Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Christmas Cake

Yesterday was the first day officially baking with my new stove. Yes....I died and went to heaven. You understand that my kitchen isn't completely finished yet, right? I still don't have the little unimportant things like.........WATER.....but all in all it's painfully coming together bit by bit. There are some cabinets that haven't been installed yet and some carpentry items, like doorframes and windows, etc., but it's getting there and I am pretty happy about it too.

Okay....okay...I'll give you a couple of "teaser" photos.




Can you stand it?? I have suddenly developed a habit of walking out of the kitchen then turning around to walk quickly back in, blink and pinch myself. Hard.

The timing on my new granite countertops was perfect. I haven't baked in almost three months and I was really hoping to bake something fun for Christmas. I also received a fabulous new cake pan from my Aunt Grace in South Carolina and I was just itching to try it out.

This fantastic cake pan is made of a fairly heavy cast iron, fashioned in a circle of trees with an open center. I have so many ideas for this one! White cake tinted green and flavored with peppermint, perhaps?? Throw on a few silver dragees for ornaments and voila! Fabulous! Except I thought the kids may run screaming ino the night if chocolate wasn't involved, so-o-o-o as you can see I was backed into a corner on this one. Pushed right up against a wall. Run out of town. Chased up a tree. You get the picture, don't you? I was forced to use chocolate to make this cake. Forced I tell you! But let's get serious there any other way??

I used a Hershey's One-Bowl Chocolate Cake recipe, and it was fabulous!

2 cups white sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour pan(s). In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center and add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes at medium speed. Stir in boiling water. Pour into pan(s). Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack and continue cooling.

My new stove has a w-i-d-e window in the door. LOVE IT!

Sorry about the blurry photo. At first I thought it was my eyes (again), but then I realized that my camera battery was fading. But with the smell of chocolate hanging heavily in the air....who cares if it's a little blurry?

After letting the cake completely cool on a rack, I inverted it onto a glass cake plate and voila!

Although I had planned to serve this with a scoop of chocolate and peppermint ice cream, something else was missing. Hmmm. Seems to me that Bailey's Hot Fudge Sauce would make this cake sing! What is Bailey's you ask?? Bailey's was an ice cream parlor originally founded in Boston, but growing up I remember going to a Bailey's in other towns as well. There was nothing like a sundae from Bailey's. NOTHING. The floors were always very clean and shiny. The areas around the perimeter of the shop were dotted with dime-sized tables with ice cream parlor chairs. The soda fountain area was always gleaming. Ice Cream flavors were listed above the mirrors behind the counter and the Soda Jerk was always dressed in a white shirt and little black bowtie. I just love that name...Soda Jerk. When we were kids we used to think it meant "Give me a soda.....ya jerk!" I believe the Soda Jerks also wore pants too, but I was always too short to lean over the counter and check.

For those who may need a reminder, a Bailey's Sundae was always served in a silver pedestal dish on top of a small silver plate. The silver plate was used to catch any drips or dollops of hot fudge that happened to slide off of your ice cream. Because you can't waste hot fudge. Especially Bailey's Hot Fudge. My mother told me that would be a sin.

After sucking down finishing your Sundae, Bailey's always had a water fountain at the end of the counter with little paper cups. Why was it that the cold water from Bailey's tasted so good after a Hot Fudge Sundae?? We just couldn't get enough of it!

Now, there are several versions of Bailey's Hot Fudge recipe online, but after several taste "tests" over the years, I believe this one is THE one. In any case, it's the one that my taste buds remember from that marble soda fountain many years ago.

You will need:

1 stick of Butter
2-3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup Evaporated Milk
2 cups Confectioners Sugar

Take a deep breath and melt the stick of butter over low heat.

Add the chocolate and allow it to melt into the butter. Keep breathing deeply.

Add half of the evaporated milk portion to the chocolate and butter mixture and whisk together.

Don't forget to breathe.

Add the Confectioners Sugar one cup at a time alternating with the remaining portion of evaporated milk.

Sweet. Moses.

Help me.

I shook lots and lots of confectioners sugar onto the top of the cake just before serving. The sugar stuck in all the nooks and crannies and really highlighted the cake's shape.

Doesn't it look pretty?? Thank you Auntie!

Then I cut out one of the "snow-covered" tree's in the cake and served it with a scoop of chocolate ice cream and a generous ladleful serving of Bailey's Hot Fudge.
Don't you just love the Holidays?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go put on my stretch pants.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Shiny and New!

It's almost finished.

