Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sláinte! Irish Cream Frosting

Here's the deal, folks. It's against my nature to share this recipe. But good things are meant to be shared, right? I'll just have to hope that the people who actually pay me to make this frosting will still pay me to make it. 

And for those who follow me, you know I'm an irreverent baker, at best. In retrospect, that would have been a great name for this blog: The Irreverent Baker. And now that I've said that out loud, someone's going to go and steal it. Or else it's already been used. Man! I sound paranoid tonight.

Anyway, this is one of my most popular frostings. It started out as a base recipe from Alton Brown, because he's my go-to guy, but I've definitely changed it up to suit the Irish cream.

First things first: if you're using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. If you're using a hand mixer, that's cool. You'll build some definition in your shoulder muscle.

And there is a difference between butters, folks. The "Eurpopean" style butters are not only going to be more expensive, but they will also yield a smoother, creamier mouth-feel. Regular old butter does fine as well, and sometimes I prefer it. Honestly, I usually mix the two. Experiment with them both and decide for yourself!

Also, I know some people get nervous when introducing raw eggs into uncooked food. I get it. The truth is that salmonella is carried on the outside of the shell, so if you crack the egg on a flat surface (a counter or plate, NOT the edge of the bowl), your odds of contamination are low. Other options are whole powdered eggs (usually found near the baking soda/cocoa powder/meringue powder in the baking aisle), but these don't work as well as a real egg. Some grocery stores--more and more of them, it seems--sell pasteurized in-shell eggs. These are my favorite. I buy a dozen and keep them aside just for frosting. But honestly… I have literally, in the truest sense of the word, made variations of this frosting hundreds of times with raw, unpasteurized eggs, and I have never once had anyone get sick. Your call. And no, something like egg beaters or egg whites pasteurized in the carton won't have the same effect, because the yoke and the emulsifying factor is what gives it the smooth texture.

Also, I love me some Bailey's Irish Cream. Mmmm-hmm. But that stuff is crazy expensive, amiright? My favorite substitute, which manages to pack all the flavor for half the price, is Merry's Irish Cream. It's good stuff. Carolan's is a distant third, and Ryan's isn't even on my list. And no, no one pays me. It's just that I prefer to use the cheaper stuff for frosting and the more expensive stuff for drinking, though Merry's is so good I use it for both. 

Okay, with food safety lessons and liquor recommendations aside, let's get down to business:

6 oz of butter unsalted butter, room temperature (1.5 sticks)
3 oz of shortening (if you eyeball it, the volume is close to a stick of butter)
1 egg, room temperature
1 lb of powdered sugar (four-ish cups)
dash of salt (1/2 tsp or so)
tsp vanilla (optional)
Irish cream (few tablespoons to 2/3 C, to taste)

Mix the butter and shortening together in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer) until combined. Up the speed and whip the heck out of that fatty goodness until it's creamy and light yellow, 2-3 minutes. Scrape the sides, add the egg, mix to combine, and then up the speed again until smooth, glossy, and picture-perfect, another 2-3 minutes. Add the powdered sugar slowly in 3-4 installments, mixing on low speed until combined. Then up the speed to medium high and walk away and do the dishes or check Facebook for 4-ish minutes. Or, if you're using a hand mixer, just think, "my shoulders will look fantastic, my shoulders will look fantastic, my shoulders will look fantastic."

When it's light and fluffy, add a dash of salt and vanilla (the vanilla is optional. The salt is highly recommended). While the mixer is going on low, add Irish cream a little at a time. Don't be shy, but don't be crazy. Chances are, you're going to add MUCH more than you think is safe. Honestly, I start with about 1/4 cup, and then add from there. I can't tell you the exact amount, because everyone's taste is different. I can tell you that I generally add as much Irish cream as the frosting can handle while still holding a peak when I lift the beater out. It's a fine line. Too much, and the frosting will start to separate. 

When you have it to your desired flavor/consistency, fill a piping bag or slather a spatula and frost to your heart's content. 

