Happy birthday… to my blog!
Have you ever made yourself a cake? I’m not talking a sad, I’m-making-only-one-pathetic-but-beautifully-decorated-cupcake-because-I’m-oh-so-depressed-about-my-crazy-friend’s-wedding-and-confused-about-my-hot-Irish-cop-love-interest-ala-Kristin-Wiig-in-Bridesmaids kind of cake.
I’m talking a smile-on-my-face, accomplishment-celebrating, yes-I-am-a-totally-awesome-person-so-I’m-making-myself-a-cake-and-I-might-just-eat-it-all-by-myself-because-I-deserve-it kind of cake.
A year ago I decided that I wanted to share my love of baking with more than just my poor coworkers and friends, who were stuck listening to me describe my creations in person. In September, I concocted some pretty cupcakes, valiantly attempted macro-style photos of them with my cell phone camera, and wrote a little missive about lemons and lavender on a super-secret blog that no one knew about.
Then I kind of forgot about it… Until I made some peppermint brownie cookies. They were so good that forcing my friends to listen to me rave about the combination of dark chocolate and crushed peppermint before they tasted it themselves seemed cruel, so I pulled up my super-secret little blog and wrote a post, complete with fuzzy faux-macro cell phone photography.
Then, on December 31, almost exactly a year ago, I spent most of the day in my PJ’s and made the most wonderful salty oatmeal cookies for a New Year’s Party. Before I got fancied up, I took pictures of them on my coffee table. And I wrote about it on my super-secret little blog. And I realized I really liked doing this weird thing where I wrote about food on the internet.
So I took a deep breath, steeled myself for the credit card bill, and invested in a fancy camera as a post-Christmas present (it was totally worth it, for the record).
For the first few months of the year I baked every weekend (nothing new), took the prettiest pictures I possibly could, and wrote little online love letters to my baking in an attempt to share them with more people than just my Milwaukee friends. And eventually I started a Twitter account for it, and a Facebook page, and got some recipes onto Tastespotting–and all of a sudden people who weren’t my mom or my friends started coming to this little site (hello to you, new internet pals!). And I even started baking for Anthropologie, which is wild and dreamy and so much fun and still feels unreal.
Weird things happen when you blog. You start collecting mismatched plates and napkins you use for no other purpose than to put cookies on for “food styling.” You start occasionally calling yourself a “blogger” instead of your real-life professional title when introducing yourself. You make yourself blog calling cards–a.k.a. business cards. You buy yourself a Pro account on Flickr because without one, you don’t have enough space every month to upload all the photos you need to. You start looking at the world a little differently–noticing the different qualities of light, wishing you had your camera with you in random places, getting way too involved in Top Chef Just Desserts, and critiquing plating techniques at unsuspecting restaurants.
And you make yourself tiny little celebratory cakes. Out of fudgey, cakey, dense, chocolatey brownies. With creamy vanilla bean frosting. And you sit on your couch with your flour-loving cats while it snows big fluffy flakes outside, and you have yourself a happy little start to the New Year.
But the weirdest and most wonderful part of this whole blogging thing is unexpected. Instead of being shuffled to the side, only discussed in comments and Facebook posts and tweets, things start to happen outside of your computer. When you put your dorky hobby out into the internet world, people in the real world actually start to talk to you about it. Your mom texts you when she sees a new post. People you barely know compliment your photography. You start to tell your friends about something you made this weekend, and they politely interrupt you to say, “Yeah, I already saw that on your blog… Did you bring me any?” And people you don’t know call you by the name of your website. As in: “Oh! You’re Chelsea Bakes!” And you just smile and nod and giggle to yourself, because, of course, your name isn’t actually Chelsea Bakes.
And then you stop your giggling because, well, now it kind of is. And that’s just fine by you.
Mini Brownie Cakes
Makes six 4″-diameter rounds and plenty of leftover scraps
Adapted from Joy the Baker (and Toll House)
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) butter
3/4 cup high-quality unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Valrhona)
2 tablespoons strong coffee (I used Starbucks VIA Italian Roast–quick and easy!)
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9×13 glass baking pan (I use melted butter and a pastry brush to completely cover the surface).
Melt the butter in the microwave (zap for 15 seconds, stir, and repeat until melted). Stir in cocoa powder and coffee. Mixture may not be smooth; that’s OK. (You can also use a double boiler, but this is much easier.) Allow to cool for a few minutes.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Measure sugar into a large bowl and add eggs. Whisk together until just combined. Add vanilla, whisk lightly again, and then add the butter and cocoa mixture. Stir together with a spatula; batter will be thick but still liquid-y. Add flour mixture and fold together until just combined. Batter will be very thick and pull pretty cleanly from sides of the bowl.
Pour batter into the prepared pan. Because it’s so thick, you will need to carefully use a spatula to guide the batter into the corners. Do this as evenly as you can without causing the batter to pull the flour up too much from the base of the pan (otherwise it will stick and be difficult to remove). When it’s as even as you can get it, bake for 18-25 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. It took mine about 22 minutes to thoroughly bake.
Remove form the oven and onto a cooling rack. Allow to come completely to room temperature. Use a 4″-diameter circular cookie cutter to cut 6 rounds out of the brownies while they are still in the pan. Your circles will need to be right at the edges of the pan and at the edges of the other circles to fit–see this photo.
Vanilla Bean Frosting
Makes more than enough for your cakes. Don’t worry.
My mom’s recipe
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened and cubed
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup heavy cream
Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
Whole milk, if necessary
In a stand mixer, combine butter and sugar together until nearly coming together, then add heavy cream and vanilla. If the mixture is too stiff, carefully add small dashes of milk (not cream) until it reaches desired consistency.