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Just a Li'l Wedding Cake

  Emma and I didn't have the smoothest of sisterhoods. Remarkably different personalities and behavior traits when we were young caused a good amount of clashing—especially when we shared a room. Her walls were always painted black, mine had every color under the sun. She liked the dark light-blocking curtains, I liked lava lamps and was outside as soon as the sun was up. God, I bet she hated me for that.

  But something weird happened when she graduated and left home. I started getting letters and emails from her--and then when I got a phone, texts and birthday calls. Maybe it was the 4 hour distance between us, or that we both matured remarkably. Then somehow, I found out just how similar we were. Every messy situation with a boyfriend, every frustrating math problem, and mental breakdown about my future...she was always there. I started seeing my sister as a friend, and she is still the first one I call with good news, bad news, or what have you.

  So we've had our ups and downs, and the in betweens. But my family is something that I have grown to be very thankful for. They've seen me through 2 different colleges, breakups, moving across the country for 2.5 months, and so many indecisive breakdowns. Getting to celebrate my sister's marriage with them was priceless. 

  Making the cake, however, was incredibly daunting.

  I tested, I tasted, I drowned in caramel and butter and chocolate. When everything was as prepared as it could be and in the freezer, I made myself a humongous fresh salad and watched Netflix. Fresh veggies and good dressing are exceptional after hours of being surrounded by nothing but cake and frosting.

  I'm so pleased that my little test cake went so well. If you're wondering about my sources for all of this, it's basically all Martha Stewart with a smattering of Sweetapolita and Everyday Annie.

  I pinterested and googled all things "semi-naked cake" and how-to's on tiering, frosting, freezing, assembling...because I've never done anything so massive in my life. But with some wooden dowels, many chillings in the fridge, and my brave/strong father carrying the massive beast out to the wedding tent...it all came together somehow.

  With an audible sigh of relief, I had done it. Caramel from scratch, frosting from scratch, cake from scratch, mocha chocolate beer from Southern Tier...it all came together. Emma's sweet tooth for all things salted caramel and Mercedes' love of all things coffee/stout were united into one beautiful masterpiece.

  I had so many people pull me aside with nothing but praise for this non-traditional (and very rich) treat.

  And, you know, that's all great and well and good...but that look up there, on my sister's face? That's what makes me so proud that I was a part of any of it. Her happiness has been long awaited and is much deserved. And I love her and her sweet lady so much.

  Happy cake-ing, and marriage-ing <3

PC for all Mercedes'/Emma photos goes to Cumberland Weddings


Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

  There's something funny about this past August. Things were all topsy-turvy, and somehow things were also just the same. Right now it's averaging 70 degrees and things are weird and chilly in my drafty li'l apartment.

  I came home last Sunday with an armload of fresh tomatoes from my man's mom's garden. God I love fresh produce. I love the smell, the taste, the everything. Maybe I'll have a garden one day when I'm a real adult with a real yard. 

  But for now, I mooch off of other people's labor. And fresh tomatoes are what I eat all summer long.

  That being said--I still can't eat 3 lbs. of tomatoes in the short time window in which they remain fresh.

  So some went towards a fresh mozzarella, corn and tomato salad. The rest (which included a lively blend of orange cherry and red romas) were roasted and boiled into this delicious, slightly time-consuming, but totally worth it soup. With a grilled cheese or some avocado toast in hand, you've got a real delightful little meal on your hands. And with some to spare for the freezer for those chillier months. 

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Yield: 10-12 servings
  • 3 lbs. ripe tomatoes, halved with seeds scooped out (if using some cherry tomatoes, just roast 'em whole)
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1½ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (or dried)
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2-3/4 cup heavy cream, if desired
  • fresh mozzarella chunks for serving, if desired

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  Combine the tomato halves, ¼ cup of olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl; toss well to combine.  Spread the tomato halves out on a large baking sheet.  Roast the tomatoes for 45 minutes.

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the butter and heat until the butter is melted.  Add the onions, garlic and red pepper flakes to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly soften, about 7-10 minutes.  Add in the canned tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, basil, thyme and chicken stock.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, 40 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until completely smooth.  (Alternatively, you can use a blender or food processor.  If you do, be sure to vent the steam and be very careful not to spill the hot liquid!) Return the soup to the stove and add the heavy cream. Heat on medium-low until well incorporated and warmed through. Enjoy!

Sources: adapted from Everyday Annie, originally from Baking Blonde


Chocolate Stout Cake with Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  I'm tired. I got my wisdom teeth yanked, I work 6 days a week, and I helped my significant other with moving all the things last week. I have approximately zero social energies. Things have just been one thing after the other here, and this lil cake is right in the thick of it.

