Monthly Archives: June 2015

Fifth Birthday for the Twins

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This year, I was told that the boys wanted chocolate cake, and the theme should be Star Wars. Now I am somewhat at a loss when it comes to Star Wars; I am certain that at some time I saw at least one of the movies, but I remember nothing in particular except there was Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia. Wow, that probably was the 1977 movie!!

So, I came up with three ideas. First, I know the kids like the pull-apart cupcakes and my first thought was to make something that would be mostly a shape formed from cupcakes. The most obvious shape to me seemed to be the space ship- Millenium Falcon. I also found some cake toppers of Luke and Darth battling it out with their light sabers. I decided to give the cake some third dimension by making it from a combination of regular size and mini cupcakes.

I tried to make all my cake batter this year from a “semi-home-made” recipe. I had gotten the ideas for adding/changing ingredients of a standard boxed cake mix from the Decorette Shop which were to make the cake tastier and fuller. I had some problems and need to run some further experiments before I publish all the directions for making “semi-home-made” cakes. Needless to say, for most of the cake I made for this year’s birthdays, I use triple chocolate cake mix in a box.
To keep from killing the chocolate taste of the cake, I chose to use almost exclusively a white chocolate butter cream frosting. I wanted the lighter color of the white chocolate rather than a brown chocolate. I then colored small amounts of the frosting for the black and blue piping on the figures. I also colored some of the frosting into a blue-grey color to represent metal. That shows up on the Death Star.
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If the cupcakes of the Millennium Falcon were primarily for the kids, then the Death Star was primarily for taste, and for the adults. I started by making two dome cakes- again with the semi-home-made triple chocolate batter. Then I split each dome horizontally into fourths and filled it. I took the ideas for filling from the cookies that Mindy made on my last trip to Seattle- Salted Caramel & Nutella Stuffed Double Chocolate Chip. So the top layer is filled with Nutella, the middle layer is chocolate- make that white chocolate ganache with a touch of strawberry jam- and the bottom layer is the salted caramel ganache. Finally, I had to frost the cake somewhat like a death star might appear. The photo I found showed it as a metal egg with lots of black “windows”. I had a bunch of engineering to do to get the cake put together. First there was getting the windows on it. I decided to try to stencil the black onto the gun metal gray. I thought I had the stencils all figured out, but I didn’t account for the contour of the egg not being constant, but instead having some points that had different radii because my frosting wasn’t exactly the same thickness all over. I also had a stenciling problem, primarily on the bottom rows, where I didn’t get the gray smooth enough; the stencils allowed the black to creep under their edge and make a mess where the frosting should have stayed gray.

Perhaps the bigger engineering problems was to make the lower dome stand on its small end, and support the upper dome. I used some of the ideas from Cake Decorating Level 1 for stacked cakes- the final lesson in that class.

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Finally, I felt the boys needed something on the order of a standard birthday cake with candles to blow out, and so I made two 10 inch round cake layers as a starting point; I was devoting one of the layers to each of the boys. Again, I split the layers and filled them with white chocolate ganache, and then frosted the sides of the cakes in white chocolate butter cream. Here is where I changed courses slightly. I frosted the tops of the cakes in chocolate butter cream. I actually did two layers on top; the first layer is a standard frosting, and then I thinned the frosting to near liquid form so that it would run and re-frosted the top of the cake pushing the extra frosting over the sides to run down the white sides of the cake. I had seen something like this done and wanted to try it.

The reason for going brown on the top of the cakes was so the Storm Troopers would stand out. They are all white, and they hold the candles for the birthday cakes.
The Storm Troopers are white cupcakes, cored and filled with white chocolate ganache, frosted with white chocolate butter cream with a marshmallow as a head stuck on top. I used a special food marking pen to draw the face mask on the marshmallow. I have to give credit for the technique to a blogger with the name Maija.

