I used a swiss buttercream since it tints well and isn’t overly sweet.

One last note, before making your cake be sure to bring all of the refrigerated ingredients to room temperature. Cold ingredients don’t blend as well and subsequently won’t form a proper emulsion. It’s tempting to overlook this step but please don’t as it’s really quite necessary in order to create a fluffy, light baked good. Enjoy!

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 3/4 cups strawberry puree*
  • sanding sugar, for decoration

For the sugar cookie dough

  • 1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease two 9″ round baking pans or line the pans with parchment paper and butter the paper.

With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter for 1 minute on high-speed, then scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the sugar and beat on high speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the vanilla extract then add the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl midway through.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and sea salt. In another bowl, stir together the milk and the strawberry puree.

With the mixer on low-speed, add half of the flour mixture. When it’s mostly incorporated add half of the milk mixture. Add the remainder of the dry and wet ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. Stop mixing as soon as you have a smooth batter.

Divide the batter equally between the two pans and bake until the middle of the cake feels springy when you gently press with your finger, about 35-40 minutes.

While the cakes are baking, make the buttercream frosting and sugar cookie dough. To make the sugar cookie dough, using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the butter on high for about a minute. Add the vanilla and whip to just incorporate. Add the sugar and whip for another minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour and salt and whip just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl one last time.

Allow the cakes to completely cool on wire racks before icing and decorating. Frost the layer cake then break off small pieces of the sugar cookie dough and assemble them around the outside edge of the cake. Sprinkle lightly with sanding sugar. Extra sugar cookie dough can be wrapped tightly and stored in the refrigerator for use in other recipes.

*To make the strawberry puree – Clean and hull 3 1/2 cups (a little more than a pint) of fresh strawberries. Puree the strawberries in a blender or food processor, adding a little granulated sugar if the berries are a bit too tart.

“How-To” Baking – Buttercream Frosting 101

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Buttercream frosting is made from a combination of butter and sugar whipped together to create a light, airy and delicious finishing touch for cupcakes and cakes. All but the American version add eggs to the base and instead of powdered sugar, use granulated sugar instead. There are six different types of buttercream frostings: Italian, Swiss, German, French, American and Pudding-Style. American buttercream tends to be the most sweet as it relies heavily on the use of powdered sugar. The other variations of buttercream tend to be a little lighter and less sweet. (Click below on each variety of buttercream for the recipe)

When making buttercream, there are a few general guidelines to be aware of to ensure a delicious finished product every time!

  • Use room temperature ingredients. Cold butter and eggs will make it difficult to incorporate the ingredients into a smooth, silky buttercream. Butter should be just soft enough to break off pieces easily but it shouldn’t look melted and greasy.
  • Separation during mixing is common. Buttercream can sometimes look a little curdled and messy at certain points, to solve this problem simply continue to vigorously whip the ingredients together.
  • Buttercream can be flavored and tinted. Choose pure extracts for the most flavorful result. Tinting works best with a buttercream that is whiter in color.
  • Buttercream can be made ahead of time. Stored in an air tight container, buttercream will keep for up to a week in the fridge. To bring buttercream back to its smooth, spreadable consistency first bring it to room temperature. Then, in a slightly warmed bowl, mix the buttercream using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer and whip until it becomes nice and smooth.

TYPES OF BUTTERCREAM

AMERICAN BUTTERCREAM – This is thick, dense frosting that is very sweet and rich. It’s very easy to make, simply cream together butter and powdered sugar until smooth and silky. Vanilla extract is added for flavoring.

This is a good choice when not a lot of frosting is called for. Due to its sweetness, it might be unappealing in large quantities.

SWISS BUTTERCREAM – This uses a Swiss meringue as its base. Egg whites and sugar are heated over a pot of barely simmering water until the mixture reaches a temperature of 160ºF, this is the point at which the eggs will be considered safe for consumption and no longer raw. The egg white mixture is slightly cooled and then whipped until it develops “stiff peaks“. Room temperature butter is then added and the buttercream is whipped until it becomes smooth and silky.

This is the perfect choice for layer cakes and especially for frosting that needs to be tinted. Its bright white color means it will take nicely to the addition of coloring.

ITALIAN BUTTERCREAM – This is similar to Swiss buttercream only it uses an Italian meringue as its base. Sugar and water are cooked together until it reaches a temperature of 240ºF. It is then carefully added to egg whites that have been whipped to form “soft peaks“. The hot syrup will cook the eggs enough so they are no longer considered to be raw. The combined mixture is whipped until “stiff peaks” form. Room temperature butter is then added and the mixture is whipped until smooth and silky.

