Jan 18, 2015

The (Not A) Tomboy Cake, Concluded...

Read the first part here, or the rest of this will make even less sense than usual.

To recap--I had a conversation with a photo on the internet:

Source Link Here

It had lots of steps. Lots and lots of steps:
  • Grease/flour/buttered-parchment-line 3 cake pans. Or, if you are not a friggin' bake shop needed, improvise with 2 cake pans and 1 pie pan.
  • Bake the cake: Make the almond batter. Wash mixer bowl and paddle attachment. Make a meringue and integrate it into the batter. Divvy among the pans and bake cake layers. Cool layers & wrap tightly. Wash mixer bowl and whisk attachment. 
  • Make lemon cream: make whipped cream and fold into store-bought lemon curd (or make the lemon curd if you really, really want to). Chill overnight. Wash mixer bowl and whisk attachment again.
  • Go to bed.
  • Wake up, jog, make meringue frosting.
  • Trim and assemble cake as follows: cake, strawberry jam, lemon cream, cake, strawberry jam, lemon cream, cake, frosting. Wash the ever-lovin' mixer bowl and whisk attachment. Again.

Resulting in this:

And this:

And so, the pros:
  • Each component was amazing. The cake batter was fantastic. The lemon cream was fantastic. The jam I carefully selected from the store shelf was fantastic. The meringue frosting should probably be illegal in my house, it was so good.
  • Using real almonds instead of almond extract makes a huge difference.
  • The cake was not too sweet, which balanced out all the other ingredients, which were almost cloyingly sweet. 
  • The lemon cream tanged up a bit after chilling overnight.
  • Since I frosted the sides--thereby making it not a Tomboy Cake--the cake was very forgiving of all the trimming I did, and it didn't dry out like the reviews complained about. Also, I didn't even need to mess with piping supplies. Which in my case consist of a zip-top bag snipped at the corner, but still. One less thing. 
  • The cake improved on the second day--the flavors were a little more married, or something.

Areas of Improvement:
  • The almonds didn't grind as finely as I hoped. Next time I would grind them first and then blend with the flour, instead of both steps at once. Thanks for nothing, recipe.
  • The cake layers were done way sooner than the recommended 40-45 minutes. I pulled them at 35, and they were still overdone.
  • The texture was less like cake and more like a quick bread; according to Alton, my creaming technique needs some work. 
  • While the components were amazing, the texture of the cake combined with the itty-bitty, not-quite-ground almond pieces made it feel like eating banana bread (but without the bananas) layered with jam & lemon cream and meringue frosting. Not bad, just a little weird. 

Tiny E loved it as-is. His Highness loved licking all the bowls along the way but might have overdone it because he thought the finished product was gross. The Littler One was happy with just the frosting. The Cat Daddy was appreciative of my efforts, but didn't sneak a giant piece while the rest of us were sleeping, which I presume means he thought it acceptable but not earth-shattering.

All told, part of me wants to try this again and see where I can improve it, but then again even if I can make it completely optimally, it feels like a risk due to my family's mixed reactions. Still, if you are considering this, my overall suggestion would be to go for it because, meringue frosting. And YOLO. And you really can't go wrong with more cake in your life.

In particular, I think that my baking friends should maybe give it a try (you know who you are) and let me know how it goes. 

I'm available for quality-control testing, FYI...

Jan 16, 2015

The Tomboy Cake...

Today I would like to talk about a small project I have in progress, and that project is the Tomboy Cake.

If you click the link above, you will see this. Isn't it stunning?

I've not had great success in the past with scratch cakes, but this one called to me. It was all, "Come on, you can bake me."

I was all, "You have a lot of steps. The cake, the lemon-curd-turned-lemon-cream, the jam, the meringue frosting. I have to friggin' cook the meringue frosting."

"Come on. I'll be awesome."

"The reviews say you're kind of dry."

"That's because my sides are naked. You can just frost all of me."

"Labor. Intensive."

