Tara’s Yellow Layer Wedding Cake with Butter Frosting

This was a busy and happy summer for my family, since my baby sister Tara and her boyfriend Jim tied the knot over Labor Day weekend. I was beyond flattered (and admittedly a little terrified) when she asked me to make her cake, but she stressed it would be a small wedding, and I could do pretty much whatever I wanted. In truth, Tara was the opposite of a Bridezilla. With every step of her wedding planning her main response was to just shrug her shoulders, make the decision, get it done, then move on. She just wanted to be married already. How lovely is that?

With free rein (I did get her to choose lemon for her filling flavor), I immediately knew I wanted to make a traditional tiered cake with a homemade topper. Since the wedding would take place on a boat and had a loose “ocean” theme,  I went with that as a guide.

I settled on the right combination — yellow cake with lemon curd and butter frosting — then got to work testing recipes. First and foremost, the cake needed to taste good, but it also needed to be durable for handling. In turn, the frosting also needed to taste good, but hold up in hot weather and spread smooth and easy. I found both recipes in the fool-proof Baking Illustrated from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. Sparing myself the extra stress, I opted to use good-quality jarred lemon curd.

My big sister Courtney provided the dream kitchen for me to work in before the wedding. I only had to repeat baking one layer, when I tried to flip one of the 10-inch cakes off the cooling rack and onto the plate after “relaxing” with a few glasses of wine. Fortunately, I had left plenty of time for just such a mishap, and another cake layer was quickly baked.

After baking and cooling, the cakes were each split in half and filled with lemon curd, then stacked so each tier was 4-layers tall. After a light crumb coat of frosting, the cakes were chilled in the fridge, then frosted again with the benefit of a lazy susan to evenly distribute the frosting.

When I wasn’t working on the cake, I was working on the cake topper. I made bride and groom felted whales to fit the ocean theme. My crafty thumb isn’t my strongest but I wanted her to have something homemade for the topper so I could stick with a simple frosting design. There wouldn’t be a lot of time on the boat before the ceremony to stack and decorate the cake, so simple (and quick!) was key!

Plus, leading up to the ceremony, all I wanted to do was enjoy the prep time in the hotel with the beautiful bride while she put on her dress (with help from Mom and Courtney) and got ready to walk down the aisle. Always a special time, and not to be rushed!

Special thanks to my brother-in-law Jon and my stepdad Arthur for getting the cakes from Courtney’s house, into Boston, and onto the boat while I was away with the bride getting my hair and makeup done!

As soon as I stepped onto the boat it was all business. I kicked off my shoes, put on an apron, and got to work cutting the wooden dowels that would support the weight of each layer of cake. I had prepped the bags of blue frosting ahead of time, and once the layers were in place, a quick wave design was all I needed to add to fill the gaps.

Then I rushed to the upper deck to walk the ring bearer (their toy poodle Paxton) down the aisle for the beautiful sunset ceremony. Just before the cake cutting I sneaked in for a photo with the finished product.

Then it was time for the spotlight with the bride and groom! Thankfully they loved the cake, it didn’t topple over (I was worried) when they cut it, and many people said they enjoyed eating it, making operation wedding cake an official success!

Congratulations to my beautiful baby sister and my new brother-in-law Jim. You guys are the best, and it was the ultimate honor to contribute such a special part of your wedding day. I love you both and wish you many, many, many years of happiness ahead!

With lots and lots and lots of cake!