This is a great choice when making layer cakes, it’s perfect for both the filling and the outside. It also has a beautiful, glossy appearance thanks to the meringue base.

FRENCH BUTTERCREAM – This is made in a similar fashion as the Italian buttercream only it uses both egg whites and egg yolks for its base, this is know in the pastry world as a pâte à bombe. Because this buttercream contains egg yolks, it has a much richer flavor, color and texture. A mixture of sugar and water is cooked to a temperature of 240ºF. It is then poured into the egg mixture while the mixer is running. Once the mixture is fully cooled, room temperature butter is added and the buttercream is whipped until it becomes smooth and silky.

This is a great choice for making layer cakes. Because of it’s slightly yellowish hue, it is not the best choice for tinting.

GERMAN BUTTERCREAM – This is made using a pastry cream as its base. Cooled pastry cream is whipped, room temperature butter is added and the mixture is whipped together until smooth and silky. To improve the texture, occasionally a small amount of powdered sugar is added.

This is a great buttercream to use for in-between the layers of cakes or to fill cupcakes.

PUDDING-STYLE – This starts with a thickened dairy base that is similar to pudding. The cooled pudding base is whipped with room temperature butter until it is light and smooth.

This is a good buttercream to use for making different flavored fillings for cakes and cupcakes. Good choices for flavorings are chocolate, caramel and butterscotch.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

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Admittedly, I usually dislike homemade frosting because so often it’s overly sweet thanks to the 4,000 cups of confectioners sugar many recipes call for. When I was baking my daughter’s birthday cake this year I decided it was the perfect time to try my hand at a Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting instead and I am so glad that I did. It was SO much better than any other homemade frosting I’ve ever made, it had a really nice, well-balanced flavor.

I got this recipe from The Pioneer Woman’s website, you can find the original recipe here . It was very easy to make however, it takes a little more time than other types of frosting because you need to cook the egg whites and sugar. A good candy thermometer will come in handy for that step, if you don’t have one you’ll just have to pay very close attention to the egg and sugar mixture as it cooks so that the right consistency is achieved. The mixture will increase in volume as it cooks and when it’s ready it should be very shiny, smooth, and have the consistency of melted marshmallow. This process took about 20 minutes until the desired temperature (160ºF) and consistency was reached.

Also, although not required, a stand mixer really makes the whole job so much easier but if you don’t have a stand mixer, a handheld mixer will do just fine. The finished product has a pronounced almond flavor thanks to the added extract. If you prefer a more straight vanilla flavor simply substitute the almond extract that is called for in the recipe with additional vanilla extract.

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted Butter, room temperature and cut into tablespoons
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt

Place egg whites and sugar in the metal bowl of a stand mixer. Place bowl over a pan of simmering water, do not allow it to touch the water. Whisk or stir constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to approximately 160ºF. If attempting without a thermometer, sugar should be dissolved with no graininess when a bit is rubbed between two fingers. It will be hot to the touch.

Immediately place the bowl on the stand mixer and whip on high using the whisk attachment until frosting has become thick and glossy, forming a stiff peak. Continue to whip frosting until the bowl feels room temperature to the touch, a total of about 10 minutes.

Switch the whisk attachment to the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, drop in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. If frosting appears curdled or clumpy at any time, increase speed to medium-high and beat until smooth.

Once all of the butter has been incorporated, mix in extracts and pinch of salt. If needed, continue beating until smooth.

**Tip** – Sweets frosted with Swiss Meringue Buttercream may be stored on the counter for a few days or in the refrigerator. If storing in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature before serving.

“How-To” Baking – Pastry Bags

A pastry bag is used to pipe frosting, whipped cream, or similar mixtures on to cakes and cupcakes. They can also be used to insert fillings into cakes (jelly, pudding, cream, etc) or to pipe soft mashed potatoes.

There is an almost endless selection of different pastry tips available to purchase, everything from lines to swirls to flowers. Pastry tips also come in a multitude of sizes, some big enough to pipe frosting to cover a whole cake easily and quickly. A basic beginner set is all that is needed to start creating beautifully decorated baked goods.

Wilton Master Decorating Tip Set, 55-Piece decorating tips, 2104-0240

To use a pastry bag just follow these easy steps:

  • Fold the top edge of the pastry bag down to form a “cuff”.
  • Fill the pastry bag about halfway with frosting, cream, etc. Do NOT overfill.
  • Unfold the cuff and press the frosting down towards the tip, twist the top several times to seal.
  • With your dominant hand, grip the bag at the twisted part. Lightly support the bottom of the bag behind the tip with your other hand.
  • Keep the pastry bag at a 45 degree angle holding the tip close to, but not touching, the cake and gently squeeze.
  • Squeeze with steady pressure for an even line. More force will result in larger shapes, less force will result in smaller shapes.
  • Twist the bag regularly to keep it smooth and taught.

