Holiday Baking (despite the craziness)

This weekend, my weekend with the kids and a holiday weekend, we’ve done yard work, had a family outing to an old school arcade, colored Easter eggs, baked (Well, I  baked, the kids not so much.), did the Easter basket tradition, and are about to attend Mass and head to a big family dinner. Yet it somehow feels like I haven’t accomplished enough. Final exams loom, I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry…but I’ve got one more lab write up, a homework assignment, and a final to get through first. That’s the cloud that hangs low and heavy over this weekend. (And my fairly legitimate excuse for the terribly infrequent postings around here.)

Balancing working enough to support my household of six, meeting ALL the needs, and giving time and attention to my classwork is a massive challenge, one that requires constant focus and re-calibration. Somehow I’ve gotten this far and done decently well at it. Most the time. Sometimes it makes me a less than enthusiastic parent. I’m not fostering the pre-holiday excitement or planning fancy coordinated outfits for my five  (not so) small ones like I once was. But there is one holiday tradition I’ve managed to maintain, one of my favorites, the holiday baking.

I know it seems like baking holiday treats is something I do for others…It’s not. Don’t be fooled. It’s a totally selfish thing I do. I bake what like for holidays and don’t do other things so I can get the baking I want to do done. Baking has always been a comfort thing for me. It’s a soothing ritual when I’m stressed or upset and a productive distraction when I’m bored or anxious. I think this (past) weekend I was all of the above. So I baked.

This year the emergent theme of my holiday baking was fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry though, it wasn’t healthy. I made pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake, and that blueberry cheesecake from last Easter.

Pineapple upside down cake is one of my mom’s classics. She makes it in a cast iron pan with this amazing gooey brown sugar goodness crystallized on top just under a layer of juicy baked pineapple rings. My mom usually makes this at Easter but decided we probably had enough desserts without it this year. I noticed fresh pineapples on sale on one of my many weekly grocery store runs and had seen a bundt cake pan version of the old cast iron classic that I wanted to try. And thus pineapple upside down cake was added to my baking list.  Like I said, this is selfish baking here!

Having never made my mom’s version of the cake I’m not sure how close this one was but I used a recipe found online. The melted butter and brown sugar went into the bundt pan first and then pineapple slices and cherries (which my mom never used). The cake batter gets poured over that, it’s all baked, and then flipped out. Easy peasy!

No really, this was quite easy to make. I’d recommend it. The only changes I made to the recipe were using fresh pineapple which I mashed up real good and, because I was concerned about the moisture level of the batter, an added splash of rum. I only had coconut oil on hand so rum seemed like a good balancing liquid. One of my sisters commented that the cake had a vague pina colada taste….maybe next year I’ll be sharing my magical upside down pina colada cake recipe with you all. We’ll see. šŸ˜‰

Unlike pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts to make (and to eat too). I started making it back in my early twenties when I was married. And, actually, carrot cake is responsible for my cheesecake baking obsession too.

My ex-husband’s birthday is in December. The first year we were married I wanted to do something fun and special for his birthday. I got tickets to a Piston’s game and planned to make his favorite dessert…but I didn’t know what that was so in the weeks leading up to his birthday I asked what kind of cake was his favorite. I swear he said cheesecake. Swear it! I had never made one before but had seen my mom make a classic New York cheesecake every year at Christmas for as long as I could remember. It never looked that hard. So I pulled out a cookbook, scanned the recipe, bought ingredients, and started a cheesecake a half hour or so before we had to leave for the game. I thought I could just whip it up and bake it real quick before we left so it would be cooled and ready to eat when we got home. It was going to be great and he was going to love it!

Except it takes way longer than half an hour to bake a cheesecake. Apparently my reading ahead and planning skills were even worse when I was 20 than they are now.

The result was a soupy mess of a cheesecake AND then, come to find out, my then new husband didn’t even like cheesecake very mush. He says he told me carrot cake was his favorite. There is no way he said carrot cake. Maybe he meant carrot cake but he said cheesecake. After that fiasco I decided I was going to master the art of cheesecakes. I’ve made many successful cheesecakes over the past sixteen years. I think I’ve succeeded. At some point after that I got a great carrot cake recipe from a co-worker and got pretty good at that too.

 

I consider it a win-win…at least as far as desserts are concerned.

 

As for the aforementioned blueberry cheesecake, I used the same recipe as last year because, despite my poor judgement on ingredient substitution, it really was a good recipe. This time I still didn’t find friache but I did use a better quality substitute: plain Fage Greek yogurt. It’s rich and creamy with a slightly sour taste and none of that cheap vanilla Greek yogurt overpowering after taste. It was super yum!

 

Oh, and I did get all my kids to dress up even if they weren’t in coordinated outfits. With a group of mostly teenagers that’s as good as it gets.

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Something Resembling Cake Pops

It all started when I forgot to tell my thirteen year old daughter that she needed to grease AND flour the cake pans. She hadn’t baked with glassware before and my only square pans are glass. I didn’t think to mention it until I was trying to flip the second layer of the cake out of the pan and it stuck. Badly.

Crap! This was quickly moving beyond the point of being salvageable.

We were making the cake for my youngest’s impromptu seventh birthday party the next day while trying to clean up and set up something resembling an obstacle course in our back yard. The little guy had grand ideas for his birthday party, ideas that included Chuck E Cheese, Sky Zone, or some other overpriced mecca of childhood entertainment. My budget had other ideas. An obstacle course in the back yard was the compromise. That and a Minecraft creeper cake. That part, at least, would be simple. Except that I forgot to tell my daughter about greasing the pans when she offered to make the cake.

creeper cake 1

Our second attempt went much more smoothly.

Based on how quickly the ice cream cake disappeared at my oldest son’s birthday dinner a couple weeks earlier, I was estimating that one cake wouldn’t quite be enough anyhow. I looked at the crumbly mess of our first cake attempt trying to figure out how to make it usable when the light bulb went on: Cakepops!

Those are just chocolate covered balls of cake crumbs…right?

Well, that’s sort of right. They’re actually crumbled cake mixed with frosting, pressed into balls, frozen andĀ thenĀ dipped into melted chocolate.

Instead of balls (insert childish snicker here), I stuck with the Minecraft theme and made cubes. Okay, cuboid type shapes. Something akin to cubes. My thought was with the chocolate coating and some green sugar sprinkles they would resemble earth blocks.

earth blaock

The problem is that dipping things in hot, liquidized chocolate makes keeping a discernible cube shape a challenge. That and it gets pretty stinkin messy. By this time it was almost three in the morning.

cake balls 4 chocolate

This requires a beer!

I think the problem arose from crumbs and cake debris contaminating the melting chocolate. After that the chocolate was less flow-able and much more difficult to dip the cake blocks in.Ā There’s probably a tool somewhere out there to prevent this exact thing from happening. Acquiring tools takes some level of planning ahead though. That’s just not my style.

cake balls finished

After a few fully submerged blocks I gave up and started applying the chocolate to the cubes with a knife. They do still slightly resemble earth blocks from Minecraft. At least one kid recognized them so there’s that. Even though they’re somewhat…visually questionable, these things tasted SO so good! While I was making them I thought “Never again!”, while I was eating them it changed to “I should make these again. Soon!”

They were Yum-O-licious! Making next time I’ll stick to balls though. Hehe, balls!

 

As for the actual cake it was just batter died green, square pans, and brilliantly colored frosting. I truly appreciate the easy to mimic pixel world of Minecraft.