"Just split me into steps over a couple of days. You can even buy some lemon curd instead of making it."

"Buttered parchment inside of greased & floured pans."

"You have Baker's Joy. Plus you've watched enough Good Eats to know all about folding in foams to make things light & fluffy. It's bad stewardship not to use the tools you've been given. Seriously. The only thing you actually have to buy is more parchment. And some lemon curd. And eggs, but you need those anyway. Come on, just try. If it's not worth it, you never have to make me again."

"Ugh, FINE."

So I bought the parchment and eggs. I went to four stores looking for lemon curd, and finally found it at Cost Plus/World Market. And these are the things I have done so far:

--Printed the 5 page recipe. To be fair, it is pretty large print. But still--Five. Pages.

--Traced and cut out parchment circles for the pans.

--Made the almond sponge batter. It could use some adjustments technique-wise, but tasted amazing.

--Baked the cakes. I have 2 proper cake pans, so I improvised by using a pie pan for the third layer. I plan to trim the pie-pan-cake edges to match, since I'm frosting the sides anyway.

--Possibly burned the cakes. They were in less than 35 of the 40-45 recommended minutes, so I'm kind of mad about that. But I'm hoping with some creative trimming all will be forgiven.

--Made the lemon cream. Not as tangy as I was hoping. Sad face :(

--Washed my food processor parts once and my mixing bowl and paddle/whisk three times.

Tomorrow I will:

--Friggin' cook the meringue frosting. And wash my mixing bowl/whisk a fourth time.

--Trim, layer, spread, stack, and frost. And whoever eats a good dinner will get a slice. Unless it's a disaster; then whoever doesn't eat a good dinner will be forced to eat a slice (Just kidding. Maybe).

Something about the process really draws me in. Baking is not something I would want to do for a living, but every so often I like to try new stuff, even (or maybe especially) if it is tricky enough to be on the order of a project. I suppose I like the feeling of creating something, especially when it's made of ordinary stuff I already have, but is put together in a completely different way than I've done before. Plus, I really do like making use of the skills Alton has taught me over the years. He makes things look easy, and while lots of things aren't as easy as he makes them look, they are often at least doable.

So I'll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck...

Jan 11, 2015

Notes: The January Edition...

In the spirit of Thank You Notes on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (which I don't stay up late enough to watch but I have loved every single clip I've seen via Facebook and/or YouTube. I think he is hilarious and uplifting, and a comfortable level of both confidence and self-deprication), I would like to present notes written to abstract concepts and inanimate objects around me--

Source Link Here

Dear Low Side Ponytail: Thank you for being so practical that I can wear you for most anything, yet just different enough to turn my most boring lack of hairstyle into something passing as an actual thing. Thank you for being in fashion while my hair is at its longest. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Polycarbonate Drum Enclosure: I hate you with the fire of a thousand suns. I understand your purpose, what with making older folks more comfortable in a contemporary worship setting, and making it easier to control the sound mix in historically acoustically drum-unfavorable church buildings. But you separate me from the rest of the band, making me feel like a child in the naughty corner who couldn't control herself. You make me rely on (admittedly, really cool) technology to stay with everyone else, instead of finding the groove, watching foot taps, and using my musicianship to control things like dynamics and stuff. I like to think I am professional enough to work productively with you, but your only redeeming quality is that you hide me just enough so I don't feel like everyone is staring at me, which keeps me from being self-conscious. But I would trade that to sit alongside the rest of the band in a low-profile position, which I haven't done much of since 2008. I'm pretty sure you make God sad, and I hope you burn in the apocalypse.  Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Smiley Diary from Korea:  Thank you for providing the perfect mix of practicality and whimsy. I love your colors, your mix of monthly and daily planning pages, your markings with the teeny number-people, your stickers even though I don't know what to do with most of them, and your sweet little positive sayings that brighten my days, even when my children climb the pantry shelves and strew oatmeal through the entire kitchen.  I look forward to my planning time every day. Mostly. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here
Dear Starbucks: Thank you for being sensible most of the time, and for having an easy way to consolidate my gift card balances on one card. I don't even like coffee (and therefore I kind of gag at the aroma when I walk into your store), but I still love you. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Tiger's Blood: Thank you for becoming slightly more mainstream, so that now only 57% of my friends look at me like I've grown a third head when I talk about how fantastic you are, where it used to be pretty much everyone who thought I was making things up. I loved your cherry/coconut flavor in those fundraiser lollipops in high school, but I love you even more in Italian and shave ice. Always and Forever, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Teen Titans Go: You are such a weird cartoon. So, so weird. Like, why do you have Robin along with all these other no-name teen heroes? It is so random and nonsensical. But when I sit with His Highness and watch you, it turns out you are pretty witty after all, and your humor translates to older (albeit slightly warped) audiences. Thank you for letting me relate to my oldest kid, yo. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Buddies Film Franchise: It turns out you are not pretty witty after all, and your humor does not translate to older audiences. Your only redeeming quality (other than the fact that my kids like you) is somehow procuring a few fairly-famous names, preventing me from poking my own eyeballs out by providing me with a fun guessing game when I hear a familiar voice emanating from a clothed animal. And I think, "I sure hope they got a good paycheck for this job." As for the lesser-known and/or less skilled actors, I think "They sure were lucky to work with those other folks." And as I am not an actor, let's keep it at that. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Seven is a good start. What would you write notes to, and what would you say??

