Friday, April 25th, 2014
Self-taught baker, blogger, and mother of five Amanda Rettke created her first surprise-inside cake four years ago. Since then, she has crafted countless confections that reveal rainbow hearts, butterflies, balloons, and even houses (!). The busy baker also homeschools her children, writes for FoodNetwork.com, and recently released her debut book, Surprise-Inside Cakes. Amanda’s recipes range from simple to intricate, so you can recreate her inventive designs no matter your level of kitchen experience. Read on for her tips for whipping up better-than-the-bakery desserts—it’s a piece of cake!
You were first inspired to bake a surprise-inside cake while preparing for a potluck. Where in the world did this idea come from?
To put it simply, I wanted to bring something completely different. It was Halloween and I knew everyone would have run-of-the-mill seasonal desserts. I knew I could make a pumpkin-shaped cake, but that wasn’t unique enough. When I saw a few white cupcakes sitting on my counter, the idea just hit me: pop them inside, in the shape of a candle. Honestly, I was shocked that it worked. And, ironically, that cake never made it to the potluck—we ate the entire thing at home!
And you had never done this before?
That’s right. In the kitchen, I had no formal—or even informal—training whatsoever. In fact, my husband did all the cooking when we first got married. So I had to teach myself everything. I was so terrible that the first time I tried to make a cake that I forgot to add some of the wet ingredients. Whoops!
So what’s the process like in creating one of these confections?
I use three general techniques. The first is deconstruction, when I stack multiple layers, cut shapes out, and fill in the holes with another piece of cake or a cake mixture [Rainbow Cake, page 41]. The second is batter manipulation, where I place different colored batters into the pan in a specific pattern [Leopard Cake, page 109]. And then there’s the twice-bake method [Candle Rose Cake, page 131], where I stick hand-molded cake shapes into new batter.
Okay, you’ve got me hooked. How do I begin?
Twice-baked is where to start. Cut a design from a sheet cake (like the hearts in my Candle Rose Cake) and place it in a clean cake pan. Then surround your shapes with cake batter, which acts as insulation and keeps everything moist.
And once I’ve mastered the twice-baked method, what’s next?
Move on to a layer cake. It seems simple, but it really does challenge your cutting, leveling, and frosting skills. Plus you’ll learn how to physically handle a cake and, in turn, build a strong comfort level required to move forward with other designs.
That’s easy enough. But with the other, more intricate cakes, it seems there is a lot of measuring and geometry involved…
Actually, there are only a few cakes that I’ve measured beforehand. Most others require such a trial and error process that I typically just get right into it: I dig in, cut out shapes, and add new colors and textures. To me, cake is a form of art.
With all this creativity, do your kids like to join in on the fun?
This is one of the best things you can with your kids. For my kids, the idea of making a cake and then playing with it is thrilling. I’ve also found ways to incorporate baking into home-school lessons: measuring, cutting, and building three-dimensional designs.
I can see beginners (like myself) getting frustrated when their cakes aren’t executed perfectly. Did this happen to you? How did you overcome it?
I’ve had more failures than successes by far, yet we’ve always found a way to hide the evidence … haha. But in all seriousness, I had more than 60 cakes that didn’t make it into the book. Because I’ll have an idea that I then try to create and it turns out nothing like it’s supposed to. For an important event, practice making your cake at least once ahead of time. Get a sense of what you need to improve on when you go to polish the final product before the big day. The plus side is that no matter what the result, you get to eat cake!
One of my favorite lines from the introduction is: “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be appreciated.” What does this mean to you?
You know, I really believe that mantra applies to all avenues of life, but especially with baking. There is a great debate between using boxed mixes and from-scratch recipes, but I just can’t embrace choosing sides. In my opinion the same amount of love goes into both. No one cares if you jazzed-up a store-bought treat or if your homemade cake slides halfway off in the car on the way there. When people bake and share their creations, they are simply spreading joy.
Where do you find the time to “practice, practice, practice,” as you advise, while balancing a high-traffic blog and busy family life?
