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Release the Piecaken!

Some of you may have seen this picture I posted on Facebook last week:

Who knew it would cause such a fuss!  You guys flipped over it!

A friend sent me this picture (I did not make this or take the photo), and I thought it was too crazy not to be shared.  Amazing the strong reactions on both sides that this over-the-top dessert stirred up!  This, my friends, is PIECAKEN.  The sugary version of turducken.  Pie baked into a cake.  Amazing to some.  Horrifying to others.  But regardless of your position of it, piecaken did create quite the stir.

I received 7 emails from people wanting me to make this for them.  One request in particular really got my attention.  It was from a soldier in Afghanistan asking if I could make one and send it to him and his troop because the food they eat there is far from  yummy.  After much research, I learned that this would not make the trip.  But how do I ignore such a request from the soldiers who were dedicating their lives to protecting my freedom to make such a dessert?  And on Memorial Day, nonetheless.  So what’s a baker to do?

Make them in cookie form, of course!  Along with more pie and cake!

Can you see it?

And because my friend Melissa at The Baked Equation is so awesome, she jumped in and baked with me.  She made the most AWESOME Mexican Chocolate Cookies (with cayenne pepper in them!), as well as chocolate chip, butterscotch and margarita lime!  (I know, right?!)

Here they are, all packed up and ready for their trip around the world.  (And we ended up with so many it took 2 boxes to get them there!  Thanks again, Melissa!)

So while I was bummed that I couldn’t ship them an actual piecaken, I hope Jerry and the 66 soldiers in his troop enjoy a more shippable version.

Oh, and I will so be making my own version of the real thing.  But my girls have decided I need to use a chocolate pie, and maybe an oreo cookie pie instead.  No fruit in our sugar coma fest!

Want to make one, too?  Here is the recipe (posted by For The Love Of Food).  I didn’t create it.  I’m not exactly certain who did.  If you know for certain, post a comment so I can give proper credit, because this genius deserves the recognition due!

This is the “quick” version.  You can make any or all of this from scratch.

PIECAKEN

  • Two 9″ round cake pans that are 3 inches deep
  • 2 cake box mixes and the ingredients the box calls for (your choice of flavors)
  • 2 pre-cooked 6-inch pies (your choice of flavors)
  • Buttercream icing (double batch or 2 tubs of store bought)

Take one box cake and make the batter according to instructions.  Pour half the batter in a 9” round cake pan. On top of that, put the first pie. Pour the rest of the cake batter on top of that and bake it according to the box instructions.

Take the next box cake mix and make the batter according to instructions on the back of the box. Pour half the batter in a 9” cake pan. On top of that, put your second pie. Pour the rest of the cake batter on top of that and bake it according to the box instructions.

Once both cakes are done, wait until they cool and then assemble and decorate cake as normal.

*********************************************************************************************

So there you have it.

Whether you find piecaken incredible or disturbing, I hope your week is sweet!

It finally happened.

Hi.  My name is Tara.  And I am an Angry Birds addict.

I have all 3 aps.  3 stars in all of them.  I know, I know.  But I need something to do while waiting in carline to pick up the kids, right?

I have been dreaming of Angry Birds in sugary configurations for over a year now, but I’ve just never had the opportunity to make them.  So when a friend called and said that she was throwing a first-ever party for her 7-year-old daughter, an Angry Birds party, I was ready.  And when she said she wanted to “go nuts”, my heart about stopped.

So go nuts we did.

**DISCLAIMER: Please forgive the background.  There was only so much I could do with the table in the middle of a multi-purpose room.

First was the cake.  I could make these little fondant figures all day long.  The perfect outlet for my OCD.

And we couldn’t forget the GOLDEN EGG!

Next were the cookies.  They ended up taking longer than I had expected.  The pigs were ok, the the birds were quite pesky.  After about 8 or 10, I ended up completely starting over because I wasn’t happy with the way they were turning out.  I’m glad I did, though, because these look much better than the first found.

And since we were using them for the goodie bags, they were all wrapped up and ready to go!

She decided not to eat the cake at the party, but to save that for her actual birthday.  So we did a cupcake tower for all the kids to eat there.

She bought some plastic toppers, but there weren’t enough for everyone, so we just used them as filler.

And the birthday girl (who is my youngest daughter’s BFF) has been harassing asking me to make Angry Birds cake pops for almost a year, so those were a must.

