September 27: National Drink Beer Day

Finally, it's National Drink Beer Day. So drink some beer, but put it in your cake (or cookies or bread), too, because baking with beer can yield delicious results.

I wrote what I think is a tremendous post on the basics of baking with beer: what types of recipes you can use, some different methods, and general tips. Hopefully it will inspire you to try your hand at baking with beer!

Full post here.

August 26: National Cherry Popsicle Day, and Links for my Birthday

Happy Birthday to ME! Will I be enjoying a cherry popsicle on National Cherry Popsicle Day? HELL NO! I will be having birthday cake. THIS birthday cake.

This is the best birthday cake recipe ever. And I will listen to zero arguments because it is my birthday.

Make today magic, whether it's your birthday or not!

Recipe here.

and since it is my birthday, I'd like to celebrate with a batch of Baker's Dozen links, but all dedicated to funfetti-themed food!

You must make: Funfetti Marshmallows. (CakeSpy

You also must make: Funfetti Gooey Butter Cake. (CakeSpy

Funfetti cream pie! (The Domestic Rebel)

Funfetti pie crust! (Studio DIY)

Homemade funfetti cake. (CakeSpy)

Love it: funfetti cake batter breakfast bake. (Running with Spoons)

Funfetti gooey butter cookies! (Cookies & Cups)

Funfetti cheesecake stuffed crescent rolls! (The Chunky Chef)

Funfetti sandwich cookie pops. Yum! (Marisa's Italian Kitchen)

No-bake funfetti fudge. (Spoon University)

Funfetti popsicles! (Unusually lovely)

Funfetti cookies n cream blondies. (A BaJillian Recipes)

Funfetti pudding cookies. (Crazy for Crust)

Book of the week: The Disney Princess Cookbook. Why? Um...because it exists? 

August 10: National S'mores Day

Happy, happy, happy National S'mores Day, people! Here's how I'd like to celebrate with you: with cupcakes. S'mores cupcakes, yo!

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These cupcakes are a sophisticated way to enjoy the classic s'more flavors in a tricked-out way. Rich chocolate cake is studded with graham cracker, chocolate, and marshmallows, then topped with a broiled, toasted meringue buttercream. They are toooooo gooooood, and they will impress all of your friends--guaranteed.

July 31: National Raspberry Cake Day

Happy National Raspberry Cake Day! You know, I don't think I've ever had a raspberry cake. I've had raspberry-lemon, but not just straight raspberry.

Honestly, though, I am not totally jazzed about the idea of nubbly whole raspberries IN a cake. I'd rather have them on TOP of a cake or pureed in the batter. Cue this totally easy raspberry filling/sauce recipe! 

I used this mixture to top and mix into the filling of a cheesecake, and boy, was it ever good. It's incredibly easy to make and would work for a topping for a cake, or as a middle-layer filling. 

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Easy raspberry cake topping/filling

Printable version here

  • 1 bag (10 ounces) good quality frozen raspberries, thawed and crushed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Make it: Combine all of the ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan.

Apply medium heat, and stir the mixture frequently until it begins to bubble and thicken. Remove from heat and set to the side. Yield: enough for a middle layer filling or to cover the entire top of an 8 or 9-inch cake.

Once cooled, you can swirl 1/4 cup of this into a cake batter (it will give a pretty color to vanilla cake batters), or use it as a filling or topping. Should it be another day or should you prefer another berry, this recipe works with blueberries, blackberries, or strawberries, too.

Happy National Raspberry Cake Day! 

May 15: National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day

It's National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. Hooray! Here's what I suggest you do today.

1: Educate yourself on the chocolate chip cookie.

This timeline really breaks it down in a detailed way.

2. Make some morsels.

Fancy up any chocolate chip cookie with DIY chocolate morsels. You can flavor or tint them as you wish! Plus, bragging rights. 

3. Make some cookies (duh).

I like this recipe, courtesy of BAKED in Brooklyn, but you choose your own adventure, I won't judge.

Happy National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!

March 2: National Banana Cream Pie Day

I love Banana Cream Pie. Don't you? It's a great day for people like me: March 2 is National Banana Cream Pie Day.

On this hallowed day, I'd like to go back in the CakeSpy archives to bring you one of my favorite banana cream pie recipes ever: banana cream pumpkin pie.

What? Banana cream pumpkin pie? Yes, believe it. 

