Posts in Category: Recipes

The Tangled Tower Cake

We celebrated Bethany’s 10th birthday a few days ago. She wanted a “Tangled” theme for her party. I went a little crazy on the cake.

Oh, the insanity.

They say you should never see how sausage is made. If you feel that way about architectural cakes, stop reading now. If you want to know how I did it, read on. (Please forgive the slightly fuzzy pictures–the battery in my camera was low and I didn’t realize it.)

First, credit where it’s due. The beginning of the idea came from here:  I liked the basic idea, but I didn’t want to have a styrofoam base; I wanted cake. After I pondered how to make that work, a friend put together a dowel in a piece of plywood with another thin round piece of wood with a hole in it that could be threaded onto the dowel (thanks, Bob!). I then drilled a hole in the center of a large plastic platter I had so it could also go over the dowel, and added some extra supports for the plate. I used a little hot glue to hold the plate, plywood and supports together.

I made up two cake mixes. I baked one round layer, one small bundt-shaped pan, and 18 cupcakes. I bought a package of eight pecan pinwheel rolls and one huge cinnamon streusel-topped muffin, plus a pack of large waffle ice cream cones. (I got the muffin after I took these pics–it was from the Target bakery).

I started by cutting the layer in half and putting it around the dowel. I put a little icing ( over the layer then threaded the bundt cake over the dowel onto the layer.

This is where I made a big mistake. I took the paper off a cupcake and threaded it onto the dowel, upside down, so it rested on top of the bundt cake. As I built the tower, it slowly sank. I should have either (a) used a bowl cake, (b) stuffed the center of the bundt cake with more than one cupcake, or (c) used a non-edible support of some kind there. Lesson learned: gravity always wins.

Once that cupcake was in place, I started building with the pecan spinners. I used a Pampered Chef “corn cob knob” to pre-drill holes in each one, then threaded them onto the dowel. I used a bit of icing as mortar, and reversed the direction of each one as I built.


I topped it off with another cupcake, then the jumbo muffin (with its paper still on). I tested it by putting the ice cream cone on top–the height was perfect!

Except I had just made my second big mistake. That muffin was HEAVY. Within a few minutes the whole tower had sunk close to an inch. I put another cupcake under the muffin, but it kept sinking. The tower just couldn’t bear the weight of the muffin. So I took the muffin off and threaded the little round platform on. By this time, the dowel was so sticky that the platform barely went onto it–there was no chance it was going to sink. Unfortunately, the tower continued to sink under it so I ended up with a gap between the top cupcake and the muffin platform.

At that point, it was just frosting. I did the assembly and a crumb coat the night before the party, then decorated the day of. I had to thin the icing for the tower–it was pulling the pinwheels apart. I only had 4 tips–three rosette sizes and a piping tip–so everything was done with those. I just colored my buttercream with food coloring and worked my way from the bottom up. To do the “roof,” I first globbed purple frosting onto the muffin then put the ice cream cone into it and frosted them both. I made the “shingles” with a table knife.

To do the architectural trim, I set out a few graham crackers the day before so they’d get stale and a little soft. They were much easier to cut that way. Using a small serrated knife I cut the shapes for the supports, doorway and window and placed them with icing.

I probably could have done this with just one cake mix, but I wasn’t sure exactly how it was all going to come together or what I was going to need. So I frosted the extra cupcakes and put them around the cake.

By party time, gravity was beginning to take its toll, but I didn’t really care. 🙂

Kumquat Meringue Pie

I said I’d post if my pie turned out well. I’d say it’s pretty good, especially since it was my first time ever making a meringue pie. I took a couple of shortcuts that made the end result a little less awesome than it might have been, but it’s still good.

Here’s the recipe I used. After the recipe I’ll comment on what I did differently.

Kumquat Meringue Pie (filling recipe from Kumquat Growers, Inc., meringue recipe from The Complete Cook by Pat Jester)


  • 1 baked 9″ pie shell
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1/3 cup pureed kumquats
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. margarine

Preheat oven to 350.

In a heavy saucepan combine water, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Once it’s boiling, remove from heat.

Stir in beaten egg yolks. Note: I tempered the egg yolks a bit, then poured them into the pan of hot sugar syrup very slowly, in a very thin stream while stirring constantly to avoid curdling the eggs. Once eggs are mixed in, return the pan to medium heat and boil for 2 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, pureed kumquats and margarine (I added the margarine a pat at a time, letting each one melt before adding the next). Cool and pour into prepared pie shell. Top with meringue.


  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup sugar

In a 1.5 quart mixer bowl, combine egg whites and cream of tartar. With an electric mixer at medium speed, beat 15 to 30 seconds or until foamy. Gradually add sugar, beating at medium speed of mixer 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Turn mixer to high speed and beat for another 1-1/2 to 2 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Spread evenly over warm pie, sealing meringue to edge of pastry. Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes or until meringue is golden brown. Turn off oven. Cool pie in oven with door ajar 2 hours. Cool on a rack at room temperature away from drafts for 3 hours before serving.

Now for my changes. I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to mess with making a pie shell, so I decided to do a graham cracker crust instead. That was okay, but I think it would have been better with a pastry crust. After making the kumquat curd I had a full 2/3 cup of kumquat puree left, so I decided to use it all for pie. I debated between making two 9-inch pies or one 10-inch deep-dish pie. I went with the one big pie. I probably would have been better off with two smaller ones. But doubling the filling recipe worked fine.

