Barbie Cake + Meringue Girls Book Giveaway!

Barbie Cake via Sweetapolita

Hello, my friends!

So there’s a series of words I never imagined using in the same sentence: chocolate, beet, cake, meringue, and Barbie! But yes. Oh yes. Now it just seems perfectly natural–necessary even–to combine them all.

As a child of the 70s, I’m no stranger to doll cakes, but I have never had the joy of making one, particularly one of this magnitude. That was until I came across the recipe in a new baking book I absolutely adore: Meringue Girls: Incredible Sweets Everybody Cake Make by Alex Hoffler and Stacey O’Gorman. What a visual delight! I’ve always been a meringue enthusiast, but I have to say that these girls have taken meringues, and all things meringue, to an entirely new level.

Meringue Girls Cookbook

So if the cover doesn’t have you giddy, the recipes and images throughout the book are sure to. And while the cover of a cookbook can sometimes be a little misleading, in this case the entire book lives up to the awesome package: it’s filled to the brim with unique, vibrant, and easy to follow meringue recipes and useful techniques for foolproof meringue (we’ve all had our fair share of meringue mishaps, no?). As you probably know, I’m a meringue enthusiast, but even for those of you who haven’t ventured too far down meringue lane, I have a feeling this book will inspire you more than you might expect.

The “Meringue Girls” take us through the basics first–making the perfect batch of meringue every time, countless flavouring ideas (think Hot Cross Bun, Manuka Honey, Lavender, and more), and super-awesome colouring techniques, like “striping,” as I did here with the Barbie Cake meringue “kisses,” as they call them. They then delight us through different chapters of unexpected and irresistible meringue recipes, such as the cutest rainbow cake in the universe–the Meringue Rainbow Cake, the decadent Ferrero Rocher Meringue Tower, the unbelievably tempting Honeycomb, Chocolate, Salted Peanut Meringues (um, hello!), and so much more. Can you tell I’m totally smitten with this book?

Meringue via Sweetapolita

So I went for it. I embarked upon the intriguing Chocolate and Beet Barbie Cake. I mean, how could I not? The colours, the quirkiness, the nostalgia, oh my! Sure, it did seem like a bit of an undertaking but, well, I’ve been known to frolic with such recipes before, right? And I love a challenge. But in the end, it was more joy than challenge. I had so much fun creating this cake–for obvious reasons–but I think the best part about it was that it was like nothing I’ve ever done, or seen, before. I love that. I had to give it a whirl! (And as a mom of two little girly cakelets, I’d never be forgiven if I didn’t choose this recipe to start.)

Meringues via Sweetapolita

So this Barbie and meringue extravaganza is essentially two layers of a very rich chocolate and beet cake–one baked in a regular flat round cake pan, and the other “layer” baked in a rounded bowl (you could also use a contour cake pan if you have it), and then filled and frosted with a luscious whipped cream and cream cheese icing, and then decorated with a rainbow of stripy meringue kisses that literally melt in your mouth–one of the reasons I can’t get enough baked meringue of any kind. Oh, and of course we can’t forget that Barbie is perched upon this delightful “skirt” for everyone to admire. So fun!

Barbie Cake via Sweetapolita

See, even Barbie says “ta-da!” She’s impressed with the fanciful candy-coloured skirt I made her. (That was only after she forgave me for, um, cutting off her legs . . . ouch!). I was searching for more of a retro Barbie, but I was pleased with her blue and purple bodice so I went for her, even though she’s more of a circa 1999 variety. It was, however, sometime around the moment I was styling her hair for this cake that I realized that I am officially never allowed to complain about my job. Let’s just say no two days are the same.

Barbie Cake via Sweetapolita

Needless to say, the cake was so visually pleasing and incredibly decadent. I absolutely love the whipped cream and cream cheese icing–light as air, but with a rich and creamy texture and tang that only cream cheese brings. It paired nicely with the intensity of the chocolate cake and sweetness of the meringues. This is one of those cakes that pleases adults just as much as kids, I’m sure, which makes it a perfect party cake for anyone. ♥

And if that wasn’t exciting enough, I’m thrilled to giveaway 3 copies of this gorgeous and unique book, Meringue Girls: Incredible Sweets Everybody Cake Make, courtesy of the folks at Chronicle Books!

Here’s the recipe for this whimsical cake!