Pumpkin pie's earthy flavor gets a sweet boost from banana, and whipped cream covers it all for a memorable pie experience.

You've got to try this pie!

Recipe here.

February 25: Chocolate Covered Salted Cashews for National Chocolate Covered Nut Day

Sometimes you feel like eating all of the chocolate in the world. But other days, you just need a snack. Today being National Chocolate Covered Nut Day, I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite snacks: small-batch chocolate covered salted cashews. 

Chocolate covered nuts are in fact a great snack, because they have enough nut that you can call them health food but enough chocolate so that they are pleasurable. 

My favorite nut to coat in chocolate is cashews. This is for a few reasons. I'll tell you a few of them right now:

1. You often see commercial confections featuring chocolate and almonds or peanuts. I've never seen a candy bar or commercial treat featuring cashews, have you?

2. If you go to a confectionery shop, you'll probably see chocolate-almond bark, you'll probably see pecan turtles, but rarely will you see a chocolate cashew treat. 

3. If you go to a bakery and they offer brownies with nuts, chances are the nuts in question are pecans or walnuts. I've never seen a cashew brownie at a bakery. 

What I am getting at here is that chocolate-cashew is for some reason not an exceedingly popular flavor combo. I don't really see why, because there is so much to love about the combo: the mellow, creamy-buttery cashew flavor is the perfect complement to chocolate. I prefer cashews with milk chocolate because it makes the flavor combo extra-creamy, and I prefer to use roasted/salted cashews, because I like a little crunch to the texture and I am basically addicted to salt. 

So, for National Chocolate Covered Nut Day, I'd like to make some chocolate covered cashews, and I'd like you to know how I do it so you can recreate the magic at home. 

This batch is perfectly sized to provide a few servings, but not such a huge batch that the nuts are going to go stale or the chocolate is going to get all weird and bloomed before you've devoured them. 


Small batch chocolate salted cashews

makes about 30

  • 2 ounces of milk or dark chocolate 
  • about 30 medium or large salted, roasted cashews 

Melt the chocolate. I like to do this in the microwave, in 20 second increments on high, until mostly melted. Give it a stir and any residual solid bits should melt into the mixture.

Toss 3-4 cashews in at a time, and turn them to coat, using a fork. Using the same fork, remove, let excess chocolate drip off, and place on a sheet of parchment or silicone to completely "set".

Store in a single layer to prevent the cashews from melting into one another, or if you don't care about that, just put them in a bag. 

Enjoy!

February 23: National Banana Bread Day

So, today is National Banana Bread Day. I say you celebrate with something slightly better than banana bread--BANANA CAKE.

Forget you, banana bread! 

Hummingbird cake is a delicately-textured spiced banana cake. While it has characteristics of banana bread, its texture and sweetness bring it firmly into cake territory.

Traditionally, hummingbird cake is made with pecans and bits of pineapple. But recently, I did a little experiment where I substituted "pineapple" for "chocolate bar" and "pecans" for "hazelnuts" in the recipe.

Did it alter the finished flavor? Yes. Is it traditional? Not quite. But will you forgive me because of its insane deliciousness? I sure hope so. 

Chocolate-hazelnut hummingbird cake recipe here. 

February 22: National Margarita Day.

Today is National Margarita Day. Do you like margaritas?

I'll tell you a secret: in general, I don't. I will make exceptions for exceptionally well-made specimens, such as the wonderful ones my friend Susannah made when I went on a food blogger trip to Florida

But what I do like is chocolate, and cleverness. In that order, most of the time. And this tutorial fits the bill for both: how to make chocolate cups that look like margaritas. They're inexpensive to make, look adorable, and in my opinion, taste better than an actual margarita.


Of course, if you prefer your margarita in cake form, you could try out this margarita cupcake recipe. It's worth your time.

Tutorial for white chocolate cups that look like margaritas here.

February 21: National Sticky Bun Day

It's National Sticky Bun Day. I'd take sticky buns over buns of steel any day.

A couple weeks ago, I received a recipe submission from Grand Lux Cafe--a little something called warm sticky bun bread pudding. Sticky buns = fantastic. Sticky buns coated in custard and baked to sweet perfection? OMG territory.

I'd never heard of Grand Lux before, but apparently they have locations in several states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois. Who knew? Not me. But upon perusing their dessert menu, I don't think I'd mind paying them a visit at all. 

But I digress. Let's get down to the buns at hand!

