The Cake Slice: Carrot Cake

DSC_0012

The April cake reveal has finally arrived, and this month, of the four choices we had to select from in our cake baking club, I chose to bake the carrot cake…a truly perfect cake for the Easter season.

DSC_0001-001

This month I faced the ultimate dilemma. You see, as a baking enthusiast, I not only love to bake the cakes, but I also love to sample the cakes. I could eat cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mmmmm…buttercream. Who couldn’t, right?

DSC_0003

But, I took a big leap this month and joined a new fitness program. The initial program lasts for 10 weeks with a mix of kickboxing, cardio, and strength training workouts six days a week. Proper nutrition is essential to success in this rigorous program. Which means: CAKE is out. Ouch. It pains me to even think of it.

DSC_0004

Fortunately, the one day a week that I’m not working out is considered a “fun day”…which I translate to CAKE DAY. On “fun day” you can eat whatever you want whenever you want. Yippee!!! In fact, I just might eat cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day!

DSC_0005-001

And yet. I could resist the urge to eat the cake and instead bring it in to the office to share with my coworkers. That’s what I did with this month’s cake. One of my work friends had a birthday, and I had already planned to bake her a carrot cake, and the stars just happened to align in that carrot cake was one of the four options in our cake club this month.

Aside from black forest cake, I’ve got to admit that carrot cake takes a close second in my book. The creamy, thick frosting…and the moist, burnt umber hued crumb. Southern Living rates this recipe among the best carrot cakes they have ever tested. It disappeared fast, and tasted great. Definitely a keeper recipe that I’ll make again. The cake turned out moist, and the cream cheese buttercream was a delicious compliment to the cake. I topped it with toasted pecans, as well.

DSC_0006

So, at least for the next 10 weeks, maybe just a little slice for myself won’t hurt. All things in moderation, right? Someone has to review the recipe, after all. I can’t just stop baking and let my fellow Cake Slicers down!

Might as well find a happy medium between the cake and the boxing glove!

Here’s the recipe, if you’d like to give it a try. You will not be disappointed.

Mama Dip’s Carrot Cake

By the way, the other three choices this month included: Coconut Cheesecake Squares, Brown Sugar Pecan Coffee Cake, and Green Tea Honeysuckle Cake. If you’d like to see which of the four cake recipes my fellow Cake Slice bakers selected to bake this month, click on the link below to check out their sweet treats.

DSC_0008

The Cake Slice: Luscious Lemon Layer Cake

DSC_0063

Sometimes things just don’t go exactly as planned. So it goes for the March cake. I happened to have all the required ingredients and few spare minutes to knock this out on a recent Saturday. The only thing I didn’t have were three round pans of the same size, which was what the recipe prescribed. Instead, I opted for two layers, and given the results, I’m really glad I did.

DSC_0020

Forging ahead, I used a spatula to spread the batter between the pans, trying as best I could to smooth and level them.

DSC_0022

Into the oven they went, and off I went to some other distraction until the timer buzzed.

DSC_0058

The next sign that something was wrong came as soon as I pulled the pans out of the oven and noticed the layers were flat and dense. Referring back to the recipe, I quickly realized that, in my haste, I had added only 2 tsp of baking powder…not the 2 Tbsp that I should have added. Oops.

DSC_0075
The first sign of unexpected consequences was when I tried to pour the batter into the pans and it did not move. As in…I could literally tip the bowl upside down, and the batter would not fall out.

On to the frosting while the layers cooled. I added a bit too much powdered sugar, resulting in a relatively stiff buttercream, similar to a thick cookie frosting.

That’s when it hit me. This cake wasn’t really a cake, but more like a giant layered cookie. Alas, the layered sugar cookie “cake” with luscious lemon buttercream was born!

DSC_0074

This is my third selection of 2015 as part of The Cake Slice, a group of international baking enthusiasts who get together “virtually” every month to bake cakes from a chosen cookbook. This year, we are in the process of baking our way through The Southern Living Cake Book. Each month we can pick from four selections to make. Take a look at what the other bakers chose to make this month:

Veggie Love

DSC_0007

I was chopping up some produce from my recent shopping trip, when it struck me – vegetables are so beautiful. Just look at the vibrant colors of these carrots and celery. Check out this cabbage…the deep purple hue…the ribbons and patterns of each layer.