Chocolate and Beet Barbie Cake + Meringue Girls Giveaway

Ingredients

  • For the Meringue Girls Mixture (for the meringue kisses):
  • 300 g (1 1/2 cups) superfine sugar
  • 150 g egg whites (from about 5 eggs)
  • For the Cake:
  • 1 2/3 cups vegetable oil, plus more for greasing
  • 2 3/4 cups (350 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups (450 g) superfine sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (150 g) good-quality dark cocoa powder
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 lb cooked and peeled beets
  • 6 eggs
  • For the Icing:
  • 1 1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 3/4 cups (400 g) cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup (25 g) confectioners' sugar
  • 1 Barbie doll (clothes and legs removed)
  • Barbie accessories

Instructions

  1. For the meringue (for the meringue kisses):
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, pour in the sugar, and put the baking sheet in the oven for about 5 minutes, until the edges of the sugar are just beginning to melt. Heating the sugar will help it dissolve in the egg whites more quickly and help create a glossy, stable mixture.
  4. Meanwhile, make sure the bowl and whisk attachment of your stand mixer are free from grease. Pour the egg whites into the bowl. Whisk on low speed at first, allowing small bubbles to form, then increase the speed to high and continue whisking until the egg whites form stiff peaks and the bowl can be tipped upside down without the whites falling out. Stop whisking just before the whites take on a cotton-woolly appearance; if they do, they have been over whisked, and the egg protein has lost some of its elasticity.
  5. By now, the sugar should be ready to take out of the oven.
  6. With the whites stiff and while whisking again at high speed, add one big tablespoonful of hot sugar after another to the bowl ensuring that the whites come back up to stiff peaks after each addition. Don't worry about small clumps of sugar, but avoid adding large chunks of caramelized sugar from the edges of the baking sheet.
  7. Once you have added the sugar, continue to whisk on high speed for 5 to 7 minutes. Rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers, and if you can still feel gritty sugar, keeping whisking at high speed until the sugar has dissolved, the mixture is smooth, and the bowl is a bit cooler to the touch. The meringue will continue to thicken up during this stage. You know it is ready to use when it forms a nice smooth, shiny peak on the tip of your upturned finger.
  8. To make striped mini meringue kisses:
  9. Divide the meringue mixture into six portions. Form each portion into mini striped kisses in the color of your choice. (It's fine to pipe more than one color onto a single baking sheet.) Turn a large disposable piping bag with a 3/4 inch opening, or a reusable one, inside out. Invert the bag over a jug or bottle so that it holds itself up. Using natural food coloring and a clean paintbrush, paint wide stripes from the tip of your piping bag to halfway down (about five stripes). Roll the bag so the painted side is inside, folding the edges over to make a sturdy vessel.
  10. Carefully spoon your meringue mixture into the piping bag, rolling the sides up. you need to pack the meringue in tightly, ensure there are no air bubbles. Pinch the top of the bag closed, gently pushing the mixture in.
  11. If using a disposable piping bag, with sharp scissors, but the tip of the bag so that the opening measures 3/4 inch in diameter.
  12. To the get the meringue mixture flowing, twist the top of the piping bag to push the meringue to the bottom. Pipe small dollops onto the four corners of your baking sheets (if you are using a full batch of Meringue Girls Mixture, you will need a couple of baking sheets). Line the baking sheets with parchment paper; the meringue dollops with act as a glue and stick the paper to the sheets.
  13. Piping the mini meringue kisses:
  14. Hold the piping bag vertically with both hands, securing the twisted top with your dominant hand and placing your other hand halfway down the bag. Use the top hand to apply pressure and the lower hand to control the flow of the meringue. Squeeze the bag to form a kiss with a 1-inch base, and then lift the bag up while releasing some pressure so that the meringue forms a peak at the top. Space the kisses about 3/4 inch apart.
  15. Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. Slide the baking sheets into the oven Bake for 20 minutes, or until they can be lifted off the parchment paper with their bases intact. Let cool completely on the baking sheets. Stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, the kisses will keep for up to 2 weeks.
  16. To make the cake:
  17. Turn up the oven temperature to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch springform pan and the line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease an 8-inch ovenproof bowl (about 10 inches deep) and line it with parchment paper.
  18. Sift the flour, superfine sugar, cocoa powder, and baking powder into a large bowl. Cut the beets into large chunks and add to a blender along with the eggs and oil. Puree until smooth. Pour the beet mixture into the dry ingredients and fold until combined.
  19. Pour one-half of the batter into the prepared springform pan and the remaining batter into the prepared bowl. Bake the cakes for 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes, then invert the cakes out of the pan and bowl onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment and let cool completely.
  20. To make the icing:
  21. In a large bowl, whip the cream to stiff peaks, then add the cream cheese and confectioners' sugar. Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth and stiff.
  22. Bling out your Barbie however you'd like--goth or glam, it's up to you.
  23. Set the flat cake layer (the one baked in the springform pan) on a cake platter. Spread with about 1 cup of icing in an even layer. Set the bowl-shaped cake on top, tapered-end up. Using a knife, trim the stacked cake to form a nice hoop-skirt shape.
  24. With a long, slender knife (such as a bread knife), cut a 2-inch deep hole in the center of the cake and insert Barbie to just below her waist. Spread the remaining icing over the cake, taking care to work around Barbie.
  25. Carefully place meringue kisses on the cake, arranging on color at a time in a row around Barbie, starting at her waist and working down. Press the kisses lightly into the icing so that they stick and form a beautiful, colorful meringue-kiss skirt.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