Having delivered the cakes, and tasted some of them, I think the Storm Trooper cupcakes were the most tasty; they were light, and moist because of the ganache in the center. I was disappointed with the Death Star for several reasons. I had added chocolate chips to the batter, and that made it very dense; it was not light and moist. The fillings did not do the trick. Because the Nutella was on the top layer, there was not much of it. The middle ganache layer seemed to lose its body- perhaps any moisture in it was absorbed by the cake. And I didn’t think the salted caramel really was strong enough for the amount of cake and frosting there was. We did not cut into the platform cakes, but I believe they should be better than the Death Star, but probably still too dense.
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I have updated the article on Icings, Glazes and Frostings to include the directions for making white chocolate ganache and crusting white chocolate buttercream frosting.

Antipasto Salad

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I had the opportunity to visit Italy several years ago, and one thing I remember is that they made eating an event. There are potentially more courses in a menu than I could even begin to need, but the main eating seems to be the Antipasto course, followed by the Primo course- which is pasta, and then the Secundo course, which is meat based. It is easy to see where Antipasto got its name, coming before the pasta course.

Antipasto is typically cold dishes, and features meats, cheeses and vegetables. In the United States, we will typically have small plates of Salami or Pepperoni, Boconcini or Mozzarella, marinated Artichoke hearts, Olives, and Pepperoncini.

Rather than having multiple small dishes of different foods, this recipe suggests mixing the foods together in a salad. Let me be clear- this recipe is not a fixed specification like most recipes, but is just a starting point for ideas of what to include in an Antipasto Salad. You should add and subtract to make the salad your idea of what gives you the taste of Italy.

Antipasto Salad


  • 1/2 cup fresh Basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 small head Romaine
  • 6 oz. roasted red peppers, drained and cut into strips
  • 8 oz. Pepperoncini, drained, and stemmed
  • 8 oz. marinated boconcini or mozzarella, cut into small chunks
  • 6 oz. sliced pepperoni or salami
  • 6 oz. marinated artichoke hearts, drained and halved (if whole)
  • 1 cup oil-cured black olives
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes


  • Combine the Basil leaves and vinegar in a food processor and process until smooth
  • Cut the Romaine into 1 inch pieces
  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes
  • Best when served with a crusty bread

Just a suggestion: If you are going to include the pepperoncini, I would suggest cutting them into rings rather than leaving them whole. They are easier to eat as part of the salad, rather than picking them up by themselves.
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Again, the above is just a suggestion and a hint of what you might like from the small antipasto dishes to go into your salad. Or you might even want to leave something out, like the pepperoncini if you don’t like the heat.

Dill Pickle Soup

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What do you do with the juice in the jar of dill pickles? Marlys loved dill pickles, and there was always a jar of some type of dill pickles in the refrigerator; whole, spears or slices. And, after obtaining this recipe from the Trianon restaurant, we always seemed to have a jar of the juice from the dill pickles. Whenever we finished a jar of pickles, the juice was collected for making soup.

For the record, Trianon was a local restaurant that didn’t make it, and has long since disappeared.

This soup has body from the thickened flour and heavy cream, but it retains the dill pickle taste.

Chef Otto’s Dill Pickle Soup


  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup onion, cut julienne
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups dill pickle juice
  • 2 4-inch dill pickles, cut julienne
  • 2 teaspoons fresh or dried dill weed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • > Poultry Seasoning to taste
  • > salt and ground white pepper to taste
  • > croutons for garnish


Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft. Add wine and continue cooking until almost all liquid evaporates. Reduce heat and stir in flour. Do not brown. Cook awhile to make sure flour is not pasty.

Combine water and pickle juice and whisk into the mixture all at once. Increase heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until soup thickens. Add pickles and dill weed. Stir in cream. Season with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.

Serve hot. Garnish each serving with croutons.

I made my own croutons by toasting bread and then cutting off the crusts and slicing the toast into small squares.

I always heat the water I am going to add so that the soup does not lose too much temperature when the water is added; I keep a tea kettle on the stove.

My herbs are not yet mature enough that I could collect fresh dill from the garden, so I used the dried dill.

I dislike the directions of adding spices “to taste”; my taste might be very different from yours. But, I also don’t have a good answer for how much to add. I think I had about 1/4 teaspoon of each of the three ingredients- Poultry Seasoning, salt, and white pepper.