Rainbow Birthday Cake

rainbow birthday cakeHere’s a way to dress up a white cake for special occasions. The layers are colored and the frosting is white, so when slices are cut it’s the inside that stands out.

I was inspired by a picture I clipped from a magazine ages ago that showed four layers in graduating shades of blue. There was no recipe, if I recall — just the picture. But it was easy to copy using my existing recipes for white cake and buttercream frosting.

My son requested this cake for his birthday with four layers, each in one of our favorite colors. That was orange, green, red, and pink. I can foresee making this on holidays — shades of red and pink for Valentine’s Day, pastel colors for Easter, or red, white, and blue (maybe with another layer of white containing sprinkles?) for Independence Day.

The white cake recipe above yields two 9-inch round layers. I made the recipe twice to get four layers. Each time I made the recipe, I divided the batter evenly into two large measuring cups and tinted them with gel colors.

I also doubled the buttercream frosting recipe above.

Now, you’ll see from the picture that the cake is missing the red layer my son requested and has a brown one instead. That one counts as a lesson learned. I decided to use some red beet powder as a natural red food coloring — I had used it before with frosting — but this time, the cake turned out the color of whole wheat bread. I looked it up and it seems that the baking process, and maybe a reaction to the baking powder, turned the red beet powder brown. Oh, well. I know for next time.

A note on the frosting: For this cake, you want the colored layers to stand out, so you shouldn’t put a lot of frosting between them. Put just a small amount to act as a glue to hold the layers in place. The thin ribbon of white you’ll see between each layer when you cut the cake is also just enough to show off the colors.

Candied Pecan Popcorn

20170128_162714This is a recipe that could earn you a lot of friends. I brought a container of this to work, and it was soon gobbled up by colleagues who asked me not to bring it in again because they didn’t need the temptation.

The original recipe came from the Food Network magazine, which always seems to have recipes that just simply work. It was the creation of Marcela Valladolid, who called for the addition of chipotle seasoning, but I leave that out in my version. Here is the recipe, with a few more changes from the original.

11 cups popped plain popcorn (very important: inspect carefully and remove all unpopped kernels)
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Heat oven to 250F degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and butter the foil.

When oven is hot, put popcorn on the pan and scatter the pecans on top. Place in the oven while you do the next step.

Place the sugar, butter, and honey in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally. When the sugar and butter have melted, increase the heat and boil for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and quickly stir in salt and baking soda.

Remove popcorn from oven and pour the syrup on top, then mix gently with a rubber spatula to coat as much of the popcorn as possible. Bake for 1 hour, stirring with the spatula halfway through to coat more popcorn.

Remove from oven, stir once more, and let cool. To remove cooled popcorn from foil, lift it up at each end, gently moving the foil around to ease the popcorn off.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

Forget any thoughts of those cookie cakes at the mall, because the only thing they have in common with this recipe is the name. Rather than looking simply like one big cookie (as delicious as that sounds), this is a cookie in a cake pan — thick and chewy in the middle with a crispy, buttery straight-sided crust. The slices could even be eaten with forks. (But don’t do that. Cookies are too much fun to be eaten with utensils.)

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The recipe comes from a recent issue of Southern Living magazine, where it was called a “skillet cookie,” baked in a cast-iron skillet. I swapped the skillet for a 10-inch springform pan, greased it well with butter, and followed the recipe as written.

 

If you ever want to serve cookies for dessert, this is how. And there will be no quibbling about who gets how many.

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 oz.) butter, softened
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups (about 9 oz.) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided

Preheat the oven to 325F (160C) degrees. Lightly coat a 10-inch springform pan with butter.

Beat brown sugar, granulated sugar, and butter with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, beating until bended.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Add to butter mixture gradually, beating at low speed until combined.

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Add 1 cup of the chocolate chips, beating until combined.

Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Top with remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.

Bake in preheated oven until golden and set, about 50 minutes. Let stand at least 15 minutes before cutting into wedges.

Malted Pretzel Brittle

It’s the salty-sweet combination that is the best part of this quick-to-make dessert snack: crisp, sugary pieces loaded with salty pretzel bits. The malted milk powder adds a touch of creamy sweetness. (And the kitchen smelled like Whoppers malt balls as this baked in the oven.)20160816_003115

As for ease — it’s made in one bowl, baked on parchment (for easy pan clean-up), and it takes less than an hour to make, start to finish. You have to let it cool after baking, of course, but I dare you to wait very long before you start ripping off pieces and gobbling them down.

14 Tbsp. (about 200g) unsalted butter
8 oz. (about 230g) salted mini pretzels, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
6 Tbsp. malted milk powder
2 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk powder

Preheat oven to 300F/150C degrees. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in the microwave. Place the pretzels in a large bowl and crush (as a rough guide, most of my pieces were between 1/2 and 1 inch). Add both sugars and milk powders and toss to combine. Stir melted butter into mixture until blended.

