Nutcracker Popcorn Trio (V)

IMG_8683I’m becoming more and more convinced that I should seek out an aspiring stand-up comic because my life is an endless supply of joke material. To truly recruit your investment in this plan, I think I’ll drop you right into the peak of my Tuesday afternoon–though peak is most definitely a poor word choice. Allow me to set the scene…

I’m sitting straddle in the corner of my kitchen floor, mismatched oven mitts on both hands; my sopping wet hair is wrapped in a drooping towel (a towel that I cannot adjust because of the oven mitts); my lunch, which I’d just finished making, sits in the microwave getting cold; a wet, uncooked loaf of bread is laying on the stove; a broom and a shoe box full of broken glass accompany me on the floor; and I’m hunched over inside our oven, which is also laden with shards of glass. This scene remains relatively unchanged for the next twenty minutes.

Now, for the sake of literary suspense, I’ll back track to that morning. I’ve just received a text from my orthopedist, informing me that he can squeeze me in that day if I come ASAP. So, realizing that the office gets busy quickly, I speedily wash my dishes, brush my teeth, spray myself with an ungodly quantity of perfume to compensate for the lack of a shower, glumly look at my makeup I know I won’t have time to use, and call a Lyft–oh yeah, my car is broken…again. I slide into the backseat, only mildly flustered and  distracted by the fact that I hadn’t even had time to make my bed.

The driver doesn’t say much…for the first minute, that is. Soon, a dramatic squirming pulls my wandering mind back to the front car seat–this man has unbuckled his seat belt and is hastily removing his coat, explaining over the beep of the seat belt alarm that “This is too much for me right now.”IMG_8698

Feeling the subtlety of his masculine display abruptly disappear along with his outermost layer, I silently chuckle as he tosses the coat onto the passenger side and then immediately dons a thick knit beanie. I watch as he completes his presentation by slouching back casually into the seat and glancing in the rear view mirror to assess my response. Doing my very best to avoid locking eyes with him, mostly because I realize I’d likely fail to keep a straight face (and Lord knows how some men interpret a simple smile), I check my phone for nonexistent notifications. I absentmindedly start to bob my head to the music playing from the front of the car, but when I see Mr. Macho perk up–not too abruptly as to break his cool–I realize my mistake. “You like this?”

I conjure up the blandest, most strictly polite response I can: “Yeah, it’s nice. It has a good beat.”

You would have thought that he’d written the song himself and that I’d just presented him with a Grammy. He smiles widely and immediately educates me on the genre of rap-reggae fusion to which I’ve just been exposed. As if I’d begged him to please allow me to hear more of this music, and as if it is a breach of Lyft policy for him to do so, he offers “I’m going to let you hear something.” 

I stop a sarcastic “Really?? Thank you!!!” before it escapes my lips and instead fake interest in an obnoxious song that is growing louder from the speakers. Eventually, I tire of this false engagement and turn my attention back to my phone. After a few seconds, I notice him looking at me in the mirror once again. Despite his one-handed steering and slumped posture, I can see something in his eyes, just a slight hint of panic–he realizes he’s lost me. Scrambling to regain his false sense of influence, he changes the song, grasping once again for my approval. Understanding the ironic power I hold over this macho individual, I start gently bobbing my head again, pretending not to notice his look of satisfaction; it has become a game, tampering with his (excuse my cliche) fragile masculinity. 

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I play my role for the rest of the ride, feeling his glances constantly assess my emotion and constantly contradict his attempts at nonchalance. I must commend his ability to adapt–when an especially shaky moment arises, he proactively gains control of the situation by switching from left to right slouch, or by demanding my attention with the sheer virility of slowly scratching his beard. Thankfully for his emotional stamina, the ride only lasts a few minutes longer, and he drops me off at the door of my orthopedist. I thank him and shut the door, finally able to laugh without risk of breaking character. It’s hard to believe that only the first couple hours of my morning have passed. 

