Beach Style Wedding Cake

Beach Style Wedding Cake

This one was a first for me – my first beach-themed cake, and my first (official) wedding cake!  (I’ve done other wedding cakes, but this was the first one that SugarPunk has officially done.)

Bottom Layer: Chocolate-Hazelnut Butter Cake with Chocolate-Frangelico Ganache
Middle Layer: Lemon Cake with Lemon-Curd Buttercream filling
Top Layer: Madagascar Vanilla Cake with Roasted Peach and Strawberry Filling.

All covered in a Vanilla Buttercream (French style).

Served: Intended to serve 100, it way overshot.  However, leftover yummy cake was enjoyed by many, I’m given to understand.

The topper was a replica of the Ocracoke lighthouse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the wedding was held, and the seashells were gathered on site (and cleaned/sanitized by me before putting on the cake!)

Okracoke Lighthouse Topper

Ocracoke Lighthouse Topper

The fence and plaque were made from gumpaste and hand-painted, and the sand was graham cracker crumbs.

The mother of the bride contacted me secretly about making a groom’s cake for her prospective son-in-law – he went to the University of Maryland, so we decided that something turtle-themed would be appropriate.

Cupcakes!

Cupcakes!

I found the nifty cupcake toppers at Art Design Store, and they shipped them immediately – so no worries about them getting here in time!

Interior view of cupcakes

Interior view of cupcakes

The cupcakes were Devil’s Food Chocolate, filled with caramel-pecan gooeyness, frosted with caramel frosting, and the edges rolled in toasted pecans.  The toppers eventually sort of meld with the frosting (no fondant here!), and other than a slight gumminess were hardly noticeable.

The happy couple

The happy couple

Don’t they look happy with their cake?  Of course, the hard part was over (the wedding) – well, mostly over.  There were some problems with the room the reception was supposed to be in, and some other last-minute stuff – but all was handled gracefully and in the end, everyone was happy.

Well, everyone except the folks who ended up with swine flu — one of the aunts was diagnosed with it two days after the reception, and a few people ended up with it, including the happy couple.  Oops.   But hey, that’s what makes for great stories to tell your grandkids, right?

Bourbon Balls

Bourbon Balls

One of the things I love about food and desserts is that they can so strongly link us to certain places and times.  Pumpkin pie is Thanksgiving, as is Green Bean Casserole, at least the Thanksgiving of my childhood.  Nowadays I’m spending Thanksgivings in the South, and there seems to be a lack of appreciation for this traditional dish down here.  It’s alright; I’ve come to appreciate the sweet potato casserole that my mother-in-law makes, with the pralined pecan topping (utterly delicious), even if I still don’t really get it about cornbread.

One of the desserts that I’ve come to associate with Christmas is these Bourbon Balls.  They’re something my mother-in-law also usually makes, and they’re little spheres of heaven.  Crunchy on the outside from the demerara sugar, dense and sugary and boozy on the inside.  One can last you for ten minutes, at least.  They’re not really something you just pop into your mouth.  You take nibbles.  You savor.

Making them is a very simple process, at least it is with a food processor.  I spent years and years without one, or the past few years with a very small (2-3 cup) processor, doing crumbs in batches.  This year, the bourbon balls took all of about ten minutes to put together, and another 10-15 to scoop and roll in sugar.  The payoff, though?  A whole lotta tasty bourbon goodness. Yum.

Bourbon Balls

Adapted from the Williamsburg Cookbook

8 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
60 Nilla Wafers (about 8 oz)
1 cup finely chopped pecans
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)
1/4 cup light corn syrup

Raw or Demerara Sugar for rolling

Melt chocolate over boiler or nuke it.

Grind nilla wafers in food processor.  Add pecans and sugar, pulse several times.  Pour into large bowl.  Add chocolate, bourbon, corn syrup, and stir to mix thoroughly.

All mixed together, waiting to be made into balls

All mixed together, waiting to be made into balls

Form into balls (I used a #50 scoop), roll in sugar, chill to set.  Makes zillions (about 60)

Not quite halfway through rolling...

Not quite halfway through rolling…

These, along with Vanilla Sugar‘s Spicy Chocolate Fudge with Pecans (which, while not terribly spicy, was very tasty nonetheless) and some leftover caramels, made up my holiday boxes this year. Yum!

After about six hours of making candies and such for orders this week, I started to get a little silly with the leftovers…

Heading for the sea...

Heading for the sea...

Pecans, some leftover caramel bits (mixture of Fleur de Sel and Apple Cider Caramels – guess that would make these Sea Turtles, eh?), and leftover chocolate couverture.

Don’t they look like they’re headed somewhere?