The frosting will be shelf-stable, so if your cake is going to be eaten within 24 hours, it can stay on the counter. If it will be eaten later, or it's really hot outside (hard to think about in December), refrigeration is recommended--especially if your egg is unpasteurized.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Irish Car Bomb/Chocolate Coffee Stout Cake - Cake Mix Tweak #4

Wow, it's been a long time, huh? It makes me realize how little I've been baking, which is good for my waistline, but bad for the blog.

'Tis the season for holiday potlucks and office parties, and as such I agreed to bake five or so dozen cupcakes for Sean's office. And of course as luck would have it, I've been REALLY busy this week at work myself, so no way was I going to grind my own flour and churn my own butter and gather eggs for six geese-a-laying or however the song goes. Nope.  I was going to make it as easy on myself as possible, which meant that I was falling back on a cake mix of some sort for at least one of the flavors.

My most popular frosting? Irish cream. So what goes with Irish cream? Chocolate and coffee.  But what about chocolate coffee stout and make it a riff on the cocktail of sophisticated college students everywhere... the Irish Car Bomb?

For the uninitiated, any drink that has "bomb" in the name means you're dropping a shot glass of liquor into a larger glass of alcohol, usually beer. An Irish Car Bomb is a pint glass, filled halfway with Guinness (or another stout), with a shot of Irish cream on the side. You drop the whole shot glass into the pint, tap it hard on the bar, and chug it down as fast as you can--because as soon as the Irish cream hits the carbonation of the stout, it begins to curdle. Then you slam the empty glasses back down on the bar, wipe your mouth on your sleeve, and give your companion a fist bump of victory. I know, I know, it sounds nasty, but the flavor is actually a very rich, chocolatey, almost coffee-like taste. Perfect to transfer to a cake.

And guys... This is so simple. I had everything on-hand already, which means a lot of you might, too. And the beer flavor can be very prevalent, depending on how much coffee you add--so it's definitely for the stout-hearted. *snicker* get it? Stout-hearted? Heh.

Anyway, here's what you do:

  1. Grab your favorite box of chocolate cake mix (I'm partial to Betty Crocker chocolate fudge)
  2. Replace the water with stout, porter, or a dark seasonal ale (I used Jubelale by Deschutes Brewing, because that's what we had on-hand)
  3. Add 2-3 tablespoons of instant coffee (you can add more if you want. The more you add, the more pronounced the stout flavor becomes... And it's an effective tool for turning your non-stout beer stout-ish.)
  4. Throw in an extra egg
  5. Mix and bake according to package directions

Easy-peasy. You'll even have time to take some of that Irish cream from the frosting you're making, drop it into that extra stout you've saved aside, and chug it all down. Sláinte! (Cheers!)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Time to call it splits...

This may not come as a surprise to some of my loyal readers, but I sometimes have trouble updating this blog regularly. Some of this comes from the problem that I've mentioned before.... I spend all day in front of a computer for work--it's really hard for me to get excited to sit in front of a computer just for kicks and giggles later.

But there's also another reason... this blog address is listed on all the business cards that I send out for baked goods. I don't necessarily want people looking up this blog for pictures of cupcakes and getting the most recent non-sequitur post from the random side of my brain.

So. This leads me to my announcement for today. I've started a new blog over at The whole name is a play on words: non-sequitur, the Latin for "not pertaining to anything" (i.e. the random side of my brain), and the pronunciation of "sequiturism" like "tourism," because, you know... I travel a lot, n' stuff.

Eh? Eh? Anybody? Well, I thought it was funny.

Anyway, if you're more interested in staying in touch with me or hearing my non-sequitur musings, pop on over to In the meantime, I'll still post baked good of all sorts on this blog as I have time, inclination, and projects worth sharing.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Calm You Shall Keep

So, yes. It's been a long time since I've posted. I always know it's been a long time when I get emails from people that just say, "so.... when are you going to write a new post?" The funny thing about that is, I don't really feel like I'm that interesting. So the fact that there is someone out there actually WAITING for a post feels like a lot of pressure. The kind of pressure that requires a glass of wine and some extra deodorant.