After a lengthy appointment and a much tamer ride back to the apartment, I jump at the chance of getting the shower I’d skipped earlier. I’ve learned, after much trial and error, the perfect ratio of hot and cold water that produces the longest-lasting comfort for a shower (one comes to learn these unique arts when living in a nineteenth century building). Sometimes, though, no amount of mastery can prevent the chilling spritz from coming too soon. This is one of those days, of course. I feel my muscles begin to clench as the last bit of warmth from the shower head runs down my still soapy legs and down the drain. In a panic–I am an utter wimp when it comes to cold–I brush off the remaining bubbles, fumble for my towel on the bathroom rug, quickly pat myself dry enough to yank on clothes, and then wrap my frigid hair up away from my shoulders.

After a few minutes, I make my way to the kitchen, where I’ve been anxious to bake a loaf of bread that I’ve left to rise overnight. I’ve been working on creating a crispy crust on my bread, and one method of doing this is to place a pan of boiling water on the oven floor to create steam, which in turn helps a crusty exterior develop.

**Now, I’d like to prematurely defend myself by saying that this thing I’m about to explain, I’d done it before–idiotic or not, it had taken place without disaster in the past, and I like to think that’s at least a fraction of an argument for my case. You can be the judge.IMG_8694

So, I boil a tea kettle of water and moisten the top of the bread dough to prepare it for baking (another strategy to help with crust). I slide the tray with the bread into the oven above the pan I’ve placed on the bottom rack to create my steam. Lastly, I grab the tea kettle and pour the boiling water into the clear…glass dish. The glass dish which immediately explodes upon contact with the scalding water. By the grace of God, the hundreds of shards manage to avoid my body entirely, instead decorating the inside of my oven and the floor in a dangerous layer. I’m frozen for a moment, waiting to realize that I am dreaming or somehow very confused. Nope.

And here we are, back to the floor of my kitchen on Tuesday afternoon. With the help of a broom, vacuum cleaner, and shoe box, I managed to clean up all the glass eventually, though I always see the glimmer of a few stray pieces when I open my oven door now. Kind of Christmas-y, I guess! The rest of that day was far less entertaining, which, as you may assume, wasn’t the worst outcome. All I can say is that I’m learning constantly how to embrace those days when I feel like a silly cartoon character who gets struck by lightning and then steps on a mouse trap and then gets squished under a giant’s footstep. My roommate, a writer, even fantasized my life as a writing exercise in which you’re told to insert the character into as many unfortunate, inescapable situations as possible. That’s certainly far from my actual life–I’m so very fortunate. But I do experience plenty of face-palm incidents; and, if I’ve given you a chuckle at any point in this saga, well then I guess they aren’t for nothing. I may be dreading my next ridiculous misfortune, but I’m very much looking forward to sharing whatever it is with you!

When times are good, be happy;
    but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
    as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
    anything about their future

Ecclesiastes 7:14

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Nutcracker Popcorn Trio (V)

Ingredients

FOR EACH TYPE

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 TBSP canola oil

“Arabian” COFFEE CARAMEL CORN

  • 1 1/4 c light brown sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup coffee, separated
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

“Spanish” CHILI CHOCOLATE POPCORN

  • 2 TBSP vegan butter
  • 4 oz. vegan dark chocolate
  • 1 TBSP cinnamon
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 3/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
  • 2 TBSP cocoa powder

“Russian” CANDY CANE COCONUT POPCORN

  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • 6 candy canes
  • 5 TBSP vegan butter, melted
  • 2 TBSP corn syrup
  • salt to taste

Instructions

PREPARE POPCORN

  1. For each type of popcorn, put oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Place 2 kernels in the oil.
  2. When the two kernels pop, remove the pan from heat and turn off burner. Pour the rest of the kernels into the oil.
  3. Return the saucepan to the stove over medium heat, and cover. When popcorn begins to pop, leave a slight crack in the lid to release steam.
  4. Allow popcorn to pop, shaking saucepan occasionally, until the pops are a few seconds apart. Remove from heat, and pour popcorn into a bowl.