My goal this year is to delve deeper into “eating the rainbow” as some nutrition articles call it. I’m hoping to spread the veggie love throughout our household. To accomplish this, I’m branching out by seeking colorful fruits and vegetables that we haven’t purchased in the past.

This cabbage is an example. My 10 year old and I were watching Pioneer Woman recently, and we saw how she added red cabbage to a smoothie and then froze the mixture into smoothie pops. She’s so darn clever. While the 10 year old loves veggies….the 8 year old does not. Well, other than corn and potatoes…which don’t count.

Enter, the cabbage-sicle. Wish me luck.

And no, I firmly believe that blended trickery is not the answer, but it’s a start. Baby steps.

DSC_0011

We’ve also joined a CSA, which will provide an ample source of locally grown veggies each week as well as allow us to support a local farm. This will be our first CSA endeavor, and I’m totally psyched for it. My biggest fear is that we won’t be able to eat all the fresh produce we receive each week before it goes bad. Fortunately, with my foray into canning last summer, I hope to can and freeze any excess to preserve as much as possible. I’ll still have my garden, so I’m already anticipating that there will be some weeks when we just can’t eat any more veggies.

So, back to the cabbage. Aside from the cabbage-sicles, I’ve found a great carrot and red cabbage slaw recipe that I’m going to try. And, I haven’t even started in on exploring the endless recipes on Pinterest for “new to us” veggies.

Bring on the veggie love! (Lord knows we need eat after all these monthly cake club creations we’ve been baking and eating!!!)

DSC_0003

The Cake Slice: February Cake

DSC_0010

It’s February. A short month. A month of hearts, love, and a whole lot of pink and red. To me, there’s no greater way to share the love than with a homemade cake. Baking brings me so much joy. Baking for others is such a wonderful way to celebrate life’s special little moments. The more I delve into this world of a million possibilities crafted out of a simple combination of flour, butter, eggs, and sugar…the more I know this is my thing.

This month, I chose the red velvet cake out of the four options we had for our Cake Slice Bakers club. The other choices were: king cake, black and white torte, or Mississippi mud cake. All good options.

While I love a good red velvet cake, I don’t love the amount of red food coloring that goes into the batter to make it a deep, blood red. Sooooo….I made a few tiny little changes. I basically baked the cake true to the recipe with the exception of the 1 ounce of red food coloring it called for. I did use a few drops, just not the four 0.25 ounce bottles per the recipe.

I also modified the presentation, including the frosting. While the recipe suggested a more traditional white mascarpone frosting, I used a whipped cream cheese, butter, cocoa, and powdered sugar combination, and then I covered that with pink, peppermint, homemade marshmallow fondant. I decorated it with white homemade fondant and we enjoyed it with our friend who recently received a big promotion at work.

This is the most I’ve ever changed up one of our monthly cakes since I started baking with The Cake Slice club. I do hope my fellow Slicers forgive me. I mean, my cake wasn’t even red inside…it was brown. And if not, I can always redeem myself next month!

If you’d like to see which of the four recipes my fellow Cake Slicers chose to bake this month, click here:

Cream Cheese Jalapeño Wontons

IMG_0076-1

There’s always so much to discover in the produce section of the grocery store. I just love checking out all the items that I’ve never tried before and figuring out how I could incorporate them into recipes.

My neighborhood grocery store carries lots of variety to cater to the diverse residents of our area. Right next to artichokes and peppers, you’ll find lemongrass, aloe vera, and giant cactus leaves. So many fun things to try.

On a recent, weekly grocery store trip, I discovered wonton wrappers in the refrigerated produce section. There they were, right next to the mini bags of baby carrots and prepackaged sugar snap peas. Beside them were egg roll wrappers. Two things I’m sure most grocery stores carry, yet I never seem to come across when I have a recipe in mind that requires them. Both sounded like a fun adventure; however, deciding I’d better start with something a little more simple, I opted for the wonton wrappers. Just wrap them around some cream cheese, and you’ve got a simple, two-ingredient appetizer.

