Monday, September 28, 2009

The Cupcake Tower

A few months ago, I was asked to make cupcakes for a Bat Mitzvah planned for early in September 2009. After the initial consultation, I came up with the brilliant idea that the cupcakes should be displayed on a beautiful, tall tower-like stand........until I realized that I didn't have one. Not to worry, I thought. September is a hundred years from now, I have "plenty" of time to figure out what I'm going to use for a cupcake tower.
What?? It's September already?? Crap! Excuse me....but I have to go build a tower.
After cruising the aisles at Lowe's, I decided that pre-cut one inch rounds would work better than using square cuts. I also picked up a one inch round dowel (like you have in your closets) and had them cut six inch sections. Then it was off to AC Moore to buy pre-fab knobs to use as "feet".

This is my fabulous assistant Brenna, also known as my 6 year-old niece. She stayed with me throughout the entire building process, securing screws and also helping drill pilot holes (with very little assistance actually) for the dowels.

After a while, Emily became very bored with the activity and sleepily watched us from underneath the kitchen table.

Initially, this was to be only three tiers..........but I knew I had to display 200 cupcakes, so it needed to be bigger. I ended up caving and adding another tier in the eleventh hour.

I tinted fondant apple green and chocolate brown and cut them into quarter-sized circles. After letting them completely dry out (about 3 days), I mixed up a batch of royal icing and piped the guest-of-honor's intitial on each "medallion".

The plan was to make a total of 175 cupcakes. Half were chocolate cake and half were vanilla cake. Then...half of the chocolate cupcakes would be decorated in deep, dark chocolate and the other half would be vanilla mint flavoring and colored a beautiful fern green. (Sorry, I thought I took photos of the green, excuse me)

After sanding and priming the tower, I gave it two coats of satin finish and let it completely dry for about 3 days. Then I lightly sanded and used a clear poly spray glaze.

Since the colors of the event were chocolate brown and fern green, I coordinated ribbon to the tower using adhesive putty.

This stuff is GREAT!

You can use as much or as little as you need and it stays in place until you decide to move it. Hmmmmm, what else can I use it for...................................

I painted the tower in my garage and decided to take advantage of the large fluorescent light there when placing the ribbon. Notice the two containers of antifreeze in the background? Nice touch, huh?

Isn't this the deepest, darkest chocolate frosting that you have ever seen???


I used fresh greens on each tier under the cupcakes. It gives the whole thing a more finished look and makes more of a statement, don't you think? (although I think I should have used more) Overall, I was quite pleased with the outcome of the tower. The event was held in a tent outdoors and the table that was provided for the cupcakes wasn't placed on level ground, so all of my photos of the tower make it look tilted.

So just so you know, it's not my tower that's tilted.........

It's the table.

Friday, September 25, 2009


When I was first asked to make a "Sushi" Cake for a birthday party........although I am a sushi fan, my first reaction was......Oh Moses, how am I going to pull this off? But after a few rough drawings, I had a plan, and it went something like this.......

I used a carrot cake baked in a 9 x 13 pan. After leveling it off, I covered it in white fondant and let it dry and "set up" for about 12 hours.

I took white foamboard and cut it to about 12 x 16, then used edible food markers to decorate the board in a grid.

Then I mixed a "potion" of brown food coloring with vodka. Yes, you heard, and using a an inch wide paint brush, I painted on the color. The goal was to eventually end up with something that looked like wood. When dry, the vodka remains very shiny and has a nice lacquered quality.

The next step was to create "sushi" pieces from fondant. In looking back, I think the pieces are a bit too thick and I'll remember to roll out the fondant a little more thinly next time.

The ginger and wasabi........also made of fondant.

The chopsticks were made from fondant and allowed to dry for about 4 days. Then I used black food coloring and........yes, you guessed, to paint a black lacquered finish.

Tanjoubi Omedetou !
(Happy Birthday)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And the Winner is..............


......and the winner of the Snap, Krackle, Pop "WTF" Contest is.........

Beth said that the Rice Krispy Treats were going to be a pregnant woman used for a cake topper for a Baby Shower Cake.
I hope.
This was a close horse race everyone. There were so many people that had the right answer that I had to select the winner according to the time that it was posted into the comment section.
Til' next time!!!! Thanks everyone!!!
Beth, please email me at to claim your prize.