Leftover Ganache? Do This!

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This weekend I decided to bake my husband an awesome Rocky Road Cake for Father’s Day and even though it was overflowing with yummy ganache goodness, I still had a bowl full of leftovers. You better believe there was NO way I would be throwing out perfectly awesome ganache, in this case, loaded with marshmallows and toasted walnuts! So I set it aside for later when I had time to think about how I wanted to use up what was left.

There are so many wonderful things you can do with any extra ganache you may have, in fact, soon after I made the cake I warmed some of the ganache and poured it all over a bowl of chocolate ice cream for my husband. It was the most decadent and delicious hot fudge sauce imaginable. Then, after chatting with a friend on FB who suggested I make truffles, I was inspired to write a quick blog with some ideas for other things you can do with leftover ganache. Shout out to Michelle G. for giving me the great idea, thank you!! xo

Truffles – Once the ganache is chilled you can scoop it out into little truffle balls. Dust them in cocoa powder or roll them in chopped nuts or shredded coconut and you have a perfect little candy treat.

Chocolate Dip – Warm the ganache and use it to dip your favorite goodies in. Things like brownies, cookies, candies, or even Rice Krispie Treats work great! Sprinkle a little crushed cookie or nonpareils on after dipping and you’ve just turned a simple treat into something much more decadent.

Fudge – If you have plain leftover ganache simply warm it up a bit and then stir in whatever mix-ins you prefer such as: nuts, sprinkles, candies, or even dried fruit. Spread in a pan and chill until firm then cut into bite sized pieces. I personally LOVE dried cranberries mixed into my fudge, especially around the holidays!

Chocolate Mousse – Add a little heavy cream to the leftover ganache and whip in a stand mixer until it reaches a mousse like consistency. Spoon into cute serving glasses and serve with a dollop of whipped cream!

Chocolate Fondue – Warm the ganache and serve it in a small bowl as a fondue alongside a plate of pretzels, pound cake, fresh fruit, cookies, or marshmallows for dipping.

Frosting/Filling – Use the leftovers as frosting for a batch of cupcakes. Better yet, use the ganache as a delicious filling inside of your cupcakes.

If all else fails and you don’t have the time or energy to use it up right away, simply freeze it to be used at a later time. Either wrap it tightly in a plastic wrap, if the ganache is already firm, or seal in an airtight container. To thaw it out, place a metal or glass bowl over a pot of simmering water on the stovetop and add the frozen ganache. Continue to stir it as it melts down, once it’s thinned out and smooth it’s ready to be used.

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Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

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Confession. I don’t like peanut butter. At all. However, my husband and kids are peanut butter and chocolate addicts so I decided to to be nice and make them a treat they’d really enjoy. I even enlisted the help of my two little sous chefs to help pull this recipe together because they both love to be in the kitchen and bake. Keeping their hands out of the bowl and off the beaters was definitely a challenge!

This recipe was from one of my most favorite dessert cookbooks, “Sally’s Baking Addiction“. As I mentioned in my cookbook review there really isn’t a bad recipe in this cookbook and this one was no exception. Everyone loved it and it was very simple and quick to pull together.  If you want a great cookbook to add to your collection I highly recommend Sally’s, you can get it right on Amazon.

 Sally’s Baking Addiction: Irresistible Cookies, Cupcakes, and Desserts for Your Sweet-Tooth Fix

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp milk

For the frosting

  • 2 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 tbs unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 6 tbs heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • salt (optional)
  • 1/2 cup Reese’s Pieces candy
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter, for drizzling

Instructions

Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat to 350 degrees. Generously coat a 9″ springform pan (or a 9X9X2″ cake pan) with non-stick cooking spray.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until creamed, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the peanut butter and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in 3 additions and mix to combine. The batter will be thick. Add the milk and mix until just combined, do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 32-35 minutes, making sure to loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil about halfway through to prevent the top from getting too brown. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder together. Set aside. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add in the the sifted sugar/cocoa alternately with the heavy cream and vanilla. Beat on low speed after each addition. Adjust as need, add more powdered sugar if the frosting is too dark for your taste or add a pinch of salt if it’s too sweet.

To finish the cake frost, drizzle with peanut butter, and sprinkle with Reese’s Pieces candy. To make the peanut butter drizzle, melt the peanut butter in a small bowl for 20-30 seconds in the microwave. Cover and store a room temperature for 4 days or in the fridge for up to 6 days.