Dorie's Perfect Party Cake - Daring Baker's March Challenge

UPDATE: I've since revisted this recipe and you can find great pics here
March was my first month as part of the Daring Bakers. WOOHOO!!! I'm so excited I'm still bouncing off the walls :) This month's hostess was Morven over at Food Art and Random Thoughts and the challenge recipe she chose was Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake.

I love cake... and it's been at least 5 years since I've actually made a layer cake so this was a real treat. The recipe, as written, calls for raspberry filling... but my favorite combo is either white cake with raspberry filling or white cake with lemon filling. And because I'm just a bit of a rebel who considers most recipes to be more of a "guideline" than a rule-book, I decided to make this cake with both fillings. Yup, such a rebel. I admit... that's just how I roll LOL :) Keepin' it real I'll just state upfront that seein' as how white cake with lemon or raspberry filling is my most favoritest combo ever, and I was making this with both fillings, I knew this month's Daring Baker's recipe would challenge more than my culinary skills... yes indeed this cake would challenge my waist-line as well ;-)

You'll notice Dorie includes a lot of detail and that makes the instructions rather long... and seemingly complicated. Really, they're not. The end result is more than worth the effort!

Here's Dorie's recipe:

For the Cake
2 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (use buttermilk if you're using lemon filling)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable

(note: I used 1/3 cup of the seedless raspberry preserves and 1/3 cup lemon curd, alternating them between layers)
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

Aside from assembling the cake (when my layers were slipping and sliding all over the place due to the magnetic forces apparently caused by some unreported UFO hovering over my house that pulled the layers in bizarre directions) the most challenging part of the recipe was the frosting. I have an aversion to anything that requires use of a double-boiler. Not sure why that is, but I'm sure it goes back to something in my childhood and relates to my mother's kitchen. Maybe one day I'll ask her... but I'll probably forget... and instead just continue my irrational, unexplained aversion to the double-boiler. Just bein honest ;-) The length of time it took to get my meringue to transform into frosting had me believing I'd most certainly done something wrong because it seemed to take forrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrever! The taste was great, I'll admit, but the amount of effort didn't seem worth it to me. Others, I'm sure, will disagree and I'm ok with that :)

The cake batter was excellent. Perfect texture and the taste was so incredible that I'll definitely make it over and over and over again. In fact, I think I may have found a new favorite cake-batter recipe. It's that good!!! DJ said it smelled fantastic while it was baking... the delicate scent wafted upstairs and drew him into the kitchen to see what I was up to :)

Overall, I'm glad I completed this month's challenge. If you get a chance to make Dorie's Perfect Party Cake, I think you'll be pleased with the result... I sure was.

Now that you've seen my interpretation of this recipe... go check out some of the other Daring Bakers to see what they did. My pictures are really not very good and don't do justice to how great this cake really is.

Have a happy day!
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Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Hey Hey - It's St. Patrick's Day!!
Yes, it's the day for non-Irish people to proclaim their love of all things Irish! LOL.  Rather hypocritical, don'tcha think?  I mean, I just keep it real and consider it a day to head to the pub and drink a green beer :)  Not that I'm a beer-drinker, mind you, but I'm sure I'll drink something that's festive, green and contains alcohol cuz today, WOOHOO, yes siree Ricky Bobby we are leavin on vacation!!!!  

And go ahead, admit it... you love my flashing, light up, shamrock, tiara, don't you?  Yup, I knew it!  I knew it!  Your eyes are turning green with envy :)  I'll have you know I paid quite the pretty penny for this beauty... $1.49 at my local party store. I know... it's a lot... but I threw caution to the wind and told the cashier "ring 'er up, baby, cuz this one is mine!!!".

