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Archive for Valentine’s Day

TIP OF THE DAY: Piñata Cake

Our job includes a lot of research, which often turns up surprising things.

One of this is piñata cake, a concept that originated in the U.K. and is also popular in Australia.

We also found it in Germany, called surprise cake.

You don’t hit a piñata cake with a stick. It’s when you cut into the cake that the treasures (candy) spill out.

The treasures are theme candies that fill a “secret” center well in the cake. The well is cut after the layers are baked, so you can place anything in the well without fear of melting.

(If you’re in the chips, silver dollars would be nice!)

The uncut top layer then goes on top of the well layers, and the whole cake is frosted.

A four-layer cake is recommended to have enough room for lots of candy to tumble out.

You can make them in any occasion. We’re keeping a recipe for a Valentine’s Day: a red velvet cake in red and pink layers, filled with Valentine candy.
 
IT’S EASY!

“We can’t stress enough just how easy these cakes are,” says The Whoot in Australia. “Everyone will think you must have gone to so much effort.

“It has a very festive look and you can make it in colors to suit any theme.”

The only caveats are:

  • You need to bake a dense cake. The cake circle needs to be hardy to hold the sweets in the well.That means no no airy cakes, angel cakes or sponge cakes.
  • Don’t cut too wide a well. The perimeter needs to be sturdy enough to hold up the cake.
  •  
    THE HISTORY OF PIÑATA CAKE

    A 2015 article in London’s The Daily Mail says that “Asda kicked off the trend last year with their Smartie pinata cake and Lakeland [a manufacturer] soon followed, selling all the paraphernalia needed to create ‘surprise’ cake.”

    Asda is a supermarket chain in the U.K., that first created the cake for sale in its stores.

    After the success of the cake, Asda printed the recipe on its lifestyle website.

    The first cookbook with a piñata cake recipe seems to be Cakeology by Juliet Sear, published in 2015.

    She notes that piñata cakes had become popular in the past year, i.e., 2014.
     
    PIÑATA CAKE FOR EASTER

    For a holiday in which the Easter Bunny brings baskets full of surprises, piñata cake this makes a great holiday cake.

    Carrot cake, the favorite of the Easter Bunny, is both theme-appropriate and dense.

    If you have the frosting skills, you can you can make a basket weave frosting, turning the “piñata” into an Easter basket filled with Easter treats.

    Of course, piñata cake works for any holiday, any occasion, any theme colors. The decorations on top can be as simple or ornate as you wish.

    Ask someone else to cut the cake, and be the first to see the surprise.

     

    Pinata Cake

    Pinata Cake

    Pinata Cake

    Pinata Cake

    Some of the many ways to create a piñata cake. Links to the recipes are below.

     
    RECIPES

    Here are the recipes in the photos:

  • Cake #1: piñata cake recipe in spring pastels, from Australia’s In The Playroom.
  • Photo #2: a glamorous piñata cake recipe* from Germany’s Dr. Oetker, which calls it a surprise cake.
  • Cake #3: a rainbow piñata cake recipe from Bakers Corner, Australia
  • Cake #4: The secret well. Photo courtesy Cakeology.
  •  
    CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CAKES IN OUR CAKE GLOSSARY.
     
    ________________

    *The recipe is in German and uses Dr. Oetker baking products. We present the photo as a guideline for the most elegant piñata cake we found. You can cut and paste the recipe into Google Translate if you want a translation.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Stenciled Cheese For Holidays (St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas…)

    Add a little luck of the Irish to cheese and other foods, by creating a shamrock garnish made of herbs.

    You can apply the same technique to other themes: Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day hearts, stars for Christmas, Independence Day and New Year’s, pumpkins for Halloween, and so forth.

    You also can use edible glitter, which provides no flavor but adds gorgeous color.

    Spices allow you to play with the colors of the garnish, for example:

  • For Christmas, make separate stencils for green herbs and red spices.
  • Red spices for hearts: cayenne, chile flakes, kebab masala, paprika, red tandoori spice blend.
  • Yellow spices or gold glitter for stars: coriander seeds, cumin, curry, fenugreek, ras el hanout, turmeric.
  • Orange spices for Halloween and Thanksgiving: Cajun seasoning, tandoori masala.
  •  
    RECIPE: STENCILED CHEESE

    Select any cheese(s) that’s moist enough to hold the herbs: burrata, cream cheese log, goat cheese log, feta, fresh mozzarella, paneer, queso panela or ricotta salata.

