a collaboration + a wedding cake

There is something so incredibly exhilarating about collaborating with other like-minded creatives. The process is stretching and challenges us to see our talents in new ways and even pushes us further than we would normally go on our own. This past weekend, I headed home to the mountains again, this time for a styled bridal collaborative with some local artists. Joleen from Joleen Willis Photography was the mastermind behind the shoot, birthing the idea and then convincing all of us to come along for the ride. For me, it was a chance to step into some uncharted waters, and although the way was a little bumpy at times, I learned a lot and ultimately contributed something I am very proud of.

Our inspiration was Morocco, which is such a rich culture to draw from. The color and vibrant nature of the landscape was an easy example to follow when I was planning the food and tablescape. I chose to use some fairly traditional items for the table such as mint tea, olives and cous cous. For the main plated dish, I made a carrot salad with black rice, macrona almonds and mint, drizzled with a light harissa vinaigrette. The salad added just the right amount of color and texture to the table.

      (image by Joleen Willis Photography)

     (image by Joleen Willis Photography)

As with most weddings, dessert (most often in the form of cake) is one of the main attractions. Personally, I’ve only liked one wedding cake in all my life. I remember loving it so much that I was trying to figure out how to stuff some in my purse without being noticed. However, on every other occasion it has been something I might as well skip, which if you know me at all, skipping dessert is just something I don’t do. I figured it must be quite difficult to make a wedding cake worth it’s price tag, and ultimately, completely enjoyable, even to the point of wanting a doggy bag. So, when this project came up and I was able to explore what might make a great cake, (in taste AND appearance) I learned a few things. First of all, wedding cakes are difficult. They require a lot of work, hours and hours to be exact. Second, you don’t only have to use white or yellow cake. There are so many options out there, people! Thirdly, wedding cake CAN taste good. Like, I want a whole one to myself good.

Although this cake made me the most proud out of anything I’ve ever made to date, it still wasn’t perfect. If you can see, it leans a little because I was too lazy to get dowels to anchor it in place, not to mention I didn’t even out the cake layers like a real wedding cake baker would. However, even with all it’s faults and its Tower of Pisa qualities, it was still the best darn wedding cake I’ve ever had. Not the prettiest, but the tastiest. I feel a little weird writing this because it feels over the top conceited, but I’m telling you, this cake was really that good.

For the cake layers, I used a carrot cake recipe from Stella Parks, pastry chef at Table 310 in Lexington, Ky. It’s the best recipe for carrot cake out there. I’m in love with it and will continue to use it forever. The opposite layer is a nutmeg cornmeal cake. I used these two together because they have a tendency to stay moist, not to mention I thought they would compliment each other well, and they did. After all the layers were made, I smothered it all in an orange cinnamon cream cheese frosting. It was, in fact, the icing on the cake.

I garnished to top of the cake with candied kumquats and mint. Those sweet little citrus gems are something I’d like to have in my pantry at all times. They would be perfect on ice cream, a cream tart or simply fished out with gooey, sugary fingers.

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May 9, 2012. baking, cake, Candy, dessert, fruit, gluten free, quick and easy, vegetarian. 17 comments.

lemon bundt cake

We spent the morning in San Francisco, celebrating the work of reconciliation and the triumph over death. Even the sun made a bright appearance, completing our joy. Lately, I appreciate the stretching days and the reminder of the feeling new life can bring. Spring has always been my favorite season as there is a wonderful story to be found in the dead of winter giving way to lush and thriving life. Everything is re-born and restored to the way it is supposed to be

Today, I am thankful for the reminder that all things are being made new. Not just the green grass, the buzzing honey bee and the budding flower, but in you and me. It fills my heart with great contentment to know that restoration is coming. I can feel it in the air.