Snap, Krackle, Pop!

Okay. I think I'm safe in saying that this qualifies as a candidate for the WTF category. This is a stretch of imagination........even for me. Oh, the things you can make with Rice Krispy Treats!

I left this little project perched on an upturned mug in the refrigerator and almost forgot about it until I removed the half and half for my coffee this morning. I'm going to have nightmares about this one, I just know it. Now please excuse me while I clean up the floor and go change my pants.

So......anyone want to take a running stab at what it will be when it's finished? The first person to correctly and specifically identify this little work-in-progress will receive a brand-new shiny set of measuring spoons from "my happy place".....William Sonoma.

You have until 8pm Wednesday, Sept 23rd. Winner to be revealed shortly thereafter.
Ready, set..............go!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Field of Dreams

I have always been known to be a bit impulsive.

Like the time I bought my Jeep Cherokee. I bought it without taking it for a test drive. I liked the color, it had air conditioning and low mileage. Sold! And I had it for eleven years. Or the time I drove to Washington D.C. from Boston on a Friday night to see a friend because I was bored. Please keep in mind that these were some of my antics from many years ago. I am a bit more responsible now. Well.....almost.

My absolute peach of an uncle has been ill. Radiation treatments tend to do that. (Oh I'm sorry....have I mentioned yet that cancer sucks?) So last weekend I impulsively booked an airline reservation and was on a plane headed south within 24 hours. However, not before visiting one of my uncle's favorite Dorchester bakeries to purchase a few loaves of fresh "bakery bread" and a dozen Black and White cookies. When I landed at the airport in South Carolina, I rented a car and drove out to their house in the country. Unannounced. Because I thought it would be more fun that way.
And it was.

I started visiting my Aunt Grace, Uncle Bill and cousins in South Carolina in 1971. I was ah-um.....well, never mind how old I was. Doesn't matter. Anyway, going to SC was always fun. As a teenager it was always an adventure. It was hot and dusty in the summertime, but there were always horses and dirtbikes to ride until the cows came home. No seriously, we really watched the cows come home.

When I lived in Charleston, S.C. in the early 90's, I traveled the four hours west at least once a month for three years. I never had to announce my arrival because they always expected me. I merely walked in, dropped my bag in "my" room (which had been so designated many years before) and headed out to the pool.

Of course there were many times when they came to visit me in Charleston instead......

It is always an adventure spending time with these two!

But it's the place known as "Graceland" that will always be special to me.

These are the gates at the very end of their driveway. Yes, that's my cousin Marg's house in the background. My uncle and cousins built it and it is stunning! Stunning I tell you. What's that? No,'s not really that close to my Aunt and Uncle's house. Okay,'s in their front yard. But they have a really, really, really BIG front yard.

Named by my uncle, in honor of my Aunt Grace, it has and always will be a home-away-from-home for me. It is a place always filled with life, family, laughter and love. I have heard that there is another place somewhere in Tennessee also named Graceland. Something about it being a famous singer's home?? I don't know, but wherever the heck it is, I'm sure they copied the idea from my Uncle Bill. (wink, wink)

This is my aunt and uncle's dining room. Lots and lots of chocolate has been spilled served here.

South Carolina. My Uncle Bill has always been known to say, "What a beautiful place to live". And. It. Is. I know this to be true because once upon a time I lived there too. This is the view from their front door. Nothing but miles and miles of fields. The beauty of this land never fails to take my breath away.

This is my uncle's dog, Ruffo. Isn't she sweet? I just love her. She was a stray and showed up on my aunt and uncle's doorstep about a year ago. She adores my Uncle Bill and is a fierce protector of all of the children. She will challenge any unfamiliar visitors to the property and will bark formidably when an unknown car meanders down the driveway. Nothing gets by her, so don't even try.

My uncle is a builder....and he is a great builder too. Not only of homes, but also of dreams. He, my aunt and cousins have created such a successful business in the's a family business which has been steadily built on a foundation of blood, sweat and tears. All of it.........back breaking work.

And one time.........literally.

