July 2012

Making Rainbow Cake and Cupcakes

Requires: Cake mix, food coloring and frosting... and maybe some sprinkles...
The internet loves rainbow cake and cupcakes, and for good reason! You get a surprisingly wonderful effect for remarkably little work. It's so easy that kids can do it (if they are old enough to spoon out ingredients without too much trouble) and so simple that the instructions barely need to be written out.
Theoretically, rainbow cake and rainbow cupcakes are best served at a kid's birthday party. But why stop there? I know plenty of adults who would squeal in delight to cut into a cake and find a rainbow. It's fun! Why not spice up the next office party with some rainbow color? Or you can be the star of the next potluck! Trust me: people will be talking about this cake. And it's so easy to make!
The functioning principle behind rainbow cake is that if you spoon cake batter carefully into a pan, it doesn't mix very much. If you have ever made marble cake, you know how well this works. 

Make your boxed brownies better

Brownies! Need I say more?

By far, brownies are my favorite dessert. They are simple to bake, and they always satisfy a chocolate craving. Of course, I love to make them from scratch, but sometimes using a mix is so much more convenient. When I do have to turn to Betty Crocker, I always toss in a few extra ingredients to make my boxed brownies taste more like homemade.

Face cake!

I want to say it with Jazz Hands: Face cake! I had one this weekend, although regrettably the face was mine: a school photo from the first grade, where I was looking adorably irritated. Whose face will you put on your face cake? Which photo would you select for your brother's or sister's birthday? What about your best friend's birthday? How about - ew - for a baby shower?

Face cakes were popularized in a recent AT&T commercial, where a departing colleague exclaims "Oh boy, face cake!" These edible delights can be made by many bakeries, although you will want to plan ahead: many smaller bakeries have to send out to have the photo printed.

Farm animal cupcakes

Finally, a food with a face that even vegetarians can enjoy!

You know what food is really hot these days? Cupcakes. Whether it’s the fault of Duff Goodman, “Cupcake Wars,” or the Food Network in general, gourmet cupcake stores are popping up all over the nation. I myself have never had a “gourmet” cupcake, but I’ve had fancy ones that we’ve decorated ourselves, which is even more fun.

Why not have a cupcake decorating party for your next club or group event? You can either make the cupcakes ahead of time—from scratch or from a box, your choice!—or bake them together, and then put out a bunch of different decorations for the kids to use to customize their own cupcake creations.

A favorite for my family is definitely animals. My daughter is six and animals are her favorite things on earth, so you can bet that they’re our favorite artistic activity as well. You can make all kinds of animals out of cupcakes, including farm animals. Here are just a few ways you can do that.

Halvah: Sesame delicious!

Halvah is one of those foods that has generally escaped the attention of America at large. This kosher treat is popular in Jewish communities, of course, and its Middle Eastern heritage also makes it a favorite staple of international grocery stores. It is also something I consider fondly as a childhood treat, because for whatever thought process was involved, my mother often used to buy it at the grocery store. I doubt there were many other kids in Alaska in the 1980s who ate a lot of halvah, but I certainly did.

Halvah is a dense, sweet treat which, in the form you usually encounter in America, is made of crushed sesame seeds sweetened with honey. (There are other forms of halvah, but I have not personally found any of them for sale here.) 

The finer points of apple pie

Every apple pie recipe is lying to you. It is lying by virtue of being a recipe, of pretending to tell you that the same amount and combination of ingredients will work without fail. This is untrue. Apples vary; they vary from species to species, and from one batch to the next. 

The amount of sugar you want to use, the amount of flour or corn starch - or if you even bother to include either flour or corn starch - depends on your apples. No recipe can tell you the exact proportion with 100% accuracy, because no recipe knows what your apples are like. Heck, YOU don't even know what they are like until you start slicing them.