Tag Archives: Cake

A few weeks ago, I was honored to throw a baby shower for my sister Kelsey. Her and her hubby Jordan are expecting their first baby in August. We are patiently waiting for the first Smith cousin for Huntley! The shower was a wonderful success; great food, great company and an amazing location. 

I was lucky enough to host the shower at my aunt Christine’s house in Keystone, South Dakota. Her house backs up to the 1880’s train that runs from Hill City to Keystone. It was a real treat to enjoy lunch and games down by her wonderful waterfall and creek, all while waving to the passerby’s on the steam engine 1880’s train!

I enjoyed planning this baby shower, in part due to the fun theme; Woodlands Baby. The shower was everything woodlands – acorns, lanterns, trail mix, pine trees, babbling brooks, wildflowers, and baby animals galore!

Our menu consisted of a watermelon baby carriage (mom-to-be request), owl veggie tray, woodlands animal crackers, porcupine cheese dip, broccoli salad, and sandwiches. The baby shower showcase was the lemon-thyme vanilla cake with cream cheese buttercream.

These cakes were so delectable and the cream cheese frosting made for the perfect finish to the strong vanilla flavoring. I frosted these “naked” as I thought it looked appropriate in the forrest with the family of deer and added garnishes of fresh thyme to pull in our woodlands element and the thyme flavor. 

After the shower I got to snap a few photos of my sister, so that she will always remember her cute baby bump. It is so fun to watch my little sister in this special moment in her life. I can remember the months leading up to having Huntley where you prepare for every little moment, but nothing prepares you for the amount of love that is coming your way, until you hold that sweet baby in your arms. Baby Ellis will be here before we know it!

Lemon-Thyme Vanilla Cake

3 c. sifted cake flour
2 c. sugar
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
5 large egg whites
1 whole egg
1 c. whole milk
2 1/4 t. pure vanilla extract
2 t. lemon juice
2 T. thyme, minced
3/4 c. unsalted butter

1 c. salted butter, softened
1/2 c. shortening
16 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 T. vanilla extract
4 pounds confectioners sugar
*1/2 t. salt (if you use unsalted butter)

Prepare Cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and line 3 6-inch cake pans or 2 8-in cake pans with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together egg whites, egg, milk, and vanilla extract.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed. Gradually add in cold butter and continue to mix until mixture is a fine, crumbly texture. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients in separate batches, making sure to scrape down the sides each time. Mix in the lemon juice and minced thyme. Mix until light and fluffy. Divide batter evenly into pans and bake for 25-35 minutes. Check with a cake tester to ensure the cake is done baking. 

Prepare Frosting: In a mixing bowl with paddle attachment cream together shortening and butter. Mix until creamy. Add in cut up cream cheese and vanilla and blend again. Then a little a time add confectioners sugar. Turn on high for 15 minutes to make frosting smooth and fluffy. 

Links to other menu items:
Pink Lemonade Sparkling Fruit Punch
Blueberry-Mint Lemonade
Broccoli Salad {Forrest of Trees}
Watermelon Baby Carriage
Owl Veggie Tray
Porcupine Cheese Ball 










I have wanted to bake this cake for several months and the initial plan was to make it for myself for my birthday at the end of February. Fast forward to being sick most of February & March and it never happened. Thankfully I have completed the task and it did not disappoint. 

For some reason this year we have been plagued with every sickness possible. I often question if it is because I work in a school and continually share sicknesses with 450 other students. Or maybe the fact that my toddler spends time at daycare and does not understand the facets of how to stay germ free yet? Whatever the case, it was a rough two months as we battled sickness after sickness. 

I’m curious what do you all do to stay healthy? I have heard of many concoctions of vitamins, airborne drinks, natural oils, but doesn’t it really just boil down to washing your hands? I feel like I do this liberally! I also try to take care of myself because I think if your body is worn down, sickness tends to grasp on with a vicious bite. What has worked for you, because I’m all ears! 

