Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This Cake Has Gone to the Dogs...Literally

As you might have read in my early posts, we own a very sweet greyhound named Lina. We adopted her from Austin Greyhound Adoption (AGA), an organization that rescues retired racing greyhounds and tries to place them in a well-matched forever home. If you're looking for a sweet, smart, quiet and low-energy dog, then I highly recommend adopting a greyhound.
Recently, Austin Greyhound Adoption celebrated their fourth year of helping the hounds, so they decided to throw a birthday bash at Austin's Zoom Room (an indoor dog playground/training facility). My husband Ryan and I enjoy donating our time and talents to AGA, so he volunteered to shoot photos (these are his photos) and I offered to bake treat biscuits (greyhound- and bone-shaped sugar cookies) and a birthday cake for the greyhounds to enjoy.

Happy 4th Birthday AGA!

Lina enjoys some cake, well, the peanut butter part at least.
For the dog cake, I wanted to use healthy human ingredients but designed with dog dietary needs in mind, and also, no meat so that it doesn't need constant refrigeration. I found a recipe for a dog carrot cake which uses a few simple and inexpensive ingredients. The  cake itself consists of nothing more than carrots, eggs, unsweetened applesauce, oats and flour. The cake filling is just peanut butter and the outside of the cake is iced with plain instant mashed potatoes. It was pretty simple to make and it's even people friendly, although you wouldn't want to eat it because it tastes like dry and bland carrot bread (yes, I tried a bite of the dog cake for quality control).

A greyhound pup gobbles down his slice of cake
The cake was a hit with most of hounds, but we discovered that Lina doesn't like carrots and would only lick the peanut butter filling out of her piece of cake. That was shocking since Lina will eat anything and everything. Also, I think I created some confusion with my choice of baked goods because I had several people requesting a piece of cake for themselves and wanting a cookie for their dog.

All in all, the party was a blast and AGA raised some money through the silent auction as well as donations, all of which goes to helping the hounds. May they have many more birthdays and rescued greyhounds in their future.

If you would like to donate to AGA or if you're interested in greyhound adoption, visit

This greyhound is a true party animal. Roooooo!

Did Somebunny Say Cake?

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend. We had nice weather to enjoy the holiday with good friends and family. I thought I'd make things a little sweeter with a fun little bunny cake made of chocolate cake filled with vanilla buttercream and topped with chocolate ganache. I decorated the top with a fondant bunny sitting in a patch of buttercream grass. He's surrounded by fondant easter eggs and half-eaten carrots (because hard-working Easter bunnies deserve a treat too). The sides of the cake were decorated with fondant diamonds brightly painted with close-up images of bunny parts, including the face, feet, nose and a fuzzy-tailed bunny butt. I can't help but have a bit of humor in my creations and you just can't help but giggle at a bunny butt. Hoppy Easter!

Who's Your Crawdaddy?

I bet you thought I forgot all about this blog, didn't you? I know it's been a while, but I took a short baking hiatus after all that holiday baking and everyone (temporarily) going on a New Year's health kick. Now I'm back and boy have I been busy! Prepare for an onslaught of blog posts starting with this one. Enjoy!

Every Spring, there is a joyous and magical time called crawfish season and it is a small obsession of mine. If you are unfamiliar with crawfish (aka crawdads, crayfish, mudbugs), they look like mini lobsters and taste like awesome. During crawfish season, people buy big bags of live crawfish and host a boil. You pour the crawfish into a big pot of boiling water, cajun seasoning, potatoes and corn until ready, then dump the goodies onto newspaper-covered tables and get your grub on. I know crawfish look kind of alien and creepy, and yes, the eating process is a tad violent, what with having to split their tails open and sucking out their brains like a cajun zombie. You have to trust me though, you'll get over it and never look back.
 Anyhow, our friend Michael decided to host such a party and so I decided to bake a bunch of festive crawfish-shaped sugar cookies in honor of the annual sacrifice these tasty little guys endure. No animals were harmed in the making of these cookies. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the ones in the boiling pot. But their so damn delicious!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Slice of Joe

My parents LOVE coffee, so naturally, I decided to make them a coffee-flavored cake for their birthdays. Their birthdays are only a few weeks apart, so we usually celebrate them together since it's an hour-and-a-half commute to visit them. This year I made them a vanilla cake with coffee-flavored (and speckled with fine coffee grounds) vanilla icing and small chocolate decorations. Let me tell you, the coffee in there was quite potent. Just smelling it could give you a little caffeine buzz, but that was just how they liked it. Plus, I had plenty of leftover icing to make a batch of coffee cupcakes (cuppa-joe-cakes?) for my friend Jen's birthday that same weekend. I don't know if anyone got any sleep after eating these, but at least they went to bed happy!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Visions of Sugar Cookies Dance in My Head

The Christmas season just begs for baking, especially in Texas since it's finally cool enough to want to turn the oven on. I baked a big batch of snowflake sugar cookies to give as little tokens of gratitude.