    • For my meringue colours, I used AmeriColor gel paste colours in Lemon Yellow, Teal, Soft Pink, Regal Purple, and Sky Blue. The recipe does call for “natural” food colouring, which I didn’t have, but you can certainly use those if you do. Because we use quite a bit to stripe the meringues, it would definitely be a great idea, but of course not crucial. You can make the meringues up to 2 weeks ahead, which is really helpful with a cake like this.
    • For the 8-inch flat cake layer, I used a standard 8 x 2-inch round cake pan, and it worked well!
    • Try to find a Barbie with plastic bodice, since having any article of clothing around the icing could get icky.
    • Have fun with this–it is like reliving childhood, but stylish and quirky. ♥

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Florentine Cookies + The Cookiepedia Book Giveaway {Winners Announced}

Happy Spring!

Well, sort of. It’s still snowing on and off here in Southern Ontario, but I’m hopeful. The good news is that this week is the first week in over 9 months during which I’ve been able to frolic freely in the kitchen and bake anything I wish. So Florentine cookies it was. And you guys, these are amazing. See, quite awhile back, I became enamoured with my talented friend Stacy Adimando’s cookbook, The Cookiepedia: Mixing Baking, and Reinventing the Classics, and I’ve been dying to make something, or everything, from it. 

So when I spotted a recipe for Florentines in her book, I knew I had to make them. And although Florentines are known to be an Italian treat (as the name suggests), I first fell in love with these crunchy, nutty discs of caramelized delight back when I was a teenager working at an Austrian bakery. When I googled this, I realized that appears to be a small debate regarding the Florentine cookie’s origin, but it’s safe to say that it is celebrated in not only Italy and Austria, but now here in my kitchen.  These are the most decadent and surprisingly simple cookies to prepare in all of the land, and I’ll just never get over them. I won’t.

So what exactly is a Florentine? Well, there are some variations, but typically they are super-thin, round, caramelized almond cookies made from butter, sugar, cream, corn syrup, salt and of course almonds, and there is usually some form of dark chocolate added. As you probably noticed in my photos, these ones are drizzled with chocolate as Stacy’s recipe includes, but many have their entire bottoms dipped in chocolate with a distinct pattern added, and include additional ingredients, such as candied fruit. Think of them as individual, lacy almond brittles that shatter in your mouth like little round sheets of nutty, buttery, caramel crack. Sometimes it actually kind of freaks me out that we have the power to create such deliciousness in our own kitchens, especially when it only takes a matter of minutes.

Stacy explains that the idea behind her book was to give 50 classic cookie recipes, and then offer ways to spin them into more modern versions with tons of ideas for adapting the recipes for countless variations. So, for example, she shares a chocolate chip recipe, but also a dark chocolate sea salt chip. And a peanut butter cookie, but also a pistachio butter cookie, and so many more. One of the reasons I love Stacy’s book most, aside from the gorgeous photography and charming illustration work, is that the recipes range so greatly–think everything from frosted animal crackers to French macarons, sables to sesame crisps, and so many more.

I know you guys will adore this book, if you don’t already that is, so I’m excited to host a The Cookiepedia giveaway! I have 3 copies of this go-to cookie book, courtesy of Stacy and Quirk Books, and I will be sending a copy to 3 lucky readers!