“Arabian” COFFEE CARAMEL CORN

  1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and grease the top of the paper with butter. Spread one batch of prepared popcorn across the baking sheets.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, butter, 1/3 cup coffee, and corn syrup. Stir continuously until butter is melted.
  3. When mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring and allow to cook untouched for five minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in 1/4 cup coffee, almond extract, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Pour a little at a time over popcorn on prepared trays, and stir to coat entirely. **You don’t want too much excess caramel left on the bottom of the trays–you may have a little extra left in the saucepan depending on how much popcorn your kernels yielded. 
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool completely on tray, and break apart pieces as needed. 

“Spanish” CHILI CHOCOLATE POPCORN

  1. In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate.
  2. Stir in cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and salt.
  3. Pour over popcorn, and stir to coat.
  4. Sprinkle the cocoa powder gradually over the coated popcorn, stirring until evenly distributed.
  5. Spread onto a flat surface to cool completely.

“Russian” CANDY CANE COCONUT POPCORN

  1. In a small skillet, toast sweetened coconut flakes over low-medium heat until browned throughout, stirring continuously. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. (You may want to remove them from the pan immediately to avoid burning)
  2. Combined cooled coconut and six candy canes (broken) in the bowl of a food processor or cup of a Nutribullet. Pulse until fine.
  3. Stir corn syrup into melted butter. Pour over batch of popcorn, and stir to coat.
  4. Pour candy cane coconut mixture over a batch of popcorn, tossing to coat every piece. Mix in salt to taste.
  5. Allow to cool.

 

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Baked Apples with Rosemary and Pecans (V)

img_7852.pngWith this being a show week, I decided to unveil my third “Ballet Bake.” This recipe is inspired by Giselle, which happens to be my all-time favorite classical ballet. If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s a rather morbid one (though most classical ballets outside of Nutcracker are). Essentially, a village girl with a heart condition named Giselle meets and falls in love with Albrecht, an engaged royal who has disguised himself as a peasant. When Albrecht’s secret is revealed by a respected villager in front of the entire community–and his fiance, and the duke, and visiting nobles–Giselle goes mad and dies of a broken heart. The second act takes place in the land of the wilis–spirits of girls who’ve been fatally betrayed by their former lovers. They are led by their queen, Myrta, and they seek vengeance on essentially all living men by making them dance until they die. Giselle enters their realm as the new recruit, but she tests Myrta’s leadership when she chooses to protect Albrecht from death by dancing with him until the dawn, when wilis lose power. The ballet ends with exhausted Albrecht departing from Giselle, who has saved his life despite what he did to her.

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It’s very dramatic, very tragic. Though clearly fantastical, something about this ballet has always produced an emotional response in me. Maybe it’s the music; maybe it’s the choreography; maybe it’s the story–perhaps they all work in combination to spur my reaction. All I know is that I haven’t danced or watched this ballet a single time without tearing up or actually crying. It was the first show I ever performed with PBT as a student three years ago, so I thought perhaps my fondness for it back then stemmed from the excitement of being in my first major ballet here. It’ll be much easier for me to control myself this time, I thought; I was just young and overwhelmed by the new experience back then, I thought. I entered rehearsals this time fully expecting to dance the story without losing my composure every five minutes, as any emotionally mature 21 year-old would.

Oh, no. Nothing changed. At all. Our pianist could as much as inhale in preparation to start playing for the second act pas de deux (dance between Giselle and Albrecht), and I’d be blinking rapidly, eyes burning in expectation of the tears to come. I’d quite mastered the casual adjustment of pointe shoe ribbons or skirt clasp to hide my sniffles. At least in the first act it was a bit more acceptable, as we were naturally supposed to be upset about our friend losing her mind and dying in front of us. But still, when the music stopped and everyone abruptly broke from character into chuckles and smiles, it took me a second to secretly wipe the ACTUAL water welling in my eyes. This ballet just has a uniquely strong hold on me.

