Ruffled Birthday Cake

I just turned 31. This somehow seems more profound than 30 and makes me feel like I’m getting old! But I know 31 is not really old at all and where this notion came from I’m not really sure. I was enthusiastic about turning 30 because 30 seems more respectable, especially if your client happens to ask your age. I don’t know that I’d fully trust a 28 or 29 year old to design my house (but many people did thankfully). So now that I’m 31 I decided it was time to make my own birthday cake. Gasp! But why? Well, I really love making cake and experimenting with new recipes which I don’t often do when I make cakes for other people. I also think I can beat out most bakeries in the cake department (or at least tie them) and there is no need to spend $45 on a cake for myself! Lots of people make their own cakes… especially other baker bloggers I know. So I made myself an experimental chocolate cake with a frosting technique I’ve been wanting to try for a really long time!

cake 1

Chocolate cake is hard to get right. There is an intricate balance of moist vs fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness. I’ve been attempting different chocolate cake recipes for a long time now and think this one is the winner so far. I used an intensely dark cocoa powder given to me as a gift for 2/3 of the cocoa in the recipe and it turned out amazingly dark and delicious. I also learned after 12 years with Michael that he feesl “ho hum” about chocolate cake and would actually rather eat a brownie. It’s amazing what you learn after being together for this long, especially with the amount of baked goods that come out of my kitchen. It also makes sense because I don’t think he has ever requested a chocolate cake for his birthday!

I pinned a few cakes a while ago as inspiration to try a ruffle. I would suggest using a Swiss buttercream instead of an American buttercream just because they are less sweet and a bit more shiny. Both pipe well and set up firm in the refrigerator. If you are frosting a cake that needs to be outdoors in a hot environment for a long time, maybe try a shortening based buttercream, though I think these don’t taste as good. The frosting turned out beautifully. Unfortunately there is just so much of it we ended up scraping off the ends and not eating it because it was too sweet.

So, be adventurous and try new things. No one will complain and you just might end up with a delicious and gorgeous cake in the end. Oh, and don’t be shy about baking something you want for yourself! Do however accept an invitation for someone else to bake a dessert for you on your actual birthday. We had a lovely dinner at Longman and Eagle in Logan Square for my birthday dinner and the dessert was fabulous.

cake 2

Chocolate Cake

1 ¾ C flour
1 ½ C sugar
¾ C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 C buttermilk (or sub soy milk for dairy intolerance – see below)
½ C canola oil
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 C hot coffee

  • Preheat oven to 350˚F (or 325˚F for convection oven), grease two 9” pans, line with parchment, and set aside.
  • Sift dry ingredients together.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with buttermilk, oil and vanilla.
  • Whisk in the dry ingredients until the batter is just moistened.
  • Add the hot coffee and stir with a spatula until smooth.
  • Divide between two cake pans.
  • Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Cakes are ready when they spring back lightly when pressed. (Convection oven cakes may be done sooner so check at 25 minutes).
  • Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
  • Refrigerate for 2 hours before frosting or freeze overnight wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
  • To make a dairy free cake, you’ll need to substitute the buttermilk. Add 1T white vinegar to a 1 C measuring cup. Then fill the rest of the way with plain soy milk. Whisk or stir with a fork to combine. For the best consistency, refrigerate for 3 hours before using.

How to make Frosting Ruffles using your favorite buttercream

  • You’ll need about 8-10 cups of frosting for one double layer 9” cake
  • Frost the cake with a crumb coat and refrigerate for 20 minutes
  • Fill piping bag fitted with a #104 Petal Decorating tip. (I’ve seen these for $1.00 at JoAnn Fabric Stores).
  • Use a parchment cake pan liner (I buy mine in bulk packs) or cut a parchment to fit the size of cake you baked. Then fold the circle in half and keep folding in half until you have the desired slice size. Unfold the parchment and set it on top of the hardened crumb coat. Use a knife or dough cutter and mark the folds vertically in the frosting around the whole cake. Remove the parchment from the top, or mark the top as well if you decide to ruffle the top of the cake. For the top ruffle, stick a toothpick through the center point and remove the parchment. Then line your pastry cutter or knife with the center point and vertical line along the edge and press gently into the top of the cake frosting.
  • With your pastry bag held vertically and the large end of the decorating tip close to the cake, start piping at one side of a vertical mark and continue the width of one “slice” of cake. Fold the frosting back and forth until you reach the top and then add one to two extra folds. Continue until you have finished the entire circumference of the cake.
  • Following within the lines will make your ruffles perfectly vertical. (There are some you-tube videos of people using this frosting technique and it looks all willy nilly and slanted.)
  • You can continue the folds across the top of the cake to the center point if you marked the top, or you can frost the top using concentric circles as I did. It’s easiest to do this with a turntable, but if you don’t have one (I don’t!) then just spin the cake stand in one hand and keep the piping bag in the other. Always keep the large end of the piping tip next to the cake.

