I love, love, love me some Bloggess, y’all, so when I found out that she’d added a stop in North Carolina to her book tour, I *had* to go, even if it was over two hours away.

And then I thought – you know, wouldn’t it be fun to bring cake?  And to try my hand at making something fun for the topper?

I’ve never made an edible taxidermied mouse before…

There were at least a hundred people there.  There was spontaneous applause as I brought the cake up and put it on the table up front.  Here’s the inspiration for the cake:

And a closeup of Mr. Hamlet von Schnizzle (sp):

The details:

Cake is Chocolate Buttermilk Cake from Maida Heatter’s Chocolate cookbook.  Filled and frosted with chocolate ganache and some strawberry puree I made the other day. [ Note: never, ever make this cake again.  The taste was wonderful, but the texture was pure crumb!  Cutting it caused it to explode into a pile of crumbs.  Tasty crumbs, but still.  Horrible to try and serve without getting cake everywhere.  Sorry, Books a Million. ] 

Hamlet is made of marzipan rolled in coconut, his hands, feet, teeth and ears are gumpaste.  The eyes are redhots, and the cape (thank you for the great idea, George!) is a fruit rollup enhanced with some sparkle dust.  The metal pole up his butt holding him upright (marzipan mice are rather topheavy) is a flower nail.  :)  I tried to make the ruff out of marzipan, but it was big and clunky so I left it off.

This was tremendous fun, and I’m so glad I got to meet Jenny and bring a smile to her face!  I had slipped away during part of her Q&A to go pick up a copy of the book so I could have it signed, which is of course when she said something about the cake, so I missed my big moment, but it was fine.  Great crowd!

And I got to listen to the audiobook on the way there and back with my friend Kelley, which was hilarious and there’s enough added content and fun in it that I highly recommend it, even if you already have the book.  Seriously.

With starting the new job and all (Campus Librarian at a local Community College; I’m loving it!) I no longer had time to keep the business going, so I’ve mostly just been doing the odd cake here and there for birthdays, or whatnot.  But when two of my best friends decided to get married, I *had* to do their cakes!

First, the groom’s cake:

Four-layer Red Velvet cake with vanilla buttercream (groom doesn’t like cream cheese frosting on RVC); dimensions ended up 6.5″ x 9″ x 6.5″

See, the groom’s a big game player (they even met at a meetup dedicated to geeks), and these are some of his favorite games.  My husband did the graphic design work to make the images, and then I had them printed on rice paper at the local harris-teeter.  Jeff also made the Catan printouts for the base for me.  He’s so fabulous!

The Wedding Cake

3 tiers

Top tier: Italian Cream Cake (6″)

Second tier: Chocolate Butter Cake with Chocolate ganache (and a touch of Frangelico) (8″)

Third tier: Lemon-Raspberry cake (based on Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake) (10″)

All covered in vanilla buttercream (also from Dorie’s party cake recipe).

Homemade gumpaste hydrangeas. (Best.  Tutorial.  Ever.)

Homemade cake toppers (by the bride’s eldest daughter), non-edible.  But amazing!  And yes, they’re from the movie UP!  Incl. the dog.  And if you look at the purple hydrangeas closely, you’ll find a squirrel :)  here’s a closer look:

 

 

No interior shots, as the caterer who cut the cake sort of butchered it.  But still, tasty cake!  Everyone loved it.

Many congratulations and well wishes to the fabulous bride and groom!

Action wedding shot of the cake-maker (with glowing tiara, no less!):

(This is the beginning of a series of pictures of me starting to sing along with a song, which I am thankfully sparing you, both visually and auditorially).

 

Yesterday was the official opening of a new pie-based restaurant in Raleigh, so of course we were there!

(How could we miss out on a place whose motto is, “Our mission is to make and sell the finest quality all natural pies in Raleigh and beyond.”?)

Finding it was pretty simple – they’re on Person St, just north of Peace St, across the street from the Krispy Kreme (so on the E side of the street).  There appeared to be plenty of street parking in the evening.

We arrived around 6pm, at which point they were out of quite a few things (most appetizers, the quiche, and all hand pies, darn it), but there was still plenty to try.

We were seated quickly by a friendly person.  The decor is bright and cheerful, sort of a retro-kitschy feel (as the logo above embodies).  Our seat towards the back had a nice view along the side wall towards the front:

It’s still a bit bare-bones (some art on the bare brick walls would liven it up a little), with a bright, clean feel to it.

The menu had us drooling; I decided on the Mushroom Tart, while my companion had the Madras Curried Vegetable Pot Pie.  Both came with a side – we each chose salads, mine with balsamic vinaigrette, his plain (no dressing).

