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Churro Cupcakes for a Surprise 60th Birthday Fiesta!

4 Feb

I threw my mom a surprise party to celebrate her big 6-0 last month with my extended family – about 20-25 of us in all.  Given her East Los Angeles roots and inherent love for Mexican food, I decided to give it a fiesta theme.  I ordered a taco bar style set-up from a fantastic family-owned Mexican restaurant near us and of course a portion of their fantastic mole (mom’s favorite).  I made Tomatillo Salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, and three desserts for the party – Key Lime Bars with Pistachio Graham Cracker Crust (sans compote), Aaron Sanchez’s Mexican Chocolate Brownies, and these Churro Cupcakes.

Taco Bar - Who's Hungry?

Taco Bar – Who’s Hungry?

It’s been crazy busy at work the last few months, so I parceled out my time spent on crafting/planning over the course of about six weeks. For decorations, I found a few fun colorful pieces on Amazon that livened up our otherwise intentionally monochromatic home – paper buntings, serapes, festive patterned tablecloths, and pom poms.

Photo Backdrop

Photo Backdrop

Kevin and I also ended up hosting Christmas dinner which was two weeks before the party, so we had to hide everything away before she came over.  All of the streamers, party utensils, napkins, and plates were from Party City in every sort of bright color. I also bought a couple of cute craft kits from Paper Source – a mini pineapple pinata and a DIY set of six paper cacti. I used a white gel pen to add some “texture” to each cactus as well!

Cactus Kit

Cactus Kit

Jamie let me borrow her set of acrylic paints so I could add some color to the terra cotta pots I bought for the party favors.  They held the miniature cactus candles.  I also found some colorful candies to fluff up the favor bags.

Painting Pots for Favors

Painting Pots for Favors

Since Kevin and I had to go to a family wedding the morning of the party and with how long it takes to make cupcakes, I made these late the night before.  I was worried the crunchy topping that the original recipe suggested would get soggy overnight, so I skipped that component completely. Here is the recipe as adapted from Lady Behind the Curtain, without the crunchy topping!

INGREDIENTS:

For Cupcakes:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
For Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 (8 ounce) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

For Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Whisk together both flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla, and reduce speed to low.
  4. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each.  Fill each cupcake liner three-quarters full. Bake for 20 minutes.

    Cinnamon-y Cupcake Batter

    Cinnamon-y Cupcake Batter

  5. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

    Cupcakes

    Cupcakes

  6. Top with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.

    Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

    Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

  7. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Set out 20 minutes before serving
For Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:
  1. In a medium bowl, beat butter and cream cheese until light.
  2. Mix in vanilla and cinnamon; add confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time until all is incorporated.

    Churro Cupcakes

    Churro Cupcakes

Not having the time to actually paint anything, I searched online for some watercolor pieces to incorporate into the DIY dessert toppers, the invitation, favors, and more.

Dessert Trio

Dessert Trio

I had to keep the surprise from my brother as well until he came over, since he cannot keep secrets.  My mom thought she was meeting at my place and carpooling with me to a restaurant nearby.  I wanted to make sure I recorded her entrance, so I had my brother let her in the community gate when she arrived.  Right before she walked in, he asked, “Are you ready?”  Good thing she wasn’t already suspecting anything!

"Which dessert do you want?" "ALL THREE!"

“Which dessert do you want?”
“ALL THREE!”

My mom was really surprised and had a wonderful time, and it’s always great to spend time with my rambunctious family!

Pintuck Apron

21 Dec

For Jamie’s birthday nearly two years ago (yes – still drowning in a sea of backlogged posts), I made this fun little pintuck piece since she’d told me she was in the market for an apron.  I found the tutorial on Wholly Kao, and wholeheartedly accepted the challenge.  And boy, was it a challenge!

I don’t think I’ve made something this difficult since those baby booties a few years ago.

Here’s the tutorial as adapted from Wholly Kao, but having the diagrams she drew in her tutorial will really help you:

ITEMS:

  • 1 yard fabric for the apron
  • 1/2 yard coordinating muslin (for the waist strap and ruffles)

INSTRUCTIONS:

MAKE THE TOP:

  1. Measure the distance between your armpits to get the width of the chest. Take this width and subtract 4. This new number will be how wide your top part is at its widest point. Measure from your chest to your waist to get the height.
  2. Take your patterned fabric and measure out a piece that is slightly larger than the width and height dimensions you just measured. Fold the fabric in half width-wise.
  3. Using a Sharpie, draw your top shape onto the folded fabric. This shape should look like a heart with a flat bottom. The widest point of this ‘heart’ is your (chest width minus 4 inches) measurement. Cut along your Sharpie line. You’ve now got your top piece! You can measure it against yourself to make sure it’s not too wide. If it is, trim it accordingly.

