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Tag Archives: Baking

Apple Strudel

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Do you get extra busy this time of year? For us the arrival of Spring also brings soccer, school plays, choir performances, home improvement projects, lawn-tending, etc.  I’ve been very busy and have lots of things to tell along with the apple strudel recipe I promised weeks ago.

This recipe comes from a cookbook I found at the library called “Bread Machine Magic“.  I bought a used copy on Amazon and have been using it to make all kinds of things in my trusty bread machine.  These look more complicated than they really are and taste amazing fresh out of the oven (although they’re quite tasty heated-up the next day).  It’s a good way to use-up some over-the-hill apples and could easily be adapted to other fruits or fillings.

Apple Strudel

For the dough (follow your bread machine instructions regarding ingredient order – mine calls for wet items first with dry ingredients on top):
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter (1 and a 1/2 sticks), softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsps. active dry yeast

Filling:
2 tbsp. melted butter
3 cups peeled, sliced apples
1 1/2 tbsp. all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Icing:
1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 1/2 tsps. milk

Place dough ingredients in bread pan, select “dough” setting and press start.

While the dough is going, peel and slice the apples.  Add flour, brown sugar and cinnamon, mixing thoroughly. Divide into fourths in the bowl and set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.

When dough has risen long enough, the machine will beep.  Turn off bread machine, remove bread pan and turn out dough onto a heavily floured countertop or cutting board.  Divide dough into four pieces. Drape a towel over the other three pieces to keep the dough from drying out and, with a rolling pin, roll the remaining piece of dough into a  rectangle.  Spread the dough with melted butter and line with 1/4 of the apple mixture.  Starting from the long end, carefully roll up dough, pinch edges and ends to seal.  Plan the roll seem side down on prepared pan.  Shape roll into a crescent by curving ends slightly toward each other.  Repeat with the other three pieces of dough/apple mixture.  Cover and let rise in warm oven about 45 minutes or until doubled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for approx. 25-30 minutes until brown. Remove from oven and place on rack to cool.

Icing: In a small bowl, combine confectioner’s sugar and milk for the icing, adding enough milk to make the icing thin enough to drizzle on the strudel.  Once the strudel has cooled, drizzle icing on top and serve.

These are a huge hit with my family and relatively easy to make.
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I know I’ve extolled the virtues of my bread machine before but I seriously love that thing! It’s been well worth the $3.00!  We love it so much we bought another one off Craigslist brand new, still in box, after Christmas for $30.00.  I have  been known to run both at the same time.  For instance, the night we had the apple strudel, we also had pizza.
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I realize that’s not the most healthy dinner in the world but you can plainly see the veggies on the pizza which made up for it. We’re totally well-balanced around here.

So what have you been up to?  Are you busy with lots of spring activity or home improvement projects? I have lots to share with you!

Groundhog Day 2014

I know I’m a week late in sharing, but I made a special cake for my favorite holiday last Sunday. While everyone else was watching the Superbowl, I was watching a real classic.  Unfortunately, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so six more weeks of winter for us!
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Getting Ready

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There’s more snow in the forecast and I’ve made sure that there are plenty of carbs and wine, two essentials when you’re stuck inside.

The $3.00 Bread Machine that Changed my Life

We have a friend that has been baking his own bread for as long as we’ve known him.  We’ve always admired his baking skills and complimented him frequently on them.  One day, several months ago, he showed-up on our doorstep with a bread machine that he’d found at a thrift store for $3.00.  He makes all of his dough in the machine and finishes baking everything in the oven.  What a fantastic idea!  I went to the library and found a bread machine cookbook and we were off and running.
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So far we’ve baked bread, made pizza dough, breadsticks, cinnamon rolls, calzones, croutons and a few other things.  Not only is it a revolutionary idea to me to never run out of bread again, but the fact that I’m controlling what goes into my bread is awesome.  No preservatives or chemicals and it tastes a lot better.
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My son has been asking for these cinnamon rolls again and again.
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These calzones were delicious.  J was solely responsible for these bad boys.DSC00096
I’ve been baking a standard white loaf of bread for school lunches and morning toast.  It also makes a mean grilled cheese.
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One thing I noticed is that the lack of preservatives means a home-baked loaf of bread has a very short shelf-life.  I did some research and found a bread keeper that has adjustable humidity control for dry or humid climates.  Ohio has both depending on the season and I needed a way to keep my bread as optimally fresh as possible.  This Progressive International Adjustable Bread Keeper seems to be doing the trick and at $12.95, will quickly pay for itself.
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So far, of all the bread machine cookbooks I’ve check-out at the library, The Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook by Jennie Shapter is my favorite.
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There are a lot of fantastic recipes in this book and I think we may end-up buying  a copy when I finally have to return it to the library.  So far, we’ve really enjoyed our foray into all things bread related.   Obviously we can’t keep up this pace of bread consumption or we’ll become a bit doughy ourselves.  However, it’s still so much fun we just can’t seem to stop making more.  I’m sure it will wear-off a bit after the initial excitement of creating our own bread products wanes.

