Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Halloween - When Scary is Fun

Author: Jose G. Barr

Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays since I can remember. Growing up, my Dad would ask me what I wanted to be and we would make my costume.  I can still remember my favorite one of all, the robot.  He and I spent a few weeks working on it to get it just right.  Today, that costume means so very much to me because of the time and memories that my Dad and I spent together brainstorming ideas and then making the costume. Even though my Dad has been gone for over 20 years, these and many other memories keep him alive all year long in my mind and heart.  AS a father I want to give my little boy these same memories, of the two of us working together, doing something fun, that will live on in him long after the good Lord has called me home.
Rice crispy treat dipped in chocolate, finished
with a yellow chocolate drizzle

Wrapped and ready for his classmates
One of the activities that Joseph loves is pumpkin carving. We've got two pumpkins sitting in our patio, one is decorated as a mummy (with white gauze wrapped around it) and the other counting down to them moment when it meets its fate at the hands of the carver. Joseph wanted to make a special treat for his classmates, so we made some rice crispy treats for them to enjoy before Halloween.  Each treat was dipped in dark chocolate and them finished with a yellow chocolate drizzle.  The best part about these treats was the fun that we all had making them. Family moments like these are what make this holiday so special for us. Spending time together as a family is worth more than you could ever imagine.

This year we will be taking Joseph out to Redlands, Ca. Where Cajon and Olive Streets are closed for several blocks in each direction by the city and transformed into a trick-or-treaters paradise. Last year the police estimated that over 14,000 people came out for the fun. The residents of these two streets go all out decorating their homes and passing out candy to the kids. Along with the treats, the local churches sponsor bands, face painting and other fun activities for the kids to enjoy.

When the nights is finished we will bid farewell until next year to the ghosts and ghoulies that have graced our yards. The end of the holiday is always a bittersweet time because the time has passed and will not be back for another year, yet there is more fun just a few weeks away.

Until next time my friends, love your kids,
Cherish your family.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Halloween Brain Cake

Author: Jose G. Barr

A few years ago, after my 4th or 5th knee surgery, while I was recovering I tool an interest in baking. I started with cupcakes and worked my way into cakes and using fondant.  Baking and decorating cakes is a time for me to reflect and think about the day or week. This past week, after having watched the beginning of season 6 of The Walking Dead, and reading Yolanda Gampps article on the brain cake (kudos on an amazing cake), I decided to try my hand at it as well. 

First things first, you will need to bake a red velvet cake in a round bowl. My favorite is from The Food Networks Chef Alton Browns red velvet cake recipe. For this cake you will not need the cream cheese filling. Prepare the cake batter as instructed and pour into a round metal or glass bowl for baking. This will give you the basic shape to begin carving your brain.

While you cake cools, make some simple syrup to give your cake some moisture.  Making a simple syrup is easy. Place 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar in a pot and bring it to a boil.  Some recipes direct you to bring it to a boil and then turn it off and let it cool, I like to let the syrup boil for about 3 to 4 minutes to give it a slightly thicker consistency. How you make it is completely up to you. Let the syrup cool to room temperature and place in a container. 

Once the cake has cooled, place the cake on a good work surface and start carving the cake until your have the basic shape of a brain. Pull up a picture of a brain on your phone or tablet to give you a general idea of what you want it to look like. When you are done, you will take the simple syrup you made earlier and drizzle it over your cake, use enough to give it some moisture, but not so much that it gets soggy.  

Next comes the crumb coat.  What is a crumb coat? Well, the best way to describe it is like a primer coat when painting something. The primer coat allows for a smoother, better looking finish.  In cake decorating, the crumb coat is the first layer of frosting placed on a cake, often picking up crumbs from the carved cake along the way.  you want your frosting to be a thinner consistency than what you would normally use, this allows you to spread it on the cake without doing any damage.  Once you have finished your crumb coat place the cake in the refrigerator for about an hour to allow the crumb coat to set.  

When the crumb coat has set you can begin work on the brain itself. For this I used Wilton's decorator Preferred Fondant. It is easy to work with and has a good taste to it. There are others on the market that are not as tasty and are much stiffer and difficult to work with.  Take the fondant out of its package and begin working with small amounts of it, rolling it into ropy lengths about as thick around as your pinky finger and 2 to 3 inches long. You will use these to simulate the folds of the brain. remember that every brain looks different and the patterns are different. Remember to separate the left and right hemispheres of the brain when you are placing the fondant.  Begin at the bottom, working your way up each side, pressing the fondant onto the cake firmly, but not so much that you take away from the cylindrical shape of the folds.  Once this is done, you will take the remainder of the your fondant to make the cerebellum at the rear bottom of the brain.   

For the bloody color I used raspberry jam as suggested by Ms. Yolanda Gampp, but I diluted the jam with the remaining simple syrup to make it easier to work with. I used a decorators bottle to drizzle the bloody ooze all over the cake. Next time I do this cake I will use a decorating brush to brush the color on rather than drizzle it.  
In the end my friends, making this cake was a fun way to relieve stress and spend some time with my beautiful wife who helped me with rolling the fondant.

Until next time my friends, love your kids,
Cherish your family.