Thursday, January 26, 2012

Kitchen Koala's Anniversary Cake

Since our wedding anniversary and Mr. K's birthday are only a few days apart, my initial plan was to eat our anniversary tier on the 15th and prepare a birthday cake for him on the 18th. I planned on making his birthday cake similar to his groom's cake from our wedding since there wasn't any left over for us to take home.  It was a (too small) chocolate cake with pecan praline filling (in hindsight I should have requested a tier or two of the wedding cake in that flavor instead of a single flavor wedding cake.  Oh well). 

To honor Mr. K's very special day (the Big Three-Oh), I asked him what flavor birthday cake he would like (I was predicting something in the chocolate-peanut butter-caramel range).  Given that we had to toss our anniversary tier because the freezer broke, he very sweetly replied that I make any flavor cake I wanted, as long as the inside had sprinkles like our wedding cake (which was lemon confetti cake--because sprinkles are my favorite!).  Awwwwww!  So...sprinkle cake it is!  But don't you worry, I have plans for a big ole' chocolate cake in the near future.

Recipe Notes:
  • You can certainly use any flavor cake mix you like, or your favorite recipe.  I'm adding "extras" here to plump up the cake mix so that the layers are more full.  
  • It's pretty important that your 9" cake pans are 2" tall.  Double check if you're unsure, because a lot of pans out there are only 1 1/2" tall.  The batter will overflow in a pan shorter than 2", so if that's all you've got use the extra batter to make cupcakes!
  • Either jimmies (the long sprinkles) or nonpareils (the little balls) will work in the cake recipe.  Jimmies will give you bigger bursts of color, like Pillsbury's Funfetti® Cake, whereas nonpareils will give you smaller dots of color.  Keep in mind, however, that nonpareils have the tendency to bleed like no work quickly to avoid a streaky batter.  I was a little too cautious in my nonpareil mixing and didn't end up with an evenly sprinkled cake :(

Anniversary Cake (Serves 16)

Two 9" confetti cake layers (recipe below)
1 cup prepared lemon curd (recipe below)
1 batch Swiss meringue buttercream (recipe below)

Slice each cake layer in half horizontally to make a total of four cake layers.  Place one layer, cut side up, on a serving platter.  Spread with 1/2 cup lemon curd.  Top with another cake layer, cut side down.  Spread 1/2 cup buttercream over this layer.  Top with another cake layer, 1/2 cup lemon curd, and the final cake layer.  Frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream.  Serve cake at room temperature and refrigerate leftovers.  Allow chilled cake to come back to room temperature for maximum enjoyment!


Confetti Cake
(Yields two 9" layers, each 2" thick)

1 (18.25 oz) box Duncan Hines® white cake mix
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder

3 egg whites
2 Tbl. vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups water
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla 
1/4 cup sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour two 9" round pans with 2" sides.

Combine cake mix, flour, sugar, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.  Stir for a few seconds to combine.  Add egg whites, oil, water, milk, melted butter, and vanilla to bowl.  Mix on low speed for 30 seconds to combine.  Scrape down sides of bowl.  Increase mixer speed to medium and continue beating batter for 2 minutes.  Working quickly, stir in sprinkles until evenly distributed. 

Divide batter between prepared pans and bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes.  Cool completely before assembling cake.


Lemon Curd  (Yield: 2 cups)
Recipe adapted from Good Life Eats

1/2 cup lemon juice
1 Tbl. lemon zest
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar
8 egg yolks
8 Tbl. butter, cut into 8 pieces

Combine juice, zest, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, then turn heat down to low. 

Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl until smooth.  Gradually whisk in about half of the lemon mixture into the yolks.  (Don't add it too fast or you'll risk scrambling the egg yolks.)  Pour this mixture back into the saucepan while whisking.

Continue to cook over low heat while whisking until mixture has thickened and can coat the back of a spoon, 5-10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the butter 1 piece at a time.

