Tuesday, July 29, 2008

July Daring Bakers Challenge - Gateau with Praline Buttercream

Since this is my third month as a Daring Baker, I did not panic quite as bad when I read the recipe. I also felt more comfortable playing around with the options. I choose to go with almonds since I still have bunches of those in the freezer. I also choose raspberry preserves in place of apricot. My next decision was in regards to the buttercream. I knew from the opera cake challenge that no one in my family is a fan of sweet buttercream on a cake of this type. Instead I found a French buttercream recipe from a Wilton Cake Book my MIL gave me. I have wanted to try it but never had a good enough reason. A Daring Bakers' Challenge is definitely a good enough reason.

I was most terrified about the praline. I love brittle but have always been too scared to make one. I jumped right in though. I used a cast iron frying pan and found the sugar melted very quickly in it. Surprisingly this was not as difficult as I had imagined. I would not call it perfect, but it was a great first try. The most important thing to me was it did not turn out bitter. It was good, and we ate the leftovers as a snack.

The almond mixture was no problem especially since my dh gave me my birthday present early. It was wonderful to not have to borrow a food processor. He did a great job of picking one out. I was happy to be able to give it a good test run.

I did use parchment paper in the bottom of my pans. I used three six inch ones since I also know I am horrible at cutting cakes. I know it is supposed to be a challenge, but I made praline. Baby steps, people! The layers came out great. I was in the zone at this point and picture taking fell to the wayside. I mixed up the French buttercream, which was rich, yummy, and not too sweet. I did not get the praline to a complete paste, but it was very fine. I could have used a few minutes more to get it to that point. Patience is not one of my strong suits. I did put a layer of unsweetened whipped cream on top of the buttercream. It was hot here and the whipped cream did not hold very well. It did make it from the counter into the fridge. I will take the small victories.

I will admit that it took a while to get this cake together. I was coming along okay until the ganache. After conquering the praline, I had a new fear..... ganache. It came together well, but I am horrible at pouring it. My cake will definitely not win a beauty contest. I am reminded that my dad says the best tasting cakes are the ugly ones. At this point it is starting to storm. I live in an area when the lights are subject to go out on a clear, sunny, windless, perfect day so the storm made me nervous. I got the buttercream to the point where I could pipe it as the lights start flickering. It was still hot, and I was imagining trying to pipe buttercream with no air. I started out with a rosette, which was melting as fast as I piped it, when the power went out. At this point I had buttercream on the top of the cake, called it done, and threw it back in the fridge.

The next morning dh is eyeing the cake. I snapped the above picture right before he cut into it. The picture below was right before he attacked it with a fork.

Now I should add that my dh hates cake. There is a running joke in my family that he will not eat cake except his mother's, but honestly he does not even eat her cakes. I am happy to say over the course of our marriage I have found a cake or two he doesn't hate, but those are few and far between. Before he took a bite, I was thinking that this was a time consuming cake to make, and I was glad to have it finished and never have to make it again. He took a bite and said, "This is really good. I like this cake." After I picked myself up off the floor, I said I supposed I would be making it again. Even my anti-sweet cake parents liked it. Yes, even I liked it. I think the less sweet buttercream was the key at least for my picky bunch.I would add the raspberry preserves in between each layer and probably leave out the whipped cream next time. I would also spread it out over a couple of days rather than making it in one afternoon.

To see what the other Daring Bakers came up with, check out The Daring Bakers' Blogroll.

Around the Yard

I took my camera with me as I went for a walk around the yard. I am not sure what the first flower is called. This was in a bunch of free plants from someone a few years ago.

These are the canna lilies. I also have some red ones. They have been here for as long as I can remember and require very little work.

Here is one of the zinnias. These reseed each year and just sprout on their own in the spring. As with all of my flowers, they are very drought and heat resistant. I love flowers but do not like to spend hours each day watering. My flower beds tend to be a mixture of whatever sprouts from last year's seeds.

This is a type of butterfly bush. Honestly I have only seen bees and wasps flying around it. The flowers are nice, and bees help the garden so I gladly keep it around.