So what about you?  Do you bake your own bread?  Any good recipes you’d like to share?

Vintage Bundt Pan

We were driving home from the grocery store the other day and noticed a large garage sale going on in our neighborhood.  J and I quickly unloaded our groceries and walked straight over to the sale, because you have to jump on these things you know.  Most of the stuff was your usual garage sale fare and while I was looking at some pants, J was scoping out the items actually inside the garage.  He came over to me with a box in his hand and asked if I wanted it. The box contained a mint condition Nordic Ware bundt pan that was made sometime in the early seventies. I gleefully snatched it out of his hand and asked the lady how much she wanted for it since it didn’t have a price.  She said a dollar and it was sold!
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It still has the original liner with recipes.
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I, of course, had to come home and immediately bake a bundt cake.  I already had a decent bundt pan but it was dark-colored on the outside.  Because our oven is located in a brick wall, it tends to hold more heat than your average oven and darker pans tend to burn things.  I’ve had trouble baking bundt cakes that don’t burn or over-bake ever since we’ve lived here.  This vintage pan is shiny aluminum on the outside with a Teflon coating on the inside.  I know there are all kinds of warnings about Teflon but I don’t bake bundt cakes every day and, when I do, I’m careful not to scrape the coating so I’m not particularly worried about our Teflon intake because of this one particular pan.  Plus, I’ve never had a bundt cake turn-out so perfectly before!
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I looked on ebay and there are quite a few of these vintage pans available ranging in price from $10-$30 dollars (with shipping), so I think my $1.00 pan is a very good deal.  Plus, this thing is so heavy it could be used as a home defense device if needed.
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One thing I noticed on ebay is the wide variety of colors these bundt pans come in, especially the seventies ones in all the pretty harvest golds, greens and oranges.  I don’t think I would buy them to bake with because they might not do as well in my oven but I might buy them to start a whole bundt pan collection to display (or not, who knows).  I sure do like them, though, and they would look swell in my kitchen.
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Anyway, I’m thrilled with my $1.00 vintage bundt pan complete with box.  I have a couple of other garage sale scores I need to share with you soon, as well.  So what about you?  What great buys have you found lately?

Mom’s Mac and Cheese

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I’ll just say right off the bat it’s not my mom’s recipe.  It’s some lady named Maria Costello from Monroe, North Carolina’s mother’s recipe and it’s delicious.  It is my new all time favorite go-to macaroni and cheese recipe.  I found it a couple of months ago and have made it several times since.  It’s sinful but delicious.  It is not diet food.  It is probably  bad for you but I don’t care about any of those things.  All I know is that it’s scrumptious and relatively easy and cheesy, which are my main criteria for mac and cheese.  I’ve made many recipes over the years and none of them have ever turned-out the way I wanted them to in my head.  That’s the thing about homemade macaroni and cheese.  When it’s good, it’s so, so good and when it’s bad, well, let’s just say stringy and oily come first to my mind.  There have been low periods in my life where I have turned to the boxed stuff because it was better than anything I was turning out of my kitchen.  I’m here to tell you that I’m never going to get that low again.  This recipe has changed my life and I’m never looking back.  I found it in my trusty Taste of Home cookbook and the recipe is available online as well.

Ingredients

Directions

    • Cook macaroni according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat. Add the cheeses, stirring until cheese is melted. Drain macaroni.
    • Transfer macaroni to a greased 1-1/2-qt. baking dish. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni; mix well. Melt the remaining butter; add the bread crumbs. Sprinkle over top. Bake, uncovered, at 375° for 30 minutes or until heated through and topping is golden brown. Yield: 6 servings.