There were some opening-night bobbles in the service – it took a long time for us to get drinks, even longer for our salads and entrees to arrive (we got several rounds of a card game in between drinks and salads), and we watched the ice cream on our dessert pie melting away at the back for a good five minutes before we were able to alert our server that they were ready (when she came to apologize for the wait).  However, the staff were friendly and obviously trying hard, and I imagine they’ll get staffing and efficient service sorted out soon enough.

So, how was the food?

In a word: excellent!

Salads:

The salad was mixed greens, cucumber, tomato, and a bit too much red onion.  Perfectly fine.

Curried Madras Vegetable Pot Pie:

Came with a delicious raita and mango chutney.  I found the filling a bit uninspiring (sort of reminds me of English-style curry), but it also had no peppers, which is a plus for me.  And sweet potatoes, yum!

My dish, however, totally won on flavor (Mushroom tart):

Wild mushrooms and delicious caramelized onions on a pie crust base (yum!), with herbs and whatnot..  Very rich and deliciously yummy.  It was hard to share, even though we’d agreed :)

And of course we had to try dessert pies.  I got cherry:

Which inexplicably had powdered sugar sprinkled on it.  (?)  Now, I’m from Michigan (where cherries are grown), so I’m a bit particular about my cherry pie.  So when I say that this was nothing special, that’s not to say it was bad.  Just that it wasn’t… anything special.

My dining companion, however, totally won with the Apple-Crumble pie served with locally-made ice cream:

More inexplicable powdered sugar, this time with cinnamon (tasty!).  The ice cream, as you see, was a bit melted by the time we got the pie at the table, but still tasty.  The granola-crumble topping was fabulous.  Yummy!

We also got a coconut-cream pie to go, but haven’t heard back yet from its recipient how it was.  Looked yummy, though:

Total bill came to less than $50 including tip for two entrees w/sides, drinks (non-alcoholic, I think their license isn’t active yet?), and desserts, plus a takeout slice of pie.

Verdict: totally tasty, some service wobbles that I imagine will improve, and did I mention tasty pie?  We’ll definitely go there again.

Just  got one of these:

Cuisinart 1-1/2-Quart Automatic Ice Cream Makers

Can’t wait to test it out…


Apple-Basil Cake

So, the herb garden continues to chug along, making huge quantities of basil and rosemary and mint and other wonderful baking herbs.

This week I wanted to try something a little more unusual.  I pulled out last week’s book (Desserts from an Herb Garden, by Sharon Kebschull Barrett) and found this recipe on the page right after Lemon-Rosemary Cream Cake.  Fate!

The recipe uses oil for the fat – the first time I made it, I used all Canola oil, but the second time I was running low so I substituted half of it with unsweetened applesauce – something I often do to cut down on fats, plus it’s not like more apple flavor is going to hurt this cake!

Oh, and I sprinkled toasted pecan pieces in the bottom of the pan after I had spray-coated it – the crunch was a nice counterpart to the richness of the cake and the glaze.  And I added a teaspoon of Ceylon Cinnamon to the batter itself, because I think Cinnamon and Apples and Basil all go together.

A closer look at the glaze. Yum!

This cake is moist and dense.  Very flavorful – mostly apple with the occasional bright sparkle of basil.  It freezes well, and I imagine it’ll ship well (I’ll find out!  The second cake is getting shipped to Rhode Island after I freeze it).  My sweetie and I were having people over for dinner, so to dress it up for dessert I made a quick cream caramel sauce (infused with cinnamon stick) and added some Dulce de Leche Gelato.  Ohhhhh, my goodness.  That stepped it up from “really darned tasty” to “OMG; to die for”.

All dressed up for dinner...

What would you pair with it?

Apple-Basil Cake

from Desserts from an Herb Garden, by Sharon Kebschull Barrett

CAKE

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

2 Tablespoons (packed) minced cinnamon basil or sweet basil leaves

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil, preferably canola oil (can use half oil and half unsweetened applesauce)

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups unpeeled, coarsely chopped cooking apples, such as Granny Smiths

1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces [optional]

GLAZE

3 TB unsalted butter

3 TB packed light brown sugar

3 TB granulated sugar

3 TB heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 325F.  Pan-coat a 10-inch removable-bottom tube pan. [Note: you’ll want this – the cake sticks like mad] Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of toasted pecans in the bottom of the pan, if you’re using.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk in basil leaves until thoroughly dispersed in the flour; set aside.  In a large bowl, beat together oil and sugar on low speed.  On medium speed, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add vanilla and beat on high for 30 seconds.  On low speed, add flour mixture and beat just ’til blended.

