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Posts Tagged ‘baking as therapy’

Well, right on cue: despite my meticulous catalog of gift options and all my big plans of thwarting the inevitable onset of Stocking Stuffer Syndrome, now that we’re just under a week out from Christmas I am experiencing severe Pre-Christmas Panic that I haven’t purchased enough/the right gifts. What IS this and WHY does it happen? Especially THIS year when a) I have planned so well and so far in advance and b) I cannot do anything about it, aside from braving Target or Costco or the like during a pandemic which is a no from me dawg. Maybe focusing my anxiety energy on gift-related targets is more bearable than worrying aimlessly about Everything Else? The fact is, panic or no, IT’S TOO LATE NOW. 

Oh crumbs! I just realized I never ordered Carla a Rubik’s Cube to replace the one I broke. And glee of glees! It looks like Amazon is still confident it can ship one to me in a day (“a day”), unlike the Elsa styling head I keep fretting about, because I know she would like it, but it is TOO LATE – pretty much every version of the thing is unavailable to ship until January. INTO THE CART, RUBIK’S CUBE. There. Okay I also just bought my husband a pair of work slacks (do people say slacks anymore?) that I can pick up curbside. They were on sale. They are also very boring. Maybe too boring? Nope, TOO LATE, they are purchased. And I am hoping that the act of buying something, anything, even boring work slacks, will help allay the panic.

Let’s have some randomosity, shall we?