Maybe you didn't hear me. I said, IT'S ALMOST FINISHED!
Somebody pinch me.

It's so close, I can almost taste it. It's really happening. After all these months, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have some "snippet" photos for you. You didn't really think I was going to show you the entire kitchen yet, did you??? I'm saving the big reveal for when it's completely finished. (God will be in our lifetime.) But all in's really moving along.

My floor is finished.

My cabinets are installed.

And today, on the eve of an east coast Blizzard, my shiny new stainless appliances were delivered.

My new granite countertops are being installed next Wednesday and all of the kitchen sink plumbing will be hooked up by next Sunday. Notice how I have suddenly taken personal possession of the components of this renovation. "My" floor..."my cabinets". It's not totally unlike someone talking about their child, is it? All I know is after this renovation, I've earned the ownership rights to all of it. I feel like I sweated through a couple of months of labor and today I pushed out a gargantuan, beautiful stainless steel side-by-side refrigerator.

I think I'll name him Perry.

Friday, December 11, 2009



My new hardwood floor is down and polyurethaned. Dare I say it? Okay, I'll say it......the word on the street is that the upper cabinets are going in this weekend. The countdown to the completion of this new kitchen has officially begun! I can only hope that the light I see at the end of this tunnel is not the light of an oncoming train.

Is everyone having fun baking Holiday Cookies (sniff) WITHOUT ME????

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Are We There Yet?

We are now entering into Day #62 of what will forever be known as The Great Kitchen Renovation of 2009. This is a project that my father totally avoided doing in the years after my mother passed away in 1986. When asked why he didn't want to update the 1966 kitchen, he would always say jokingly, "I'll let the "next owner" deal with it". Well guess what?


(Insert screaming here.)

Let's the novice kitchen renovator nothing much has changed from the last photo I posted. But to me, "The Anxious Baker" many details have been completed and all of a sudden......everything is starting to gel.

I am very excited about this.

I have had herds of sub-contractors traipsing in and out of my house for the past month and with the exception of being completely financially eviscerated by the plumbing contractor, all has gone relatively smoothly.

Can I be serious here for a moment, because this is an important suggestion. If I had children of my own (and I am thankful that I don't), I would strongly encourage them to pursue a career in plumbing.

Forget college. Parents save your money. Take that college tuition and go on that second honeymoon, buy that flat screen T.V. Spend it any way you can. Let's face it, college is just a reason to give these kids another four years to decide what they want to do in life. Then they'll spend the next 25 years paying off their college loan....or'll have to. In my case, just one kitchen plumbing job by what turned out to be an extremely high-ended local plumbing bandit contractor is almost all that is needed to pay off all four years of your child's college tuition. Trust me with this. I wouldn't lie to you. Financial Consultants and Marketing Analysts will come and go .......but poop is forever! Eventually, everyone needs to hire someone to shovel it........and because no one else wants to do it, they can charge whatever the heck they want to. AND THEY DO!!!!! 'Nuff said. Except that in my next life.....I want to be a plumber. Most of my life is spent neck deep in "it" anyway so I may as well get paid to shovel it too.

Back to our regularly scheduled program, the ceiling guy arrives tomorrow, the drywall is up, the hardwood floor is down and today I purchased all new appliances to be delivered in three weeks. Did you hear me?? I said ALL NEW! Can I get an Amen?? Wahoo! Many thanks to all of you who have been sending me encouraging emails throughout this process. I know myself and my kitchen will be better for it. So, I'm off to sweep up some more plaster and start on Chapter Four of "Plumber, Shlumber, You Can Do It Yourself".

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Baking, Interrupted.

I have the Kitchen Renovation Blues.

Now hear this. All baking will be suspended until further notice....or until I can haul all of my pots and pans over to my sister Kathy's. As much as I am looking forward to having a new kitchen, it sure is a rough ride to get there. Sweet Moses, I have a birthday cake due for next weekend too. (sigh)

Thank you for your attention. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Are You A Happy Camper?

I hate camping.

Okay, I realize that "hate" is a strong word, so let's just say that I despise camping. I detest camping. I loathe camping. I abhor camping. I have an aversion to camping. Is that better?

I've been camping several times in my life. I have to admit that my earliest camping memories were extremely pleasant ones. I was twelve years old. But then who doesn't like camping at twelve? We had family friends who had a camp site on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and they invited us up at least twice every summer. My sister Kathy and I loved it. Now I tell you mother would have rather thrown herself down on a bed of nails then spend a weekend communing with nature. But because they were good family friends, she went anyway.