I’m also excited to share this recipe for the Florentines–they truly are of the most exquisite cookies I have tasted in a long time. I’ve listed the recipe just as it is in the book, but I have also added the ingredient weights, just in case, as well as some of my own notes below.

Florentine Cookies with Chocolate Drizzles

Yield: Makes about 3 dozen 3-inch round cookies

Decadent nutty, buttery, caramelized cookie discs drizzled in dark chocolate. Recipe as printed in The Cookiepedia cookbook by Stacy Adimando.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 grams) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (60 grams) corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon (8 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/3 cups (210 grams) sliced almonds
  • 4 ounces (120 grams) roughly chopped bittersweet chocolate

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set them aside.
  2. Melt the butter, sugar and corn syrup together over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine. Add the cream and salt and do the same.
  3. Let cook until the mixture comes to a full boil, and then add in the almonds and stir to combine. Continue cooking for 3 more minutes until the mixture thickens and starts to move around the pan in one mass. Take the pan off the heat.
  4. Drop 4 small spoonfuls of dough onto cookie sheets, leaving as much room between them as possible (the baked cookies will spread to about triple the size).
  5. Using an offset spatula or a wet hand, spread and flatten the batter into 3-inch rounds, creating a thin layer.
  6. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, or until edges are brown and centers are just turning golden.
  7. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and immediately reshape the cookies back into 3-inch circles, using the offset spatula or the back of a spoon to drag the batter back into place and round the edges. The cookies will harden within a few minutes.
  8. tip: if they harden too fast, just return them to the oven for a minute or so.
  9. Cool the reshaped cookies until they are firm and cool enough to handle. Then move them to a wire rack covered with parchment paper to set completely.
  10. As the optional (though delicious and suggested) finisher, melt the chocolate, in a glass or metal bowl over a pot of simmering water on the stove. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the tops of the Florentines. Let harden.
  11. Florentine Ice Cream Sandwiches
  12. When the cookies have cooled completely, skip the chocolate drizzle. Let a container of coffee or vanilla ice cream sit out, or microwave at 10-second intervals, until it's soft enough to dollop. In the meantime, lay half the Florentines on a parchment-lined baking sheet flat side up. Drop a heaping spoonful of the softened ice cream (about 2-3 tablespoons) into the center of each. Top with the remaining cookies and press lightly to adhere. Cover the baking sheet loosely with foil and place in the freezer for at least 2 hours.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • I used a 1-tablespoon capacity cookie scoop for my cookies, and they spread quite a bit, yielding more of a very thin, large 5 1/2-inch round cookie, but I love them this size, so I simply worked to round the edges when they first came out of the oven. Use about 1 teaspoon size spoon for 3-inch cookies, or somewhere in between.
  • Much like a caramel concoction of any kind, the longer you heat (bake) the cookies, the darker and more intense the caramel flavour and colour will be, so there is a little room for personal preference with the baking times. I baked 1 sheet at a time on the middle rack of the oven, and kept the cookies in for the full 8 minutes. Once they start to turn golden, they have the potential to burn very quickly, so I recommend keeping a super-close eye on them at that point, and remove them from the oven quickly.
  • It might seem as though it’s going to take a lifetime to bake 36 cookies when 4-to-a-tray, but at 8 minutes each, time, it goes by really quickly!
  • I just used a fork to “fling” the melted chocolate onto the cookies in a fun drizzly criss-cross pattern.
  • Stacy mentions that these cookies are best enjoyed right after cooling, and I can certainly agree that these are amazing in that window of time (I could not stop eating them), but I then sealed them in a Ziploc bag after the chocolate drizzle set, and they’re still going strong (ahem) and tasting fabulous at the end of day 2.

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Twinkie Bundt Cake

Twinkie Bundt Cake via Sweetapolita

So, it turns out I’ve never had a Twinkie. How is this possible? Well, I am Canadian after all but that’s still no excuse. With the latest buzz about the Hostess trouble and potential Twinkie production coming to a halt in the U.S., I suppose we Canadians should be excited about the fact that they will continue to be manufactured and distributed here, from what I’ve read. (Isn’t it ironic?) So even though they are available in Canada, I still think of them as an all-American snack.