All that I know is that I am so thankful for SPRING! It is such a wonderful time of year. The sun is out, the birds are back, and it seems that the haze of sickness has dissipated (for now). 

To celebrate this momentous occasion I FINALLY got to bake this beautiful cake that I found in The Vanilla Bean Baking book. Mint chocolate chip ice cream is my all time favorite ice cream, so naturally I was intrigued by this combination all whirled up into a delicious cake!

I added a little springtime spin on the cake with the addition of a chocolate nest and peep birds. The chocolate cake is a rich sponge cake paired with the minty buttercream, this cake screams spring from every angle. ENJOY!

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake with Peeps Nest
from the Vanilla Bean Baking Book

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 c. mocha frappuccino coffee, hot
1 c. buttermilk
½ c. olive oil
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 t. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 cups (396 g) sugar
¾ c. cocoa powder
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt

8 large egg whites
2 ¼ c. sugar
¼ t. salt
1 ½ pounds – 6 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 T. crème de menthe
½ t. mint extract plus more to taste
1 t.vanilla extract
½ c. chocolate chips, chopped small
Green food coloring (optional, if your crème de menthe is not colored and you want a nice minty green)

Bittersweet chocolate, cut into strips

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Butter and flour two 8 by 2-inch round cake pans (see note) and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Put the bittersweet chocolate in a small bowl. Pour the coffee over it and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the buttermilk, olive oil, eggs, and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt on low until combined. (If the cocoa powder is lumpy, you can sift it into the other ingredients.) With the mixer running on low, slowly add the buttermilk mixture. Increase the speed to medium and beat until combined, 20 to 30 seconds.

Whisk the chocolate and coffee together until completely smooth. With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the coffee mixture into the batter and mix until just combined. Using a spatula, give the batter a couple of turns to make sure it is fully mixed.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out with the tiniest bit of crumb. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the parchment paper, and let cool completely. Once cool, the cakes can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated overnight or frosted.

Put about 1 inch of water in a medium saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir the egg whites, sugar, and salt until combined. Put the bowl over the saucepan, being careful not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir with a rubber spatula until the sugar is completely melted, and the mixture reaches a temperature of 160⁰F, about 4 to 5 minutes. While you are stirring, be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula—this will ensure no sugar grains are lurking on the sides and will help prevent the egg whites from cooking.

Remove the bowl from the heat and place it in the stand mixer fitted with a whisk. Whisk the mixture on medium-high until stiff, glossy peaks form, 8 to 10 minutes. With the mixer running on low, add the butter, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated. Add the crème de menthe, mint extract, vanilla, and a couple drops of green food coloring (if using). Beat again and then taste test. If you want your buttercream to have a stronger mint flavor, add more mint extract ½ teaspoon at a time, until you are happy with the taste. Add the chocolate (if using) and stir with a spatula to combine.

Make sure your cakes are completely cool before you frost them. If your layers have a large dome, you can slice off the rounded bump for a straight top if desired. This will help make your cake look even and professional. 

Apply a crumb coat: Make sure your cake layers are even; you want them to line up together, and none of them should be sticking out farther than the others. Gently press to adjust them if you need to and you a ruler or straightedge to make sure they are lined up evenly. With an offset spatula, apply a thin, even layer of buttercream to the top and sides of the cake, covering every surface, and filling in the gaps between layers. Smooth out any bumps or lumps in the thin coat. Be careful if you need to apply more buttercream to not get crumbs from the spatula back into your mixing bowl. Move the cake into the freezer or refrigerator to chill the cake and harden the buttercream. This will keep the crumbs in place, locking them into the crumb coat. 