Those of you who follow my blog know that we just moved. The thing is, I can't just write at the drop of a hat. Well, I suppose I could. But I can't write well at the drop of a hat. When I told my friend that I had just moved and if I wanted the blog to be funny I was going to have to wait a while--otherwise it would just be a rant--she said something to the effect of, "Oooh, that's ok! We love rants. Remember the Ikea post?"

And I was going to write a post earlier. I thought about it several times. I even had some good ones lined up in my mental queue before we moved, but they got seared out of my permanent memory by the heat of my frustration with the move process.

I was even going to write this post earlier in the evening, but I had a strawberry seed stuck in my tooth, and let's just face it. There's simply no way a girl can concentrate with a strawberry seed stuck in her tooth. Not only is it true, but I'll take any excuse to procrastinate. And let's just say that if you make it all they way through today's little novella, you definitely earn a gold star.

And as for the title pic... well, I wish I could take credit for that. Barring taking credit, I wish I could give credit where it's due, but it's just a random meme someone texted me. It instantly appealed to my not-quite-secret inner geek chick.

Anyway, the move. Our third trans-continental move in... what? Five years? Our fifth move in seven years? Something like that. Regardless, the process is old hat to us now. Before the movers come, you have to pack all the things you want to keep with you:
When the movers come, you have to be organized and "with" it and be able to tell them what EXACTLY you don't want packed, give them a tour, show them your priceless family heirlooms (remember my grandma's fryer?), and then get the heck out of their way. Then the loaders come, and it's kind of the same thing all over again, only different.

Then you get to your destination before your stuff comes, and you can either stay in a hotel or steal--erm...borrow--a bunch of supplies from your mother-in-law and camp out in the new place. And then you can whine about the borrowed air mattress losing air each night until you wake up with your butt on the floor with your legs and head propped up in a V by the remaining air. And every time you switch position, your little pooch launches right off the end of the bed like someone jumped on the other end of a seesaw and sent him flying. And then you can give in to your husband's pleas to buy a new, fru-fru, double-stacked air mattress with its own pump under the justification that you can "use it for guests". And then you'll sleep on the new, fru-fru, double-stacked air mattress with its own pump and kick yourself for not just giving in and listening to your husband earlier.

Eventually your stuff will arrive, and your husband will conveniently be out of town when they schedule the delivery. Very suspicious, that... but it's probably all for the best--I've done it so many times on my own now that I tend to go all alpha female. Sean being out of town is probably God's way of ensuring that the move doesn't incite a divorce.

But then your husband will have a stroke of genius and suggest that you ask your little brother-in-law to come out and help, who--at all of 17 years old, is one of your favorite people. And then your little brother-in-law DOES come out, and suddenly everything feels more manageable.

But then stuff starts coming off the truck like this:
and suddenly "manageable" is the best you can hope for as you try to tamp down the smoke coming out of your ears. Men are pulling boxes off the truck and calling inventory numbers for you to check off on the list while two unconcerned, uninvested, summer-job teenagers ask for instructions on where to put each box in the house until you feel like your head is beginning to spin around like that girl in The Exorcism. I've never actually seen the movie, but I'm pretty sure that part has been used over and over again everywhere. That's when you thrust the clipboard at your little brother-in-law and go into Alpha Mode.

Alpha Mode allows me to maintain tight control while telling people what I want done, with only the terseness of my voice and the flaring of my nostrils to indicate that I. am. angry. Alpha Mode is what keeps me from busting into tears of frustration when I realize they've lost all the hardware to our bed frame and can't put the bed set together, so it's going to be in pieces until I file a claim. Alpha Mode lets me keep my cool when I realize they've scraped paint off the banister, taken a chunk out of the door jamb, and the appliance installation guys put a ginormous tear in the vinyl floor in the mud room. Alpha Mode allows me to calmly take pictures of all the damage and silently vow that these suckers are going to pay my claims or so help me God.

And my little BIL exuded calming forces, too. The great thing about him is that nothing ruffles his feathers. He is the antithesis of the "stereotypical" 17-year-old boy. He is truly helpful. He is considerate. He is willing. He listens. He's got a natural goofiness that defuses any situation. He's gonna make someone a very lucky girl some day. But I digress. I can go alpha female on my little BIL because, you know... I'm not married to him. He doesn't have to live with me. I can tell him exactly where I want him to put those plates, because who is he to argue? Plus, I try to always ask nicely, and he's able to tell that my anger is not targeted at him.

