Sunday, June 10, 2018

Matcha Green Tea Cake Roll and Coffee

I love green tea to no end.  It's the tea of choice for myself when I'm at home in the afternoons.  If I'm in the mood for only a cup of green tea instead of an entire pot, I reach for my precious supply of matcha powder.  I've never, however, eaten anything made with matcha until this weekend.


After getting over what seemed like the worst cold ever, I felt good enough for some dessert.  

I've repurposed this large fish knife for cake slicing.
Cake rolls are the perfect thing to serve for those who don't like sweet cakes. Made with a sponge cake base (eggs, sugar, milk and flour--no butter), the finished product produces a very light cake that can be served with either tea or coffee.  It's great for a luncheon dessert or for the end to a weekend dinner. 

Cake served on a vintage cake stand.


Vintage Wedgwood Queensware, old lustreware dessert plates and antique silverware. 

Matcha powder gives cakes a very nice flavor and an intense color that can't be reproduced with food coloring or artificial flavoring.  This is why it's imperative to use the best matcha powder you can find.  What do I use at my house?  I love an organic matcha green tea made by Mighty Leaf.  Look for it at Whole Foods.


This particular cake roll was filled with a very thin layer of apple jelly and some lightly sweetened whipped cream.  The cake was then gently dusted with both confectioners sugar and some Valrhona cocoa powder right before serving.  

Delicious.


I hope everyone is having an auspicious beginning to their summer.  Happy eats!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sprinkles Birthday Cake

Cheerful, bright, colorful and immeasurably edible, are just some of the ways to describe a sprinkles birthday cake.  That is exactly the type of cake I baked for a dear neighbor's daughter over the weekend, and I did all of it in a matter of hours.  It's almost a foolproof cake that is bound to appeal to kids and adults alike if you use the best ingredients, and if you cover the cake in Swiss meringue buttercream. 

Sprinkles Birthday Cake

I've seen sprinkles cakes vary in the amount of jimmies used for decorating, from some being completely covered to others being lightly sprinkled.  For this sweet birthday cake, I decided to sprinkle only the bottom third of the double layer cake.  


After baking two 8" round yellow cakes (the 1-2-3-4 cake never disappoints) and letting them cool, I made one batch of Swiss meringue buttercream, and tinted it a very light, electric pink.  

Once that was done, I secured a cardboard cake round in the center of my decorator's turntable and placed the first cake layer right side up.  To this, I spread a small amount of the buttercream on the top of the layer, and then I carefully placed the other 8" round cake layer over that, bottom side up.

The entire cake was given a crumb coat of Swiss meringue buttercream, which was then chilled for about 15 minutes.


It was then a matter of applying the rest of the buttercream to the cake, taking care to even out the sides of the cake.  A bowl of sprinkles, a spoon and my decorator's turntable set over a rimmed baking sheet was all that was needed to finish it.  

I gently spooned the sprinkles around the bottom third of the cake, making sure that they adhered to the icing.  It helps to rotate the cake turntable as you do this.  Any excess sprinkles can be transferred onto the baking sheet.  Voila!


There is nothing like tasty, delicious Swiss meringue buttercream on a cake.  With the addition of the sprinkles, it makes the dessert even better.




There you have it.  Easy as 1-2-3.  Make a sprinkles cake for a special individual in your life and watch them smile upon taking their first bite.

Happy Baking!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Creating a Wedding Cake

It was my pleasure and honor to create a wedding cake this past week for my brother-in-law and his bride-to-be.  After years of watching my mother bake, decorate and construct wedding cake after wedding cake, I took to heart what I had been taught by her.  It also helped that I had an amazing friend, who is a fantastic and esteemed pastry chef, give me tips and guidance right before the big day.


White cake layers were baked in advance, and batches of Swiss meringue buttercream were made with the best butter and eggs available.  All that was left was the trimming of the cakes, the icing of the borders, the stacking of the layers, and attaching the finishing touches for this simple, yet utterly delicious wedding cake.  

