Incredible Vanilla Cake with Swiss Buttercream

It was with a heart brimming with love that I accepted the thoughtful request to make a cake for one of my favorite couples! This was to be no ordinary cake - this cake would serve as the announcement for the gender of their bundle of joy. What an extraordinary mission for any baker and friend!

Truth be told - I wasn't 100% clear on the concept - only that I would know the gender before everyone else. Gender reveal cakes typically involve coloring the cake pink or blue so that when the first slice is cut, the entire party learns at the same time the baby's gender.  It took some undisclosed confusion on my part to realize that not even the parents would know the contents of their latest sonogram. It was coming straight from the doctors office to my house! That's when the gravity of the task at hand dawned on me. 

So let's break it down.

First thing first. The family wanted a vanilla cake which means you need a rock star vanilla extract. Enter the Rodelle Reserve Pure Vanilla  Extract Madagascar Bourbon. It is a total show stopper and makes all the difference when walking that thin line between vanilla and yellow cake. I never thought extract could make such a difference but my goodness this bottle smells like heaven. The flavor is concentrated so for your standard recipe, half the amount to start. I used this extract in everything - from the frosting to the simple syrup.

In terms of the actual cake. I don't like to title posts with lavish praises like, "the worlds best" or "greatest ever." There are so many recipes out there and talented bakers - it's impossible to make such claims. I will say, however, this is one incredible vanilla cake and I am so happy that I found it. It comes from the site "How To Cake It" and is demonstrated in a helpful YouTube tutorial. Be patient with the directions - they're tailored so that you can customize the recipe for any size cake (this Wilton chart helped me).

The cake is strong enough that it can be easily frosted and transported yet moist enough that it will make you weak in the knees. Just look at this beautiful, layered behemoth! To help seal the deal, I added vanilla to the simple syrup.

Rather than add color to the cake batter, we decided to go with the pinata version of the gender reveal cake. Keep in mind that you need a bottom layer and a top layer to help sandwich in the filling! From there, cut out the shape you want to serve as the candy container. Glue the layers together with frosting and pour in the filling, sealing with the top layer. The parents slice into the cake and out pours the color-coordinated treat our your choice. I highly recommend custom M&Ms for their cuteness and quality. If you have a few extra, toss them in between the layers of the frosting or bag them as a souvenir for the parents.

The frosting was, as always, my tried and true best friend for life - Swiss Buttercream from Smitten Kitchen. If that recipe was a drinking game, you would get completely trashed by this blog and for good reason: it's delicious and reliable.

The actual decorating portion of this cake did not go according to plan. I loved the base with it's ruffles and even the rustic top. The cake topper is super duper cute - special thanks to Rustic Daisy Designs. Dust with your choice of food-grade luster dust to add a slight glimmer to frosting after its had a chance to firm up in the fridge.

What I didn't love was the gold fondant stars. I wanted varying sizes of stars and had poor luck finding a set that went as small as I wanted. As I stomped around the house frustrated, my wonderful husband jumped in and made these. It was a last minute decision to use them and though I'm still not that crazy about the overall look- I do appreciate Mike's unconditional support. Thank you, darlin!

At  the end of the day, all that matters was the look on the parent's faces when they learned they were having a son. I've never seen a couple learn the gender of their child and it was honestly a magical moment. I can't really put into words the sparkle in their eyes or how genuine their smiles. This lovely young lady and I have been friends since college, from Ishq Kameena to Costa Rica, and it's an honor to have shared in this experience. Thank you both for trusting me. I love you already little man and cannot wait to meet you!

Incredible Vanilla Cake with Swiss Buttercream
Vanilla Cake from How To Cake It
Swiss Buttercream from Smitten Kitchen
Vanilla Simple Syrup

Easy Coffee Cake

Let me say this loud and clear... because I had to convince two friends of this fact before they would even take a bite of cake: there is any coffee in this recipe. So why is it called coffeecake when there's no coffee in it? Honestly, I never questioned the name. It could be inferred that it was traditionally served with (you guessed it) coffee! A little internet browsing reveals that the original versions of this cake were Danish, yeast-based, and actually did contain coffee. The American version has no yeast and  is easy to make - ideal for a quick coffee break.

Personally, I assumed it was a fact of life that the two simply went hand in hand. It was common to come home from high school and be hit by a wave of delicious smells and laughter upon opening the front door.  At the kitchen table, my mom and her Portuguese church buddies had just finished saying the rosary and were enjoying a spread of simple sweets, coffee, tea, and fruit. This almost always included Entenmann's coffeecake, hence the association forged in my mind.

Origin stories and childhood memories aside, coffeecake is a delight. It pairs beautifully with a cup of coffee because of the brown sugar and cinnamon, as demonstrated in the Magic Iced Coffee post. The crumble topping demands it be served with some form of beverage! If you don't care for cafe, make a cup of chai or a simple glass of milk. 

This recipe includes a lovely layer of streusel in the middle that, in my opinion, is iconic of coffeecake. It's hard a line to walk as I've seen similar recipes dodge this aspect of the cake and call it a "crumb cake" instead. A likely story ya lazy bastards. Kidding.

