Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras 2012 - King Cakes - Find the Baby - and dual specialties

It's fat Tuesday again!  Thanks to a previous colleague who was from Louisiana and who taught us the meaning and importance of celebrating this august occasion we now have a cakehour Mardi Gras each year.  This features the king cakes, beads, doubloons and whatever nonsense we can think of.  The king cakes come from an online company kingkingcakes.com.  They have a good selection and even a history of Mardi Gras and the cakes: http://www.kingkingcakes.com/shopcontent.asp?type=News.

Praline King Cake

Cream Cheese King Cake!

The praline cake with the spilled purple sugar!

Cream Cheese cake prior to decorations

We had tried them last year and they were good so we went again and ordered the cream cheese and the praline king cakes.  They arrived on schedule on Fat Tuesday in time for cake hour.  There were a few glitches in the shipping however.  This company does not send them fully decorated but includes the sugar frosting and the Mardi Gras colored sprinkles in packets and little plastic containers so the final assembly of the cake takes place onsite  This year the shipping must have been a little vigorous as one of the cakes had broken in half and most of the containers with the sprinkles popped open. Because of the moisture these granulated sugar based sprinkles melted somewhat. The result was that we could not get the perfectly decorated king cake we expected but had to settle for a slightly simplified and less traditional decoration. We think something to better secure the sugar sprinkles is definitely in order.
The purple and yellow melted so we're going green!
A bit more color on the pecan cake and those chunky things in the center are pralines!
There was no issue with the quality of the cakes and the taste.  This being the equivalent of a large cinnamon coffee cake, it tasted as such and the cream cheese version with the white frosting was well appreciated.  The praline one had the frosting flavored with pecans and big globs of things that we assume were the pralines inside and outsied. They were kind of doughy nut clusters.  Southern pralines are different than European pralines which are basically filled chocolates.   There was nothing resembling a chocolate in this cake. The cakes came with beads and doubloons that we could toss for some Mardi Gras verité and we also had our own person Orpheus designee to lead the celebration.
The sugar syrup spreads like molten lava!
All smiles with beads and doubloon

Orpheus lives in Mardi Gras colors
Got me some doubloons aka plastic coins

There are some good size balls on this string of beads

One of us is making a fashion statement..
And the reason I have these things is...
...because I'm such a fun guy!
I'm so happy...I have beads too!
Of course the big event is finding the tiny baby that is baked into the cake.  The reason why there is a little plastic baby baked into the cake is also explained in the link above.  Whoever finds it has to host the next party.  Punishment instead of reward for finding the baby. Isn't that interesting?  We are happy to report that unlike last year when we had to go searching for the things after everyone had filled up on cake, this year they were quickly found by cake eating colleagues.  For one of them it was the second baby of the year as she had also been served a cake on Epiphany and found the baby then. Two in one year!  Now she has to host two parties, lucky her!  The other baby was found by another colleague who was thrilled to be a Mardi Gras dad even though he ultimately abandoned his prize.  So we had another successful Fat Tuesday celebration with our own Crewe of Orpheus.

One baby is found!!
My second baby this year!
Baby number two sees the light of day!
The proud baby finder!

Our two future party hosts!

The baby is abandoned!
Looking mighty lonely!
Orpheus and his crew!
Our Braziliana brought up the issue of someone having a dual specialty in Neurology and Psychiatry - a neuro-psychiatrist.  This got us to wondering what other kinds of double specialty psychiatrists there could be.  Could there be a cardiology psychiatrist or how about a gastrointestinal psychiatrist...or even a gynecology psychiatrist. We came up with some stupid combinations including whether there could be a pediatric geriatrician to which our clever Dr. Chris Taub from house look alike remarked "Of course, even Benjamin Button needs a doctor!"  Get it? It was funny joke!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Collateral Benefits to Student Research