For extra decorations, we used apothecary jars and tumblers filled with gum balls, rock candy sticks (which I sprayed with Wilton sprays to get the nice, bright colors), gummy worms and twirl suckers.  I also made some extra royal icing birds and pigs, and those looked super cute on a stick!

For the drinks, we used different flavors of Kool-aid in mini water bottles.  Custom labels and striped straws finished off the look!

She made the cutest decorations.  Birds & pigs out of balloons with faces!  Too cute!  And I forgot to take a picture of the centerpieces.  They were these fabulous nests with golden eggs and a stuffed angry bird (of which she had MANY) in the middle.  It was darling.

We were both happy with the way everything turned out.

And I’ve gotten my Angry Bird fix for a LONG time.

Well, at least in edible form.  Bring on the updates.

Top 14 Things I Learned in 2011

2011 has been an interesting year.  Good and challenging, all mixed together.

I started blogging, hanging out more on Twitter, and even finally landed on Facebook.  And since doing so, I have met so many wonderful people that are willing to share their gifts and love of baking and decorating, making sugar as tasty and beautiful as possible.  I am thankful to be part of such a wonderful community.

I am also ashamed to be so slack on doing my part.  So I have vowed to blog (at least) once a week this year.  52 posts.  Surely I can do that.

What better way than to start January 1 off with a post!  And what better post than to share all the wonderful tips and tricks I’ve learned this year, and to say thank you to those willing to share their secrets and talents.  I couldn’t narrow it down to 10, so 14 it is.

DRUM ROLL PLEASE……..

14.  I began my decorating ala Wilton at Hobby Lobby.  Everything I did was in a Wilton disposable icing bag.  Imagine my surprise to see cookie decorators using squeeze bottles.  So great for flood icing. These have ended up being my favorites:

The larger 8oz size (I bought many from Karen’s Cookies)

And the smaller 2oz size (not the tips.  They are awful):

13.  I also learned that you don’t have to use fancy glass Pyrex bowls to mix icing.  I use these awesome small plastic bowls from the $1 section at Target.  They are flexible, which makes for easy mixing and scraping down the sides.  And at $.25 a bowl, you can’t beat the price.  They are perfect for dipping cake pops w/chocolate, too.  (Thank you, Bakerella, for showing me the light.)

12.  Toothpicks.  Who would have ever thought they could be such a valuable tool.  They are great for popping bubbles, making a smooth horizon icing line, sneaking icing to the edge, moving sprinkles, plugging tips to keep icing from drying out,…the list goes on and on.  Couldn’t live without them.

11.  Along the same line, I have found great love for my giant safety pin.  It is my premium bubble popper.  My favorite tool for marbeling.  For some things, I love it more than toothpicks.  (Yes, it’s true).

10.  This year has been eye-opening for me with regards to taste, as well.  I’ve experimented with different extracts and gotten some wonderful flavors.  (I love lemon & vanilla in my sugar cookies).  I’ve also learned about Emulsions.  SweetSugarBelle and Bake at 350 were the first I saw talk about them.  My favorite is this one:

It has a wonderful nutty flavor.  It has no alcohol, is kosher certifited, sugar and gluten free.  And it tastes yummy, too!  The exchange for extracts the same, but don’t bake out as much, leaving a more robust flavor.  TJ Maxx and Ross are great places to find them at cheap prices!

9.  For a while, I tried placing all of my sprinkles and candies on my treats by hand.  Then one day, I was a few dollars short in an order to get the free shipping (admit it.  You know you’ve done it) so I threw in a pair of tweezers that were on special.  One of my best purchases.  These are the ones I have, and I adore them.  They will grab and hold on to the smallest of sprinkle.

8.  The heat gun.  A relatively new tool that I have learned about.  Flour Box Bakery is the one who started the craze.  It has taken some experimenting (too much heat will crack outlines, fyi) but I think this is going to be a great long-term tool since I live in such a humid climate.  This is the one I have.  Bought it at Walmart for $20.

7.  I also learned about the wonders of vinegar.  Up until last year, I think I had the same bottle in my panty for the past 13 years.  Now, I go through gallons.  I use it to replace fabric softener.  Great for stains and de-stinking the sink.  But I also found that it is royal icing’s best friend.  Before I make icing, I wipe EVERYTHING that is going to come in contact with my icing down with vinegar.  The mixing bowl, beater, bowls, spatulas,…you name it.  It has completely removed the issue of any oil/grease getting to my royal icing.  Since I’ve started using it, I have had zero issues with my icing.  Who knew something that smelled so awful could be so magical.