  • You know what it’s NOT too late for? Medicinal holiday baking. I have finally decided which holiday cookies to make! My husband found a copycat recipe for Levain Bakery’s chocolate chocolate chip cookies that we are going to bake. I think I will also make the zimtsterne, just because they are so pretty and festive. I have vague semi-plans to package some of the zimtsterne in the boxes I normally use for holiday chocolates and give them to our neighbors. Sharing the sufganiyot with our neighbor went so well, I kind of want to recapture that feeling. Unfortunately, all I’ve recaptured is the anxiety of even CONSIDERING interacting with our neighbors.
  • I haven’t tested the copycat recipe yet, but I CAN recommend the real thingLevain Bakery ships their cookies and I have been the recipient of said cookies in the past and it was delightful. Looks like it is too late to order them for Christmas, but if you ever need to send something delicious to someone in your life (that includes yourself), these are AH-MAY-ZING. They are huge and they freeze really well. 
  • In other baking news, I finally made the cranberry crumble bars I have been planning to make for over a week now. They were SO GOOD – the perfect combination of tart, gooey cranberries and lightly sweet crunchy shortbread crust with a teensy bit of very sweet lemony glaze on top. You use the same crust for the crumble on top, which sounds a little weird (to me) but is quite delicious. I sent a big plate full with my husband on Friday so he could share them with the surgical team, and he said everyone enjoyed them. Somehow I need to remember to make them next Thanksgiving because I like them better than our traditional pumpkin bars. 
  • My holiday card wall is looking a little sad, still. The cards are arriving in little drips, although one day we got a big surge of five. I hope it picks up before Christmas. I know the postal service is doing absolutely everything it can to move everyone else’s pandemic-related-panic-buying from one place to another, so I’m assuming more cards will arrive when they can. Of course it’s also possible that most people decided against cards this year – although most everyone I’ve spoken to seems to be of the “but now cards are more important than ever!!!!” perspective, so who really knows?
  • Speaking of the postal service, I finally stopped dithering and purchased gifts for the kind people who are delivering packages to our house ON THE DAILY. I saw an article about how postal workers aren’t allowed to accept cash or cash equivalents, which threw me for a loop. I have given Target and Starbucks gift cards with wild abandon in the past, so I kind of think maybe it would be okay to keep giving gift cards? Then again, KNOWING that it isn’t allowed is a different thing from blithely giving whatever I want out of innocence, so I dithered myself into complete paralysis. Until this week, when I finally decided that I could not give a gift card now that I KNEW it was prohibited. So I bought some of these little pandemic kits (which I could pick up curbside) and some fancy chocolates from a local small business and that was THAT. Practical plus yummy/treaty. Of course I am second guessing my choices now, but IT’S TOO LATE NOW. What’s done is packaged and waiting in our hall, except for the one gift we were already able to hand directly to the postal worker. Now all that’s left is to intercept the delivery people when they arrive; typically they don’t announce their presence in any way, and even if I know to listen for them they are often already back in their trucks by the time I fling open the door. What says “merry Christmas” better than a wild-eyed middle-aged woman running shrieking after your truck in her bare feet?
  • The pandemic kits I bought include one of those little no-touch door opener tool things. Do you have one of those? My husband got one from his hospital early on in the pandemic and he gave it to me. It is more useful than I anticipated, and I keep it in my purse and use it all the time. Hmmm. Maybe this would make a good stocking stuffer… This one at Amazon supposedly arrives before Christmas AND it has a little smart-screen tip you can use for credit card machines at the grocery store! 
  • This is totally not Christmas related AT ALL, but I cleaned my menorah and put that away, which is a nice if very small preview of the wonderful catharsis of putting away all the Christmas décor. We also have a menorah candle situation that annoys me. We ran out of candles on the seventh night (some people in our family can be a little too, um, enthusiastic about shoving the candles into the menorah), and I had to curbside pickup another pack of candles from Target. And now we will run out early NEXT year, too. I only hope I remember to buy extras before Hanukkah begins.
  • Also not a Christmas topic, and potentially alarming: the last two times I’ve been to the grocery store, there have been big bare spots on the taco shells shelf. And absolutely NONE of the Old El Paso regular-size taco shells. It’s all Stand and Stuff or Super Stuffer. It is perplexing. I haven’t been grabbing up big armsful of taco shells – yet – but I do grab a package every time, even if I’m not planning on tacos that week. (Although a week without tacos around here is, to be fair, rare.) I feel like I was just joking with someone about a hypothetical taco shell shortage, so perhaps I am to blame???? NEVER JOKE ABOUT TACO SHELLS, that’s the lesson here, folks. Well. Too late now.
  • This week’s haul from the grocery store included eggnog – which I like as long as it’s mixed with an equal amount of milk, otherwise it’s much too viscous – and Christmas beer, both of which are fun once-a-year things. I considered and rejected many other Christmas-specific items, including mulling spices, a stollen, and an enticing array of chocolate in Christmas shapes/colors. It is all so very tempting, though!
  • I am very tired of people in the grocery store not understanding the six-feet rule. It has been NINE MONTHS, people. There are signs everywhere, reminding us to give people plenty of space. There are regular announcements on the overhead speaker, reminding us to put six feet between ourselves and the people around us. We are all wearing masks as a big, blaring signal that THINGS ARE DIFFERENT NOW, YO. And yet, inevitably, I will be waiting patiently six feet away from a woman who is carefully evaluating every single onion in the bin so that I can grab some onions and be on my way, and some oblivious jerkface (I am assuming both the obliviousness and the jerkfacity) will squeeze in right next to her and start fondling the potatoes. In the immortal words of George Constanza, WE’RE LIVING IN A SOCIETY, and said society demands six feet between its members! 
  • As long as we are discussing things that I find pandemically perplexing: I have now gotten several emails about summer camp registration. First of all, it is December. Okay, so summer camp planning typically starts in January and I guess it’s not far enough from January for it to be an unconscionably early. But. BUT, and secondly, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. It seems kind of brazen to suggest that we start registering our kids for camps that are still many months away when we have NO IDEA what the status of the pandemic will be. Will everyone have gotten vaccines? Will the pandemic be under control? Will there be some new murder-hornet/zombie-mink-style horror to contend with? WHO KNOWS? The fact is, I am not ready to sign up for summer camp. Of course, the very fact that the camps are sending out the emails makes me a little edgy. I definitely don’t want to sign up today and send in a depost when anything could happen between now and next summer. But I also don’t want to wait until we KNOW what’s going to happen and find out IT’S TOO LATE to sign up. I can only hope that most other parents are giving these emails the ol’ squint eye and postponing thinking about it until at least March. 
  • Here is a Very Nice Thing: Carla’s last day before winter break was Friday, and the only assignment they had was to get together on Zoom and make a holiday present for their parents. I suppose that’s normal thing that teachers do with their kids before winter break, but it makes me feel especially weepy with gratitude this year because of all the extra forethought and planning it required, on top of all of the immense challenges of switching, mid-year, to an entirely new method of teaching. We owe these teachers so much. So. Much.
  • I painted my nails the other day for the first time in months. The polish is a sparkly turquoise-navy and I’m digging it. I wonder how long it will last, considering I wash my hands eight billion times a day.
  • Speaking of which, my hands are in rough shape. Unless I am super vigilant about applying hand lotion immediately after I wash my hands, they shrivel up and crack and my cuticles start peeling and there’s bleeding involved and it’s awful. I have hand lotion in the junk drawer in the kitchen, in my bathroom, and right next to my bed. I’ve had a rotation of hand creams, based on whatever is available to pick up at Target. Aveeno was my go-to lotion for most of the pandemic, but now that it’s winter, I don’t think it’s cutting it. I have Soap & Glory Hand Food by my bed, which is nice to use right before I go to sleep. But I’ve switched to O’Keefe’s Working Hands Hand Cream (this link goes to the 7 oz tube; it looks like Target only has the 3 oz size, and that is not enough hand cream) in the kitchen and in my bathroom and I think my diligence is starting to pay off.
  • My lips are a whole other situation though. It is the time of year where my normal multiple-times-daily application of Burt’s Bees lip balm is not enough to keep them smooth. I get this dry patch that I then pick at, which makes my lip bleed, and then my lips rush to repair the wound, which produces a thicker patch, which I then pick at, etc. etc. etc. until everyone is very glad indeed that I need to wear a face covering in public. What should I be putting on my lips instead? Vaseline? I see that O’Keefe’s makes a lip balm – maybe I should try that? Or this Aquaphor ointment gets good reviews. Oh! There is also a highly-rated Aquaphor balm (though it is PRICEY). What is the One True Lip Balm that will make my lips heal?
  • If you have a spouse/significant other, or if you are willing to pretend you do for this bullet point, would you find it odd if you received a gift card that was intended for both of you? Say your Aunt Sylvie sent you a Target gift card for $100 but it was made out to President and Vice President Yourname. (You are the President in this scenario.) You open it and you feel: _____ How? My husband and I have opposing views on this subject and I’m genuinely curious about others’ thoughts. 
  • My best friend from back home sent me a Friends couch ornament for Christmas. It is adorable AND it plays a quote from each character. I’m not crazy about the one for Phoebe – I’d rather hear her singing “Smelly Cat” – but it has Ross shouting “Pivot!” and Joey talking about a moo point, so overall I am very pleased with the choices. Carla loves to press the button and hear the quotes. She asked me what “pivot” means, which led to a definition plus an explanation of why Ross is yelling “pivot!” which led to watching the relevant clip on YouTube. And then I had to show her a few of my other favorite scenes, including my all-time favorite episode, which is the one where Rachel screws up the trifle. (The episode title is actually “The One Where Ross Got High.”) SO MANY great quotable moments in that episode. My favorite is when Ross and Monica’s mom says, “Rachel, no, you weren’t supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did NOT taste good.” 
  • Last-second addition to this post: I was going to schedule the post for Sunday morning and discovered that WordPress lists Sunday as the LAST DAY of the week on the calendar? What is THAT? Sunday comes FIRST! Every calendar I have ever seen orders the days from Sunday to Saturday. Yes, Monday is the first day of the work week, so it is kind of ridiculous, but this is The Way It Is Done. Even the song (to the tune of “My Darlin’ Clementine,” in case your toddler song repertoire is a little rusty) has the days in that order! Why, WordPress? What is the DEAL?