Yes indeedy I'm leavin on a jet plane... er... well, no really I'm not.  I'm leavin on a big ol cruise ship later today.  Being the responsible blogger that I am, I have to leave you with one final post... something to tide you over while I'm gone... nothing fancy... nothing ornate... just something to keep in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day.  Oh, and I have to show ya some sugar porn too! LOL  Yes, that's what I call it... sugar porn.  Got a problem with that?  Hehehe Didn't think so :) Okay, so go grab a towel cuz I can't take responsibility if there's a bit of drool happening as you look at some St. Patrick's Day sugar porn made special-like, just for you...

Ahem... so now that you've checked out St. Patrick's balls, let's get back to St. Patrick's Day.... shall we?   Sheesh, you guys need to getchur minds outta the gutter! heheheheh

Let's see... where were we?  Oh yes... St. Patrick's Day.  Well, according to this website:  Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated each year on March 17th. In Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is both a holy day and a national holiday. Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland as he was the one who brought Christianity to the Irish.  According to legend, Saint Patrick used a shamrock to explain about God. The shamrock, which looks like clover, has three leaves on each stem. Saint Patrick told the people that the shamrock was like the idea of the Trinity – that in the one God there are three divine beings: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The shamrock was sacred to the Druids, so Saint Patrick’s use of it in explaining the trinity was very wise. Although it began in Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in countries around the world. People with Irish heritage remind themselves of the beautiful green countryside of Ireland by wearing green and taking part in the festivities. Saint Patrick’s Day is usually celebrated with a parade. The one in Dublin, Ireland is known to some as the Irish Mardi Gras. But the one in New York City is actually one of the biggest. It lasts for hours. Two Irish wolfhounds, the mascots of the New York National Guard infantry regiment the “Fighting 69th”, always lead the parade. More than one hundred bands and a hundred thousand marchers follow the wolfhounds in the parade.

Eh, yeah, okay, whatever.... If you ask me it's just an excuse to drink a green beer... but hey, if ya have any interest in the History of St. Patrick's Day or the History of Shamrocks, Leprechauns and the Blarney Stone click on those links and have a great read.

Well, lovies, there's a ship in the harbor and it's got a front, starboard, Lido-deck cabin with my name on it (uhm... yeah... DJ's name too).  As any good vacationer, I'm taking my cameras... and my husband! LOL... and as any good blogger I'm taking my laptop, too.   Hopefully I'll have something interesting to post about... and even if it's not interesting, I'll probably blog about it just the same cuz no matter what I write about, it'll be of interest to someone... even if that someone is only me :)

So what're you doin today?  I mean, I'm goin on vacation and all but what about you?  Got any cool plans for St. Patrick's Day?  If not... and even if ya do... why don't you make these treats?  Then you, too, can say "Psssst.... wanna check out St. Patrick's Balls?" and roll on the floor in fits of laughter.  Laughing is good... it's fun.... it's not fattening and usually it's not illegal :)  

St. Patrick's Balls
The recipe is in this blog entry... I just used Golden Oreo cookies (pretty much they're basic vanilla sandwich cookies) and added some green food coloring.    Play around with it... add mint extract... or tint the coating green... or do both.  Hey, it's St. Patrick's Day... if anyone has somethin' snarky to say, just tell em you were drinkin' green beer when ya made these ;-)

I'll be back in a couple of weeks... if I don't get a chance to update while I'm gone.  Use the contact-me info at the bottom of the page and let me know what's goin on with you. Or just leave a few comments.  It's always nice when I get comments.  =)

Be good... be happy!!

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Lemon Squares

Happy Friday!!

There's something I find absolutely delicious about lemon desserts. In fact, lemon might just actually be one of my top three dessert flavors... and I say "top three" to be conservative since I can't think of what flavor I consistently like better. Lemon is light. Lemon is refreshing. And lemon gives ya that fabulous little "zzzzing!!!" where your jawbones meet. DJ hates that! hahahahahahahaha

While most of the US has switched the clocks over to Daylight Saving's Time, it's still dark in the morning when I get to work and it's cold and wintry in many places because it really still is winter. Since I'll be gone on vacation when the seasons change later this month, I thought I'd do an early "Welcome Spring!!!" post and share a recipe for Lemon Squares.