6.  Again, being from the Wilton school of thought, I just assumed you had to use the Wilton gel colors.  Then AmeriColor came into my life.  Such vibrant colors.  Easier to use.  No taste.  I switched all of my colors, donated my Wilton colors to a local girl scout troop and never looked back.  (Sorry, Wilton).  AmeriColor gels are your friend.

5.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the taste of royal icing.  Very sweet with a bitter after taste.  Then, thanks to Sweetopia and Bake at 350, I learned that was largely the fault of the meringue powder.  Wilton brand is the only kind sold in my small town hobby store, and since that is what they pushed at the Wilton class, that is what I used.  But thanks to these wonderful ladies, I learned that Ateco is the way to go.  And WHAT A DIFFERENCE it makes in the taste!  Yes, I have to buy it online.  But it is worth 10-times what I have to pay for it.  Thank you, ladies,  for showing me the light.

4.  Icing tips.  I was scared of anything smaller than a 2.  I used a 3 whenever possible.  Then, I heard someone talk about “PME OO” tips.  Double zero??  Are you kidding me?  Surely no one is insane enough for that kind of madness.  And at $4.50 a pop?  My Wilton babies cost $.99.  (Ah, to be so naive).  So I decided to try one of these magic tips.  I bought a 1.5.  I filled a bag, squeezed, and….out came smooth, curl-free lines!  I was stunned.  How could this be?  Could the icing tip really make that much of a difference?  The answer, simply, is YES! I am slowly working to replace all of my Wilton 1-5 tips (Sorry again, Wilton).  The difference in my piping improved instantly simply by switching to these tips. (and they don’t discolor when you accidentally leave them soaking in water overnight because you forgot to clean them before you went to bed.  Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.)  I have since even purchased (and used) a PME O.  I haven’t gotten brave enough for the OO.  Maybe in 2012.

3.  Flood icing.  It brought me great stress when I first started decorating cookies.  Was it too thin?  What is “syrup” or “gel” consistency, anyways? I mean, if my flood icing wasn’t the perfect consistency my cookies were doomed!  So, maybe I tend to get a little dramatic, but this is cookies we are talking about.  Then I learned 8-10 seconds when you drag a knife through it.  Ok, I could do that.  But I still had mishaps with my icing running over the edge if I didn’t pipe a line first (which I didn’t always want).  Then Callye (once again) showed me the light.  20 second icing.  What??  But that breaks all the rules!  Could it be true??  Could it be possible?  So I tried it.  And a miracle happened in my kitchen.  With 20-second icing, I had such control over the icing.  And it gave such a great “poofy” effect.  It was very freeing, and now I almost never go thinner than 20 seconds. (In fact once, I went to 30 second icing!  I know, I know.)  If you haven’t tried making 20-second icing, do it.  Today.  You will love it.  Or your money back!  No, wait.

2.  I bake everything out of my home kitchen.  And while it’s a decent sized kitchen with pretty good counter space, when I started decorating cookies, that counter space went fast!  There were baking sheets and cooling racks everywhere.  Then, I read this.  (Thank you, Callye @ SweetSugarBelle). I know she was talking about a fan, but when I saw the baking sheet rack in the background, it was a huge light bulb moment for me.  They can be a little pricey, but after some research, I found one for a great price, and it has been my best friend ever since.  (I love it so much, it has its own post.)

and the #1 tip that I learned this year is…………

A squirt bottle.

Yep, you read that right.  A plain, $.99 squirt bottle. But oh, the magic it possesses.  (Besides squirting kids and cats).  It is the PERFECT tool for thinning royal icing to flood icing.  Instead of having to go back and forth to the sink, trying to get the right amount of water to drip out of the facet, now I just stand at my decorating counter and spray the perfect amount of lightly misted wated each and every time.  I’ve learned that 12 sprays will give me perfect flood icing every time.  Such a time saver, and no more stress about getting too much water and over-thinning my icing.  This life-altering tip was learned through Callye @ SweetSugarBelle’s (if you don’t stalk read her, you need to.  She’s a WEALTH of information!) and she learned the trick from Gail of One Tough Cookie. Thank you, Gail & Callye!!!

So there you have it.  The new tricks and tools I’ve learned about this year that have changed the way I bake and decorate.  If you don’t use some of these, give them a try.  And feel free to post any of your on tips.  I’m always looking for new ones!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, and may 2012 be an extra sweet one for you and your family!

Let’s start at the very beginning…

Two years ago today is when it all started.