Since I was already in the produce section, fresh jalapeños were just a few feet away. Why not add a third ingredient to give the wontons a little kick, right? So, into the cart they went.

Along with a bag of Meyer lemons. Haven’t decided what I’ll do with them yet, but they were just so cute and irresistible!

Anyway, the wontons were quick to put together and drew rave reviews, so I thought I’d share my recipe here. Even better, these are baked, so they are healthier than the traditional fried wontons. Enjoy!

IMG_0069

Cream Cheese Jalapeño Wontons

12 wonton wrappers
1 small jalapeño, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)
4 oz. cream cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix cream cheese and jalapeños in a small bowl.

Fill a second small bowl with water to use for sealing wontons.

Place wonton wrappers on cutting board and portion out cream cheese mixture among all 12 wrappers by placing about a teaspoon of mixture in the center of each wonton.

Dip your finger into the small bowl of water and wet the edges of the wonton wrapper all the way around.

IMG_0070

Pull up opposite corners over mixture and seal on top.

IMG_0071

Then, pull up the remaining two corners and seal to form a little bundle with the corners all sealed on top. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

IMG_0078

Bake at 400 degrees for 8 -10 minutes or until wonton wrappers begin to brown slightly.

Serve with red chili garlic sauce for dipping.

Note: You can make these in advance and refrigerate until ready to bake.

The Cake Slice: Italian Cream Cake

DSC_0006

Happy New Year! It’s been a frigid start to the new year here in Minnesota with most days below zero and wind chills in the negative 20’s and 30’s. The kiddos are back to school after their two week Christmas break but after just a few days back at school, they received a one day reprieve when schools were closed for a cold day due to air temps of -10 and wind chills of -35.

DSC_0012

Although it’s been incredibly cold, we are hearty here in Minnesota, and it hasn’t put much of a damper on our fun. Over the past few weeks, we’ve bundled up and gotten out for basketball games, a trip to the Mall of America, and even a trip to the Minnesota zoo. It’s amazing how much more active the wild cats are during the winter months, and watching them up close, with the absence of the summertime crowds, provided ample entertainment for all of us.

IMG_4457

Beyond adjusting to the cold weather, I’ve spent lots of time in the kitchen trying out new recipes and refining tried and true ones. I’ve got loads (and I do mean LOADS) of recipes that I’ve clipped from magazines or newspapers over the years in hopes of eventually giving them a try. Well, this year I’ve resolved to actually dive into as many as possible – keeping only the best of the best and ditching the ones that turn out so-so.

Which brings me to the January cake. This month I chose to give the Italian Cream Cake a try. It’s a lovely white cake with a toasted pecan, cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar buttercream.

DSC_0017

The recipe calls for 5 eggs – separated – with the yolks blended into a butter, shortening and white sugar combo. After that, flour and buttermilk are incorporated alternately. Next, the egg whites are beaten in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form, and then are gently folded into the batter. Finally, shredded coconut is added to the batter. The recipe calls for sweetened shredded coconut, but I used unsweetened, and it turned out fine, as the white sugar in the batter along with the sweet frosting provide plenty of sweetness.

DSC_0016

For the frosting, I toasted the pecans before incorporating into the mixture, and I learned to watch the pecans very closely as my first batch burned in the blink of an eye and I had to start over.

The Verdict: This was a wonderful, moist, tasty cake. I loved the idea of the toasted pecans in the frosting. They added a nice texture and crunch, and I will definitely file this recipe away to make again to take to events. Unfortunately, my chief cake eater in the house – my ten year old son – is allergic to nuts. Fortunately, I was able to tempt my fabulous coworkers into devouring the cake so that it didn’t go to waste!

DSC_0013

If you’d like to see what the other members of my baking club made this month, click here:

The Cake Slice: Rum Cake

Rum Cake1

Hot buttered rum just screams fa, la, la, la, la.

Drizzling it over a butter-laden bundt cake just makes sense. Tis the season!

It’s our second cake reveal from our newest book, and amidst all the holiday hustle and bustle, I managed to find time to bake this month.