Yellow Layer Cake with Butter Frosting
Adapted from Baking Illustrated by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
Makes 1 9-inch layer cake

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups (7 ounces) plain cake flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 16 pieces

1 batch butter frosting

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and adjust the rack to the lower-middle position. Generously grease two 9-inch cake pans, cover the pan bottoms with rounds of measured rounds of parchment paper, then grease the paper and flour the pans, tapping out the excess. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs, milk, and vanilla with a fork. Measure out 1 cup of the mixture and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat at the lowest speed for 30 seconds, then add the butter one piece at a time. Mix until the butter and flour begin to clump together and look sandy, with the largest pieces of butter the size of peas.
  3. Add the reserved one cup of egg mixture and mix at the lowest speed until combined, then increase speed until medium-high, then beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the remaining egg mixture in a slow stream, taking about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then continue to beat until thoroughly combined and the batter looks slightly curdled, about 15 seconds.
  5. Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans and smooth tops with a rubber spatula. Bake 20 – 25 minutes, or until the cake tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cakes will “deflate” slightly out of the oven.
  6. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the pan to loosen before inverting onto a large plate. Remove the parchment, then invert back onto the wire rack. Repeat with the other cake, and allow to cool completely before frosting.
  7. Fill, frost, and decorate as desired.

For the Butter Frosting
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
4 cups (1 pound) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
Pinch salt

Beat the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, milk, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer at low-speed until the sugar is moistened. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat until creamy and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Click to view and print the recipe for Yellow Layer Cake with Butter Frosting.

Lunch in Harrisville, New Hampshire

Not so long ago, heading out of the office for lunch in Boston would have meant Subway in the Longwood Galleria food court or an overpriced bean burrito from Souper Salad. Things got better when the Clover Food Truck added a Longwood location, but word got around, and the line was long. Those were dark lunchtime days.

Now that I’ve left Longwood Ave behind and live in the country, my lunch options are perhaps more limited, but much better. Basically everyday (when I don’t pack my own) it comes down to three choices…the Dublin General Store, Nature’s Green Grocer in Peterboro, or the loveliest of the three, the Harrisville General Store. These are basically all general stores — with Peterboro being more of an organic market — and it still fills my heart with small-town community pride when I walk inside and see regulars picking up their coffee and newspaper, signing up for homemade pies at Thanksgiving, checking out the board to see what events are coming up, and greeting each other hello with actual familiarity. It’s how things should be.

Today we’re heading to Harrisville. I wasn’t driving and taking photos at the same time, I promise.

Harrisville is a town of under 1,000 people in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire – where I live and work. The town’s general store (built in 1838) sits up a hill, with a steep, winding road separating it from the town center.

How picture-perfect is this?

Inside you’re greeted by a large chalkboard menu, but most people immediately wander over to the large glass case to see what sandwiches, salads, and desserts are chilling inside…or what pizzas, macaroni and cheese, and quiches are piping hot on top. The store’s kale salad is so popular among Yankee staffers that we’ll be featuring it in the Homegrown column for Nov/Dec (which I wrote, and celebrates kale!) – so keep an eye out for that.

The seating area (a cluster of 2 and 4-person tables) was full and I didn’t want to disturb any diners by snapping their photo, so I took my fancy egg salad sandwich (made from local eggs, of course) outside with the latest issue of Yankee. They didn’t have any of the sandwiches pre-made when I arrived, but they had egg salad for sale by weight, so I asked the “young man” behind the counter to just throw some between some bread for me and he was happy to. They are always friendly and fast at the HGS.

After battling the ants for my lunch it was time to wander.

Harrisville’s town center is notable for its preserved cluster of brick mill buildings dating back to the 19th century alongside Harrisville Pond and the adjacent canal. People say it looks virtually the same as it did 150 years ago, plus cars.

Scenic Harrisville Pond bumps right up against downtown.

In fact, the public library actually juts out into the pond, and the canal winds its way from the library through the rest of downtown. I loved this sign advertising a community bean supper. If I thought they’d be meatless, I’d seriously go.

The brick church (home to the aforementioned bean supper) sits next to a yard filled with flowers bordered by the quintessential white picket fence.

More brick…

Still more brick…

And even more brick.

I have a thing for doors, and Harrisville’s doors stick to a theme.

One of the buildings is now home to Harrisville Designs, which offers products and services for the weaving and knitting enthusiast, including looms, yarns, custom spinning, workshops and classes.

And there you have it. Harrisville!

