Tessa Huff

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Winter Wonderland Cake

I wasn't sold on the idea of having a January baby at first (not that I really could have controlled it that much).  I thought his birth would be too close to the holidays and that his birthdays would always be over-shaddowed by Christmas and New Years.  But as I watch him light up with each new adventure and activity this season, I am glad that his first Christmas will be one he can actually enjoy (even if he doesn't remember).  I may even be cured of the post-holiday blues knowing that we still have one last thing to celebrate each season - my dear, darling boy.

I try not to talk too much about my son - let's face it, you are all here mostly for the cake!  However, there is nothing like seeing the holidays through the eyes of a child, and this cake reflects just that: pure MAGIC.

The holiday season in my twenties was nearly everything I could have wanted as an adult.  I still spent and cherished each Christmas day with my family, but the weeks leading up were filled with friends, Christmas cocktails, smooches under the missile-toe with my boyfriend-turned-husband, my first grown-up tree, and hosting my own celebrations and dinner parties at our swanky townhouse.

To contrast the sequins, stilettos, and champagne (not that I was ever a huge party girl or anything, but hey - it's (or was) the holidays!), this year we went to the Santa Parade in our rubber rain boots, took Everett on his first carousel ride at the Vancouver Christmas Market, and I even had to borrow some heels from my stylish mom for Brett's work party since my current wardrobe was missing a decent pair.  We spent last Friday night baking cookies with grandma and were home to tuck the little guy into bed by 8:30pm from the Vancouver Aquarium holiday party.

Every single aspect of my life has been changed since having a baby.  The holiday season is no exception.  And while I had fun celebrating in my glamorous twenties, I have a feeling that Christmas as a 31-year-old mommy will be even better.

I wasn't sure how much Everett would actually be able to absorb at only 11 months old, but I have been delightfully surprised.  Watching his eyes light up when we decorated the tree and him trying to sing along to Christmas carols made my mommy heart nearly explode!  We opened gifts with my parents over the weekend, and he definitely had fun with all the tissue paper.  And just like they all say, he has found equal enjoyment out of playing with the boxes as his new toys (he is currently putting his new blocks into the big box that our new coffee maker came in as I type, hehe).  He surely doesn't get the concept of Santa yet, but what a happy change it has already been to be celebrating the season with a little one in the house.

Happy 11-months and Merry 1st Christmas, baby boy!

Oh, about the cake!  I almost got so carried away rambling about my little love-bug, that I nearly forget to talk about the fantastic flavours of this incredible cake.  For my last cake of 2015, I wanted to create something extra special.  And although the cake layers are only vanilla, they are anything but ordinary.  This  vanilla bean butter cake is the only white cake you will ever need.  It is velvety, moist, and full of flavour!

For the filling, I made my own gingersnap cookie butter then folded into a delightfully whipped vanilla bean frosting.  Did you hear that?  Gingersnap Cookie Butter!!!!  I got hooked on Trader Joe's cookie butter years before me moved to Canada.  Since we don't have TJ's up here, I thought I'd make my own.  For Christmas, I whizzed up some gingersnaps in the blender and turn them into a spiced cookie spread.  Instead of stopping there, I turned it into a buttercream filling.

If you've been reading this blog for even just a few months, then you probably know how much I rave about Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  It is so smooth and not too sweet - although fairly labor intensive.  I've been making this type of buttercream ever since I ran my bakery, The Frosted Cake Shop, so I've gotten used to gently heating the egg whites and making meringue.  I've always turned my nose up to American buttercream since I typically find it to be too sweet and the texture too thick.  Well folks, something clicked and I have new found love for American Buttercream.  They key factor?  Letting it whip until light, fluffy perfection!  Taking the time to let the air get worked in really lightens up the buttercream and makes it smooth enough to ice a cake.

My intention was to make an elegant, snowy winter wonderland cake.  I wanted it to be more glamorous than whimsical.  But when my white chocolate ganache ended up being too yellow (hello Tessa, white chocolate is hardly white at all), and then when that yellowish ganache turned teal instead of ice blue (again, Tessa: yellow + blue = green), the design for the cake took a turn towards funky town.  By this point, I decided to embrace my inner Willy Wonka and go all Katherine Sabbath on it.  And ya know what?  I'm not complaining one bit about the final results!