With my little BIL's help, we powered through unpacking the entire kitchen that evening after the movers left, which is unheard of. I have never gotten that much unpacked so fast. He earned the dinner and ice cream that I bought for him in thanks. He would have earned himself a beer or two, but you know... the whole 17-years-old thing. His mom still thinks I'm a good influence. Ha!

And then--and then--my little BIL is SO COOL that he offered to come back again the next day to help me. Once I squared things away at work I took the rest of the day off and he and I powered through the closet and the master bedroom, guest bedroom, and even part of the living room. And we even went on a fruitless, hour-long search for our silverware, until I gave up and called my neighbor in NY and asked her to check the kitchen--and of course she found our silverware right in the drawer where it's always been. Sean had to go back for business, and you can bet your bottom dollar the TSA searched that suitcase when they saw all the silverware rolling through their checked bag x-ray.

And then I burnt out on unpacking and nearly two weeks later we're still in kind of the same spot, but that's neither here nor there.

In fact, I got so far along with Little BIL's help that I moved on to unpacking decorative stuff, which is normally the last thing I worry about. I excitedly opened our brand-new, never-been-unpacked standing mirror, completely oblivious to the two "handle" holes in the cardboard. It wasn't until I pulled the cardboard off that I realized those weren't handles.... two identically-sized, evenly-spaced holes had been punched straight through the frame.
Entry wounds on one side, exit wounds on the other. And a very nice set of Little BIL legs in the reflection. It takes a very special kind of person to run a pallet lift all the way through a mirror until it punches out the other side, and then not say a dang thing.  I saw my stuff loaded on the truck, and I saw it unloaded, and the Great Mirror Massacre happened in neither place. I know they transferred our goods somewhere in the middle, so that must have been when it occured. And this is only the big damage. I'm not even talking about all the little stuff we've found so far. We've never had a professional move be this bad.

Right about when we pulled the cardboard off and saw this damage is about the same time that I threw in the towel and took Little BIL out to dinner, where I had a vodka gimlet and a burger, came home, took a shower, and collapsed into my bed, which--of course--was on the floor, because, you know... no hardware. And then I had to get up and creak and totter and shuffle my way to the bathroom like an invalid because there was just so much pain. I fell asleep exhausted and unhappy and dreading the next morning, but I woke up to this, cuddled right up next to me:
And suddenly, the rest of the day just didn't seem that bad at all.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Mmmm, Yummy! This cake tastes like...Styrofoam?

I once heard my sister describe what it was like to complete her first Iron Man race (yes, first. She's a glutton for punishment like that), and I often think that making wedding cakes is the same way. While you're in the process of doing it, all you can see and feel is how heinous and difficult it is. It's completely unenjoyable, and you tell all your friends and family to remind you of how much you hated every second. But then you get done, and you think "Hey! That wasn't so bad! I feel pretty good! Let's do it again!"

Remember how in the last post I said that I had a wedding cake in progress? Yeah. What I didn't say was that I finally broke down and decided that God gave me talent in certain places--and house cleaning isn't one of them. So I had a cleaning crew come in. They swarm my house like cleaning ninjas--except they're hardly stealthy. When's the last time you saw a ninja sneak up on someone while running a vacuum? Anyway, they swarm like LOUD cleaning ninjas and are out of here in an hour or less. Only this last time, they saw the cake-in-progress on the table, with the black fondant layers covered while the other two were still just naked styrofoam. The first reaction from cleaning lady #1 to #2 was, "Oh, wow!" The reaction from cleaning lady #2 to #1 was, "Yeah, but see this black fondant and how hard it is to get totally smooth and not wrinkly? That's why I did buttercream."

Speaking of "totally smooth," cleaning lady #2, that wasn't. Nope. Not smooth at all. I could hear you, you know. As criticisms go, that's hardly harsh. But it still irked me. And it's not easy to get fondant smooth and perfect when a) you don't work with it much, b) you have hades-level heat going on, and c) 70% humidity. But anyway, I digress.

