Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Cake and Tennis Neck

Okay, I admit it. I sat out on the Thanksgiving issue of Southern Living. The cover had a pumpkin pie of some sort and I was feeling uninspired. Also, if I'm being honest, I was struggling a little with what to write about. Then the white cake issue came out for December, and there was no way I was going to skip it. But throughout the baking process, I kept thinking, "What on earth am I going to write about? Where's my inspiration?"

The truth is, I'm not feeling very inspired. I'm in a super weird space right now. I can't stand still without mentally pinging back and forth--looking back over the year and where we've come, looking forward and wondering where the next step is headed, looking back and missing so much, looking forward and anticipating what changes are still to come. Left, right, left, right...I'm watching an emotional tennis match play out in my mind. And frankly, my neck is getting a little sore.

So, clearly, that's what I should be writing about.

Perhaps I'm not alone, as this time of year probably contributes to a little retrospective/future-oriented toggling for everyone. For now, I'm trying to linger for just a few moments, as I look left and reflect on the amazing relationships, satisfying career, and general good fortune we've had in 2014. I'm trying not to allow the sadness of goodbyes to push my gaze too quickly away, but when it does, I'm trying to linger for just a few moments on the promise of 2015 and all it will bring.

We should all be so fortunate as to have had the kinds of friends, family, careers, and lives that make standing in this current space of uncertainty such a challenge.

Many wishes for peace, warmth, and love as you round out this year and enter into 2015. I hope you are able to find a space where you can stand for a moment and enjoy all that you've had, and all you are looking forward to. I'm working on it, gradually, and for what it's worth, embracing it is easing my sore neck, just a little.

Also, when all else fails, eat cake!


So, the white cake...Three layers of white cake, peppermint frosting, and a striped fondant bow. And it was awesome.

The cake was fine, although in retrospect, I kind of wonder if a rich, dark chocolate cake would actually go better with the peppermint frosting? Put it on the list of things I'll try when I have some spare time.

I made the frosting almost exactly as the recipe called for--butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and peppermint extracts. I added a little extra salt, and I used soft peppermint candies instead of hard candies, which I like because they sort of melt in your mouth, while still giving the filling a little texture. (I also used a few of the soft peppermints to garnish the platter, so you can see what they look like...I forgot to take a picture of the bag.)

Seriously, y'all. This icing is Christmas in a bowl. So, so good.

I will tell y'all right now that I bought packages of pre-made red and white fondant at the store. I tried making homemade fondant once for Jackson's second birthday cake. That is a mistake I will never make again. The store-bought stuff is probably full of chemicals and probably tastes terrible compared to the marshmallow recipe my friend gave me two years ago. But we didn't eat the bow anyway, and the store-bought stuff was SO much easier. People I know who are actually chefs, feel free to snicker behind my back. It's fine. Really.

Discovered after rolling out the fondant that apparently our ruler did not make the cut of essential household products to accompany us on our one-year adventure in a small Tennessee apartment. Fortunately, our kids eat a lot of fruit snacks, and the edge of the box is quite ruler-esque. Also, for those of you who are NOT chefs, feel free to snicker behind my back at the fact that a rolling pin DID make the cut of essential household products. As if I couldn't possibly live one year without it. It's fine. I know you're laughing at me too...

So I cut the fondant into strips, reworked the scraps, cut more, and was feeling pretty good at this point...

Next I rolled out the white fondant and tried to cut perfect, tiny strips of white. I then tried to lay them perfectly straight, evenly spaced, and unwrinkled. It was surprisingly harder than I had anticipated, but I got there, for the most part...

You can see below how I laid out the "ribbons" to dry in wavy positions atop balled up aluminum foil. All I could think as I looked at them was, "Oh man, that looks like bacon." (Stay tuned for a future blog post wherein I create some sort of breakfast-themed fondant cake with these exact same "ribbons" served up beside some fondant fried eggs and toast on a cake topper.)

The loops of the bow are wrapped around toilet paper rolls. In the Southern Living picture, their TP rolls were not covered in anything, which frankly seemed unsanitary and kind of disgusting to me. So mine are covered in plastic wrap. I don't think this is being over-the-top germophobic, but feel free to disagree and place your food products directly onto your used toilet paper holders, per the Southern Living magazine photo.

**Yes, we have a porcelain dachshund on our countertop. He is awesome. If I HAD done the Thanksgiving issue, you would've seen that little guy all dressed up with a pilgrim hat and turkey-feather backside. Sadly, all he gets for Christmas is that little hat.

The fondant dried overnight, cakes cooled, and we were ready for assembly. I'm convinced that whatever baker decided to start "leveling" his or her cakes because it looks so much more "professional" was basically just looking for a way to snack on cake scraps all day long. That was what I did with my scraps. They were delicious. Here you can see the layering in progress...

Once the icing was complete, I added the bow and garnish, and snapped a quick pic in front of our tree before we began to devour it. You can see that the icing isn't perfectly smooth--the offset spatula was yet another kitchen tool that got left behind for the year. But it tasted great!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, y'all! See you in 2015!