grumpy cat crack cake attack

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Miss Fats is mid birthday rush this week.  She has two “high seasons” for birthday cake baking–May and November–when she’s convinced a ton of parents got together and conspired to breed an entire generation of children born in the same week, spaced perfectly six months apart. 20-30 years later, Miss Fats is busy crafting three cakes in one week to celebrate all that Valentine love (gross) that bred an entire generation of pod people. ( i.e. her near and dear friends.)

Now, she began #birthdayweek (if it’s a conspiracy, it may as well have its own hashtag), with a classic birthday cake (a rare request!), but she’s going to save that post for later; because she is damn excited about the craziest of 30th birthdays “cakes” she put together this past weekend for her friend E’s bash.  Meet the Wacky Crack Attack.

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Miss Fats loves to bake for any crowd, however she has a couple of favorite individuals who she’s always eager to feed and please with decadent desserts.  E is right at the top of the list thanks to his insatiable sweet tooth and affinity for seconds (that’s appreciation, people).  She knew there was no way to get any specific flavor requests from him for the big day (he will eat anything and loves all things sweet), so Miss Fats just decided to dream up the most insane cake monster she could think of.  Initially, she was gravitating toward an ice cream concoction, since he and Miss Fats have been known to venture far across the city in search of giant creamy cones.  However there were already plans for frozen custard on the night of the celebration (double dessert. duh.); And she knew any old chocolate layer cake thing wouldn’t do.  Not to mention it was E’s 30th and therefore required Miss Fats to kill him via sugar object.  As you know, Miss Fats has got pie on the brain, and she had a recent conversation about the Momofuko Crack Pie that had been nagging at the back of her head for a couple of weeks now.  That was it.  Crack pie.  The name and object were ideal for E: done and done.

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But this is a birthday, people.  And a big one.  For an important friend.  So Miss Fats could hardly stop there.  So what does crack need?  More crack, apparently.  Something she adores about Momofuko’s pie is it’s complete and total acceptance of ugly.  None of that prissy, fancy pants dessert garbage (all prim and proper: boo), but  instead a total embrace of disgusting deliciousness: truly privileging taste over aesthetics.  Naturally this meant Miss Fats wanted to extend this aesthetic to the cake (pie) topper.  She decided to make excessive clusters of salty sweet goodness to mound on top of the ugly monster pie base to create a Frankensteinian sugar object capable of catapulting insulin levels and destroying any pancreas in its way.  You can’t even imagine how excited she was.

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This was Miss Fats first Momofuko recipe attempt and she knew they were notorious for being somewhat finicky and required great attention to detail.  Therefore for the actual pie, she stuck straight to it and executed the body of the beast step for step, to the t.   It was really that crack topping where she got to work on her salty-sweet craft, improvise and (literally) sculpt the perfect collection of morsels.  So what goes into wacky crack, you ask?  Well the short answer is: whatever the hell you want.  This is really more of a method (methodology?) than a recipe.  Miss Fats is going to share her mixture for you all, but she encourages you to get down and dirty with it: be creative: be cavalier.

wacky crack clusters:
makes about 2 cups of clusters

3 crunchy chocolate chip cookies (Miss Fats used Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chip Dunkers, but Chips Ahoy would also be good here)
3 peanut butter sandwich cookies (Nutter Butters)
1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts
1/2 cup pretzels (broken up a bit)
1 chopped candy bar (Miss Fats used a mini M&Ms bar she had on hand)
1/4 cup peanut butter chips
1/4 cup melted chocolate chips
1/4 cup melted peanut butter chips
sea salt

salted caramel:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbs water
2 tbs butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp salt (to taste)

1. Make the caramel sauce: in a small sauce pan, heat the sugar and water over medium, carefully stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Once dissolved, turn the heat to medium high and DO NOT stir or take your eyes off it.  Allow the sugar to caramelize and turn a deep amber (about 5-8 minutes), swirling the pan by the handle every so often.  Once the caramel has deepened in color, remove from the heat and add the butter and cream (be careful: it will bubble rapidly).  Stir until completely smooth.  If it seizes up, return to medium low heat, and stir constantly until smooth.  Add salt to taste.  Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Cluster assembly: line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (makes for easy clean up).  Throw down all of the dry cluster ingredients and roughly mix.  Drizzle the caramel, chocolate and peanut butter over top.  Toss together and roughly pat into a single layer of goodness.  Drizzle another layer of caramel and chocolate over top and sprinkle with salt to make it nice and pretty.  Allow to cool completely by either leaving it to harden on the counter, or sticking in the fridge for about an hour.

3.  Once cool, break into large chunks and enjoy.

To top the pie, mound the clusters into any monstrous form you’d like.  Donezo. Miss Fats’ wonderful roommates also created the perfect topper using some creative pen work and some printed off images of Grumpy Cat.  Since E looks like grumpy cat with a mustache, it was the ideal expression of birthday affect for an aggressive dessert.

