One of the things I’ve had to adjust to here in my new locale is that there just are not as many options for food as there are in New York. Gone are the days where I can get a fresh bagel, have a banh mi for lunch, stop for a Macaron and coffee in the afternoon, have fresh sushi for dinner and then grab some cupcakes to go for a midnight snack. That’s probably been my biggest adjustment so far. The local bakery I work for does make cupcakes, but only for orders, so I can’t really just walk in there and get one out of the case. But I did hear of a place in a neighboring town, about an hour away that makes cupcakes. As a matter of fact this bakery, Cakes on Walnut, is a cupcake bar! This is a cool, funky idea and I never saw anything like it back home!
The space is clean and modern with lots of seating and artwork on display. There is also an adjoining art space where you can see more art on display. The display area for the cupcakes is lovely, as shown in the following photo. Behind the cupcakes, there is the coffee are and the bar area which were both pretty standard.
While I was there, I tried four different cupcakes. The pumpkin spice cupcake was by far the best one. It was moist with a nice balance of spice and pumpkin flavor and a sweet and tangy cream cheese icing. It was also great to see a seasonal offering.
The red velvet cupcake was also moist with a slight hint of cocoa flavor. The cream cheese icing was a nice complement, however the cocoa nibs on top were a bit overpowering. I found myself picking them off of the top of the cupcake. I then had their chocolate cupcake which was also nice.
Unfortunately, the most disappointing cupcake was the smores cupcake. The bottom layer of the cupcake was a thick, hard layer of graham cracker crust topped by the moist cupcake. And the entire cupcake was topped with bruleed marshmallows. This was definitely one of the most beautiful cupcakes they had, but unfortunately it was not nearly as delicious as it looked.
I know cupcakes are a trendy dessert that’s past its prime, but I do still love being able to have my own little cake treat when I can. Hopefully, this trend will become more popular in my new locale.
After finishing my Wilton classes, I felt a bit unsure of what I should do next. Should I just experiment on my own? Take more classes?? If so, where and what? Well, in the past week or so, I’ve found a few answers to this question.
The first thing I did was to go to the Great American Cake show in Westminster, MD. I’ve never been to a cake show, but it sounded like fun and a good way to see what other things I should learn. I was right!! The show was AMAZING!! So many cakes from all levels were displayed–beginner to professional. They even had displays for cupcakes, cookies and peeps!! These weren’t so much displays as they were entries in the competitions but I just felt like it was great to see all the different cakes and different techniques used to decorate them. One of my favorite cakes was done by a teenager from Pennsylvania, Rafael Logrono of Rafael’s Cakes. Not only was his cake absolutely lovely, demonstrating a variety of techniques and artistic skills, but he’s a really super nice guy!! After working with teenagers, I’m always floored when I meet a lovely young man with skill and determination. He’s also a fabulous teacher. While at the show, I took a class in creating a sculpted purse. Check out my first ever sculpted purse!!
I’ve never sculpted a cake before and Rafael really guided me through the process. His colleague, Amelia Monis of Sweet Alchemy by Amelia was also a great help since she helped me make sure my construction was good and she also answered questions along the way. This class, and all the shopping to do at the show were the best parts!!
I also decided I needed to learn to make gumpaste flowers. Yes, I’ve experimented with these before and had some exposure to gumpaste with my Wilton class, but I never really formally learned how to make wired gumpaste flowers. That is, until I took a class with the illustrious Colette Peters! She was a fabulous instructor since she broke down the construction of each flower into simple steps and was open to questions along the way. Not only did I get to go home with a bunch of lovely flowers that I intend to put on a cake for Mother’s day tomorrow but I went home with detailed instructions on how to make the flowers again!! I love when teachers give you a hand out of the most important information–seriously. I definitely want to take more classes from her since she creates an environment where you can really focus on your work and feel comfortable enough to ask questions. Check out my flowers!!
Maybe my next steps will be to experiment at home with some of the many cake books I’ve acquired or maybe even trying to view some cake decorating dvds? who knows? I just know I’m hooked on this art!!
Now what?? I’ve completed all the Wilton cake decorating courses that are available to me locally. My life revolved around cake: baking, design, and decorating. And I LOVED it all! Yes, there were moments that were frustrating and yes I can see a lot of my mistakes. But, I learned a LOT and I can see a serious improvement. Remember my first fondant cake? Even though my fondant was saggy and bumpy I knew I was onto something. Unfortunately, this cake obsession has taken a toll on other things in my life. For example, I was delinquent from my Daring Baker’s Challenge this month. Not for lack of trying–I did try to find the suet and the pudding dish, but there was always work to be done on a cake. I’ve also fallen off the workout wagon, since I’ve been too wrapped up in making all the items for cakes and unable to spare any time for my elliptical trainer. This weekend I’m even going down to Maryland to check out a cake show. I’ve never been to one so I’m excited to see what goes on and maybe take a class or two.