What’s so special about March 1st that I would start baking?  My husband’s birthday.  And for some reason, two years ago, I decided that I wanted to make him a cake that was not out of a box and a tub.  I don’t know why I wanted to do that.  It wasn’t a monumental birthday.  I just felt like it deserved something different.  So to the internet I went.

I wanted to stick with his favorite – yellow cake with chocolate icing.  I just wanted something with more pizazz than my traditional 9×13 pan.  I had heard about this baking site called “Bakerella” (ever heard of her? ;-)  I went digging through her site, and there it was.  A fourteen-layer yellow cake with chocolate icing.  Yes, you read that right.  FOURTEEN layers.  That’s 13 more than I’d ever made before.  But I was feeling adventurous, so why not.  I banned everyone from the kitchen and got started.

Since this was my first attempt at a “real” cake, I had to buy everything.  I didn’t have a thing.  I even had to buy a mixing bowl because I didn’t have one big enough to hold so much batter.  Bakerella used 14 disposable aluminum cake pans, rather than using 3-4 regular pans and washing in between.  Since I didn’t even own 9-inch cake pans, I went with that option, also.  Plus, then I could just throw everything in the trash when I was done.  So here they are.  All 14, dressed and ready to go.

Thankfully, I have a double oven, so I was able to cook 6 at a time.  Then they have to cool, of course.  But since I had never made a cake that required being removed from the pan, I also didn’t own any cooling racks.  Thankfully, my neighbors did.

Now for the fun part.  The chocolate sauce. I could have buried my face in the pot.

Assembling the cake was the biggest challenge.  Since the layers were almost like pancakes, leveling wasn’t an issue. (Thankfully, because I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do that).  I just stacked a layer, then poured on the chocolate sauce.

Stacked another layer.  Poured more chocolate.

Then even more layers!

The original recipe called for you to just leave the cake like this, just smoothed out a bit.  But, I liked the way Bakerella’s final cake looked (iced) so I went that route, too.  I used her recipe for the chocolate icing.

Now I know this is no work of art  (and my photography skill are equally stunning). There were no decorations of any kind on the outside.  Not even a trim at the bottom.  (And yes, my oven is green.  Don’t judge.  I’m working on it). But the magic happened when you cut into it.

WOW!

This cake took me over 8 hours to make.  And it weighed in at almost 9 pounds.  But I was hooked. I caught the baking bug, and there was no turning back.

So today is his birthday again.  I’m only making 2 layers this year (still yellow with chocolate icing) but I will actually decorate it with something other than a candle in the shape of some numbers.

Happy Birthday, my love.  And thank you for continuing to inspire me in so many ways.

Brought me to tiers

A good friend of mine was throwing a Sweet 16 party for her oldest of 5.  Her daughter loved to play the piano, so she wanted a black/white/pink piano cake.  And she wanted it big and bold.  Now, I’m all for bold, but the “big” part was a new thing for me.  For some reason, I have always stayed away from stacked/tiered cakes.  The dowels, oh how they frightened me.

A year ago I made a 2-tiered castle cake for my 8-year-old daughter’s birthday.

And while it turned out cute, I didn’t support it correctly, and it ended up leaning.  Tilting.  Almost falling.  It was not a pretty sight.

So when my friend said she wanted three (that’s 3) tiers, I said sure, then hung up the phone and proceeded to panic.  And the party wasn’t for 2 months.  That’s a long time to stress about a cake.

As it turned out, my family ended up being out of town during the party, so I came home early, which meant a quiet, child-free house for 2 days. (How’s that for a run-on sentence).  It took me longer to do it than it probably should have, but I was trying to be careful since I didn’t have time to re-do anything.  And the dowels – I won’t even tell you how many of those things I used.  Can we say “overkill”?

I tried 2 new cake recipes for it (since mine were too soft to hold up tiers).  A white cake from I Am Baker and a chocolate fudge groom’s cake from Wilton.  They were yummy.

But it turned out fine.  No leaning or tilting.  And the birthday girl was thrilled.


My 5-year-old daughter has a birthday coming up.  I think a good sheet cake would be perfect.

Let it snow!

“Just a plain chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream icing” was my client’s request.  Really?  No peppermint?  No dark chocolate shavings on top?  Do people really want plain cakes any more?

Well, I just couldn’t go there.  So, a few dots and a royal icing snowflake later, here it is:

Who’d know there are 3 layers of (plain) dark chocolate cake under all that white icing?

Now just to bring my client to the dark side when it comes to her design requests.