Toddler Birthday Cake

My little man recently turned three and I made him a birthday cake. My original plan was to use my kid’s birthday as an occasion to try out the Halekulani coconut cake recipe I found, but hubby pointed out that a three year old cannot have a plain, simple, all-white cake and the birthday cake needed to be something fun. Wanting to avoid colored frosting in a can and knowing my own limitations when it came to pastry bag decorating, I made the mistake of going on Pinterest, the place to go if you’re ever feeling like you need to feel inadequate in life. First of all, who are these people who make fondant at home!?! Also, it is ill-advised to go on Pinterest the day before an event.

After some searching, I found these “Easy Little Pandas” on a great baking blog called Bakerella and figured I can make mini chocolate cupcakes instead. I didn’t use the cupcake recipe from Bakerella but used the Barefoot Contessa’s chocolate ganache cupcake recipe instead.

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes
From the Barefoot Contessa Parties Cookbook

  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 16 oz can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add flour and mix just combined – do no overbeat. Pour batter into lined mini-muffin tins and bake for 30 min or until set in the middle. Let cool thoroughly in the pan.

While I usually frost these with chocolate ganache, for the pandas, I made the swiss buttercream recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Swiss Buttercream
From Smitten Kitchen

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 13 tbsp of unsalted butter softened (1 stick and 5 tbsp)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers. Transfer mixture to a big bowl and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. Mix in vanilla. Add the butter a stick at a time and whip for about 10-15 min until it reaches frosting consistency. During the whipping process, this frosting will look like it might curdle but just keep whipping and it will come together.

To decorate, I piped a glob of frosting onto the top of each cupcake. I did not having “sanding sugar” and found that unless you go to some specialty baking supply store or order it online, you cannot find such a thing at your local grocery store. Since this was a night-before-the-party kind of baking project, I used white sparkling sugar I found at Safeway and powder-fied it with a couple pulses in a coffee grinder. I also had a hard time finding edible ink pens so I used black frosting in a tube to create the eyes.

Panda Cupcakes

Although these were not completely impossible to recreate like most other things on Pinterest, between dividing out the white confetti pieces from the rest of the colors, separating out individual tiny flakes of chocolate jimmies and carefully placing the three parts that make up the panda eyes and mouths onto a million tiny cupcakes, I would not exactly call it “easy.”

In the end, I wanted little man to have a real cake so I made the Halekulani cake without the coconut. The sponge cake was light, springy and delicately flavored and the pastry cream was amazing. I frosted it with the whipped cream frosting from the recipe and used the same cupcake decorating technique to put two more panda faces on the cake.

Panda Birthday Cake

Little Miss came out to Davis to help celebrate and everyone had a choice of chocolate panda cupcake or a piece of delicious birthday cake or both. The birthday boy was beyond excited about his birthday cake and his little face when he saw the cake made all my fretting totally worth it.

Birthday Boy

My Favorite Muffin

The delectable baked goods from Mrs. Scott’s kitchen have previously been documented here at three squabbling asians. I have fond memories of walking through her door, plopping down at the kitchen counter, and chatting with Mrs. Scott in front of a plate of these banana chip muffins. She always seemed to have a batch ready when I showed up at her house – which was often.

Having moved away from Mrs. Scott’s kitchen years ago, there has been a notable dearth of banana chip muffins in my life. So, finding some overripe bananas in my fruit bowl recently, I procured the recipe from Mrs. Scott and soon the familiar aroma of banana muffins filled my house. Since I got the recipe two months ago, I have made these at least 5 times. There also always seems to be “extra” bananas in the fruit bowl recently.

Banana Chip Muffin

The recipe makes a dozen muffins and after I eat a couple, I individually wrap the rest in saran wrap and stick them in a ziplock in the freezer. They defrost well on the counter, in the microwave, or the toaster oven and are a great complement to your morning coffee or just as a snack at any time of day.

Mrs. Scott’s Banana Chip Muffins
adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook

Makes one dozen amazing muffins

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1 tbs hot water
  • 1 tbs instant coffee or espresso
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mash bananas, add combined water and coffee mixture. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 5 min). Add egg and mix well. Add banana mixture and mix. Add dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips.

Divide batter into a well-greased muffin pan and bake for 25-30 min until tops are brown and toothpick comes out clean.

Cupcakes & Coffee Cake

Spice

As I mentioned in the post below, Little Miss demanded that I make coconut cupcakes for her bridal shower. While I am normally not a coconut person, I make exceptions for a few coconut items – the coconut cake at the Halekulani in Honolulu and the coconut cupcakes from the Barefoot Contessa store in my hometown of Bonac, aka East Hampton. The Barefoot Contessa was a specialty store on Newtown Lane that sold prepared foods, delectable dessert items and $4 lattes back in 1992. Not being much of a baker, my mom was a frequent shopper and when I worked in town, I always had a friend or two who worked there that would sneak me a cupcake or two. I always said that when I got married I wanted a cupcake tower full of coconut and chocolate ganache cupcakes from the Barefoot Contessa instead of a wedding cake.