I remember when this "Walk of Fame" was created in the backyard by the pool. My aunt wanted everyone from the family to put their handprint in the wet cement of the walkway on the upper section closest to the house. It worked for everyone but my cousin, George. He wasn't there that day.....and the cement was drying quickly. The next day the cement on the upper walkway had set. George showed up and left his handprint on the lower walkway about 8 feet away from the rest of the family. My aunt was extremely disappointed and wasted no time telling my uncle that she just would not be happy until George was "in his rightful place". My cousins and I watched in awe as my uncle patiently jackhammered a small section of cement out so George could be "moved up" on the walkway. It took him all afternoon.

But he finished it.

(Personally, I would have cheerfully handed my Aunt the jackhammer)

Hmmmm....."How did she make it into the Walk of Fame??"

Anyway, during my surprise Labor Day visit, I thought it would be fun to get everyone involved in a recipe. What better than a big batch of homemade Cinnamon Rolls? The recipe belongs to Pioneer Woman (Ree) and I have to tell you that it is the perfect recipe to get a group of people involved in. Everyone can and did help. My uncle Bill sat comfortably in a large easychair in the corner of the kitchen, happy to be in the midst of all the hustle bustle and confusion. His eyes twinkled as he followed my every move at the stove. He told me that he also had a recipe for Cinnamon Rolls and he used to make them all the time.

Are you challenging me to a "Cinnamon Roll Throwdown" Uncle Bill?? Well, step it up and bring it on, dude! I'm buttering up another set of pans as we speak.

Hey........ Nice Buns! Why, thank you!

The recipe for these Cinnamon Rolls is an easy one. Although I'll list ingredients through the photographs, here's the full recipe. Because once you've tried these babies, there's no goin' back. Ever. You'll be hooked. Your family will be hooked. Your friends won't be able to look upon your face without drooling. So fasten your seatbelts, you're in for a wild ride.... because after you taste these rolls, your life will never be quite the same again.

Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls

1 quart of whole milk
1 cup of vegetable oil
1 cup of granulated sugar
2 packages Active Dry Yeast
8 plus 1 cups of all purpose flour
1 heaping tsp baking powder
1 "scant" tsp baking soda
1 heaping tablespoon salt
1 to 4 cups melted butter
2 cups of sugar (for the filling)
Lots and lots of cinnamon
Chopped pecans or walnuts for sprinkling (optional)

Maple Frosting
1 - 2 lb. bag of powdered sugar
2 teaspoons maple flavoring
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup of brewed coffee
1/8 teaspoon of salt

Mix the milk, vegetable oil and sugar in a pan. "Scald" the mixture (until just before it boils), then turn off the heat and leave to cool about 45 minutes to 1 hour. When it is lukewarm, sprinkle in both packs of Active Dry Yeast. Let this sit for a minute. Now add 8 cups of all purpose flour. Stir it all up, cover and go play touch football or something while it rises for at least an hour.

Now add 1 more cup of flour, the baking powder, baking soda and the salt. Stir it all together. Now you can do one of two things. You can cover the dough and put it into the fridge until you need it (overnight), or you can jump right in and start baking.

Sprinkle your surface with flour. Take half the dough and form a rectangle. Roll the dough thin. Drizzle 1 1/2 to 2 cups melted butter over the dough. Now sprinkle 1 cup of sugar over the butter followed by a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. Now, starting on the long side of the dough, begin rolling the dough neatly in a line. Keep the roll tight as you go. Pinch the seam to the roll to seal it. Spray your pans with non-stick spray (or just butter them up). Begin cutting the rolls approximately 3/4 to 1 inch thick and laying them in the pans. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough. Let the rolls rise in the pans for about 15-20 minutes then bake at 400 degrees until light golden brown, about 15 - 20 minutes.

For the frosting, mix together all ingredients and stir well until smooth. It should be thick but pourable. Generously drizzle over the warm rolls.
(Thanks Ree!)

First, assemble your ingredients!

