not quite blackout cake

Dear Jackson,

Happy belated birthday!

Your dearest mom asked me to make you a birthday cake, since I did the same for your sister when she turned two. Between you and me, I think your cake turned out way better. That’s a win for being the second child, trust me. And it’s all due to the fact that I didn’t have to work with fondant – yay! Your godmother is a bit rusty working with fondant now since the cake trend moved away from that sugary dough.

When your mom showed me the image of Blaze and the Monster Machines, I was like hmmm why couldn’t you be into something simple like Pac-Man? That I can easily make. Luckily your mom came to the rescue and bought two Blaze toys and candied rocks for me. All I had to do was repay her kindness by making her favourite cake combination – chocolate and peanut butter. I then pitched the idea of making the outer later a blackout with crumbs to continue with our outdoor soil and rocks theme. She was all for it.

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So that is how I ended up baking the night before your birthday party. Three delicious chocolate cake layers cooling on the rack. The next morning, I whipped up some peanut butter buttercream (and perhaps did lots of taste tests with a spoon) and assembled your cake.

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake
Recipe from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes
(Makes three 9-inch layers)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
1 cup sour cream
1 ½ cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Have your three cake pans ready, line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  2. This creates a lot of batter, so make sure your bowl is big enough or use an electric stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine.
  3. Pour in the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually add in the water. Then mix in the vinegar and vanilla extract. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended.
  4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Take them out and let them cool completely on a rack. These cakes are very soft, so use extra care!

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Peanut Butter Frosting
Recipe from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes
(Makes enough to frost a two 9-inch layered cake)

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups icing sugar
⅔ cup smooth peanut butter

  1. Make sure your cream cheese and unsalted butter are at room temperature. Leaving it out for 1-2 hours will work too.
  2. Using a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until combined.
  3. Add in 2 cups of icing sugar, mix well. Add the remaining 2 cups of icing sugar and mix until combined. Add in the last cup of icing sugar and mix. Doing this in portions helps prevent the icing sugar from flying everywhere.
  4. Finally, add in the peanut butter and mix until the frosting is smooth.

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Jackson, when you’re older, you should make this for your mom. Just take the first layer of the cake and place it on a plate. Add a layer of peanut butter frosting on top, about 1-2 centimetres thick. Carefully place the second layer of cake on top to sandwich it. Again, top it off with frosting. Then add frosting on the sides of the cake and frost until the entire cake has been covered. The best part is that it doesn’t have to look perfectly smooth because it’ll be crusted with crumbs after.

To make the blackout crumb, take that third cake layer and put it in a bowl and use an electric whisk to break it apart. Stop when it looks like soil and gently pat it onto the sides and top of the cake.

Totally worth it. You were so thrilled with the toys on top of the cake. And you seemed to enjoy the cake, but I know your first love is JELL-O. Just like your godfather!

Sincerely,
Syl

chocolate and raspberries are the perfect matcha

Dear Howard,

This one is really for me. I wanted to make something pretty, I needed to use up our matcha powder from our trip to Taiwan, and I had been eyeing those cartons of raspberries at Costco for a long time. Plus, I bought this tart pan months ago with the intention of making this very tart. (Ahh, now you know why I dropped that tart pan into our shopping basket. Thanks for not stopping me.)

This tart took longer than I thought it would, lots of planning and make-ahead involved. Yet, on the outside, it looks so simple. A chocolate tart shell, fill it with some pastry cream, and then some raspberries plopped on top. Now I know why those beautiful French bakeries charge so much for their miniature tarts.

Chocolate Tart Dough
Recipe from Sugar Rush
Makes enough for two tarts

Notes: There’s chilling time for this, so plan ahead and make this dough a day ahead or early in the morning if you want it ready for the afternoon.

