Friday, November 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Ran out of time...

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving yesterday.

Today is the reveal date for this months challenge: CANNOLI! I know, doesn't that sound so yummy?!

Well, the month flew by, and this week I had lots of Thanksgiving dessert orders to fill (so happy for a busy week) and then in the middle of it all, I began to get sick. So here we are and because I'm feeling so dang awful, I can't even pull off the challenge at the last minute.

Be sure to visit our hostess with the mostess; Lisa Michele at Parsley, Sage, Desserts & Line Drives to read about this fantastic challenge and the how-to in creating it yourself.

After I'm feeling better, I'll see if I can do a late posting of this awesome challenge. Right now, I plan on staying in bed the rest of the weekend.

Stay tuned.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Must Have: Be Thankful For What You Have

In honor of Thanksgiving this week, I think it's very appropriate to pause in our very busy lives and think about what we are thankful for in our lives. I've had the topic of gratitude on my mind for the last few days and it's been good for me to reflect about the many blessings in my life.

Here are ten (of the many things) that I am grateful for:

1) My Mom--She's always there for me and supports me in all that I do.
2) My spiritual beliefs
3) My health
4) Doing what I love for a living
5) Friends
6) Opportunities for education & learning
7) Good books
8) Being able to share my talents with others
9) Experiences I've had in all aspects of my life
10) The hope of what lies in the future

I would challenge you to take a few moments during this holiday week to write down what you are thankful for at this time in your life.

P.S. A couple of weeks ago I received a nice surprise from Anula over at her blog Anula's Kitchen. Thank you Anula!!

This blog award is just another wonderful example of how supportive people are in the blogging community which I really appreciate and am grateful to be part of this online community.

I am passing this award to five blogs that I've really enjoyed following. Reading each of these blogs have made my days a little brighter and I thank you for that!

Sue at Munchkin Munchies
Kate at Serendipity
Julie at Willow Bird Baking
Kate at Apple & Spice
Cooking School Confidential

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Must Have: Find your favorite kind of CAKE!

Let's talk CAKE.

I have a theory...there are two kinds of people:

Group #1) Those who like cake, and
Group #2) those who say they don't.

I find this interesting, especially the second group who claim that they are not cake people. To them I would say that they haven't had the opportunity to taste a really GOOD cake. I've been given this reason time and time again, when meeting with clients for a wedding cake tasting during a consultation. Actually, when I hear that, I have to hold back a grin, because I know that they are soon going to change their perception and move to the first group of those that like cake. I take them on as a challenge to help them open their eyes to the wonderful world of cake; quality cake that is.

I think there are several reasons why people say they don't like cake. Their experiences have included poor quality frosting or too much frosting, dry cake, or cake made with inferior ingredients. I know that some people love boxed cake mixes, but a box mix can't compete with a cake made from scratch, using quality ingredients.

Most celebrations revolve around the cake; weddings, birthdays, baby showers, office gatherings, and holidays. We have all had some kind of cake at one time or another. And on top of that, there are many flavors of cake to choose from--white, yellow, chocolate, marbled, cherry, red velvet, lemon, orange, strawberry, carrot, and on and on. Everyone has their preferred flavors and then you could really divide the cake people into chocolate lovers and the rest. But that is another topic for another post.

What makes a cake really GOOD?

I believe that there are three key aspects that make the difference between a "just OK" kind of cake and a "WOW, this cake is AMAZING". They are: ingredients, technique and the correct ratio of a QUALITY frosting to the amount of cake layers. All three of these attributes are very important and when they are done correctly, you will have a DELICIOUS cake. If even one of these are missing, then the cake is less than excellent and just becomes another cake that isn't memorable (or at least not memorable in a good way).

Ingredients = Need to be fresh, of good quality and the amounts need to be measured accurately, so the cake will come out correctly every single time it's made.

Technique = A cake needs to be mixed using the correct method. Cake batter can be over mixed, under mixed, ingredients incorporated at the stage or at the wrong temperature--all of which can result in problems during the baking process and ultimately the final product.

Correct ratio of a QUALITY frosting to cake = More frosting is not necessarily better. The icing on the cake should compliment the cake or enhance the flavor, not take over completely. And a quality buttercream makes all the difference. Ever eat a cake with too much frosting and the taste leaves a lingering unappealing aftertaste on your tongue? You know the kind I'm talking about--this can ruin a potentially good cake. Picture a smooth, creamy buttercream that is so silky and is filled with a vanilla flavor that works with the moist cake, so that one bite is never enough. That is what GOOD cake should taste like.

