A Night at the Ball

31 December 2008

Photos from the International Debutante Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria by Beatrice de Gea for the NY Times. Read the story here and see the slideshow here.

What do you think – too much opulence in these uncertain times? It is all for charity, as they say..

Martha’s Butterscotch-Pecan Cake

31 December 2008

A few weeks ago, I attempted my first Martha Stewart layer cake, the Butterscotch-Pecan from her November 2008 Living issue. While beautiful to look at, it was intensely buttery and sugary – too much so for my audience’s taste. For a relatively novice cook, it was also incredibly time-consuming and used just about every bowl in my kitchen. It was certainly an experience to make, however, so if you’re looking for a recipe that will make an impact on the table, this is a great one to try.

Serves 12 to 14

Ingredients for the cakes:
–vegetable oil or cooking spray, for pans
–3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
–1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
–3/4 teaspoon baking soda
–2 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
–10 ounces (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
–2 1/2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
–4 large eggs, room temperature
–1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
–1 1/4 teaspoons rum, preferably golden or dark
–1 1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature

Ingredients for the frosting
–12 ounces unsalted butter (3 sticks), 1 stick left whole, 2 sticks cut into small pieces, softened
–2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
–1 cup heavy cream
–1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
–20 ounces cream cheese, softened
–1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

Ingredients for the butterscotch sauce
–2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
–3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, cut into pieces
–1/2 cup light corn syrup
–1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
–1/2 cup heavy cream
–2 cups pecan halves, toasted and chopped, plus more halves for garnish

1. Make the cakes: Preheat oven to 325 F. Coat three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans with cooking spray, line with parchment, and coat parchment. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

2. Beat butter and brown sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then add vanilla and rum. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in 2 additions, alternating with buttermilk. Raise speed to medium-high, and beat for 2 minutes. Divide batter among pans.

3. Bake cakes until golden brown and testers inserted in centers come out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks, and let cool slightly. Invert cakes onto racks. Let cool.

4. Make the frosting: Melt 1 stick butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until dark golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add brown sugar, cream, and salt, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, and cook for three minutes. Transfer to a mixer bowl, and let cool.

5. With machine running, add remaining butter, a few pieces at a time, and beat on low until incorporated. Raise speed to medium, and beat for 2 minutes. In another bowl, beat cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar on medium-high until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add brown-butter mixture to cream cheese, and beat until smooth. Cover, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours (or overnight, beating on low speed before using).

6. Make the butterscotch sauce: Mix sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat, and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in cream. Return to heat, and cook for 2 minutes. Let cool slightly.

7. To assemble the cake: Trim tops of 2 cake layers and top and bottom of third (this will be the middle) to create flat exposed surfaces. Brush 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butterscotch sauce on cut sides. Let cool. Spread 1 cup frosting on 1 layer, then place middle layer on top, sauce side down. Spread 1 cup frosting on middle layer, then place third layer on top, sauce side down. Spread 1 cup frosting on top and sides. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

8. Using an offset spatula, spread remaining frosting on top and sides of cake. Press chopped pecans on sides, and garnish top with halves. Transfer cake to a serving plate or cake stand. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours (or up to 2 days, covered).

{All photos by me}

See more of Martha’s layer cakes here.

DIY Bell Chandelier

30 December 2008

This simple project is a little late for Christmas, but I think it’s appropriate as a winter decoration, as well.

Here’s what you need:
— a chandelier (ours is over the dining room table)
— a pack of jingle bells (the ones I chose are gold – they were about $2.50 at Walmart, and I only used half of the package)
— a spool of fishing line

Once you’ve assembled your supplies, you can begin hanging the bells.

Cut a length of fishing line and knot one end through the bell’s loop (a single knot worked for me). Tie the other end to an arm of the chandelier with a double knot. Trim both ends of the line. Continue until the chandelier is as full of bells as you like, alternating the lengths of the strings and the size of the bells (if you have more than one size to work with). I strung three bells on each arm.

Et voila! A simple and festive winter decoration

{All photos by me – and I promise it looks better in person!}

Board No. 10: Pop the Bubbly!

29 December 2008

{Click to enlarge!}

In honor of the upcoming ball drop, I wanted to put together a sweet and oh-so-chic board. This New Year’s Eve wedding starts at 8pm. Guests kick up their heels swing dancing to a big band and feast on petite frosted donuts and monochromatic martini crudite. Blush, gold, black, and white are the colors of the evening. The bride and groom leave in a vintage getaway car at midnight after running through a sea of sparklers. The champagne flows freely {naturally}.

The Details
First row, left to right:
The Art Deco circles on the bottom of this invitation from {Hello!Lucky} kick off a night filled with bubbly {bubbly–bubbles–circles.. get it?}; your ladies will look lovely in a shimmery jacquard dress {Brides.com}; apply gold balls liberally to a staircase for a mesmerizing display (but only if no one will be walking down it!) {via The City Sage}

Second row, left to right:
Serve petite donuts and mini meringue puffs late night for a sweet end to the festivities {Brides.com}; silver flatware and gold glitter complement this board’s palette {Country Living}; a tie and bout in the faintest shade of blush looks elegant on the groom {The Knot}

Third row, left to right:
Pillar candles have become a somewhat standard non-floral centerpiece option, but slender tapers grouped together are unexpected {Brides.com}; rent or borrow a vintage Chrysler for some “something old” transportation {photo by Justin Marantz}; a shiny stack of champagne makes for an elegant, if somewhat precarious, display {Brides.com};

Fourth row, left to right:
Menu scrolls add chic-on-the-cheap color to reception tables {Ceci NY via Southern Weddings}; add a sparkly rhinestone brooch to dress up plain ballet flats {photo by Jose Villa}; serve winter white crudite (cauliflower, endive, white asparagus) in martini glasses at the cocktail hour {Brides.com}

What are you doing for New Year’s Eve? I’ll be in NYC celebrating a friend’s birthday {but NOT in Time’s Square!}.