Pour into a bowl or jar and cover the surface with plastic wrap.  Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to a week. 


This recipe is an improved version of the previous Swiss meringue buttercreams posted on this blog.  I've increased the amount of butter a bit to help stabilize the emulsion (many recipes call for a ratio of 3 sticks of butter for every 4 egg whites; my previous versions used only 2 sticks of butter).  Also, I've simplified the process a wee bit by not changing out to the paddle attachment.  Here, the whisk attachment of the stand mixer is used throughout.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

4 egg whites
1¼ cups sugar
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 Tbl. vanilla extract

Place the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl; whisk to combine. Place bowl over a small saucepan of gently simmering water (double boiler set-up). Heat egg white mixture to 160°F, whisking constantly. The mixture will become thin and foamy as you approach 160°F.

Pour the heated egg white mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on high speed with the whisk attachment for 7-9 minutes, until stiff peaks form and mixture has cooled. The mixture MUST be cooled to room temperature before proceeding.

With the mixer running at medium speed, add the butter, 2 Tablespoons at a time. Allow the butter to incorporate before adding more. As you add butter, the appearance of the mixture will go from a fluffy meringue to a thin, cake batter-like consistency. Once all the butter has been incorporated, increase the speed to medium high and beat until an emulsion forms and the mixture has transformed into a thick & smooth icing. (How long this will take depends on the starting temperature of both the egg white mixture and the butter pieces, so be patient. Pay attention as the mixture is whipping--you'll hear a definite difference in sound when the buttercream is ready.) Add vanilla extract and beat on low speed for a minute or two to incorporate and to reduce any air bubbles.

Leftover frosting may be refrigerated for a week, or frozen for longer storage.  Bring to cool room temperature before giving it a quick re-whip to restore its consistency.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Candy Cane Ice Cream

Looking for a way to get rid of all those leftover candy canes from Christmas?  Give this peppermint ice cream a try; you'll need 12 candy canes (a full box) to make it, so it should put a nice dent in your candy cane stash!  I found the recipe over at Amanda's Cookin' last month, and I have to agree with her statement that the amount of vanilla extract in the recipe really makes it special.  I probably crushed my candy canes up a bit too fine, but the end result was still plenty tasty!

Recipe Note:
Over time, the crushed candy canes in the ice cream will dissolve into the ice cream base and lower its freezing point.  When I made this ice cream, it was perfectly scoopable for quite some time.  The photo above was taken probably about 3 weeks after being prepared.  Ice cream, especially homemade, doesn't EVER last this long at our house.  This was an anomaly for sure!  I promise it's not really this melty!  The ice cream also seemed to intensify in color as time passed.

Pink Peppermint Ice Cream (Yield: 2 quarts)
Recipe from Amanda's Cookin'

14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
4 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
5 drops red food coloring
1 cup crushed candy canes (12 canes) or peppermints

Combine condensed milk, cream, milk, extracts, and food coloring in a bowl, whisking to combine.  Cover and refrigerate for a few hours (optional, but helpful for quicker freezing of ice cream).  Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Add crushed candy canes about 5 minutes before ice cream has finished churning; allow machine to mix in the candy.  Transfer to a freezer container and freeze for at least a few hours before serving.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

After a previous try at a cheesy-butternut squashy dish, I decided to see how well butternut squash would do in my regular macaroni & cheese recipe.  In 2009 I tried out pumpkin mac & cheese, with very tasty results.  This experiment yielded pretty good reviews, and the Mr. and I have had this dish several times since I first tried it out this summer.  I used jumbo macaroni in the picture above, but any shape pasta would work fine!