Apply a finishing coat: Take the cake from the freezer or refrigerator and put it back in the center of your turntable or cake stand. Place a large amount of buttercream on the top of the cake. With an offset spatula, smooth the buttercream on top of the cake so that it is a perfectly level layer. When the top is even, move onto the sides. Put a good amount of buttercream onto the spatula and then use the spatula to put the buttercream on the sides of the cake in a thick layer. Don’t worry about getting it perfectly smooth at this point, just make sure you have a nice thick coat, covering all the cake. Press the spatula very gently against the cake at a slight angle and move the turntable or cake stand in a constant fluid circle. As the table/stand moves, the spatula will begin to collect some of the excess buttercream and even out the sides. Stop to clean the spatula off a few times. You want to be careful not to take too much of the buttercream off, or you will start to see the cake layers underneath. Keep turning the table/stand until the buttercream is as smooth and even as possible. A slight edge will have built up on the top of the cake and with your spatula at an angle, run it across the top to even it out.

Finish decorating: The cake will be smooth at this point. You can leave it as is, or add some more decoration to it. When finished decorating, move the cake to a cake stand to serve or clean your cake stand if you have been assembling on the cake stand.

Assemble the chocolate strips into a nest shape and place your peeps on top!


When I was 9 years old, my family packed up our belongings in our New York home and moved us across the country to South Dakota. We had a going away party where my sisters and I sang “So long, Farewell” from the Sound of Music to all of our relatives and they balled their eyes out. Leaving New York was a very sad day, but I didn’t know how sad it would continue to be for me. New York was the home of my childhood, my friends, and much of my family whom I spent a lot of time with growing up. It was all I had ever known. 

South Dakota was VERY different than New York. The weather was different, the landscape was different, and the food was different too. My first day of school in 4th grade was probably one of the worst days of my life. So as we embark at the start of another school year, I want to offer some guidance for parents in terms of change. Transitioning to something new can be hard, but with the right preparation and thought that change can promote wonderful things. 

  1. If you are planning to move, time your move with your children in mind. Moving at the start of the summer allows children to adapt to their new surroundings and then transition to a new school. Taking each change in small steps is helpful. 
  2. On the first day of school, make sure your child has a buddy to take them around the school, eat lunch with them, tuck them under their wing so to speak. This is probably the most important tip. My first day of school I was alone, lost, and so scared. 
  3. Visit the school in advance. Meet the teachers, staff and discuss any school routines. It’s important as a newbie to get a solid foundation of the contacts at school so that you can better help your child. 
  4. Check in! Check in on your child several weeks after the start. Meet with the teacher and discover how your child is adjusting.
  5. Get involved. Sign your child up for clubs, sports, and activities that suit your child’s interests. These activities will allow your child to blossom and make new friends. 

Even though my move to South Dakota was hard, it truly shaped me. Change has that power, to make you stronger and to make you step outside your comfort zone. Moving to South Dakota was a blessing in disguise, because it shaped me into the person I am today. My heart will always hold a place for New York. In some strange way, I probably learned to cook because I wanted to re-create all of the classic New York treats that I grew up with. 

When I moved to South Dakota there weren’t any bakeries that made one of my favorite cookies, the black and white cookie. There were no bakeries or deli’s at all! So in my years growing up in South Dakota I took it upon myself to learn how to make the classic New York staples, black and white cookies, pizza, bagels, you know, the good stuff. 

In New York, my favorite cookies come from Rockland Bakery in Rockland County, New York. This bakery is such an icon in the northeast. It’s bakery cases host any baked delicacy your heart could desire. And the fresh bread! At Rockland Bakery you can pluck your bread, bagels, rolls, right from the oven where they come out crisp and piping hot. It doesn’t get any more fresh than that! To learn more about this amazing bakery check them out here

So as a nod to the place of my childhood, here is the classic black and white cookie recipe, which is adapted from an Epicurious recipe, with a few alterations to the chocolate frosting. In addition to these scrumptious cookies, take a look at my favorite bakery and favorite scenes from New York. 