Rum Cake2

Every year, we drive 45 minutes north to a Christmas tree farm where we tromp through acres and acres of balsams, fraisers, and canaans in search of the perfect tree.

This year was a special treat as it was not only a mild weather day that allowed us to keep hunting as long as necessary until we found the perfect tree, but we also got to watch two eagles soaring above us throughout our search.

Rum Cake3

After the tree was up and our halls were decked, it was time to get going on the monthly cake. Since December is packed with birthdays for our family and friends, there’s ample opportunity to bake a cake. This particular cake went to the office to celebrate my friend Rhonda’s birthday.

The cake itself contains THREE sticks of butter, and the original recipe calls for both rum and banana liqueur. I used Captain Morgan spiced rum and substituted lemon juice for the banana liqueur. I also substituted 2% milk for heavy cream as that’s all I had on hand…and I neglected to read through the recipe beforehand to make sure I had what I needed…all planning goes out the window in the holiday rush!

The cake is finished off with a hot butter, sugar, rum syrup that is drizzled on the cake while still in the pan so that it absorbs into the cake, creating a moist, buttery, rum cake. Delish!!!

Rum Cake4

If you’d like to check out what my fellow baking club members chose to bake this month, click here:

The Cake Slice: Caramel Apple Coffee Cake

DSC_0037

It’s the start of a new baking year for the Cake Slice…which means it’s time to reveal the new book we’ll all be baking from for the next 12 months. By “all” I mean my fellow Cake Slicers – a lovely group of ladies from all over the world who share a common love for baking and agree to bake one cake from the same cookbook each month for a year. We learn from our successes and failures and – most importantly – have lots of fun. We use a private Facebook group to compare notes, share pictures, and recount our latest baking adventures. As we were preparing for the launch of our new baking year, we ran a quick roll call to share where we all lived, and I was blown away by our diverse list of locations:

Cambridge, UK
Shedd, Oregon
Saginaw, Michigan
Weybridge, Surrey UK
Somerset, New Jersey
Modesto, California
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Singapore
Santa Rosa, California
Sydney, Australia
Montgomery Village, Maryland
Limerick, Ireland
San Fernando Valley, California

Wow…all of us connected through our affinity for flour, sugar, and butter!

DSC_0060

Each month, there are four cake recipes in which each baker may choose from, and then on the 20th of each month, we reveal the cake we chose on our blog and link all the blog posts together so all the world may see the pictures of our wonderful cakes.

The chosen book for our new baking year is called the Southern Cake Book by the editors of Southern Living Magazine. It’s loaded with beautiful, full-page pictures of each cake within the book and the recipes are easy to follow. I initially checked the book out from my local library so that I could give it a quick peruse before committing to another year’s worth of cake baking. I was pleasantly surprised.

DSC_0001

From the four options for November, I selected Caramel Apple Coffee Cake, and it was FAB-U-LOUS…and dangerous. Who knew homemade caramel was so easy to make and would taste so good?!? And better yet, the batch of caramel sauce was more than enough for the recipe, leaving an extra ½ cup for other purposes….like drizzled over homemade vanilla ice cream or slathered over fresh apple slices. I confess…I cut up an extra apple just to scrape the remaining caramel from the pan…into my mouth…at 8:00am…for breakfast. Don’t judge. No regrets.

DSC_0002

So here are the details on this cake. A fairly typical dense batter makes up the base. Then a layer of lightly sautéed apples is arranged on top on the batter, followed by a generous drizzle of caramel sauce. Finally, streusel crumbs are placed on top, and the whole thing is baked uncovered for 45 minutes, and then covered and baked for another 30 minutes. After it’s thoroughly cooled, more caramel is poured over the top.

DSC_0005

Now that you are most likely drooling all over your screen, you really should make this. Here’s the recipe: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/caramel-apple-coffee-cake

DSC_0010

A few notes: Be sure to make the caramel sauce and streusel BEFORE you make the batter, so they have time to cool and are ready when you need them. Also, there is more butter in the batter/caramel/streusel combined recipes than a butterhead at the Minnesota State Fair…so don’t be afraid to cut it down a bit…I used half the butter called for in the batter and the streusel and it was just as decadent. Finally, I substituted ½ cup oats in place of the nuts in the streusel so my little coffee-cake loving kiddo with a nut allergy could enjoy this with the family.

