Barbie Cake

The Barbie Cake is a sugary creation of epic proportion.  My daughter has been a Barbie fan for years.  And so for years at her request I’ve made her a Barbie cake for her birthday.   She just turned 17 and requested a Barbie cake.  She usually had a particular actual Barbie she wanted in the cake — not the Barbie-like doll picks with which many cakes are decorated.  Years ago I created this extra tall cake/skirt to accommodate an actual Barbie in all her leggy impossible plastic glory.  I’ll document the process below, and will include several photos to help.  In my house this is a once per year spectacle of cake, frosting and non-political-correctness.  For my friends who’ve asked how to do a Barbie cake, here is what I do.  I apologize in advance for the length of this post.  It’s all for the love of a daughter.  And birthday cake.

What you’ll need:

Wonder mold cake pan

8-inch round cake pan

two cake mixes, and ingredients to make batter as noted on box

double batch frosting

paste color

decorating bags and tips

1.  Prepare two cake mixes, or a double batch of whatever type of cake you prefer.  I usually use a box mix with this cake as it creates a forgiving, light textured cake that doesn’t crack when I add the Barbie.  Generously spray the pans with baking spray to prevent sticking.  Here are the pans, unfilled:

2.  Fill the pans with both cake mixes.  The Wonder mold takes one entire cake mix, but I add extra and put the remainder in the 8 inch pan.  Basically I add more batter to each pan than I normally would, but that’s because I want to have two level layers that are tall enough.  Here are the pans filled with batter, before baking.  This is a marbleized batter make with strawberry and vanilla mixes:

3.  Bake the cakes at 325.  8-inch round will be ready in about 35 minutes, the Wonder mold in about 45 – 50 minutes.  When a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, the cake is ready.  Here are the baked cakes:

4.  Allow cakes to cool in their pans for 15 minutes, then un-mold and cool completely.  Cut off the mounded tops of the layers so that their tops are level.  Then place the 8-inch layer on a cake plate, and put a layer of frosting on the cut side, up.  Invert the Wonder mold cake on top.  Here are the layers, frosted together:

And then the magic starts.  Plunge the naked Barbie feet first into the cake.  Hands up, Barbie!  I put her hair up to keep it clear of the cake while I’m frosting the bodice.  Here’s the cake, with Barbie:

5.  Now the fun begins.  Using you favorite buttercream frosting, food coloring (use paste color), pastry bags and tips, go to town creating Barbie’s dress to your liking.  This cake used an Indian Princess Barbie, so her gown is loosely based on a sari.  I used two tips for this decorating, a ruffle tip and a small round tip.   Here is the finished Barbie cake:

What is it? Kale.

Kale is a food whose time has come.  This ancient cabbage relative has been a food staple for centuries throughout Europe, Asia and Africa.   One of the most nutritionally dense foods in existence, kale (Brassica oleracea) has been the health food poster child for years here in America.  But I want you to get to know kale’s delicious culinary tradition.  Did you know that. . . .

1.  In Germany, tourists go on Grünkohlfahrt, a time to tour inns and eat huge quantities of kale.

2. Kale juice is popular in Japan.

3. You can give your kale a massage.  Really.  Massaging kale breaks down some of the cells, exposing the interior juices to oxygen.  This causes a cascade of reactions yielding sweeter, complex flavors.  look here

4. Kale tastes best after the kale plants in your garden have been through a light frost.

5. Flowering kale is a common fall or winter garden ornamental.  The pretty “flowers” aren’t flowers.  They are just vibrantly hued kale leaves.

I’ve posted a recipe for Kale Sausage Hash on this blog.

Here’s my super simple kale recipe for today.

Kale Chips

Kale – any variety

olive oil


Wash and dry the kale.  If there are large stems, remove them.  Cut or tear the kale leaves into pieces about 2 inches on a side.  Toss with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and arrange in a layer on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt.  Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes.  Stir the kale around then return to oven for another 10 minutes or so.  You want the kale chips to emerge crisp but not burned.  Allow to cool then enjoy as an appetizer.

Chocolate Cake

This is perhaps my favorite all time baking recipe.   I was in search of the perfect, simple, fool-proof chocolate cake.  For two years I tried multiple chocolate cake recipes, tweaking this and that.  After much experimentation, this is the one.  It’s fast to make and tastes just like a good chocolate layer cake should.

Makes 24 cupcakes, two 9-inch layers, three 8-inch layers or one 9 X 13 cake.