New York Black & White Cookie

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/3 c. buttermilk
1/2 t. vanilla
1/3 c. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 large egg
Vanilla Frosting
1 1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 T.  light corn syrup
1 t. fresh lemon juice
1/4 t. anilla
1 to 2 T. water
Chocolate Frosting
1/4 c. butter
2 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1. t. vanilla
2 T. milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a cup. Beat together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then add egg, beating until combined well. Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in batches at low speed, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix until smooth. Spoon 1/4 cups of batter about 2 inches apart onto a buttered large baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until tops are puffed and pale golden, and cookies spring back when touched, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack and chill (to cool quickly), about 5 minutes.

Prepare icing. Stir together powdered sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl until smooth. In a separate bowl mix powdered sugar and cocoa. Mix dry mixture with butter and gradually add vanilla and milk. Beat for 1-2 minutes until smooth. Turn cookies flat sides up, then spread white icing over half of each and chocolate over other half. 

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~It’s all about the frosting!


Achievement Days in our county was the day that 4-Hers would showcase all of their hard work and dedication through their 4-H projects. Growing up it was often an exciting day where all our projects were awarded a ribbon depending on the quality, craftsmanship, etc. For me this day was exhilarating , because I would wake up REALLY early to make cookies, cake, and fresh bread. I always wanted my food project entries to be as fresh as possible. And it paid off, most of my food projects always earned the coveted purple ribbon.

Food wasn’t the only category that I entered projects for Achievement Days. Horse, rodeo, visual arts, photography, horticulture, house plants, clothing, hobbies and collections were some of my other favorite areas. 4-H was a very pivotal program in my life and it makes me sad to see the program dying in communities around the country. I could talk for 10 days straight about why these programs are important, but I hope by sharing this with you all, you may encourage your family or another family looking for a great outlet to create and foster a sense of achievement.

So this year I got to relive my 4-H glory days by submitting entries in the Dunn County Fair. I spent the ENTIRE day cooking my entries and I loved every minute of it. It was really fun picking out my favorite recipes to cook and be judged on. I made a yummy zucchini bread recipe that is the perfect solution to an oversupply of garden zucchini. I tried a new recipe, Chewy Maple Cookies. Although they did taste great, the appearance wasn’t what I was hoping for. Chocolate Revel Bars were next up, these are an awesome treat. Rich chocolate is paired with a cookie base that is accentuated by oatmeal. My cake was a Lemon-Lavender cake, which utilized dried lavender buds in the mix. And finally the big winner was the Pecan Pie recipe. This is one of my favorite pies, especially for the holidays. 

In the end, my hard work paid off and I won the highest achievement, best in class with my pecan pie. The pie crust is extra buttery and the pie filling is to die for. What programs do your families support; 4-H, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, FFA? There are so many worthwhile youth programs out there and most counties have a county fair too. I encourage you to get out there, create a craft, bake some cookies, grow some vegetables, make a necklace. Whatever you do, your time and effort will give you a great sense of achievement. 


Best in Class Pecan Pie

Pie Crust                                                                                          
3 c. flour                                                                           
2 t. salt                                                                             
14 T. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled     
½ c. cold water                                             

Pie Filling
Flour for dusting
1 c. corn syrup
¾ c. sugar
¼ c. brown sugar
2 T. unsalted butter
2 t. vanilla
½ t. salt
3 eggs
1 ¼ c. chopped pecans plus ½ c. pecan halves

Prepare pie dough by pulsing flour, salt and butter in a food processor into pea size crumbles. Add water, pulse until dough comes together. Divide dough in half and wrap in disks. Chill 1 hour before using. Roll dough into a 12 in. round. Fit into a 9 inch pie plate. Chill 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk corn syrup, sugars, butter, vanilla, salt, and eggs in a bowl. Fold in chopped pecans. Distribute filling evenly over dough, arrange pecan halves around the inside edge of pie. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is set, about 1 hour.