Which is why, when I found out that I wasn’t going to be able to dance in it next weekend, my stomach felt just a little bit like I’d been punched. I had my meltdown, a nice music video-style, bawling on the drive home from work type meltdown (everyone should have one some time, they’re GREAT). It’s been a few days since then, though, which means it’s time for me to accept the frustrating situation and move on. Channeling my antsy energy into this dessert was certainly helpful in that way. But I can’t hibernate grumpily in my kitchen until this show is over, of course, even though that idea sounds wildly comforting. The reality of this week for me will be sitting in at the front of the studio or in the audience and watching my all-time favorite ballet danced every day. IMG_7722

My strongest and initial response to that fact is dread: what’s more torturous than being forced to see other people do your favorite thing right in front of you? However, as I write this, I can’t help but also think that this, in a way, is such a privilege. I mean, I’ve “watched” this story unfold countless times; but never have I been without the distraction of my next entrance, of being exactly in line, or of the stabbing pain in my calf because I’ve been standing still on stage for ten minutes. I suppose I’m pretty blessed to really SEE the beauty of this ballet. Don’t get me wrong, this week is going to be so so so SO hard. It’s going to be painful. But, it’ll be the first time I get to truly take in a piece of art that has forever been dear to my heart, and that’s pretty darn cool. Encouraging you again this week to join me in finding the hidden joys in unforeseen hardship, to sit back and enjoy the view out the window when you’re forced to take a backseat (or should I say front seat, for me). I may not be going anywhere this week, but Giselle goes to the theatre in 3 days–I better stock up on the tissues.

So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Jeremiah 18:3-4

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Baked Apples with Rosemary and Pecans (V)

Ingredients

  • 8 apples (I used Snapdragon, which are crisp with a mild flavor)
  • rosemary sprigs (I had probably 6 medium sprigs, but whatever you have works)
  • 1 cup pecan halves (not roasted, unsalted)
  • 1/2 cup very hot or boiling water

SAUCE

  • 1/2 cup vegan butter (earth balance is great)
  • 3 medium sprigs of rosemary (about 6″ each)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

MARZIPAN

  • 2 cups pecan halves (not roasted, unsalted)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, plus 1/2 cup (separated)
  • 2 TBSP plus 2 tsp light corn syrup
  • 1 TBSP plus 1 tsp water
  • 1 tsp salt

Instructions

MARZIPAN

  1. Combine pecans, 2 cups powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor or cup of a Nutribullet. Pulse until pecans are finely ground.
  2. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Mix in water and corn syrup.
  3. Using gloves, a plastic bag, or cling film, use your hands to work the mixture until even throughout.
  4. Add the remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar to the bowl, and knead it into the mixture until incorporated.
  5. Form the marzipan into a log, and wrap tightly in cling film. Store in a cool, dry place until ready to use.

SAUCE

  1. Place butter in a small saucepan over low heat. When melted, add in rosemary sprigs. Allow to cook on low heat, stirring frequently, for five minutes. Strain butter into a bowl using a fine mesh sieve. **Leave the saucepan out for later
  2. Add brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and water to the melted butter in the bowl. Mix until combined. Set aside.

APPLES

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Using a paring knife/spoon, remove the core from each apple, leaving enough on the bottom to hold sauce inside (If you accidentally pierce all the way through, patch the hole with other pieces of apple).
  3. Place the apples on the bottom of a pie dish or casserole pan (will depend on apple size). It’s okay if they touch each other.
  4. Place the saucepan you used to cook the butter over medium heat. Toast the cup of pecans with one spring of rosemary, stirring continuously, for about 2 minutes or until they smell nutty and are beginning to brown. Remove from heat.
  5. Divide pecans evenly into the hollowed apples.
  6. Spoon the sauce into each apple over the pecans. If you choose, save a little to drizzle on top when they come out of the oven.
  7. Arrange any remaining rosemary around the apples in the bottom of the pan.
  8. Pour the hot water into the bottom of the pan, and place in the preheated oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until apples are tender. Use foil to cover tops of apples if pecans begin to burn (I like the taste of burnt pecans, but some don’t).
  9. While they bake, split the marzipan log into 8 even sections. Ball each section, and roll it very thin between sheets of parchment paper. Cut a hole in the center of each section.
  10. Remove apples from the oven. To serve, place apple in bowl, and spoon some of the remaining sauce and liquid from the pan on top. Drape a sheet of marzipan over the apple, with the hole exposing the pecans in the center.
  11. Enjoy immediately!