I got the cake done! Woohoo! And it even looked good! I mean, sure. It's waaaaaay easier with styrofoam. No leveling, no baking, no filling. No crumb coat, no chilling. Just carefully, carefully roll out that fondant, wet the styrofoam, say a prayer, and hope the fondant doesn't tear. Then when it DOES tear, you sigh, grab the shortening, knead it all together, roll it out, say another prayer, make sure the styrofoam is still wet, and drape the styrofoam with the fondant ever so carefully. And when it tears again you stifle a curse, grab more shortening, knead it all together, roll it out, wet the styrofoam again, say another freaking prayer, and drape the fondant on the dummy layer.

When it tears AGAIN, you stop stifling the curses and swear like a sailor, causing your husband to come to the kitchen in alarm and then back out slowly when he sees you armed with a rolling pin and spitting mad. That's when he'll ask--from out in the hallway--if there's anything he can do. And that's when you shoot him the narrow-eyed look that says, "I'm about 30 seconds from a homicidal rage. There's nothing you can do, my sweetie, my one true beloved, but duck and cover--because when I blow my lid, there will be collateral damage."

It's really amazing how one look can say so much.

So then you mumble your final prayer, because if it doesn't work this time, to hell with it and you can buy them a cake at WalMart on your way to the wedding. And the prayer is sincere, even though you're spitting it out through gritted teeth and it's littered with f-bombs and pent rage. You're up to your elbows in shortening now, just trying to get this $#@& fondant pliable enough to drape. And you roll it out, keeping it as thick as you possibly can while still having enough to cover the dummy layer. Then you carefully, carefully--carefully, dammit!--drape the fondant again, holding your breath, massaging the little cracks back together, cutting the excess weight as soon as you can, and then---and then--praise be, it holds!

Your husband hears your sigh of relief and comes creeping back into the kitchen.

"Got it now?" he asks.

"Yeah, finally," you reply. Then he sighs with relief and offers you a glass of wine. And as he hands it to you, you think, "Lord, I love this man."

Anyway, you get the point. This is turning into another novel of a post. But look at the cake! Look at it! It's so pretty! I thought about titling this post "The Cleaning Lady Can Suck It," but that just seemed mildly inappropriate. And again, my grandma reads this blog. And no, I totally didn't ask my husband to stand outside on the porch holding a wrinkly bedsheet up behind the cake while I took a million photos. I mean, who would do that?

I had made the fondant flowers throughout the week, and I sat down Thursday night and wired them all while I was in a nearly zombie-like state with a cold. Then Friday my good friend V came over and helped me make three giant sheet cakes for serving. She had to leave before we were nearly done, but she will never truly understand how grateful I was to her. I kept plugging away for the rest of the day, and I used some of the scraps to fill in part of the bottom dummy layer that I had cut out. This was the part of the cake that the bride and groom would cut for pictures and tasting.

So of course that meant that I had to cover one more layer--the largest--with fondant. Expecting the worst, I held my breath again and gave it my best shot...and for whatever reason it worked perfectly the first time. Whatevs. I'll just be grateful and pour myself another glass of wine.

I carefully stacked the cakes, aligning them all to the back in a more contemporary style, and then I used needle-nose pliers to stick each flower into the cake. I mourned the loss of many a flower whose delicate petals decided to wuss out on me (I could have blended in gumpaste with the fondant to help with that, but I didn't because I liked the final look of the fondant better for this cake. That's why I made 6 billion extras, anyway).

Then I stood back, eyeing the cake critically, beckoning my husband over to look for gaps or issues. I even pulled out my phone and took some pictures, because I've discovered that sometimes you can see flaws in pictures that you can't see in real life while you're standing two feet away. I don't know why that is, but it works for clothes in the dressing room, too. You think you look all hot when you look at yourself in the mirror, but then you take a picture and realize it's more hot mess than hot damn.

Anyway, with a little flower there and a wee tweak there, I had the presence of mind to stop and be done, before I ruined it by adding far too many.

The great thing about the styrofoam is that it was unaffected by the heat and it was a dream to travel with it in the backseat of my car for the hour-and-fifteen drive to the wedding.