Like I said, I’ve made this several times now and each time has been slightly different but equally delicious.  Some key things to note:

      • Any kind of hard cheese you like, or have on hand, can be used in place of the cheddar.  I would recommend using the 2 ounces of processed cheese, though, because it really gives it the right amount of creaminess you will otherwise be missing.
      • The mac and cheese will probably need a little more salt than the recipe calls for but I make the sauce first and then adjust it accordingly because different cheeses have different salt content.
      • Add other spices and let your imagination go wild.  I usually add a little dash of garlic powder, dried mustard and parsley but one night I grabbed the oregano by mistake and made something akin to Italian mac and cheese, so I used Italian breadcrumbs instead and it was delicious.  Since then I’ve been dreaming up a variety of combinations that might be tasty such as a middle eastern mac and cheese with the addition of a little Burani spice or something tex-mex with some cumin and chile powder.  The possibilities are endless.
      • Add a dash of worcestershire sauce to the cheese sauce, if you have it.  It gives the mac and cheese a nice depth of flavor.

I made this the other night when J and I were alone for the evening (for the first time in a long time).  He grilled some fish and sugar snap peas and I made a mac and cheese to die for.  I used a Vermont extra sharp white cheddar, added a little worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, parsley and powdered mustard.  The sauce had a deep, rich velvety flavor and I used bow tie pasta because it was all I had.  I think the different pasta threw off the ratios a little bit but the extra cheesiness of the dish was so decadent that we didn’t care.  It’s not something I would eat on a daily basis, or even a monthly basis, but for a date night at home with a bottle of wine?  Oh yeah, we ate it and we don’t regret a thing.  The other, not-so-sexy, secret about this dish is that it’s pretty economical. I buy 1 pound boxes of elbow macaroni for less than a dollar and a 2 pound box of processed cheese food (just like Velveeta) for a few bucks at Aldi and I almost always have some kind of hard cheese around.  If you try it, let me know how you make it and if you improvise.  I’m going to be on the lookout for some new ideas!

I hope to be back later this week with my latest, long-coveted, furniture item that I received for free!

 

15 and Counting!

This past weekend we celebrated our daughter’s 15th birthday.  Yes, 15!  It seems like only yesterday that she was turning 13 and now here we are two years later, just like that.  She is still an amazing girl and the light of my life.  I know the teen years can be tough, and I’ve witnessed first hand how hard it can truly be with some of my friends, but I couldn’t have asked for a better kid with which to navigate these treacherous waters.  Of course in true mama fashion, I asked her what kind of birthday cake she wanted this year.  She very tentatively asked for a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, which is her favorite.  I’ve had a bad run with white and yellow cakes recently.  I’ve always turned to my trusty Cake Mix Doctor book for birthday cakes because I think they turn-out nice and sturdy for the purpose.  However, since the cake mix manufacturers have started making cake mixes smaller, while telling us they bake-up just the same, which is a outright lie, my white and yellow cakes have been shrinking.  I’ve searched and searched for the cause because I never had the problem before but so far I’ve been unable to find a reason.  Last year K asked for a yellow cake and I ended-up having to re-make the whole thing the day of her party because the one I’d made shrank to a dense piece of rubber.  It was very frustrating to say the least.  This year I decided to forego the Cake Mix Doctor and make one from scratch.  I’ve made many, many cakes from scratch so it’s not a stretch for me (or anyone really because it’s not hard to bake a cake).  I think I kept using the Cake Mix Doctor recipe because I was determined to conquer the shrinkage problem but I’ve finally come to grips that the problem is not mine and I’m ready to move-on to another yellow cake.
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I decided to try the Taste of Home test kitchen yellow cake recipe, which is a pretty straight-forward cake.  In fact it’s a little too straight-forward.  It came out slightly on the dry side and a little lacking in flavor. If I’d read the online reviews before I made it, I would have known these things but I went old-school and pulled it out of my big cookbook.  It was okay but not great.  At least it doesn’t shrink on you, which is a huge plus.  I’m sharing the recipe with you anyway because I think this cake has potential.  It just needs some more butter and maybe a dash of almond extract to give it greater depth of flavor, or something.

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition.
  • Pour into two greased and floured 9-in. round baking pans. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
  • Spread frosting between layers and over the top and sides of cake. Yield: 12 servings.

I used my favorite chocolate buttercream frosting recipe which comes out perfect and delicious every time.  In fact, the frosting is so good that the bland cake is a pretty good vehicle to deliver all that chocolate goodness.  I use a KitchenAid stand mixer but you can also use a hand mixer if you like.