Full and happy with my dose of sunshine and stretched legs, I headed back to Dublin and Yankee. Every time I pull into the parking lot and see our cheery red building, where the editorial heartbeat of New England has been pulsing since 1935, I think about how proud I am to live and work here.

And the lunches are better, too.

Fenway, Horses, and Baked Tofu

Well, it’s a rainy Sunday evening, and I am sitting in bed catching up on several (maybe a dozen at this point) episodes of Gossip Girl and sipping a basil-infused gin and tonic (more on that in a minute), trying to ignore my sunburned arms and sore butt.  Care to learn more?

Here goes.

I left work on Thursday and headed down to my sister Courtney’s house in Dunstable, MA so we could get an early start Friday morning for Fenway Park.  As usual, I was impressed at a red light with the skill my fellow NH residents show at choosing both illustrative and succinct personalized license plates.

So far nothing has topped the nondescript white truck I saw with the plate “GOT POOP” – but really, what can?

Friday morning Courtney woke me up at 5:45, and we made our way via the commuter rail in Lowell in Boston as employee and volunteer (respectively) for the Welch’s-sponsored Guinness World Record attempt for “most about of people toasting at once” at Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary ceremony before the first Sox/Yankees game of the season.  The first task was to place a cup, can of Welch’s Fruit Fizz, and card explaining the toast at each of Fenway’s 37,000 seats.

That’s a lot of seats.

Once that was done (oh, the stooping!) we were allowed to enjoy the park before the doors opened at 12:30.  After that, we would be on hand to interact with fans explaining the toast, and also serve as official Guinness Counters when toasting time came.  It was a picture-perfect day and Fenway looked like a million bucks.

Courtney and I agree that our favorite part of the day was the time in between setting up the cups (our group of 3 was responsible for around 700 seats) and the doors opening, when we were allowed to check out the view from just about any seat except the dugout, so we made do by getting a shot of us sitting on top of it instead.

The Fenway 100th birthday ceremony was an amazing sight to see, and if you watched it on TV, you already know why.  I am going to write about the day at length for my Yankee Seeker blog next Thursday, so if you’re interested in learning more, check there next week!

Nine hours and one sunburn later, we were headed back to Dunstable, exhausted, but thrilled to have had the chance to participate in such a special day.

The cows near Court’s house moo’d hello.  Clearly, I loved this.  Whattup, girls!!

On Saturday we met up with my mother and little sister Tara for a planned outing to Cornerstone Ranch in Princeton, MA for two hours of horseback riding.  None of us had ever been on a horse before, but someone (probably Courtney) had the idea we should do this together, and thankfully, we all (horses included) survived.  My horse, Hope, was a sweetheart, but today my butt is killing me from two hours on a saddle.

After me is my mom on Ginger (who was also Hope’s mom), Courtney on Shiloh, and Tara on Zoomie.

Which brings me to today – an overcast day, perfect for a multi-step stir fry.  I marinated some tofu (sesame ginger), then baked it (350 for 10 minutes, then flip and bake for another 30 minutes or til you’re happy with the texture) while I steamed some broccoli and sautéed a bunch of mushrooms, onions, red peppers, and zucchini.  Served over brown rice, it was quite delicious.  I love baked tofu because the long cook time lets it get a nice firm exterior, while the inside stays soft.  I loathe fried tofu.

I also decided to make a basil syrup, since I openly am in love with the basil lemonade at Clover Food Lab, and thought if I could make something like it for my gin and tonics, it might be the best thing ever.

I let the basil steep in the simple syrup for awhile…

But the jury is still out on how much I like it.  It made almost a cup of syrup so I’ve got plenty of time to try it in different things.

How was your weekend?  I hope it was adventurous, delicious, relaxing…and free from sunburn and saddle butt!

New England Kitchen Antique Shopping

One of the many reasons I love working for Yankee Magazine is the ever-present excuse I have to browse antique shops throughout the region – all in the name of knowledge and research.