The truth is everything doesn’t stay balanced. A typical day for me: We eat breakfast together as a family, and then the kids and I start school—sometimes that includes me holding a screaming baby, or changing a dirty diaper. Each day can be a struggle just as much as it can be a blessing. I can’t strive for perfection, but I do strive to make it through my day with peace. To us, the things that matter most are learning something at the end of every day, and figuring out how to be better the next.
Want more ideas? Try one of our super-simple birthday cakes.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
Images by Susan Powers; published with permission from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publisher.
Add a Comment
Amanda Rettke, baking, birthday cake, cake decorating, cookbook author, cooking with kids, dessert, easy recipe, Q&A, Rheanna O'Neil Bellomo, Surprise Inside Cakes | Categories:
Birthdays, Food, Time for Fun
Friday, December 20th, 2013
To me, French is the most beautiful language. It floats like a cloud and feels romantic. It’s the language of love. In high school, I worked my butt off to become proficient, taking honors-level classes, joining French club, and even becoming a teacher’s aid. I had dreams of keeping it in my daily life and raising bilingual children. Unfortunately, like a flower, language is delicate and must be tended everyday in order to flourish. When I got to college, my schedule doubled and I didn’t hold a single conversation en français.
Enter the French Institute Alliance Français (FIAF), a non-profit organization in New York City that promotes cross-cultural dialogue for children and adults alike. One of the largest and most respected centers of French-American activities in the U.S., FIAF offers art and education workshops for families.
Last Saturday, I tagged along to FIAF’s holiday bûche de Noël cooking class, where kiddos spoke elementary-level French to their moms and dads—c’est manifique!—while slathering layers of sponge cake with rich chocolate icing (and tons of red and green candies). Taught by Sylvie Berger, a chef raised in Paris, the class fully immersed children in the French language and was sprinkled with bits of English.
The bûche de Noël (“Christmas log,” or “Yule Log”) is a rolled sponge cake filled with buttercream and traditionally decorated with meringue mushrooms, marzipan holly, and wood-grain scored frosting. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Celtic celebrations of the winter solstice, but French pastry chefs popularized the confection in the 19th century and each bakery became known for its unique and elaborate embellishments. Today, few French people celebrate Christmas without one of these cakes.
Though messy, making the baby bûche was a blast! Take a look at my mini how-to video (click the play button), then make your own Christmas cake using one of the recipes below.
BAKE A BÛCHE!
Want more? Check out these recipes for easy holiday treats!
Add a Comment
baking, buche de noel, Christmas, cooking with kids, dessert, DIY, easy dessert, FIAF, french, getting your kids to do stuff, Holidays, recipe, Rheanna O'Neil Bellomo, yule log | Categories:
Food, GoodyBlog, Holidays
Monday, October 8th, 2012
Calling all bakers! Dream up your own cupcake creation for a chance to win drool-worthy goodies including a high-end stand mixer. Visit Reynolds Wrap on Facebook to design your own cupcake liner, and pair it with the virtual cake and icing of your choice. (And next time you’re in the kitchen, try the foil-lined StayBrite Baking Cups, which help prevent your batter from seeping out into a goopy mess.)
Submit your masterpiece by October 19, 2012, then check back on October 22 to vote for your fave. The winner will be selected by cupcake wizards Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, authors of the book Cupcakes, Cookies & Pie, Oh, My! (This duo really can make baking magic–just check out the wild cake Karen designed for our zoo-themed birthday bash.) Good luck!
Image: Many cupcakes via Shutterstock
Add a Comment
Thursday, October 6th, 2011
So what do you do when handed an irresistible invitation that reads, Scharffen Berger® Chocolate Maker Invites You to an Evening of Elevated Desserts with Acclaimed Pastry Chefs Elizabeth Falkner and Johnny Iuzzini? If you love chocolate and eat dessert first, you say “Yes, please!” and head to the event with the resident Food Editor (the lovely Erica Clark) to watch the chefs give new twists to classic sweets using Scharffen Berger® chocolate.