    Print out the shamrock stencil (or other design) here. Print out a few copies for cutting practice.

    You can make a regular stencil or a reverse stencil, both shown in the photo.

    Ingredients

  • Assorted fresh herbs, finely chopped
  • Cheese(s) of choice
  • Paper stencil
  • Small piece plastic wrap
  • For serving: bread, crackers, fruit
  •  
    ________________
    *Blend two or three herbs: dill, chervil, chives, parsley or tarragon, etc.

     

    Shamrock Cheese

    Herb & Spice Colors

    [1] Shamrock style with a stencil (photo and recipe idea courtesy Vermont Creamery). [2] Spices and herbs provide colors for any occasion (photo courtesy Renegade Expressions).

     
    Preparation

    1. CUT out the shamrock stencil and press it firmly onto the cheese.

    2. PRESS the herbs into the stencil. You can place a piece of plastic wrap over the herbs for easier pressing.

    3. GENTLY PEEL off the plastic and stencil. Clean the lines with a pointed tweezers, as needed.

    4. SERVE with bread, crackers and fruit (apples, grapes, orange/mandarin segments, pears, etc).
     
     
    TIP FOR SLICED FRUIT

    Instead of coating apples or pears in lemon juice to keep them from browning, coat them in calcium-fortified 100% apple juice.

    Here are more ways to keep fruits from browning.

      

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    RECIPE: Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes, Homemade Chocolate Cherries & Cherry Liqueur

    George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree, but you can still celebrate his birthday (either Presidents Day or his actual birthday, February 22nd) with something cherry.

    Here, we have three options: chocolate cherry cupcakes, chocolate cherry cordials, and cherry liqueur (the last one you can make today, but you need several weeks for it to infuse. It will be ready by Mother’s Day.

    The first recipe was developed by Jen of the website Baked By An Introvert. She notes that “This recipe was inspired by my favorite candy, chocolate covered cherries.”

    The chocolate cupcakes have a “surprise” filling of cherry preserves; and the buttercream also has some cherry preserves for color and flavor. You can use plain buttercream if you prefer, tinted pink.

    Prep time is 20 minutes, cook time is 20 minutes.

    Before you start baking, make it a point to look at all the wonderful recipes on BakedByAnIntrovert.com.

    RECIPE #1: CHOCOLATE CHERRY CUPCAKES

    Ingredients For 20 Cupcakes

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup black cherry preserves or regular cherry preserves
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry liqueur)
  • Optional garnish: chocolate-covered cherries with stems (purchase or make)
  • Other garnishes: Hershey’s Kisses (unwrapped), fresh stemmed cherries in season, brandied cherries (recipe)
  •  
    For The Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup black cherry preserves (substitute red cherry preserves)
  •    

    Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

    Bowl Of Pink Frosting

    [1] Pretty as a picture: chocolate cherry cupcakes from Baked By An Introvert. [2] If you want to play against the cherry filling, tint plain buttercream pink or make this pink champagne frosting from Wicked Good Kitchen.

  • Substitute for preserves: red food color to tint frosting pink, or this pink champagne frosting recipe
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F, line 12 muffin cups with paper liners (or 20 muffin cups, if you have two pans). Set aside.

    2. BEAT in a large bowl until fluffy the oil, butter and sugars. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla. In a separate bowl…

    3. WHISK together the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Gradually add it to the wet ingredients, along with the milk. First add some of the dry mixture, then some milk, then some dry mixture, repeating as necessary and beating after each addition. The contents should be well blended.

    4. SPOON 2 tablespoons of batter into each paper cup. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean (with only a few dry crumbs). Remove the cupcakes from the pan(s), and cool completely on a wire rack. When cool…

    5. CUT a small well in the top center of each cupcakes, using the point of a sharp knife. Fill but don’t stuff the well with cherry preserves, and replace the top portion of the cupcake. (Nibble on the well pieces or keep them in a plastic snack bag to toss on ice cream or yogurt.)

    6. MAKE the frosting. Using a hand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until fluffy. Gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar; then beat in the cream until the frosting reaches your desired spreading consistency. Then beat in the preserves or food color to tint pink. Garnish and serve.