    “Heart” chest piece

MAKE THE BOTTOM:

  1. Measure out a piece of fabric for the bottom part that is 36-inches wide. The height for this can be as tall as you want. For instance, if you want the apron to hit mid-thigh, measure the distance from your waist to your thigh and use this number as the height. Spread the fabric out and cut out the corners so that they’re rounded. (see diagram)
  2. Now it’s time to make the pleats along the waist. Take the fabric at the top of the wide side and fold it accordian style and pin it in place. Do this only in the middle, leaving 6-inches on either side of the folds. Next, sew the folds in place, 1/4-inch in from the edge (see red dotted line in diagram).

    Tuck and Pin

    Tuck and Pin

  3. Pin the top and bottom part together on the wrong side. Sew the two pieces together on the wrong side, 1/4-inch from the edge.

    Coming Together

    Coming Together

MAKE THE WAIST STRAP:

  1. Cut a strip of muslin fabric (I chose a coordinating periwinkle shade) that is 5-inches tall and as wide as your bolt of fabric. Sew the ends of two of these straps together on the wrong side, making one really really long strap that is 50-inches long (This piece will tie around your waist, so you want to cut the length to fit you).
  2. Fold the strap in half, making a 2.5-inch tall piece. Pin the ends together, then iron the fold flat.
  3. Sew around the edges of the strap (red dotted line in diagram), 1/4-inch from the edge. Be sure to leave an opening on one side, so you can flip this piece inside-out.
  4. Flip the fabric so that the raw edges are now on the inside. Then sew the open edge shut (red dotted line in diagram).
  5. Now take the apron fabric and cut two strips that are 3-inches tall. Sew these together to make one long strip 50-inches long.
  6. Fold each edge in 1/4-inch and pin in place. Iron flat. Center this strip on top of the white strip and pin.

MAKE THE NECK STRAP:

  1. Cut a strip of apron fabric that is 2-inches tall for the neck strap. (The length of this depends on you: if you want a strap that is easy on and off, you can always put a buttonhole/button in the middle of this neck strap.)
  2. Fold the strip in half, making a 1-inch tall piece. Pin the edges together, then iron flat. Sew along the edges, making sure to leave an opening on one side. Once you’re done sewing, flip the fabric inside out.

MAKE THE RUFFLES*:

*If you want, you can just buy pre-made ruffles by the yard at the fabric store instead. If you do that, skip to “Assembling the Pieces Together”.

  1. Take the muslin fabric and cut it into strips that are 2-inches tall. Sew three of these together, making one really really long strap. Fold the strap in half.
  2. Make small pleats all along the fabric, pinning them in place as you go.

    Pleat, Pin, Repeat

    Pleat, Pin, Repeat

  3. Sew the ruffles in place, using the zig zag stitch on your sewing machine.

    Remove Pins as you Sew

    Remove Pins as you Sew

ASSEMBLING THE PIECES TOGETHER:

  1. Take the sewn edge of the ruffles and line them up with the raw edges of the front side of the apron, so the ruffles lie on top of the patterned part of the fabric. Pin the ruffles around the apron this way, then flip the ruffles out so that they look like this (diagram).

    Apron Hem - Finished

    Apron Hem – Finished

  2. Sew the edges together on the wrong side of the fabric. Then iron the front of the apron, where the fabric and ruffles meet.
  3. Pin the neck strap in place behind the ruffles.
  4. Now it’s time to sew everything together! Sew all along the apron, 1/4-inch in, making sure you sew the edges of the ruffle, as well as the straps in place.

    Neck Strap

    Neck Strap

  5. Last step: attaching the waist strap. Center the waist strap between the top and bottom pieces of the apron, and pin it in place. Sew along the edges of the inner fabric on the strap (red dotted lines on diagram), making sure you’re attaching the apron to the strap in the process.

    Waist Band - Finished

    Waist Band – Finished

Here’s the finished product:

Pintuck Apron - Finished

Pintuck Apron – Finished

And here is the birthday girl!

Birthday Girl!

Birthday Girl!

While the apron turned out pretty cute (if I do say so myself) in the front, it was just a hot mess behind it.  Lots of thread everywhere from places I went over and fixed, and I had a lot of thread-breakage issues for some reason with this project. I thought the tutorial was great with getting me to the end product, but there wasn’t a lot of thought put into covering up the unsightly back of the apron fabric.