If truth be told, I was actually nervous about the whole endeavor because not only was it my first wedding cake ever, but it was also a matter of transporting the entire cake across the Delaware river, an hour away from my home, in one piece.


Dozens of eggs from my friend Luke's hens were collected way in advance, because I knew I was going to need them.  It's so nice to be able to walk to his farm down the road from our home to do this.  Thanks Luke!


My KitchenAid and Hobart mixers were at the ready on my large countertop.  Jars of cake flour and sugar were left out to measure what I needed, and cake pans were prepped to receive the white cake batter.


This white cake batter from Baking Illustrated is so easy to make, and it is a sure winner with anyone who has tried it.  It's perfect for weddings because the recipe can easily be doubled.


After trimming the baked cake layers, I piped a ring of buttercream along the bottom layer in order to contain the filling.


At the request of the bride, I made a raspberry buttercream filling for each of the layers.  Blend the best quality raspberry jam with some meringue buttercream, and add as much as you want to each center.  Smooth the tops to create even layers.


A second cake layer was carefully placed on top of the bottom layer, and each tier was given that all-too-important crumb coating.  The bottom tier was a 10" round and the top tier was a 6" round.  Both layers had cardboard cake rounds to support them.


You don't have to be super neat applying the crumb coat, but it is imperative to get the icing and layers as straight as possible, so that the final coating of buttercream is perfect.  It's also important to briefly chill the crumb coated layers so that the icing sets quickly and easily.


For each tier, I piped overlapping leaves with a medium-sized leaf tip.  I did this for the tops of the cakes, as well as the bottoms.  The latter were piped after I stacked the tiers together.


Paper flowers from Paper Source were used to decorate the cake.  The soft pastels were perfect for such a cake.

To stack the tiers:  Choose a sturdy cake plate, cake stand or finished cardboard round to support and present the entire cake.  Add parchment pieces along the edges to protect the stand while decorating.  Add a small amount of buttercream to the center of the stand so that the entire cake doesn't slide off the plate, and then carefully center the bottom tier of the wedding cake.  Trace a 6" round in the center of the finished 10" tier, and insert 6 trimmed straws inside this 6" circle.  Make sure the straws sit flush with layers, because the top tier has to be straight and neat.  Place a 4" parchment paper round on top of the 10" tier (carefully centered), and add a small amount of buttercream to the top of the parchment round (this will help stabilize the top tier when stacked).  Say a little prayer and then carefully place the 6" tier on top of the 10" tier.  Voila!  Chill the entire cake before proceeding with decorating it.

Now you can finish decorating the cake.    


The wedding cake topper was simple.


Flowers were attached evenly on the sides of both tiers.  Easy!  You can see the double-leaf borders of the cake.

The Cooperson-Johnson Wedding Cake


The proof of the pudding was in the eating, as they say.  The bride and groom, the family and gathering of friends, all proclaimed the wedding cake delicious and beautiful.  I can't tell you how much it meant to me to be able to do this for people I love.  

I want to wish the bride and groom many years of happiness and love!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Funfetti Cookies

Funfetti cookies will brighten anyone's day because of their cheerful colors. Chockfull of rainbow-colored sprinkles, these generously-proportioned sugar cookies can stand in for bake sales, family gatherings and for the cookie jar all year round.  Not only do the funfettis have a good texture and great flavor, they're also very easy to make.

While searching for funfetti cookie recipes, I realized that I already had a perfect one on the blog from several years ago.  Think of this as a reinterpretation of that recipe.  The only major difference is, of course, the sprinkles.  


Let's get started!


Once the cookie dough is done, I like to add the sprinkles by hand rather than letting the mixer do it.  Otherwise, you may find the jimmies breaking down too much and leaving rainbow dust in the dough, rather than whole sprinkles.


P.S.  The recipe is easily doubled if you want to make lots of them.