I browse with equal enthusiasm for art, books, jewelry, knick-knacks…but I confess the first objects my eyes dart around the room for are the kitchen objects.  Ovenex muffin tins made in the USA, flatware with smooth Bakelite handles, pastry blenders with worn red paint, cheery blue enameled roasting pans, granny square oven mitts, and mismatched flowered china. They call to me like sirens.

Continue reading

Life Resolutions for 2012

Here we are on the heels of another new year. 2012 is already promising to be a great one for me up here in New Hampshire, and I have put together some major life goals to guide me during the next 12 months.

Here they are in random order…

I could work on this list all day, but you get the picture.

  • Get a natural sugar high at one of the many maple festivals each Marc
  • Hop aboard the Mt. Washington Cog Railway in Bretton Woods, NH
  • Hiss at the Redcoats at the Patriots Day Reenactment in Concord, MA
  • Attend the Blue Hill Fair in Maine – the fair that inspired Charlotte’s Web
  • Eat pizza in New Haven, CT – is it better at Pepe’s, Sally’s, or Modern Apizza?
  • See Santa arrive by boat in Kennebunkport, ME
  • Cheer on the Maine Lobster Boat Races on the coast of Maine
  • Visit the Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, MA
  • Spend a secluded weekend in the western Connecticut hills
  • Indulge my cooking nerd at the Johnson & Wales Culinary Arts Museum in Providence, RI
  • Wander the grounds at Hildene, Robert Lincoln’s estate in Manchester, VT

Now that I have a car the only thing stopping me is laziness, and I won’t let that happen!  Here’s to a very Yankee 2012.

I am so blessed in the friend department, and it has never been more important than it was this year when my life was a Tilt-A-Whirl. Friends are the family we choose, and they are precious.

When I turned 30 in August, my two best girlfriends that dared to leave me for Brooklyn (Kayte and Melissa) had me down to visit them. From the moment I arrived until the moment I left, they had me laughing, eating, drinking, dancing to a 90’s cover band, and (most memorably) celebrating by swinging on a trapeze.

It was one of the best weekends of my life. I miss them both terribly.

When I moved to New Hampshire in November to work for Yankee full-time, my two best girlfriends that haven’t left Boston (fellow food bloggers Fiona and Jen) had already decided they were going to visit me as soon as I was reasonably settled, and they did! They trekked up to Keene bearing champagne and an amazing surprise gift – a framed copy of my first published article in Yankee that they had done themselves.  Such a special present!

We spent the next few days (again) laughing, eating, and drinking…but also watching Christmas movies, flipping through cookbooks, poking around holiday church bazaar white elephant tables, and visiting numerous Keene small restaurants and diners. It was low-key and cozy, and it meant so much to me that they came to visit.

In 2012 (and beyond) I want to do better at spending time with the people I care about, and showing them how much I appreciate having them in my life!

This photo is from last January, when I was at Food Blog Camp in Mexico.  I learned so much there, and I need to re-apply that knowledge to The Apron Archives as it evolves.  I also need to pick up my camera more!

My Google Reader is one of my best friends, because it lets me follow along with friends near and far, plan my menus, fawn over fashion, and pick up great photography inspiration.

These are some blogs I never miss, that absolutely inspire me as both a reader and a writer:

Jen Loves Kev

Jen’s blog is a colorful, vibrant testament to her love of fashion, food, and family – and you get plenty of gushy aww’s thanks to guest appearances by her daughter Rowan. Thanks to Jen I now own many pairs of colored tights, and I’m not stopping! You will feel happy and inspired following her, and don’t we all need more of that in life?

Making/Listening

Ashley’s blog is about what she is eating, and what she was listening to while she was making and eating it. It features two photos per post – one of her plate and one of the album cover – but what makes this blog better than best is Ashley’s razor sharp wit. She has been making me laugh since high school, and since she lives in CA now, I am extra grateful that she has a blog to follow.