So what kind of cake was I so focused on making to end this course? A shoebox cake!!! I also made a lid out of another layer of cake, tissue paper from gumpaste and a shoe from gumpaste. I even made a matching little purse to go with it. The cake itself was a lemon buttermilk pound cake with a french vanilla buttercream. It’s not as detailed as I would have liked, but it’s a good start!
Any suggestions on what I should do next??
Unfortunately, I’ve recently come down with what I thought was a cold. I’ve been congested, coughing, sneezing and wheezing for a while and thanks to my great doctor, I’m finally getting better. What’s even worse is that my mom was sick too with this same bug, only it hit her much harder with aches and pains. The only thing I wanted to do was just stay in bed and sleep! I knew though that we both had to drink plenty of liquids and get as much rest as possible. I decided to make some chicken soup, since it’s the best home remedy ever. After two days of eating this soup, I wanted a variation so I decided to try my hand at making matzoh ball soup. Maybe I was inspired by the Passover holiday? Maybe I wanted some more substance to my soup? I don’t know what sparked this in me, but it was a great idea! The matzoh balls were easier to make than I thought and filled me with warmth and comfort since they were cooked in a delicious chicken broth. This recipe is super simple and easy to make. If you don’t like the matzoh balls, try adding some thin noodles to the soup, because, you know, chicken noodle soup is great too! This soup is just what you’ll crave when you’re feeling sick and it’s easy enough to make when you just want to stay in bed most of the day.
Kitchen Experiment: Matzoh Ball Soup
Yield: approximately 4 quarts
- 1 large Spanish onion, diced
- 4-5 carrots, peeled and diced
- 3-4 stalks of celery, diced
- 15-20 black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 8-10 stems of fresh parsley
- 3-4 stems of fresh dill
- 1 chicken, preferably organic
- 1 box matzo meal
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used canola)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoons chicken broth
- 1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
- Dice your onion, carrots and celery. You should have about twice as much diced onion as you do of diced carrots and celery combined. If not, then add more of whatever you need to achieve this ratio of 2 parts onion to 1 part carrot and celery.
- Prepare your sachet. In a piece of cheesecloth (if you don’t have any you can always use gauze that doesn’t have any elastic) place the peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, parsley and dill. Tie your sachet so that all your herbs are secure.
- Prepare your chicken. Remove the gizzards and cut off any excess fat along the tail. Rinse the chicken until the water runs clear, taking care to remove any internal organs that remain.
- In a large 6 quart pot over low, add your onion, carrots and celery and add the chicken. (If you like the gizzards and neck, do add them! I did and they gave a wonderful richness to the soup.)
- Add enough water to the pot to cover the vegetables and the chicken and add your sachet.
- Now walk away! Do not stir, turn or disturb this pot! Also, be sure you never have a rolling boil. If you do see vigorous boiling about to occur, reduce your heat. Come back in about 40 min (or an hour) and you will see some foam rising to the top. Gently skim this from the top without disturbing the rest of the contents.
- Repeat the skimming process every 30 minutes or so for the next hour.
- Meanwhile, prepare the matzo balls. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, salt and matzo meal. Add broth (I used broth from the pot) and mix until uniform. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
- At this point your soup has been gently simmering away for about 2 hours. Remove your chicken, taking care to retrieve any parts that might be falling off. Shred all the meat of your chicken and return it to the pot.
- Add the cabbage and cook until tender. (If you’re using noodles, add them at this point and cook until tender.) If you’re preparing the matzo balls, remove them from the refrigerator and form them into balls. Be aware that they will swell when cooking!
- Into a smaller pot, ladle enough broth so that it will cover the matzo balls. Cover the pot and bring the broth to a boil.
- Add the matzo balls and cook for about 30 minutes.
- To serve, ladle soup and 2 matzo balls into a large bowl. Top with some freshly chopped dill.
This soup is delicious and satisfying! For those or you more familiar with matzo ball soup, this recipe for the matzo balls are basically the recipe on the back of the box only I cooked them in broth instead of water. Of course, I have no idea if these are considered hard or soft and I wasn’t even aware of this debate until recently. I just know my soup was good and easy enough to make when I felt super sick!
The past few weeks have been very hectic. I’ve been getting over a cold and my mother has also been quite ill. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete my daring baker’s challenge because I was just not feeling well at all and I’ve been trying to help my mom since she’s been ill too. But I did manage to still complete my Wilton Course 3 cakes. Since I haven’t done too much fondant work, I also made some other cakes using the techniques I learned in the class so that I can improve my skills and really familiarize myself with fondant. I also tried a few different recipes since I had most of the ingredients around the house. I have to say that while I do love working with fondant since it just creates such a sophisticated look, I still think that cakes are not really complete without some kind of piping work. I was glad we got to learn more piped flowers in this class, but of course, I wish we were able to practice more. I’m really looking forward to the next course which focuses on fondant and gumpaste! Here’s some shots of my most recent cakes from wilton 3.