Tag: cake (page 1 of 2)

The I’m Sorry Cake + More STL Eats

Test a new recipe on guests at your own risk. Especially when it’s a “Sorry I Forgot Your Birthday” Cake.

Four of my in-laws drove to St. Louis from Minnesota for their first visit this weekend and we welcomed them with this cake. It sure looks pretty. What better way to ask for someone’s forgiveness than presenting them with a fresh strawberry cake lovingly frosted with cream cheese frosting?

The recipe’s technique of cutting butter into the dry ingredients, gradually adding eggs, and stirring in the wet ingredients seemed unusual, but the website’s photos looked pretty so I proceeded anyway. After all, how bad could fresh strawberry puree, flour, sugar, and butter taste? Pretty bad. Pretty, pretty, pretty bad. 

We sang “Happy Birthday” and the belated birthday girl blew out the candles. After passing slices of cake around the room, I noticed pensive facial expressions and quickly took a bite from Jake’s plate.

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It was terrible. “This cake tastes really bad and I’m not going to have any,” I announced as my family tried to politely choke down their slices. We’ve always spoke candidly with each other, which is something I really appreciate. Once I broke the ice, feedback rolled in:

“It tastes like unleavened communion bread with frosting.”

“It’s like big mound of paste.”

“I can’t do it Jeni, I’m sorry.”

“Honey, I ate it all!” stated my father-i-law, a man who exemplifies the stereotype of Norwegian stoicism. I thanked him and asked if he’d like another slice, to which he replied “no.”

In the end, it was the thought behind the “I’m Sorry” cake that mattered and our apology was accepted. “I’m going to bake you all a birthday cake,” I promised. Much better food followed and we enjoyed the rest of the weekend exploring St. Louis together. Here are some more things we learned:

Happy hour at Katie’s Pizzeria rocks. We learned that we had actually visited Katie’s Pizzeria instead of Katie’s Pizza & Pasta. No worries, though. Our pizzas, prosciutto spring rolls and toasted ravioli were delicious and we’re excited to visit Katie’s Pizza & Pasta next. During happy hour, glasses of wine were $4 and all of the pizzas are available in a personal size for about $8.

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These were no tiny pizzas and no one could finish an entire one. The pesto served with the fried ravioli and on top of Jake’s pesto-shrimp pizza really struck my fancy. I’m still craving it.

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I chose a spicy pizza topped with copa, fresh ricotta, pepperocini, and red pepper flakes.

It’s hard to go wrong at Bogart’s SmokehouseEveryone tried a different menu item, from ribs to a turkey sandwich and no one had any complaints. I chose the chicken wing special with sides of sweet and spicy Fire & Ice Pickles and potato salad dotted with hard-boiled egg. I liked that one could sandwiches in small or large sizes and that each comes with two sides.

Plus, everyone who worked here on Saturday was so darn nice. The line was relatively long at lunch, but the staff made sure that when customers who wanted to dine-in entered the building, there was seating available.

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The drinks at Ballpark Village are expensive. Parking is not, however.

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Thank you for putting two cherries in my $8 amaretto sour.

The candy maker at The Fudgery in Ball Park Village sings songs like, “You can try everything for free.” We especially enjoyed a taste of the freshly-made rocky road fudge cooling on the marble table. Turns out that The Fudgery in Ball Park Village is one of 29 stores across the United States. One of the company’s features is their singing candy makers who have to audition American Idol-style for their positions. According to The Fudgery’s website, one of their past employees includes SisQo who totally lives in Maple Grove, MN with his family now!

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Finally, Tani Sushi offers a nice take-out service and the penguin and puffin coves at the St. Louis Zoo are still the most magical place on earth. If you visit Kali the polar bear, know that he gets upset when people put their hands on the glass. I watched a woman argue with the zoo employee when she asked her to and her family to stop. “But it looks like he’s having fun!” she insisted. He’s not. “But it seems like he’s playing with us.” He’s not. Trust, the zoo keepers.

Maybe next time there will be Provel.

Product Review: Crumbs Bake Shop’s $10 “Make Your Own Colossal Cupcake” Mix

*DISCLAIMER: Totally didn’t use any fart sound effects. . . because that would just be crude.  