Our friends had a swell campsite complete with a huge firepit, two huge dark green tents, a camper and a trailer. My parents (of course) stayed in the main trailer and all of the kids, five in total, slept in sleeping bags in the tents. With the bugs. Tents that smelled like mildew. But I didn't care.

I was twelve.

I loved the fact that when morning came, we jumped out of our sleeping bags and we were already dressed. How great was that? After bolting down a glass of milk and a Pop Tart, we headed down the gravelly road to the lake. Our friends had a couple of boats and all of the kids would head down to the docks and hang out around the boats all day. In fact, I can vividly recall when four of us, all ages 12 and under, took a small motorboat out on the lake by ourselves for most of the day. By ourselves. We were told by our parents to wear life jackets and to " be careful". We did and we were. What a blast! Do kids do stuff like that anymore? Why was it not such a big deal back then but in today's society, someone would probably call Social Services? Anyone?

My next camping experience was when I was 21. Myself and a group of friends decided to go camping at Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod. I borrowed a tent from a neighbor and we headed down for the weekend. I remember that there was a huge party going on at one of our neighboring campsites. It was late and they were loud. It was also really cold and had started to rain. Technically it is still "summer" at the end of August, but when you're in the the rain, you may as well be sitting on a glacier in Alaska. We ended up packing up our gear (in the pouring cold rain) and headed to friend's house in a nearby town. My friend's mother took pity on me and my shivering friends and let us stay in one of her rental cottages for the night. For free of course.

My last camping trip was about ten years ago. My good friends Donna and Bill have a place at Point Sebago in Maine. I have to say that out of all of my camping experiences, this one was by far..............the best. I stayed in a a bed......with clean, crisp sheets. It was warm and cozy. In the morning, I woke to Donna frying up bacon in a skillet just outside my window. As I sleepily emerged from the trailer, she handed me a fresh cup of coffee and directed me to a comfortable camp chair. Now THAT'S my idea of camping.

My project this week guessed it....... a camping theme. The cake was to be in celebration of a couple's 30th wedding anniversary and they were avid campers. So many options with this one. What to do? What to do? So I started with the basics...............

I shaped the tent using a firm piece of cardboard and set it down to dry for a couple of days.

I carefully carved out a section to use for the "river". In hindsight, I could have easily spread the "river" on top, but I wanted the "water" frosting to sit into the cake instead of riding on top of it.

Then I coated the cut-out "riverbed" with buttercream...

...and covered the entire cake in fondant. Please note the gaping hole in the wall behind the cake. No.........I do not have termites. It's just kitchen renovation "stuff".

I used a piece of clear plastic to shape and form the waterfall. I didn't want the "water" to just come down straight and stick to the cake. Water going over the edge of something sort of arcs outward, then down. Aren't you terribly impressed with the creative thought process used?? (insert rolling of the eyes here)

So I coated the plastic with buttercream and attached it to the edge of the top layer of cake.

I initially wanted the waterfall to end up in a little pond, but I ran out of space.

There's always a little "stinker" on every camping trip, right?

Stories anyone???

This was my first visualization of the legs inside the tent, but I thought it looked a little too "Tony Soprano-ish", so I opted for a more playful they're still BREATHING.

See? This is much better. More fun, but I really need a class in the fine art of toe sculpting. Or maybe I just need a stronger prescription for my glasses. It's hard to do a clean finish on something so small. Next time I'll need to use some teeny tiny fondant tools. And a giant magnifying glass. And a searchlight with 100,000 candlepower. Moses, I think I need brighter bulbs!

Don't you just love the smell of a campfire??? What does it remind you of? (Please note that all Firefighters are exempt from this line of questioning) I am mentally whisked away to the state of New Hampshire. Live Free or Die, baby. Or maybe it just gives me a New Hampshire state of mind. I don't know. It reminds me of warm blankets, rustling brightly colored Fall leaves and hot chocolate. (Ahh, yes, of course you knew that chocolate had to be included in there somewhere.) Yes, we have campfires and bonfires in Massachusetts too, but for some reason it doesn't conjure up the same snug feeling. I just love it.

This vaguely reminds me of one of the tents at Lake Winnipesaukee, only this one doesn't smell of mildew. The "trees" are fondant covered Oreo Ice Cream Cones......nibbled cut down to fit, of course.

Cool rushing water. Looks good enough to eat, doesn't it? Oh wait.

You can.

So tell me your stories......I'm dying to hear them.