And since I know how closely you're watching the ticker on the right side... why don't we pause for a moment and talk about the elephant that's in the room. No, not my butt thankyouverymuch! I know it's not exactly the smallest thing around but it's also not big enough to be considered the elephant in the room with us. The only thing THAT BIG would be... OMG - totally excited.... my vacation!!!! We leave on Monday and I can't wait! I've been busily crossing off items on my to-do list and I think I'm almost ready to start packing. Can't start it too early or I'll just keep adding and adding more stuff all weekend... so I have to chill... be patient... and wait... until Sunday. But aside from doin the laundry and paying a few bills due while we'll be gone I think I'm on track. And since we're leaving on St. Patrick's Day, you know DJ and I have our outfits all picked out! hahahahah I've got a shamrock tiara that lights up, shamrock earrings, a glittering green bow tie, a green shamrock t-shirt and a sparkling green shamrock lei that lights up!!! DJ's got a bright green top hat, huge green sequined bow tie, green Mardi-Gras style beads and a green t-shirt that has a green-n-white garter with a shot glass around the arm band!!! Yes Siree Ricky Bobby we'll be styling as we get on the ship! LOL LOL LOL. People will look at us and say "wow, now they're a fun couple" (or perhaps they'll just think we're a pair of insaniacs to be avoided at all costs! hahahahahah). But it'll be fun and it'll be cute and maybe... just maybe, I'll post a pic when we get back ;-) And since one of my dearest co-workers had to chide me about my tiara, I posted a pic of that one now! LOL

This recipe for Lemon Squares is not super tart. They're certainly not tart enough for me but for DJ there's more than enough to get that little jawbone screetching "zzzzzing!!" going! LOL This recipe is a safe bet for middle-of-the-road tartness. You can, of course, adapt it to your liking for more sweet or more tart.

2 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour - divided
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 stick butter - cold
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 350F and use baking spray to coat a 9" square pan
In a mixing bowl, combine the lemon zest and granulated sugar. Using your fingers to mix and press until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Set aside.
Combine the butter, powdered sugar and 1 cup of the flour (reserve 2 tablespoons of flour for the filling) and press this mixture into the bottom of your prepared pan. Bake until light golden brown (about 2o minutes) then remove from oven.
While the bottom is baking, mix together the eggs, granulated sugar/lemon-zest mixture, lemon juice and reserved 2 tablespoons of flour. Be sure this is thoroughly combined and then pour it over the bottom while the bottom is still hot. Return to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.
Remove from the oven... cool for 10 minutes then cut into squares. Dust with powdered sugar. Eat and enjoy that fantastic little "zzzzing!!" where your jawbones meet :)

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Woohoo!!! I've been tagged! =)

The other day I was checking for something new on the blog that inspired me to create my own... Musings from a Rambling Mind. The lovely one who writes it, Sam, has become very dear to me. A total cheerleader always full of encouragement no matter how wacky my latest endeavor actually is (and many of them are quite wacky, I'll admit!!). So I popped over to Sam's blog to read her latest entry only to discover I'd been tagged. I was so excited... {insert Snoopy Dance here} I was telling DJ and I was all "oh yay!!! Sam tagged me with a meme in her blog!!! can ya believe it??? me!!!! she tagged ME in her blog!!! oh sure, she had to tag 7 of us but never mind that, I'm just thrilled she chose me! ohmigosh, she tagged me!!!" and he goes "uhmmm... okay... you're excited... that's good... but can ya say it again, in ENGLISH this time?" hahahaha Poor guy has no understanding of this kind of stuff! LOL!! But that's okay, I love him jusssst the same :)

As I understand it, these are the rules:

1. Once you are tagged, link back to the person who tagged you. (check!)

2. Post THE RULES on your blog. (check! check!)

3. Post 7 weird or random facts about yourself on your blog. ({insert screetching tire sound here}... hmmm... gotta think about these)

4. Tag 7 people and link to them.

5. Comment on their blog to let them know they have been tagged.

Seven weird or random facts about myself...