Warm Sticky Bun Bread Pudding Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Brioche or Challah
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) melted butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. salt     

For the custard

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

1. Cut the bread into 1” cubes. Place the bread cubes into a large mixing bowl.

3. Combine the butter, sugars and spices in a mixing bowl, whisking to combine completely.

4. Pour the mixture over the bread, tossing to fully coat the bread cubes with the mixture. Spread out into a 9x13 baking dish.

6. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Be sure to stir the bread cubes once or twice while toasting.

7. While the bread is toasting, make the custard. Whisk all ingredients together until evenly combined. Once the bread has toasted, remove the pan from the oven.

10. Pour the custard over the bread cubes. Allow the mixture to sit for 10-15 minutes before cooking. 

12. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place into a 300° oven. Bake for 20 minutes.

14. Remove foil from pan and continue to bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until light golden brown and the custard has set.  You can test this by inserting a paring knife into the center of the pudding. If the knife comes away clean, or with very little pudding clinging to it, the pudding is ready.

15. Allow the pudding to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. To serve:

  • Top the pudding with toasted pecans and warm caramel sauce.
  • Serve with either vanilla ice cream or crème anglaise.

Enjoy Sticky Bun Day!

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links for National Chocolate Mint Day

Happy Chocolate Mint Day. Let's link. 

DIY Thin Mints cookies. Yes! (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Mint chocolate cream pie. YES! (Guest post from Sally's Candy Addiction)

Homemade Andes mints. (Homestead and Survival)

Mint chocolate chip semifreddo cake. WOW. (Gringalicious)

Mint chocolate chip whoopie pies! (CakeSpy for Serious Eats)

Thin mint chocolate cake. Does this ever look good! (Bay Leaf Kitchen)

Mint chocolate cake. Like Grasshopper brownies but in cake form. YUM. (Sweetest Menu)

Dark chocolate mint avocado pudding. Looks awesome and intriguing. (Delightful Adventures)

OMG! These little chocolate-mint puddings look like tiny adorable planters!! (Martha Stewart)

Mint chocolate chip shamrock marshmallows. Cute! (The First Year)

Mint chocolate chip oreo cupcakes. These look amazing. (Peas and Peonies)

Vegan peppermint chocolate cupcakes. I haven't been able to get these out of my mind since I first saw them. (Eva Bakes)

These brownies are kind of christmasy, but delicious all year round (just use starlight mints instead of candy canes!). (CakeSpy for Perugina)

Mint chocolate cheesecake brownies. I'll just be alone in the corner crying until I get one of these in my mouth. (The Floating Kitchen)

Book of the week: Mint Chocolate Chip Murder. Because seriously, it exists and that makes me happy. 

February 18: National Crab-Stuffed Flounder Day and National Drink Wine Day

Well, well, well. Today just so happens to be National Crab-Stuffed Flounder Day. No, I wouldn't kid about such a thing. Luckily, it's also National Drink Wine Day. I think I'll stick with the latter. And to make wine really stand out, I know just how to enjoy it: with cake.

This is no ordinary cake. It just so happens to be a decadent flourless chocolate cake served with a red wine glaze. The red wine adds a pleasing acidity to the sweetness of the glaze, which works wonderfully with the extra-dark chocolate. So have your wine, and eat it, too! 

Here's the recipe for flourless chocolate cake with red wine glaze.

What is the Difference Between Marzipan and Almond Paste?

Happy National Almond Day, February 16! On this nutty day, I thought I would explore something I have personally been wondering about: what is the difference between marzipan and almond paste? 

Both are thick pastes, both are made with almonds. So are marzipan and almond paste the same thing? No.

 Photo licensed via Creative Commons by  Flickr member Aurelien Guichard

Photo licensed via Creative Commons by Flickr member Aurelien Guichard

What is marzipan? 

Marzipan has a fairly broad description: "a confection made from sugar or honey and almond meal". It's an extremely fine dough with a very smooth texture and snow-white color that could easily be confused for fondant. While it wasn't specifically mentioned in any of the definitions I saw, I can tell you anecdotally that marzipan is typically made with almonds from which the skin has been removed (blanched almonds); this allows the mixture to have such a bright color. 

How is it made? 

Here are the key steps in making commercial marzipan.

1. First, the almonds are cleaned, and skins removed, so that the almonds are blanched.

2. Next, the almonds are cooled and then ground with a significant amount of sugar (up to 35% of the mixture). This makes a sort of sweet almond flour, which is then roasted and cooled.