Fold in apples; spread batter in prepared pan.  Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Just before the cake is done, make glaze: Over med heat, melt butter in a small saucepan and whisk in both sugars, cream, and vanilla.  Boil glaze for 1 minute.

When the cake comes out of the oven, immediately pour the hot glaze over.  Let cake cool completely on a rack before removing from pan.  To remove from pan, run a knife around the edge to release it, then run a think knife between cake and pan bottom; invert to release and invert again to place on platter, so glaze side is up.

12 to 16 servings.

Lemon Rosemary Cake

A few years back, I acquired an interesting-looking little cookbook called Desserts from an Herb Garden.  It tempted me with a wide range of really unusual-sounding combinations and categories (it covers cookies and candies, cakes, pies, crisps, custards, puddings, frozen desserts, and plated desserts).

The librarian in me loves that it has two indexes – your usual index at the back that lists everything by name and ingredients, and a “Recipes Listed by Herb” index up front – fantastic when I’ve got an abundance of one particular herb and want to find something to use it up.

I hadn’t actually baked anything from it until this year – chalk it up to substandard herb gardens since we’ve moved to the new house (3 years ago, sigh), or just forgetfulness… but I’ve gotten it out twice in the last week, and the results have been fantastic!

The first thing I tried was the Lemon-Rosemary Cream Cake, which came out like a dream.  The cake uses cream for the fat and no butter at all, which gives it a really light airy texture – almost like an angel-food cake, but without the stickiness.

(One taster commented that it was the first homemade cake he’d ever had that reminded him of the texture of store-bought cakes (rather than being dense and very moist).  He loved it, so I can forgive him the comment and take it in the spirit it was intended.  :)

Next week, the Apple-Basil Cake.  Mmmm.

Lemon-Rosemary Cream Cake
from Desserts from an Herb Garden, by Sharon Kebschull Barrett.

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (I used Lily’s White)
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt (I used Trader Joe’s sea salt)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves
1 Tablespoon minced lemon verbena or lemon zest (I used lemon balm, because I have lots of it and no verbena – next year!)
1/2 cup nonfat or low-fat buttermilk (I used Maple View Dairy’s buttermilk, they’re a local dairy that makes exceptional products)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream (Maple View, again)

Glaze Ingredients:

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon half-and half or milk
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour (or pancoat) a 10-cup Bundt pan.

Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and rosemary and lemon verbena leaves; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and vanilla; set aside.  In a large bowl, beat eggs on medium speed with sugar until thick; batter should fall in a ribbon when beaters are lifted.  With mixer on low speed or by hand, alternately mix in flour nad buttermilk mixtures, beginning and ending with flour.  Mix just until combined.

In another bowl with clean beaters, beat cream until stiff peaks form; gently but thoroughly fold into batter.  Pour batter into prepared bundt pan and smooth the top.  Bake for 45 minutes, until the top just springs back when pressed.  Cool 10 minutes in the pan on a rack, then turn cake out onto rack to cool completely.

Transfer cake to a serving platter and glaze: Whisk together confectioners’ sugar, half and half, and lemon juice and drizzle over cake.

Note: I totally skipped glazing, and while the cake would have been stupendous with the glaze, it was just fine without – lightly sweet and delicately perfumed with the taste of the herbs inside.  Yummy!

One small corner of the herb garden on the deck this year

Aka, someone wanted a Hobbit Hole cake for their daughter’s 11th birthday, and I had way, way too much fun with it.

Bilbo! Frodo! the Ring!

The top layer (aka Hobbit Hole) was Vanilla butter cake filled with a layer of Apricot preserves and frosting.  The bottom layer was chocolate with strawberry filling (local strawberries, frozen and saved from last summer).  The frosting was ‘buttercreme’ (not real), because it holds up at room temp even when it’s hot, and kids don’t care.  And it’s sweet.  The door, paving stones, and chimney stones are made from white chocolate (colored), and everything else except Frodo and Bilbo are frosting.

Yes, those are Elvish runes. It says "Happy Birthday Fiona. Eleven years."

Yes, I added an inscription in Elvish.  Because I could.

Wouldn’t you?

The cake will fit in.  It’s for a birthday party that’s Hobbit-themed (the party favors are copies of the book even).  The kid is a geek.  The parents are geeks.  They were thrilled when I dropped it off.  :)

And, so you all can see how long it’s been since I actually made flowers, a flower closeup (don’t take my Wilton license away!):

Nobody tell my old cake decorating teacher, okay? I'll lose that "A".

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