Baking Fail – Chocolate Pecan Torte

This was one of those desserts that look beautiful on the outside, yet manage to be quite disappointing on the inside πŸ™

My bake challenge this week was decorating with chocolate. I actually ripped this torte recipe out of a magazine – it looked AWESOME! Covered in shiny dark chocolate and studded with pecans…I couldn’t wait to give this one a whirl.

Result:Β  If you enjoy a mouthful of crumbly, chocolate-flavored sawdust, this bake is for you! It’s actually not as bad as that, but is pretty dry inside. Flavor was okay and nothing that spectacular, either. Even though I’d never made a torte before and had nothing to compare it to, it was pretty apparent I baked this too long and got a less than ideal result.

I’m going to blame it on the recipe πŸ˜‰ It stated the center should come out clean with no crumbs; I checked 5 minutes before and had a few crumbs clinging, so left it in for the extra 5. IF ONLY I HAD KNOWN. My gut told me it was done, as did the smell, but I ignored it and went with the written recipe. Oh how many times I’ve done that with bakes and regretted it!

Moral of the story – avoid baking a torte at all costs. Or at least don’t leave it in the oven too long.

Cannoli Tart

There is a mom and pop Italian bakery in the Harrisburg area called Alvaro’s. I kept hearing about it and finally dragged my butt there a few months ago. YUM! Between myself and kiddos, we sampled Italian rainbow cookies, gelato, baklava (significantly better than my homemade attempt), and CANNOLI!

See? There was a point to this post after all.

Seeing as how I haven’t attempted at all mastered cannoli shells AND my Reddit baking challenge was Italy, I chose a Cannoli Tart instead!

I got a very cute little 9-inch tart pan from my mom for Christmas and now seriously seek out recipes just to use this. My previous tart pan was ceramic and food had to be chiseled out of it. Enter new tart pan with removable bottom.

Okay – back to recipe. Base is a simple graham cracker, bit of a sugar, and melted butter crust. That is the only baking here.

The filling is a traditional mascarpone cheese (found in Tiramisu also), heavy cream, cinnamon, vanilla, powdered sugar. I was bit heavy on the cinnamon and it still rocked.

This really does taste like the inside of a cannoli! Be generous with the tiny chocolate chips on top – that combined with a crunchy crust on bottom make for an awesome texture!

Recipe is here.

Looking for a tart pan? This one I own and love (affiliate link – your purchase helps support my site a teeny bit πŸ˜‰

Book Review – The Sprinkles Baking Book

I’m always on the hunt at my library for new baking books. The Sprinkles Baking Book caught my eye because I’ve TOTALLY HAD A SPRINKLES CUPCAKE!

What is an official sprinkles cupcake, you say? It is an actual confection that either comes out of a Sprinkles store OR comes out of a Sprinkles ATM. You swipe your card, use the touch screen to pick out what you want, and it spits out a little box with a cupcake in it.

To this day, I have never had a finer store-bought cupcake than the ATM cupcake. BTW, sadly no such thing in Pennsylvania πŸ™ My most glorious cupcake was enjoyed during a trip with my mom to California a few years back. Seriously – this cupcake has stayed with me all this time. I like to check new bakeries in my area and generally judge one by their cupcake. Usually they are dried out, icing is too greasy, chocolate has no flavor, etc. etc. The sprinkles cupcake was the pinnacle of cupcakes for me!

(Side note: My wonderful mother paid my way for that trip to California and Las Vegas, and my equally awesome aunt and uncle hosted us for that time, showing us around to all the cool places, including a cupcake ATM. How lucky am I??)

Anyhoo, I was excited to read this book! Besides the neat history of the Sprinkles brand, it has beautiful mouth-watering photos throughout (not just cupcakes, BTW) Some recipes I plan on trying:

  1. Strawberry cupcakes
  2. Key lime pie cupcakes
  3. Peanut butter chip cupcakes
  4. Grapefruit curd tart with gingersnap crust

I actually did make her black and white cupcakes tonight (see pic!) and they were DIVINE. A dark chocolate base with a very vanilla frosting. Was it as good as an ATM cupcake? I think so, since it’s fresher. Homemade cupcakes set the bar pretty high compared to store bought. Perhaps the very act of an automated cupcake makes them taste better πŸ™‚

You can buy the book here if you’d like (affiliate link).

 

Mardi Gras King Cake

Have you had a King Cake before? Picture an uncut cinnamon roll shaped into a circle and plastered with Mardi Gras sprinkles and icing. I don’t remember ever seeing them as a kid, but now see them every year in grocery stores.

My understanding of King Cakes and other Mardi Gras themed stuff is they are part of a pre-Lent celebration. According to the Great Wikipedia:

Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”, reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season.