A sunflower that just came up this year. Some were planted here years ago so I am guessing that is where the surprise one came from this spring.

The fig tree loaded with figs. I like these best when I eat them right off the tree.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An Unexpected Award

I was very happy to receive The Smile Award from Megan of Megans Cookin. Her blog has some beautiful pictures that will certainly bring a smile to your face.

Characteristics for the Smile Award:
1. Must display a cheerful attitude (not necessarily at all times - we are all human)
2. Must love one another
3. Must make mistakes
4. Must learn from others
5. Must be a positive contributor to the blog world
6. Must love life
7. Must love kids

These are the rules:
1. The recipient must link back to the award's creator (http://www.thebabblingsofme.blogspot.com)
2. You must post these rules if you receive the award
3. You must choose 5 people to receive the award after receiving it yourself.
4. You must fit the characteristics of the recipient of the award, as posted by Mere.
5. You must post the characteristics of the recipient.
6. You must create a post sharing your win with others.
7. You must thank your giver.

Now for the fun part, passing the award on to some of my favorite bloggers!

First is Terri at PennyAnnPoundwise. Her blog reminds me that saving money and living a simple life is fun, which makes me smile. I enjoy her money saving ideas and inventive ways of looking at things.

Next is Susan at A Peaceful Valley. Her two little boys and adorable cats make me smile. I also enjoy her creative writing and interesting blog entries. I feel like I am peeking in the window of her home with each post.

Third is Rhonda at A Home with a Smile. The name of her blog says it all. Whether it is a fabulous thrift store find or an fun craft project, her light-hearted posts are a joy to read.

Fourth is Monica at The Homespun Heart. I have counted her blog as one of my favorites many times. Monica's energy and love for her family is evident in her blog. Her love for the Lord shines through as well. With the smiling faces of her little ones, how could I help but not smile too.

Finally is Elise at Nest Sweet Nest. Elise is a new blogger like myself. Her blog is becoming one of my favorite reads. Being new to the blogging world myself, I smile at seeing others join in.

Thank you again to Megan for the unexpected award. It is fun to know others are enjoying my blog and the silliness that is my life!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cake Decorating

I toyed around with cake decorating when my aunt took a class in the 80's. I was around 10 then and never got past doing the stars. Recently I have decided I want to learn a little more. I have no desire to be professional but will be happy to be passable. My MIL gave me a book and some decorating tips (actual tools not helpful hints) and I practiced a bit last week.

DH said it would be easier to work on a real cake rather than waxed paper. I baked three mini cakes yesterday morning and decorated them in the afternoon. I used a family recipe for the frosting but should have stuck with the Wilton recipe. I finally decided the family recipe was for flowers since it was like cement. I could not squeeze it out of the bag. After a bunch of thinning, the icing was workable and I finished my cakes.

None of them are professional, but I am getting closer to passable I think. I like the red one the best. I need to make two cakes for a neighborhood party this weekend. It is my birthday as well as a neighbor's. I think that style looks more party-ish than the other two. I also have plenty of the sprinkles, which I bought on clearance at CVS a few weeks ago. I am confident that I can make two pretty 9x13 cakes for much less than the price of a bakery cake.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thursday the 17th = Friday the 13th

I had my turn at locking my keys in my vehicle today. I went to get my haircut and discovered my keys were missing when I went to pay. I walked out to my car and there are my keys resting in the front seat. It was so frustrating to be able to see them but not get to them. I called the police and a very nice officer tried to break into my car. No luck! The only other person who had a key was my DH, and he was not answering his cellphone. I call it and the house close to 100 times when he finally arrived at home and answered. He came (after two hours) and rescued me and promptly went to have copies of my key made. One is in my purse and the other will go to a relative. I am not a patient person and having to stand and do nothing was pure torture for me. I still had to finish up my shopping and made sure I had my keys firmly in my hand when I got out of the car.