I know I haven't mentioned the appearance of a cake. Yes, it should look appealing, because seeing the cake is the first of several senses we use and that first impression is important. My goal with every cake I make, is to make it beautifully delicious; which means it needs to look inviting and with that first look, you just know that the taste will match or exceed its appearance.

Back to those clients I have had over the past several years that have come in to taste wedding cake samples. I'm happy to have them come in and sit down to taste different flavors of cake to help them make a decision for their big day. I've even had the bride or the groom mention again, how although they really aren't cake people, that they just need to find something that will be suitable for their guests. I just smile and say, "It's OK if you don't eat the entire piece of cake, but just give it a try." I cut them a piece of the cake, made just hours before, and set it in front of them.

And then I watch and wait.

The bride loves cake and digs right in. The groom, tentatively cuts his with his fork and takes a small bite. I watch as a look of surprise passes over his face. He goes in for a second bite. Neither is saying anything, but I'm hearing sounds of enjoyment. And then it happens--the moment I've anticipated and enjoy every single time. The bride asks the groom, "So, what do you think?" The groom doesn't say anything, because he is on the last bite of cake and the plate is almost as clean as it was before the cake slice was laid on it. Finally, I hear "WOW, this cake was so GOOD! And I don't even like cake!"

And just like that, another non-cake person experiences a change and is open to moving up to the first group of those who like cake. I love watching this happen. It's just another perk to doing what I love and sharing it with others.

If you haven't enjoyed a really good slice of cake--keep looking. It's out there. Sometimes you have to taste many kinds of cakes from different sources, but you will find it. And if you happen to be in my area, try a Jillicious Cake--you might just become a member of group #1; those who like cake. I love a challenge.

What is your favorite kind of cake?

P.S. My current favorite is the Caramel Hazelnut Spice Cake (pictured in this post) & the latest edition to the completed 2009 Jillicious Holiday Menu found here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Little Preview...

I know, it's Tuesday already and no Monday Must Have. It's that time of year where I'm finalizing the Holiday Menu, updating my website, creating and printing the paper version of the menu and creating a few new desserts for the holidays. And on top of all that, I have orders to fill and meetings with clients to attend.

But in the meantime, here is a little preview of one of my favorite cakes and I'll be back in a couple of days with more information and hopefully (cross your fingers that all goes well) the 2009 Jillicious Holiday Menu.

Till then, I hope you all are having a great week!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Must Have: Kitchen Inspiration

My first sugar showpiece in culinary school.

Creativity. I love it. I need it. I crave it.

I enjoy what I do for a living because I have this outlet where I can create something that is a part of me, for others to enjoy.

One of the things I loved about culinary school was the constant learning of new skills and techniques and it seemed like the creativity just happened being in such a conducive environment. I remember the first day of my Confectionery & Showpiece class, where the chef demonstrated a FANTASTIC sugar showpiece (which I wished I had taken a picture of to share with you). When she finished, she had us pick out three colors of cooked sugar and said, "OK, now it's your turn to make a showpiece in the next couple of hours."

I had picked three colors that didn't really seem like they would work together and the perfectionist in me began to panic. As I worked, practicing the techniques that the chef had demonstrated, I began to gain confidence in learning another new skill. Although we had a choice in the colors, we still needed to incorporate the hedge rose flowers and the pulled sugar technique in our project.

The above picture was my very first sugar showpiece and although it's not anywhere near what you might see on a Food Network show, I was very pleased with how it turned out and when I look at this picture, it brings back memories of the excitement and the challenge of learning something new and allowing my creativity to shine through. Overall, this picture represents a time when I thought something was impossible and how with a little direction, practice and creativity it became possible.

But every once in awhile, there are times where the creativity doesn't seem to flow and I need a little extra help to get those creative juices flowing. At times like these, I turn to those things or people around me to get going again.

Things or people that INSPIRE me:

Cooking Magazines
Collected Recipes
Created Recipes
Favorite Food Blogs
Other Pastry Chefs
My Mentor Chef D.
Seasonal or Local Produce/Ingredients
Bakeware/Cookware/Kitchen Gadgets
Culinary Classes
Places I've Lived/Visited

What INSPIRES you in the kitchen?