Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Congrats, Grads!

'Tis the season for caps, gowns, tassles, and bittersweet goodbyes. While it's a little early for most high school graduations, a lot of college graduations are well underway, and students are reflecting on everything from painful all-nighters pulled and gallons of coffee downed during finals weeks to wild parties, greasy late night food runs, and good times shared with great friends. Some may get misty-eyed as the think about all the things they'll miss about their alma maters, while others are boldly looking forward, ready to dive into the next big adventure known as "the real world." Well, whatever your feelings are, congrats, grads! You've much to be proud of.

I was honored when Max requested two cakes to bring to a family dinner in celebration of his brother's college graduation. Max was a fan of the Lycheetini cake he had gotten before, so I added a strawberry twist on an old favorite for a Strawberry Lycheetini cake -- a truly refreshing way to ignore the fog that hovers menacingly over San Francisco and celebrate the fact that summertime is that much closer:
Here we have a fluffy yellow cake infused with Soho lychee liqueur, a filling of Grey Goose vodka-soaked strawberry slices as filling, and an airy Soho buttercream frosting to really bring out the lychee flavors. The cake is topped with fresh strawberry halves, whole lychee pieces, and is held together by golden pirouette cookies filled with sweet strawberry cream.

And because Max's brother--the guest of honor--likes the sophisticated chocolate-orange flavor combination, I whipped up a spiked Cocoa Clementine cake:
This is a rich bourbon chocolate cake made with Maker's Mark poured generously into the batter, a filling of juicy mandarin orange slices, and a Grand Marnier buttercream border piped around both layers of the cake. The Cocoa Clementine is topped with a whirl of orange slices and a blushing fresh strawberry for added flair.

Here's a view of the side:
and a close-up of the top:
Thank you, Max! I hope you and your family enjoyed the cakes. And please wish your brother a hearty "Congratulations!" from Carrie Cakeaway and her very enthused assistant.

Cups and cakes

As much as I love strawberries, I am absolutely thrilled that it's cherry season--and I'm certainly not alone! Whether it's their glorious ruby hue, the crisp snap that you experience at first bite, or the juicy combination of sweet and tart, there's something about cherries that makes it worth the minor nuisance of dealing with the pits and the risk of cherry juice stains on white fabric.

When Quetzal ordered two batches of cupcakes for a dual birthday celebration with her friend, I practically leaped at the opportunity to use fresh cherries as garnish. Fortunately, one of the requests was for a batch of bourbony Manhattan cupcakes, and what Manhattan is complete without a cherry? Move over, maraschinos, these beauts are fresh off the tree, so much tastier, and free of your scary neon red hue.
Here we have buttery bourbon vanilla cupcakes with bourbon buttercream frosting--both infused with Maker's Mark--topped with a fresh whole cherry, stems and all. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
The second was a batch of fudgy, coffee-infused Mudslide cupcakes:
Because bourbon was the liquor of choice among both the birthday guy and gal, I replaced the vodka in my usual Mudslide recipe with bourbon. These were dark chocolate coffee cupcakes with Maker's Mark and Kahlua in the batter, swirled with Bailey's buttercream frosting, and topped with chocolate pirouette cookie "straws" or chocolate sprinkles.

And as for leftovers, here are a pair of unadorned Manhattan and Mudslide cupcakes, sitting side by side.
Talk about a match made in cupcake paradise!
Thanks, Quetzal! I hope you and your friend had a very sweet birthday celebration!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Oh My Darling, Clementine

"Cuties," what a perfectly suitable marketing name for the California Clementine. As if the name "Clementine" wasn't adorable enough on its own, right? Cuties California Clementines--now that's a mouthful and a cute overload, but quite frankly, I don't mind a bit!

I was thrilled when Stephanie requested a birthday cake with which to surprise her boyfriend, Mitchell, giving me free reign to bake as I wished, so long as it included Clementine oranges, which he loves. Since Clementines are a variety of mandarin orange, I made sure to include mandarins aplenty in this cake, which I've lovingly named, "My Darling Clementine."
Two buttery bourbon vanilla cake layers sandwich a generous filling of mandarin orange slices before being frosted with a light Grand Marnier buttercream. Mandarin slices are arranged on top inside a border of Grand Marnier buttercream stars, and crushed vanilla pirouette cookies add a touch of crispiness. Lots of bourbon. Lots of orange. Lots of vanilla. And a whole lot of yum.
Steph and Mitchell, I hope you both enjoyed your Darling Clementine (and that Mitchell had a very happy birthday!)

So what is up with this trend of making overly cutesy cakes for male recipients (as seen here, here, and here)? I don't have a clue, much less an explanation. Bear with me, fellas! Macho cakes are a work in progress.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Where the Heart is

My assistant went home for the weekend to visit her family, and naturally, I followed her there. A perk to being imaginary: I can go wherever she takes me, sans plane ticket. It was warm and sunny in Los Angeles, and she had a promise to keep.

A couple of months ago, her two adorable younger cousins, Nathan and Alan, were ooh-ing and ah-ing over the cakes displayed on this blog. Over the phone, she promised them that she'd whip something up for them the next time she flew down to visit. Now, it was time to fulfill that promise, and being cake-related, of course I was there to inspire.

Alan had specifically asked for something chocolatey (and who can blame him?), while Nathan has been a cheesecake fan for as long as my assistant can remember. This was going to easy. Chocolate cheesecake, done. But when my assistant opened the fridge to grab ingredients, guess what she saw? A huge box of ripe, ruby red strawberries. We. Can. Never. Resist. Strawberries.

And as a result...
Some very girly-looking cupcakes for some very boyish boys. They didn't seem to mind though (whew!).
What we have here are some classic chocolate cupcakes (boozeless, of course! Apologies to anyone looking for a cocktail cake concoction. Next post!) topped with strawberry cream cheese frosting and a fresh, juicy strawberry half.
Here they are sitting prettily in my assistant's precious cupcake tray that she hasn't used since she moved to the Bay Area. Too bad she couldn't fit it in her carry-on.

And for the grown-ups with less of a sweet tooth, we whipped up some chocolate bundtlets with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar and a tiny strawberry whole:
Voila and
Tada and

Nathan and Alan, I'm so glad you enjoyed the cupcakes. Pace yourselves, boys!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wine country

Spring is here in all it's bloomin', blossomin' beauty, and all I want to do is take a day trip to Napa Valley, soak up some sunshine, pluck a few grapes fresh off the vine, and taste away at various wineries. And that's where the downside to being imaginary kicks in--I can't! Bummer... Guess I'll have to leave the fun to my assistant on a sunny weekend in wine country.

What got me thinking about Napa Valley in the first place was an order for Robin's birthday. She wanted a Moscato Staccato--the very first layer cake ever showcased on this blog--featuring sweet muscat wine. I was really excited to do a Moscato Staccato v.2, especially because Robin wanted a cherry twist on the original. Nice choice.

And voila!
The strawberry on top is deceptive because this cake is actually jam-packed with moscato-soaked Morello cherries between two layers of moscato-infused and lightly nutmegged butter cake. Covered in a rich, dark chocolate ganache and topped with crumbled chocolate cream wafers and a single plump strawberry, this cake begs to be served with a glass of dessert wine for an sweet finish to a relaxing evening. Add some classical musical in the background, and you've got the ultimate Moscato Staccato experience. Yum!
I hope you enjoyed the cake, Robin, and that you had a very happy birthday. Cheers!