I was inspired by some of my fellow cake artists for the design, including Lyndsay of Coco Cake LandClifford of Cakes by Cliff, and of course Katherine Sabbath as well as my favorite watercolour technique for the frosting.  I blended in a touch of blue icing just before I was done smoothing out the cake completely so that is would be more of a marbled effect instead of just turning the cake light blue.  The technicolor drip is made from white chocolate and the whole thing was topped with an array of meringues, dragees, and sprinkles.

Vanilla Bean Cake I used this recipe I created for The Cake Blog - baked in three 6-inch cake pans for about 24 to 26 minutes.

Whipped Vanilla Buttercream 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature 4 cups powdered sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

1.  Beat the butter with an electric mixer until very smooth. 2.  With the mixer on low, gradually add in the remaining ingredients. 3.  Once incorporated, turn the mixer up to medium-high and mix for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until light, fluffy, and very pale in color.

Gingersnap Cookie Butter 6 ounces gingersnap cookies 1/4 cup grapeseed oil 2 to 3 tablespoons water 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Crush the cookies up in a high-powdered blender or food processor.  Add in the remaining ingredients and blend until a smooth, thick paste forms.  Add more or less water and powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached.  Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before use.

Gingersnap Cookie Butter Buttercream 1/2 batch whipped vanilla buttercream 6 tablespoons gingersnap cookie butter

Re-mix the buttercream until fluffy, if necessary.  Add in the cookie butter and mix until smooth.

White Chocolate Ganache Glaze 2 ounces heavy cream 2 ounces white chocolate, chopped

Gently heat the cream until just before a simmer.  Pour over or add the white chocolate.  Let sit for 20 seconds then stir until combined.

*Truthfully, I heated the cream at 1/2 power in the microwave then dumped in the chocolate.  The chocolate did not completely melt, so I microwaved it all again at 1/2 power in intervals of 15-20 seconds.  If you decided to follow this method, be sure not to microwave either the cream or the chocolate for too long or it may seize up or burn.

Meringue Kisses I used this recipe from the how-to post I created for The Kitchn, plus the seeds from 1/2 of a vanilla bean whipped in.  I piped out about 2/3 of the meringue using various star tips.  With the remaining 1/3, I tinted it blue, then added it to the used piping bags to create the swirls of color.

Assembly gel food coloring, optional sprinkles, dragees, sanding sugar meringues

1.  Trim the cakes as necessary.
2.  Fill and stack the cake with the gingersnap cookie butter buttercream (more detailed instructions here).
3.  Use the remaining 1/2 of the vanilla buttercream to frost the cake (reserving and tinting about 1/4 cup of it blue) 
4.  Once you are nearly done smoothing out the cake, randomly swipe on the blue buttercream.
5.  Continue to smooth out the cake to intregate the blue portions without blending it in completely (there should be watercolour-like patches vs. the whole cake turning pale blue).  Chill in the refrigerator.
6.  Make the white chocolate ganache glaze and tint it your color of choice.  Set aside for about 10 minutes or until slightly cooled but still thick yet liquidy.
7.  Begin dripping the ganache over the edges of the chilled cake.  Start slow by dripping only a little bit at a time with a spoon.  If the ganache runs everywhere, it's probably too hot.  Try a few practice drips to determine the correct consistency/temperature (gently reheat as necessary).
8.  Continue to add drips as desired around the entire cake - working in small amounts to help control the "drip."
9.  Gently pour the remaining ganache into the center of the cake and smooth it out with the back of the spoon or small off-set spatula.  The glaze should settle and smooth out more as it sets.  If by this point the ganache is too cold, it may not smooth out.  Gently re-heat as necessary.
10.  Decorate to your heart's desire with the meringues, sprinkles, etc!

Happy Holidays!

Holiday Cake Round-Up