All right. That’s all I’ve got. How are you doing on this, the last Sunday before Christmas?

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In addition to the forced festivities I mentioned the other day, I have been thinking a lot about food. (You: Gasp!) 

For one thing, I am thinking ahead to Christmas dinner. My husband and I have settled on beef tenderloin, I think. This will be the second time we’ll be alone, just the three of us, on Christmas and we made beef tenderloin the last time and it was delicious. I also want to make Caesar salad, which is a tradition on my side of the family. Maybe some sort of potatoes, as well? Normally I’d make the goat cheese garlic mashers we have on Thanksgiving, but… I may be sated on potatoes? Maybe I will feel ready for them again when it gets to be Christmas. For dessert, we’ll have our now-traditional sticky toffee pudding cake.

Last year, when my parents were here, I made a big snack platter for us to graze on during the day. That was fun and I can definitely do a more pared-down version for just the three of us. I’m thinking olives for me and Carla, definitely several cheeses (brie, cheddar, something fancy like a truffle cheese or a Cotswald?) and crackers (easy crowd pleasers like Triscuits and Ritz, plus maybe one fancy cracker), some sort of fruit (blueberries or grapes if they still look good? dried apricots? goat cheese stuffed figs? clementines?), and something fun (marcona almondsgiant Peruvian corn?), maybe some charcuterie (pepperoni and salami, probably), possibly some dips and/or spreads. This is now sounding enormous. Or, PRACTICAL, because we could do multiple snack trays over multiple days. I am a genius.

What is a snack-tray essential in your mind?

