Vanilla Malt Buttercream Birthday Cake

Literally a few days before Casper’s 1st Birthday, he took his first (unassisted) steps! I am both horrified and delighted by this new skill. I mean, he’s still crawling a lot–it’s more efficient–but, he’s definitely walking even if it’s more of a Tommy Pickles stumble. It’s pretty cute but, it takes all of me to not scoop him up immediately every time he stumbles.

We celebrated his first year with some family and friends with a BBQ over the weekend. Sean smoked ribs–they are seriously delicious and he deserves major props for perfecting his method– I made a nectarine and tomato salad that I’ll post here soon, and my deviled egg potato salad that I’ve been trying to perfect (and I think is just about there). I also made this cake, obvs. The cake itself is just my chocolate cupcake recipe, baked as 2 6-inch cake layers. I split each layer, so I had a total of 4 layers because I like a tall party cake. This recipe makes sturdy, stackable, easy to split layers. There’s just something about all those layers that shout “CELEBRATION!” to me. I wanted a classic cake combo and after vacillating for days I decided on a chocolate cake with basic, sugary, vanilla buttercream. I knew Casper would only have a little, so I just kind of threw caution (or mom-crazy) to the wind and went all out with his cake. Even though I wanted a basic buttercream, I had to bump up the flavor a teeny bit more and add malt powder. I love the flavor of malt in sweet, vanilla desserts and it paired so nicely with the deep, chocolatey cake. I also used my homemade vanilla extract–vanilla beans + vodka + time–I actually used the last of my batch that I’ve had for years. Literally, years. Like, 5. It was a kindergartener. So the flavor was very vanilla-y and had specks of vanilla bean, which I love seeing in frostings but any good quality (aka pure) vanilla extract would be perfect. I iced it in what I’m calling a “water color stripe”–basically I followed the method for making an ombré cake, but alternated white and colored frostings instead. It turned out pretty cute, I think, and it was easy to do. This style of frosting is totally fine if it’s imperfect, leaving plenty of room for error. I appreciate that in a frosting technique. I sprinkled the edges of the cake with little star sprinkles to make it extra festive. For the cupcakes, I piped all the remaning colors–plus some pink, since it didn’t end up on the cake itself–into another piping bag and piped it onto the cupcakes using a star tip. I sprinkled those with some star spinkles plus some disco dust (aka edible glitter) and they turned out crazy but fun. I call them “space unicorn” cupcakes.

Anyway, then I made a little paper Totoro cake topper because Casper has a “Tototo” (as he says) plush toy that he LOVES (as well as a pillow and a print in his room). Sean is a huge Studio Ghibli fan, and it’s definitely getting passed on to Casper. He hugs and kisses Tototo and it’s so cute! It kills me. Initially I wanted to make a cake like this one from Lyndsay. I was feeling overwhelmed by the idea of trying to pipe a Totoro likeness, but I can put together a paper cut-out version, so I went with that. I also stuck some super cute sparkler candles in the top–thank goodness the didn’t catch Totoro on fire! It was a concern, but he remains unscathed and cake was had by all.

 

PS, You can see the lit sparklers and the rest of the food on my Instagram feed.

Print Recipe

Vanilla Malt Buttercream

Adapted from Glorious Treats

Makes about 3 cups.

I did 2 1/2 times (using 5 sticks of butter) this recipe to frost and fill a 4-layer, 6-inch cake and generously frost 9 cupcakes. For the cake, I used this recipe and doubled it–which gave me the 2, 6-inch, cakes and 9 cupcakes.

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

dash of salt

4 cups sifted powdered sugar

2 tablespoons malt powder

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Beat the butter with an electric mixer or stand mixer until smooth and creamy. Beat in the salt. Add the powdered sugar, beating on low speed 1 cup at a time, until completely incorporated. Beat in the malt powder, vanilla, and heavy cream (1 tablespoon at a time, to reach desire consistency). Continue to beat the buttercream until it is smooth, creamy, and spreadable. Add more cream or powdered sugar to get your desired consistency. Tint with gel color, if you’d like. Pipe or spread onto the cake layers and cupcakes.