But really, to have one might just be to say I’ve had one. The truth is I think I’d take homemade Twinkie-ness over the store-bought variety, any day. What I do have fond memories of, however, are Canada’s answer to the Twinkie: Vachon’s 1/2 Moon Cakes (and incidentally, this is the same company who manufactures Twinkies here in Canada). My mom used to buy 1/2 Moons for me, along with a few other Canadian gems, such as Jos Louis cakes (red velvet cakes sandwiching vanilla cream filling and dipped in milk chocolate) and Passion Flakies (flaky pastry filled with cream and fruit filling). There was something about the vanilla-vanilla 1/2 Moons, though, that had my heart. And Twinkie or 1/2 Moons–no matter what you call these treats, the appeal is the same: moist golden vanilla cake sandwiching sweet white vanilla filling. Essentially what childhood dreams are made of. But still, the thought of all of those chemicals and preservatives make me shudder . . .

So when I excitedly opened Shauna Sever’s latest book, Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques, and saw her recipe for Twinkie Bundt Cake, I knew that everything was going to be alright with the world again. And if that wasn’t enough, her book boasts countless vanilla recipes supreme, along with a ton of history about and techniques for working with this beloved bean. When it was time to choose a recipe from her book to share with you, I was completely perplexed because I was intrigued by each and every one of them.

In the first week I had the book I made her Big, Soft Frosted Vanilla Cookies, Honey-Vanilla Granola Clusters, Heirloom Vanilla Sugar Cookies and Lemon-Vanilla Dream Bars. I literally couldn’t stop. They were all incredible and the recipes were, in true Shauna style, all winners. (And let us not forget the delightful Vanilla Bean Marshmallows I made from her first book when I blogged about my Homemade Puffy Cloud S’mores.) Then when I made this Twinkie Bundt Cake, I truly couldn’t wait to share it with you.

Twinkie Bundt Cake via Sweetapolita

So what exactly is a Twinkie Bundt Cake? It’s a from-scratch, moist, golden, super-vanilla, cream-filled cake–essentially one big homemade Twinkie. While the flavours are classic, the hit of marshmallow creme in the filling bumps the sweetness of this cake just enough to make it a complete throwback to childhood. What I found most surprising about this cake was that it was so easy to make and fill, it stayed gloriously moist for days, and had so much true vanilla flavour. Shauna pulled the Twinkie-factor off in a big, huge, vanilla parade kind of way.

So here is the recipe just as it is in the book, Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques, with my addition of ingredient weights whenever possible:

Twinkie Bundt Cake

Yield: Serves 10

From the book, Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques by Shauna Sever. Shauna says, "This cake is essentially an enormous from-scratch version of the iconic American snack cake, with the vanilla flavor amplified and made with pronounceable ingredients. It's golden and terrifically moist, and its cream-filled cross-section is an instant joy-inducer."

Ingredients

    For the Cake:
  • 3 cups (345 g) cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon (6 g) salt
  • 6 tablespoons (90 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs plus 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (237 ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • For the Filling:
  • 1 (7.5 ounce) jar marshmallow creme
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick)(114 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)

Instructions

    For the Cake:
  1. Position rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat overn to 325°F. Coat a 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust it lightly with flour.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and vanilla extract on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add sugar and beat until evenly mixed, about 1 minute. Slowly pour in oil. Beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
  4. Reduce mixer speed to low. Stir in flour mixture and buttermilk in three alternating additions, ending with the buttermilk, and continue to mix on low speed until the batter is smooth and no lumps remain. Turn off mixer and fold batter several times by hand to ensure everything is well incorporated, and then pour into prepared pan.
  5. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until the cake is golden, the top springs back when lightly pressed, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Place pan on a wire rack and let cool completely, about 2 hours.
  6. For the Filling:
  7. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together marshmallow creme and butter until smooth. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.
  8. With the cake still in the pan, use a paring knife or apple corer to cut 6 or 7 deep holes into the bottom of the cake, each about 3/4 inch in diameter; be careful not to cut through top of cake. Discard (i.e., nibble) cake scraps. With your fingers, gently burrow a horizontal tunnel around the center of the cake, connecting the vertical holes.
  9. Insert the tip of the pastry bag into each hold and squeeze in filling, tilting pastry bag back and forth as you work to encourage filling into the horizontal tunnel through the cake. When cake is filled, use a spatula to scrape away excess filling from the bottom of the cake. Quickly and carefully invert cake onto serving platter. Dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired, and serve.
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Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!