1½ stick unsalted butter, cold and diced
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 large eggs
2½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt

  1. You’re going to want your stand mixer for this. Put the butter and sugar in to the mixer’s bowl and attach the mixing paddle on it. This will remind you of making buttercream, but with cold butter. Mix on low speed until the sugar is combined and the butter is smooth (it’ll take a few minutes).
  2. Add in the eggs and mix until combined and smooth on medium speed. You’ll need to scrape down the bowl from time to time.
  3. I know you’re supposed to sift items like the confectioners’ sugar, flour, and cocoa powder, but I honestly rarely do it. At this stage, I just added the flour, cocoa powder, and salt into the bowl and had the mixer on low. Scraped when I needed to and then stopped the mixer when it started to look clumped together. Remember, you’re going to knead it a bit, so you don’t need to over mix it at this stage.
  4. Scoop out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, in my case, that would be on clear plastic wrap. I like working on the plastic that I’m going to later wrap the dough in. Plus, less table wiping later! Knead the dough until it’s combined and smooth. Shape the dough into a disc-shape and wrap it tightly in the plastic wrap. Press down on the dough in the plastic wrap to get rid of any air bubbles. Chill overnight or for at least an hour.

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01_Raspberry Matcha Chocolate Tart Collage

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Preparing the Tart Shell

  1. Take out the chilled dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for a few minutes. You’ll know when it’s time to roll, when it’s still chilled, the dough is impossible to roll. Cold dough will crack when you try to shape it. Lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and remove the plastic wrap from the dough. You also don’t want the dough to be too soft, then it’ll become sticky.
  2. Roll out the dough in the shape of your tart pan. Make sure you have about 2-inches more dough around the edge of your pan. You don’t want your tart more than ¼-inch thick. I rolled the dough on a silicone mat to make the transfer to the pan easier.
  3. Lightly spray the tart pan with some cooking oil. Then carefully place the dough on the tart pan – in my case, I just peeled it off the silicone mat above the pan – and work quickly and carefully to start adjusting the dough. Make sure the dough is touching the bottom of the pan. Then gently press to make sure the dough is placed in the edges, corners, and evenly lined along the edges. Don’t pull the dough taunt, you want to keep it relaxed so it doesn’t shrink too much when baking. When everything is covered, start trimming the excess dough off of the edge. Pop that into the fridge to chill some more as you wait for your oven to preheat.
  4. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
  5. Trim a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover your tart. When your oven is done preheating, take out the chilled tart shell and line it with the parchment paper. Make sure it covers the edges too. Use pie weights or rice or in my case, a few small ramekins to cover the parchment paper. This will help keep your shell from puffing up.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes in the oven. Then take out the tart and remove the pie weights or rice and remove the parchment paper as well. Pop it back into the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes. It should be nice and crispy when it’s done.

Matcha Pastry Cream
Recipe adapted using the vanilla pastry cream from Sugar Rush
Makes enough to fill two tarts

Notes: There’s chilling time for this, so plan ahead and make this pastry cream a day ahead or early in the morning if you want it ready for the afternoon.

2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoon matcha / green tea powder
⅓ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
6 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

  1. In a saucepan, pour in the milk and matcha powder and heat over medium heat. Stirring until the milk begins to steam, but is not bubbling at a boil.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks until combined. Pour in the sugar, cornstarch, and salt and continue to whisk until it’s pale yellow and fluffy.
  4. This step is important and happens really fast, so be ready. While you’re whisking with one hand, the other one can pour in about ¼ to ⅓ of the hot milk. Whisk hard as you don’t want the heat from the milk to cook the eggs (in which, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs), so you have to keep moving. When it’s combine, add another ¼ to ⅓ and whisk until it is well blended. Repeat until all of the hot milk is whisked in. Then pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
  5. Heat the saucepan over medium heat and whisk continuously – I know, you’re getting the best arm workout ever – until it starts bubbling. Let it boil for 2 minutes and then turn off the heat and remove the saucepan.
  6. Whisk in your cubed butter until it’s melted into the mixture. Pour it through a strainer or sieve to get rid of any lumps (or possibly bits of cooked eggs).
  7. Take out a rimmed baking sheet and pour the pastry cream over it. Spread it until you have a thin even layer. Cover plastic wrap over the surface and have it cool in the refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight.
  8. When you’re ready to use it, transfer the pastry cream from the sheet to a bowl and give it a stir and mix.