Katy Elliot (Home + Art + Food)

Katy’s blog is all about “New England life, decorating inspiration, and renovating a 260-year-old house in Marblehead, MA.” The first time I landed on her site I learned how to make snowflake macaroni ornaments, watched her grandmother and her grandmother’s cousin make authentic Maine Whoopie Pies, and was educated about the old tradition of hiding old shoes in the walls of your house to ward off evil and bring luck. Look at the shoes Katy has found! Basically, her blog is about all of the things I love – and in a great voice – so I am hooked.

Check these blogs out.  I bet you will be, too.

I bake a lot, but there are still a bunch of recipes I haven’t been able to master, or techniques that just totally scare me.

Things like…

  • Non-microwave fudge – those pesky sugar crystals
  • Whipping egg whites into soft peak versus firm peak.  Terrifying.  Don’t tell anyone.
  • Homemade bagels, though if I mastered these I would by default gain 20 lbs.

Then there are the recipes I have had bookmarked forever…

These are just the ones I thought of without consulting one of the many places I store real and virtual recipe reminders. There’s a lot of good food out there, friends. I am determined to spend more time baking and less time bookmarking in 2012!

So there you have it.

My goals for 2012 – New England, friends, blogging, and baking.  Not a bad list…

Happy New Year!  xo

Your call is important to us, please continue to hold.

Hello friends!

Thanks for bearing with me while I figure out how The Apron Archives is going to evolve now that I am doing a lot of blogging for work over at Yankee Magazine.  I am hoping to still blog about the kitchen, but also incorporate some crafts and “life in New Hampshire” stuff…since my day-to-day is a lot different now, and I have a car to take me lots of exciting new places.  All with a generous dose of history and food, of course.

This was the view on my drive to work after a recent overnight snow.

I would rather focus on the lovely view than the copious amount of large roadkill lurking behind every curve in the road.

On the food front, I hope I can still share photos with you of the things I am making for Yankee, and send you over to their site if you want to know more.

For example, I recently made some classic appetizers…deviled eggs and a pineapple cheese ball.

Followed by macaroni and cheese.

And let’s throw in some pistachio cranberry icebox cookies for dessert…

Have I mentioned how much I love my job?

I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season and eating lots of delicious treats.  I promise to get internet in my apartment soon so I don’t have to update from the Keene library.  That should help with the posting frequency.

Until then!

Officially a Yankee

Hello friends!

Remember me?  I’ve been neglecting my poor Apron Archives has been lately, but it’s been for a slew of good reasons.

I had my first piece published in the Nov/Dec issue of Yankee Magazine, a closer look at One-Pie Pumpkin.  Sully is also a fan.

The article also has a recipe I developed for Pumpkin Streusel Bars.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that I just started a new job here at Yankee Magazine as an Assistant Editor, absolutely the most exciting opportunity of my entire 30 years so far.

My coworker Brenda summarized how it happened in a Behind the Scenes at Yankee blog.

Working here means I moved from Boston up to Keene, New Hampshire (a two-hour drive away) and bought a car – the first I’ve owned in many, many years.  My life is suddenly very different, but I absolutely love my new surroundings, both personal and professional.  I wrote about it here:  Country Mouse Comes Home.

Now you are all caught up.  The Apron Archives might grow and change a little as I do more blogging for Yankee but I am still here.  Moving on!

“Blog and Bake” at King Arthur Flour

You may recall that last summer I spent a weekend in Vermont with my mom and sister, the highlight of which (for me) was a trip to the King Arthur Flour bakery and store.  The KAF Bakers’ Banter blog was one of the first food blogs I fell in love with, for both its superior knowledge of the subject and friendly, easy-to-follow style. 

Here I am posing in front of the sign with my sister Courtney in June 2010.

While browsing in the store with my mom and sister, it was exciting to know that somewhere very close by KAF baking bloggers PJ, MJ, and Susan were making something delicious.  I wanted to find them, shake their hands, and tell them how much fun it was for those of us following along at home.

Now imagine my delight when one year later I found myself back at King Arthur doing just that!

Keep Reading!