Crumbs Bake Shop boxed mixes caught my eye at Target for one reason: Their price!

Sure, they come in beautiful packaging, but their $7-10 price tags halted me in my tracks. I wondered how it was possible that a boxed cake mix could cost so much. The first time I spotted these mixes, I examined its instructions. For these prices, I would expect the mix to contain everything I would need. Nope. After spending $8-10 dollars, the customer would also need to supply his or her own butter, milk, eggs, oil, and cream cheese.

For example, the sandwich cookie cupcake mix (on the lower end of the Crumbs price spectrum) displayed a photo of cupcakes topped with whole cookies. However, the mix only contained cookie crumbles for decorating, forcing the customer to also buy the whole cookies in addition to the other ingredients mentioned above.

When I saw these boxed mixes on Target’s clearance shelf, I had to bite. I chose the Make Your Own Colossal Cupcake package for $5 and proceeded with the mission of finding out why it could possibly cost $10, full price. The kit also comes with a tiny, green spatula. I can’t lie, I love this spatula.

The Crumbs cupcake chain began as a mom and pop store in New York City. It eventually grew to become the biggest cupcake chain in the U.S. until it filed for bankruptcy in 2014. An investment group now owns Crumbs and is reopening its stores. According to news articles, the grocery store Mariano’s agreed to test a Crumbs cupcake and brownie bar in one of its Illinois locations and partnered with Pelican Bay Ltd. to produce these boxed mixes.

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When I saw this photo of a little girl holding a giant cupcake, I assumed it was Photoshopped. Upon closer examination, I realized the kit really does make one giant cupcake.

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Here’s what the kit includes:

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  • Cake mix
  • White frosting mix
  • Yellow frosting mix
  • Rainbow sprinkles
  • Plastic piping bag
  • Cake liners
  • Tiny spatula

The cake batter was simple to prepare. I combined the mix with one cup of almond milk (I’m lactose intolerant), 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, and two large eggs. Then I poured the batter into the cupcake liner and baked at 325℉ for about an hour, or until I could cleanly remove a knife from the center.

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Near the end of the cooking time, I covered the top of the cake with foil to prevent spots from burning. I prepared the two frostings while the cake cooled.

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The white frosting contains the Crumbs powdered mix, cream cheese, butter and milk. The yellow frosting contains butter and the powdered mix.

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I frosted the cake and added sprinkles so that it looked like the package. I varied from the instructions by NOT filing the center with more white frosting. If I had done so, there would have been no chance we’d eat the cake.

See the resemblance?

Cupcake Monstrosity

I especially liked making the yellow rosettes.

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I carefully cut one slice for taste testing.

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My reaction after taking my first bite was that it tasted “OK.” The cake was extremely moist and kind of dense. It had a hint of play dough flavor that I just didn’t like. Jake liked it. He finished his slice of returned for another one the next day. We discarded the rest of the cake after it remained uneaten for a few days.

Jake enjoyed the cake more than I did, but also didn’t understand why it would cost $10 full price. The frostings tasted much better than tinned versions, but they’re also made with real butter and cream cheese. Often times, organic products cost a lot more than their conventional equivalents, but this mix doesn’t claim to contain organic ingredients and included lots of things we can’t pronounce.

For $5, this could be an OK option for the right individual. For $10, I’m going to encourage you to skip this mix all together unless you are a die-hard Crumbs Bake Shop fan. With the additional cost of supplying your own butter, cream cheese, eggs, milk, and oil, you are better off investing that money into your own cake from a bakery or making your one from scratch. I should also note that we did use almond milk instead of cow’s milk. It’s what we keep on hand due to my lactose intolerance (a little dairy is fine, but drinking glasses of milk make me sick). I am unsure how drastically almond milk affected the flavor.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll discover a celebrity-endorsed dessert mix worth your cash. This brand and Duff Goldman’s make me feel a bit jaded and I hope they’re not taking advantage of their fans by charging premium prices for just OK products. I’m open to having my mind changed, though. Do it:)

Grandmother Jane’s Old Southern Fruit Cake

This is the ninth installment in my series in which I cook all eleven recipes I found my grandmothers had submitted to their old church cookbooks. Previous recipes include Crabby SnacksRice Pilaf, Frozen Fruit AppetizerSalad with Cashew NutsHam & Sour Cream CasseroleOld Fashioned Cauliflower SlawApricot Jello Salad, and Ship Wreck casserole (the one my mom hated). 