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In the end, her pie wasn’t perfect (but should it be?).  Her oven had some hot spots that caused the custard to bake slightly unevenly, and the crust baked a little more than she would have liked.  However, anyone who’s executed this pie knows, the whole thing isn’t really meant to be eaten like a pie.  Instead, the crack pie creates a salty sweet object that is to be scraped from the pan and consumed in a messy pile of all that is good in life.  Yes people” the crust sticks to the pan.  It sticks real bad.  And she’s sure that one could do some serious greasing and throw down some parchment.  But that would probably ruin part of the joy of crack pie: this is as much of an aesthetic–tactile–experience as it is about taste: embrace ugly. The crack clusters added a crazy crunchy layer to the chewy, creamy pie custard and cookie crust to make for a mouthful of all things good.  This is some serious mouth porn.  Pure dessert filth.  She highly recommends it.

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Between eight people, they only managed to get through half of the pie.  It’s fucking intense.  The rest was sent home in a glorious pile to be eaten while standing over the kitchen counter with a fork in hand.  Probably in your underwear, at 3 am.  Crack pie will definitely make it into Miss Fats’ recipe arsenal, but clearly must be accompanied by some sort of chocolate pretzel object. ( She feels no need to explain this.  It’s self-evident that chocolate and pretzels make everything better.)  She hopes E is enjoying his leftovers and that Wacky Crack Attack was all he could have dreamed of for his big birthday celebration.  Or she hopes he’s dead of diabetic shock from pie overload.  Either or.

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fancy pants coconut rhubarb cake

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Miss Fats returned to birthday baking with a particularly exciting project: she needed to turn out an impressive cake monster for one her closest friends in Chicago and new roommate, N.  Last week, the city’s miserable heat finally hit with full force, but managed to cool down just in time for N to throw a casual Monday night backyard birthday bash in celebration of her 28th.  Now it must be noted that despite its improptu planning, N never half-asses or disappoints when it comes to entertaining.  She is essentially the greatest hostess Miss Fats has ever witnessed; and the last minute birthday picnic was no exception.  Not to mention she makes it look entirely effortless and elegant at the same time.  We’re talking anthropologie/barefoot contessa status here (don’t pretend like you don’t know what Miss Fats talking about.)  Therefore Miss Fats was faced with the task of creating a cake to fit right in with the deceptively simple.

Miss Fats had been mentally preparing for this one for a while: she had noted an off-hand comment made months ago when N admitted her favorite cake flavor: coconut.  She catalogued this fact for future birthday surprises (Miss Fats loves nothing more than a good surprise).  She knew the classic, four-layer giant fluffy coconut cake would be the perfect pastry object in celebration of N’s 28th.  Sure, a delightful cupcake would have been a perfectly pop-able backyard birthday treat, but Miss Fats felt N deserved something more excessive in the spirit of being born.  A four-layer cake was a no brainer: no matter the size of the crowd, N definitely deserved a giant pile of sweet pastry lit up with candles and properly escorted in with song-accompaniment.

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Now there was no way she was going to make just a coconut cake.  There had to be a proper pairing (Miss Fats tends to ascribe to a three-component cake).  She knows just how much N loves rhubarb, plus Miss Fats loved the idea of a splash of pink in the center of a white fluffy cake.  Since N, herself exudes the easy-peasy elegance, Miss Fats knew that the cake had to perfectly mix a rustic, clean and polished exterior, punctuated with a tangy, coconutty surprise on the inside.  She felt that a decadent coconut pastry cream and sharp rhubarb compote would express N’s personhood: sweet, yet perfectly punchy with a sour hit, and always indulgent.

The exterior and decoration had to be clean and simple. Miss Fats knew the classic flaked coconut cake decoration would provide the ideal base.  The fluffy white strips of coconut pressed into a coconut buttercream has all the freshness and whimsy of N herself.  Yet it needed just the smallest of touches to elevate it to make it a bit more special in celebration of N’s birthday.  Miss Fats went with some shimmery light pink pearl sprinkles she had on hand.  Pressed into the coconut and buttercream base, the pearls added a bit of fancy to an otherwise nostalgic and slightly vintage cake.

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So now Miss Fats will go ahead and share all the components of this bright and summery cake.  The coconut cake, buttercream, pastry cream and rhubarb filling are endlessly useful and can be transferred to almost any other baking endeavor.  Go ahead and throw that cream inside a cupcake and top with ganache for a Almond Joy taste good.  Or slather a shortcake with some rhubarb compote and a dollop of whip cream for breakfast/dessert heaven.  Miss Fats highly recommends you go crazy with any and all cake components.  Some of you will recognize these recipes from J’s insane mini cake just a couple of months ago.  Both the rhubarb filling and buttercream are the new additions that Miss Fats chose to switch out for time and temperature purposes (too damn hot for that excessive swiss buttercream business.)