Right now it’s the fun thinking-about-possibilities stage of planning that I enjoy the most. 

I am also thinking A LOT about cookies. Cookies are not really my thing. I mean, I make them occasionally; I’m not opposed to cookies. Usually, my holiday tradition is to make chocolates – but right now, it sounds like Too Much. (Maybe these Chai chocolate truffles would be a good compromise?) But maybe I could do some holiday cookies? I am not thinking about replacing the chocolates with cookies. The mom of one of Carla’s classmates does a whole big cookie tray, and I have neither the energy nor the creativity to undertake that kind of thing, but maybe a cookie or two, just for the three of us and maybe a few of the neighbors, would be doable?

To further reinforce my cookie urge, one of Carla’s Christmas reading calendar activities is to make cookies and eat them while reading a book. So baking cookies is really a necessity. And I love the easy anticipation of thinking about WHAT TO MAKE.

Some of my favorites are zimtsterne, which are delicious and lovely (and gluten free, if that matters to you). Carla voted for snickerdoodles, which are always good. And some months ago I made chocolate snickerdoodles that were delicious and fudgy and worth making again. (Why doesn’t fudgy have an E in it? WHY?) 

But, while these are perfectly GOOD options, I kind of want to do something else? Something I haven’t tried before?

What are YOUR favorite cookies? To make and to eat?

These krembos look very similar to one of the challenges on the latest season of Great British Baking Show, plus chocolate and marshmallow is a classic combo. Plus they look very charming. I don’t know if I’m crazy about the coconut element, but they might still be fun. (And they are gluten free, which means we could share them with a family friend who has celiac.)

I’m a sucker for a big, chewy molasses cookie. You can’t really go wrong with those.

A batch of chocolate and peppermint cookies would be perfectly festive.

We happen to have a madeleine pan, and yet we have never once made madeleines… maybe that would be fun to try? They are certainly very pretty.

I absolutely LOVE millionaire’s shortbread. Or, along similar flavor/texture lines, this saltine cracker toffee is easy and super craveable. (Or there’s always regular toffee!)

There are too many options! I can’t decide! (And Carla is no help: “I just want to make cookies, Mommy. ANY cookies!” she said when I asked her what she wanted to bake.) (She has clearly not inherited the gene that accounts for endless agonizing over small, insignificant decisions.) (Sometimes the endless agonizing is ENJOYABLE, Carla.) (I do have a package of sugar cookie mix in the pantry; we could make those and cut them out in festive shapes and then I could save other cookies for later in the month.)

On a non-cookie note, I am strongly considering making these air fryer sufganiyot for Hanukkah. Maybe those will scratch the cookie itch? Possibly they will only scratch the donut itch, leaving the cookie itch as strong as ever.

What are you baking this month?

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Considering that we are now officially out of eggs – not that we typically eat  eggs, apart from using them in baking, but it’s still making me feel panicky – and considering that Carla came downstairs before my husband and I woke up and made A Glitter Project (i.e. there was glitter all over the counter, the barstools, and the ENTIRE kitchen floor), and considering the ongoing stress of Absolutely Everything Else, I figure it is time for another post about the Good Things.

Easter Bunny Cupcakes

Carla and I did a baking project this week, and I think they turned out to be very charming. Carla very specifically wanted chocolate cake with white frosting and they had to look like bunnies, so we used this recipe for the cake and this recipe for the frosting/bunnies. I only made a half portion of the cake batter, but even so, it barely made seven cupcakes (the full recipe supposedly makes 24). Seven cupcakes is a good amount of cupcakes for our family of three. I have not yet tasted them because it turns out that my quarantine cravings do not include chocolate bunny cupcakes; I’m still on the crunchy-veggies-with-ranch bandwagon and also am enjoying the hell out of tortilla chips dipped in melted American cheese and hot sauce.

Bike Riding Achievement

This week, Carla allowed her father to remove the training wheels from her bike and now… she can just… ride a bike. It is one of those Childhood Milestones that feels so triumphant and important – like learning how to walk, almost – and I know these milestones will be fewer and farther between. It was wonderful, that day, to watch her figure it out all on her own, at her own pace. And then the next day, when we returned to a nearby school parking lot to practice, to see her do it again and crow with jubilation, “I can really ride a bike!” as though the previous day’s achievement might have evaporated with the morning’s unexpected snowfall. It’s given us new purpose for “Exercise Time,” too, which I dutifully plot on Carla’s daily school schedule and then sometimes “forget.” Now, Carla is eager to get outside to ride in great sweeping circles around the empty parking lot, singing Descendants songs under her breath. We have also visited a local nature preserve to walk/ride bikes along the paths… although I find it oftentimes more nerve-wracking than pleasant because there are So Many People doing the same.