    TIP FROM JEN: If the frosting becomes too loose or curdled looking, add more powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time until the frosting comes together again.

     

    Chocolate Covered Cherries

    Chocolate Dipped Cherries

    Kirsch

     

    RECIPE #2: CHOCOLATE-COVERED CHERRY CORDIALS

    Making chocolate-covered cherries is as easy as dipping strawberries or other fruit in chocolate: Melt the chocolate, dip the fruit and let dry.

    However, if you want to make cherry cordials—with the cherry floating in syrup, here’s a recipe Taste Of Home (photos #3 and 4).

    Prep time is 25 minutes plus chilling.

    Ingredients For 36 Pieces

  • 2-1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 jars (8 ounces each) maraschino cherries with stems, well drained (we placed them on paper towels, too)
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate (quality chocolate or chocolate chips)
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the sugar, butter, milk and extract in a small bowl. Knead until smooth and pliable. Shape into 1-inch balls and flatten each into a 2-inch circle.

    2. WRAP one circle around each cherry and lightly roll in your hands. Place with stems up on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Cover loosely and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

    3. MELT the chocolate and shortening in the microwave; stirring until smooth (the shortening helps the chocolate adhere to the cherry). Holding onto the stems, dip the cherries into the chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off. Place them waxed paper until the chocolate is set. Store in a covered container. Refrigerate for 1-2 weeks before serving, to allow the flavors to meld.

    RECIPE #3: MAKE CHERRY LIQUEUR

    You can’t have it today; it takes 40 days to infuse (photo #5).

    But here’s how, from Balkan Lunchbox.

    ____________________
    Captions For Photos:

    [3] Make your own chocolate covered cherries (photo courtesy Taste Of Home).

    [4] It’s more than dipping fruit: You create the almond-nuanced syrup inside the chocolate shell, too (photo courtesy Choclatique).

    [5] Finish with homemade cherry liqueur (photo courtesy Balkan Lunch Box).

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Types Of Meringue, Plus Red Wine Meringue Cookies

    All meringue begins the same: with egg whites beaten with some form of sugar. But from there, pastry chefs evolved different preparation techniques to produce different results.

    You may think of meringue as cookies, or dessert cups that hold fruit or mousse, like vacherins or pavlovas*. It can also be made into a cake layer (dacquoise), or float, freshly beaten, in a sea of creme anglaise.

    The Difference Between Pavlova & Vacherin

    Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert or formed into a crisp shell. It is filled with fresh fruit, ice cream, mousse and/or whipped cream.

    Vacherin is also made of crisp meringue, but typically formed into layers that are filled with almond paste, fruits, ice cream and/or whipped cream.

    Essendially, they use the same ingredients, but style them differently.

    (Note that vacherin is also the name of a cow’s milk cheese made in France and Switzerland).

    TYPES OF MERINGUE

    French Meringue

    That’s classic meringue, a dry meringue also called basic meringue.

    Egg whites are beaten until they form soft peaks. Then sugar—ideally superfine sugar, which you can make it by pulsing table sugar in a food processor—is slowly incorporated to maximize volume. This results in soft, airy, light peaks that stand up straight—for a while, anyway (they’ll ultimately deflate).

    French meringue is spooned or piped into dessert shells (such as vacherins) and cake layers (as in a dacquoise), and baked, later to be topped with fruit, mousse, or whipped cream.

    It is also often folded into batter to make lady fingers, sponge cakes and soufflés.

    Italian Meringue

    A softer style of meringue, Italian meringue can top a lemon meringue pie or Baked Alaska.

    One of our favorite childhood desserts, Floating Island (île flottante in French), consists of beaten egg whites form into “islands” and set in a sea of custard sauce (crème anglaise).

    After the whites have been whipped to firm peaks, boiling sugar syrup is poured in. Whipping continues until the meringue has reached its full volume, sand is stiff and satiny.

    The technique delivers a more stable, soft meringue for cakes, pastries and pies, that doesn’t collapse.

    Italian meringue is often used to frost cakes; it can be used alone or combined with buttercream. It creates meringue toppings on pies.

    Here‘s a recipe.

    As a technique, pastry chefs use it to lighten ice cream, sorbet and mousse.