3 oz bittersweet chocolate

8 oz boiling water

8 1/2 oz (1 3/4 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour [for cupcakes, increase flour to 9 1/2  oz (1 7/8 cup)]

7 oz (1 cup) white sugar

8 oz (1 cup packed) light brown sugar

2 1/2 oz (3/4 cup) cocoa powder (natural – not Dutch processed)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 large eggs

8 oz (1 cup) buttermilk

3 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) vegetable oil

In a small heatproof bowl mix chocolate and boiling water.  Blend until chocolate is melted.  It may look a little clumpy – don’t worry.  Set this aside while you mix the rest of the batter.

Mix all the rest of the ingredients on low for 20 seconds or so just to combine.  Scrape down the side of the bowl, then mix on medium for 2 minutes.

Add the water/chocolate mixture to batter.  It’s OK if the water/chocolate mixture is still warm.  Mix on low to combine.  Batter will be thin.

Pour into prepared pans and bake at 350 until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  For 24 cupcakes or three 8-inch layers, test after 18 minutes; for two 9-inch layers, test after 22 minutes; and for the 9 X 13 cake test after 28 minutes.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a baking rack or parchment lined plate to cool completely.

This cake is fabulous when frosted with Vanilla Buttercream.  You can find that recipe as part of my Chocolate Sandwich Cookie entry.  But a more detailed and slightly larger batch recipe is forthcoming.

Note 1: to prepare a pan, I use cooking spray with flour.  It is fast, easy, and always works.  I use cupcake papers when I make cupcakes.

Note 2:  I use a scale to measure my ingredients.  It’s just a faster, easier way to bake.  It also makes measuring flour accurate and consistent.  I’ll include both types of measurement where possible.

This recipe is dedicated to the members of Biblestudy, who have been testing my dessert experiments for many, many years.

What is it? Parsley.

This green, green herb has a long and important culinary history.  Often relegated to the role of garnish, parsley deserves some attention as a culinary mainstay.  It’s fresh, nutritious, and mildly savory.  Parsley (petroselinum hortense) is the best known member of its botanical family — the parsley family.  Other parsley family herbs include cilantro, caraway, carrot, dill, fennel, and celery.

Parsley is also grown as a root vegetable.  While all parsley types are biennial root-producers, Hamburg Root Parsley is a type of parsley that produces an especially fat root that looks like a chubby white carrot.  Parsley root is a great stew and soup vegetable with a mild parsley flavor.  Try it in chicken soup.

Use flat leaved, or Italian parsley for cooking.  The flavor is superior to that of curly parsley – which is still a beautiful and edible herb.

If you have a little garden space, consider growing parsley.  It is an easy to grow herb, but the seeds can take a while to germinate.  Easier still, buy parsley seedlings at your local nursery, set them out in your garden, give them a little water, and you’ll be enjoying this timeless herb all summer.

One simple recipe that stars parsley is Tabouleh.  This classic salad is very common in the middle east.  Made with summer ripe garden tomatoes, Tabouleh is delicious, refreshing, and super good for you.  There are hundreds of versions of this popular salad out there.  This is how I like mine.


1 cup wheat bulgur
1 cup boiling water
1 bunch flat leaved parsley, stems removed, chopped fine
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
1 large or 2 small tomatoes, chopped
fresh squeezed juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup good olive oil
sea salt

Place wheat bulgur in a heatproof bowl.  Pour the boiling water onto the bulgur.  Cover with tight fitting lid or plastic wrap.  Set aside for 20 – 30 minutes.

Fluff the prepared bulgur with a fork.  Add the remainder of the ingredients, mixing just to combine.  Add salt to taste.  Refrigerate, covered.  Serve at room temp, or cold.

note: Tabouleh recipes often include chopped onion or scallion.

Asparagus Orzo Salad

Here’s a quick and tasty pasta salad that highlights fresh asparagus.  Lemony and fresh, it’s great for lunch, and keeps for several days in the fridge.  I grow several herbs in my garden including the fresh oregano I use in this salad.

1 cup dry orzo

1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into 1 inch chunks

juice and zest of one large or two small lemons

1/2 cup good quality olive oil

3/4 (approx.) cup crumbled feta cheese

2 TB chopped fresh thyme, oregano or marjoram

salt – to taste

Bring pot of water to boil.  Add orzo and cook for 6 minutes.  Add fresh asparagus to the cooking orzo and cook for 3 more minutes.  Drain and rinse under cold water.  Dress the orzo and asparagus with lemon juice, zest, olive oil, feta, herbs and salt.  Can be eaten cold or room temp.