Fancy Pants Coconut Rhubarb Layer Cake:
makes one, four-layer, nine-inch cake
pastry cream adapted from Willow Bird Baking’s Ultimate, Moist, Fluffy Coconut Cake
cake adapted from What’s for Dinner?’s Truly Awesome Coconut Cake 

cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

coconut pastry cream:
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
good pinch of salt
1 1/2 egg yolks
1 tbs corn starch
1 tbs butter
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup flaked, sweetened coconut

coconut buttercream:
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
approximately 1 tbs milk, if needed

rhubarb compote:
3-4 stalks of rhubarb, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sugar (to taste)
1/2 cup water
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of powdered ginger (optional)

2 cups of sweetened, flaked coconut
pink pearl sprinkles if desires

1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 six-inch cake pans.  Beat butter and sugar on high in a large bowl or stand mixer until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each.  Add coconut extract.  On low-speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and coconut milk.  Increase speed to medium high and beat until combined (5-10 seconds).  Pour into pans and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from pan.

2. Pastry cream: in a sauce pan, over medium, heat the coconut milk, sugar, salt, vanilla and coconut extracts.  In a small bowl, mix the corn starch and egg yolks until well combined.  Once the cream is hot, temper the yolks by carefully adding 1/4 cup of the milk to the bowl, whisking constantly.  Add the yolk mixture back to the sauce pan, whisking constantly. Continue to mix over medium high heat for 3 minutes (for the FULL 3 minutes!).  Add the butter and coconut flake and mix.  Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (make sure you press the plastic wrap onto the surface of the cream to prevent skin-formation).  Store in fridge until cake assembly or until fully cooled. When you’re ready to assemble, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form.  Fold into the chilled cream and set aside until assembly.

3. Rhubarb compote: In a saucepan, combine the rhubarb, water and sugar. Cook until the rhubarb completely breaks down.  Check sugar and add more to taste.  Mix in extract and ginger.  Allow to fully cool.  This can be done way ahead of time, stored in a jar and enjoyed as frequently as possible.

4. Coconut buttercream: beat butter on medium high until fluffy.  Sift in powdered sugar in batches to prevent making a huge mess.  Beat in extracts.  Beat in milk if the frosting is too thick.

5. Assembly: Begin by carefully cutting your cakes into 4 even layers.  Place first layer on your cake plate and spread on half of the compote.  Add second layer and spoon on all of the coconut pastry cream.  Leave approximately an inch of space around the edge to make sure it doesn’t ooze out the sides as you assemble.  Add the third layer and spread on remaining compote and top with the final layer of cake.  Spread on a thin layer of buttercream as a crumb coat. Don’t worry: this will look terrible.  Chill the cake for about 30 minutes or until the frosting is firm.  Spread remaining buttercream all over the cake.  Press the flaked coconut into the side and top.  Use your fingers to press pretty pink pairs into the frosting. (Miss Fats recommends doing this in front of the TV or with some sweet tunes in the background.)

IMG_4104Now that says celebration.  The crumbly cake is perfectly balanced with the ooey gooey-ness of the compote and pastry cream.  It is definitely a coconut explosion, but Miss Fats likes to think that it won’t overwhelm the reluctant cake eater.  Not to mention the brightness provided by the rhubarb makes this a delightfully seasonal pastry object perfect for a backyard BBQ.  Miss Fats cautions you: this cake is deceptively light (in terms of flavor and texture), and can easily be consumed in excess.  However: worse things have happened.  Miss Fats has already received outrageously overzealous complements on this cake, so she knows she’s done some decent work here.  She’s just beyond pleased that N enjoyed herself in the form of excessive cake consumption.  N now just needs to get ready for future roommate cakes to come.

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peanut butter chocolate cake and fancy fails

IMG_3889This might be the best damn looking cake Miss Fats has ever made.  It’s also probably why it ended up being one of the most disappointing.  She’s  going to refer to this cake as a “fancy fail” from now on (notice it’s similarity to Fancy Feast).  Now this is being incredibly over dramatic and a bit self wallowing, but come on! Look at that thing.  It’s promising nothing but decadent flavor on par with its aesthetic level.  However this was not the case.  Spoiler alert: this is not a love story.

Ok Miss Fats will stop being a bummer to talk a little more about what’s going on with this beauty.  Since she’s fundamentally incapable of attending just about any event without a sweet treat in hand, Miss Fats’ recent invite to a belated wedding reception/joint birthday celebration was no exception.  This event boasted a wedding and two birthdays and therefore required her to impose a cake upon everyone.  Hell, Miss Fats wasn’t even really invited to this thing but you better damn well believe she was bringing a big ass cake in celebration.