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Spread mixture in an even layer on the baking sheet and bake 15-18 minutes or until browned. Let stand 10 minutes to cool before breaking brittle apart.

Store between layers of parchment paper in an airtight container.

— This recipe comes from my friend Mel at our local Publix, where we always find her at the demonstration table with great food ideas!

Peanut Butter Oat Bars

This is like a peanut butter version of blondie brownies, but it’s slightly thicker thanks to the peanut butter. It uses natural, unsweetened peanut butter and whole oats, so you could kind of convince yourself it’s healthy — despite the chocolate morsels! Like brownies, it slices better and holds together better the next day, especially when it’s been stored in the fridge.Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

It’s easy to make — you need only two bowls — and although you could use a mixer to cream the butter and sugar, it worked just as well to mix by hand.

Makes one batch in a 9×13-inch pan.

1 1/4 cup plain all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
16 oz. jar natural unsweetened peanut butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups whole oats
1 cup chocolate morsels, divided

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar, and peanut butter. Beat in eggs and vanilla, stir in flour mixture, oats, and half the chocolate morsels.

Place in an ungreased 9×13-inch pan and press down slightly to fill the pan. Sprinkle the remaining half of the morsels on top. Bake 15-17 minutes, until just golden around the edges.

Buttermilk Coconut Pie

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There are many variations of this Southern classic. This recipe is my own version of a recipe featured in our local paper, from an Atlanta food writer who combined his mother’s recipe with one from a cookbook of Southern pies.

It uses buttermilk (a good way to use up any that might be sitting in the fridge) to make a dense coconut-filled base. It’s topped with enough sweetened whipped cream to make a top layer that fills the rest of the pie, keeping it light.

A garnish of toasted coconut covers any flaws and hints at what’s below.

Makes one 9-inch pie.

1/2 cup sugar (slightly more)
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. all-purpose plain flour
5 oz. buttermilk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened), plus more for garnish
1 9-inch pie crust (I used a pre-made frozen one and used it straight from the freezer)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 heaping tsp. sugar

Heat oven to 350F (175C) degrees.

In small bowl combine sugar and flour, using a fork to mix well. Add buttermilk, melted butter, beaten egg, and vanilla, and stir until mixed well and evenly. Stir in coconut.

Pour filling into pie crust. Place pie on baking sheet and bake approximately 30 minutes, until firm throughout and filling is slightly browned — but keep an eye on it toward the end.

As it bakes, put a handful of shredded coconut in a small pan and toast it on medium-low until browned, shaking the pan every couple of minutes to toast the flakes evenly. If you have a toaster oven, you can do this on a small sheet of foil and a regular setting, gently shaking the foil occasionally and removing the sheet as soon as the flakes are browned.

When pie is done, let cool on wire rack. Whip cream with sugar*, then spread with spatula over the cooled pie. Try to make it slightly higher than the edge of the crust. Sprinkle the toasted coconut on top. Tip: Sprinkle some at the edge to hide the gap between the whipped cream and pie crust.

*Start whipping the cream without the sugar. Once it is slightly thickened, that’s when you add the sugar. Then continue whipping until stiff.

Pull-Apart Pizza Bread

This bread would be delicious to have with an Italian meal, for an afternoon snack, or part of a quick lunch. It tastes just like pizza but is made with prepared refrigerated biscuit dough. The fun part is pulling off the individual pieces, especially while it’s still warm.

I made this with my son yesterday after seeing the recipe in his children’s magazine. We put the bread on the dinner table and loved tearing the pieces off. There was one piece left over, but it didn’t last very long after dinner.

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1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup pizza sauce
1 12-oz. can refrigerated biscuit dough*
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano

 

Grease a 1-quart Bundt pan or angel food cake pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray. Heat the oven to 350F/175C degrees.

Sprinkle 3 Tbsp. of the cheese and 1 1/2 Tbsp. of the sauce around the bottom of the pan. Separate the biscuits from each other and tear each into three pieces.

Place the butter in a small microwave-safe bowl and melt in the microwave. Dip half the biscuits in the melted butter and put them into the pan. Sprinkle the remaining cheese and sauce, bell pepper, and oregano on top.

Slightly stretch apart the remaining biscuit pieces, dip into the butter, and add them to the pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned. Remove from oven and let cook 5 minutes on a rack. Remove from pan and place, inverted, on a serving plate.

*For those not in the United States, you’ll have to substitute a homemade biscuit dough for the canned, refrigerated kind. Do a search for “Southern buttermilk biscuit recipe” to find one. I have not made this one, but I love Southern Living magazine, and the recipe is probably good. Complete the recipe through Step 2, then weigh the dough and use only 12 ounces of it. Then divide in half and just pinch off large chunks to proceed with the pizza bread recipe.