DSC_0016

So, there you have it. And the kiddo gave it his seal of approval saying it’s the best coffee cake I’ve ever made. You know…because I bake coffee cakes all the time, right? Don’t we all?

DSC_0049

Check out what my fellow Cake Slicers baked this month:

Lemon Pie Bars

IMG_0020.JPG

Lemons are a staple in our household. Every few weeks a bag of organic lemons finds its way into our shopping cart and they never last long. Lemons are so versatile. We squeeze the juice on chicken, fish, or even just a simple pasta with a little butter and Parmesan. We stuff lemons in whole chickens before roasting. Most often, however, we combine lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper and toss it with spinach – a light, flavorful dressing that’s easy to whip up and much better than store bought salad dressing.

Once in awhile, we have a few lemons to use up before they go bad. When we do, this lemon pie bar recipe does the trick. It’s the perfect combination of creamy lemon custard paired with crumbly, buttery crust. The best part is that it’s made from scratch – with ingredients typically on hand – and it beats the lemon bar box mixes by a mile. To get the most juice from your lemons, slice them in half and microwave for 10 seconds before juicing.

Lemon Pie Bars

Crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners sugar

Topping:
2 eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice
1Tbsp lemon zest
2Tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix 1 cup flour with confectioners sugar in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender, incorporate butter into mixture until it resembles pie dough. Press into a 8 x 8 square baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, or until crust begins to slightly brown. Remove from oven.

In another medium bowl, beat eggs for 1 minute. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, flour, and sugar. Mix for another minute. Pour mixture over crust and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven when topping is set. Cool.

Sprinkle powdered sugar on top of bars. Store at room temperature.

A Minnesota Tomato Harvest

DSC_0119

Summer is officially over here in Minnesota. After months of caring for our tomato plants, we came to the realization that it was time to harvest the last of the tomatoes before the first hard freeze.

DSC_0120-001

This was our first year growing tomatoes from seed and our first year growing them in pots on our deck to keep them from being a tasty treat for the local deer and bunny population. Because we got a bit of a late start, we didn’t truly begin to see the fruits of our labor until mid-August when we were blessed with the first juicy, ripe Sweet 100’s.

DSC_0129

Unfortunately, with the onset of autumn and the temperatures dropping rapidly, our plants were heavy with a plethora of green tomatoes that begged to be saved for our winter enjoyment. But…what to do with a billion green cherry tomatoes? Well, chutney seemed the obvious solution, but after a bit of searching online, I landed on a few quick pickle recipes that captured my interest, so I decided to give it a try…with my own minor adaptations.

And, for the ripe tomatoes, a slow-roast just seemed like the best way to enjoy these sweet, red nuggets throughout the cold months of winter. I plan to store them in the freezer and add them to pastas and sauces to bring a blush of summer to our blustery Minnesota winter months ahead.

DSC_0121

Spicy Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes

Makes 1 Quart and 2 Pints

2-4 pints green tomatoes (depending on size, enough to fill jars)
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
2 Tbsp pickling or sea salt
4 tsp dill seed
4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic

Bring vinegar, water, and salt to a boil in medium saucepan. Fill sterilized jars with tomatoes. Fill each pint jar with 1 clove of garlic, 1 tsp dill seed, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp peppercorns. Fill the quart jar with 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tsp dill seed, 2 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1 tsp peppercorns. Using a funnel, pour brine into each jar until tomatoes are covered leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Place caps and rings on jars. Allow to cool on counter for a few hours, and then store in the refrigerator.

Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

2-4 pints ripe cherry tomatoes
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 sprigs thyme
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Wash and remove stems from tomatoes. Slice tomatoes in half. Place on parchment lined baking sheets with cut side facing up. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Top with thyme sprigs. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

Bake at 300 degrees for 90 minutes. Turn off oven but do not remove tomatoes. Allow to cool in oven for two hours. Transfer baking sheets to freezer. When tomatoes are frozen, transfer them to an airtight freezer bag for storage.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers