Saturday, January 31, 2009

2008 Minnesota State Fair: Yellow Cake (also known as my FIRST BLUE RIBBON!)

(middle shelf, towards right, blue ribbon)
Cakes with Shortening: Cake, not otherwise specified lot: 1st place

This cake is the preferred birthday option of my sister, who requests a yellow cake with chocolate frosting every year. Last year was her golden birthday, so I made it using cake flour for the first time. I could not believe how well it turned out. I wished I could have entered that cake in the fair! There is not a lot for yellow cakes, believe it or not, so this cake ended up in the "Not Otherwise Specified" lot, because there wasn't another lot it would fit in.

I remember the morning the fair results were posted I had an 8 am class at the U of M, and I couldn't check the results until after class, as they were posted at 8 am as well. I think I ran the last leg of my walk back to my car, then flew down the parkway to get home to my computer! I saw the first 4 results (Banana Bread, White Cake, Spice Cake, and Chocolate Cake), and then I saw my name in first place in this lot. I did a lot of jumping around and fist pumping when I saw the result! I really hoped I would be able to contend for the Grand Cake of the Fair. They judge all the cakes in the shortening and the egg categories, and deem the best of all the blue ribbon cakes the Grand Cake of the Fair. (Ironically, my spice cake had a higher score for the cake component!) Well, there's always this year!

2008 Minnesota State Fair: Chocolate Cake

(middle shelf, towards left, pink ribbon)
Cakes with Shortening: Cake, chocolate lot: 4th place

I had entered this category in 2007 using Betty Crocker's newest version of a Devil's Food Cake recipe, frosted with French Silk Frosting. It bombed. I realized that whenever I make a chocolate cake for a birthday, I go to my old standby, Cocoa Fudge Cake. I decided this year I would enter the one that I always like to eat and it always comes out well. Although I got a very good score on this cake, it placed 4th in the lot. Still, I was quite pleased with the results. And again, the secret was using cake flour.

Mr. Findlay-Lampkin told me once that this cake was good because it tasted like a Suzy-Q. I think that was supposed to be a compliment.

Friday, January 23, 2009

2008 Minnesota State Fair: White Cake

(bottom shelf, towards left side, red ribbon)
Cakes with Shortening: White Cake (with egg whites) lot: 2nd place

I remember this cake was the first one I made from scratch as a 2 layer cake. It was a snowy day, and we had the afternoon off from school. I think I was in the 6th grade. It was a rather inauspicious beginning, but I used it as a starting point for exploring more baking projects and developing my cake making skills.

Like the Spice Cake category, I entered this cake on a whim. I was surprised this cake placed as high as it did. It didn't receive a terribly high score (my 4th place chocolate cake actually had a higher score), but it was good enough for second place in this lot. I think the trick is using cake flour instead of all purpose flour. I like putting more almond flavor into this cake, and I like the white on white color combination.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Holiday Food Fun!

I set up shop in the kitchen at the beginning of the holidays every year. I usually make a few different kinds of cookies, as well as baking for gifts. This year I created State Fair Sampler Packs with 5 of the entries I plan to make for the fair this summer.

I also help with meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve I always make clam chowder and salmon dip, and I like to make some of my Grandma Findlay's specialties, namely her famous sauerkraut meatballs and cinnamon applesauce jello. This year on Christmas Day we had a Greek/Middle Eastern themed meal. I made tabbouleh and helped my mom make spinach pie.

My mom and I working in the kitchen. We had 2 Kitchen Aid stand mixers going at once. Thank goodness they have 2 convection ovens and a root cellar that stays very cool in the winter. We need all the space!

My dad, or the esteemed washer of the dishes, and I in the kitchen on Christmas Eve. I made the apron he's wearing. I embroidered his favorite kitchen saying on the front: "Cookbooks are for wimps."

I'm coating chocolate mint wafer cookies here. It's my new favorite holiday cookie to make. I got the recipe from Everyday Food magazine, the December 2007 issue.

I also tried some new cookies, Almond Sweets and Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cookies, that will be back next year. Cranberry Jumbles turned out well and tasted good, but didn't seem like a Christmas cookie. We'll save that one for the fall.

Mom's Julekage dough getting ready to rise. This is a Norweigian holiday bread made with candied fruit and cardamom. She led me through the process - I plan to make this for an ethnic bread category at the fair.

Here's a test run of one of my fair entries - Blueberry Almond bread. So far I'm getting good reviews, so this recipe is a keeper for the fair.

The 2009 State Fair Sampler Pack: Gingersnaps*, Oatmeal Cookies, Irresistible Brownies*, Blueberry Almond Bread, and Cinnamon Rolls*. (*recipes previously posted)

Making the famous sauerkraut meatballs.

The meatballs are shaped, then chilled overnight.

The next day, the meatballs are dipped in an egg and milk mixture, then rolled in bread crumbs before baking.

My mom and I constructing the spinach pie. The phyllo dough sheets are paper thin, so you must work with them quickly so they do not dry out and tear! This is a two person job. Mom brushed the butter on the sheets, and I laid them in the pan.

The filling for the spinach pie.

Laying down the other half of the phyllo sheets on top of the filling.

The last dish I prepare on Christmas Eve is the famous clam chowder. I learned how to make this in my 9th grade Family Enterprise class at SCC, courtesy again of Ms. Monson. The recipe was a secret passed to her from a former restaurant owner. She held onto it for 10 years, then shared it with us. I've made it every year since then, so it's been about 15 years!

Prep work - every cook's delight and joy.

Clams getting happy in the stock pot.

I have 3 pots going at once in this dish. Clams in one, milk in another, and vegetables in a third. The aptly named "Robo Stove" at Mom and Dad's house, powered by gas, has cut the prep time of this soup in half.

The clam chowder gets to hang out in the crock pot for the rest of the night.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Making a cake from scratch. No boxes required!

Cake mixes may offer a little convenience, but they cannot compare to a creation from staple ingredients that may already be in your kitchen. I've been making cakes from scratch for a long time. In fact, we stopped getting cakes from the bakery for birthdays long ago. It's been great practice for the State Fair too - I won 4 ribbons in the cake categories this past year and 5 overall.

My dad recently had his birthday just before Christmas. As per his usual request, I made a spice cake with maple frosting. (He suggested this combination long before I entered it in the Fair.) The recipe is posted in the Spice Cake blog entry from December 28. Here is each step of my cake-making process.

First, I mix my sugar and fat (shortening, butter, oil) together.

This process is called creaming. Here is the creamed butter, shortening, and sugar.

Next I beat in the eggs, one at a time. At this point I also add any extracts, such as vanilla or almond.

Mixing in the spices and baking powder/baking soda. (Ideally, I should combine this with the flour, but I'm lazy sometimes.)

Lastly, I alternative additions of the flour and the liquid (milk, buttermilk, water) to the batter. I always end with the last of the liquid.

After I get all the ingredients combine, I scrape the bowl to make sure there aren't any unsightly lumps, or flour sticking to the side of the bowl.

Finally, I beat the batter for a few minutes to get it nice and smooth.

Next, I get my pans ready. These are my 8 inch round cake pans. I got them at the grocery store in Madison when I was in college. I love the whirly-gig that loosens the cake from the pans after baking - VERY helpful! These are probably about $3 cake pans. I swear by cheap, NOT nonstick bakeware. It works really well for me!

After brushing shortening onto the sides and bottom of the pan, take a little flour and tap it around into the pan to form a light coating.

Greased and floured cake pans.

Take care to fill the pans as evenly as possible with the cake batter for uniform layers.

Make sure to stagger the placement of the pans in the oven for maximum heat circulation.

After testing the cake for doneness with a toothpick, I let them cool in the pans on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then I loosen the cake with my pan helpers. With other cake pans, I loosen the sides of the cake with a knife, and tap the bottom of the pan to loosen the cake. Often I let the cake fall out onto the outstretched palm of my hand, then flip it over onto the cooling rack.

Let the layers cool completely on a wire rack.

Next, I prepare the frosting. I plan ahead and set my butter out when I begin making the cake so it will be softened by the time I want to use it. This is the mixture of butter and powdered sugar.
The mixture with the maple flavoring mixed in.

After the milk is beaten in, I test the consistency of the frosting to see how it will spread. If it's too stiff I'll beat it a little more or add a little more milk.

Prepping the cake layers for frosting. I had a little ridge form on this layer, so I'm trimming it with a serrated knife.

After covering a round cardboard with foil, I set down one of the layers (usually the one that has the flatter top so the other layer will stack balanced). Then I spread the frosting with my large spatula.

Adding the second layer after frosting the first, making sure the cake is lined up evenly.

I start frosting the sides with a thin layer, then add more and create a smooth look.

Last, I frost the top and round the edge of frosting from the sides to the top.

The frosted cake, ready for a little primping.

Using my icing decorator, I form a decorative edge along the bottom and the top of the cake.
The finished borders.

Using the remaining frosting, I tint it with some brown food coloring to write on the cake. I used a toothpick to add the color so I could control the shade of brown I would make. Then I mixed the color into the frosting and put it in my decorator's tube.

I change the icing tip to write "Happy Birthday Dad" on the cake.

The finished cake! And because I'm such a good daughter, I didn't even reveal my dad's age. :)