Tiramisu Ice Cream Cake

7 Aug

In celebration of Shirley’s birthday last month, we decided to do a potluck/wine tasting. Shirley, Spencer, Leslie, Tri, Kevin, and I contributed wine from our favorite vineyards, and everyone brought something for dinner.

Leslie and Shirley's App Spread

Leslie and Shirley’s App Spread

I volunteered to do dessert, and an ice cream cake seemed like a great idea to cool us off in the midst of the crazy heat wave.

Shiriley's Roasted Garlic Chicken

Shiriley’s Roasted Garlic Chicken

I knew Shirley liked tiramisu, so why not combine the two and do a tiramisu flavored ice cream cake?  I ended up combining various parts of three different recipes from Martha Stewart and The Delicious Life.

Shirley's Sausage and Penne

Shirley’s Sausage and Penne

Here is the combined recipe, which was a big hit with our group:

Vanilla Sponge Cake

INGREDIENTS:

  • softened butter, for pan
  • 1/2 C all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 C cornstarch
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a 9-inch round baking pan.
  2. In a small bowl, sift together flour and cornstarch.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks, vanilla, and 1/2 cup sugar on high speed until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Transfer the egg/sugar mixture to a large bowl. Wash and dry the mixer bowl and the whisk attachment.

    Sponge Cake Batter

    Sponge Cake Batter

  4. Beat egg whites and salt on medium speed until whites hold soft peaks (about 2 minutes). With mixer running, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute.

    Stiff Peaks!

    Stiff Peaks!

  5. Fold the egg whites into the egg-yolk mixture. In three additions, fold the flour mixture into eggs. Pour cake batter into prepared pan, and smooth the top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into middle comes out clean, about 40 minutes (start checking on the cake at about 35 minutes).

    Vanilla Sponge Cake

    Vanilla Sponge Cake

  6. Cool cake in pan for about 15 minutes, then invert to remove from pan and cool completely on rack.

Tiramisu Ice Cream Cake

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 1/2 C strong, freshly brewed espresso (I used espresso powder and hot water)
  • 1/3 C coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua (optional)
  • 1 recipe Vanilla Sponge Cake (above)
  • 1/4 C finely ground espresso beans
  • 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1-1.5 pints coffee ice cream (I used Haagen Daaz)
  • 1-1.5 pints chocolate ice cream (I used Haagen Daaz)
  • Chocolate curls or unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 C mascarpone cheese
  • 1 C heavy whipping cream
  • 2-4 T sugar (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place sugar and 2/3 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in espresso and Kahlua. Let the syrup cool.

    SO. MUCH. CAFFEINE.

    SO. MUCH. CAFFEINE.

  2. Using a serrated knife, cut sponge cake in half horizontally, making two layers. Place one layer in the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Using a pastry brush, brush with 3/4 cup cooled syrup. Sift 2 tablespoons ground espresso and 1 tablespoon cocoa powder over cake.

    Brush Syrup Over Cake

    Brush Syrup Over Cake

  3. Place coffee ice cream in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low speed with the paddle attachment until spreadable. Spread ice cream over cake; top with second layer of sponge cake and press down gently. Brush with remaining syrup. Transfer cake to freezer for 20 minutes.  If your springform pan leaks liquid like mine does, be sure to put your pan on top of a baking sheet or foil first.

    Sift Cocoa Powder and Ground Espresso

    Sift Cocoa Powder and Ground Espresso

  4. Remove cake from freezer; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of ground espresso and 1 tablespoon cocoa powder. Place chocolate ice cream in a mixer bowl. Beat on low speed until spreadable. Spread ice cream over cake, forming large swirls. Return to freezer; freeze until completely hardened.

    Spread Softened Ice Cream

    Spread Softened Ice Cream

  5. While cake is freezing, make the marscarpone cream. Beat mascarpone cheese until light and fluffy, about 60 seconds, and then transfer to another bowl.  In the same mixer bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form, slowly adding sugar if you want to sweeten it.  Fold whipped cream into mascarpone cheese. Keep chilled until ready to serve.  Then spread over top of cake, and garnish with chocolate curls or sift 1-1.5 tablespoons cocoa powder over top.

    Whipped Marscarpone and Cream

    Whipped Marscarpone and Cream

I started with two pints of ice cream, but my springform pan was not big enough to hold everything so I really think 1 pint each is enough.  I also topped my cake with 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder just to create an even layer with no marscarpone showing through (as below), and all six of us took turns choking on the cocoa powder.  Unless you want the same affect, perhaps scale back to about 1 tablespoon overtop.

