Friday, April 20, 2012

Monarch Butterfly Birthday Cake

This cake is any chocoholic's dream. The top tier is three  8" dark chocolate cake layers sandwiched with chocolate-almond mousse. It is sitting atop 10" of vanilla bean chocolate chip pound cake with whipped cream cheese filling, and the entire thing is en-robed in velvety dark chocolate ganache. The type of cake that just needs to be eaten with an icy cold class of milk! I made it for one of my friend's mom's surprise 50th birthday party. The little feather monarch butterflies held a special significance to their family and were ordered online to ensure their accuracy. The number '50' topper is handmade from gumpaste and completely edible!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Blue Moon Cupcakes

My roommates both had birthdays in March, and we properly celebrated the first anniversary of their 21st birthdays with these delicious Blue Moon cupcakes. The cake is dense and flavored with the citrusy-yeasty Blue Moon beer. I poked holes in the top of the cupcakes fresh out of the oven and brushed them with more beer to make sure the taste came through. The result was a moist, spongy cake that was only slightly sweet-pairing perfectly with orange cream cheese frosting. Finished with orange zest and an orange wedge, these little cakes were the highlight of the 'mustachio bashio' we threw in honor of Emily and Mary.

Happy Birthday Emily and Mary!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fair Trade and Organic Ingredients

Taking a brief detour from cakes today to talk about the importance of fair trade ingredients. I know, I know. You've heard all the hype and seen the shelves full of products sporting 'fair' lables and 'organically grown' claims. It's easy to assume that the extra money they ask for in exchange for those products gets lost somewhere along the supply chain and never really makes it to the farmer. When you're in the store deciding which brand of coffee to buy to feed your daily addiction, or which ingredients to buy in bulk for your bakery, it's even easier to have a 'cheaper the better' kind of attitude.

Now I'm a poor college student, and if you look in my pantry (ahem, cabinet...) there is a 100% chance you will find some kind of snack chocked full of preservatives and bad-for-me things. Pop-tarts are my shameless weakness. I've always thought that eating organic and using all-organic ingredients in my cakes was a great idea for that far away day when I have disposable income to burn at Whole Foods. That is, until I got the opportunity to travel to Peru for Spring break this year. I've been writing my thesis all year on the cocoa trade in Latin America, and received a grant from my school to go to Peru and investigate the feasibility of fair trade cocoa there. Suddenly,  'disposable income' took on a whole new meeting.

I know what you're thinking: "Here's comes the sermon about only buying fair trade." I don't do that myself, and until I do, I will never claim it to be the only right option. I just want to clear up a lot of the speculation about buying fair trade and organic, simply because I had the fortune of meeting someone who grows fair trade cocoa for a living and he completely changed my perspective. Meet Carlos Valero, cocoa farmer extraordinaire:

He grows organic cocoa classified as 'fino de aroma' in the jungle of Echarati, Peru. He took me in for a few days and taught me everything he knows about growing cocoa: 

Like fertilizing his trees with organic compost and minerals,

harvesting the pods and splitting them open to free the cocoa beans inside,

drying and fermenting the beans,

hand picking only the best ones to de-shell and toast in a kettle over an open fire,

grinding them by hand to form a paste, 

molding the paste into chocolate bricks,

and finally, melting the bricks and adding spices to make the most delicious hot chocolate I've ever had.

In the wise words of Carlos, he makes, "Chocolate pura, como nuestras vidas." Pure chocolate, like our lives. Carlos has everything he could ever want because of his organic cocoa farm, and he still lives below the standards that most of us would consider 'normal'. After meeting him, touring his farm and neighboring ones that were significantly worse off, I realize how important organic and fair trade produce is to the farmers who grow it. They are more organized, more educated, and very passionate about delivering a quality product. 

So whether your reason is wanting to put fewer chemicals and preservatives into your body, doing your part to further the development of agrarian societies, or simply because you believe it is the right thing to do, I hope I made you think twice about buying fair trade and organic today! I promise to use only the best quality, non-slave labor, organic cocoa in all of my cakes in order to start doing my part. As I become more successful, I hope to add free range dairy and egg products to that list, as well. Buying fair trade and organic is a small price to pay to make a big difference in the lives of many, including yourself!