Jan 2, 2015

Hands in the Pants...

Today I would like to talk about something highly dignified: how I came to complete the better part of a 5K bike ride with my daughter's hands in the back of my pants.

It seems so simple in my mind. It was cool out, but not freezing. We wore our sweatshirts and pants to keep warm, and I decided at the last minute to leave my gloves behind, because it felt just that pleasant out. I buckled Tiny E into the seat on the back of my bike, and we rode off.

Maybe a quarter mile in, I realized I wished I had brought my gloves after all. I commented, "Oh, I wish I hadn't left my gloves at home." And Tiny E said, "I wish I had my min-tens. My hands awe cold." And I thought "Oh, how sweet. We are so alike. Biking with my baby is so fun."

Then I heard, "I want to keep my hands warm in your butt!" And I felt a pair of little hands suddenly slip into the top of my track pants and nestle against my butt.

I said, "No! Get your hands out of my butt--I mean my pants!"

She said, "No! Your butt is warm! My hands need to be nice & cozy!"

On and on we went as I mulled my options. I could stop and give her a talking-to and hold firm to the boundary. Or I could bike on and pray that I would be immune to any judgmental stares from passers-by.  The truth was that my clothes were tucked in such a way that the only thing exposed was the bottom of my shirt. And stopping would only prolong the time until I could warm my own hands, so I pulled my jacket a little lower and kept going.

Which would have been fine had Ms Curious not inquired, "What kind of underpants you wearin', Mom?" and attempted to find out. It was there that I drew the boundary. I swatted her hands away and told her that NO ONE wanted to see my underpants, and maybe she could stick her hands up my jacket instead to keep them nice & cozy.  She agreed for, like, 3 seconds, but eventually the little hands found their way back down to my pants and settled in for the duration, and I kept the topic of conversation away from things that would result in curious and/or wiggling hands.

Thankfully, that was the extent of things. Her hands remained warm & cozy, and as far as I know I didn't expose any skin or under-things, so there was minimal awkwardness for anyone who happened to look our way.  But there was still a small part of me that wondered, as we rode along, "How did I get here, to this place, riding my bike with someone else's hands nestled against my butt? And should it bother me more?"

I decided that cavemen probably had to resort to far more awkward situations to keep warm, and that I would consider gloves and mittens the next time, just to be safe. Still, things like this always remind me to be very aware of what I'm saying to people. What seems like a benign sharing of information could, in fact, sound like an invitation to others.

So the next time you leave your gloves home, choose carefully what you share with your friends. You just might end up with someone else's hands in the back of your pants...