Dark Cherry Agua Fresca

One summer, after college, I worked at Whole Foods. It was a very short stint as part of the opening crew of a new store and one that I just, ultimately, wasn’t cut out for. I worked in the kitchen where it was hot from the cooking, humid from the dishwasher, and socially awkward from the insular group of cooks that had moved over from another store together. My report with the chef was good since it turned out I could crimp a billion pot pies neatly and quickly. It was the rest of the staff I couldn’t get in with.  It could have been my awkwardness and insecurity or their cliquey dude group, but it was probably both. Sometimes when I’d go into the walk-in to retrieve ingredients, I’d just bask in the refrigerated air for a minute while giving myself a pep-talk to get through the day. Then I’d wait till the last few hours to take my break so the light at the end of the tunnel didn’t seem so far off. I’d usually sit in my car with the AC blasting, chugging a watermelon agua fresca, while counting down the minutes until I could go home. So, basically I crimped pot pies, made salads, blended up agua fresca, and tried not to cry for a month before I peaced the f out and never looked back. The lesson? Life is too short for awkward work environments and the restorative power of agua fresca should not be underestimated.

Fast forward, like 8ish years, and I bought one of those agua frescas of my memories, reminiscing its thirst quenching abilities while I poured it over ice, only to be so disappointed by how cloyingly sweet it was. Sad trombone. But, there’s an upside to what has turned out to be an oddly depressing recounting of jobs-past. Agua fresca is damn easy to make. Like, why haven’t I been doing it for the better part of the last decade? It’s just fruit, water, and sugar. That’s it. Billy just posted this cute throwback number and he describes it like healthier kool-aid and I totally second that description. I opted to go for dark cherries here because I am obsessed with them every summer and always buy a ton and get super mad if I let them get wrinkly and sad before I use them.  Also, I have heart-eyeballs for that color. You should probably make this for the 4th of July festivities this weekend, or whatever other weekend happenings you may be enjoying–Netflix binging in your underpants, or whatever. I’m not here to judge. You could probably add some tequila/vodka/gin to this and make it a real party…you know, choose your own adventure.

[recipe]

Print Recipe

Dark Cherry Agua Fresca

Makes about 1 liter.

There are a ton of agua fresca variations, but they all pretty much have about 4 cups of fruit (berries, stone fruits, melon) with about an equal amount of water and some sugar. You can pretty much make this with any fruit, just adjust the sugar to taste.

4 cups dark, sweet cherries, pitted

juice of 1 lime

1/3 cup sugar

3-4 cups cool water

Blend the cherries, lime juice, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a blender until the cherries are completely pureed. Stir in the remaining water (2-3 cups depending on how you would like the consistency, I like mine to be fairly thin and watery but still very cherry flavored). Serve in tall glasses over ice. Cheers! [/recipe]

 

Peanut Butter and Strawberry Cookies

I feel like I haven’t posted a cookie round these parts for some time now, but truth be told…we went on a bit of a chocolate chip cookie bender for a bit and maybe had to slow it down in the ‘zerts department. I mean, when you freeze cookie dough into portions and have them stashed in the freezer, there’s not much stopping you from treating-yo-self nightly to a warm cookie or two. Cookie binge was followed by an ice cream binge…so, we had to take it a little easy on the sugar intake.

Then, I decided to make these cute little numbers because they’ve been knocking around in my brain for days and I just couldn’t ignore them any more. I’m gonna have to unload them on Sean’s office mates or something, because I cannot resist these guys.Even Sean, who claims to hate peanut butter cookies, couldn’t stop eating these. They’re thick and chewy and full of peanut butter flavor with little bits of intense strawberry throughout–like a pb&j in cookie form. These are best served with a tall glass of cold milk–the cow kind or the almond kind, or whatever kind you like. I even had one with horchata. GOOD STUFF. Cookie magic, cue the sparkle emoji!

[recipe]

Print Recipe

Peanut Butter & Strawberry Cookies

Makes about 30 cookies

Adapted from THIS recipe.

1 cup coarsely ground oatmeal, ground in a food processor so there are some large pieces and some powdery bits

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (4 ounces) softened, unsalted butter

2/3 cup peanut butter

1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups freeze dried strawberries (plus more for topping)

1 cup peanut butter chips

1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanut

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the butter and peanut butter together until smooth. Beat in the dark brown sugar until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add the oat and flour mixture, all at once, and beat on low speed until just combined. Fold in the freeze dried strawberries, peanut butter chips, and peanuts until distrubuted evenly throughout the dough.

Using a large cookie scoop (about 2 heaping tablespoons), scoop portions of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing an inch or so apart. Pat down the tops of the cookies using your fingertips or the bottom of a flat glass as these cookies will not really spread. Bake the cookies in the center of the oven for 13-15 minutes or until the bottom of the cookies are golden brown when lifted from the baking sheet. While the cookies are still hot, carefully press a slice of freeze dried strawberry onto the top of each cookie. Cool about 5 minutes before transferring cookies to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough. [/recipe]