What's in the bag for today?
We have a pretty active student research program.  Both undergraduate and graduate students work on projects either for honors or PhD theses.  This certainly benefits the research reputation of the center having so many enthusiastic young scientists around. What benefits even more is when one of them has a penchant for baking things  That happens to be the avocation of one of our newest undergrads and we're happy to say cakehour has been graced with several of her creations already.
Not bad for an amateur baker!
This looks suspiciously familiar!
Our newest researcher and her first successful experiment!
Today we knew she was bringing something and were anxious to see what she had in the bag.  What we found was a homemade pear tart similar in appearance to those that we have frequently had from the Vienna Bakery.  She had made it in a pie dish which didn't matter to us of course. Not only did it look like the Bakery product but the recipe was similar and the taste likewise.  The crust was a shortbread crust - you know butter and flour based - and presumably low in calories. The filling/cake part is something called Frangipane which is something made from or flavored like almonds. In this case it was almond flour that gave the cake its nutty taste.  This is similar to Marzipan which is what we always thought these tarts were made from.
It's a pear tart a la Vienna Bakery.
Amaretto poached pear on a frangipane base - good stuff!
The pears were poached with some amaretto and then decoratively sliced and embedded in the cake.  The presentation was great and we appreciate the baking skills of this new student.  May she have as much fun and success in the laboratory. An experiment is, after all, just like following a recipe!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

She took the hint and we got a cake!

Today no one had signed up for cake hour. In the course of the day someone stopped by to kvetch about difficulties she was having with her older Macintosh computer that she had been issued. After going on for a bit she was told that she should come by to discuss the issue after cake hour.  Was there a veiled hing there?  Indeed there was.  Did she take it? Indeed she did!  She proceeded to make a run over to Pastiche and picked up a nice treat to fill in the schedule gap.
Another fine product expected.
An old fashioned coconut cake!

Pearl like decorations on the top!

We have had many cakes from Pastiche but this was a new one for us. It was their Old Fashioned Coconut Cake, described as moist coconut cake filled with light cream cheese frosting, then covered in shredded coconut. And it is gluten free to boot! (Had we known that there are a few more people who might have tried it.)  The description was apt in that it was a good moist cake that was not overly sweet. The frosting worked well with the shaved coconut and was quite good without being too heavy.  It's hard to tell what is old fashioned about it but that's Pastiche's call and we won't argue with another of their fine cakes that was enjoyed by all who tried it.
Getting ready for the cut!
Lots of coconut in the cake and in the frosting!
So what was the hint that was being dropped?  Well it turns out that the recipient of the complaint knew that a shipment of new computers was due in.  With no particular plan for a number of them it was left up to circumstances to determine where some of them would go. In this case the person got the hint and later that afternoon it could be shown that her efforts were rewarded with the arrival of a new computer.  What a coincidence.  Had she not been on the ball she could still be stuck with her old, drowsy Mac instead of a gleaming new one. Instead of a victim of circumstances I guess she would be the beneficiary of circumstances this time.

One of our colleagues had a new iPhone with Siri  - the intelligent assistant that is there to help. Just ask, they say.  So we decided to ask Siri a few questions.  Contrary to what had been reported if you ask Siri for the nearest abortion clinic she does come up with one.  We tried a few others like "Will you marry me?' to which she responded "my exclusive license agreement does not include marriage."  We wanted to try a few other questions bordering on adult content but since it was a work issued phone we thought better.  We asked her "where do babies come from?" to which she responded "they come from their mothers!" Smart aleck she! We tried again with "how do you make a baby".  This yielded the same response "they come from their mothers."  At this point we ran out of leading questions for Siri and gave it up.
To me it's lemonade hour!

Loves me some lemonade!
Another of our colleagues who inexplicably does not like to eat anything sweet often joins nonetheless for ice cream that he brings or juice that he has. Frequently the juice is lemonade. He would like us to call it also lemonade hour to accommodate his proclivity but sorry, dude, cake hour is cake hour!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cheesecake number one

We have a few gift cards from Cheesecake Factory that were gifted to us.  Today we had cheesecake number one bought with a gift card. You may think that three $50 gift cards would go a long way but in fact one large cheesecake - frozen no less - costs about $41. So we'll get about three and a half out of the gifts. That will undoubtedly suffice.
We've seen this box before!

But it's the big one this time!

