Vanilla Layer Cake with Raspberry Filling & White Chocolate Buttercream

So this one time, I made a wedding cake…
cake 1

…and turned out really great! Last June (a year ago yesterday!) I made this lovely cake for one of the loveliest ladies I know, my sister-in-law Lauren. Her wedding was so glam and clean and feminine. I was honored to make this cake and was totally nervous about making sure it was level and just the right shade of pink.
cake 2

We spent months trying different recipes and finally settled on this fluffy vanilla cake with white chocolate buttercream icing and a layer of raspberry jam in the middle. The cake was a great consistency, stayed moist, which was key since I had to make it the day before the wedding, and the flavor of the raspberry and white chocolate was so decadent.

Looking at these pictures makes me want to eat this cake again! Maybe I should make it for their anniversary…

for the cake, you will need:
5 large egg whites, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1 cup whole milk, divided, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour, sifted
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into 24 equal pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare your 8 inch cake pans. Grease pans with butter, line with parchment paper, put another layer of butter on top of the parchment and then dust with flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites, egg, ¼ cup of milk and vanilla and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, gently mix the flour, baking powder and salt until combined.

With the mixer on low speed, add the butter to the flour mixture, one piece at a time about every 10 seconds. The mixture should be a fine and crumbly texture once all of the butter is added. Add the remaining milk and mix on low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

On low speed, add the egg mixture in 3 separate additions, scraping down the bowl after each addition. After the third addition of the egg mixture, turn up the speed of the mixer to 3 or 4 and mix for 4 minutes, until batter is light and fluffy.

Divide mixture evenly in the two cake pans (you can weigh the pans for exactness if desired) and then pick up and drop the pans a couple of times to get out the air bubbles and level out the batter.

Bake until cake tester comes out with only a few crumbs on it, about 28-30 minutes. Start checking the cake at 20 minutes and every 5 minutes after. Let cakes cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans. Let them cool completely on wire racks before handling.

You can wrap the cakes tightly in plastic wrap and store for a couple days before using, but it is best prepared the day it was baked.

for the raspberry filling, you will need:
1 cup fresh raspberries
¼ cup honey
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons water

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir frequently until berries break down. If mixture comes to a boil, turn down to only a simmer. Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes or so. Let cool completely before using in cake. You can store in a jar in the fridge for

Or you could just use Sarabeth’s Raspberry Key Lime preserves and call it a day. Her preserves are magical and it saves you a step 🙂

for the buttercream, you will need:
2½ cups (5 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
6-7 cups powdered sugar (depending on consistency)
pinch of salt
8 oz. good quality white chocolate, chopped
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. Set aside to cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add 6 cups of the powdered sugar in 2 cup batches and mix slowly until combined. Mix in the salt, cooled white chocolate and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Add the cream and whip until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes more. At this point the consistency should be fluffy but not runny at all. You should be able to hold it upside down on a spoon without it dripping off. Add more powdered sugar if necessary to reach a good consistency for icing the cake.

To assemble everything:
Level each of the cake layers and then cut each cake in as close to equal halves as possible. You will have 4 layers of cake to work with.

Place one cake layer, flat side down, on an 8″ cake board. Top with a few big, heaping tablespoons of buttercream. Spread icing with an offset spatula, covering all of the cake except for a small border around the edges.

Place another cake layer on top (use one of the top layers, saving the other bottom layer for the very top), lining it up with the bottom layer as much as possible. Use the raspberry filling for this layer, layering it on nice and thick.

Place another top cake layer on top of the raspberry filling, lining up the sides as much as possible. Repeat the same routine with the buttercream as the first layer. Top the cake with the final layer of cake, which should be your second bottom flat layer.

Try your best to keep the icing layers even so you don’t have a leaning cake, but not to fear if you do. That is why you have so much buttercream frosting. You can really lather that stuff on there and then can make the cake look even by using the spatula and turning the cake on rotating cake stand.

Now its time for the crumb coat of buttercream. Once your layers are completed and your cake is assembled, start covering the top and the sides with a thin layer of icing. Use a big offset spatula and make it as smooth as possible, scraping off excess and wiping it into a separate bowl. It is important to not get crumbs in the final icing layer, so be mindful of where you wipe the excess. Place the cake in your fridge for an hour or so for the icing to firm up. This makes it much easier to put on the top, fancy layer.