Butternut Mac & Cheese (Yield: 4-6 servings)

8 oz. macaroni or other small pasta
2 Tbl. butter
2 Tbl. flour
2 cups milk
1/2 of a butternut squash, cooked and pureed
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/8 - 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, to taste
salt, if needed

Boil macaroni in salted water according to package directions.  While macaroni cooks, heat 2 Tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan until melted.  Add flour and stir, cooking until mixture is combined and thickened.  Continue cooking for another minute to cook out the raw flour taste.  Gradually add milk to pan, whisking as you add.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens.  Add butternut squash puree and stir to combine.  Stir in cheese until melted.  Add cayenne pepper and adjust for salt if needed (depending on how salty the cheese is).  Stir in drained macaroni until evenly coated.  Serve.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Year Ago Today...

...I married my husband, the half that makes me whole.

We smiled.

We cried.

We wed.

We stood pretty on top of our wedding cake. 
It was lemon confetti cake with lemon curd and French buttercream.  It was such a fun cake, and guests were delighted.  We saved the top tier, but ultimately lost it during a freezer breakdown that went undiscovered for a bit too long.  :(

He made a TARDIS.  It looked glorious on its Time Vortex Groom's cake (chocolate with praline filling). 

I wore fabulous shoes.

We danced, we ate, and we had a jolly good time.

And we lived happily ever after.

The End.

All photos courtesy of Lindsey Michelle Photography.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream

Edited 1/24/2012:
Today is National Peanut Butter Day!  I happened to notice today that I ALREADY have a peanut butter cup ice cream recipe posted on the blog!  I knew I made one previously because I tried to improve upon it for this edition, but I completely forgot that I posted that recipe.  If you're interested in the post from August 2010, please click HERE.  How do the two recipes compare?  Well I'm happy to report that the version below is the better of the two.  The problem we had with the first recipe was how hard it got after sitting in the freezer for a day or two.  I also thought the first version was too rich (though I was the only one who had this opinion).  This recipe fixes both issues by decreasing the amount of peanut butter and replacing the eggs with condensed milk, an ingredient that I have found helps with keeping the ice cream scoopable.

Peanut butter and chocolate are a match made in heaven.  This ice cream is nice and peanut buttery, full of peanut butter cups, and remains just soft enough to scoop without straining your wrists.  That is, IF you can manage to not eat all the peanut butter cups before making the ice cream. Buy extras just in case :)

Please note that even though the yield was 1.75 quarts, it barely fit into my 2-quart ice cream maker near the end.  If your ice cream maker is smaller than 2 quarts, I recommend freezing it in batches and/or stirring in the peanut butter cups by hand at the end.

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream II
Yield: 1.75 quarts

3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped peanut butter cups (about 8)

Place chopped peanut butter cups in the freezer to firm up.  This step isn't vital, but it keeps them from getting completely smashed when they get mixed into the ice cream at the end.

In a large bowl (preferably with a spout), combine the peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla extract.  Gradually stir in the condensed milk until smooth.  Stir in cream and milk.  Place mixture in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (ice cream tends to churn better when it starts off as cold vs. cool room temp.).  Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions, adding peanut butter cups during the last 5 minutes of freezing.  Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until serving time.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Lofthouse Sugar Cookies

You know those Lofthouse cookies that people go absolutely beserk over?  You know which ones--the soft & cakey ones you see at the grocery store, covered in a half-inch thick layer of icing and sprinkles.  Well now you can make them yourself any time you want them (maybe that's not such a good thing).  Sure, the internet is chock full of kopy kat recipes for this cookie, but from what I've been reading most of those recipes just don't measure up to the real deal.  Except for THIS ONE, which I found at Mother Thyme's blog last month.  It's a darn close match for the real thing, but made with natural yummy ingredients.  And an added bonus:  you can make them for much less than the $3 you'd pay for 10 cookies at the store!  My cookies didn't end up with as thick a layer of frosting as the Lofthouse ones do, but they were still plenty good!  The only alteration I made to Mother Thyme's recipe was the cookie size:  I ended up with 21 generous sized cookies, where the recipe shows a yield of 12 cookies.  That's probably the reason why my frosting came up short, so I'll definitely keep that in mind the next time I make these!

Please visit Mother Thyme's blog for the recipe.  Click HERE!