The bad karma continued with dh have problems with his mower as he was given the wrong blades. My parents received a lovely shipment of melted ice cream. The FedEX truck for our route was broken yesterday so the ice cream sat an extra day in the heat. The company is going to replace the ice cream with coupons, which are a much safer choice.

I hope everyone else has been having a better Thursday. If Friday does not start off any better I will be hiding under the cover until sometime next week!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mail Call

I love books. Our local library does not have the best selection so I end up shopping used book sales. A couple of friends told me about some online book swapping websites. I joined both and have been able to trade books I am done with for new ones. The swapping concept is fairly simple. I did have to mail off some books in order to get points to trade for these. The postage is always media mail so it is not too expensive. I think it is a nice trade off since I am able to shop for and select exactly the books I want.
Here are three I received in the mail yesterday. I read one of the Diane Mott Davidson series and was hooked. I have been able to get the others in the series through swapping. I also really like the Christmas with Southern Living books. The new price of $25 is a bit much for my budget so I am thrilled to find them used. This one was in perfect condition.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

They're Celebrities!

Okay so this lovely pair will never be featured in a magazine but they are Celebrities nevertheless. After much trial and error over the years, I have finally found the best variety of tomatoes for the area I live in. Those just happen to be Celebrity. While everyone else is fussing about the tomato rot that seems to be spreading through the area, I am having no problems. I do have to start my plants from seed each year as the stores/nurseries do not carry this variety. It is worth all the extra work. I did not have to put any chemicals on my plants or tomatoes. I did have to remove a couple of tobacco worms early in the season. To make this even more frugal, I had used seeds left from last growing season. My goal for this year is to try to save some seeds from these tomatoes so I do not need to buy any seed for next year.

If the tomatoes you grew this year did not do as well as you had hoped, do a bit of research on other varieties. I do find that the more disease resistent types are better for where I live. I would love to try the heirlooms but am not convinced I would get one decent tomato. I always think a garden is a work in progress from year to year. Once you find what works best, you can enjoy wonderful fresh (organic) produce for a fraction of the cost.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Fun Giveaway

One of my favorite blogs is The Homespun Heart. Monica was able to get Land's End to sponsor a $120 gift card giveaway. All you need to do is visit her blog and leave a post about your favorite Land's End swimsuit. While you are there, check out her blog. She has lots of wonderful ideas and great topics.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I have always loved looking at foccacia bread in the grocery store, but I never purchased any. The frugal side of me thought I could make a fresher one for less. I never got around to searching for a good recipe. When I was reading through the April/May 2008 issue of Hallmark Magazine, I saw a recipe and tore it out. Finally I got around to making it this week. First up the recipe:

4 - 4 1/3 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
sea salt
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups ice-cold water I forgot to put ice in the water and used cold water from the tap.
1/2 cup coarsely chopped mixed fresh herbs (oregano, basil, dill, thyme, sage) I threw in parsley and rosemary as well.
Olive oil
Coarse cornmeal

1. In a medium bowl, combine four cups of the flour, 2 teaspoons sea salt, the yeast, cold water, and 1/4 cup of the mixed herbs, and stir to combine. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 2 minutes, kneading in up to 1/3 cup flour if needed. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Generously oil the paper and lightly sprinkle with cornmeal.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, gently stretch the dough to the size of the baking sheet. Place on the baking sheet, cover loosely with a clean cloth and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.

4. Preheat the over to 425 degrees. Brush the bread with oil and dimple it every 3 inches by poking with a finger. Sprinkle with sea salt and remaining 1/4 cup herbs.

5. Bake for 20-23 minutes, until the top is golden and crisp.

Here is my mix of herbs prior to chopping.

The dough prior to going into the refrigerator. I used a large glass mixing bowl and covered it with plastic wrap. In my mind I had images of it rising out of the bowl and all into the fridge.

The dough after 24 hours in the refrigerator. The bowl was big enough! Whew!

This is the finished foccacia. I used a jelly roll pan (15" x 10") and it seemed to be a good size. The bread was still thick enough to slice in half for tomato sandwiches tonight. You could use a large cookie sheet without it being too thick.

A close up of the dimples and herbs