For the final layer of buttercream, start with the top. Place heaping dallops of icing on the top of the cake and start swirling the spatula around to flatten in out in a messy fashion. When the icing moves to the edges, wrap it down onto the sides. Keep adding icing and swirling around the spatula to get the desired look you want. You will have a lot of icing to work with so just keep adding the icing if necessary.

I am a big fan of messy looking cakes, but this cake would be lovely with a smooth coat of buttercream as well.

**Notes:
I used this tutorial to help me get the messy icing look on the buttercream…it is very helpful and much more descriptive than my explanation above. Some tools that will be helpful for making a cake like this are: large offset spatula, small offset spatula, scraper, and a rotating cake stand.

I did not decorate the cake with flowers, Lauren’s awesome florist did. She got her flowers from The Farmer’s Daughter and they were fabulous!

yields: one 2 layer, 8 inch round cake with thick frosting
serves: 10-12
cake recipe adapted slightly from: Sweetapolita

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{Feelings Friday} A little bit of my heart and soul…

This year, as we celebrated 3 years with our sweet Connor, I also felt like something was missing. Last summer, we decided to try adding a new little one to the family and after a few months, found out I was pregnant and my due date was the same as Connor’s, May 21st. But after only a week of reeling in the joy of this news, I had a miscarriage.
I hate that word: miscarriage. It’s so impersonal, so cold, so unrepresentative of what really happens. I lost a baby…and nothing, I mean nothing, prepares you for that kind of sadness. I felt like I was underwater and just couldn’t get up for air. It was so hard to talk about without crying. I wanted to tell people, to share, to help them understand why I wasn’t quite myself. But it was just so hard to put it into words, to not fall apart and ugly cry. Maybe this is why so many women don’t talk about it.
What did help was to just let myself be a mess, and feel all the big feelings. I took time to be quiet, to be sad, to be angry, to cry and yell. I took time off of work. I spent time alone. I spent time with my husband. I let myself be a mess on Thanksgiving because I would have been in my second trimester and talking about my pregnancy with our family. I let myself grieve. It also helped to talk to friends who have been through the same loss, and connecting with women through social media, like Jessica Zucker, and reading pieces on sites like Scary Mommy or other blogs like Cup of Jo. But at the end of the day, there is nothing you can really do other than feel the big feelings, sit with them, breathe, and wait for the heartache to ease. I am glad I had people around me that encouraged me and allowed me to do that for myself.
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So to help me process and allow myself to feel the big feelings on the baby’s due date, I picked up a pen and started writing…and it helped. It allowed me to do something, to say something. To put the feelings I’ve had, but had so much trouble explaining to anyone else, into words. Then I started blogging again…maybe because writing feeds my soul. I kept coming back to my writing and thought I’d like to put my words out there into the universe for another grieving mama to read. So here it is, a very personal piece of my heart and soul. To any mama who may read this that is experiencing the gut wrenching sadness of pregnancy loss, I am so sorry. I am sending you love and light during this soul-crushing time; and some seriously big hugs.

To my baby that I’ll never meet:
Today might have been your birthday. Or maybe it could have been yesterday, your big brother’s 3rd birthday. He came a day before his due date, so maybe you would have, too. What a gift you would have been! I always feel sad that I won’t meet you, but today the hurt is especially raw. This week my belly should be full and my feet swollen. I’d be waddling around and my body would be preparing to bring you earth-side. I should be holding you and kissing your little nose. But instead, I appear to be going about life as usual. Except, I’m not. A lot has changed since the day you left me. 
I wonder so many things about you. Would I labor the same? Would I have been calmer than last time? Would you be a boy or a girl? Would you look like your brother? What would your personality be? What beautiful gifts would you bring to this world?
I know a lot of things, too. You would have been so loved. You would have made this family bigger and stronger. Your big brother would have loved you fiercely. You would have added a beautiful, chaotic layer of mess to this house.
When you left me, I knew I would grieve you. I knew it would it would be hard, some days impossibly hard, to move on without you. Although nothing quite prepares you for that type of sadness; the kind of isolation you feel when something was taken from you that you never fully got to have. Just thinking about losing you makes my stomach drop and my eyes watery.
What I wasn’t expecting was to learn from you. You have taught me so much about life and about myself. I learned that sometimes life deals you crap and that I don’t have to handle it gracefully; that I don’t need to smile and fake my way through sadness. You taught me to lean on your dad because he is strong and loving and capable of holding me up. You taught me that my heart has the capacity to expand by light years in an instant. But most of all, you taught me to stop planning my life and just to live it; to be present in the messy, beautiful chaos that life is; to celebrate the good, and lean in to the bad and the ugly.
While I will always be sad I won’t hold you or see you, kiss you or hug you, I will know you. I will know you in the way I have grown as a woman and a mother since I lost you. I will know you from how much stronger you have made me. So on your almost-birthday, little love, I want to celebrate you; because you were real, you were mine, if only for a short while.
 