On a side note, I'd like to wish the LSU Tigers luck tonight as they take on Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.  Even though the hubby and I graduated from ULL, we were both LSU students at one time!


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bacon Cheddar Cheese Ball

Big fan of those almond-crusted processed cheeze balls/logs that show up during the holidays?  Don't worry, I won't tell.  I like them too (except the wine-flavored ones).  But if you're looking for a more "natural" version you can make any time of the year, you've come to the right place.  That's can have cheese balls any time of the year!

Bacon Cheddar Cheese Ball
Adapted from Cook's Country Dec./Jan. 2011

8 oz. grated extra sharp cheddar cheese**
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbl. mayonnaise
1 Tbl. Worcestershire sauce
A few shakes of Hickory Liquid Smoke
A pinch of garlic powder (about 1/8 tsp.)
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled--for inside 
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled--for the coating

**You can grate this by hand or use a food processor, but try to avoid using pre-shredded cheddar cheese.  The powder they add to keep the shreds from sticking together will affect the texture of the cheese ball.

Combine grated cheddar, cream cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until mixture is smooth and combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.  Add 4 slices of the crumbled bacon and pulse briefly to combine.  Give it a quick stir with a rubber spatula, then turn the mixture out onto a large piece of plastic wrap.  Wrap up the cheese mixture, shaping it into a rough ball shape.  Place the wrapped cheese ball into a small round bowl and refrigerate for 3 hours.  (The round bowl is optional, but useful for helping to maintain the cheese ball's roundness). 

Once the cheese ball is firm, roll it around a bit on the counter to further shape it into a smooth ball if necessary.  Unwrap and roll in 8 slices of crumbled bacon to coat the outside.  Allow cheese ball to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cajun Firecrackers

Happy New Year!  I certainly hope everyone had an enjoyable and safe New Year's celebration.  Now that you've finished cleaning up the mess left behind from last night's festivities, why not whip up a batch of Cajun Firecrackers?  These tasty crackers are perfect for satisfying your cravings, and they're equally tasty whether you enjoy them alone or alongside a cheese ball (recipe coming soon!).  Enjoy!  :)

Cajun Firecrackers
Recipe adapted from Real Cajun Recipes 

1 box (16 oz.) saltine crackers
1 1/3 cups canola oil
2 pkgs. Ranch dressing powder
1 Tbl. cayenne pepper (or less, to taste.  We like it spicy!)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Place saltine crackers into a gallon-size ziptop bag.  (The easiest way to do this is to clip the top off of each sleeve of crackers and place all four sleeves vertically into the gallon baggie.  Then just pull the sleeves out and you have perfect rows of crackers in seconds!)  Measure out canola oil in a 2-cup measuring cup.  Add ranch dressing, cayenne, and garlic powder.  Mix well with a whisk or fork.  Pour evenly over the saltines.  Seal up the bag and rotate/massage the bag to get the crackers evenly coated.  Allow the crackers to sit in the marinade for at least 1 hour, turning every 15 minutes to keep crackers evenly seasoned. 

Recipe notes:
  • There is no typo.  YES, that's a lot of oil.  NO, you don't need to bake these.  The crackers will absorb the oil and WILL NOT end up soggy. 
  • Aren't these crackers totally oily and greasy?  Not any more than your average potato chips.
  • You can use "unsalted" saltines or oyster crackers in place of regular saltines, but other types of crackers (RITZ, Club®) don't work as well. 
  • If you have access to a warehouse club (Sam's, Costco, etc.), you can find large canisters of Hidden Valley® Ranch Dressing Powder for about $5.  The canister we have is equal to 16 packets.  Compare that to the $2 you might spend on two packets at the grocery store and the savings really add up!
  • The original recipe calls for red pepper flakes instead of cayenne, and you can certainly use that if you prefer.  I've found that the pepper flakes don't stick as well to the crackers as the cayenne.  Also...your braces-wearing friends and family members will thank you to make the switch.