Individual Celebration Cakes

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These pretty little cakes, about three inches in diameter, would be perfect for just about any special occasion. The cakes here make use of the red velvet recipe posted below, but you can use just about any type of cake you wish. Covered with about one-eighth-inch of blue rolled fondant and decorated with molded white fondant and royal icing details, these treats are easy to prepare and sure to make your guests happy.

Kate’s Red Velvet Cakes

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I bake a lot. But when my daughter, Kate, asked me to make her a red velvet cake for her birthday last year, I self-assuredly replied, Okay, and then scurried to my books to find a recipe. The truth is, I had never eaten, let alone baked, a red velvet cake; the only one I could recall was the shockingly ugly one shaped like an armadillo from the movie Steel Magnolias.

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In any event, Kate’s favorite little pig Olivia prepared a red cake in one of her stories, so that’s what she wanted for her birthday. I researched a number of recipes, all fairly similar, and came up with this one. Many recipes call for a whole lot of red food coloring. Perhaps this is necessary when using the bottles from the grocery store, but I prefer the red paste available in craft stores, such as A.C. Moore and Michael’s. It’s very potent, and I found I only needed about half the amount when I used it instead of the supermarket varieties. In addition, although the amount of cocoa called for in this cake is relatively little in relation to the flour, do use natural cocoa instead of Dutch process. The latter will become too dark in the oven, lessening the intensity of the cake’s desired redness.

This is, indeed, a very red cake. The color can be a bit confusing to the palate, but you will be happy upon tasting this cake. It is incredibly moist and delicately (but distinctly) flavored with chocolate. Whether you make large cakes or cupcakes, a coating of vanilla, or white chocolate buttercream or cream-cheese frosting would finish them nicely.

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Makes 24 to 30 cupcakes (or two 9-inch cakes)

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/3 cup natural cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

2 large eggs

2 (1-ounce bottles) red food paste (available in craft stores)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons vinegar

Frosting or buttercream (such as cream cheese frosting or vanilla buttercream) to serve Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line about standard 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder in a large bowl.

Combine the sugar and vegetable oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until combined. Drop in the eggs, one at a time, incorporating completely before adding the next. Stop the mixer and add the red food paste and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed until incorporated.

Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour, and stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl. Remove the bowl from the mixer, stir together the baking soda and vinegar, and fold into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups and bake until fragrant, well risen, and a wooden skewer inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Set the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before removing directly to the rack to cool completely.

To serve, spread with your favorite frosting or buttercream.

Rich Tart Dough

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I admit it. I’m sometimes scared of making pastry. Yes, it’s true. I would like to say my confidence is as high and secure as that of the most successful pastry chef, or even my late grandmother. But let’s face it. Usually when we have to make pastry it’s for a special occasion like Thanksgiving or Christmas or a celebratory summer gathering. So the pressure is on.

Here, though, is a recipe I have developed and used repeatedly for a variety of desserts and savory items. It is just right for folding over fruit to form a rustic tart; shaping a pretty unbaked shell for quiche; or, as the method below reveals, forming a perfectly golden prebaked base for a savory or sweet large tart or mini tartlets.

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Unlike traditional pie dough, this is a rich, almost cookie-like pastry. Slightly yellow in color from the egg yolk and just a bit sweet from a small amount of sugar, it bakes into a beautifully formed golden vessel.

As with all pastry, keep your ingredients cold and work quickly. As soon as the dough just starts to come together in the food processor (it will appear a bit crumbly and shouldn’t form a ball), turn it out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc, and set it aside to rest in the refrigerator. If the dough becomes too hard from chilling, let it set out for a few minutes until it is workable. If you need to prepare the dough ahead of time, this recipe will keep well in the freezer for about two months.

Makes enough for one 8-inch tart pan or 16 to 18 tartlet pans

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into about 1/4-inch pieces

2 tablespoons water

1 large egg yolk

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment. Pulse several times until the ingredients are incorporated. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. The pieces of butter should be no larger than peas or lentils.

Whisk together the water and egg yolk in a small bowl and, while pulsing the processor, gradually incorporate the liquid mixture. The dough might look dry, but should just begin to clump. If it does indeed appear too crumbly, drizzle in a bit more water. You don’t want the dough to gather into a ball, however. Drier is better here. Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, gather it into a flat disc, and wrap tightly. Set in the refrigerator to chill and rest for at least 20 minutes.

Butter sixteen to eighteen 2 1/2-by-3/4-inch tartlet pans and set aside on a large baking sheet. (Of course, you can use any size you prefer.)

Using about 1/2 of the dough at a time, roll it out on a generously-floured work surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into discs using a 2 3/4-inch round cutter. If you find the discs are becoming too soft, arrange them on a baking sheet and set in the refrigerator to chill a bit. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner, re-rolling the scraps, as necessary. Fit the rounds of dough into the prepared tartlet pans, pressing down the sides to create stability and removing any excess from the edges by scraping it off neatly with your fingers. Arrange the prepared tart shells once again on the baking sheet and set in the refrigerator to chill until fairly firm, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Prick the bottoms of the formed tart shells, using the tines of a fork. (This will help prevent the dough from puffing in the oven.) Bake until the tart shells are golden brown and fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool at least to warm before carefully turning the shells out of the pans to cool completely. If not using immediately, store the prepared shells in an airtight container in a cool dry area for up to 5 days.

Roasted Heirloom Grape Tomatoes

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If you find yourself with a lot of grape tomatoes on hand at summer’s end, this is the dish to try. One-color red tomatoes will do nicely, but, of course, a multi-colored variety will make this recipe even more special. (The tomatoes don’t have to be heirloom, but they are particularly lovely.) Quickly tossed with olive oil, fresh herbs, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and slices of red onion concentrate as they roast and caramelize.

This combination of flavors makes for the perfect warm or room-temperature side dish for virtually any type of meat. It would also be delightful tossed into a salad.

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds heirloom grape tomatoes (varied colors are nice here)

1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into about 1/4-inch-thick slices

4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, divided

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss together the tomatoes, onion, olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of the oregano on the prepared baking sheet. Season with about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and roast until the vegetables are softened, caramelized, and fragrant, about 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven, season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oregano. Serve warm or at room temperature.