Love Always, 
Mama
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{Where to Shop Wednesday} Piebox

For Christmas this year, my mother-in-law gave me a Piebox. Obviously I was thrilled because who doesn’t need something like this to tote around homemade pies all summer?! I mean, maybe not everyone, but I definitely do. It sure beats make-shifting a carrier out of a cardboard box and towels. I’ve done that far too many times.
Piebox

That’s my Piebox, carrying my favorite strawberry rhubarb pie for our Father’s Day celebration last week.

Piebox also has other awesome products to carry around cakes, cookie and other treats. Go check them out! And keep this on your list for a gift for the baker in your life, they’ll love it!

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Blackberry Mint Lemonade

If this glass of refreshingly awesome lemonade doesn’t just scream summer, I don’t know what does.
DSC_0226 Last weekend we spent an entire, very hot, summer day outside doing yard work and playing. I immediately thought that a tall glass of homemade lemonade would be the perfect drink to have sitting on our porch. My mint plant is exploding and I’ve been trying to use mint whenever possible, and I had some blackberries on their last leg. So this lovely lemonade recipe was whipped up. It’s a winner, I’ll certainly be making it many times this summer.

This would be an awesome party or picnic drink this summer. Easy to make in advance and just store in your fridge or cooler. It would also look lovely in a big drink pitcher with lots of lemon slices and blackberries!

for the blackberry syrup, you will need:
1 cup blackberries
2 tablespoons honey
¼ cup water
pinch of cornstarch

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook just until the berries start to slump and soften, about 5 minutes. Use an immersion blender or food processor to blend until smooth. Strain out the seeds. Let cool and store in a jar in the fridge until ready to use. It’s crazy good on yogurt or ice cream as well 🙂

for the lemonade, you will need:
1 cup sugar
5 cups water, divided
6 lemons, juiced (about 1 cup of lemon juice)
sprigs of fresh mint
splash of sparkling water (optional)
1 lemon sliced, for garnish (optional)

To make the simple syrup, combine the sugar and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan set over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer, but don’t let the water boil. Stir frequently until the sugar is dissolved. Take off the the heat and let cool. Let cool and store in a jar in the fridge until ready to use.

Juice all of your lemons, keeping out the seeds, and set aside. To make life easier, I use this awesome handheld juicer and it makes life so much easier! Combine the lemon juice, simple syrup, 4 cups of water and a few sprigs of mint in a pitcher. Add ice if you will drink it all right away. I suggest just adding ice to glasses when you are ready to pour. Store in the fridge until ready to drink.

When ready to serve, fill glasses with ice. Add a big tablespoon of blackberry syrup, then pour lemonade to fill the glass. If its your jam, add a splash sparkling water to cut the tart sweetness. Add in a sprig of mint and fun straw, and tada! Most refreshing summer drink delivered to your taste buds…you’re welcome.

makes: approximately 8 glasses
time: 15 minutes + cooling time

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Bang Bang Shrimp with Spicy Sriracha Aioli

Last May, we planned a bachelorette party for my sister-in-law Lauren that involved an awesome cooking class. We learned how to make some great Thai and Asian recipes, one of which was this recipe for Bang Bang Shrimp. It was my favorite recipe of the night and I have made it many times since.

This has become a staple at our house. I love to make it for a fast and lighter dinner and serve with a big bowl of salad. I convince myself that the big serving of salad offsets the large amount of the aioli I use for dipping :). It is also a great appetizer to serve to a small group. The recipe could easily be doubled and you could prep everything ahead of time and have the shrimp breaded on cookie sheets in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

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for the shrimp, you will need:
1 pound small shrimp, cleaned and tails taken off
½ cup flour
¼ cup cornstarch
salt & pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
1½ cups panko
canola oil (fill pan about ¼ inch high)
1 scallion, thinly sliced for garnish (optional)

Defrost and clean the shrimp and set aside. Set up 3 bowls for the breading procedure: one with the flour, cornstarch and salt & pepper, another with the eggs, and a third with the panko.