Alas, by the time I got married, the Barefoot Contessa store was no longer (I had to settle for an equally amazing wedding cake made by the talented pastry crew at the Halekulani), but its proprietor, Ina Garten has made quite a name for herself with a slew of cookbooks (I even accompanied her to a book signing party as a bookseller when her first cookbook came out) and a show on the food network. I love her cookbooks and watching her show, not just because it reminds me of home and features places and people I grew up with, but because her recipes are easy and delicious. Her cookbooks are filled with all the stuff from her store that I used to love (see shrimp salad) including this recipe for coconut cupcakes. Through the years, I have made these cupcakes for birthdays, baby showers and bridal showers and have converted all my friends, including Little Miss, into coveting these cupcakes. This recipe can also be modified into a layer cake.

Coconut Cupcakes
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Ina Garten

Makes about 18-20 large cupcakes or 3 dozen small cupcakes and 1 dozen large cupcakes

  • 3 sticks of butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure almond extract
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 14 oz sweetened, shreeded coconut

Preheat oven to 325 degeees.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after every addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In three parts, alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk to batter, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined and fold in 7 oz of coconut.

Line muffin pan with paper liners (I usually make a mix of mini muffins and regular sized muffins). Fill each cup to the top with batter. Bake for 20-30 min, until tops are brown and toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 min then remove to cooling rack to cool completely. Frost with cream cheese icing and sprinkle with coconut.

Cream Cheese Icing
Note: This is a halved recipe since I always found I had way too much icing left over but if you’re into lots of icing on your cupcakes, double the quantities here.

  • 1 package (1/2 lb) cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 stick of butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp pure almond extract
  • 3/4-1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Blend together cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add powdered sugar to taste and mix until smooth.

Streusel Coffee Cake
I also included the recipe we attached to the bridal shower favors for a moist streusel coffee cake that I make when I have leftover plain yogurt that I need to use up (why are those containers so big?). This recipe is not from the Barefoot Contessa but is always a big hit with my co-workers.

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 stick cold butter
  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter room temp
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

Mix first five ingredients together to make streusel. Set aside.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix eggs in one at a time, beating well after each. Mix in vanilla.

Fold in dry ingredients and yogurt alternately in thirds beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Pour half batter into a bundt pan, sprinkle with streusel. Pour in rest of batter and top with streusel. Bake for 55 min in bundt pan at 350°. Cool on rack.

Shower Brunch

Shower

The brunch spread we put together for Little Miss’s bridal shower included a breakfast casserole, a corn and cheddar quiche, assorted pastries from La Farine Boulangerie, bacon (because you cannot have brunch without bacon) and a fresh summer fruit salad.

The breakfast casserole is a recipe I picked up from one the local ladies I worked with in Hawai’i. She brought it to a party and I could not stop eating it. After I got the recipe, I was a bit horrified to find out what was in it, but like any good casserole, it contains cream of mushroom soup and it is seriously delicious.

Breakfast Casserole 

  • 16 oz package of ground pork breakfast sausage
  • 1/2 onion chopped
  • 10 oz box defrosted frozen spinach, chopped, squeezed dry
  • 1 can (10 3/4 oz) can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 10 3/4 oz milk (use soup can to measure)
  • 12 eggs
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar
  • 1 bag (32 oz) frozen bag tater tots

Follow directions to bake tater tots. Remove from oven and adjust oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet, brown sausage. Drain and set aside. Using the same large skillet, drain out excess oil from sausage saving 1-2 tsp and sauté onions and spinach (you can also include sliced fresh mushrooms) on medium heat for 5 min. Turn off heat and add back drained sausage. Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, beat eggs, mix in soup, milk and half of the shredded cheddar cheese. In a 9×13 inch baking dish, even spread tater tots to cover bottom of pan. Spread a layer of the sausage, onion and spinach mixture over the tater tots. Pour the egg mixture over tater tots and sausage mixture.

Bake for 45 min. in 350 degree oven. Remove from oven, sprinkle remainder of cheese over the top of the casserole and bake for an additional 5-10 min until cheese is melted. Eat right away or at room temperature.

Corn and Cheddar Quiche
Recipe courtesy of my fabulous cohost Erin

  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 3/4 tsp pepper
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp thyme
  • 4 ears of corn, kernels removed
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 pie crust

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine eggs, flour, pepper, nutmeg, thyme and 1/3 of corn in a food processor. Blend until corn is finely chopped.

Pour into large bowl and add half & half and melted butter. Whisk to combine. Add remaining corn and grated cheddar cheese.

Prepare pie crust and place in pie pan. Pour mixture into crust. Bake until filling is set and golden, about 50 min. Serve warm.

Little Miss Bridal Shower

After a long hiatus I am back! We had some web issues, we lost Yuan to Shanghai where he continues to seek out the perfect dumpling, and Little Miss and I have been working our day jobs while taking care of our human and canine babies.

But enough excuses. Last weekend I cohosted a cookbook themed bridal shower for Little Miss who is getting married next month. Having already had her Amazon wishlist of cookbooks for years, she got a enough books from her wishlist to keep her busy for her matrimonial future. She also demanded coconut cupcakes.

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All the guests brought their favorite recipes for a recipe box we found on etsy. Many people brought family recipes. We also had book plates to go inside the cookbooks for messages to Little Miss.

Recipe
Name that spice game. Little Miss tied for first with five correct answers.

Spice

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Brunch table for twelve with spice jar favors filled with Saigon cinnamon from Oaktown Spice Shop and coffee cake recipe.

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Cupcakes

Congratulations to Little Miss and we love you!  Thank you to my amazing cohost Erin and to Janine for the nicer photographs in this post.

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