Since I’m still out of lemon juice I used lemonade (again) in its place.

I had a bowl of three egg whites left after making the curd. So I ended up with a bowl of three egg whites plus a bowl of six egg whites (from the yolks used to make the pie filling). I needed four egg whites for the meringue. I eyeballed it, dividing the egg whites in half. I think I ended up with too much egg white, because I had a ton of meringue.

When I filled the pie shell, I put too much filling in. I also had let it cool a bit (as the recipe told me to). It was later that I learned that it’s best to put the meringue on a hot pie filling so the underside cooks better and the meringue “bonds” to the filling. Oops.

I had to make dinner once the pie was baked, so there was no way I could leave the pie in the oven with the door ajar for two hours. I let it cool in the oven for a while (half an hour, maybe?) then put it on a cooling rack. I let it cool at room temperature for about 4 hours, then put it in the refrigerator before I went to bed.

If I hadn’t had the extremely awesome kumquat curd yesterday, I probably would have thought this pie was great. It’s good, just not as good as the curd was. But I’ll definitely make it again next kumquat season, only without the shortcuts.

Kumquat Curd

I love lemon curd. It wasn’t something I ever had growing up. In fact, it was one of the foods that Tim’s family introduced me to when we were dating. We used to show up at their place when the food in our college dorm was inedible, and Tim’s wonderful parents always wanted to make sure we were well-fed. There was a usual litany of foods that we’d be offered (beans on toast? sardines? tinned fruit? Little Debbies?), and I actually don’t remember lemon curd being among them. But at some point it was offered to me, probably on toast, and I was hooked. My favorite is to have it on a toasted English muffin… mmmmmmm.

I’ve recently gotten totally hooked on kumquats. I have an itty-bitty kumquat tree growing in a pot in my backyard. It’s only about three feet tall, including the pot (!).

Itty-bitty tree


But it put out a surprising number of kumquats. And they were HUGE:

Giant kumquat

I’ve eaten a few out-of-hand and pureed and froze some a few weeks ago. The last of the “crop” has been sitting on my counter for over a week now, and time was running out on them. It was time to try making them into something. A kumquat curd had been suggested to me at some point, so I decided to give it a go today.

Google found me plenty of references to kumquat curd, but no actual recipes. Most people mentioned using a lemon curd recipe, so that’s what I did. The results were AMAZING. I can’t wait for my tree to produce more kumquats so I can make more of it. I want to get some canning equipment so I can make it by the gallon and preserve it.

A note about the ingredients: of course, lemon curd is made from lemon juice. Kumquat puree is a lot thicker than juice. When I added it to the curd, it seemed too thick so I wanted to add something to thin it. I would have used lemon juice, but Bethany used the last of it to make lemonade this morning. So I used a little splash of lemonade, and it seems to have worked well. If you don’t have lemonade, use a little lemon juice, orange juice or water. Oh, and don’t use lemonade that’s made from a powder or mix. That just wouldn’t be right.

Kumquat Curd (adapted from Alton Brown’s Lemon Curd recipe)

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup kumquat puree**
  • about 1 T lemonade
  • 1 stick butter (1/4 lb), cut into pats and chilled

Put about 1 inch of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium-sized metal (or heat-proof glass, like Pyrex) bowl and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the kumquat puree and just enough lemonade so that everything comes together into a smooth mixture. Once the water reaches a simmer, reduce heat to low and place the bowl on top of the saucepan like a double-boiler (the bowl should be large enough to fit on top of the saucepan without touching the water). Whisk until thickened and smooth, about 8 minutes, or until mixture is a light creamy orange and coats the back of a spoon. Remove immediately from heat and stir in the butter one pat at a time, allowing each piece to melt before adding the next. Transfer to a clean container. Alton’s recipe says to lay plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd, I assume so that it doesn’t form a skin. I just covered the container and it’s been fine. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks (as if it will last that long!).

**To make kumquat puree, wash kumquats well and remove any stems. Do not peel. Cut in half and remove the seeds, then puree in a blender or food processor until it’s as smooth as you can get it (which won’t be completely smooth). Puree can be frozen in zip-top baggies.


I also made a kumquat meringue pie, but we haven’t tried it yet (it’s still cooling). I’ll let you know how it turns out. If it’s any good, I’ll post that recipe too.


Brown Sugar Brownies

We are in a very sad situation at our house right now: we are out of chocolate. We’re even low on cocoa powder. We are also really trying to stick to our grocery budget, so I haven’t gone out to get any. In the absence of chocolate, I decided to satisfy my sweet tooth with something I remember from my childhood: Brown Sugar Brownies. I got the recipe from my mom years ago but have never made them… until now. They’re super simple and quick to make, and soooo yummy! Light and crisp on the outside, gooey on the inside… they’re also very sweet and rich, so don’t cut the pieces too big.

Brown Sugar Brownies

  • 2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (I suppose you could use margarine, but why would you want to?)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups sifted flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 chopped nuts, optional (I didn’t use any)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×13 baking pan.

Cream together sugar and butter. (Note: you really can’t “cream” melted butter and sugar, but pretend that you can–just beat them together well.) Add vanilla and eggs and mix to combine. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; fold this into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in nuts, if using.

Pour/spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into squares while warm.