Food Network is the best thing to happen to cable television since the last awesome thing happened to cable television. I watched plenty while at school, but the college student lifestyle isn't really conducive to culinary explorations. Mom and Dad's kitchen, grocery budget, and the extra mouths of frequent dinner guests are.
When I watch Masaharu Morimoto cut fish, Gordon Ramsey make beef wellington, or Buddy Valastro frost a cake (he's actually on TLC, not Food Network, but that's beside the point) I forget that they are highly trained professionals with years of experience. I just get ideas, really big ideas. Then I try to execute them with all the dexterity of my favorite chefs, only to remember halfway into the project that I really have very little idea what I'm doing.
Cupcake Wars and Cake Boss got me through finals, so my first attempt of the summer was of course cake oriented. After a little research and input from hungry family members, I decided to make vanilla/chocolate swirl cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting, garnished with chocolate wafer-swirly thingies. Making the cake was fairly straightforward; the real challenge was piping the buttercream on top. Problem #1: this was my first time piping. Problem #2: I couldn't find our pastry bags, so I used a Ziploc bag with the corner cut off instead. Turns out that's not quite the same thing. Problem #3: my buttercream was all wrong, and apparently successful piping depends very much on the texture of the icing. Three problems means three lessons learned for next time.
The chocolate wafer-swirly thingies worked surprisingly well. I melted semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler, put in another ziploc bag with the corner cut off, and drizzled it all over the back of a cookie sheet. I put it in the fridge to set, then used a spatula to break off sections to set in the icing. This is a trick that I'd like to play with more in the future.
Not every foray into the pastry world is as challenging, and every now and then, I hit on success (with a lot of help from my sister, a much better cook than I), and it's oh so tasty. One of our dinner guests requested chocolate cake for dessert, and I immediately thought of the strawberry and ganache filled cakes that Carlo's Bakery turns out for Valentine's Day every year. A little research turned up recipes for both chocolate cake and ganache that seemed easy enough, and much to my amazement, both cake and topping went off without a hitch. The finished product was a two layer chocolate cake with fresh strawberries in the middle, held together and topped with ganache.