Monday, July 20, 2009

A "wild" weekend

My husband's family was in town this weekend to spend time at the San Diego Zoo and the Birch Aquarium in celebration of our niece's third birthday! Because of work, the Hubs and I didn't get to go to the Zoo on Friday with everyone, but we were able to make it to the Aquarium on Saturday.

I love the Aquarium. And I love that guy there, the Sea Dragon. If I could, I would have a tank full of them, and just watch them for hours. My husband and I are going to go back and get an annual pass, I want to get back in there with my new camera, once it is back from being repaired. Hopefully this week it will be fixed!

For the birthday celebration, we grilled chicken and hot dogs on Saturday and I made a cake for Ms. Natters, our guest of honor. Unfortunately, and of course given the family was outside at the Zoo, this weekend was warm and humid.

Heat and humidity aren't so kind to butter based frosting. My crumb coat was oozing a bit, and I got the cake in the fridge to firm it up, I just didn't realize just how much it was leaning until we pulled it out to finish the decorations.

With the help of my sister, we got the cake done up with a blue sky, grass and animal cracker cookies.

We had a hippo and a seal with a ball on his nose.

And zebras, lions stalking the zebras, and a camel on a magic carpet. Because honestly, why else would a camel be in the same environment as lions and zebras?

Happy, happy birthday Natters!

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting
(adapted from two recipes from Epicurious)

Cake Recipe (I doubled this for our four layer cake)

  • 1 cup boiling-hot water
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • Rounded 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 (9- by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottom of each with a round of parchment paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess (I didn't butter and flour my pans/paper, but will leave this step in for others. My cakes came out of their pans perfectly).
Whisk together hot water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in yogurt and vanilla.
Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.
Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add flour and cocoa mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture (batter may look curdled).
Divide batter between cake pans, smoothing tops. Bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean and edges of cake begin to pull away from sides of pans, 25 to 35 minutes total. Cool layers in pans on racks 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, removing wax paper, and cool completely.

Note: My cakes never had the skewer come out completely clean, I pulled them once the middles sprung back a bit and the edges pulled away from the sides of the pans.

Vanilla Glaze
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • Splash of vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in pan, including vanilla bean, and bring to boil on stove over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer until sugar is dissolved completely. Allow to cool completely, leaving vanilla bean in to steep. When ready to use, remove vanilla bean.

Vanilla Frosting

  • 3 cups (6 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8-9 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar, then cream, vanilla bean seeds and vanilla extract.

Note: The original recipe I adapted called for far more sugar then I used. I made my frosting in split batches, one for the crumb coat and one for the final decorating and I didn't use anywhere near the original 10+ cups of powdered sugar, above is my best estimate of what I did use.


Place first cake layer on cake plate or stand with the rounded side up and brush generously with glaze.
Frost layer and apply next one with the rounded side down. Again brush on glaze and frost, repeating with remaining layers if you are making a cake larger then 2 layers.

Once layers are assembled, cover entire cake with a thin coat of frosting and allow cake to set in fridge.

Once set, apply final, thicker layer of frosting, using food color to tint frosting for decorating as you please. Flying carpets with camels are allowed!

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