Once the cookies are cooled, you can drizzle a simple icing of confectioners sugar and water or confectioners sugar and milk.  Combine the two ingredients until you have a thick, yet pourable icing.  If you have icing bags or icing bottles, drizzling the cookies will go quickly.  This is totally optional though.


I just had to take out my jadeite and serve a few of these on them this past weekend.  

Funfetti cookies on Fire King jadeite and a glass of milk served
on a vintage Anchor Hocking green dot glass.  Delicious!



Remember this funfetti cookie recipe the next time you want an easy cookie for a birthday party or for a family gathering.  If you happen to have colorful plates, so much the better for serving funfetti cookies on them.  All white platters or cake stands also work wonderfully.  Kids won't be able to resist these cookies, but I also suspect that the adults will have a hard time refusing one.  One cookie is just enough to satisfy that midday sugar craving, but if you decide to have two of them, indulge.

Happy Baking!  


Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Shades of Drabware

The shades of drabware can vary in coloration from vessel to vessel depending on when each piece was made, and by which pottery works in England produced it.  For the past eighteen years or so, I have slowly but surely been assembling a very modest collection of drabware for my home.  It's a collection that I started because I fell in love with this type of china the moment I first laid eyes on it.  You've heard me say that this china isn't for everyone. Whether you find drabware appealing or appalling, I think it's worth taking a second look at a few examples.


What's nice about antique drabware is that it isn't confined exclusively to Wedgwood.  Other British pottery works, such as Spode and Ridgway, produced their very own versions of drabware beginning in the early part of the nineteenth century.  Some of the pitchers, jugs, mugs, cups, teapots, sugar bowls, among other pieces, were heavily molded with intricate detailing, while others were hand painted with pink or blue flowers, or were bat printed in black and given gilded rims.  

It is the earlier pieces that so many of us find desirable because of the quality of craftsmanship and because of the rarity of some examples.  As a result, the earlier the piece, the more expensive it will undoubtedly be for the collector.  It's not unheard of to pay hundreds of dollars for one dessert plate or over one thousand dollars for a teapot.


As I was cleaning and dusting some of my cherished pieces, I realized that I had never really talked about the varied tones of antique drabware.  The photo above was given a faded filter in order to accentuate the tones of my pieces.


Most of us assume that drabware is one shade and one shade only.  That is not entirely true.  Drabware can be described by many as being khaki, taupe, beige, tan or even brown.  The photo above demonstrates what I'm referring to.  The Spode footed teapot from ca. 1820 is a rich silt color with hints of gray, while the Wedgwood teapot from ca. 2000 and the Tiffany & Co Wedgwood dinner plate are more the color of a light cafe au lait.  The Spode ca. 1810 teacups and saucers remind me of the color mink, while the Wedgwood ca. 1820 dessert plate and serving dish are more of a sumptuous millet color with suggestions of honey.  Every one of these pieces is the exact color of the clay that was used to produce it at that particular time.  Only a clear glaze and/or gilding was applied before firing.   On some hollowware pieces (such as my Spode cups), however, a white or pale blue glaze was applied to the interiors.  Although mismatched in coloration, the neutrals pair well with one another.


This particular footed teapot is one of my prized antiques.  It is a fine piece of china that was produced in Stoke-on-Trent, England, by the Spode pottery works back in 1820.  What I love about the teapot is the unusually-shaped handle and lid, as well as the accented gilding found throughout the body of the vessel.  It's been such a pleasure to use this piece.



Whether it's Spode or Wedgwood drabware, I know that I'm in good company whenever I want to set a nice table for tea or dessert.  Sometimes I use the two hundred year old china, and sometimes I use the newer pieces.  Other times, I combine the two. 




If you like neutral colors in your home, starting a collection of drabware may very well suit your tastes.  Part of the fun of collecting this type of china is the thrill of the hunt.  By no means will you find everything through online auctions.