IMG_3884She asked for her usual flavor request to help send her in a general direction; “chocolate?” was all she got.  Now this was the second chocolate cake of the week for Miss Fats (she had just gone to cacao town with D’s birthday cake earlier in the week).  Since Chicago weather had been crap, she didn’t even feel obligated to work with a cake that celebrated the sunshine and flavors of the summer (because let’s get real, summer literally just started in Chicago).  So shit was about to get real.  IE Miss Fats was going to lay down her favorite flavor combination of all time: peanut butter chocolate.

She knew there would be another cake at the party, so she felt less obligated to craft a cake that perfectly encompassed the couple (a task that Miss Fats’ has actually never even tried.  Though she can’t wait for a Frankenstein cake soon).  Instead, she was hoping to simply highlight the importance of celebration, decadence and excess.  This party was a fun and simple backyard affair, so the peanut butter seemed to be an appropriate way to dial back the ‘smance in favor of some childhood ooey gooey peanutty business.

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She knew that this type of celebration definitely required an actual cake: three celebrations can’t quite be encompassed in a little cupcake object.  However she’d been struggling with the humidity over the last week and was seriously worried about her super-moist chocolate cake recipe not holding up for this thing.  With D’s cake days before, the wet air wreaked havoc on the removing-cake-from-pan process and she thought it might be a good idea to go with a butter-based cake instead.  She’s a big fan of Bakers Royale and has a good deal of success with many of her recipe components, so when she found her Best Chocolate Cake Recipe it seemed like the natural choice.  It followed many of Miss Fats’ baking rules: minimal bowl action, no cake flour, and no butter creaming (these are not steadfast rules: just wonderfully attractive features that she often looks for).  It essentially resembled Miss Fats’ oil-based chocolate cake, but used melted butter instead.  She ended up using milk instead of the cassis because: a) Miss Fats really has no fucking idea what cassis is anyway and b) she’s a grad student not going to buy a bottle of that fancy liquor for one cake.  Given that the recipe produced two 8 inch cakes, Miss Fats ended up multiplying the recipe by 1.5 to get three 9 inch layers.  The cakes cooked beautifully and easily held up despite the wet wet air.

Now came the filling.  Miss Fats has been trying to think through the ultimate peanut butter filling for quite some time now.  Peanut butter is not just some creaming thing you can slap in between cake layers.  It’s a sticky-salty spread that should be celebrated flavor-wise, but requires a bit more work to transform it into a perfectly crafted cake filling that works with the textures of the cake and frosting.  She liked the idea of something between a buttercream/mousse: she wanted the intense flavors of a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup, but a lightness that wouldn’t overpower the fluffy crumb of the cake.

She ended up going with Bakers Royale’s Peanut Butter Frosting, that boasted intense peanut flavor in the form of a buttercream.  She was a little worried about how much frosting this recipe produced and the intensity of the peanut flavor, so Miss  Fats made a couple of variations that she’s sharing with you here:

Peanut Butter Filling:
makes about 3 cups of filling
adapted from Bakers Royale’s Peanut Butter Frosting

1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup creamy, all natural peanut butter
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (dependent upon how sweet your peanut butter is)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt + more to taste
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Set aside in the fridge.

2. Beat the butter and peanut butter on medium high until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and salt and mix until fully combined.  Sift in the powdered sugar and beat until combined.  Adjust salt based on your own preferences (Miss Fats obviously added more).

3. Fold the frosting into the heavy whipping cream.

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Since she was diggin’ on the look and feel of D’s chocolate cake from earlier in the week, she ended up going with the easy, spreadable chocolate ganache frosting.  Fully riding the salt-sweet train at this point, Miss Fats needed to jazz this thing up to keep it on par with the celebration level of the party.  She figured in-line with the backyard, slightly nostalgic feel of the event, a chocolate-covered pretzel would be the ideal object of decoration.  What says salt-sweet tasty town more than a chocolate covered pretzel?  However to keep it elegant (and photographable), she needed a bit of color contrast, so she ended up deciding to do both chocolate and peanut butter-dipped treats.  Miss Fats isn’t going to give you a recipe for these, since all she did was melt down about a cup of chocolate chips and a cup of peanut butter chips and dunked those suckers in.  To make them all pretty, she made a mess of herself and kitchen by using a fork to whip lines of peanut butter and chocolate across them. The only trick of these pretzels is not eating them all before they make it on to the cake (so so hard). Let them firm up in the fridge and stack them in a circle.  Boom. So pretty, yet to easy.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Is Miss Fats seriously just whining about how good looking her cake is?  Ok so here begins the abbreviated discussion of the cake’s problems (skip ahead if you’d rather live in cake fantasy land and see this as perfection).  So this is pretty fucking epic looking right?  And when you make a cake like this one, you want that first cut and bite to match the level of beauty (Miss Fats has a HUGE problem with beautiful cakes that cannot live up to their looks in flavor).  However, cutting into this cake, it crumbled. Total frosting/filling/cake mess.  The chocolate ganache pulled at the crumbly cake, destroying the three, carefully stacked layers.  Hardly the kind of display for a wedding: no embarrassing (cue tiny violins).  And while this mess may have been acceptable given the casual celebration, Miss Fats regrets to say that the flavor just didn’t quite make up for the disastrous structure.  There just wasn’t enough peanut butter filling to balance with the fudge of the cake and ganache.  Salt-sweet fail.