Foodies and fans of “Top Chef: Just Desserts” will recognize Johnny Iuzzini as one of the head judges (alongside Gail Simmons) and Elizabeth Falkner as one of the guest judges from season one. Iuzzini cut his teeth at Payard and is now the Executive Pastry Chef at Jean Georges restaurant in New York City while Falkner will soon be appearing on “The Next Iron Chef” and is the brainchild behind Orson restaurant and Citizen Cake bakery/ice cream parlor in San Francisco, CA.
In a room mostly full of women (yes, we do love our chocolate), Iuzzini started his demonstration of creating “Chocolate Pudding with Passion Fruit Gelée, Whipped Chocolate Crème Fraîche, and Cacao Nibs,” which was inspired by Jell-O Pudding Face ads, while Falkner began her demonstration of “Chocolate Gelato Sundae,” which was inspired by her love for ice cream. In order to make the ice cream solidify faster, Falkner used liquid nitrogen to freeze the milk-sugar mixture, which gave the demo a science-lab feel. (Both recipes are featured after the jump below.)
The audience was then divided into two groups to learn how to make each dessert (while wearing chefs hats and aprons). Ending up in Iuzzini’s group, I mixed dry ingredients (those are my hands, on the right, and me with Iuzzini, below) and watched as unsweetened natural cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate became a trifle with layers of passion fruit gelée, devil’s food cake (that incorporated mayonnaise), chocolate crumble, crème fraîche, pudding, and for garnish: passion fruit seeds and freeze-dried raspberries.
Afterwards, we were given a taste of the deeply delicious desserts — the chocolate pudding was a combination of sweet/sour and smooth/crunchy while the gelato sundae (garnished with chocolate cake bits, cocao nibs, and marshmallow cream) was a combination of sweet/bitter and crunchy/chewy.
Moms (and dads) all need a little “me” time, so if you’re a parent who loves chocolate, baking, and creating unusual spins on traditional desserts, consider making these two desserts as a treat for the family (the gelato sundae is more child-friendly, though you won’t need a nitrogen tank at home to make it!). Or enter the “Elevate a Classic Dessert with Scharffen Berger® Chocolate Contest” for a chance to win a grand prize of $10,000. The contest period is between October 1, 2011 – January 2, 2012.
Add a Comment
chocolate, contest, dessert, food contest, gelato, ice cream, ice cream sundae, recipe, recipe contest, recipes, scharffen berger, top chef | Categories:
Tuesday, July 19th, 2011
As a long-term pizza lover, I’ve always been fascinated by all the different ingredients people manage to pile on crust and call “pizza”. I thought a baked ziti pie was the most creative I’d seen until I came across Boboli s’mores pizza. Although definitely more of a dessert than a meal, it’s the perfect combination of yummy ingredients to satisfy a sweet tooth at any age. The best part about s’mores pizza? It can easily be made at home in less than 30 minutes. Follow Boboli’s recipe for the whole family to try!
1 12” Boboli Thin Pizza Crust
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup graham cereal
2 cups mini marshmallows
1. Preheat over to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
2. Place crust on the pizza pan or cookie sheet, and bake for 5 minutes
3. Remove crust from over and top with chocolate chops, graham cereal and marshmallows
4. Return to oven for 5-6 minutes until marshmallows are lightly toasted and chocolate is melted
More Boboli pizza recipes
Add a Comment
Tuesday, April 19th, 2011
If you’re looking for a decadent treat to add to your Easter celebrations this weekend, click on over to Somebody’s Mother. Their better-than-homemade chocolate and caramel sauces add a sweet touch to any dessert. And while you’re over there, check out their current “Simple Things” campaign to benefit USA Cares, which provides financial and advocacy aid to 9/11 US military service personnel, veterans and their families. Your $5 donation will give you the chance to post a story about someone who has been important in your life–whether it’s your mother, teacher or childhood best friend. And how’s this for a do-good bonus? The entrants with the best stories will win $500 gift cards.
Add a Comment