Somewhere… tasty?

Chocolate-dipped apple cider caramels

Chocolate-dipped apple cider caramels

Along with baking, I love making confections, especially chocolates. It’s the right combination of fussiness and artistry, and people *always* love the results, even when it comes out poorly.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with caramels for years. I started trying to make them after I moved to North Carolina, and they would just never come out. Hard as a brick, every time. I even had Tammy of Tammy’s Tastings sit down with me and show me how she made caramels, and walk through it every step, and when I went back home and did it myself – brick. Tasty brick, but still, brick, and with using local cream at $3/pint, not cheap to make at that. So, every few months’ I’d try it again, changing something else.

The first thing I changed that seemed to help was in getting to a darker color during the first heat (when caramelizing the sugar/corn syrup, before adding the butter and cream). Contrary to common sense, the darker you make your initial caramelization, the softer the resulting caramel. I’d been going in the other direction, working with lower and lower temperatures to try and get something that wasn’t the world’s stickiest brittle. So that helped, but it still didn’t get me all the way there.

I then figured that maybe I was losing too much moisture somewhere in the adding cream step. The local cream is really rich, and when pre-heating it to the boil it gives off a lot of moisture – so I started making sure I had the right amount left after heating. I also figured that I might be taking too much time to come to temperature after adding the cream (and therefore heating away moisture), so I started re-heating the cream just before adding it to the caramel.

Closer, but still not entirely there. The final tweak that I made that seems to have done it for good was that, after pouring the caramel into the pan I use to cool it, I cover the top with press ‘n seal (not touching the caramel, just sealing it off from the air). Either it was taking on too much moisture from the air (it is sort of humid here in NC), or losing too much – I still don’t know, but that combination of steps has finally led to me consistently achieving perfect caramels – soft and chewy yet holding their shape (mostly).

Now that I have achieved caramel nirvana, I can start playing around with it! For a while, I’d been sticking with my old favorite (lavender-infused fleur-de-sel caramels), but I was inspired by autumn to try and come up with something more.. autumnal. So, back to Tammy for the recipe for apple cider caramels, and a few tweaks later, and YUM!

Recipe

2 c apple cider
Reduce to 1/3 cup, set aside.
[I used apple cider from Hickory Nut Gap Farm, which we found last weekend when we were in Asheville. It’s a cider made from a variety of apples, but the primary flavor seems to be winesap, which gives it a nice bite.]

2/3 c cream [I used local cream here, from Maple View Farms. The best!]
6 tbsp butter

Heat to boil, then set aside. [Again, I re-heated this just before adding it later. Also, when I make this next time, I’m going to infuse the cream with a cinnamon stick, as these caramels really love having cinnamon with them]

1 1/2 c sugar
1/4 c corn syrup
1/4 water
Cook to light brown
[I have found that my idea of “light brown” and what works with caramel aren’t at all the same – I generally heat it to something more like medium-dark amber]

Add cream, butter and reduced apple cider all at once, stirring constantly (it will foam up – use a good size pot). ]Oh boy, they’re not kidding! I always, always scald myself when doing this step. ]

Cook to 250 degrees, using fairly low heat – you want to take about 10-15 minutes to get it up to temperature. [Now this, I just find to be incorrect. The sooner you can get it up to the mid-range of soft-ball, the better. I do use medium heat, but it has never taken longer than 5 minutes to get to temperature.]

Pour it into a 8 inch square baking pan that’s been lined with two pieces of oiled parchment paper, one in each direction – this creates a “sling” to pull the caramel out of the pan. [This has always resulted in a layer of caramel approximately 1/2 inch thick. If you want thicker caramels (and I usually do), you can use a smaller pan, or I’ve made a spacer from cardboard that turns my pan into approx an 8×6 pan.]

[I also sprinkled a little fleur de sel over the caramels at this point, as I find them far too sweet if they don’t have a hint of saltiness about them]

[My final step: Cover the pan with plastic wrap, not touching the caramel (it’ll melt)]. Wait until entirely cooled. Then cut with a sharp, oiled knife into pieces.

These caramels, made by the recipe above, basically tasted like a caramel-dipped apple. But why leave it there? Jeff suggested brushing on cinnamon, and that was really tasty. So we did that. 🙂 I wrapped about half of them in wax paper, and dipped the rest in tempered dark chocolate (70% Callebaut), sprinkling half of those with toasted ground pecans. Because Caramel dipped apples are even better with chocolate and nuts, in my opinion! Reviews have been great so far! Hopefully, some will survive to go to work tomorrow.

Plate full of Caramels

Caramels after dipping in chocolate

Aren't they pretty?

Aren't they pretty?