Ready to Serve

Ready to Serve

 You can also sub the chocolate ice cream for espresso ice cream if you want more of a very strong coffee flavor.  For the ground espresso, I went to Intelligentsia for their Black Cat espresso which is the best espresso in LA in my opinion.  It turned out that the barista helping me was an avid baker as well, and we ended up having a lengthy conversation about the wonders of adding coffee in chocolate desserts.  Long story short, she gave me about $8 worth of ground espresso for free!
Tiramisu Ice Cream Cake

Tiramisu Ice Cream Cake

Easy No-Churn Strawberry Ice Cream

2 Jan

As a quick follow-up to the Chocolate Layer Cake with Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting, here is the recipe for the strawberry ice cream that went with it.

We got a Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment as a wedding gift, but the first few recipes I found using the attachment made mention of their attachment breaking and leaking “blue goo” as early as the first use!  I decided to try a simple recipe that didn’t require an ice cream maker.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 C cold heavy whipping cream (cold)
  • 1-14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (not to be confused with evaporated milk)
  • 1 pound of fresh strawberries or thawed frozen strawberries, mashed
  • A couple drops red food coloring for a brighter pink color and few slices of strawberry for garnish (optional)

    3 Ingredients!

    3 Ingredients!

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Mash strawberries in a bowl and set aside. If using thawed frozen strawberries, drain the excess juices and water first, then mash the strawberries. If using fresh strawberries, keep the juices.
  2. In large mixing bowl of stand-mixer or in a large bowl and using an electric hand mixer, add all the ingredients: heavy whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk.
  3. Whip the heavy cream mixture on high speed until stiff peaks form (to prevent massive splattering, start out at a slower speed and as the cream thickens, increase the speed). Be careful not to over mix or “break” the whip cream mixture. For a brighter pink color, add a few drops of red food coloring into the mixture if you like.

    Whipped Mixture

    Whipped Mixture

  4. Pour the mashed strawberries into the mixture and gently fold with a spatula in until combined.
  5. Pour the whipped mixture into a freezer safe container. We like to use a bread pan. Top with a few slices of strawberries for garnish (optional). Cover and freeze for about 4-5 hours. In about 3-4 hours you can have a “soft serve” type ice cream. If you prefer a more firm texture, freeze for at least 5-6 hours or overnight.

The verdict – I froze this overnight and could definitely taste the condensed milk.  The texture was also a bit icy.  There was no way around it.  It’s great for a quick fix, but an ice cream maker would make it so much better!

Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

14 Oct

For another Hirata family birthday potluck celebration last month, I made a birthday cake using my new go-to chocolate layer cake recipe, this time, with a classic vanilla buttercream that I stumble upon browsing Add A Pinch.  It was a triple celebration for Kevin, his mom, and his uncle:

Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

The great thing about buttercream is you can totally customize it to whatever consistency you want it to be – stiffer, creamier, the frosting world is your oyster!

Here’s the recipe:

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 C butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 3-4 C confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 2 t vanilla
  • Pinch of salt (sea salt is my preference)
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk, heavy cream, or half-and-half
 INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Place softened butter into the bowl of a stand mixer that has been fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on a medium setting and cream the butter until it is smooth and has lightened in color, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar, half a cup at a time. After each cup has been incorporated, turn the mixer onto the highest speed setting and for about 10 seconds to lighten the frosting.
  3. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt and combine until well-incorporated.
  4. Add milk, heavy cream or half-and-half until the frosting has reached the preferred consistency. For a firmer frosting, add more confectioner’s sugar, 1/4 cup at a time. For a softer frosting, add more milk or cream, a tablespoon at a time.

I took a wee bit of the leftover frosting and added a few drops of red food coloring to make it pink.  I didn’t have a small enough piping tip, so I put the pink frosting into a ziploc baggie and snipped a corner to write the happy birthday, and then created the “flowers” using a closed star tip.  And yes, I am aware that I have had better cake decorating days.

Pre-Piping

Pre-Piping

The frosting was sweet, but not too sweet.  If you want your frosting to be a little less sweet, add a little bit more salt (another small pinch or two).  The salt really balances out sweetness in frosting, but doesn’t necessarily make the frosting salty by any means…unless you over do it.

Birthday Candle Blowout!

Birthday Candle Blowout!

I made a batch of strawberry ice cream to go with the cake too.  Yup – I get things done! The ice cream recipe will follow soon!