Mallory's Wedding Cake

 Monday, September 24, 2012

This past weekend, Mallory, the executive pastry chef at our restaurant, got married. When I first met Mal back in April, she told me she was planning her wedding for the fall and I decided I was going to make her wedding cake. The thing about pastry chefs is most of us are crazy, type-A personalities. A lot make their own wedding cakes, something that is insane given how stressful planning a wedding can be on its own. I remember reading somewhere that one cake designer made 5 separate cakes for her own wedding. After much persuasion on my part, Mal agreed to relinquish control to me.

 Tiny detail work

The wedding was a super-small event, with just the bride and groom's immediate families in attendance. We decided to do a two-tier cake (chocolate and vanilla). I had the idea to decorate the cake with pale pink, white and ivory fondant ribbon roses, and Mal loved the design I had in mind. On Friday, I baked and iced the cakes, made my fondant, covered the cakes, and formed all the roses. When I first started making fondant-covered cakes, I used to buy fondant. It almost always had this terrible taste and weird smell. My cake-decorating unit at the French Culinary Institute included  Colette Peter's fondant recipe, and now I always use this. It's incredibly easy to make, rolls out beautifully and just tastes like sugar. I've included the recipe at the bottom of this post.

Saturday, all I had left to do was assemble the tiers and attach the flowers. I arrived to work and found Mallory with the cakes in front of her, ready to finish it herself. So much for relinquishing control...Typical pastry chef behavior! I forced her to step away from the cake and quickly finished it before she could jump in again.

Colette Peter's Rolled Fondant Recipe
makes enough to cover 2 8" cakes

2 pounds powdered sugar + extra for kneading
1/4 c cold water
1 Tbsp powdered gelatin
1/2 c light corn syrup
1 1/2 Tbsp glycerine (Wilton makes this and it can be found at craft stores)

  • Put all powdered sugar in bowl of stand mixer.
  • Combine gelatin with cold water. Allow to soften about 5 minutes. 
  • Heat the gelatin, stirring until it is dissolved and clear. 
  • Add the corn syrup and glucose.
  • With the mixer running (paddle attachment), add the gelatin mixture.
  • Mix until well blended, scrape out fondant and knead until stiff. Add more powdered sugar if mixture is sticky.
  • Form into a ball and wrap tightly with plastic wrap.
  • Rest fondant 8 hours before using (I'm usually in a rush and skip this step without too many problems).


Ultimate Birthday Cake

 Thursday, September 20, 2012

My family has a lot of birthdays in the month of September. Within a week period, my mom, my aunt and my grandmother all celebrate their birthday. And then 6 years ago, my sister had to throw her boyfriend Joe into the mix with the same birthday week. So it always feels like I'm baking a birthday cake a day in September. I have a catalog in my mind of all my friends and family's favorite kind of cake so I can prepare it for their birthday, but whenever I'm uncertain, I fall back on my favorite: vanilla buttermilk cake with vanilla frosting. It's simple, but classic.

When I was a kid, the best thing for me was to sit in my grandmother's kitchen, watching her make the cakes for various occasions. The cake itself was always prepared from a box (I wasn't introduced to truly "from scratch" baking until I started exploring that on my own), but the frosting was her own recipe. After patiently watching her frost the cake, my brother and I would be each granted one beater blade to lick clean and induce a sugar frenzy. That buttercream was and still is the perfect birthday cake frosting: sweet without being cloying, homey, and delicious. My grandmother taught me the trick to it years ago, a bit of cream cheese and a pinch of salt. Both cut the sweetness without altering the flavor.
Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Raspberry Filling
Vanilla Buttermilk Cake
makes 2 9" cake layers or 24 cupcakes

2 sticks (8 oz) butter, room temp
2 c (15 oz) sugar
5 eggs room temp
3 c (13.5 oz) all purpose flour
1 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 c buttermilk
1 Tbsp vanilla extract + 1 vanilla bean, scraped (optional)
  • Using a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes
  • Add eggs, one at a time, until well-incorporated.
  • Whisk together the dry ingredients.
  • Alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the dry (3 additions of dry, 2 of wet), being careful not to overmix. Scrape down your bowl between each addition.
  • Portion into Pam-sprayed cake pans, bake at 350 degrees until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Vanilla Frosting

3 sticks (12 oz) butter, softened
1/4 c (2 oz) cream cheese, softened
2 lbs powdered sugar (use the Domino brand, trust me)
pinch salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
  • With a mixer, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and salt. 
  • Slowly add all of the powdered sugar, mixing well before each addition.
  • If the frosting is too stiff, you can add a tablespoon of milk at a time to reach the desired consistency. 
  • Add vanilla extract. Beat on high for 2-3 minutes until fluffy.


Welcome to Bake Life Sweet!

 Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hello and welcome to Bake Life Sweet! I'm Tara, a professional pastry chef living out my dream of baking delicious things and getting paid to do it. So, how did I end up here? I've always had a passion for baking and was one of the very few teenagers I knew with my own KitchenAid mixer, preferring to bring the baked goods to the team sports events than participating in the sports themselves. When it came time to pick a career at age 18 (why we encourage teenagers to make major life decisions is a mystery to me, but that's a whole other topic of conversation), becoming a chef wasn't in my realm of possibilities, and I decided I was going to become an International Businesswoman. Whatever that was, I would figure out, but it sounded pretty good as I filled out my college applications. I set off to school at Boston University, graduated with a degree in Business Administration and all the while continued baking. At BU, I was known for hosting a weekly dinner party where I'd gather all my friends, cook all day (usually extremely hungover from the weekend), and made sure to always include a dessert. 
In the kitchen
After graduation, I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do as a career, but knew I had to just do something, and followed my friends into the world of New York City advertising. It was a good job, but I didn't feel any real satisfaction from it, and I found myself baking with increasing frequency, devouring cookbooks and reading every related blog I came across. I even started my own blog, Cupcake Obsessed, as an outlet for my two interests - baking and writing. Eventually it became glaringly obvious that I wanted out of advertising, and I knew that I had to try my hand at a baking career. I enrolled at the French Culinary Institute, pushing myself to work full time, attend classes, and intern at Locanda Verde, a NYC restaurant with the phenomenally talented pastry chef, Karen DeMasco. A rough nine months for sure, but an incredibly worthwhile experience. After graduating from FCI, I worked in NYC restaurants for two years before a job opportunity brought me down to where I currently am, in Atlantic City, NJ, working as pastry sous chef in a really exciting and dynamic restaurant kitchen.

Whew, so hopefully you got through all that and now we can get to the fun part - the baking! My vision for this blog is for it to be a place for me to share some favorite recipes and provide an inside peek at the world of a professional chef. Not long after culinary school graduation, I had the words "Make Life Sweet" tattooed on my wrist, a constant reminder for me it's a privilege to be able to do what I do and to savor every minute of it. So this is Bake Life Sweet, a place where I get to share that with everyone else. Enjoy!