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Ok ok.  Miss Fats will stop now, because for the most part, guests seemed to really enjoy the cake (naively so).  And in the end, the bride and groom/birthday boy and girl seemed to really enjoy it.  Which is all she can hope for.  However if Miss Fats were to attempt this cake again, she’d seriously amp up that peanut butter filling: literally double that recipe.  She’d also return to her oil-based cake, which just has a bouncier texture that holds up to a sturdy filling like peanut butter.  This is to say that Miss Fats is not completely discouraged: she will try the ultimate peanut butter chocolate cake again.  Though this cake will probably haunt Miss Fats’ sugar dreams for a while, she recognizes that this was not a complete fail.  The real success came in making a beautiful cake for a beautiful crowd and couple.  They should just wait for peanut butter cake the sequel: coming to birthdays next summer.

CHOCOLATE Cake

IMG_3835Why all the yelling? (Obviously all caps=yelling. Get with it.)  Because this is some serious chocolate cake up in herrrrre.  Yet as per usual, chocolate fails at food photography and this picture cannot even begin to express the hidden cocao-ness layered up in that shining brown round object.  Miss Fats is talkin’ moist chocolate cake sandwiching both dark and white chocolate mousse, all contained in a rich chocolate ganache frosting.  Rich bliss.

How did Miss Fats go crazy, you ask?  After a brief birthday break, she returned to her idealistic work of making sure that no birth celebration goes cakeless.  Her friend D was throwing a casual mid-week-come-celebrate-me-if-you-got-a-little-extra-time-on-your-hands-but-no-pressure birthday drinks sesh and Miss Fats offered (forced) her baking skills on the evening.  She is a big believer in the birthday cake request: everyone gets to make all their guests eat whatever damn cake they like on their birthday (even if it’s some bullshit like a bundt cake or whatever).  So as usual she asked the birthday boy his favorite flavors: Miss Fats doesn’t need you to dream up your crazy cake idea, but she appreciates a general direction. And D sent her a dangerous way; one simple request: chocolate.

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Part of Miss Fats love of baking is thinking up the ideal sweet for the situation.  So birthday cakes present a particularly fun challenge: how do you essentialize a person in a cake?  Basically Miss Fats gets REAL excited about objectifying people.  But hey, at least you become a crazy tasty pastry object that everyone chows down on all evening.  Plus if you’re lucky, you get all lit on fire with candles.  Now Miss Fats is half kidding on this one (she hopes all her friends don’t go psychoanalyzing their birthday cakes and wind up thinking Miss Fats wants them to confront their repressed mother issues).

However she does spend a good deal of time scouring the interwebs for flavor ideas and recipes to help build the ideal person-cake.  In this case, D’s chocolate request felt incredibly appropriate.  Simple, classic and could easily be jazzed up for celebration purposes (oh god, please don’t go over thinking the rest of this post, D).  Chocolate is Miss Fats favorite kind of cake (false: chocolate is in fact her favorite object in existence in this world), so the real challenge was restraint in this case (which, clearly she didn’t do a GREAT job at).  However she knew that D’s cake should be a rich balance that didn’t overdo it on the sweet.  Additionally, D suffers from an unfortunate peanut allergy that kept Miss Fats far from her favorite peanut butter chocolate nonsense (more to come on that: just you wait ’til the next cake).  So her theory was: if he asked for chocolate, he is damn well getting chocolate.

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The first question was cake versus cupcake.  She decided that since D said it had been an eternity since he’d had a proper birthday cake, that she should serve it up right with a classic layered round cake.  Miss Fats stuck to her guns, and used her go-to chocolate cake recipe that has now appeared a bajillion times on this blog, but she’ll link you to it anyway.  Now the next question was what should this cake experience be?  She was real into the idea of those rich chocolate fancy restaurant cakes that beautifully layer mousse, ganache and cake like a thousand times and take ten million hours and an insane amount of precision to produce.  However D is not that fussy.  And neither is Miss Fats baking style.  So she decided to bring all the flavors of fancy town to a rustic, classic layered cake that didn’t go seducing you with all its glitz and glam.