Remember these?

Crabby Snack label

Hello crabby snacks. This is the Velveeta-canned crab concoction that derailed my quest to prepare all eleven of my grandmothers’ recipes I found in old church cookbooks. After mysterious casseroles and ice cream jello, Jake begged for mercy. We took an eight-month break from my grandmothers’ retro recipes and found her “Old Southern Fruit Cake” didn’t sound so bad.

I can singlehandedly dispute the rumor that there is actually only one fruit cake in the whole world that people keep re-gifting. Growing-up, my parents received a fruit cake every holiday season and I was the only person in my family who ate them. I don’t know where the cakes came from or if they were homemade, but I ate them all one slice at a time. Of course they were speckled with those fluorescent green and red candied cherries.

I examined my grandmother’s recipe and couldn’t do the candied cherry thing. Yup. I’d sooner dig into a bag of Lay’s Cappuccino chips or hack into a durian than purchase a bucket of green cherries for the sole reason that they just really freak me out. I followed the sound advice of a friend and substituted dried cherries instead. They lent a pleasing tart note and so I recommend you do the same.

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Grandmother Jane’s Old Southern Fruit Cake is totally not gross. I made half of a batch and live to tell the story. Like most fruit cakes, Jane’s is dense and thick with fruits and nuts, but it’s far from the store-bought bricks. We enjoyed slices fresh from the oven and relished the dried fruit which had become plump and gooey. I chose to add brandy to the batter and, after the cake baked for two hours, we were left with only a hint.

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If I had any qualms about this cake, it’s that I wished for more salt. Fortunately, this is a simple fix. Try adding a teaspoon of salt to the batter or swipe some butter on each slice and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

This fruit cake is more like an energy cake with all of its dried fruits and nuts. Who needs chalky energy bars when there are glorious cakes o’ fruit? Thank you for this gem, Grandmother Jane.

My Take On Grandmother Jane’s Fruit Cake
This recipe halves the original and produces two loaves of fruit cake. I substituted dried cherries for candied cherries. 

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Ingredients:
1/2 cup mashed banana
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup + splash of brandy or grape juice
1 1/2 tablespoon buttermilk (can substitute whole milk with a splash of lemon juice)
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1 scant teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/4 lb dried cherries
(optional) 2 slices dried or candied pineapple, cut into small pieces
1/2 lb. dates cut into large pieces

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 250℉.
  2. Grease pans and dust with flour so the cakes don’t stick.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the banana with the sugar until it forms a paste. Stir in the brandy, buttermilk and flour.
  4. Mix in the eggs until smooth.
  5. Add the vanilla, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  6. Stir in the fruits and nuts until combined.
  7. Pour batter into two loaf pans. Tap and shimmy the pans so that the batter is evenly distributed.
  8. Bake for one hour uncovered.
  9. Bake covered for another hour. Cool.

Only two grandmother recipes remain: Grandmother Jane’s braised Chicken Marengo and Crabmeat Casserole. I will not be preparing an entire Crabmeat Casserole which is a baked dish that contains crab, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and cream. Fresh crab is not available here and frozen crab is expensive. Based upon the Crabby Snacks experiment, I’m afraid this dish would be a waste of resources if we prepared it with canned crab. Maybe I’ll try preparing a small ramekin of crabmeat casserole. 

Our First County Fair: Cake Decorating & Pork Sandwiches

When North Iowa blogger Val of Corn, Bean, Pigs & Kids asked me if I wanted to team-up and compete in the Franklin County “Cake Wars” decorating contest, of course I had to say yes.

I warned her that my cake decorating abilities were very limited.

In culinary school in Moorhead, MN, Mrs. Kraft patiently tried to teach me how to pipe little rosettes and shell patterns with a piping bag with mixed success. And I can put sprinkles on things. Basically, sprinkling sprinkles was what I was bringing to the cake decorating table. Fortunately, the competition was not cutthroat, but focused on cultivating fun.