  I have the honor of creating my eldest sister's wedding cake. Yes, this is an arduous task, but so far I have had such a fun time researching for this. What you see pictured is what will be the top tier of a 3-story semi-naked caked.

  This rich little beaut packs a punch. The cake's ever-lasting moisture is accomplished by a glorious mixture of fancy Irish butter, sour cream, and an imperial chocolate stout from the brewery Southern Tier (as one of the brides-to-be loves a good, dark beer). The cake is the perfect texture, in my humble opinion. It's dense, but not so dense that it would be mistaken for a brownie (especially not at room temperature).

  The frosting is more for my sister's taste. Neither she or her fiancĂ© are big frosting fans, hence the naked-cake-look. So I decided to steal my parent's stand mixer and tackle the elusive but incredibly tasty swiss meringue buttercream. SMB on its own is superb, but I've been making my sister small batches of caramel as gifts ever since I learned how to melt sugar. Naturally, I whipped up a large batch of salted caramel and poured a hefty amount into the frosting for flavor.

  Then, dear gawd, the research I did on how to tier/what dowels to purchase/how the heck you even frost  and divide layers evenly...let's just say my boyfriend can easily attest to the hours I spent poring over youtube videos and articles on my laptop.

  Nerd for life.

  Unfortunately, the final stacking and tackling of the cake is yet to come. And possibly even some spun sugar...? Who knows!  Either way, the best way to finish this little taste cake off was with a generous drizzle of ganache and a smattering of coarse sea salt to compliment the sweetness.

  And whooda thunk that Martha Stewart would have all of my bases covered in one simple google search for flavors?  Crazy, man.

  I dare say, I think it's going to come out just fine. And if you don't take my word for it, try this baby cake out for yourself, and then just see if you can keep your fork out of it.

Chocolate Stout Cake with Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Yield: one 4-layer, 6-inch cake

Ingredients for the caramel:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons at room temperature

Ingredients for the cake:
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for pans
  • 3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for pans
  • 1 cup stout or porter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp + 2 tsp sour cream (sorry for the weird amounts, had to cut 1/3 cup in half)

Ingredients for the frosting:
  • 5 large, fresh egg whites 
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold
  • 1/2 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup of cooled caramel sauce

Ingredients for the ganache:
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (56 to 61 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces

First, prepare the caramel sauce, so it has time to set and cool at room temp

Heat cream in a small saucepan over low (alternatively, microwave it for about 30 seconds, until warm). In a medium saucepan, stir together sugar, corn syrup, and 1/3 cup water; cook over medium-high, without stirring, until mixture is dark amber in color, about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat; carefully pour in cream (mixture may splatter) and stir until smooth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until a candy thermometer reads 238 degrees, about 2 minutes.
Pour mixture into a medium heatproof bowl; stir in salt and vanilla. Let cool about 15 minutes, then stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let cool completely.

To prepare the cake, in a large saucepan over medium, bring stout and butter to a simmer. Remove from heat; whisk in cocoa powder until smooth. Let cool completely. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 6-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with parchment; butter parchment. Dust pans with cocoa powder; tap out any excess.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs and sour cream and vanilla until combined. Add stout mixture and beat on low speed until combined; then add flour mixture and beat until combined. Fill each pan halfway with batter (you will have some extra batter, sorry not sorry).

Bake until top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes, then turn cakes out of pans, invert right-side up, and let cool completely. Wrap cakes in plastic wrap and let chill in fridge overnight. (this isn't mandatory, but it does make the cakes much easier to handle).

For the frosting, wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice or white vinegar, to remove any trace of grease (it's a good idea to wipe down anything you'll be using for mixing the meringue). Combine egg whites and sugar in mixer bowl, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking 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).
With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). *Don't begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.

Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). *If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together. Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined. Once everything is smooth and fluffy, add in 1 cup of caramel sauce and mix until combined.

To assemble, slice the cake layers in half with a serrated knife and level the tops, if necessary. Stack and frost your cake as desired. 

To make the ganache, place chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium, bring cream just to a boil, then pour over chocolate and let stand 1 minute. Stir until smooth and shiny, then stir in butter. Let stand 10 minutes before using. Drizzle over the top of the cake and sprinkle with coarse sea salt, if desired.  Best served at room temperature.

Sources: frosting help from Sweetapolita; cake, ganache, and caramel from Martha Stewart