This cake ultimately ended up being composed of four layers of chocolate cake (two nine-inch cakes cut in half), with two layers of Food & Wine’s dark chocolate mousse and one layer of white.  For the filling she made a full batch of the dark chocolate mousse which ended up being a little bit light for Miss Fats’ taste.  (Though guests seemed more satisfied with the proportions that she did.)  She halved the white recipe which was just fine considering the super sweetness of white chocolate.

Miss Fats recommends breaking this cake into two days.  Day one: bake off the cakes and store them wrapped in plastic wrap.  Make both mousses and allow them to properly firm up in the fridge over night.  Day two: make the ganache.  Then assemble the cake and mousse layers and allow to freeze while the ganache cools to the right spreadable temperature.

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Now it has been pretty damn hot in Chicago, so Miss Fats had some serious melt situation on her hands.  For those of you working in warmer, humid climates, she highly recommends assembling the cake layers and fillings and freezing the whole thing for at least 30 minutes before frosting.  This will allow the mousse to firm up before you go encasing the beast in a solid wall of fortifying ganache goodness.  Miss Fats is sharing her super simple ganache recipe that easily molds itself to a whipped, spread or poured version depending on when you decide to use it.

Easy Chocolate Ganache Frosting:
yields enough for one nine inch cake or twenty-four cupcake

1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 tbs butter, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp salt

1. In a medium bowl (or the mixing bowl of your stand mixer if you’re planning to do a whipped frosting), dump the chocolate chips, butter and salt.  Heat the heavy cream in a microwave safe dish for about 1-2 minutes, or until quite hot.  Dump the heavy cream over the chocolate chip mixture and let stand for a couple of minutes.  Whisk thoroughly until you get a smooth, glossy ganache.

2. For pouring: allow the ganache to cool for at least 10 minutes.  Then go to town.  For spreading: allow the ganache to cool to room temperature or until it reaches a buttery, spreadable consistency (about 2 hours).  For whipped: allow the ganache to cool for about an hour.  Then whip on high until soft peaks form.

This cake, despite its many steps and components was not actually that difficult.  Spread over two days, you only have an hour or two of actual work.  There’s just quite a bit of the waiting game with chocolate.  However the end result is pretty damn worth it: you get to bite into an incredibly moist trio of chocolate forms that play between chocolate’s sweet and dark, bitter sides.  This is a damn chocolate symphony.  And like a festive concert, this cake needed a little pizzaz to remind itself that it wasn’t taking itself too seriously.  So Miss Fats went to sprinkle town:

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Rainbow sprinkles, polka dots and chocolate?  Ingredients to throw any jaded grad student into childhood nostalgia (or at least Miss Fats hopes).  To make these simple (yet effective) decorations, Miss Fats carefully placed round cookie cutters on top of the cake and spooned in the sprinkles.  Clearly she wasn’t as careful as she should have been, because a few pesky dots found their way across the surface.  Oh well.

In the end, Miss Fats likes to think of this particular birthday cake as a serious yet lighthearted chocolate monstrosity.  It spans the excess of childhood, yet indulges in the rich decadence of fantasy adulthood.  D was celebrating his twenty-eighth after all: a weird year somewhere between things, and this cake’s attitude is same.  She hopes D enjoyed his birthday cakery, even if he ended up leaving it sitting on the streets of Chicago (don’t even get Miss Fats started on this story).  She’s kidding: everyone gets to do what they want with their own damn birthday cake.

S’mores Cupcakes

IMG_3546May was the craziest month of birthdays Miss Fats has ever experienced.  She’s fairly certain that just about every single person she knows “decided” to be born in the last two weeks of the month. Therefore each year they all create a birthday vortex where time becomes structured entirely through running from one “drinks” to “dinner” to “party,” rather than attending to things like work…or school, or life. whatever.  It sounds like Miss Fats is upset about this.  False.  Because she in fact loves birthdays, and despite the end of the quarter craziness, she prefers a world structured through celebration.

Naturally, birthdays demand cake.  And as you can see, there has been a number of birthday cakes popping up on Sunday Sundaes in the last couple of weeks.  The latest cupcake was an impromptu production when the last birthday of the month popped out of nowhere (at least to Miss Fats, who has been in birthday brain spiral and fails to look at things like calendars anymore). Luckily she had all the ingredients on hand to experiment with this new indulgent cupcake recipe.