Signs of Spring

We’ve been seeing little glimpses of spring for a couple of weeks now, but this week, it arrived in full force. The blooming magnolia trees along our street, the “popcorn” trees with their fluffy white blossoms, the daffodils that seem to be absolutely everywhere – it’s such a cheering and welcome sight. There are some yellow-flowering bushes along our regular walking path that I just love; I think they are forsythia and so the final joyous stanza of C.D. Wright’s “Two Hearts in a Forest” springs to mind every time I pass them.

ForsythiaCD Wright

 

*  *  *

I don’t know if finding and naming the Good Things is doing anything. For instance, I have been watching John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” show every week and my reaction has been… confusing. I mean, John Krasinski is adorable and charming and the things he shares and the surprises he arranges are SO lovely. But I mainly feel terribly sad when I watch. It’s kind of the same with forcing myself to find/write about my own Good Things. It feels like so very little, and, therefore, heartbreaking in its smallness. These tiny rays of sunshine are up against such a vast expanse of darkness.

However, there’s also HOPE in the good things… and it’s useful to remind oneself that not EVERYTHING is tragic and awful. And it’s good practice for the brain, I think, to prod it into looking through the wreckage for things worth saving. I don’t know. I’m keeping up with it, just like I’m forcing our whole family, at the end of each day, to list a thing — big or small — that we were grateful for. But I certainly don’t think that these Good Things compensate for the bad ones. And I think it’s 100 percent okay if YOU can’t — or don’t want to — find any good things in your day right now.

Anyway, I still feel compelled to find the good things. To record them. To share them. Maybe it’s just useful to remember that there are good things. That there will be good things again.

 

 

 

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You may be wondering why you haven’t seen my annual Mooning Over the Passage of  Time or CakeRelated Therapy posts.

You know. The ones where I get all misty-eyed and sentimental about my child’s birthday and try to self-medicate with complicated baking projects.

Maybe you think I’ve gotten it over it! Outgrown it! Filled my life with better and more interesting things to think about!

Or, if you are a longtime reader of this blog, and/or A Realist, you may assume you just missed it.

Well, you haven’t missed it, per se. I’ve written it. Oh, I’ve written it. (I have, in fact, written – let me check here… —  2,349 words on the topic.) I just haven’t posted anything because… well, I am making my own eyes roll is really the best reason I can give you.

But I did have the annual mooning. And I did make some cakes.

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Unicorns in their carrying case at the party, waiting for eager five- and six-year-olds to gobble them down!

Carla wanted to have a unicorn birthday party, so I made unicorn cupcakes for the party. We invited fifteen of her friends. They played on an indoor playground. They ate pizza. They ate unicorn cupcakes. I turned one of her getting-sort-of-grubby dresses into a Unicorn Dress via the magic of iron-on unicorn and stars appliques.

Fifth birthday 7

Baking Secret: I made so many cupcakes that I had… many left over. And I didn’t take this picture until many… weeks had passed. One can only think that the cupcakes would have photographed better had they been FRESHER. These have survived a birthday party, being in a hot car while the birthday girl ate a post-party lunch (she did not eat pizza AT her party), then being in my fridge for weeks. Of course, one might also choose to blame poor photography skills. One has many choices, is what one should know.

For her family birthday party, we went to Carla’s favorite restaurant for tacos. After dinner, we had cake. Carla had requested a purple cake with chocolate frosting. Last year, she wanted a purple cake with black  frosting, a concept I was more amenable to this year. But I went with chocolate.

(Disclaimer: I went with chocolate. But then I tried, briefly, to dye it black. But I only had regular black dye, which turned the chocolate frosting a disturbing shade of grey. [Apparently you need to use some sort of extra-dark cocoa powder AND extra-black black dye to get a truly black frosting.] [Do you think I didn’t check at our local Joann fabric and local baking stores to see if they had these items in stock? If you think I did not, you don’t know me at all.] So then I had to use ALL of the brown dye I own, which was a lot, to get the chocolate to be a nice, dark chocolatey color.)

My husband was very skeptical that that cake would be aesthetically pleasing. I was more optimistic, and plus I had A Plan. A Plan that involved gold and sparkles, which Carla loves.

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Baking secret: The only way I could get these sprinkles to stick to the frosting was by throwing handfuls of them at the cake. There are STILL tiny white sprinkles on my floor.