On Saturday afternoon, the fair was extremely busy. We enjoyed grilled pork tenderloin sandwiches and apple pie at the 4-H food stand.

The first part of the cake contest sent us on a scavenger hunt around the Franklin County Fair to earn points to purchase cake decorating supplies. Every team was given a small cake, white frosting, funfetti sprinkles and a single knife.

I let Val take the lead. She knew her way around the fair and I’d seen her amazing Curious George banana cake she made for her son’s third birthday. We were also excited that Donna of Donnahup.com joined us for the afternoon. She cheered us on and took some fantastic photos.

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We based our cake design on the 4-H theme. It’s a good thing Val piped the letters because if I had tried, they would have looked like blogs. I was so impressed with the cake decorating skills of our competition, too. Some teams thought outside of the box and cut their cake into shapes.

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In the end we won our snazzy green participation ribbons which were the perfect icing on the cake of my first county fair experience.

I like to call us Green Ribbon Winning Cake Decorators.

Rhubarb Muffin Cake

The North Iowa farmers markets are open again and I spy rhubarb, so summer may begin now.

Unlike the Twin Cities, we don’t have a farmers market in every neighborhood, but I’m happy we have one in town. The Mason City farmers market isn’t large and there aren’t food trucks or anything, but I can at least buy fresh vegetables and fruits, plus extra treats like bread, jam, and bags of puppy chow mix.

There’s also a vendor that sells grilled brats with the typical fixings of sauerkraut, onion, ketchup, and mustard. This is a simple pleasure that never gets old. I rarely turn down street meat.

On my last two visits, I rejoiced over this summer’s first bounty of rhubarb like the good Midwesterner that I am.

We never cooked with rhubarb growing-up. Nobody in our neighborhood grew it and I think they considered it like a weed. Jake remembers picking it as a child and eating the tart stalks dipped in sugar. As an adult, I’ve become taken with rhubarb. I love how it retains some tartness when cooked and balances out sweet desserts. The complexity of its unique flavor strikes me as both fruity and floral.

I asked friends for their favorite rhubarb recipes, but chose this cake because I had all of the ingredients in my kitchen. I found variations of this recipe in nearly all of my cookbooks, so, where it truly originates, I do not know. This cake is very simple to prepare and light and fluffy like a muffin. It reminded us so much of muffins, that I poured the batter into muffin tins the second time I made it.

This cake will be an ol’ reliable for us. Now I’m moving on to trying everyone’s favorite rhubarb recipes.

Rhubarb Muffin Cake
Adapted from Bonnie Anderson, Dee Detlefsen, Blanch Grummons & Ardy Haugen’s recipe in the Peaceful Pantry Recipes cookbook compiled by Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Burnsville, MN, 1975

Cook’s Notes: The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of white or brown sugar. I used both, but in lesser amounts. The original recipe also calls for buttermilk, which I did not have. It says you can substitute one cup of regular milk + one tablespoon of lemon juice for buttermilk. In my first cake, I used 2/3 almond milk + 1/3 cup sour cream. In my muffins, I used only almond milk. I think you can use whatever you have, though the sour cream adds extra moistness. If you’d like to bake muffins, reduce the cooking time. Mini muffins took about 10 minutes. The cakes are done when you can cleanly remove a toothpick from the center.

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Ingredients:
A scant 1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, not packed.
1/2 cup butter (1 stick). I used salted.
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: Splash of almond extract
1 cup milk or combination of milk + sour cream
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups of rhubarb, chopped into small pieces
Topping: sugar & cinnamon

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350℉.
  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars.
  4. Mix the egg and vanilla extract into the butter-sugar mixture.
  5. Add the milk and dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, half at a time, alternating until just combined. Don’t overmix.
  6. Stir in the rhubarb.
  7. Pour into a greased pan or muffin tins. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and sugar (or just cinnamon).
  8. Bake until you can remove a toothpick cleanly from the center. A small cake pan took about 45 minutes, a 9×13 will take about 35-40 minutes, and muffins will vary depending on the size. Mini muffins took about 10 minutes.
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