If this King Cake was the REAL DEAL (which it’s not) it would have a tiny plastic baby representing Jesus hidden inside. Sounds like a recipe for chipping a tooth πŸ˜‰

I would have loved to get a pic of the whole cake dressed up in Mardi Gras glory, but it was UGLY. This is tasty, though. I doubled the cinnamon it called for and made my own colored sprinkles, which was super easy. Sugar + gel colors + mix with a fork = colored sugar.

I also contemplated skipping the lemon juice in the icing, thinking just a basic powdered sugar vanilla icing would do, but I’m so glad I didn’t! The bright lemon flavor of the icing pairs wonderfully with the cinnamon in the center.

Recipe here.

 

Mediterranean Lemon Cake

This was REALLY TASTY.Β  Warm, fresh out of the oven lemony goodness. I’d been snacking on some very rich brownies for the 2 days prior, so these were a welcome reprieve!

I found this recipe through a search of Mediterranean desserts for my Reddit challenge – (https://www.reddit.com/r/52weeksofbaking/). I’ve done baklava before (was okay, not fabulous) and tiramisu kept coming up, but I wanted to do that for the Italy themed bake challenge in a few weeks. This lemon cake looked unusual to me, and I LOVE me some citrus! It also has olive oil in it, which is a new baking ingredient to me.

You can’t see with the pic, but it sunk a little in the middle. I should’ve left it in there a few more minutes, but it was already a beautiful golden brown and I didn’t want to overcook it. I also added about half of 1/8 tsp of lemon oil to the batter for a more pronounced flavor. These oils ROCK for baking and I use them often (affiliate link).

This recipe makes quite a bit of lemon syrup and I definitely didn’t use it all. This is an excellent light and airy cake!

Link to recipe – http://garlicgirl.com/2013/06/15/mediterranean-lemon-cake/

Enjoy!

Homemade Rainbow Layer Cake

This from-scratch rainbow layer cake is probably the most cheerful thing I’ve ever made. I kinda wish I had showed up at a party with my plain-looking white layer cake and sat quietly in anticipation while it was sliced open to much fanfare! Alas – my husband cut the first slice for the photo πŸ™

This was a FUN bake! I don’t particularly have any love affair with vanilla things, but let’s be honest – the primary reason to bake this is how it looks πŸ˜‰

That being said, this was actually pretty tasty. The icing is cream cheese buttercream, which I think really keeps it from being TOO sweet, although this still isn’t for the faint of heart. There is icing between all six layers, so plan on a mouthful of sweet stuff if you are going to invest the time to bake this.

I also don’t have 6 pans lying around my house and bought some disposable aluminum ones. Yay for not washing and drying the same 2 pans repeatedly!

BTW, you will need gel colors to get the flashy colors here, not the liquid kind. I’ve used Wilton gel colors before, but if you are tired of scooping color out of little buckets with a toothpick, try these gel colors (affiliate link) – these squeeze out of little dropper bottles instead. I LOVE these! I was able to count 3 drops per bottle to get the same intensity of color for all 6 layers.

Find out how to make this rainbow layer cake HERE!

 

Mardi Gras Macarons

Happy Mardi Gras!

Is that what you are supposed to say? I don’t know – Mardi Gras here in PA is marked mostly by baked goods in grocery stores turning purple, green and gold for a few weeks and then disappearing. Hence these macarons!

This is my favorite go-to mac recipe now. It’s so easy to add some flavoring oils to change it up, but also just makes a yummy plain macaron. Yay for simplicity πŸ™‚

BTW, are you looking for step-by-step mac instructions? LOOK NO FURTHER! Click here for a picture tutorial.

As you can see by the pic, these macs are tri-colored, albeit not very evenly done. I used this Wilton Color Swirl decorating set (affiliate link). I’m still working on my technique! Macs are so little that getting the ‘twist’ color scheme is a challenge. I suspect I’ll have better luck with cupcakes.

Lastly, there’s a yummy cinnamon buttercream inside these colored cuties, which seems to be a common theme in a Mardi Gras king cake.

Enjoy!

