Sunday, January 20, 2013

Grasshopper Cake

I know, I know. I've said many many times how I just don't like making cakes. A lot of it is because the stress of making it look pretty, something I've never been able to master. But this new trend of "naked" cakes, where you don't have any frosting on the sides, are making me feel a little better because I can make a delicious cake that doesn't have to look pretty...and let's face it, this one is kind of ugly an ugly yet delicious pepperminty chocolately kind of way.

So what had me craving cake? Probably the fact that my newest issue of Food Network Magazine (one of the best magazines out there) had a whole section of different types of cakes. This Grasshopper one caught my eye, partly because it was one of those "naked" type of cake, plus it's chocolate and peppermint, which I've been in a major chocolate mode lately for some reason. So I figured, what the hell, I might as well make myself a cake.

I started by preparing my 8inch pans by spraying them with Baker's Joy and then cutting out circles of parchment paper to put in the bottom of the pans. That was one of those tricks I learned when I was preparing to make my friends' wedding cake. It makes it so much easier to get the cake out of the pan, and not lose a big chunk of the bottom.

Since I was making a chocolate cake, I had to prepare the chocolaty part! I whisked together 1 cup of cocoa powder and 1.5 cups of boiling water. I then set it aside for the very end of the batter prep so it could cool.

This was a very different recipe than I'm used to when it comes to making a cake. I had all the dry ingredients and then added all the wet ingredients into them to finish it off. I always feel like it's the other way around, so I'm doing something wrong. But this was not wrong and so very easy.

I combined 2.5 cups flour, 2 cups sugar, 1.5 tsp baking bowder, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt together. Just whisking them so they were mixed together evenly.

Then I added in 3 room temperature eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 1/2 cup sour cream and 2 tsps vanilla extract.

Once all those ingredients are mixed together for a few minutes on medium speed, you slow it down to low speed and slowly add in the chocolate! Mix for a minute or two and then finish off by mixing with a spatula. And then you're ready to pour the batter into the pans!

Of course, you have to pick up and drop the pans onto the counter to pop all the air bubbles. I did it many times just because air bubbles kept coming up to the top! But it's good practice to make sure there are no holes in your cake. Luckily, I did not end up with batter on my ceiling (which has happened before). I then baked the cakes for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees! When I took them out to cool, I tried a little Pinterest trick I had seen, where you put a piece of bread on top of the cake while it cools to keep the top of the cake soft. I don't know what does it, but the bread keeps the tops soft and the bread literally feels like it was toasted. It was AWESOME. Science at work people. 

Meanwhile, I went ahead and prepped the filling for in-between the layers. You start by bringing 1.5 cups of whole milk to a simmer in a heavy saucepan. 

 Then in another bowl, you'll combine 1/2 cup of sugar, 3 tbsp cornstarch, 3/4 tsp peppermint extract, 1 egg and 1 egg yolk.

Once the milk has simmered, add half to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl, mix together and then add back to the saucepan. You'll then bring that to a boil while whisking constantly for 2-3 minutes. 

Once that's done, pour it into a new bowl, add in 3oz (or 3/8 cup) of white chocolate and 1 drop of green food coloring to give it that "natural" minty color.

Then cover with plastic wrap (pushed all the way down to the top of the mixture) and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

[Side note: at this point, I went to a yoga class and when I came home, I walked in and was hit in the face with the smell of chocolate cake. It was pretty much the most amazing thing ever because sometimes I don't notice the baking smell since I'm around it the whole time.]

So back to the cake and putting it all together! I sliced off the top of the bottom layer using my fun little cake leveler tool that I love. 

Then I mixed in a bunch of mini chocolate chips into the middle minty mixture and poured it onto the bottom layer.

When I put the second layer on top (which I decided not to level because I kind of wanted to go for the dome look), I realized I clearly put too much of the minty filling on because it started exploding out the sides. Whatever! It'll still be delicious and gave it a....uh....unique look to it! Right, unique. We'll go with that.

For the topping, I made homemade whipped cream by combining 1.5 cups of cold heavy cream, 1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar, and 1/8 tsp peppermint extract. I plopped that on and then went a little overboard topping it with some mini chocolate chips.

It doesn't look pretty by any means, but it sure does look delicious, and it tastes amazing too!! Craving satisfied.

[Final Side Note - which is more of a question: How is it that someone who can bake a cake can NEVER seem to be able to bake a potato all the way through, no matter how long it bakes for??? Serious FAIL.]