Dredge the shrimp in the flour mixture, then the egg, then lastly the panko. Make sure every shrimp is covered and then set them on a cookie sheet until ready to cook.

In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium heat to a sizzle (350°F). A tip to know if the oil is ready is if you put the non-spoon end of a wooden spoon it, the oil should bubble around the wood. If the oil is popping, turn it down. Fry the shrimp in batches until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and plate on a serving platter. Drizzle with the and top with sliced scallions. Serve with another cup of aioli on the side for dipping.

for the aioli, you will need:
½ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons Sriracha
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon water

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. This sauce is easily made in advance and kept in the fridge in a jar.

time: 15 minutes prep + 5 minutes cooking
serves: 6 as an appetizer or 3 as a main course
from: Dorothy Tague of Chop Wok & Talk

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Showstopper Roast Chicken

Roasting a whole chicken has been on my kitchen bucket list for a while now. I’ve been nervous because the last thing I want to do is spend all of that time and be so excited and to have it suck. But I have my kitchen groove back these days, so I went for it…and man, was it awesome.
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Who better to consult for a job like this than Martha?! Lucky for me, I have her awesome book that has lessons and recipes. So I started with her Perfect Roast Chicken recipe and made a few adjustments. The end result was nothing short of amazing.
DSC_0161

you will need:
1 fresh whole chicken (about 4 lbs)
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lemon, sliced
large handful fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage)
4 tablespoons butter

Heat oven to 450°F. Prepare the chicken by making sure that the cavity is empty; remove the giblets and liver if they are there and discard. Rinse chicken with cold water, inside and out. Then dry very thoroughly with paper towels. The key to getting your chicken nice and brown in the oven is that it is as dry as possible during prep.

Once chicken is dry, season it inside and out with lots of salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity with slices of the lemon, the garlic cloves and the herbs. Use the butter to rub and stuff the skin (just lift up the skin stuff little bits of butter down in there) for extra crispiness during cooking. Truss the chicken. I had no idea how to do this and references a few YouTube videos and settled on this method because it boasted more crispy skin. It worked for me. If you’d rather keep it simple, you can simply tie the chicken legs together with twine. Season all over with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken in a large skillet or small roasting pan (be careful, it can be pretty slippery). Roast until the thickest part of the thigh reads 165°F on a thermometer. Roasting should take between 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the chicken. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes after cooking. Carve and serve.

*If you have any leftovers, the chicken stays really moist and delicious. Its a great addition to a salad for lunch.

time: 20 minutes prep + 60 minutes cooking
serves: 4
adapted from: Martha Stewart

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Spinach & Asparagus Orzo Salad

I’ve had many days lately where I desperately need to clean out my fridge. Whether its from just being so busy that I’m not cooking every day, or that my mom is always bringing over goodies to stock my fridge, the produce drawers are usually bursting at the seams!

I had a big bag of spinach and a bunch of asparagus that needed to be used. After a quick Pinterest search, lots of good ideas popped up. I saw this nice spring side salad on Two Peas & Their Pod and instantly knew I wanted to make it. It was so easy to throw together and just tasted like spring in a bowl. Definitely going to keep this in the summer side salad rotation.  DSC_0176

you will need:
1 cup orzo
salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped (you can do less, I like garlic :))
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 bag spinach
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup feta cheese
salt & pepper, to taste

Cook the orzo in salted water according to package directions. Once cooked, drain and set aside. You may want to add a drizzle of oil so it doesn’t stick together.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the asparagus pieces and saute until tender. Time will vary depending on the thickness of your asparagus, so test with a fork after 5 minutes and every couple of minutes thereafter.

Add in the spinach and stir occasionally until it cooks down. Add in the orzo to reheat it.

Once orzo is reheated, take the pan off of the heat. Add the lemon juice and feta and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly and add more oil if you need it.