3. Finally, more sugar and a binding agent (starch, sorbitol, etc) are added. From there, the mixture is molded; if you're buying it in the USA, it's probably molded into a little tube and packaged for sale.

While in my reading I discovered that different methods of making it exist. For instance, in Germany, whole almonds are ground with sugar then dried; in France, ground almonds are mixed with sugar syrup. Sometimes, it is made using egg whites. But ultimately it amounts to a similar substance: a stiff, fine dough that can be sculpted, rolled, and used to flavor or fill sweets. 

 

Did you know?

Marzipan has a cousin: persipan. It's a similar but less pricey item to produce, where almonds are replaced by apricot or peach kernels.  

What is almond paste? 

Not to confuse things, but the description of almond paste will probably sound rather familiar after what you just read: 

"Almond paste is made from ground almonds or almond meal and sugar, with small amounts of cooking oil, beaten eggs, heavy cream or corn syrup added as a binder." 

So, what's the dif? 

Primarily, it's an issue of texture. Almond paste is coarser than marzipan, less like fondant; more like the texture of a natural peanut butter that has been left in the fridge and has become firm. This makes it less suited for the delicate sculpting for which marzipan is famous; if you made fruit sculptures from almond paste, they would have a less smooth texture. 

However, that's not always the only difference. While almond paste is usually made with blanched almonds, it isn't always. So sometimes, you'll have almond paste which has little brown flecks of skin in the mixture, which give it an even coarser texture and more beige-y color. 

Additionally, anecdotally, I see more variance in consistency with almond paste than with marzipan. While it's often stiff, sometimes it is much softer than marzipan. 

Here's a recipe for homemade almond paste.


Can they be used interchangeably?

Well, that depends on the use, and it depends on the almond paste and marzipan in question.

 If you're making a filling for almond croissants or for between cake layers, quite frankly, you'll probably be fine substituting a firm almond paste for marzipan. However, as previously noted, the texture of almond paste will make it ill-suited for delicate sculpting or creating cake decorations. 

If the almond paste is softer than marzipan, it might not work as well if substituted in a recipe. 

So here's my advice: use common sense. If the almond paste/marzipan is mixed into other ingredients, or is used in a way that seems like the fine texture of marzipan isn't vital to success, go for it. If it seems like it is going to make your life harder to try and substitute, just go out and buy the other ingredient. 

Hello, what about frangipane?

Frangipane is another almond-scented mixture which is used in pastry, but it's more like a pastry cream, made using almonds, butter, sugar, and eggs. It's a delicious filling or topping used in pastry-making. While it's wonderful, it shouldn't be substituted for either marzipan or almond paste. 

Have you ever baked with marzipan or almond paste? 

February 15: National Gumdrop Day

Photo licensed via Creative Commons by Flickr member terren in virginia

What a magical holiday! To celebrate, I thought I would share some interesting facts about gumdrops. Because seriously, these bright little dudes should be better known than just as a gingerbread house garnish! 

Five interesting factoids about gumdrops 

1. What are gumdrops?

Let's start here. To the uninitiated, a gumdrop is a small (less than an inch tall, usually) jelly-textured candy with a shape like a cone with a flat top. They are typically coated with granulated sugar, which gives them a glittery finish and a slightly crunchy texture on the outside. 

2. They are pretty old.

The gumdrop candy is said to have developed in the early 1800s; the earliest print mention was in 1860, in a Washington state publication, which passingly mentions different types of confections.

3. They involve science.

As I learned on this site, "In 1915 a candy manufacturer named Percy Truesdell started producing a gumdrop with an enhanced texture, using a formula he developed while conducting experiments at Ohio State University. Truesdell came to be known as "the gumdrop king" and was credited with inventing the modern soft gumdrop, but assertions in his 1948 obituary accounts that the gumdrop had previously been a hard-candy jawbreaker are not consistent with earlier descriptions."

4. They have a space connection.

Apparently the Apollo 9 command module was nicknamed "Gumdrop". It not only had a slightly cone-like with a flat top shape, but was delivered to the Space Coast in a huge blue cello wrapper.

5. They have inspired mountains. 

Candy mountains, in board game form, that is. The board game candy land made mountains out of gumdrops, which are prominently featured in the game, which debuted in 1945. 

Do you like gumdrops?