Salt-preserved citrus

I have a beautiful Persian lime tree in my back yard, and a good friend has a super productive Meyer lemon.  Two months ago my lime tree was covered with fruit, and my friend brought over a grocery bag filled with lemons.  So, instead of lemonade, I made salt-preserved lemons and limes.  This is an old tradition in parts of the middle east.  The citrus gets soft and mellow after a month or so in the fridge.  The resulting preserved citrus has a bright delicious citrus flavor and the natural pectin in the rind adds unctuousness to recipes.

Kosher salt – up to 1 cup per quart of preserved citrus

lots of high quality lemons or limes, scrubbed

glass quart jar(s) with new lids

Cut the fruit almost all the way into quarters, leaving one end intact.  You can quarter the fruit if you like — it’s up to you.   Put a couple tablespoons of salt in the the bottom of a clean, sterilized, glass quart jar.

Next, rub salt all over the citrus and put the salt covered citrus in the jar.  Don’t be shy with the salt!  Really coat the citrus in salt.  Repeat with more fruit, and pack them in.  The juice of the citrus will squish out — this is what you want.  You will end up with the lemon or lime juice totally covering the fruit and a layer of undissolved salt in the bottom of the jar.  Add more freshly squeezed juice to cover the fruit, if needed, to minimize the air layer at the top.

The salt will dissolve over the next couple of days.  My photo above is taken right after I made the preserved citrus, so you can see the salt at the bottom.   It’s OK if you still have some undissolved salt after a while.  Put the lids on the jars and place at room temp for two days, giving the jars a turn or shake a couple times to help redistribute the salt.   Don’t open the jars during this rest time.

Put the jars, unopened, in the fridge for at least three weeks.  Then — enjoy!  They will last in the fridge for around 6 months.

Here’s a link to a chicken dish in which to use preserved lemon.  When you use the preserved citrus, rinse them and discard the pulp if you want.  I’ll post a recipe I created to use my preserved lime soon.  SO yummy.


What is it? Asparagus.

It’s Spring, so that means asparagus.  Distinctive, delicious, and sophisticated asparagus is a seasonal treat in my kitchen.  Taste it raw and you’ll appreciate its grassy, green notes and distinct flavor.

So, what is it?  Asparagus is the new, fresh growth shoot that springs out of the ground from the underground root stock of an herbaceous perennial plant.  The mature plant is a fluffy 3 foot high plant with many stems, tiny leaves, and little flowers.  We only eat the new, tender emerging stalks – nothing from the maturing plant.  Asparagus is a European plant in origin, though it is grown and enjoyed around the world.

Most asparagus is green, though in northern Europe white asparagus is common.  This is regular asparagus that has been allowed to sprout in the dark.  This keeps the plant from producing chlorophyll, which is what makes it green.  There is also a purple variety developed in Italy.

Three bits of trivia:

1. Asparagus does make your pee smell funny (here’s why)

2. If you take a sip of wine after eating a bite of asparagus it alters the mouth’s taste perception, making the wine taste oddly sweet, metallic, or bad.  For good wine pairings with asparagus, go here.

3. Miss Manners herself says it’s fine to pick up asparagus with your fingers, even at a super fancy dinner.  Who knew?

Asparagus is a nutrition WIN – loaded with nutrients, low in calories, and can help control blood sugar.  It is delicious paired with goat cheese, lemon, garlic, mushrooms, pork, chicken, eggs – lots of foods.  Asparagus is super fast to prepare.  In fact, it is delicious raw – especially shaved in a salad.  But what ever you do, DON’T over cook the asparagus.  Perfectly cooked asparagus is a delight — overcooked it becomes slimy, stringy, and strong tasting.  There are many good recipes out there, so I’m just going to tell you how to cook asparagus for eating plain, or with a light sauce.

Basic Cooked Asparagus

one bunch fresh asparagus

Rinse the asparagus, and cut off the stems where they seem tough.  This is a judgement call on your part.  Most asparagus sold in stores is pretty much all tender, so just cutting off the last 1/2 inch or so of the stock will be good enough.  I don’t peel my asparagus.

Put 1/2 inch water in a large pan with lid and heat to boiling.  Put the asparagus in the boiling water all at once, cover pan with lid, and cook, covered, on medium heat for up to 4 minutes for regular stalks, 2 – 3 minutes for thin stalks — not a second longer!  Immediately drain the asparagus, and rinse in cold water or plunge in an ice bath to stop the cooking.  Serve at warm temp immediately, or cool for later serving, perhaps with a lemon aioli.  Serves about 4.