And the bride and groom loved it, which was the important thing. Sure, the cake might not have been perfect, but it was still one hell of a wedding present, no?

Monday, June 24, 2013

It's a Queso Emergency.

Holy cake balls, batman... it's been a heckuva long time since I posted. I'm surprised I haven't received butt-kicking threats from my posse of about three loyal fans.

And the title of this post? Yeah, nothing to do with anything. It's a total non sequitur.  It's just that some days, I feel like I'm really losing the rat race. And on those days, I feel like this guy:

 Yeah. My whole life right now is a queso emergency. Guess what's happening, people... guess what's happening...

We're moving. Yup. Again. Do you know anyone who wants to buy a townhome? We happen to have a great one on the market right now.

While this move is a bit of a surprise (honestly, we would never have bought this place if we knew we'd be packing it up in a year), at least we were able to engineer the end destination of this move a bit. We're moving back to Idaho! Woooohooo! Puttin' down roots in Boise.

Now, that being said, I'm getting really sick of questions like the following:

"Idaho? Why the hell would you want to live in Idaho? What's there besides potatoes?"


So much to answer there, but social convention means that I need to be polite.  Ok, I guess that being known for potatoes isn't the most exciting thing in the world. It's not the worst, either. But it really bugs me when people bash places they've never been. I'm sure I've done it before, but I really am trying to be better. Once you've spent a bit of time in a place, you earn a bit of a right to bash--as long as you realize it's all subjective.

To answer all the haters out there, why am I excited to go back to Boise? What makes it better than Albany, NY (at least in my eyes)? Here we go:

     The cost of living is lower.
     Boise is old, but vibrant. It's had a complete renovation. It's full of life.
     It's cleaner.
     It's safer.
     It has a ton of great restaurants.
     It has a vital downtown with farmer's markets, pubs, restaurants, coffee houses, and boutiques.
     There's a TON to do outside.
     The hiking.
     The dry heat.
     The truly authentic Mexican food.
     The art, the funk, the parks, the museums, the live music, Whole Foods, WinCo, and Costco.
     Class dismissed. 

And for all the people that say Albany is the same as the above, it just ain't so--apples and oranges, folks. But I respect your right to love this area as much as you choose--just don't step on my right to love somewhere else just as much.

Anyway, all of my Idaho angst aside, I've been busy. Like, crazy busy. Like, trips out to Boise to look at 20 homes in two days busy. Like, I just got back from a week in Anchorage for work busy. Like, we had a garage sale and a clean-out busy. Like, we had four showings and an open house in one week busy. Oh, and like, we spent a weekend in Montreal, busy. And with all the moves I've had, you'd think that I'd be able to just go with it. But I've noticed with every big change in my life, my tolerance for ambiguity gets lower. If I'm in a new situation and I don't have a plan, I stress the heck out. And since the plans are only now falling into place (the move date is three weeks out), I've been doing a LOT of stressing the heck out.

I've still been baking, though. As a matter of fact, I've been giving lessons to a young girl and her mom.   She's come a long way, that 13-year-old girl. We started with basics, and on her last lesson we graduated to fondant. Want to see her first-ever fondant cake?

Isn't it cute? She did a great job. She even made the marshmallow fondant by hand.

And no, your eyes aren't deceiving you. Those are sparkles you're seeing. Aw.

I've had some other orders, too. And when I have orders when I'm hella busy like I am now (oh, yeah, forgot about the overtime at work, too), I try for ways to accomplish the most impact with the least effort. And since my piping skills are severely lacking, I tend to go for cutesy fondant stuff.

Like this cake I made for an office baby shower, for a woman who was expecting a little boy. See the little fondant booties? So cute! Velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and a couple of 10-minute booties. I call them 10-minute booties because, you know, they took 10 minutes to make.

See the laces? They never even look like booties until you put in the laces.

And this week I have a wedding cake for Saturday. Luckily, the bride is content with most of the display cake being styrofoam. Since it's supposed to be crazy hot and humid this weekend, that's a load off my shoulders.