Print Recipe
Mardi Gras Macarons
A simple and tasty Mardi Gras themed macaron. Filled with cinnamon buttercream and tri-colored!
Mardi Gras macarons
Course Desserts
Cuisine French
Servings
Ingredients
Macaron Shells
Cinnamon Buttercream
Course Desserts
Cuisine French
Servings
Ingredients
Macaron Shells
Cinnamon Buttercream
Mardi Gras macarons
Instructions
Make your macaron shells!
  1. Preheat oven to 280 F. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick baking mat.
  2. Sift together powdered sugar and almond flour. Set aside.
  3. In a very clean bowl and starting on slow, whip up your egg whites. Once they are very foamy, start to slowly add your granulated sugar, a tablespoon or so at a time.
  4. Keep going until you get to stiff peaks. You should be able to turn the bowl over your head and not have a pile of meringue land on your head πŸ˜‰
  5. When you have stiff peaks, sift your almond flour/powdered sugar a second time directly over your meringue.
  6. Using the mac folding technique (see link to tutorial above or watch some You Tube videos!), fold in your flour/sugar into the meringue. Right before you get your lava consistency, add your gel color to your desired shade. For the tri-color I divided my batter up into 3 bowls and dyed each batch a different color and then used the Wilton Color Swirl coupler to pipe these. You could also still divide up the batter, dye 3 colors, and just make some purple macs, green macs, yellow macs, etc. Or make them plain and brush a little watered-down gel color on top when they are finished.
  7. After adding color, mix to the correct lava consistency appropriate for macs.
  8. Pipe batter into circles on your baking sheet.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes, turn them around, and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes for standard size macs. They are done when one can be picked up off the parchment and not come apart.
  10. Let cool and then carefully pluck off parchment.
Make the cinnamon buttercream!
  1. Using a mixer, whip up your butter.
  2. Sift your powdered sugar and cinnamon over the butter and mix well.
  3. Add in your vanilla extract. If buttercream is too thick, add a bit of milk, 1 teaspoon at a time until you get a nice piping consistency, i.e not runny but easily piped.
  4. Taste the buttercream and add more cinnamon if you like, a dash of salt, etc.
  5. Fill the macs with the buttercream.
Recipe Notes

If we aren't going to eat macs within the day, I put them in the fridge and they will last a few days (although I believe taste better room temp!). They also freeze well for longer periods and thaw out quickly.

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Cherry Almond Cupcakes

I finally got around to making a recipe from Simply Beautiful Homemade Cakes, reviewed here. These cherry almond cupcakes were the first pick on my to-bake list and ROCKED! If this recipe is any indication, I think I’m going to enjoy trying a few others from author Lindsay Conchar.

You will notice in the pic absolutely no actual cherries in the cupcakes, although you can place one on top if you want to. I prefer just the flavor, minus the canned cherries πŸ˜‰ The icing gets its flavor and pretty pink color from maraschino cherry juice.

BTW, almond + cherry married together are delicious! These are perfect little Valentine’s Day cupcakes πŸ™‚

Recipe can be found in Simply Beautiful Homemade Cakes! You can click on that cute little book below to purchase from Amazon if you’d like and I’ll get a small percentage to support this site.

Chocolate-Dipped Marzipan Horns

I LOVE MARZIPAN!

There…I said it. And I think it’s woefully under-represented here in the US. Sure, you can find the very hard colorful “fruits” around the holidays pretty easily, but the real deal is so much better πŸ™‚

As someone who has used store-bought marzipan and homemade, definitely go with homemade when you can. It tastes fresher, and is actually far cheaper to make. A very easy recipe is below. Really – I’m talking about 5 minutes and lasts for a long time in the fridge.

Why the obsession with marzipan this week? Week 6 baking challengeΒ was tiny treats. These chocolate-dipped horns aren’t that tiny, but I figured you can eat them in a few bites, so they count!

This cookie is chewy and full of almond flavor – fair warning if you want something light and airy instead πŸ˜‰

The marzipan recipe below also works beautifully for rolling out in a sheet for covering a cake (I made a Battenberg last year with it!) or just breaking off chunks and molding into cute edible shapes, or dipping in chocolate and eating plain.

Both the marzipan and the chocolate-dipped horns came from the same place – the Daring Gourmet. I LOVE this blog! She has some unusual, not run-of-the-mill recipes, including many ethnic ones.

 

Marzipan RecipeΒ 

Chocolate-Dipped Marzipan Horns Recipe

Enjoy!

Chocolate Hand Pies

This recipe CALLED to me, so I had to make it. Alas, I cannot take credit for these delicious tiny chocolate pies. The brain behind this recipe is Sally from Sally’s Baking Addiction – click here for the deets. You will notice much more attractive hand pies when you follow that link πŸ™ I NEED that heart cookie cutter!

Consider this dough more challenging to work with than your standard pie dough. Mine was pretty crumbly and just.wasn’t.coming.together. I ended up adding an additional 3 tbsp of heavy cream to get a workable chocolate dough. Crumbly or not, it was delish even before baking πŸ˜‰

In the future I would definitely go a little heavier on the chocolate and peanut butter filling. I was scared of seepage during baking, but they would’ve been more gooey if I had been more generous. Gooey = more mouth-watering.

Enjoy!