I think it turned out rather cute, right?

Fifth birthday 2

Why yes, the cake IS a little crooked, thank you for noticing! I tried to compensate for the lean by taking an off-center photo which is, of course, my specialty.

I wish I had photos of it with the shiny gold candles in it, too. They were adorable. Oh well.

See? Chocolate on the outside, purple on the inside! (My mother-in-law noted that it seems more blue than purple. It is NOT BLUE. I applied the dye myself and it is most definitely PURPLE. Thank you for your comment.)

Fifth birthday 5

Baking Secret: While I never thought I would do it, I DID end up using cake mix to make the cupcakes AND the cake alike. I doctored the mix before baking — butter and milk instead of oil and water, plus I added real vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract — but it was SO MUCH easier than making the batter from scratch. To make sure I wasn’t being TOO easy on myself, the filling between the layers is homemade chocolate ganache.

The cupcakes are gone. The cake is gone. The leftover ganache, which I just ate right now by the spoonful, is gone.

And now I have a five-year-old. An independent, brilliant, confident, creative, twirly, curious, still-sucks-her-thumb, sometimes-cuddly-sometimes-not, animal loving, imaginative, LEGO building, super fast running, fearless, charismatic, hilarious, beautiful five-year-old. She gets better and more fascinating and more complicated and more herevery day. I am so very lucky to have her in my life, so fortunate to be able to watch her and help her and enjoy her as she grows. (But I still have all the attendant Feelings™ that accompany my baby’s inexorable transition from infant to adult.)

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Why yes I DID color coordinate her wrapping paper with her cake, thankyouverymuch.

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Carla’s rainbow cake turned out FAR better than I had hoped.

Rainbow Cake Final 4

Firstly, I asked Carla which order the layers should go. I said, “Do you want it to go ‘purple, blue’ like the Bubble Guppies song?” And she thought about it and said, “No, that’s wrong. I want it to be like a real rainbow.” Although she then asked “Where’s the white layer” and I had to assure her that there would be white frosting. (She has also since begun singing the song “blue, purple” despite the Bubble Guppies’ maddening insistence on “purple, blue.”)

Let’s back up a bit now. Because while the title and the first sentence of this post indicate Unadulterated Success, I will admit that there were some small setbacks. Especially when it came to the cupcakes. But a bit when it came to the cake, too.

For some reason, I am determined to make Carla’s cakes from scratch. I don’t know why. My husband (indulgently) thinks I am a wacko. My mother, who intuited my birthday-related stress from thousands of miles away, understood completely. She – who worked a demanding, full-time job throughout my childhood and beyond – made all of my Halloween costumes from scratch because of the same genetic quirk.

So I used my tried-and-true Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe for Carla’s cake. It is a good recipe, and it makes a very nice vanilla-y cake. But I realized only very belatedly that it is an oil-free cake. And – possibly because of that, although I can’t say for sure since I am a baking amateur at best – I think that makes it kind of heavy. I comforted myself for the heaviness of the cake by choosing to believe it makes the cake very easy to cut and layer. But I think perhaps next year I will try a different recipe. OR I will try to force myself to use boxed cake mix, which is what I used for the cupcakes, and which turned out light and fluffy and yet perfectly moist.

Of course, I was converting Sally’s recipe – which was for cupcakes – into what I needed for a six-layer rainbow cake. So I instantly made a mistake. My model cake used 8-inch cake pans. But I didn’t have 8-inch cake pans. I had three 9-inch cake pans OR two 6-inch cake pans. I decided to go with the 9-inchers, which resulted in super thin, super flat layers.

Rainbow Cake Layers in Oven

Too thin! Abort! Abort!

But! I stopped while I was ahead! I only made those two layers, and when I realized they would result in a very thin cake, I recalibrated. I mixed up another batch of Sally’s cake batter. And I went with the 6-inchers.

IMMEDIATELY better. They turned out very even in size.

Rainbow Cake Layers Six

They are not in ROY G BIV order here and it is Driving Me Crazy.

To get the color to be so vibrant, I used Wilton gel food coloring. And I ended up using a LOT of each color. Maybe 1/4 to 1/3 a teaspoon of each, which is a LOT. (Note: Sally’s recipe uses only egg whites, which I think definitely helps with the brilliant colors. Using egg yolks makes the cake more yellow than white.)

