O. M. G. This is so good, and so worth the hassle. Bear in mind that since it calls for fresh strawberries, the quality of your strawberry is going to be really important. You may want to save this one for the summer time. But, one reason I wanted to post this now is because it’s pretty common for grocery stores to get shipments of decent quality strawberries for Valentine’s Day. So if you’re looking for a seasonally appropriate frosting, this may be a great pick.
First, set out a stick of butter to soften and prepare your strawberries. I first cup them up, discarding the stems and slicing the rest into manageable pieces. My pieces measure up to about 1/2 cup strawberries. (I would buy at least a pint, but probably two, just to make sure you have enough.) Then I use the back of a spoon to push the strawberry chunks through a fine-mesh sieve. The strawberry goo that comes out the other side of the sieve is exactly what you’re looking for.
Start out with 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter. Add it to your mixing bowl with 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Beat with a hand mixer until soft and creamy. Then alternately add 4 cups powdered sugar and the strawberry goo, using the hand mixer to incorporate the new additions. That should do it, but of course you could add extra sugar, strawberries, or vanilla to your taste preference.
The frosting is a beautiful light pink color, usually with some pink specks in it. But since you pressed the strawberries through the sieve, it’s nice and smooth.
I topped vanilla cupcakes with this frosting for a pink-themed bridal shower:
And I topped my rainbow tie-dye cake with some strawberry frosting:
A couple months ago, I volunteered to bake my dad’s birthday cake. Probably his favorite dessert would be anything fruit-related, but he’s also a huge fan of German chocolate cake, which I’ve never attempted before. And he hasn’t had one for his birthday in years. According to my sister, who hates German chocolate cake, he requested it “every single year,” but I don’t remember this – must have been before I was around. I started researching recipes and wow were they complicated. Most included buttermilk and a complicated process, and I didn’t intend to go to the grocery store or work that hard. So maybe this isn’t an authentic German chocolate cake, maybe I took a few shortcuts, but it’s still pretty awesome.
I decided to save a little time by going with a cake mix but a scratch-made frosting and filling. I started by making a chocolate cake according to its package directions. I baked it in a 9″ springform pan so that the sides would be straight up and not slanted, easier for slicing and stacking into layers. Since I did the entire batch in one pan, it took about 40 minutes to bake. If you did two 8″ rounds, it would bake faster, and you wouldn’t have to worry about slicing. Just fyi.
While it baked, I worked on the frosting/filling. I separated the yolks of 3 eggs and added them to a medium saucepan. (I saved the whites for breakfast the next day.) I added in 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup evaporated milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. I stirred everything up well and then turned on the stove to medium heat. I recommend stirring things well before you turn the heat on and continuing to stir well, because I had some issues with eggs cooking too fast. Egg chunks in frosting is not ideal.
I let this cook, stirring almost continuously, until it was nice and thick. I removed the pot from the heat and stirred in 1 1/3 cup coconut flakes and 1 cup chopped pecans. I let it cool on the stove top for a while and then cooled it even more in the fridge, till it was a spreadable consistency.
All that was left was to assemble. I sliced the cake in half to get two round layers. I spread a thick layer of the coconut-pecan mixture all around and then carefully set the top layer back onto the cake. Then I spread the coconut-pecan frosting all around the top. All that was left was the birthday candles.
An overgrown path with stairs to nowhere
The BF and I went for a walk in neighboring Hillsborough, North Carolina. The downtown area has all the charm of an old small town, with gorgeous historic houses running off from the main street. I decided that I want to live in a house with a name one day, like the Berry Brick House or the Gattis House we saw. As we walked, the BF spotted an ancient set of stone stairs leading up a hill. When we got the top, I saw this view — a long walkway flanked by overgrown plants ending in another set of ancient stone stairs. It was both incredibly creepy and beautiful walking through there. At the top of the second set of stairs, it at first seemed like nothing was there — just a huge square depression in the ground. Obviously, a house had been there. Considering all the stone and no sign of wood anywhere, probably a fire. Behind thorn bushes and a few spindly trees, we spotted a chimney. And here and there under the grass and leaves, you could spot the edges of the foundation, most of which was still there in a perfect square around the hole. Leaning out over the edge, I realized we were standing on the porch, and it was hollow underneath us.
I can’t decide if I’m more impressed by nature’s resilience, slowly and steadily creeping back in to reclaim the land, or by humanity’s insistence on always leaving a permanent “I was here.”
A shot of the Lincoln Memorial just after midnight on New Year's Day
The BF and I celebrated the New Year with friends in DC. We had a fantastic prix fixe dinner at Fado Irish Pub, where we sat talking until the big countdown. After the champagne toast, we barely made the drive back to our hotel before falling asleep. By the way, if you’re planning a trip to our lovely nation’s capital, I highly recommend the Best Western in Alexandria. It was nice, clean, and cheap. Plus they offered us plenty of free food and snacks, which is a sure way to earn my patronage.
Other recommended restaurants: we tried Le Pain Quotidien for the first time, and their avocado tartine on fresh-made organic wheat bread made for a tasty meal light enough for first dinner. And our DC favorite Founding Farmers, known for sustainable and absolutely delicious farm-to-table fare, proved to be just as amazing for brunch as it is for dinner.
In addition to eating a whole lot, we also went to the National Museum of Natural History. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been, and it was really cool. Of course I was super excited about the Hall of Mammals and the Dinosaur exhibition, which makes sense considering my strange obsession with Animal Planet. But I ended up being even more enthralled by the Hall of Human Origins, a super cool exhibit about human evolution.
Overall, a pretty mellow and enjoyable way to ring in the New Year. Here’s to 2012.