Here's a sneak peak at the cake, with what I have done so far. Ignore all the crap in the background, mkay?

Yeah, it's a black-and-white wedding. And yeah, two of the layers are still styrofoam. But I don't have pictures of the sugar flowers hanging out on my kitchen counter. Or my new (squeeeeee!) 6-qt, high capacity, 14-cups-of-flour capacity kitchen aid mixer. Yup, for all the sheet cakes I'm making to serve at the wedding, my new mixer (and my old mixer) are going to get a heck of a workout.

Oh! And Mac is wearing a little tux, because he's an honorary ring bearer. You know how excited he is about that?

So excited!

We'll catch up with you after the wedding!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Stop and smell the....cake? Swirled Rose Cake

Life is tough sometimes, folks. It really is. As they say in the best movie of all time (Yes, I am of course referring to The Princess Bride), "Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

My life right now is...tumultuous. Stuff is happening, and it's happening fast. Too fast for me to catch my breath or paste a sunny smile on my face. There's pretty much constant uncertainty, occasional anger, a dash of excitement, and quite a few tears. Don't worry, friends. No one is dead, we're not getting divorced, we're all perfectly healthy, and it's all first-world problems.

But still. They're the kind of first-world problems that lead me to fantasize about wine all day long, starting at about 10 a.m. I don't give in.... I just spend the next 9 hours daydreaming about pouring myself a big, fat glass of spicy red as I cook dinner. Then dinner comes and I pour that big, fat glass...and it takes me two hours to finish it. Ah, well. Better that it takes me two hours to finish a glass than two hours to finish a bottle.

And though it's wrong and I shouldn't rely on food to ease my pain and sugar shouldn't be my emotional crutch, sometimes the only thing that makes me feel better (besides wine) is a good hit of sugar. And--as you have no doubt guessed by now--one of my favorite sugar delivery systems is via cake. And it's more than just the sugar... it's about the process of creation. It's about the art. It's the kind of art that everybody loves, is not subjective to personal taste, and doesn't sit around cluttering up someone's shelf until they've let the two years of guilt go by before they can sell it/re-gift it/take it to the dumpster at 2 a.m. Really. When is the last time you've seen someone upset that you made them a cake? Sure, they might be on a diet and hate you for tempting them. But hate the cake? Never.

That's what I love about this cake. Armed with buttercream, food coloring, a pastry bag, and a jumbo closed-star tip (2D, if you want to try your hand at this cake yourself), you have a beautiful, easy, classy cake fit for celebration, commiseration, or just because.

This is actually three shades of orange--darkest on the bottom, mellower in the middle, and creamy on the top.

Cakes like this make me wish several things:
- I wish that I finished them during the day so that I could photograph them in natural sunlight.
- I wish I had somewhere in my house that magically provided a wonderful neutral backdrop.
- I wish I had a schmancy camera to take uber-nice photos.
- I wish I had the skills with which to take uber-nice photos with even my iPhone. (yes, all the pictures on this blog are from my iPhone. Some of them are quite good--and those are all thanks to natural sunlight. It's a vicious circle, my friends.)

This is the first time I've ever tried the "swirled rose" technique, so of course there are some goof-ups. But really, it's remarkably easy. Simply cover the cake of your choice in a crumb coat of tinted frosting (a crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting--just scrape it on. You should be able to see the cake through it. Then you put it in the fridge to let it set), and then you just start your tip in the middle of the swirl and work your way out to create the blossom. Start on the bottom row and work your way up, finishing by covering the top. And on the top, start with the blossom in the middle and work your way out to the edges, overlapping a bit. This also looks gorgeous in all one color--white, purple, pink, chocolate, whatever you want.

When you're done, you can step back and look at the art that you created and realize that you've just taken a time-out from life. You stepped back from the hustle and bustle, you quieted your soul, and you created for the sake of creation, or as a physical symbol of your love for another, or as an emotional balm. You stopped to smell the roses, so to speak, even if those roses are made of a wickedly delightful combination of sugar, butter, and cake.

Here's to beauty even when life gets dark. Happy creating, my friends. And happy eating.
Musings on life...and the delights of baked goods.

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