Fluffy Chocolate Frosting

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature – DO NOT use margarine or shortening if you want it to taste good.
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

In a large bowl combine the softened butter and cocoa powder until smooth and well-blended.  Add the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and salt.  Turn the mixer on low to combine (otherwise you’ll have clouds of powdered sugar everywhere).  Once the butter/sugar mixture is combined, turn-up the speed and let ‘er rip until you have something that looks like frosting.  It should be fluffy and smooth, not creamy and grainy.  If it’s still creamy and grainy, whip it some more until you have fluffy and smooth.  This makes enough to frost a two layer cake, the top and sides of a 9×13 sheet cake or 30 cupcakes provided you don’t eat half of it before you get to the cake.
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Overall K was pleased with her cake or at least the effort of the cake.  One of these years Mama’s going to get it right, I promise!  Does anyone have a good yellow cake recipe they would like to share?  I’m still searching for ‘the one’.

Clean Slate

The master bedroom floor is finally finished!  Our floor guy put the final coat of poly on Sunday morning and, after giving it a good long drying time, we can finally start moving everything back-in the room.

We went from here
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to here
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to here
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and, finally, here!
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I am so happy, excited and relieved.  What a crazy adventure this project has been!  I can finally put order to the chaos.  Also, I think J and I have finally come to some sort of resolution concerning the light fixture.  We had been seriously considering the Calypso light from IKEA, which is economical and somewhat period-appropriate.  In fact, I was this close to going to IKEA this week and picking-up one. However, after sleeping in the living room for nearly three weeks and making use of the only ceiling fan in the house, it occurred to us both that, although usually stylistically blah, a ceiling fan might be a much better investment than a light fixture.  The truth is we never use the overhead light in our bedroom but we would use a fan. Plus, I just hate looking at the boob.
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The trick is finding a ceiling fan that’s both modern-looking and economical and  I think we have a winner.
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This Hampton Bay Florentine ceiling fan is currently selling for $99.00 on Home Depot’s website. A ceiling fan had never crossed my mind because I really don’t care for the way they usually look but boy-howdy they sure are nice on a hot sultry night.  I have tried to make sure that everything we do in the house is period appropriate and aesthetic.  I don’t know if this ceiling fan fits that bill but  J and I agree on it, so that’s enough for me.  Plus, I’m tired of looking at light fixtures and am ready to move-on to another project, so ceiling fan it is!

Finally, on a completely unrelated note, Jen from Baking Bohemian nominated me for the “Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award”.  Thank you, Jen!  What an awesome surprise!
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Baking is one of my favorite hobbies and I love Jen’s blog.  She posts the best-looking stuff, you know the sort of yummy things that make you want to lick your computer screen but you refrain because you know from past experience that saliva is really hard to clean off these new-fangled LCD’s.  Yeah, it’s like that and I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself.

Lemon Brownies

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I made these last weekend and they were an instant hit.  I have no idea of the origin of this recipe but I did tweak the lemon zest amounts a bit.  The next time I make them, and there will definitely be a next time, I’m going to make half the amount of glaze.  It was a little much for us but for those of you that love icing, etc., use the whole amount list below.  I’m sure they’re delicious either way.

LEMON BROWNIES –

Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs, large
1 tbsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt

For the tart lemon glaze:

4 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 rounded cup powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease an 8×8 inch baking dish with butter and set aside.

3. Zest and juice two lemons and set aside.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, sugar, salt, and softened butter until combined.

5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice until combined.

6. Pour it into the flour mixture and beat for 2 mins at medium speed until smooth and creamy.

7. Pour into baking dish and bake for 23-25 mins, should turn golden around the edges.

8. Allow to cool completely before glazing. Do not over bake, or the bars will dry.

9. Filter the powdered sugar and whisk with lemon zest and juice.

10. Spread 1/2 the glaze over the brownies with a rubber spatula and let glaze set.

11. Spread 1/2 the glaze over the bars, and let it set (not harden like most).

12. Cut into bars and serve.

13.  Savor and enjoy!

On an entirely different note, I’ve finally finished painting our master bedroom  and am currently in the process of tearing-out the carpet.  That’s only taken 2 months since I first mentioned it.  We figured the long weekend was a good time to knock it out and I just hope we’re not getting in over our heads.  The carpet and tacking strips are already up.  It’s the room full of 50 year old latex rubber padding stuck to the floor that’s making me nervous.

Have a great weekend!!

