Chocolate Buttercream Frosting and Snakes

After baking the Hershey's Chocolate Cake yesterday (actually I baked two), today I need to make frosting. The birthday boy asked for a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and he also asked for a cake with snakes. He loves to read about snakes or watch the snake wranglers on television relocate a pesky one. My mission today is to make the frosting and decorate a cake with snakes.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting 

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or 1/2 pound), softened (but not melted)
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon almond extract
4 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Cream the butter for a few minutes in a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Turn off the mixer. Sift the powdered sugar and the cocoa powder into the mixing bowl. Turn the mixer on the lowest speed, (so that the dry ingredients do not blow everywhere) until the sugar and cocoa are absorbed by the butter. Increase the mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and cream. Beat frosting for 3 minutes. At this point, check the consistency of the frosting. If it needs to be stiffer, add a little more powdered sugar. If it needs to be a little thinner, add additional cream one tablespoon at a time. 

It might be tempting to skip the sifting step, but trust me, it's important. The frosting will be much smoother and creamier, no lumps.

An easy way to frost a cake is to drop several blobs of frosting on the top of the cake.

Dip an offset metal cake spatula in a tall glass of hot water and connect the dots.

Continue across the top and down the sides.

Both cakes are the basically the same, but this one is going to get a simple birthday message, and will probably be eaten by the adults.

 I decided to try using fondant for the snakes. This was my first time to work with fondant, and I learned some new things. I read about fondant before I tackled it. I learned that I could make it homemade or buy it ready to use. I opted to use the store bought version, and it comes in a variety of colors.

The fondant felt a lot like play doh, and it was easy to work with. It dries out pretty quickly though, so it needs to be kept in the package until you're ready to use it.

I used sprinkles for eyes and fruit roll-ups for tongues.

I think this realistic looking little guy might be my favorite.



Hershey's Chocolate Cake

Landon's birthday is coming up soon, and his request is that I bake a chocolate cake for him. We celebrated his birthday early when we were in Gulf Shores last week, and we're planning to celebrate it early again this weekend while his cousins Ginger and Charlie are in town to visit. So today I'm baking a chocolate cake to get ready for the birthday party this weekend.

Hershey's Chocolate Cake
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch pan (or two 9 inch round pans).

First, assemble the dry ingredients.

We'll be using 2 cups of sugar, 1 3/4 cups flour, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt.

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Then assemble the wet ingredients.

We'll need 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Add these wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer.

Set the timer for this. A lot of cakes are ruined by over mixing.

Then we need 1 cup of boiling water.

I made my boiling water in the microwave oven.

Pour the boiling water into the batter.

Stir in the water with a spatula.

The batter will be thin.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

For the 9 x 13 inch pan, bake about 40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the cake tests done with a toothpick. If you are using two 9 inch round pans, they need to bake 30 to 35 minutes.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Oh well, not a perfect release from the pan this time. But that's okay, frosting covers a multitude of boo boos. I should have cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of the pan for a perfect release. I'm going to put the cake in the freezer overnight. A frozen cake is much easier to frost. Tomorrow I'll make Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, and not only will it make the cake look better, it will taste good too!


Margarita Pie

The recipe that I am using today uses fresh fruit - limes and oranges - to make a cool summer dessert, Margarita Pie. This refrigerated pie can be made ahead if you are expecting company, as many of us are over the holiday weekend.

Margarita Pie 

1 1/4 cups finely crushed pretzels
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1 container (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed

Begin with the crust. There are only three ingredients, pretzels, butter, and sugar.

Place the pretzels in the bowl of a food processor.

Process until pretzels are finely crushed.

To make the crust, melt 1/2 cup butter. Measure 1/4 cup sugar and 1 1/4 cups crushed pretzels.

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl; mix well.

Pour into a 9 inch pie plate.

Press mixture onto bottom and sides of the pie plate. This small roller is a big help for tasks like this. When crust is complete, place in refrigerator to chill.

Other than the fruit juices and zest, the only ingredients that are needed for the filling are sweetened condensed milk and frozen whipped topping.

We need 2 teaspoons of lime zest . . .

. . . and 1/4 cup of lime juice . . .

. . . and 1/4 cup of orange juice.

Pour the sweetened condensed milk in a large bowl.

Combine the milk with the lime zest, lime juice, and orange juice.

Fold in the whipped topping.

Pour filling into prepared crust.

Garnish with lime slices, if desired. Refrigerate until chilled. Fresh, light, and cool

I'm not sure which part of this pie is better - the filling or the crust. The crust is a combination of salty and sweet. The filling is creamy and has the blend of fresh lime and orange flavors.


Oven Fried Chicken

Today I'm making an easy main dish for a family meal. It is a healthy alternative to real fried chicken because this version is baked. Not that I don't like real fried chicken - I love it - but we need choices. Sometimes for our own good, we need to choose baking over frying. I used boneless, skinless chicken breast for this recipe, but you might want to use drumsticks if you have children who like them.

Oven Fried Chicken
1 1/4 cups finely crushed saltine crackers or rich round crackers (about 35)
1 beaten egg
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 to 2 pounds boneless chicken
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a baking pan by covering with aluminum foil, then spraying the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Start with a pack of saltine crackers.

Put the crackers in the bowl of a food processor.

Process until all crackers are finely crushed.

Now that the crackers are crushed and ready, let's assemble the rest of the ingredients that we will be using to make the chicken coating for this recipe.

We will be using an egg, milk, paprika, and black pepper along with the crushed crackers.

In a small bowl, combine 1 egg and 3 tablespoons milk.

In another bowl, combine crushed crackers, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Landon did the measuring for this step.

He then stirred the spices into the crushed crackers.

The next step is to prepare the chicken.

I had some thick boneless chicken breasts, so I cut them in half to make smaller pieces.

Then each piece of chicken should be dipped into the egg/milk mixture, then into the crushed cracker mixture . . .

. . . then placed on the prepared pan.

Then melt 2 tablespoons butter and drizzle over the chicken pieces.

Bake, uncovered, in preheated 375 degree F oven for 45 to 55 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Do not turn chicken pieces while baking.

The small, boneless pieces that I baked took 45 minutes to cook. Thicker pieces, or pieces with bone will take longer. Set the timer for the shorter baking time and check, then add time if needed.

This chicken is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

And, an extra benefit to this recipe is the clean up. After we finished dinner and put away the leftovers, this is what the baking pan looked like.

Until I removed the dirty foil to throw it away.

The pan was shiny and clean, not a drop of grease. I like to cook. I like to eat. I hate dirty dishes.