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years Resolutions - Version 2013

Looking back at my resolutions from last year, I think I did a pretty good job of being a more awesome Carolyn. I went skydiving, read good books (Hunger Games anyone??), discovered new music (but also rediscovered some old music I haven't listen to since college and forgot how much I loved), made some good crafty things (my NC State and Spring/Summer wreaths top the list), started my plate wall, went to a place I've never been (both Spruce Pine and 1000 Islands covered this...and I guess technically Birmingham too, but that was for work - I'll eventually make my way to Montreal), definitely had great conversations, and most definitely tried to live my life as a good and positive person (even if it meant chasing down a purse snatcher).

I did change my mind on the whole DC thing, (mostly because I was just trying to figure out what to do with my life and it seemed like an easy escape) and instead decided to do something much better, which was start taking nonprofit management classes at NC State. And unfortunately I never got around to baking something really fancy, even though I baked a LOT. So all in all, I feel pretty accomplished and happy with what I did in the past year.

While totally overrated because most people don't actually stick to them and are never very serious about them past January, I do find resolutions a fun thing to think about because you have a whole year ahead of you that you don't know what's going to happen, and you can take steps to make sure it's going to be a good one and its a good way to improve upon your life (as long as you stick with them). This past year I definitely had kept my resolutions in mind, and putting them out there helped keep me accountable to them and reminded me what they were. Ha. And I think I did a pretty good job of sticking with them!

So what about 2013? I have a lot of fun things going on this year, especially the first half:
  • FINISHING MY INVISALIGN! 2nd day of the year. It'll be amazing.
  • One of my best friend's, Nichole's, wedding and all the surrounding events
  • NC State basketball games (gotta get my student fees worth)
  • Turning 27. Odd age. So we'll see how fun that really is. Ha.
  • Getting a new niece or nephew!!
  • Zombie Mud Run
  • Heading to London for a study abroad reunion, and Barcelona for a few days afterwards with one of my best friends
  • NC State football. We have a new coach. Let's see how this goes.
  • Taking more classes! (HR for Nonprofits in the Spring, not sure about the Fall semester yet)
This year, I'm not sure what kind of resolutions to do. I'm probably just going to continue with the overall "Be Awesome" idea:

  • It sounds uber cliche, but less so when you factor in that I've already been in a workout routine, but I'm definitely needing to start running more to get ready for the Zombie Mud Run and then my half marathon in early 2014. I'm a terrible runner, so the more practice I get in, the better. I'll keep up my kickboxing and yoga because I think that'll help too. However, I keep debating about whether or not I should avoid my gym in January and wait for the crowds to die down in the classes I go to.
  • This is also going to sound cliche, but I need to start cooking more and cooking healthier. I find myself getting lazy and making pasta most nights, especially since I'm cooking for one, and all this holiday sugar has made me crave green beans and broccoli. If I can just plan my meals out every couple weeks and maybe even make some in advance depending on what they are, I'll be better off. And I'm going to use my Crock-Pot way more.
  • I think I'll try to get around to that fancy baking thing this year. I really want to try making croissants. I have a recipe, I just gotta make it! And I really want to start making my own apple butter. That's an easy resolution to float over from the previous year. And same thing with the read good books, listen to good music, have good conversation, live as a good and happy person. If it's more of just continuing good life ideas, does that continue to make them resolutions?
  • One new thing I'd like to try to start is writing at least one letter a week (or month...we'll see how well I can stick with this). It's kind of a "lost art" these days with email, facebook, and text messages, plus I love getting real mail and I assume others do too. And it would give me an excuse to buy fun and pretty cards and stationary!
  • Do something "extreme". Last year it was skydiving. This year? Who knows. Hot air balloon ride? Ziplining? If Special Olympics does their "Over the Edge" fundraiser again where you rappel down a building downtown, that is high on my list. Who knows, I'm not exactly sure what else is out there to try. But it would be fun to do something that gets the heart racing. I'm not counting the Zombie Mud Run in this though.
  • Volunteer more. Since I've decided I want to go into volunteer management, I've been kind of "studying" the different experiences I've been having volunteering, and thinking about the things I've learned in class. That's both a good and bad thing, but it can make them more thought provoking for me. My trouble is finding a consistent volunteering opportunity, so I kind of go where I can. Hopefully something will come along at some point where I can volunteer consistently with an organization.
  • Lastly, I plan to study hard, work hard, and play hard! 
I think that's good for 2013! I'm looking forward to finding out what's ahead in the new year :)