    Swiss Meringue

    Swiss meringue is whisked over a bain-marie to warm the egg whites. After the sugar is completely dissolved, the mixture is removed from the heat and beaten vigorously to attain full volume. It is then beaten at a lower speed until cool and very stiff.

    This forms a dense, glossy marshmallow-like meringue. It is usually then baked.

    Swiss meringue is smoother, silkier, and somewhat denser than French meringue and is often used as a base for buttercream frostings.

    Here’s a recipe from Martha Stewart.

    MERINGUE-MAKING TIPS

  • The mixing bowl and beaters must be absolutely clean. Any grease in the mixture will deflate the meringue.
  • Do not make meringues in humid weather. Moisture will prevent egg whites from forming stiff peaks.
  •  
    RECIPE #1: RED WINE ITALIAN MERINGUE COOKIES

    Only a pinch of red wine sea salt is used, to garnish; so if you don’t have/want to make red sea salt (the recipe is below), look to see what you do have; lavender or rosemary sea salt, for example. In a pinch (pun intended), you can use plain kosher salt or coarse sea salt.

    Ingredients

  • 4 ounces dry red wine
  • 7 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg whits, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch salt
  •  
    Preparation

    1. HEAT the wine and sugar to a rolling boil, in a saucepan over high heat.

    2. ADD the egg whites to a clean bowl and mix at high speed, until the egg white is all frothy and starts to form soft peaks. When the wine comes to a rolling boil…

    3. LET the wine boil for another 60 seconds, remove from the heat and pour into a measuring cup with a lip, or other easy-pouring vessel. With the mixer on high…

    4. SLOWLY pour the wine down the sides of the bowl. Continue to mix at high speed until the hot mixture reaches room temperature (the volume will continue to increase). Turn off the engine of the mixer once the mixture has cooled down.

       

    Meringue Cookies

    Pavlova

    Vacherin

    Vacherin

    Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

    Floating Island

    [1] Meringue cookies (photo courtesy American Egg Board). [2] Pavlova: a hollow center that’s filled with strawberries (photo courtesy Rob Shaw | Bauer Media). [3] Vacherin: layers of meringue filled with fruit, etc. (here’s the recipe from Hello Magazine). [4] A vacherin variation: stacked layers of meringue garnished with fruit and whipped cream (here’s the recipe from Martha Stewart). [5] Floating island: freshly-beaten meringue in crème anglaise (here’s a recipe from Big Red Kitchen). [6]. Swiss meringue, colored to frost cakes and cupcakes (photo Johnny Miller | Martha Stewart).

     

    Red Wine Meringues

    Red Wine Sea Salt

    Pink Meringues

    [7] Red wine sea salt meringues (photo and recipe courtesy Raw Spice Bar). [8] Homemade red wine salt (photo and recipe courtesy Two Wolves). [9] Pink and chocolate: the perfect meringues for Valentine’s Day (here’s the recipe from The Kitchn)

       

    5. PREHEAT the oven to 225°F, and pipe or otherwise shape the meringue as you wish. First line baking sheets with parchment, dusted with confectioner’s sugar to prevent sticking. Then you can use a piping bag with or without nozzle (the original meringues were shaped with two spoons!). You can pipe roses, stars, or use the occasion to pipe different shapes (why must they all be uniform?). Here’s more about piping meringues.

    6. BAKE for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and cool to room temperature (you can leave in the oven with the door open). If not using the same day…

    7. STORE completely cooled in an airtight container, packed loosely and with room at the top, so you don’t crush them.

    RECIPE #2: HOMEMADE RED WINE SEA SALT

    Ingredients

  • 3 cups red wine
  • 1-1/2 cups coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BRING the wine to a boil in a saucepan over medium to high heat. Reduce the temperature and simmer until the liquid reduces to 1-2 tablespoons and is thicker and a bit syrupy.

    2. ADD 1 to 1-1/2 cups of salt For every tablespoon of reduced wine. Add one cup, stir and if the liquid hasn’t absorbed as well as you would like it to, add some more. Stir until the salt is completely covered. Spread over paper towels on a plate and let dry overnight.

    3. STORE in clean air-tight jars; add a ribbon and present as a gift.

    HERE’S MORE ABOUT MAKING YOUR OWN FLAVORED SALTS.