Lemon Lavender Bundt Cake {Blue Ribbon}

3 c. cake flour
1 ½ t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
16 T. unsalted butter
1 ½ c. sugar
1 T. dried lavender flowers
4 eggs, lightly beaten
½ t. lemon extract
1 c. plain yogurt
1 T. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter, sugar, and lavender. Add the eggs, then beat in the lemon extract. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the yogurt. Fold in the lemon zest. Bake for 1 hour.



Zucchini Bread {Blue Ribbon}

3 eggs, beaten
3 t. cinnamon
1 c. cooking oil
2 c. peeled and grated zucchini
2 c. sugar
½ t. salt
3 c. flour
¼ t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder

Mix all ingredients together and put in bread pans. Bake bread at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Makes 2 loaves.

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Chocolate Revel Bars {Blue Ribbon}

Cookie Layer                                               
1 c. shortening                                           
2 c. sugar                                                   
2 eggs                                                           
2 t. vanilla                                                    
2 ½ c. flour                                                  
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
3 c. oatmeal

1 (15 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 c. chocolate chips
2 T. butter
1/2 t. salt
2 t. vanilla

Mix shortening and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients. Set aside and prepare filling. Melt chocolate chips, milk, butter, and salt in microwave. When smooth add vanilla. Spread 2/3 of oatmeal mixture in a 9×13 baking dish. Cover with chocolate filling. Dot with the remaining 1/3 oatmeal mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.



Chewy Maple Cookies {Red Ribbon}

½ c. shortening
1 ½ c. flour
1 c. brown sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 egg
½ t. salt
½ c. maple syrup
1 c. coconut
½ t. vanilla

In a mixing bowl, cream shortening and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, syrup and vanilla until well mixed. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to the creamed mixture. Stir in coconut. Drop by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

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Thanks to all of the volunteers at the Dunn County Fair. There were many excellent open class exhibits as well as amazing 4-H projects!

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Creating goals is an important element of a successful life. Goals drive you towards your passions and motivate you to embrace challenge, change, and perseverance. Beginning this blog has been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember! See I was the kid who woke up early to watch Martha Stewart bake a cake, the one who entered a gazillion 4-H food projects, just so I could hear that my crust was perfect and that it tasted amazing, the one who scoured garage sales for any cookbook I could find and the one who dreamed of becoming a brilliant chef when I grew up. I studied French in high school, so I would be better adept at speaking French, but it seems the only word I came out of french class with was le beurre (butter). I stayed up late watching Jamie Oliver and Iron Chef, thinking maybe I could pick up one trick that would help me in my cooking endeavors.

But through life’s twisty turns, I became a COUNSELOR. Yes, it’s a scary word and it has nothing to do with cooking or does it? Cooking has always been my therapy, my place of hunger, and my craving in life. I think cooking is therapeutic in so many ways and I hope to share this with you through my cooking.

Let’s talk about goals baby. Goals need to be smart.


So I ask myself, is this lofty goal of mine SMART? I hope we can find out on this journey.

To start I want to share a recipe for a simple cake from one of my original idols: Martha Stewart. This cake is yummy and easy to make. The frosting is a sweet, gooey candy like frosting that is melt your mouth delicious. Cheers to goals and making those goals SMART!


Vanilla Layer Cake with Easy Penuche Frosting

Cake adapted from Martha Stewart Living, July 2013


1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for cake pans and parchment
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup milk
1 3/4 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar


For the cake preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment; butter parchment as well. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Add eggs and beat well, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture, beating until combined. Add milk and vanilla and beat until just combined. Divide batter between pans; smooth tops with an offset spatula. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, 33 to 35 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks to cool completely.

For the frosting, melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in brown sugar. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the milk and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set pan in cold water bath. When you can hold your hand on the bottom of the pan, the syrup is cool enough. Keep pan in iced water bath and beat in confectioner’s sugar until thick enough to spread. If frosting is too thin add more confectioner’s sugar. If too thick, add a few drops of hot water.

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