Rainbow Cake Batter Colors

I used my new Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.  Okay, correction: MY HUSBAND used the Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.

rainbow-cake-leveler.jpg

I carefully studied the directions (“directions”) for how to use it. And then I watched a video about how to use it, but I still couldn’t get it to work. My husband on the other hand got it to work just fine, and he did all six for me, which made me feel like he was being involved which was a nice feeling, and plus, I ended up with nice, flat tops to all the layers. I saved the tops in a Ziploc bag; they are in my freezer. (It turns out there are a lot of things you can do with leftover cake. I tried one of them – making a cake-pop-within-a-cupcake – with limited success, but there are other things to do as well. Might make for a fun project to try with Carla.)

Then I made the frosting – the same recipe that Sally used for her cupcakes.

Oh! And this is where I tell you my Shocking Vanilla News. Sally’s cupcakes and frosting both call for vanilla beans. And vanilla beans have always been expensive. I think the grocery store brand usually was about $11.99 for one decrepit bean. But last year I discovered that Penzey’s sells vanilla beans, and I was able to get two nice, plump beans per jar for $8.99.

That’s what I assumed I would pay this year, too; I have no concept of the changing price of vanilla beans. But this year, two beans was $18.99. EIGHTEEN NINETY NINE. I expressed my shock to the Penzey’s salesperson, who said that there’s something going on in the region that produces Penzey’s vanilla, and it was pushing the price up. She said she thought it would be temporary. But SHEESH. (Listen, I am selfishly NOT looking up the details about why the price is so high; I am hopeful it is something like an unusual drought and not a horrible civil war or something, but there are only so many things I have the capacity to worry about, you know? I am trying to limit the number of things I cry over these days.) It turned out it was a good thing I spent the $18.99 for two beans, because, as I noted above, I ended up having to make a second batch of cake batter.

Having learned from previous mistakes, I did a crumb coat of frosting and then put the whole cake in the fridge overnight. This is what it looked like right before I did the crumb coat.

Rainbow Cake Pre Crumb Coat 2

And then the next day, I added another layer of frosting and decorated the whole thing with these little rainbow-hued non-pareils.

It was hands-down the best looking cake I’ve ever made.

I don’t think it was the best tasting, though. First of all, the cake was dense and heavy as I mentioned above. Secondly, the frosting was VERY sweet. I mean, it was just sugar and butter, so it wasn’t a surprise; I didn’t expect it to taste like pickles or something. But it was too much. Probably the thick top layer on top of the crumb layer didn’t help. If I were to do it again, I would find a less-sweet frosting to use. Maybe a cream-cheese style (which is my personal favorite) or something that was more like a traditional buttercream, with less sugar. A third option, I suppose, would be to layer the cake with something other than frosting. I would normally go for a curd of some sort, but that wouldn’t really work with the aesthetic of this particular cake. Maybe a whipped cream frosting would be okay.

The cupcakes were another matter.

If you will recall, I made the rainbow cake for Carla’s actual birthday. She and her grandparents and her father/my husband and I went out to her favorite restaurant for dinner, and then we came home to eat cake and open presents.

But her birthday party was several days later. It was a make-your-own-pizza-party at a popular chain and we invited twelve of her friends and it was DELIGHTFUL. But I wanted to make cupcakes for that party, see above RE: wacko, so I did.

Rainbow Cupcake Tray

I think I’d gotten a bit cake-saturated by the time I got to the cupcakes, so my head wasn’t in the game. Plus, I’d decided to use a store-bought cake mix, which made me a little cocky. So I kept making stupid mistakes. I forgot to add the water to the first batch. (I was able to salvage that one with math; I’d already separated the oddly too-thick batter into its separate colors. When I discovered my omission, I simply divided the required amount by six and stirred the appropriate amount into each color.) Then I forgot to add the eggs to the second batch. (That one I had to throw away.) Then, when I finally got to the frosting, I’d left the cream cheese out all day… and despite varying reports online about whether cream cheese is safe to eat after that long (answers ranged from “it’s only okay if you’ve left it out for no more than four hours” to “I’ve left it out all night and it’s fine!”), the resulting batch of frosting I made had a very weird texture and I couldn’t in good conscience feed it to twelve of Carla’s preschool friends. (I ate some of it and have lived to tell the tale. But I’m not going to use preschoolers as guinea pigs.) So I scrapped it and made some more too-sweet icing – although this time I used a Martha Stewart recipe because I was plum out of vanilla bean.

Making the cupcakes into nice even rainbow layers was HARD. I tried the “use a spoon” method. And then I tried the “put each color into a separate sandwich bag” method. And then I tried the “drop whatever you have in wherever it fits” method. I kept running out of one color or another, so that the layers were never perfect.