The Cheesecake factory has 26 cheesecakes on their menu including things like a Hershey Bar cheesecake, Kahlua® Cocoa Coffee Cheesecake, Adam's Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple Cheescake, and so on.  There is also an original cheesecake and a low carb original that is sweetened with Splenda.  Yuck on the latter one!  
The pre-sliced pieces are a little on the large size!
White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake!
It's a mouthful!
Today we had the White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle® cheesecake. We have actually had this before however it was the smaller one.  Once again as we picked it up with not too much time before consumption which meant it was largely frozen when we ate it.  We tried "defrosting" it in the microwave but that only served to defrost it around the edges.  You can't really go to far with the microwave because the frozen whipped cream florets on the top start to melt.  Once that process starts you pretty much have to get it out and go with it.  Truth be told it is in some opinions better when it is a little frozen.  The cheesecake part tends to taste a little more like ice cream and less like a fattening heavy cheesecake. 
A little too long in the microwave and this would be soup!
This cheesecake is good though any white chocolate flavor apart from the shavings on top is pretty lost.  The raspberry sauce is swirled throughout but they are a little stingy with it.  But we like it though everyone has about one half of the pre-sliced pieces. Eating a whole one is an endeavor and there were no takers for a full piece even from those who can put away considerable cake. So we ended up with half the cake leftover for the next day. This was about seven of the slices.
If we don't finish it now we can have it tomorrow! - Fat chance!
So here is the deal - and this happens quite frequently - how is it that with everyone supposedly sated and most people leaving or left for the day. the majority of this remaining cheesecake - and other leftover cakes for that matter - will disappear by the next morning?  Is the cleaning crew chowing down on our sweets?  Or do we have a lot of closet cake eater who only come out after everyone has gone. Who knows but no one should ever plan on finding a sweet leftover treat the next morning. Chances are it will be gone.
I think we're well on the way to that 1200 calorie study limit!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Seeing Blue Before the Patriots lost the Super Bowl

Today was our pre-Super Bowl cake hour.  A couple of our cake people scoured Providence visiting a few bakeries so that they could come up with appropriately themed sweets. They found what they were looking for at the Scialo Bakery on Federal Hill - the Italian part of Providence.  The main street through it is Atwell's Avenue and at the entrance there is big four legged arch type thing with a pineapple in the center of it.  The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality and presumably that is what this archway is all about. You are being welcomed to Federal Hill as it were.  The pineapple also has a long social history...who knew. For more info check out http://www.levins.com/pineapple.html for the complete history of the pineapple.  And you thought it was just something that the Dole corporation crushed and canned!
The Providence pineapple arch!
But this is all getting away from the Super Bowl cakes.  We had two to choose from. One was a standard layered chocolate cake with a butter cream frosting. Said frosting was chocolate. On top there was a heart shaped cookie with the message "Go! Patriots" I'm not sure that is the best punctuation for the particular message but who cares.  The cake was also adorned with red and blue florets, stars and things since these are the Patriots' colors.  The effect might have been better with a vanilla frosting - red, white and blue - but we probably preferred the chocolate. So it was red, brown and blue instead.
Two boxes today!

Sciala Btothers from Federal Hill...we know it well!

The New England Patriots pre-Super Bowl confections!

GO!  Patriots.   ????

Not quite Red, White and Blue but it's chocolate!

And a cute widdle football cake!
 The brown however would tie in with the other cake which was shaped like a football and was predictably brown in color. Maybe they only made one batch of frosting for the two cakes!  The football cake was cute and inside it was yellow marble cake.  Both cakes were very good.  Moist a là Duncan Hines and at room temperature so the frosting was not congealed. The big chocolate cake went over especially well.
The cake was good but those colors are starting to look scary!
As an added treat our new student researcher, who moonlights with her twin sister as a pastry chef, brought in some green tea macaroons that she had baked herself. This was the second batch of macaroons that she had brought in and both were delicious - perhaps the best macaroons she had ever had praised one of the tasters.  This is a very auspicious start to a research career and we're looking for more good things in the future.  All in all the Super Bowl cake hour was very successful with only minor glitches.  Our Dr. Taub look alike is a Giants fan so fortunately he stayed away. There may have been a few other Giants fans in the crowd but they kept a low profile.
New student with an additional treat!
Green Tea macaroons!  Healthy to be sure!
Well done ...we could get spoiled!
How many of these are closet Giants fans??
Don't look at us!
I may be from Jersey but I am rooting for the Pats!
 We had to wonder, however, what was the coloring in the blue frosting.  This had a tendency to linger on the tongue and I don't mean like a fine wine or gourmet cheese.  We had a couple of blue tongues to show in one case quite awhile after consumption.