Like the Springtime, I find baking to have restorative qualities for me. There is something within the process that calms me, and makes me feel like myself. Maybe it reminds me that life may not be as complex as I make it out to be, or perhaps that this life is made better when mixed with the blessings of butter and sugar, and in this case a bit of lemon. (more…)

April 8, 2012. baking, cake. 1 comment.

spiced applesauce cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

The gift giving season is upon us, which means we will spend much of the next few weeks thinking about how to bring joy to our family, friends and neighbors. What a wonderful time of year! It is important for us to look outside of our undoubtedly busy, stressed and sometimes overwhelming lives to see those around us who need to know that there is some one who appreciates them. This expression can take many forms, either in a material gift or in an act of kindness requiring only an open heart. They can be humbly handmade or lovingly purchased with abundant wealth, either way, they are from the deepest part of who we are and express a desire within us to bring happiness to those we care for.

My favorite way to give gifts is from the working of my own hands. In actuality, that is my favorite way to receive them as well. There is something hidden in gifts that require a labor of love that just doesn’t seem to come through with something store-bought. Knowing that I am able to create something for someone is the ultimate giving experience for me. Naturally, I’m best at creating things that are sweet and edible and so I tend to bake a lot during the holidays. It is a great (and sometimes inexpensive) way to give to those around me who I wouldn’t normally be able to give purchased gifts to when Christmas comes around. Cookies, bars and small cakes in jars are some of my standbys while quick breads like pumpkin spice and banana nut are wonderful wrapped up in waxed paper finished with a neatly tied bow on top. This applesauce cake would be a great item to bring to one of the many parties you’ll be attending this season, and could also be transformed into a wonderful gift if placed into a mason jar with frosting and nuts filled to the top. Tie a ribbon around the lid and secure a small spoon in the bow and you’ll have a gift anyone would appreciate.

I hope this season is filled with joy while you give to those around you and that the gift you receive in return is a heart full of unending gratitude.  (more…)

December 3, 2011. baking, cake, dessert, quick and easy, winter. Leave a comment.

blueberry buttermilk cake

When life seems to give you lemons, what do you do? It’s just something that happens from time to time, right? We are faced with uncertainty and hardship, situations we would rather not be in. For me, I tend to run (after a long bout of whining) from anything hard. Call it a defense mechanism, or just plain cowardice, it’s what I do. So when life deals me lemons, I just throw them as far as I can and quickly run the other way. This seems to initially get the job done, but leaves the journey incomplete. Although in practice I tend to want to avoid discomfort in any way I can, my conviction is that difficulty is necessary for growth. As terrible as it is in the moment, it produces something new and beautiful in the end. Ideally, I would like my practices and my convictions to be aligned, united in the belief that the lemons we are handed are meant to season us, and brighten up our lives. I’m not quite there yet, but as the troubles come, I hope the two draw nearer to one another.

In those times of trouble, I find baking to be a helpful short term anesthetic. Now, I’m not (entirely) encouraging you to drown your sorrows in cake, but the time it takes to bake one could be a great opportunity to reflect on how your current situation can spring forth something new and beautiful inside you. While you’re at it, dwell on the many blessings you have been given and the people in your life who you are happy to enjoy those blessings with. Then call them, invite them over for cake, and give thanks.

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June 10, 2011. baking, cake, dessert, fruit, quick and easy. 2 comments.

chocolate sour cream bundt cake

Tartine is an incredible french bakery in the Mission District of San Francisco. They specialize in all things amazing, including, but not limited to, this mouth watering, coma inducing chocolate tea cake.

My sister moved here a few months back, and as part of a “get to know your city” tour, I fulfilled my sisterly duty by taking her around to all the places that would help her get through the stress and loneliness of moving to a new, strange place and since this place is on my essential “go here after a bad day” list, I decided it was a must. click here for the full post!

October 3, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , . baking, cake, chocolate, dessert. 4 comments.

red velvet cake

Don’t let the red fool you. This cake just might turn out to be your favorite. It is strikingly beautiful and strangely tastes like chocolate. After you slather on cups of slightly sweet cream cheese frosting, it is transformed into utter decadence.