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Coconut Pineapple Petite Fours with Mirror Glaze (V)

IMG_6884I’ve anticipated making this dessert for quite a while now, but I hadn’t found a weekend with enough time to make it happen. Until… the blessing by the name of Labor Day showed up! This bake was a real consuming one, and I knew it would be. By that, I mean loads of time, energy, electricity, dish soap, and sugar were consumed in the creation of these petite fours. I could preface it with a disclaimer: no living thing was harmed during the making of this recipe, BUT MY WILL TO ICE ONE MORE BABY CAKE IS VERY MUCH DEAD. By the time I’d finally finished the trial and error of each component and reached the point of assembly, the sight of another itty bitty diamond of dessert–which, under any other circumstance, would have induced a similar reaction as me seeing a puppy–made my stomach sink. It was quite the project, and at 1am in the morning as I hunched over the counter with posture that would have made my pilates teacher wince, the end seemed painfully far from sight.IMG_6862

I’ve been working on another project this week: a new piece of choreography. Though I’m off for the next couple weeks, there’s a show in which many dancers in the company are participating, whether by dancing or choreographing. I knew as a first year professional dancer, my chances of getting to create a piece were slim; so, I decided to take the opportunity! The problem was, I had absolutely no plan: no concept, no music, no cast, not really a single element of a dance piece.

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Lucky for me, lots of parallels exist between my passions, specifically the way I approach them. I’ve come to understand that a similar pattern in my creative process emerges in both my baking and my choreography. They always begin positively, with a new idea, the promise of an adventure and the excitement of the unknown. I love the feeling of having sudden inspiration for a recipe or a piece of choreography. But after that, the unknown becomes much less exciting and much more intimidating. The reality of how much work has to go into turning that vision into something visible, edible, real–that’s when the curve of my attitude takes a dip. With it always comes the panic of feeling creative block, the pressure of finishing within a deadline, the sting of failed ideas, the fear of whether anyone will even like what I make. It’s this period of work that’s the substance of a project but the most frustrating and often least memorable part of the process.

But I’m a fan of happy endings. Thankfully, then, my pattern doesn’t end in sag, in an eternal plummet to the x-axis. Once the hardest work is almost done–when I’m actually working with my dancers, or putting the final touches on a bake–that’s when things get exciting. And when the end comes, when I take a seat in the audience or behind my iPhone camera; when I relax in the fact that I’ve sent out this brain child out of my nurturing hands and into the world–that’s when the graph of my emotions skyrockets. This week, don’t let the “busy work” of your favorites things take away the indescribable high of seeing them through. Of proudly sharing them. For anyone who needs this reminder: it’s so totally worth it.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

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Coconut Pineapple Petite Fours with Mirror Glaze (V)

Ingredients

CAKE

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 3 flax eggs (to make 3 eggs, mix 3 TBSP ground flax with 9 TBSP cold water and leave to thicken in fridge for at least five minutes)
  • sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/4 cup full-fat coconut milk, room temperature

ICING

  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream, room temperature (shake can before using)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

PINEAPPLE FILLING

  • 4 cups fresh pineapple, cut into chunks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • toasted, unsweetened coconut flakes, chopped (to toast, cook in pan over medium heat, stirring often, until golden brown)

MIRROR GLAZE

  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 sugar
  • 1/4 water
  • 1 TBSP agar agar powder
  • 1/4 cup vegan condensed milk (simmer 1/2 cup almond milk with 1/2 cup sugar until reduced to about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cocoa butter

Instructions

CAKE

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease bottom of a 9×13 rectangular baking pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together both flours, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix sugar, coconut oil, flax eggs, and coconut milk. Mix on medium until combined.
  4. Gradually add flour mixture to the wet ingredients, mixing between additions until it’s completely incorporated.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool for 5 minutes in pan; then turn out onto a cooling rack, running a knife along sides of pan before to make sure cake isn’t stuck to sides.
  7. Once cool, wrap in cling film and keep in freezer until ready to use.