OH WELL. They were all pretty. And they were all super delicious as well.

And hopefully Carla is DONE with rainbows. Because I don’t know that I will have the kind of patience that comes with novelty if she asks me to do it again.

rainbow-cake-final.jpg

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It is hard to believe that, four years ago today, I was officially 42 weeks pregnant with Carla… 14 days past my due date… and yet I wouldn’t meet her for another two days.

My Dealing with Birthday Feelings therapy is, apparently, making an elaborate homemade birthday cake for my child. I don’t know how, exactly, panicking over measurements whilst being covered in flour is therapeutic, but it is my thing.

Carla has requested a rainbow cake this year. Which is an improvement over what she asked for previous to settling on rainbow cake, which was a purple cake with black frosting. I am not opposed to that combination, but no way am I cleaning black frosting out of a fancy birthday dress. I doubt there is enough OxiClean in all the lands for that task.

My model rainbow cake looks like this:

I am going to follow The Little Kitchen’s strategic plans to the tee. But I am going to kick the crazy up a notch by not using boxed cake mix and instead making my own cake, using the recipe I used last year: Very Vanilla Cupcakes from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Since the cake has many layers (SIX), and since I have proved to be terrible at making straight cuts to the top of a cake, I got myself a little helper. It is a Wilton cake leveler, and I bought it at JoAnn Fabric for $7.99, although NOW I see that I could have bought it (as an add-on item) from Amazon for $4.98. Ooh! I also see it is now on sale at JoAnn Fabric for $5.59. I have not used it, so I have no idea if it will work or if it is destined to become one of those things that languishes at the back of the bottommost cupboard, only to be glared at disdainfully the three times a year you spot it behind the food processor. I will report back.

Speaking of disdainful glares, we have now come to the Bubble Guppies portion of this post.

Listen, I have a lot of problems with the Bubble Guppies as it is. But my current problem is rainbow-related.

Bubble Guppies Venn

I don’t know why this image is so huge, nor why the circles themselves are so THICK, but we do the best we can with the tools available.

My daughter has been singing a little song regularly for the past few months. It’s very catchy, so you can imagine that sometimes I awaken at half past three in the morning with it running in maniacal loops through my brain. It basically goes, “Red orange yellow green purple blue white! Something something something just right!”

That can’t be right, I thought. So I kept correcting her. “It’s not red orange yellow green purple blue white,” I would say, secure in my knowledge that of the few things I can truly accept as fact in the world, Roy G. Biv is one of them. “It’s probably red orange yellow green blue purple white.” Even though I don’t know why they’d tack the white on there, I guess I could ALLOW for it, because of rhythm. And yes, “blue purple” has a different rhythm than “purple blue,” but so what? Children’s songs have made more with less.

But Carla would become quite adamant. She would screw up her face and stomp her foot if she was in foot stomping position, and she would say, “NO Mommy, it IS red orange yellow green purple blue white!”

And I would calmly explain to her about Roy G. Biv and the rainbow and blah blah she’s not yet four so you may already know how well those conversations went.

We did end up seeking out the song on YouTube. And my dear Carla was finally vindicated! The song DOES say “purple blue white” and so now I am furious with the Bubble Guppies for passing on misinformation in such an ear-wormy way. WHY, Bubble Guppies? WHY? (Also, “orange like an orange”? You couldn’t think of ANYTHING ELSE that’s orange? Um, pumpkins? Tangerines? Velveeta?)

I would like to publically acknowledge that the song is not about rainbows per se. But it has insinuated itself into Carla’s brain as Fact. Color Order Fact. So she looked at the picture of the rainbow cake and told me that it was in the wrong order. And that her cake needed to go purple blue, NOT blue purple.

I don’t know if I will be able to misorder the layers of the cake. It will look so horribly WRONG, you know? (Although it will look horribly wrong to Carla if I do it the Roy G. Biv way…) And, more importantly, it will BE wrong. Plus, I don’t want her to go through life thinking that this is the way the rainbow goes! I can envision her failing all sorts of rainbow-related tests in future years, and her teachers shaking their heads and recommending rainbow remediation and our dreams of an Ivy League education disappearing into a bank of cumulous clouds.

We watched a YouTube video of Bill Nye, explaining rainbows. We looked at an actual rainbow. We discussed how mommy is a bit older than Carla and knows a few more things.

Nope. Bubble Guppies are apparently the Final Word on color order.

Basketballs are also orange, BUBBLE GUPPIES.

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