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Peanut Butter & Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Popcorn

Peanut Butter Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

Happy Weekend! First off, before we talk cake, I want to let you know that the crazy website problems I’ve been having the last few days should hopefully be officially better now, so you should no longer have any issues getting onto my site. My current website server has really let me down (I think a switcheroo is in order!), but it seems that things are back in action and working smoothly. If for some reason you ever do have trouble getting to the site, just know that you can always google “sweetapolita printables” + the recipe you’re looking for, and you should find the printable version (but fingers crossed that won’t be an issue ever again).

Now, onto cake! When I was pondering what type of creation would make the ultimate back-to-school cake for our cakelet Reese, I kept thinking about what ingredients make kids happiest–particularly my kids. My littlest cakelet, Neve, is turning three next week so she’s still home with me for another year, but Reese is starting Senior Kindergarten at a new school and she takes her most favourite snacks at home very seriously: peanut butter, mini pastel marshmallows, popcorn, chocolate and cake. I wanted to make her a back-to-school confection that was as comforting as it was playful, and then I remembered an incredibly inspirational book I received awhile back called Make, Bake & Celebrate! by Annie Rigg. This book boasts unique and delightful cakes, including Rose & Strawberry Cake with Crystallized Roses, Chocolate Dazzle Drop Cake, Chocolate Polka Dot Tower, and of course the cake I decided to make and that answers every child’s sweet dreams: Peanut Butter & Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Popcorn.

Peanut Butter Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

The cake was surprisingly quick to make, even with all of the different elements, and what I found hard to believe was that I had never thought to make a peanut butter layer cake before–with the simple addition of peanut butter to a fairly classic butter cake, it gives it a unique decadence and nutty twist. Paired with two types of rich frosting and the ultimate sweet & salty topper, it’s a wonder I didn’t give this one a make & bake the moment I received the book a few months ago.

I love this cake for many reasons, but most of all I love its irresistible call to childhood on all counts: peanut butter & chocolate chip layer cake, peanut butter & cream cheese frosting (with a hint of maple!), chocolate fudge frosting, and homemade caramel corn tossed with mini pastel marshmallows and peanuts (which, I might add, is an amazing little treat on its own).

My cakelets were able to help me with so many of the steps in making this cake: Reese made most of the chocolate fudge frosting herself, Neve helped me make the cake layers and peanut butter frosting, and they both helped me mix the popcorn. As Annie mentions in the book, this cake with all of its components tastes much like a Snickers chocolate bar and makes for the perfect celebration cake for kids. And what better reason to celebrate than the start of a new school year? Not only does the cake taste as decadent as it looks, but I find great joy in creating a dessert that has several elements all combined for one show-stopping finale–particularly when one of the components is as unexpected as it is tasty, as with this whimsical pile of caramel popcorn heaped atop the cake.

Peanut Butter Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

Imagine coming home from school to this? I made this prior to Reese’s first day, but I may have to make it again (or in cupcake form–wouldn’t that be fun?) next week while she’s at school for the first day. She’s been counting down the days until school starts, and not only starts school next week but ballet–she can barely stand the anticipation.

We went back to school shopping, and it was a Hello Kitty extravaganza (dresses, pants, ear muffs, lunch bag, school bag, hair clips, sweaters . . . ). Since Hello Kitty was one of my favourites as a child (incidentally, she made her first appearance in 1974, the year I was born), I can’t help but feel the same connection to it as Reese does–between little cakelet Neve, myself and Reese, we’re pretty much like kids in a candy shoppe when we walk into stores with Hello Kitty clothing and accessories. It’s really hard for me to believe that she’s 5 years old and already in her second year of school. At this point I find myself holding on a little tighter and little longer when I hug her, perhaps with hopes of making the time stand still. ♥

Here’s the recipe, shared with permission and as written in the book Make, Bake & Celebrate! by Annie Rigg (my notes below):

peanut butter & chocolate cake with salted caramel popcorn

350 g/2-2/3 cups plain/all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of/baking soda

150 g/10 tablespoons butter, soft

100 g/1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter

350 g/1-3/4 cups (caster) sugar

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

250 ml/1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

125 g/3/4 cup chocolate chips

1/2 quantity Chocolate Fudge Frosting

peanut butter frosting

200 g/6-1/2 oz. cream cheese

50 g/3-1/2 tablespoons butter, soft

75 g/1/3 cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons maple syrup

salted caramel popcorn

50 g/1/4 cup (caster) sugar

25 g/2 tablespoons butter

50 g/2 cups plain popcorn (popped weight)

50 g/1/3 cup roasted peanuts

50 g/1/3 cup chocolate chips

50 g/2/3 cup mini marshmallows

three 20-cm/8-inch round cake pans, greased and baselined with greased baking parchment

serves 12

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) Gas 4.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate/baking soda.