Antique dealers and designers in the business can be your best avenues for finding what you're looking for, especially when it comes to rare pieces.  If you have an existing collection of drabware, enjoy it for years to come and do take good care of it for future generations.    

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Antique Drabware Teacups

Over the course of my collecting drabware china these past eighteen years, I have greatly admired the clean lines, the fine proportions, the earthy variations in hue and gilding, of the earliest examples.  As hard to come by as some of the older pieces can be, they do come up for auction every once in a while.


Although I own dozens of pieces of millennium Wedgwood drabware which was made for the Martha by Mail catalog, and some of the Tiffany & Co. drabware from the early part of the 1970s, I had yet to add anything older than these pieces.


I finally have the pleasure of owning some antique drabware teacups that were made in the early part of the 19th century.  They are beautiful pieces of fine china that have managed to survive for over two hundred years, and yet, their provenance remains a mystery to me.  The ca. 1810 teacups and saucers came straight from England to be housed in my Philadelphia home.

The first thing I noticed about these pieces was the darker shade of drabware found on the saucers and the exteriors of the cups.  Its hue is deeper than my Tiffany & Co. and Martha by Mail examples.  It is said by experts that earlier pieces of drabware ranged in hue from light tan, greige, green and even brown. These variations in color resulted from variables such as kiln temperatures and minerals found in the Cornish clay.  The insides of my teacups were given a white interior and thick gilded accents.

That these antiques happen to be teacups makes them absolutely perfect for my house, because we do love a good cup in the afternoon.  Although I don't plan to use the cups on a daily basis (my other pieces are more appropriate for that), I will set a table with them when the mood strikes me.  What I won't do is let them collect dust and go unused.


For Easter, I made some special gilded-egg sugar cookies to serve for our afternoon tea.  They looked spectacular on the old drabware.  


You can see the difference in color between these sets of teacups and saucers (above).  On the left are fine examples of ca. 2000 drabware made exclusively for Martha by Mail.  To the right are the much older ca. 1810 cups.  Both are timeless specimens of English china.

If you want to read more about drabware, click here for a post I wrote several years ago.

Cheers!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Hatching Bunny and Baby Chick Sugar Cookies

It isn't quite Easter at my house until I've iced a few sugar cookies and have brought out my vintage Fire King jadeite.  With spring in the air and the promises of sunny weather, it's the perfect time to initiate an Easter egg hunt, and to make a few Easter baskets for the kids this holiday.


I love Easter to no end.  The pastel colors, the dyed eggs and the endless sweets, bring back good memories from childhood.  Who doesn't remember getting those Paas dye kits from the local Kmart or F.W. Woolworth store? Mom would usually set out bowls to hold the dyes, and us kids would carefully dunk each egg into the smelly solution, turning them around with the little wire holder that came with each kit.  Good times!


As I said, Easter just wouldn't be the same without my sugar cookies.  For family and friends, near and far, I baked and iced some whimsical hatching chicks and some hatching bunnies.  A few small, blue-eyed bunnies decorated with colorful bows, rounded out the selection for this year's Easter baskets.

Take a look at how they were made!

Note:  the cookies shown here were cut out with an egg cookie cutter, a bunny cookie cutter and a hatching bunny cookie cutter.  Royal icings in white, orange, yellow, pink, green, black and sky blue were used to decorate them, along with large 6 mm French drageĆ©s.


For the bunnies, I outlined and flooded each body in white royal icing.  The bases were left to dry completely.  Pink icing and a very fine, #1 piping tip, were used to delineate an ear, and to outline a large bow.  I then filled in the areas of the bows, as shown, and while wet, I carefully placed a very large drageĆ© in the middle.  The cookie was then left to dry.


For the hatching chicks, outline and flood the cracked egg in white royal icing, as shown, using a #3 piping tip.  Immediately, outline and flood the chick's body in a bright-yellow royal icing, using a #3 piping tip.  Let the bases dry completely.  With a #1 piping tip, and the same yellow royal icing, add a whimsical curlicue at the top of the chick's head, and outline and flood two little wings, as shown.  Using a #1 piping tip and an orange royal icing, outline and flood a small beak as shown.  Let this dry completely.