Random Fact #1....
I've been to Iceland

In either 1999 or 2000 my fiance-at-the-time and I were planning a trip to Europe. I'd been to Paris before (really bad experience traveling with exceptionally cheap people) but this time would be different. My fiance-at-the-time was a serious traveller... he'd been all over the place. Being more experienced (and much more picky than me), I let him pretty much plan everything. The least expensive flight to France included a stop-over in Reykjavik, Iceland... and to even lower the cost we planned a 2-day stay over. Iceland is an amazing country and I truly hope to make it back there one day when I have more time to spend. The scenery is beautiful, the people are super friendly and the food is really different!!! My favorite place on the trip was The Blue Lagoon. Definitely click on that link and explore their site because my words could never begin to do justice to the fantastic experience known as the Blue Lagoon in Grindavik Iceland.


Random Fact #2....
I'm training to run my first 5k

Last November I entered my first 5k. No training and other than "what time do I have to wake up for this" there was no pre-planning. The city in which I live has it's own Marathon each year in November and it includes a 5k run/walk. With no training and no prep, I most assuredly did a 5k walk. I was hoping to complete the course in under an hour... and I did... 53 minutes. I was pleased... but not satisfied. I started the C25k (couch-to-5k) program in January... and quickly returned to just walking because to be honest, I hate running. Hate it with a passion. As my friend C likes to say "I'd rather lick the kitchen floor clean than run 1 mile" We both feel the same way and she turned me on to the C25k program because it worked for her. Well, DJ and I both started in January and he did very well with it. He's up to running a 5k in about 35 minutes now.... and me? Well, I can walk a 5k in about 45 minutes now. Nothing to be proud of... in fact, it's downright embarassing. So, last week, once again, I started the C25k program and my goal is to run my first 5k this year. Run the whole thing... no walking... no stopping... no breaks... nothing but running for the full 5k course. That's 3.2miles... I can do this. Right now my goal is not at all about time - it's just about running the whole way. I can do this!


Random Fact #3....
In a past life I was a cake decorator... and got paid for it!

About 12 years ago I worked with a very nice woman, A. She wasn't all that bright, but she made up for it with how nice she was. She took a Wilton cake decorating class at a local craft store and brought one of her cakes in to work. I was in awe of how this woman could make such a beautiful cake having never done it before and only being in the Level 1 class. That's about the time my "if-she-can-do-it-so-can-I" mentality kicked in. Instead of taking the Wilton class at the craft store, I enrolled in the Wilton Level 1 course at my local community college (it was just down the street from my house... how conveeeeeenyent! LOL). Well, I finished that level 1 course and enrolled in level 2... enjoyed that so much that I enrolled in level 3... and before I knew it I was making cakes every week! Coworkers, neighbors and friends were impressed with my cakes and started asking me to make them. I even got requests for wedding cakes! I loved it.... every single minute of it... except, sadly, people were cheap. They had no appreciation for how much money went in to making the cake (from scratch, thankyouverymuch) and how much time and effort went in to decorating it. People would comment "wow, that's expensive... I can buy a box of Duncan Hines cake mix for $0.99... doesn't seem like it should cost you that much more". I'd smile sweetly and nod my head while inside I was screaming "well, then go ahead and do that!!!" Dealing with customer orders and cheap people kinda sucked the enjoyment out of doing cakes... and I stopped doing it altogether. But since I have been paid to make and decorate cakes for people I can call myself a Professional Cake Decorator hahahahaha


Random Fact #4....
I took a job and moved across country... by myself... sight unseen