ruffle tutorial

Star Spangled Apple Pie

Star Spangled Apple Pie

We had a great 4th of July weekend with friends in the woods. We stayed in a tiny town called Dorrington, near Arnold, in a woodsy community that hasn’t changed since 1972. Our friend Keith’s birthday is July 3rd, so I made him a Star Spangled Pie with vanilla ice – his request. The vanilla is my new favorite simple recipe and the pie always changes. It’s not apple season but we have started to see some of the early varieties here at the farmer’s market. I used a combination of  Dorsett Golden and Gala which made for a very juicy pie. Someday I’ll make the perfect apple pie with the perfect amount of bubbling juices but until then, we’ll just keep stuffing our faces with pie and ice cream and watch while the pie attempts to set us on fire.

Old Fashioned Vanilla

keith sparks

You can click on the images above to see the rest of our trip. It was pretty much like adult summer camp with the addition of cute babies and Michael got to take some amazing night photos at Alpine Lake. Oh, and please feel free to comment and send recipes of your favorite apple pie. I need extra practice (and probably extra tasters too).

Ice Cream Sundaes and Life Updates

It’s been a while since I posted, which usually means life got busy. May was a crazy month! We celebrated Michael’s 30th. Michael’s parents came to visit and we took them on one of our favorite hikes at Stinson Beach, Steep Ravine to Matt Davis loop. We hiked again the next weekend just for fun and exercise near Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands. In June, we celebrated our 7 year anniversary with traditional yearly photos and dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the city, Frances! (try the grilled squid, it’s exquisite). Took two Architecture licensing exams. Played in the water with my nephews. Spent some time in the woods over July 4th weekend with friends. Ran a 10K with a friend. And are currently planning a trip to Europe in September! I’ve been baking intermittently too. A lot of baking doesn’t get photographed though. I do want to take pictures of things, especially the ones I haven’t posted about, but I also bake a lot of things late at night for the next day which leaves little time to take pretty photos.

Michael turns 30



7 Year Anniversary

Heart "Ring of Fire"




This past week, I worked on an Ice Cream Sundae Party Kit that I donated as part of an AIDS Walk fundraiser. Gensler has a very active team of people who help raise money each year for the AIDS walk. There are bake sales and they also host a silent auction of items donated by vendors and people in the firm. They range from something small like my Sundae Party to huge items like a weekend stay in Palm Springs or plane tickets for anywhere in the US. This year they raised over 11,000 from these events.

The lucky winner of my kit requested today for his delivery date. It was so much fun to put together and I really hope they enjoy it! It included a bunch of things I’ve made before. Sometime I try new recipes but I stuck with the tried and true just to be safe! The kit included Chocolate Chocolate chip Ice Cream, Vanilla Ice Cream, dark chocolate brownies, salted caramel sauce, homemade chocolate sauce, cherries, whipped cream, toasted pecans and bananas. Who doesn’t love an ice cream sundae? This would be so fun for a kids party too, and no one says to have to make everything by hand, I’m just crazy. Remember presentation is half the battle. I wrapped each brownie in natural colored waxed paper and the rest went into jars. Red and white bakers twine and labels tied everything together.

sundae kit

Happy Summer!

Pretty in Pink – Raspberry French Macarons

Our friends Mel and Keith are about to have a baby! It will be their first and they are having a girl! We are so excited for them and can’t wait to meet the little one – literally any day now. They recently had a baby shower which was no ordinary affair. Maybe it’s a San Francisco thing, but more and more I’m seeing a transition from the traditional shower to something more couple friendly and less pastelly. Maybe it’s like a Baby-Moon (the final vacation possible before baby comes) or the last struggle to hold on to your DINK lifestyle (double-income-no-kids) but I definitely support the non-traditional shower movement, especially when I don’t have to guess the melted candy bar in a diaper….

Mel & Keith

Mel and Keith had their shower in a live/work warehouse in SF. It was an amazing space complete with a pingpong table, darts, and a baby-grand piano. Top this off with adult beverages, 90’s slow jams, and a minimal amount of baby trivia it was a great night. Who doesn’t like dressing up for a party? (Especially Mel and Keith – they are too cute). Definitely more a celebration of Mel and Keith rather than an explosion of pink. There was this one little item I couldn’t let go of being pink (big surprise I’m sure).


