A Sweet Start

I didn’t make any new year resolutions this year which is not like me. And, knowing myself, I would have included something about eating healthy to my list. But, whoever sticks to those resolutions? I didn’t even last a month with all of the cakes and sweets I’ve been baking and consuming lately. I partly blame it on the ingredients with expiration dates and birthdays that require a celebratory dessert.

Take for instance this pear and cranberry cake, an adaptation of a recipe in Ina Garten’s newest cookbook. When it dawned on me that I still had a bag of cranberries sitting in my fridge from Thanksgiving (I assure you they still looked like they had just been packaged after their harvest), it seemed destined that I was to make a version of this absolutely decadent cake. It sounds modest and humble, but it could join the ranks of Tiramisu and Crème Brulee. And, the best part about Ina’s cake is that it requires very little labor other than peeling and dicing some fruit. I substituted a Bosc pear for an apple, but the result was nothing short of spectacular. Next time, since Jonathan, doesn’t lurv cranberries, as people annoyingly say these days, I am going to go with just a pear and apple.

Then, with Jonathan’s 30th birthday on February 2nd, I couldn’t let the day come and go without a big bang in the cake department. So, inspired by Martha’s “Who’s Counting Cake?” featured in the January 2011 issue, I baked and carved two cakes to read 3-0. Oh, and I covered them entirely in M&Ms. Despite what her recipe said, I baked 4 cakes because Martha’s instructions didn’t make sense to me – use a 12×17 rimmed baking sheet? I know what a rimmed baking sheet is, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the thought of pouring batter into one and waiting for an intact cake to emerge from the oven. A recipe for disaster, in my mind. Plus, I didn’t have the time to take that chance, so I went with a 9×13 cake pan and baked four cakes so I could layer them for the full effect. When I finally finished, some 5 hours later over the course of two weeknights, I told myself I would never attempt this cake again. NEVER. I’m pretty sure that the meticulous tiling of those M&Ms side by side caused the soreness in my shoulder the next day.

Yet, the wow factor is impossible to deny, and I like to think that the shortcuts I took – using boxed cake mix and frosting – shaved time off the overall process. I would like to encourage you though to buy one or two colors of M&Ms like Martha does. Taking the easy route, I just bought a couple of 1 pound bags at Target, and created random color patterns.  And, while it turned out nice, I feel like the mosaic of primary colors is more fitting for a 10-year old’s cake. Like black and white would be divine.

But, obviously I have a thing for that color scheme – as does my co-worker, Sharon, whose birthday I baked these black and white cupcakes below for. Told you I’ve been on a baking spree!

I didn’t go with a dual chocolate and vanilla cupcake. Instead I simplified this idea and baked chocolate and vanilla cupcakes and frosted the chocolate with cream cheese icing and the vanilla with dark chocolate. Then, I topped them off with a yin and yang sprinkling of white and black nonpareils (French for hundreds of thousands). I consulted Martha’s site and pulled recipes from there. Both vanilla and chocolate were scrumptiously good, but I don’t recommend melting chocolate in the microwave – FYI.

Once you produce a trio of dessert hits, it’s difficult to hang up the apron for a while. There is the salted caramel shortbread recipe in the newest issue of Readymade and a sort of secret desire to create Bakerella’s cake pops. But, then there are the magazine spreads featuring the latest fashions for summer and the hit-you-in-your-face display of two-piece bathing suits at Target right now that deter me from stocking up on anymore butter and eggs. I believe in moderate indulging, but I think maybe I’ve fudged that rule a tad – a squeaking tad.  However, that resolution is back in effect tomorrow because today I had eight donut holes.


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