FROSTING

  1. Combine shortening and half of coconut cream in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium until combined.
  2.  Gradually begin to add the powdered sugar. When icing becomes too thick, add remaining coconut cream.
  3. Continue until all cream and sugar is added. Add salt, and mix on medium until smooth. Use immediately, or keep covered in refrigerator until ready to use.

PINEAPPLE FILLING

  1. Combine pineapple, water, lemon juice, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer until liquid is gone and pineapple is very soft, about 35-40 minutes. Shred pineapple into smaller chunks towards the end of cooking when soft enough. Set aside.

ASSEMBLY

  1. Cut frozen cake into desired shapes; then cut each shape into two layers.
  2. Spread a thin layer of frosting on bottom half of each shape. Dip in toasted coconut, and then place a small chunk of pineapple filling on top of coconut. Place top layer of cake on pineapple.
  3. Cover entire petite four in coconut frosting.
  4. Place assembled cakes in sealed containers in the freezer until ready to glaze.
  5. **Keeping the cakes very cold during this process makes it much easier; don’t hesitate to place them back in the freezer for a while if they become difficult to handle, or freeze and then add a second layer of icing.

MIRROR GLAZE

  1. Place cocoa butter in a heat-proof bowl. Set aside.
  2. Combine water, corn syrup, sugar, and agar agar powder in a small saucepan. Whisk until combined.
  3. Place saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as it’s boiling throughout, remove from heat, and stir in condensed milk.
  4. Pour mixture over into the bowl with the cocoa butter, and whisk until it’s melted.
  5. Divide between bowls and add food coloring as desired.
  6. Place prepared, frozen cakes on a cooling rack set over a baking pan to catch drips.
  7. When warm but not hot (won’t take too long at all), pour glaze over prepared petite fours. If glaze becomes too thick, simply microwave for 10-15 second intervals until it’s a better consistency.
  8. Scoop extra glaze from the pan after you run out, and microwave to reuse.
  9. If you have enough room, set the entire cooling rack in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to allow glaze to set quickly. (This makes handling them easier).
  10. Enjoy immediately, or carefully transfer petite fours to sealed containers and keep in fridge. You can also freeze them and transfer to fridge hours before you’re ready to eat them.

 

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Orange “Creamsicle” Cake with Chocolate Ganache (V)

img_6448.pngThis week, I’m introducing the first of what I hope will be a growing collection of “ballet bakes.” The idea behind them will be to create recipes that are inspired by ballets I’m learning or performing with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. What’s more, the day that I decided to act on this idea fell during the most incredibly convenient time– it was in the middle of rehearsals for a piece choreographed by Stanton Welsh called Orange. I mean, I was practically spoon-fed the flavor for my blog with a title like that!

Of course, a flavor is just the start of a recipe, a foundation on which to build a whole dessert. I generally have a list of baking ideas running through my mind, but I rarely possess the decisiveness or the focus to mold my swirling thoughts into an actual plan on my own.  When I’d concluded, then, that I was heading down the citrus route this week, I knew immediately my next step: seek out some consultation. That’s why, when I found myself at a loss for direction last week, I grabbed my friends Jack, Sam, and Grace, and picked their brains about what I should make. Not only did they help me decide on the idea of dance-inspired bakes, they came up with a plethora of potential desserts centered around oranges. Thanks to them, I left the studio that day excited and anxious to get working on a new recipe. IMG_6459

Everyone knows that I love to bake, and I do! I love the actual process of combining ingredients and testing combinations and measuring and boiling and scooping–the physical act of making food is wonderfully satisfying to me. But the more I dive into this hobby, the more I realize that baking for me involves so much beyond what actually occurs in the confines of my kitchen (or whoever’s kitchen I happen to be mooching that day). The baking that I love begins with the idea. It begins with the phone call to my mom in the middle of Giant Eagle to talk through the ideas I have for a recipe and get her advice as I wander through the aisles looking for inspiration. It begins with looking through the magazine recipe my grandma shared with me because she thought it had potential to be a great flavor for a dessert. This week, it began between rehearsals with a pow-wow between three of my friends, who enthusiastically offered up tons of fabulous (and a few not so fabulous 😛 ) concepts for an orange themed dessert. IMG_6439