 

Giant Hostess Cupcake

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I love birthday cakes.  I feel that everyone should have whatever kind of cake they want on their birthday and always do my best to accommodate.  When K wanted a sushi cake for her birthday, I made her one.2010-08-07_15-14-59_26
I made my father-in-law a Playboy Bunny one year.DSC00411
I even made my nephews a He-Man cake.IMG_0057
Since it was my birthday last week, and a milestone at that, I decided to make myself whatever kind of cake I wanted. I thought long and hard about it and decided that what I really wanted was a giant Hostess Cupcake.  I couldn’t find the exact recipe I wanted to use, so I took bits of different ones and created the perfect recipe for deliciousness.DSC01812
This is a rather labor intensive cake because of all the steps.  I made this in a single afternoon but if you don’t have that much time, you could do this in stages without any problem.

Step one, the cake –

I knew the cake needed to be a bit on the ‘commercial’ side.  After all, Hostess Cupcakes never tasted homemade, they tasted, well, like Hostess.  A homemade recipe, such as the one I used for J’s birthday a couple of years ago, wasn’t going to work in this application.  Instead, I pulled out my trusty The Cake Mix Doctor book for this one.

Buttermilk Devil’s Food Cake

1 package (18.25 oz.*) plain (no pudding added) devil’s food cake mix
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups buttermilk**
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

*most cake mixes have been reduced in size.  The manufacturers tell you that it doesn’t affect the cake but they are wrong. Your cakes will be smaller.  Kroger store brand cake mix is still 18.25 oz and I have purchased enough to keep me in cakes for at least a year.  Ann Byrn, author of The Cake Mix Doctor, recommends adding 1/3 cup flour to the mix to even things out for her recipes, which are all based on the larger size.  Here is a link that I found helpful regarding this situation.

**I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, so I added a tbsp. of white vinegar to my measuring cup and then measured out the milk.  Within minutes, I had soured milk which works perfectly as a substitute in baking recipes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour two round 9″ cake pans and set aside.

Place the cake mix, cocoa, buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.  Blend for one minute, stopping mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 more minutes.  You’ll think it’s mixed before it is, so be sure to go the whole two minutes with the mixing.  As Julia Child would say, the batter should fall like ribbons from your spoon.
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Divide the batter between your prepared pans and bake for 28 to 30 minutes, until the cake springs back after being lightly touched.  I start checking mine at the 20 minute mark since my oven bakes hot but yours might take longer depending upon your oven.  Once they’re done, set them on cooling racks for 10 minutes and then turn-out of the pan. Continue cooling on racks until you’re ready for step two.

Step two, the filling –

1 1/4 cups whole milk
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup salted butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening

Combine the milk and flour in a small saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of pudding, about 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside and cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, cream together the sugar, butter and shortening on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the cooled flour/milk mixture and beat on high for 7 minutes. Spoon some out and set aside for the piping swirl on top of the cake.

Cut your cooled cake layers in half and layer them with the filling – cake, filling, cake, filling, cake, filling, cake.  Make sure your leave your top cake layer plain because you’re going to top that with a chocolate ganache.

Step three, chocolate ganache –

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used a combination of semi-sweet and bittersweet because I didn’t want the chocolate to compete with the sweetness of the cake)
1 Tbsp. REAL vanilla

Place the cream in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly (you don’t want it to scorch).  Place the chopped chocolate in a metal or glass bowl and pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate.  Stir until the chocolate is melted and add the vanilla.  Let it sit until it thickens to a spreading consistency, maybe half an hour.  Spread over the top of the cake and let it harden slightly.  I used half of the ganache on the cake because it seemed like too much.  You could cut this recipe in half or use all of the ganache on your cake, depending upon how much chocolate you like.  I thought about frosting the sides with the ganache, which would make it very pretty, but I was running out of time and tired by the time I got to that step.  Since it’s a torte, frosting the sides aren’t really necessary.

Pipe on your swirl using the reserved filling.  I used a piping bag and a large round tip, but you could use a sandwich bag and cut-off the corner to pipe the swirl if you don’t have piping bags and tips.  Chill this cake for at least a couple of hours before serving.  Once it’s cold, it’s very easy to slice and could serve a fairly large number.
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This cake turned-out exactly the way I wanted.  It’s very decadent so not something you whip up on a regular basis.  However, for a birthday, it’s absolutely perfect.  Also, it doesn’t require any exotic ingredients, so it was easy to make using everything from my well-stocked baking pantry.  Much cheaper than anything you can buy at a bakery and, honestly, much better.

Okay, now it’s your turn – what’s your favorite birthday cake?