    It’s easy, it’s great for gifting, and you’ll save a fortune! Check it out.

    Here’s more about flavored salts—not all are made from actual sea salt. Conventional salt is less expensive; and when it’s flavored, you can’t detect the subtle mineral and other terroir nuances of sea salt anyway.

    THE HISTORY OF MERINGUE

    Some sources say that that meringue was invented in the Swiss village of Meiringen in the 18th century, and improved by an Italian chef named Gasparini.

    Not all experts agree: The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, states that the French word is of unknown† origin.

    The one fact we can hang on to is that the name of the confection called meringue first appeared in print in chef François Massialot’s seminal 1691 cookbook (available in translation as The court and country cook…. The word meringue first appeared in English in 1706 in an English translation of Massialot’s book.

     
    Two considerably earlier 17th-century English manuscript books of recipes give instructions for confections that are recognizable as meringue. One is called “white biskit bread” in the book of recipes started in 1604 by Lady Elinor Poole Fettiplace (1570-c.1647) of Gloucestershire.

    The other is called “pets” in the manuscript of collected recipes written by Lady Rachel Fane (c. 1612–1680) of Knole, Kent. Slowly-baked meringues are still referred to as pets in the Loire region of France (the reference appears to be their light fluffiness, perhaps like a kitten?).

    Meringues were traditionally shaped between two large spoons, as they are generally at home today. Meringue piped through a pastry bag was introduced by the great French chef Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833—he preferred to be called Antonin), the founder of the concept of haute cuisine.

    He also invented modern mayonnaise, éclairs, and other icons of French cuisine.

    ________________
    †Contenders from include 1700 on include, from the Walloon dialect, maringue, shepherd’s loaf; marinde, food for the town of Meiringen (Bern canton, Switzerland), is completely lacking. None of the others sounds right, either. By default, we like the Latin merenda, the feminine gerund of merere to merit, since who doesn’t merit a delicious confection? But as our mother often said: “Who cares; let’s eat!”

      

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    RECIPE: Valentine Brownies

    Want to bring something fun to work or school for Valentine’s Day?

    These strawberry brownies from Kevin Lynch of Closet Cooking can be made for any occasion.

    But we especially like the heart-shaped effect of halved strawberries for “love” occasions: Mother’s, Father’s, Valentine’s, anniversaries, etc.

    You can adapt the idea to your favorite brownie, or use his. Wwe tweaked his a bit, using 2/3 cup sugar instead of 3/4 cup, since the chocolate topping is so rich; and used white chocolate for the top for color and flavor variation.

    For a step-by-step photos and substitutions for gluten-free, vegan, etc., see the original article.

    RECIPE: STRAWBERRY HEART BROWNIES

    Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Cool Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 1 hour Servings: 9
    Chocolate covered strawberry topped fudge-y brownies!

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound strawberries, sliced (look for smaller strawberries to maximize the heart effect)
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (substitute white chocolate if you prefer)
  •  
    Preparation

     

    Chocolate-Strawberry Brownies

    Fresh Strawberries

    [1] The strawberry “hearts” make these brownies easy to love (photo courtesy Closet Cooking). [2] Use smaller strawberries for more of a heart shape (photo courtesy Quinciple).

     
    1. GREASE an 8-inch-square baking pan. Optionally, line it with foil or parchment, overhanging to make lift-up and clean-up easier. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

    2. COMBINE the chocolate and butter in a sauce pan over medium heat; melt, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and let cool.

    3. MIX the sugar into the eggs. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Blend the melted chocolate into the egg mixture, followed by the flour mixture.

    4. POUR the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake about 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven.

    5. SPRINKLE the strawberries on top of the brownies. Melt the chocolate over medium-low heat on the stove or in a microwave. Pour it over the strawberries and let cool until the chocolate is set, 30-60 minutes.
     
    MORE VALENTINE DESSERT RECIPES

  • Chocolate Pudding With Strawberry Rose
  • Coeur À La Crème
  • Easy Chocolate Pudding Pie
  • Frozen Raspberry Soufflés
  • Red Velvet Raspberry Truffles
  • Strawberry-Brownie-Marshmallow Skewers
  • Valentine Cheese Plate
  • Valentine Jell-O Shots
  •   

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