Then grab a sturdy pot. In this case I happened to grab my Aunt's 7 1/2 quart Le Creuset Dutch Oven. Aside from costing a small fortune, I marveled at the sheer weight of it. You could use it as a boat anchor. For the Queen Mary. Ever since seeing the movie Julie & Julia (the Julia Child story) I have wanted one. Surprisingly, I found this same dutch oven wrapped securely in a bag, hidden neatly away behind the driver's seat in my rental car as I left for the airport. Such a fabulous surprise! Thanks Auntie, I love it! Aside from being sternly warned by smiling airport security personnel that I was not allowed to bake on board the aircraft, the big blue pot, (forever more referred to as "Big Blue") and I flew home without further incident. It was so heavy I thought they were going to make me buy it a seat, but I was whistling Dixie all the way home. So in answer to my cousin Lisa's question.....yes, I do know where your mother's big, blue Le Creuset Dutch Oven is. Do you need to borrow it? (insert big smile here) Anyway, where was I? Ah was the perfect pot for our buns. Er, ah, our Cinnamon Buns.

Add the milk , vegetable oil and sugar to the pot over low heat and whisk together. "Scald", then remove from heat and let it cool for about an hour.

When it is lukewarm, add the yeast and let it sit for about 1 minute.

Then measure out 8 cups of all-purpose flour and add to the mixture.

Mix it well, then cover with the pot lid or a damp dishtowel and leave it undisturbed to rise for about an hour.

Then add one more cup of flour, the baking powder, baking soda and the salt. Mix it all together.




....use a whisk when mixing up any type of bread dough.

But always, always, always play a little touch football while the dough is rising. It's so good for the soul.

After about an hour, this is what it will look like. You'll know when it's ready when the dough has puffed up high...... but just before it swells up over the sides of the pot and swallows up your family.... punch it down, call in the kids from the yard, scrub up and get ready to rumble.

Start by having a helper with a giant hand sprinkle flour over a clean and dry work surface.

Then have another helper roll out half of the dough into a rectangular shape. Or something vaguely similiar.

Then have a smiling, friendly helper like Steven here, measure about 4 sticks of butter into a heatproof bowl and melt it in the microwave. You heard me. Butter. Lots and lots of butter, boy!

Steven is a huge help in the kitchen. For example,he doesn't need to stand on a chair to pluck something off the top shelf ........ever. I am thinking that my next adventure with Steven will be apple picking.

I think my arteries just hardened.

Drizzle half of all of that lovely, lovely butter up, down and all over the rectangle of dough. Save the the rest for the other half of the dough.

While doing this please............... try not to faint.

Then, have the same giant hand sprinkle granulated sugar and cinnamon over the melted butter. Again......hang onto something. It's intense.

DANG! Look at the butter oozing all over the counter. Who's got a spoon?

Now, carefully roll the rectangle up lengthwise. Yes the butter will ooze out on the counter. Isn't it lovely? When you are finished rolling you will have a large "jellyroll" of dough. Now, using a sharp knife, slice it up into pinwheels. Half of the dough from the big, blue pot will fill four pans with eight slices to a pan. Who wants to do the math?? Who said 32 slices?? Yes you in the back of the are correct. Please see me after class.

In case you're wondering, the reason why I don't use all of the dough at the same time is because the roll would be 6 feet long! Trust me, it's much easier to do one half at a time.
On the subject of pans, I usually use the inexpensive aluminum throwaway kind. They usually come in a pack of eight and although I get them in bulk at the Christmas Tree Shop, I think you can pick them up cheaply pretty much anywhere.

Once the slices are in the pans, set them aside for about 20 minutes for a final rise before baking.

Then they all go into the oven at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until they are a light golden brown.

For the frosting, pour the entire bag of powdered sugar into a large bowl. Add the maple flavoring, milk, melted butter, brewed coffee and salt and mix it all up. Flex up! You will have to use all of your muscles for this!

When it's finished, it will look like this....sweet and rich.....just like I like my............ oh, never mind.

Now carefully, without fainting again......pour over each pan of warm rolls.

Pour it all over Sweet Cheeks......everywhere......all the nooks and crannies! You can do it.

Once again, I found that at this stage of the baking process, many faces magically appeared in the kitchen. It happens almost everytime I bake at Graceland. Some of the faces are familiar. Some, I've never seen before. Where do they come from? The answer is as plain as the corn grown in the fields along the country roads.

"If you bake it......

.....they will come."