The only qualm I may have with this cake - and this is 100% personal - is level of fluff to the dough. The batter is supposed to sturdy and solid, that's why it's not stressful to bake. However, I have recently experienced the sour cream version of coffeecake - thank you Red Truck Bakery - and it's been a bit of a game changer. I'm going to have to experiment with recipes until I can form a true opinion on the difference.
Overall, this is a solid, homey version of coffeecake. It's easy to make, the ingredient list is short, and there are no frills. Heck, throw in some nuts to the streusel if you want to be risky. This would be magnificent for unexpected company and you don't have time to wait on cookies to chill in the fridge. 

The recipe for this easy coffeecake with streusel crumb topping can be found on Go Go Go Gourmet!

Healthier Banana Bread

Enjoy a slice of banana bread with a little less guilt. This banana bread from Cookie + Kate is engineered to be healthier thanks to the lack of granulated sugar. Instead, the sweetness comes from maple syrup - one of my favorite ingredients. There's no buttery richness but that's okay - you won't even notice because of the banana's natural creaminess. Use the oil of your choice (or fully embrace olive oil with this recipe). And as for the flour, this recipe incorporates whole wheat rather than all-purpose. The only minor addition that I made was this happy sprinkling of chia seeds on top of the loaf. I like the crunch that they add and they help fill you up!

It's easy to make and quick to bake. Well not really - it takes almost an hour. But it's delicious with tons of customization options to make it vegan, gluten-free, and/or dairy-free. It's incredibly versatile so make it your own! I personally love walnuts with bananas and threw in a couple handfuls.

So take those sad, brown bananas wasting away on the kitchen counter and mash them up into something delicious, filling, and perfect for breakfast!

The recipe for this Healthier Banana Bread can be found on Cookie + Kate!

Chocolate Dipped Almond Biscotti {Gluten Free}

Staring into our refrigerator, my eyes settled on a bag of almond meal flour.  That sad bag of barely used flour. I had purchased it for an almond cake that bombed. After that, the bag had slowly descended further and further into the recesses of the fridge. Poor almond meal flour. It wasn't your fault that the cake didn't work out. 

Letting things go bad in the fridge is a huge pet peeve of mine. Anytime I find something that's fallen by the wayside - hiding behind a bottle or pushed to the far back where it can only peek out - a small fire burns inside me. I hate to be wasteful. You may as well throw away some money - which in turn is throwing away the time you spent earning that money in the first place - and wasting the environments resources. Ahem. 
Long story short. I had to use the almond meal four!

As luck would have, I found this recipe for biscottis that is a combination of a whole cup of almond meal plus some gluten-free flour. Add some maple syrup for sweetness and little almond extract for fragrance. Sprinkle the topping of your choice - I used a little more almond but mini chocolate chips would be great too!

Since this is a gluten-free recipe, it calls for a teaspoon xanthan gum to serve as a binding agent. I bypassed this part because I rarely use the stuff and it aint cheap. With two eggs in the batter, it held its form. If it's too dry, sprinkle a few drops of water. As you can see, it worked out quite nicely!

Overall, these make great cookies! My husband exclaimed that these are the only biscottis he's ever truly enjoyed. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Like I said, they're great COOKIES but they didn't pass my BISCOTTI test. A biscotti must be perfect for dipping in a cup of coffee. It needs to be able to suck in the liquid and briefly hold it. When I dipped these biscotti, they held their shape like a statue. Even after a minute in the cup, they failed to absorb any liquid. That's no surprise though - they are made of almonds after all- nature's sponge (kidding). If you're a biscotti purist like me, these won't hit the mark but they make a darn good cookie.

The recipe for these tasty Chocolate Dipped Almond Biscottis can be found on Fit Food Finds!

Almond Cake with Raspberry Filling and Swiss Buttercream

This year for my mother's birthday, we decided to marry the best of all world's by ordering dinner at one of her favorite restaurants and picking it up for a nice, stay-in evening. No big mess in the kitchen to clean up and more time to bake? Sounds like a win to me.

Since it was a meal for four, I didn't want to make a big confection with lots of leftovers. My favorite cakes are always the small ones! Especially a 6-inch round, it's just right! They're more fun to decorate and you can spend extra time on the details.

The flavor of this cake is almond but it's really white in disguise. Yes, white is a flavor. That means egg whites for a nice, airy texture and an open palette for customization. I've used white cakes for several specialized flavors like Blue Moon and Thai Iced Tea. Simply pick your favorite white cake recipe and use a bit of almond extract.

The filling is my favorite raspberry spread- nothing fancy but full of delicious flavor. You can find the Bonne Maman Raspberry Preserves at your standard grocery store. Use as much as you want, just make sure that you line the border of the cake with a sturdy frosting so it doesn't ooze out. I may have overdone it a touch this round.

And lastly of course was the swiss buttercream. As if I ever use anything other than the recipe from Smitten Kitchen! It's just too reliable to turn away. I added a few drops of almond extract just for fun but you can keep it vanilla. The color comes from the slightest bit of rose food dye as I don't like using artificial elements. You can imagine my devastation when I realized mint chocolate chip ice cream isn't naturally green!

At some some point, I would love to try this Almond Cream Frosting or experiment with this naturally tinted Hibiscus buttercream, but not this day. I needed a frosting that does well in the piping bag! My mother loves flowers, especially roses hence the decoration. This is one occasion where form trumps function. Just look at that adorable birthday girl's smile!

No fuss, no muss for a classy birthday for a classy lady!

As stated, the recipe for the Almond Cake can be found on Tastes of Lizzzy T's with basic raspberry preserves as the filling and Smitten's Swiss Buttercream.