I iced the little snowflakes in wintery shades of white and pale blue, then added a few sugar beads to glam them up a bit. I gave a batch to the staff at our veterinarian clinic for keeping our furry family happy and healthy. I also gave some to our dentist's staff (they do eat sugar!), my husband's coworkers,  the lady who cuts our hair and, of course, some for our friends. When the snowflake cookies ran out, I baked a batch of snickerdoodles for anyone else who looked like they might enjoy a cookie. The next batch will be gingersnaps for Christmas Day. I've never made them before, but I do enjoy a good gingersnap with their gingery bite and subtle sweetness. So good with coffee!

So if you expect to run into me in the next few days, remind me to bring a cookie for you too. Happy holidays!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lemon Curd in the Written Word

I am now officially a published baker! My friends at the newspaper that I used to work for needed a baking story for their holiday guide. Naturally, they asked their former graphic designer, blogger and up-and-coming baker to choose a holiday recipe to write about. I'm always happy to help the old gang, so I gladly accepted.

The hard part was choosing a recipe. It's easy to fall back on the usual holiday treats like sugar cookies, gingerbread or pies but that would be boring and too expected. Besides, people usually already have  recipes for these desserts because they've been made for years as a family tradition. I decided to offer a quick and easy recipe that isn't typical for the holidays but will fit right in and can be served in bite-size portions for parties or full bellies. I chose lemon curd tartlets in an optional no-bake graham cracker crust.

Sure, lemon is reminiscent of summer with its sunny color and citrus taste but that's what makes it such a refreshing alternative during the months of spices, apples and such. Plus, it only takes about 20 minutes to make enough curd to fill dozens of tart shells. The holidays are a busy time so it's nice to have a homemade recipe that is both quick and delicious. You really can't go wrong with lemon curd tartlets!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wedding cake tiers, not wedding cake tears

Wedding cakes are stressful! My worrisome nature has left me ill equipped to handle the pressure of all of the potential disasters of making a wedding cake. And believe me, my brain has gone over every conceivable cake tragedy that could happen in a one-week time span.

What if I get sick or somehow end up physically unable to bake that week? What if I trip while carrying the cake? What if a stupid driver hits my car while I’m trying to deliver the cake? What if I somehow deliver to the wrong location? What if cake burglars try to steal it? Just kidding, but you get an idea of how my brain has been (mal)functioning all week. I dream cake, I speak cake, I AM cake.

Under Pressure
The upside to such a worrisome nature is that I am extremely careful during every step of the process and I’m prepared to avoid a wide range of ridiculous cake disasters. You might think I’m a bit silly, but it’s hard not to worry when it comes to wedding cakes. Wedding cakes come with higher expectations than most other event cakes. They are more than just dessert, they are symbolic of the wedding couple, a centerpiece for the celebration and immortalized in wedding albums for years to come. If you can’t rise to the occasion, you can ruin the once-in-a-lifetime special event that people spend months (sometimes years) and thousands of dollars planning to perfection. If something happens to their cake mid-delivery, there is no plan B. You can’t just whip up a three-tiered wedding cake in an hour or swing by the store to pick-up a mediocre substitute. It is a scenario that I am happy to have avoided but have feared all week. No pressure!

It's a Nice Day for a Blue Wedding
Phew! The cake is done and delivered safely, so now my nerves can finally unwind and I can now reflect on how happy I am with the results of my very first wedding cake. The cake was done in the style of Wedgwood china and pottery. Wedgwood products are known for their trademark shade of light gray-blue with ornate white detailing, often with a Greek- or Roman-inspired design. It’s a very elegant and luxurious style that has bold visual impact using muted colors.

The cake consisted of three-tiers — a 10-inch white cake on the bottom and 8- and 6-inch chocolate cakes on top. They were filled and iced with vanilla buttercream and decorated with fondant leaves and pearl dragĂ©es. As for the trademark Wedgwood blue color, I used Wilton gel paste coloring in Cornflower Blue and it’s almost a perfect match for the shade without having to worry about mixing colors. That’s important when you want to be consistent in color, but have to make more than one batch of buttercream. It can be difficult to duplicate an exact shade when you are blending two different colors on separate occasions.

I’m also finally starting to get better at achieving a smoother buttercream icing. It’s still not quite to the point where it’s so flawless that you can’t tell if it’s fondant or buttercream, but it’s certainly better than when I first started out. It’s harder than it looks and I tend to be a bit obsessive-compulsive about it, so I probably spend way more time on it than I should. I’m determined to get it as smooth as I possibly can, but I’m never quite satisfied with it, so I have to accept my limits at some point or I’ll never finish the cake!

I just hope that I met the expectations of the bride and groom and helped make their wedding day a sweet and memorable occasion. Congratulations to the newlyweds and I look forward to making their first anniversary cake.

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