Saturday, February 27, 2010

A cake for Naitlin

Nearly every day I get e-mails from the IT department at work labeled with an exasperated subject line asking something like, "Don't you even CARE about receiving

e-mail?" It's because I don't delete much. I'm afraid to check how far over the limit my inbox is because I hang on to old e-mails like this one, written to a buddy at work in July 2008:

p.s. this has me fascinated, and i'm not sure why. i don't think i'll ever make such an attempt, but it's seriously enthralling:

Well, guess what, folks? A year and a half later, I'm making the attempt. I'm baking a wedding cake this weekend! Two dear friends, Caitlin and Nathan, are getting married after six years together, during which time they've mastered the art of tandem bike riding and built a home that feels like a cozy cabin in the heart of the city. Cruise past their house and you'll always see a warm glow through the window, a welcome sight that means I'll find friends inside offering spiced-up sweet potato fries or a cold beer.

Nearly everything about the wedding plans can be described as potluck: friends will pitch in food, craft a colorful felted-wool bouquet, make flower garlands and bottle-cap noise makers for a post-nuptial promenade through the neighborhood and even pipe up during the vows for a communal Quaker-style ceremony. I'm honored to be contributing the cake. For 250 guests!

Because this isn't any old wedding for any old couple, the cake won't be the traditional, untouchable, frosted white tower. This cake will have color! And, most importantly, flavor. Here's the plan: cream cheese frosting will sit between and on top of the layers, but not on the sides. The idea of this minimal decoration is that the cake's attractive qualities come from it actually being a cake — one with flavor and color galore. A 6-inch top tier will be purple thanks to mixed berries, the 10-inch middle tier will be tinted green with matcha powder and the 16-inch lower tier will have orange zest and a sprinkling of orange-liqueur syrup. And, if needed, a few drops of orange food coloring. (Not as much as you see here in the experimental baking phase.)

Plus, the whole thing will be decked out with lots of fresh fruit. I liked how lovely it looks with these cakes that inspired this whole plan.

To test out the cake recipes I'll be using, I made these cupcake samples. We decided the orange was a bit bright and the blue hopefully should come out looking purple instead — I used too many blueberries and not enough strawberries in the puree. But other than that, it's a go! More details to come on the two frostings I've tested, this amazing resource and, of course, my baking progress.

P.S. The reality and magnitude of this project really hit me on Wednesday when I picked up the cake pans I'm renting. It shouldn't have been so surprising to me that a 16-inch pan makes an ENORMOUS cake!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Best onions I ever sliced

...thanks to this helpful book that was a birthday gift from a friend who must have been listening when I mentioned that most of the time I have no idea what I'm doing with knives. (Thank you!)

The onions went into this Moroccan dish, which possesses a combination that makes it a great dinner: it costs about $4 in all and tastes marvelous.

Another good descriptor I like for this meal — or anything I make, really — is bethtacular. (Tickets to see this woman's band were another birthday gift, and I can confirm that she is a real person whose accordion-playing skills deserve respect, but that won't stop me from taking her name and using it as my own personalized adjective.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010


1. Sometimes early-stage cake batter starts out with a texture more like thick, beater-slowing cookie dough. I've become used to cake recipes that start out "cream the butter and sugar…" but as I learn more about cake-making, I'm seeing this isn't always standard. Such was the case with the strawberry cupcakes I made a couple of weeks ago for a buddy's potluck birthday party, seen here in various stages of unbake, if you will.

2. This one's major: My camera has white-balance settings! That are easy to use! And were there all along! They take a lot of the yellow, grainy quality out of photos — even those shot at night in my yellow-walled kitchen. I've gone more than two years without knowing about this, so I'm making up for lost time now. Expect a surplus of pictures of the bleach commercial variety as I marvel at how my whites are so much whiter.

3. Paul Reubens, when dressed as Pee-Wee Herman, looks exactly the same now as he did in character in 1986. I took a break from the strawberry cupcakes to watch him in the next-to-last episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, feel several twinges of entertainment nostalgia and then go back to pureeing strawberries. Yes, this was a while back, but these two guys in their very different suits have been making me laugh for a long time now. But then, so does this guy:

(And just look how white he is!)