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All this sunshine (well, at least the small heat wave last week) and the wrapping up of classes is making Miss Fats itch for summer and the delicious foods of BBQ season.  So it’s no wonder her brain went immediately to s’mores when she was faced with a cupcake challenge.  There’s a ton of s’more (s’mores? is it always plural? whatever.) cupcake recipes out there– from blogs to pinterest– so there’s nothing revolutionary about this concoction.  However Miss Fats would like to think that her version does a pretty good job of recreating the ooey-gooey-ness that is a s’more experience.  Her version layers graham cracker crust with moist chocolate cake, stuffed with an oozing chocolate almond filling, and topped with a light and fluffy marshmallow frosting.  She has no idea how science works, but these little guys actually stay incredibly moist and gooey days after they’ve been properly torched on top as well.  Therefore they become the perfect make-ahead cupcakes for gatherings if you can manage to keep your hands off them.

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Now they probably seem like a lot of work: many components.  However these are damn easy cakes.  Miss Fats literally threw them together after an evening of gorging herself on Ethiopian food and was fighting an insane food coma the entire time. Yet, they came out even in her half-conscious state.  To make things even easier on yourself, she suggests splitting the work between two days: bake the cakes one day, frost the next.  No problemo.

S’mores Cupcakes:
makes 12 cupcakes (recipes all easily doubled)
cake adapted from The Ktchn’s Dark Chocolate Cake
frosting adapted from Baker’s Royale S’mores Rice Krispy Treats

cake:
about 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (Miss Fats ground up one package of the crackers from the standard box)
4 tbs melted butter
pinch of salt
1 cup + 1 tbs sugar, divided
1 cup scant flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup scant boiling water

filling:
1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Chocolate Almond Spread (or use Nutella)
3 tbs milk

frosting:
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cupcake pan (Miss Fats has not tried this without cupcake liners and she is fearful of what would happen without them. However if anyone out there gives it a shot, report back!)  In a small bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, 1 tbs of sugar and salt.  Mix in the melted butter, forming a crumbly crust.  Distribute evenly among the cups, packing it down with the back of your spoon or fingers.  Bake for about 10 minutes or until the crust just begins to brown.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix flour, remaining sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, soda and salt.  Add the eggs, oil and milk and whisk for approximately 2 minutes.  Add the hot water and mix until smooth. Distribute batter evenly among the crust cups and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

3. Make the filling: in a small bowl, warm the milk and spread in the microwave for about 30 seconds.  Whisk until smooth.  If the mixture seizes up at all, just microwave for an additional 30 seconds and patiently whisk away.

4. Make the frosting: in a large metal bowl, over a simmering pot of water, whisk the egg whites and sugar together.  Using a thermometer, gently heat the mixture to 160 degrees, whisking constantly (about 5-8 minutes).  Transfer mixture to your stand mixer and whip on high speed until it as cooled and soft marshmallow peaks have formed (about 10-12 minutes).

5. Assemble the cupcakes: Preheat your broiler (or ready your blow torch). Using a small spoon, scoop out the center of each cupcake, careful not to dig into the crust layer.  Spoon 1-2 tsps of the filling into each.  Transfer the frosting to a large ziplock bag and cut off the tip to form your ad hoc pastry bag.  Swirl the frosting over top each cupcake.  Transfer the cupcakes to a baking sheet and broil the tops of cakes until toasted (careful not to burn). (You can also skip this step, but come on, it’s not a s’more without a little toasted marshmallow).

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Instant summer in a cupcake.  This will bring back all the memories of campfire and messy s’more consumption in one bite.  It’s the perfect fun, nostalgic treat for any summer or birthday celebration.  Not to mention with the messed Chicago weather, this cake allows for optimal indoors s’more consumption.  Miss Fats hopes that you all get the chance to make some traditional campfire toasted s’mores soon, however, she’d like to think this cake can suffice in the meantime.

intensely coconut mini cake

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Last week was a big day for Miss Fats’ better half: J rang in her 30th year and a whole new decade of food adventures to be had.  Though she looks nowhere near her age, and is infinitely more exciting than any young person Miss Fats has ever encountered, J opted for a less rowdy, more intimate birthday celebration.  However just because J was being an adult, didn’t mean M needed to be.  Hence the craziest coconut cake ever.  This cake is a bit of a beast: not for casual or impatient baker.   However it really pays off in the end for those who love coconut more than life itself (which J does).

Since the gathering was a small group of six, Miss Fats opted for a minicake.  Now mini doesn’t mean less intense or less epic.  Instead she packed all the crazy times of a giant cake monstrosity into a nondescript mini version (she likes to think this intensifies the effect).  The cake features 4 moist layers of coconut cake with coconut pastry cream and strawberries.  The whole deal is then frosted with swiss buttercream and flaked coconut for good measure.  Lots of steps, but really worth it: both in looks and taste.