Cream the butter, peanut butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until really pale and light–at least 3-4 minutes. Gradually add the beaten eggs to the creamed butter in 4 or 5 additions, mixing well between each addition and scraping down the bowl from time to time with a rubber spatula. Add the vanilla and mix to incorporate.

Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients to the cake mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Mix until smooth, then fold in the chocolate chips. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared cake pans, scraping the mixture from the bowl using a rubber spatula. Spread level with a palette knife and bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the  middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 3-4 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the peanut butter frosting, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the butter, peanut butter, vanilla and maple syrup and beat again until creamy.

To make the salted caramel popcorn, put the sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a small, heavy-based saucepan over low heat and dissolve the sugar without stirring. Once dissolved, increase the heat and continue to cook until the syrup turns into an amber-coloured caramel. Take the pan off the heat and add the butter, swirling to make a smooth butterscotch. Quickly pour the butterscotch over the popcorn and stir well so that it starts to stick together in clumps. Add the peanuts (chopped, if you prefer), chocolate chips and marshmallows.

Place one of the cake layers on a serving dish and spread half the peanut butter frosting over it. Carefully spread one-third of the Chocolate Fudge Frosting over that. Cover with a second cake layer. Repeat this process, finishing with the last cake layer and the remaining chocolate fudge frosting on top of that. Pile the salted caramel popcorn on top just before serving.

chocolate fudge frosting

350 g/12 oz. dark/semisweet chocolate, chopped

225 g/15 tablespoons butter, diced

175 ml/2/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

350 g/3 cups icing/confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over pan of barely simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Stir until smooth and thoroughly combined. Removed from the heat and cool slightly.

In another bowl whisk together the milk, vanilla and sugar until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and butter and stir until smooth. Let thicken to the desired consistency before using.

Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • Annie’s recipe calls for chocolate chips in the Salted Caramel Popcorn mixture, but I opted to omit them, mostly because I was assembling the popcorn and ready to photograph the cake while the caramel was still a little warm–this would have melted the chocolate chips into kind of a yucky mess. Next time if I was adding the chocolate chips, I would simply wait until the caramel corn was completely cool.
  • I used vanilla sugar (as I did here) when making the caramel for the popcorn–yum!
  • You can make the caramel popcorn ahead of time, but be sure to add it only before you are serving the cake, otherwise it will become a bit soggy.
  • I made the cake layers day 1, wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap and left them at room temperature, made the frosting, made the popcorn and assembled the cake all on day 2.

Good luck & enjoy!



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Lemon Meringue Milkshakes & Mini Swirl Meringues

If you hear a muffled cry for help or cake, it’s likely me from under the endless boxes and stacks of stuff I’ve been getting ready to move in a few weeks. This is the first time we’ve ever moved a full house-load of things, and after 5 years of collecting cake tools, baking supplies, cake pedestals, food props, little girls’ toys, and more (oh, so much more), I may not make it out unscathed. And the thing is, when you’re in the thick of a move and the peak of the hot summer months, creating fancy cakes isn’t as likely as I would have hoped, but that doesn’t mean delightful desserts aren’t possible and, if anything, they’re more necessary than ever.

I recently received this irresistible book, Milkshake Bar by Hanna Miles, and it hit me–milkshakes are where I need to be right now, and vice versa. This book is filled with so much chilly inspiration (think creamy, jelly-filled Doughnut Floats served with a skewer of mini doughnuts; sweet and sponge-candy-topped Honeycomb Shakes; and refreshing, bright and bubbly Raspberry Ripple Floats) that can come to be in just moments–a concept that is much-welcomed in my world right now.

After first flip through the book, I was immediately drawn to the creamy & sunshiney awesomeness that is the Lemon Meringue Milkshake. It seems that my dessert-choices have been colour-driven lately, and bright yellow has my heart these days. And, as you probably remember, I have a real thing for lemony desserts (such as these and this), and since I always have Lemon Curd in my freezer, this recipe was super-simple to make.