Similarly, the baking never ends with the close of my oven door. Rather, it ends with the giddy swarm of friends that congregated when I brought out some of the cake at work this week and their satisfied smiles upon trying a piece. It could end with the elaborate taste-test I conduct with my roommates to finalize a recipe, or the regular text to my family group chat to get votes on the most Instagram-worthy food photo for my post. If I’m lucky enough, it’ll occasionally even end with someone sharing with me how they tried a recipe from the blog for themselves. IMG_6413

On those days when I’m exhausted, when I’ve been dirtying my apron for hours, when my kitchen becomes a sauna, and a dessert is going horribly wrong, it’s easy to limit my experience with baking to the actual hours I clock in with my ingredients. I’ll admit that by the afternoon of the third day working with this cake, I was very much tired of seeing any more orange zest. But this cake also reminded me that the reason I love to bake is so much more than the actual baking: it’s the brainstorming, the thrill of a crazy idea, the chance to share something I love. Most importantly, though, it’s the people who are along with me for the ride, the ones who make my love for this process grow every week, and without whom this blog would certainly not exist. Thank you for baking with me 🙂

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.

Philippinans 1:3

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Orange “Creamsicle” Cake with Chocolate Ganache (V)

Ingredients

CAKE (MAKES 1 6″ CAKE; DOUBLE OR TRIPLE FOR DESIRED NUMBER OF LAYERS)

  • 1/2 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/3 cup vegan butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup cream soda, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup orange juice, room temperature
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • oranges for garnishing

GANACHE

  • 2 TBSP orange juice
  • 2 TBSP cream soda
  • 4 oz. bittersweet vegan chocolate

FROSTING (adjust extracts to taste)

  • 1/2 cup vegan butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp orange extract
  • salt to taste

Instructions

CAKE

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line the bottom of a 6″ cake pan with parchment.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar. (You can also use a hand mixer). Mix on medium speed until very smooth.
  4.  Add cream soda, orange juice, salt, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Mix until combined. If butter splits, its okay; continue to next step.
  5. Gradually mix in flour+baking powder mixture until completely incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and whip for 30 seconds.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan. Tap on the counter to eliminate air bubbles.
  7. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in cake’s center comes out clean.
  8. Turn cake out of pan, and allow to cool completely. Place in freezer or fridge before cutting/frosting.

GANACHE

  1. Combine cream soda and orange juice in microwave-safe measuring cup. Microwave until very hot, just before boiling.
  2. Begin stirring in chocolate until it is all mixed in. You may need to heat up the mixture again to allow it to completely incorporate (Only use 15 second intervals to avoid burning).
  3. The final product should end up being about 2/3 cup when all the chocolate is added.
  4. Place ganache in fridge or freezer to cool until ready to use; just check it periodically to make sure it doesn’t freeze.

FROSTING

  1. Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium for a few seconds to spread it out in the bowl.
  2. Begin adding powdered sugar, about 1/2 cup at a time, and mixing on low-medium speed.
  3. When mixture becomes too dry, add extracts (adjust amounts to taste if desired). Continue mixing and adding powdered sugar until it’s completely incorporated.
  4. Add salt a pinch at a time to taste. Mix on high for 30 seconds.

ASSEMBLE.

  1. Stack cake layers, and cut to make them even. Unstack.
  2. Spread a very thin layer of frosting on top of bottom layer. Spread a layer of ganache on top of frosting. Stack second cake on top, and repeat frosting/ganache layers until you reach the top.
  3. Apply a very thin, smooth coat of frosting to entire cake (called a crumb coat), and place cake in freezer until frosting layer is firm.
  4. Remove cake, and apply second and final layer of frosting.
  5. Using a spoon or squeeze bottle, spread ganache on entire top of cake, and drip some down the sides. (Make sure your ganache is spreadable but not warm before doing this; if it gets too firm, microwave for a very short time, and stir).
  6. Top as desired (I dehydrated orange slices in a 200° oven for a few hours!), and enjoy! Keep leftovers in the fridge to keep the ganache from melting.

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