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The cake has been adapted from several recipes that have been altered and cut in half to make up for the mini form.  She assumes that any of these recipes below can be doubled for a large cake option.  Ultimately, you end up with a 6 inch stacked mini cake and a substantial bowl of extra coconut pastry filling (like you can’t figure out what to do with that).  Miss Fats went for strawberry filling to help balance the creamy coconuttiness, but any berry or tart option would do just fine.  Or if berries are out of season, just opt out. For this filling, Miss Fats created a half-cooked, half fresh filling so as to preserve the tart flavors of those fresh berries, while still holding it all together with some cooked jam-y fruit action. Miss Fats is going to take you through the steps carefully, but be warned that this cake is really more of a two-day process that requires periods of waiting and careful cake assembly work.  Plan ahead.

intensely coconut mini cake:
makes 1 4-layer 6 inch mini cake
cake adapted from What’s for Dinner?’s Truly Awesome Coconut Cake
coconut pastry cream adapted from
coconut swiss buttercream adapted from Willow Bird Baking’s Ultimate Moist, Fluffy Coconut Cake

cake:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coconut extract
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

coconut pastry cream:
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
good pinch of salt
1 1/2 egg yolks
1 tbs corn starch
1 tbs butter
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup flaked, sweetened coconut

strawberry filling:
1 pint of strawberries diced, divided
1/2 packet of unflavored gelatin
1 tbs sugar
1/4 cup water

coconut swiss buttercream:
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites at room temperature
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
good pinch of salt
1-2 cups of sweetened, flaked coconut

1. day 1, make the cake: Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 six-inch cake pans.  Beat butter and sugar on high in a large bowl or stand mixer until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each.  Add coconut extract.  On low-speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and coconut milk.  Increase speed to medium high and beat until combined (5-10 seconds).  Pour into pans and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from pan.

2. day 1, step 1 of the pastry cream: in a sauce pan, over medium, heat the coconut milk, sugar, salt, vanilla and coconut extracts.  In a small bowl, mix the corn starch and egg yolks until well combined.  Once the cream is hot, temper the yolks by carefully adding 1/4 cup of the milk to the bowl, whisking constantly.  Add the yolk mixture back to the sauce pan, whisking constantly. Continue to mix over medium high heat for 3 minutes (for the FULL 3 minutes!).  Add the butter and coconut flake and mix.  Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (make sure you press the plastic wrap onto the surface of the cream to prevent skin-formation).  Store in fridge until cake assembly or until fully cooled.

3. day 2, step 2 of the pastry cream: beat whipping cream until soft peaks form.  Fold into the chilled cream and set aside until assembly.

4. day 2, strawberry filling: in a sauce pan, melt the sugar, and gelatin in water over medium heat.  Add half of the pint of chopped strawberries and cook for 5 minutes, mashing the berries with your spoon.  Transfer to a small bowl and mix in the remaining berries.  Chill in the fridge or freezer while you make the frosting.

5. day 2, swiss buttercream: In a stand mixer, whip egg whites until soft peaks form.  While the eggs are beating, heat water and sugar in small sauce pan over medium high heat.  Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then stop.  Bring the mixture to 240 degrees.  Reducing the mixer speed to medium, carefully stream the hot sugar mixture into the whites, avoiding pouring onto the whisk. Increase speed to medium high and beat until stiff peaks form.  Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, beating until fully incorporated.  If buttercream appears curtled at any point, increase speed to high and beat until smooth.  Beat in extract until fluffy and smooth.

6. day 2, cake assembly: carefully cut each of your cake layers in half.  Lay down the first layer and pipe a ring of the buttercream around the edge of the cake to prevent the cream from oozing out.  Spread approximately 1/3 cup of the pastry cream onto the first layer.  Top with second layer.  Carefully spoon the strawberry filling on top, doing your best to create a thick, even layer.  Top with third layer.  Repeat the steps for a second layer of pastry cream.  Top with final layer.  Frost the outside of the cake with swiss buttercream (this doesn’t need to be pretty).  Using your hands, carefully pack the flaked coconut onto the sides and top of the cake.

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phew.  Miss Fats is exhausted.  However the cake is not complete just yet (or technically it is, but not up to Miss Fats’ standards).  Top off that insane cake with a cat face crafted of strawberries (see above).  Now you have the perfect coconut cat cake.

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Miss Fats likes to think that this is truly a celebration cake.  All the hard work and multiple steps are worth it for that perfectly layered slice of cake on a special day.  Sure, modifications can easily be made to make this thing easier (omit the berry filling in favor of more cream, and whip up your favorite simple buttercream recipe instead of the crazy swiss version), but she likes to think that the amount of work involved in the cake directly correlates to how important and wonderful the person you’re making it for is.  So break this recipe out for your next coconut-obsessed bff, lover or cat.  Or just spend a fun day making this crazy cake for yourself and then please eat it while rubbing an overweight cat’s round belly (careful not to get fur into that slice).

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