In April 1992 I was living in SoCal and working for "P"co. My boss and I went on a business trip to Baltimore, MD and we had 6 hours to ourselves one day. We took the train into Washington DC, walked out of Union Station and I saw the US Capitol Building. I knew right then and there that I wanted to move to Washington DC. Fast forward 3 years and a company in the DC metropolitan area posted a job listing in the Los Angeles Times newspaper for exactly the kind of work I do. I read the description and knew that was my job... just waiting for me. I sent my resume, they selected 30 of us for phone interviews... then they flew out to LA to interview 12 of us in person... and I was thee one offered the job. YAY ME!!! And of those they interviewed, the 11 others were men. HAHAHAHAH YES! I had won out over the boys (always makes me feel good no matter what the competition! LOL). I kept my SoCal apartment for a while but took the job in DC and over the course of about 3 months moved my entire life... by myself. Was it scary? Sure... but it was totally exhilarating too :) In fact, I highly recommend it! It definitely helped that the new company paid to relocate me... they paid a company to come to my apartment, pack it all up, put my car on their truck, drive all that stuff across country, take my car off their truck AND unpack all the moving boxes. Yeah, that was nice!!!


Random Fact #5....
I'm horribly addicted to the internet

It's true... I could spend all day on the internet. There are so many sites to visit... so many things to learn!! I shop. I read newspapers from all over the world. I read blogs. I shop. I search for and review recipes. I shop. I email with tons of people. I shop. DJ basically gets on the computer just to do email. How can he stop at just email when there's the WORLD WIDE WEB just waiting for him to explore it??? And not only could I spend all day at my favorite sites... I'm always looking for new ones! Can ya help an addict out and spare a link? Do me a favor and post a comment or email me and tell me about some of your favorite sites on the net. I can't wait to see what I get!!!!


Random Fact #6....
I don't like to sleep

Pathetic, isn't it? I've never been a big fan of sleeping... always feel like there's something going on in the world, somewhere, and if I'm asleep I'm going to miss it!!! Sounds rather neurotic, huh? Yup, it is! My sister? She's a champion sleeper. I can't remember when she didn't love to sleep and partake of it as if it were an Olympic sport and she was in training to make the team. DJ is like that too. Given the option, he would sleep all day. I mean aaaaaalllll day. Me? HA! I wake up at 4:30 on weekdays... and on the weekends, 6am is the norm. For me, waking at 7am is absolutely sleeping in.


Random Fact #7....
I love everything about food.

I love to make it, I love to look at it, I love to smell it, I love to eat it, I love to write about it, I love to talk about it, I love to photograph it, I love to read about it, I love to think about it. I LOVE FOOD!!! I used to say "I love food... but it sure doesn't love me". That's because well, let's be honest, it makes me fat! LOL. The food I love the most must not love me because it makes me fat. Sad, huh? But I think a lot of us feel that way. Last week I was talking to a worker, T, and she gave me a new perspective. She said "honey, you're so wrong about that! don't think that way!! think to yourself 'well, the food MUST love me cuz it wants to hang on'... that's my way of thinking!!!" and then she let out a huge belly-laugh. Now in all fairness, T has never had a weight problem... if anything, she's been underweight her whole life and when she got "big" she really was just normal sized. But T loves food too and we talk about it quite often. And I'm thankful I spoke to T that day because now I have a new perspective... I love food and it sure as hell loves me too! LOL. Could anyone possibly wonder why I write a blog about food? Sure, I could write a blog about laundry... or cars... or kittens... but I'm not passionate about any of those things. I'm passionate about food... especially the sweet stuff... so I blog about that :)

I know this one's not a random fact so I'm just adding this as a lil tidbit... only 5 days left until my vacation!!! Are you watching that lil ticker countdown on the right? Probably not... but I am!!! Oh yes sir ricky bobby I sure am watching that ticker and counting down the days!! We'll spend 5 days cruising from Los Angeles to Hawaii... and then stop in Hilo, Kona, Maui, Oahu and Kaui... then spend 5 days crusing back. WOOHOO... YIPPEE... CAN'T WAIT!!!