I was asked to make some desserts for the party. Desserts for a cocktail party/ baby shower need to be a little more magical than mini cupcakes and cookies. I decided on mini cream puffs and Raspberry French Macarons. I kept lemon bars in my back pocket just in case the macarons failed. It had been a while since making French Macarons but this wasn’t going to stop me. I did ruin about half of each batch, but practice makes perfect right? I didn’t want to make it seem like these beautiful morsels were easy by any means! I think half of baking success is luck; the other half skill and patience. Macarons are very exact. So specific you need to measure the weight of your egg whites. This is the skill part. The luck part is using the right amount when given a 5 gram window in the recipe (the wetter batter turned out better). Then you need patience when you try baking two sheets at once and the bottom sheet gets too hot resulting in cracked tops. The other lucky part happens when you mix your batter correctly and which yields the perfect consistency for piping without peaks. Over time I’m hoping that there will be less luck and more success based on instinct and feel. Until this moment becomes a realization, I’m going to keep practicing.

(yours shouldn’t have little peaks like the picture above, they should look like the picture below)
line up

One of my new year’s resolutions was to bake things that were difficult. I get in the habit of making the same things because they take minimal effort (even when they look pretty) and I know the end product will not be a waste of time or ingredients. If you have any suggestions I’m all ears (please leave a comment)! If you’re up for a challenge and you want to try French Macarons you definitely should. You might be amazing! You may even make them better than the little french bakery around the corner, but how will you know until you try?

Raspberry Filled French Macarons

Raspberry French Macarons
150g sugar (or 3/4C)
1/4C water
168g powdered sugar (1 1/2C)
168g almond flour (1 1/2 C – use store bought Bob’s Red Mill or Trader Joe’s vs grinding your own)
55-60g egg whites
55-60g egg whites (this is not a repeat – you need 4 egg whites total divided)
gel paste food coloring optional

Getting Started:
Place 2 egg whites measuring 55-60g in the bowl of a standing mixer with the whisk attachment.

Line two jelly roll pans with silpat baking mats with circle templates. Alternately you can use parchment paper with circles drawn on the backside of the paper. 1 1/4″ circles work well. I used the lid of a spice jar to trace circles. The circles don’t need to be too far apart because the batter doesn’t spread once it’s piped onto the mat.
Preheat the oven to 275˚F.

Make your simple syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the granulated sugar and slowly pour in the water, careful not to splatter the water on the edges of the pan. Place the thermometer in the bowl (best is a digital thermometer) and turn up the heat until the flames touch the outer-most edge of the bottom of the pan. (The flames shouldn’t come up the sides.) Once the temperature reaches 226˚F, turn the mixer on medium speed. Continue cooking the simple syrup until it reaches 230˚F. Remove from the heat. At this point the egg whites will look like foamy bubble bath. While the mixer is running, slowly pour the syrup along the side of the pan so it trickles down the bowl and doesn’t splatter onto the whisk. This is really important because you want all of the simple syrup to be incorporated into the egg whites rather than splatter and harden along the sides of the bowl. Continue to beat the meringue until the bowl feels cool to the touch (the bowl will be very hot when you first add the sugar), then turn off the mixer.

Mix your almond flour:
While the egg whites are mixing, measure out your powdered sugar and almond flour. Add your egg whites (when I used 60g my batter turned out better), food coloring, and extracts if using. Mix all of these together with a large spatula.

Fold in the Meringue:
Scoop about half the meringue into the bowl with the almond flour mixture. Fold this in to lighten the batter, then add in the rest of the meringue. Keep folding until the batter looks shiny and has a lava like consistency. You want the batter to flow so it doesn’t have any peaks. Test a couple of spoonfulls on a piece of parchment to see if the batter has peaks. If it does, keep folding until you get a batter that smooths out into a perfect dome when you spoon it out. Transfer the batter to a piping bag with a plain 3/8″ or 1/2″ tip. Pipe little circles following your template and put them immediately into the oven. Some recipes tell you to let them sit to form a crust, but if you’ve made your batter correctly, it doesn’t matter.

Watch the cookies after about 12 minutes. They should have formed feet at this time and you’ll want to start checking them overy two minutes. To test doneness, touch the top of the cookie and wiggle it. The cookies are done when the the top barely moves against the ruffle. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet.

Cool completely or refrigerate overnight before filling. If refrigerated, bring the cookies to room temperature before filling.


If the tops are cracked, your oven is too hot. Try adjusting the racks. If you need to adjust the temperature, try baking at 300˚ or 325˚F. My oven was probably around 270˚ and worked well. Every oven is different though. If its too low, the feet will not develop.

Ice Cream Month Continued…

I’m churning some ice cream tonight and hope to share the new recipe and technique mid-week. Until then, I thought I’d share some recipes I’ve done in the past with you. I’m tempted to make them again, but don’t want … Continue reading