02_Raspberry Matcha Chocolate Tart Collage

Assembling the Tart

  1. Seriously easy now. Scoop some of that bright green pastry cream into the chocolate tart. Give it an even layer by spreading it around using a rubber spatula.
  2. Do you clean your raspberries? I do. Be gentle though as they’re so fragile. Let them dry on a paper towel before placing them over the matcha pastry cream. I was able to fit 4 in each row. Keep going until you’ve filled the entire tart.
  3. Dust with icing sugar just before serving. Best eaten on the day of!

Gorgeous, right?

Sincerely,
Syl

banana-fana fo-fegan

Dear Megan,

Happy birthday!

I know you don’t like celebrating this day with attention and festivities, but I feel like you should get some recognition for another year of awesomeness. You are an awesome friend, mother, wife, daughter, colleague, coach, and many other things to so many people. You should know that you actually gave me the push to start baking. You lent me all those equipment’s for my Wilton cake decorating classes at Michael’s. You gave me my first set of mixing bowls, measuring spoons, kitchen towels, and cupcake accessories. I still have all those things and often marvel at how many things in my kitchen are from you. Plus, you make these awesome caramel cookies, oh and those peanut butter cookies, and those scones that I still dream about from my bridal shower.

I love how talented you are in charades – it is truly a handy (maybe even lifesaving) skill to have. How is it that you know every song lyric? You are the best teammate to have in Cranium and Head’s Up because you have lines memorized from films and television shows. Or you know every actor and singer’s names. Oh and best of all, I admire your dance skillz (yeah, with a z). You’re also a whiz at crafting and party planning – it’s no wonder we’re friends!

And since you’re the first person to ever feed me homemade ice cream, I thought this would be a good way to celebrate your birthday. That delicious chocolate ice cream you made brought me back to childhood memories of chocolate milk in a carton. Then there was that creamy and rich peanut butter ice cream, in which you took the time to make even though you couldn’t have some.

I saw this cool video featuring ice cream using just bananas and different flavourings. It should be dairy, egg, and soy free as long as you ditch the cones.

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Neapolitan Banana Ice Cream
Recipe adapted from Food Network

Notes: The ripe bananas will require some freezing time, so plan for this a day ahead. After that, the ice cream itself will need some chill time in the freezer before serving as well, well you could also just eat it right away if you don’t mind it melting. You’ll also need a good strong food processor for this to work.

6 ripe bananas, frozen
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup berries, frozen
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 medium loaf pan (8½” x 4½” x 2½”)

  1. Remove the peels from the banana and chop them into even chunks. About 1-inches long and put them in a freezer bag. Freeze overnight.
  2. Using your food processor equipped with the knife blade, put 2 bananas in with the vanilla extract. Turn the machine on and watch the bananas go from gooey and mushy to creamy. When it looks like a delicious milkshake, it’s ready to be scooped out with a spatula and placed into one end of the loaf pan.
  3. Next, put in 2 bananas with some frozen berries. Go with strawberry, raspberries, red cherries, or even pomegranates. Same thing, turn the machine on and scoop it out when it becomes nice and creamy. Portion this into the middle section of your loaf pan.
  4. Put the final 2 bananas into the food processor along with the cocoa powder. Have the machine churn until it’s smooth and scoop it out to fill up the final spot in the loaf pan.
  5. Cover and place the loaf pan in the freezer for at least an hour before serving.

Megan, Megan, bo-began,
Banana-fana fo-fegan
Fee-fy-mo-megan
Megan!

Wait, I’m singing the wrong song aren’t I?

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Happy birthday, Megan!
Megan, it’s your birthday!

Sincerely,
Syl

PS: Megan, I can’t wait to bestow this ice cream garland on you. I made it while watching the Olympics, your favourite bi-annual event!

Paper Ice Cream Cones

Making an Ice Cream Cone Garland

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I have a PDF of the ice cream graphics I made here. Just download it, print it, and cut it out. I attached the cutouts to some string with tape and squealed at how cute it looked hung up.