What’s funny is that I made these meringues the day before with the intention to blog something totally different (which I will still do), so when I saw the recipe for the Lemon Meringue Milkshake called for a mini meringue topper, I knew it was all meant to be. To make life easier, you could certainly buy some mini meringues to top yours with, but if you do have the time to make these, they are incredible on their own and really satisfy the need for a little hit of sugar–2 for the shakes and 43 for you to innocently sneak, one-by-one, from the airtight container in which they happily sit. Makes good sense, right?

Made with whole milk, ice cream, lemon curd and lemon yogurt, this milkshake is a chilly creamy, dreamy, lemon confection that is sure to hit the sweet spot. ♥ And okay, okay–I did intentionally coordinate Nevie’s jumper with the milkshake, but I simply couldn’t resist!

Here’s the recipe:

Lemon Meringue Milkshakes          {click to print}

 

 

 

 

shared with permission, as written in the book Milkshake Bar by Hanna Miles

Lemon Meringue

3 tablespoons lemon curd

300 ml/1-1/4 cups lemon yogurt

3 scoops lemon or vanilla ice cream

300 ml/1-1/4 cups milk, chilled

2 mini meringues

2 soda glasses, chilled

2 straws

a squeezy bottle of piping bag with a small round nozzle tip

SERVES 2

Put two tablespoons of the lemon curd in a squeezy bottle or piping bag and pipe a lemon spiral onto the inside of each glass.

Put the yogurt, ice cream, milk and remaining tablespoon of lemon curd in a blender and whizz until smooth.

Pour into the prepared glasses and top each with a meringue. Serve immediately with straws and a spoon to eat the meringue.

Sweetapolita’s Notes

  • I typically have this Lemon Curd in my freezer at all times, because it’s such an easy way to add sunshine to any dessert, frosting, ice cream or even drink. You don’t need to thaw it, just pull what you need and it quickly softens back up.
  • You could certainly simplify the process by using store-bought lemon curd and prepared mini meringues (if you’re lucky enough to find those in the shops near you).
  • After pouring the milkshakes and topping with the meringue, they actually kept really nicely while I photographed Neve with hers, so if you’re preparing for a group at a luncheon or party, they should present nicely, even after you prepare an entire tray of them.
  • For my mini meringues, I used the Swiss Meringue method (heating the sugar and egg whites to 140°F, then whipping until reaches stiff peaks), but you could prepare the meringues any way you’re used to or prefer. You could simplify this process by creating pure white meringues, rather than the swirl variety.
Here’s the recipe for the meringues, and although this would be a lot of work for serving a couple of milkshakes, these are crispy, melt-in-your-mouth confections that you can serve by the platter-full and they would be gobbled up in seconds. They also make delightful cupcake toppers and cake decorations. I’ve also been told that they taste particularly Keep them at room-temperature in an airtight container.

Mini Swirl Meringues

 

 

 

 

Yield: ~45 1-inch round mini meringue swirls

Ingredients

3 egg whites (approximately 90 grams/3 ounces)

3/4 cup (150 grams/5 ounces) sugar

A drop of Americolor Electric Yellow  (or colour/shade of your choice)

One Decorating Bag, 14-Inch or 18-inch

Pastry tip #1A 

Small paintbrush

Method

1. Preheat oven to 200°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease.

2. Add egg whites and sugar to the mixer bowl and fit onto the top of a medium saucepan filled with about 1-inch of simmering (not boiling) water. (Be sure the bottom of your bowl is not touching the water.) Whisk constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

3. Dry the underside of the mixer bowl and transfer to your stand mixer. Whip using the whisk attachment until the meringue is thick and glossy and has reached the stiff peak stage.

4. While the meringue is whipping in the mixer, fit your decorating bag with a plain round pastry tip. Fold over a cuff at the top of the pastry bag and paint 3, equally-spaced, thin lines of yellow gel colour using your fine paint brush (you can use any paint brush, but it should only be one you designate for food) from the pastry tip up toward the cuff.

5. Fill the bag with your meringue (no more than 2/3 full) and pipe small swirls onto your lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart.

6. Bake at 200°F for 60 minutes, rotating the trays after 30 minutes. Lower the oven to 175°F and bake until dry, about 40 minutes more.

I’ll see you soon with some birthday-themed blogging!

Good luck & enjoy!



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