Last, but not least, add two small black dots for eyes on the chicks.  For the bunnies, add a small sky-blue dot for an eye, and outline the details of the bows using a very fine, #1 piping tip and the same pink royal icing.

Done!

This hatching chick looks too adorable sitting on this Fire King, restaurant ware jadeite plate.  It's ready to be gobbled up during tea time.


For some special kids, I created these large bunnies hatching out of eggshells.  This particular cookie cutter comes from Copper Gifts.  Look for it because it will become a family heirloom cutter in your collection.

Outline and flood the cracked egg in either yellow or orange royal icing, and immediately pipe horizontal lines, in alternating colors, using a light blue and white royal icing and #2 piping tips.  Immediately drag a cake decorating pick or toothpick through the icing to create the design.  It's important to wipe the pick between each run so that you don't mar the icing.  Let the eggs dry.


Outline and flood the bunny's body in white royal icing, and while wet, add pink ears, a pink nose and blue eyes.  Let them dry completely before packaging the cookies.


I love the bows on my bunnies.  I think the little critters look extra-spiffy for Easter.  This cookie was set atop a Fire King restaurant ware cup ready for a pouring of tea.  Delicious!



If you've used my heirloom sugar cookie recipe and my perfect royal icing recipe, then I can guarantee that these treats are going to be good.  I like to test one or two just be sure, each and every time.


I hope many of you have baked and iced sugar cookies of your very own this Easter.  Package them in clear cellophane bags and tie each with a colorful ribbon.  You can then carefully place cookies in Easter baskets, or atop platters for the brunch or dinner at your home.  Make them tasty, make them colorful.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cook's Illustrated, American-Style Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread is essentially a very large scone, one that isn't sweet, but yet is tender, delicious and perfect with a cup of tea.  American-style soda bread adds a little bit more sugar, some caraway seeds and a good amount of plump, juicy raisins.  It was such a bread that I was looking forward to baking this weekend for St. Patrick's Day.


After asking several people for their favorite versions of soda bread, I settled on the recipe by Cook's Illustrated, which can be found in their Baking Illustrated book.  Their recipe uses buttermilk, and I have to say that it makes all of the difference.  The bread is tender, the crumb is light.  


This is the Baking Illustrated recipe!  Please note that I doubled the recipe in these photos, because I wanted to bake 2 breads.  

  • 3 cups lower-protein unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plain cake flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon melted butter for crust
  • 1-1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoons caraway seeds
Step 1

Step 1
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Whisk the flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt together in a large bowl.  Work the softened butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
    Step 2
  2. Combine the buttermilk and egg with a fork.  Add the buttermilk-egg mixture, raisins and caraway seeds and stir with a fork just until the dough begins to come together.  Turn out onto a flour-covered work surface;  knead just until the dough becomes cohesive and bumpy.  12-14 turns.  (Do not knead until the dough is smooth or the bread will be tough.)
    Step 3

    Step 3
  3. Pat the dough into a round about 6 inches in diameter and 2 inches high;  place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Score the dough by cutting a cross shape on the top of the loaf.
    Step 3 
  4. Bake, covering the bread with aluminum foil if it is browning too much, until the loaf is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, or the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees, 40-45 minutes.  Remove loaf from the oven and brush the surface with the melted butter; cool to room temperature, 30-40 minutes.

My only regret this time around was scoring the breads a little deeper than I should have.  This caused the cross in the middle of each bread to spread more than I was hoping for, but nevertheless, the breads were still tasty.


I've already had a couple of slices of Irish soda bread with my afternoon tea.  If there is any bread left, tomorrow morning I will toast some pieces and slather on the butter and jam.  Give this recipe a go in the coming days.  I think you'll like it as much as I do.  Cheers!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!