Okay... I'm bragging now... I'll stop. But you were nice enough to read about me... and tolerate my bragging for a bit... so how about telling me something about you and how about you brag for a little bit? I always love hearing from you guys :)

Have a happy day!
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Sparkling Cranberry Gems

WOOHOO - - - It's Friday!!!
Yes, we've made it thru yet another work week and the weekend is upon us. That calls for a happy dance right there =) =) =)

Have ya noticed the countdown ticker on the right side of my blog pages? Not that I'm excited or anything! LOL!! DJ woke up this morning and said "oh yay, just one more week until we go on vacation". Of course I had to tell him it's actually 10-days away, but he's counting work-weeks so that's fine by me. Just one more week of work before our two week vacation. Can't wait! With the exception of the Pearl Harbor/USS Arizona, we've decided to fore-go the usual shore-excursions provided by the cruise ship and do our own thing. We've got cycling journeys lined up for each port and they sound like a lot of fun (plus a lot less $$ than the ship-sponsored stuff that just doesn't sound like "us").

We've also got our workouts planned and music downloaded. We're both doing the Couch-to-5k program as training for running a 5k. I was searching for workout music this week and found the most incredible stuff from Podrunner: Intervals that you must check out... especially if you're a runner (not that I'm a runner because most assuredly I am not... but hey, a girl can dream, right? heheheh). Aside from lounging around and enjoying the spa services, I'm actually looking forward to the cycling tours and keeping up my workout routine and NOT gaining a crapload of weight on vacation.

Oh and speaking of weight, I've lost another 4 pounds - yay! I'm still about 4 pounds from my before-we-leave-on-vacation mini-goal but I've still got 10 days to get even closer to meeting it. I know... 4 pounds in 10 days is a seriously unrealistic target but that's okay, even if I don't get there, just the closer I get to meeting it, the happier I will be =) And ya know, it's not always about the scale and how many pounds you've lost... more important is physical fitness and how you look and feel in your clothes.

I've upped my exercise and cut back my calories... and I started losing weight again. Sometimes it starts to feel like a "diet" which is not something I like. But ya gotta do whatcha gotta do =) I miss my creative cooking and I most definitely miss my sweets. I tell ya, the RPC has got a sweet tooth like there's no tomorrow! But there are still ways to enjoy sweets and not feel totally deprived.

Here's a recipe for Sparkling Cranberry Gem cookies that I found thru the King Arthur Flour Company website. While these cookies are low in calories they're definitely high in taste! They're made with wheat flour, cranberries and only a small amount of sugar and milk. I'll be making them this weekend and hope you do too! But whatever you do this weekend, remember they don't come around often enough so make it a good one :)

Sparkling Cranberry Gems
(adapted from King Arthur Flour)

1 cup flour (pref. whole wheat but all purpose is fine)
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pats
3 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup coarse white sparkling sugar


Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease two cookie sheets

Shred the dried cranberries (I use a Magic Bullet but a food processor works fine too) to the point where the pieces are about 1/4th of one cranberry. Combine with the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Then add the vanilla and butter... and mix until crumbly. Drizzle in the milk while mixing... the dough will begin to somewhat stick together.

Put the coarse sugar in a quart sized Ziploc bag.

Scoop the dough into about 1" balls and place a few of them in the bag. Close the bag, and gently shake to coat the balls with sugar. Place them on the prepared baking sheet, and use the bottom of a glass to flatten them to about ¼" thick. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until they’re just BARELY starting to brown around the very edge; the tops shouldn’t be brown at all. Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the pan.