Serve salad right away or chill and serve later. This dish is delicious any way you serve it!

time: 10 minutes prep + 20 minutes cooking time
serves: 6
adapted slightly fromTwo Peas & Their Pod

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Creamy, Cheesy Mashed Cauliflower

Mama Cheater Bite found this yummy recipe to make for Connor’s birthday dinner. While he didn’t eat much, the rest of us devoured it. Honestly, this could totally replace mashed potatoes for me. It had so much good flavor and the texture was great. And you are eating a big bowl of cauliflower…so its super healthy, right?

Anyway, it makes for a great side and reheats beautifully. And if you want to kick it up a notch on the indulgence scale, add some crispy bacon in there, too.
mashed cauliflower

you will need:
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 5 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup milk (I use 2%, but any fat content is fine)
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup sour cream (full or reduced fat)
¾ cup cheddar or monterey jack cheese, shredded
salt & pepper to taste
1 small bunch chives, chopped

Boil a large pot of salted water and cook the the chopped cauliflower until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Toss the cooked cauliflower into the skillet and toss. Mash the cauliflower with a fork or potato masher.

Add in the butter, milk and sour cream, continuing to mix and mash until combined. Be sure no big pieces of cauliflower remain. Add in shredded cheese and mix until combined. Continue cooking over low heat until nice and hot. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Turn off heat and mix in chopped chives. Taste for seasoning and serve nice and hot!

serves: 6
time: 10 minutes prep + 25 minutes cooking
adapted slightly from: Host the Toast

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Buffalo Chicken Salads

In an effort to not let dinner be the thing that sets me over the edge after a busy day, I’m always on the search for delicious dinner salads that are filling and easy to throw together.  I came across Jessica’s recipe for homemade buffalo chicken nuggets and was super excited to try them. These salads are the perfect combo of crunchy and spicy. It’s fresh and delicious and has become a staple around here.
chicken salads
for the chicken, you will need:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
salt & pepper to taste
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons sriracha
1¼ cup panko bread crumbs
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder

for the salad, you will need:
6 cups of butter lettuce, chopped
2 carrot, grated
1 big handful of snap peas, cut in half
6 green onions, thinly sliced
1 big handful cilantro, coarsely chopped
4 slices of crispy cooked bacon, crumbled
2 ounces gorgonzola, blue or feta cheese, crumbled

for the dressing, you will need:
½ cup ranch dressing
2 tablespoons sriracha
*Trader Joe’s also sells a really yummy prepared Sriracha Ranch dressing in a bottle to make this even easier 🙂

Preheat oven to 425° F, then line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top, spraying it with nonstick cooking spray.

Take chicken breasts out of the package and dry off with paper towel.  Place on a cutting board, and cut into chunks. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Whisk the egg whites and sriracha in a small bowl and set aside.  Combine the panko, flour, onion powder and garlic powder in a shallow bowl.

Dunk each piece of chicken into the egg white mixture, then into the breadcrumb mixture, pressing to coat evenly. Place pieces on the wire rack, then spray the tops with nonstick spray. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden brown. *You can also cook in a skillet in some olive oil if you want them ready faster.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the salad.  Combine the chopped lettuce, grated carrot, snap peas, onions and cilantro and mix well.  Put in large bowls, then sprinkle the tops with crumbled bacon and cheese. Whisk together the ranch and sriracha.

When the chicken is done, top each of the salads with 5 or 6 pieces. Drizzle the salads with the dressing and serve the extra on the side.

serves: 3-4
time: 15 minutes hands-on time + 25 minutes baking time
adapted slightly from: How Sweet It Is

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My Baby is THREE!

THREE!!!! How is that even possible?!? IMG_0975 My kid turned 3 on Friday. He does so many great things now that just amaze me. He’s silly and fiery and loving, and I still can’t quite believe I made him. He’s also a crazy little boy and has started asking “why” at least 100 times per day…God help me.

Connor requested chocolate cupcakes for his birthday dessert this year, and of course I happily obliged. He helped make these delicious cupcakes from Sally’s Baking Addiction. I should have included the “during” photo here after he dropped the whole bowl of dry ingredients all over the counter, floor and himself. Oh wait, I was too busy spazzing to take a picture…toddlers make everything really messy, and fun.
bday cupcakes They were super delicious and easy peasy to make. We took a bunch to school where he housed one at lunch and then another after dinner. The sugar high that night was intense. Can’t believe another birthday is in the books!

Back later this week with some yummy food!

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