I have the pleasure of sharing my birthday month with a few of my favorite people, most notably, my best friend Emielle. Her birthday is exactly two weeks after mine which means we get to celebrate together pretty much all month. Her actual birthday was last Thursday. I asked her what she would like for her birthday treat and she requested red velvet cake. I had never made such a thing, nor had I ever even tasted it before, but I was willing! So, I did a little research at Sprinkles (Hard work, I know! Thanks to my husband for spending a ridiculous amount of money on one cupcake.) and decided that red velvet cake is pretty much one of the best things I had ever tasted. I was very happy to learn how to create this moist, lightly chocolatey goodness at home.

click here to read the full post!

March 24, 2010. baking, cake, dessert. 1 comment.

birthday bash

For my 27th birthday, I wanted to be surrounded by my friends and family, in our tiny apartment, nestled in the fog of San Francisco, and to cook them a great meal.

If you were asked what you would like to do for your birthday, how would you respond? Maybe you would ask for a nice dinner out with friends, or a quiet and relaxing trip for two to a favorite destination. Perhaps, you would ask for a nice spring picnic in the park or a big cocktail party where you could be the shining center of attention. When my loving husband asked what I would like to do for my birthday, I had about a thousand ideas, but they all boiled down to one central desire: to cook.

 Many people were surprised to hear that I made my own birthday cake, but if you know me at all, you would not have expected anything else. I have a serious affection for anything sweet, especially for sweet things I have never made before, like lemon curd (Oh.My.Goodness. Have you had that stuff? It’s amazing! I spread it between the layers of my yellow birthday cake, but licking it off the spoon was just as effective.), or light and fluffy vanilla butter cream frosting tinted pink. If you are like me and have a borderline obsessive sweet tooth, you should spend some time checking out the adorable bakerella. [Warning: bakerella may cause larger thighs and tighter clothes.] Everything she makes is incredibly cute and delicious (over the weekend, I made her red velvet cake for my dear friend Emielle and it was divine. Coming soon!). One of her cakes was the inspiration for my birthday cake. She tinted her fluffy vanilla frosting a lovely light pink, and I immediately had to follow suit. click here to read the full birthday post->

March 21, 2010. bread, cake, dessert, pizza. 1 comment.

cake bites and how to improvise

This was supposed to be a delicious cupcake. Did you know that cupcake batter isn’t the same as cake batter? I didn’t. I figured they would just naturally morph into one another when placed into appropriate sized vessels. Apparently, this is not so. Instead of a nice moist cupcake I was presented with a messy, loose glob. Good thing it was delicious.

These “cupcakes” did fulfill the delicious factor, however they were awfully ugly and could not be served as is, so I had to have a lesson in improvisation. You see, I wanted to take the amazing foundation for this chocolate blackout cake which consists of the moistest, most chocolaty stuff you’ve ever had and turn it into a tiny little hand held cake. I figured you could just make the same batter, pour it into muffin tins and voila! Cupcakes. Now I know this is not how it works. Apparently cupcake batter is a bit thicker and probably has a bit more baking powder in it to make it rise much more than a cake layer would. click here for the full post->

February 11, 2010. baking, cake, dessert. 2 comments.

yellow cake with easy chocolate frosting

A co-worker of mine recently turned the big 5-0 and like many places of work, we prepared to share cake with the birthday boy on his special day. In my office, every birthday celebration always turns out to be quite funny.

Everyone has worked there long enough to know that a cake is imminent on their special day, however, all the other people in the office spend most of the morning pretending that they don’t actually know it’s that persons birthday. This is the hidden, unspoken birthday game. The birthday boy or girl knows it’s coming. They also know that we all know.We all kind of tip-toe around the issue with a little bit of a grin on our face attempting to hide the knowledge that at lunch time the person will be lured into the back office, and all at once will be bombarded with exclamations of “Happy Birthday!” and “Surprise!”. It’s a fantastic game, and the best thing is, everyone wins and the prize is their very own slice of cake. click here for more->

January 16, 2010. cake, dessert. 1 comment.

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