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Easy Bread Pudding with Dessert Sauce

Last week in my post about microwave peanut brittle, I mentioned that bread pudding is one of my favorite desserts and promised to share my recipe with you some day. Since then I have been overwhelmed with requests for it... so... today I share =)

***News Bulletin*** We interrupt this post with an update on RPC's entry in the Los Angeles Marathon LA Acura Bike Tour.
I did it!!! Yay me!!! It was such a great feeling doing that ride this weekend. Not such a great feeling when my alarm went of at 3am and I had to choke down a Powerbar before getting out of bed (I'm not one who eats first thing in the morning... especially at 3am which is technically the middle of the night for most of us! LOL) but the ride itself was great. It was definitely challenging but it wasn't difficult and certainly was not tough. I rode the entire course... I did not stop... I did not walk any hills... I stayed on my bike and worked it out!!! Cuz like I said, the Repressed Pastry Chef ain't no creampuff :) :) :) Here's the stats: 22.3miles... 1hr 31minutes... max speed 27mph and average pace 13.8mph. And when it was all done and we crossed the finish line, I felt so good I could have easily done the course again. I wasn't exhausted and I wasn't wiped out... I was exhilarated!!!!! I can't wait to do the next one :) Thanks for all your good vibes and mojo that helped carry me through.
Okay, now let's get back to the important stuff... like Bread Pudding... M'mmmmm...

Typically bread pudding is made with lots of eggs and cream. It's pretty heavy weight stuff with an astronomical calorie count. But I'm on Weight Watchers and always looking for ways to lighten up my favorite foods. My recipe for bread pudding has three major substitutions... Splenda instead of sugar... 1% milk instead of cream... and Egg Beaters instead of eggs.... and it still comes out fantastic!! Now sure, if you're not watching your weight or just have a desire to make the leaded version, by all means, use sugar, eggs and cream. There's no rule that says you have to do it my way :) Even my dessert sauce is lightened up a bit by using I Can't Believe It's Not Butter - Light instead of butter... but you can always use the real stuff if that's the way you roll :)

I've listed out the "formal" directions below but here's the high-level overview for those of you who want a quick-n-pretty version ;-)

1) Spray your pan
2) Break up the bread and sprinkle the apples and raisins on top

3) Combine your liquids and pour the mixture on top

4) using a spatula, gently press down on the bread to ensure it's all soaked down into the liquid

5) pop it in the oven... and bake
6) remove from the oven... looks great!!
7) scoop some outta the pan (notice the warm, gooey innards under that lightly browned crust)
8) top with the dessert sauce... and ENJOY!! (happy noises like nom-nom-nom are allowed here)

Okay, so that's the quick-and-pretty for ya. As I said, I make this with lots of substitutions cuz that's the way I roll. If you'd rather use whole milk or even cream, real sugar, real butter and fresh eggs, by all means do so! And if you don't care for raisins... omit them. If you prefer dried cherries... use them. You can easily use this recipe as a jumping off points for lots of different varieties. I know people that use no fruit and instead use chocolate chips! Do whatcha like... but do make this!!!
On your mark... get set... GO! ... go make your own :)

Bread Pudding
6 slices "Texas Toast" bread... broken into 1" pieces
4c 1% milk
1/2c raisins
1/2c apples... chopped
1 1/3c Egg Beaters
4T Splenda
1T Vanilla Extract
1t cinnamon
1t nutmeg

DIRECTIONS (Bread Pudding)
Preheat oven to 350F, Spray a 9" x 13" casserole dish with nonstick spray. Place bread in casserole dish and spread out evenly. Sprinkle with apples and raisins. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, Egg Beaters, Splenda, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour evenly over the bread/apples/raisins Bake for about 55 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out cleanly. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Serve warm. Refrigerate remainder

Dessert Sauce
3 tablespoons I Can't Believe It's Not Butter - Light
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS (Dessert Sauce)
In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the ICBINB-L. Add flour and salt; stir until smooth. Stir in brown sugar and remaining butter. Blend thoroughly and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until bubbles form. Remove from heat and carefully stir in boiling water. Return to heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until smooth and thickened. Add vanilla extract and stir until well blended. Serve hot.
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