Thursday, January 16, 2014

White Chocolate Spice Cake & Cream Cheese Frosting

I love to bake. Mostly cakes and cupcakes. It's therapeutic for me. I love the precision coupled with the creativity. I love the science and the secrets to success.

I started baking after Daphne passed away. Testing new recipes kept my mind and hands busy, giving me a way to escape while helping me focus on the present. Sharing my experiments with family and friends made me happy. Baking was my substitute for grief counseling.

After we adopted the "twins" (my boys aren't true twins, but they're just two months apart), I had to take a break from baking. Baking required too much time and focus, plus it produced messes I didn't have time to clean up. I haven't baked from scratch in almost a year.

We're getting ready to put our house on the market, so I've been boxing up non-essentials. Yesterday I boxed up my cake decorating tools, so naturally, today I felt an uncontrollable urge to bake. I decided to ease back into baking by using a box mix as the foundation for a new recipe. Using ingredients I had on hand, I whipped up a White Chocolate Spice Cake and paired it with my Silky Cream Cheese Frosting. Super easy and a fun twist on a fall flavor.


White Chocolate Spice Cake
1-1/2 cups white chocolate instant pudding, prepared
1 box spice cake
3 eggs
1/3 cup applesauce 
1-1/2 cups white chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour cake pan, and set aside. (This is a very fluffy cake, so I recommend a Bundt pan, but a 9 x 13 should also work.)
2. Prepare white chocolate instant pudding according to instructions on box. Place in refrigerator to set. (I used sugar-free, fat-free Jell-O prepared with whole milk. Yep, ridiculous. But that's what I had on hand. I almost always use whole milk for baking, because it gives cakes a creamier flavor.)
3. Using a stand mixer, mix 1 box spice cake, 3 eggs, 1/3 cup applesauce, and 1-1/2 cups prepared pudding. Mix on medium speed until just blended.
4. Using a spatula, stir in 1-1/2 cups white chocolate chips.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until test knife comes out clean. (I recommend checking the cake at 25 minutes and every 5 minutes after that to ensure you do not over bake.)

Helpful Hints
  • For high altitude baking, add 1/4 cup flour to cake batter.
  • Do not open oven before 20 minutes. Your cake will fall.
  • If you're using a Bundt pan (as I did), spray pan with non-stick cooking spray and lightly flour to ensure that your cake comes out clean. After removing your Bundt cake from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes (set a timer). At 10 minutes, place a cooling rack over the Bundt pan. Pinch the Bundt pan and cooling rack together with both hands (wear oven mitts, if necessary), then carefully flip over the Bundt pan so that the cake is right-side-up on the cooling rack. Slowly lift the Bundt pan off the cake. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.
  • For an extra-moist Bundt cake, let your pan-free cake cool 5-10 minutes. Then wrap your cake in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until you are ready to frost and serve.

Silky Cream Cheese Frosting
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
12 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
3-3/4 cups (430 g) powdered sugar, sifted
2 to 4 Tbsp. milk or heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp. fine salt

1. Using a stand mixer, cream together unsalted butter and cream cheese. (Both should be room temperature. See "Helpful Hints" below for shortcuts.)
2. Add 2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract. (I prefer a strong vanilla flavor, but you can start with 1 tsp. and work up.)
3. Slowly add 3-3/4 cups (430 g) sifted powdered sugar (about 1/2 to 1 cup at a time). After each addition, mix on medium to high speed until frosting is smooth and creamy. Repeat until you have added all of the powdered sugar. Frosting may be a bit stiff after final addition.
4. Add 2 to 4 Tbsp. milk or heavy whipping cream to reach desired consistency. (Go easy on the milk. Whip well between additions.)
5. Add 1/4 tsp. of fine salt.
6. Whip until frosting is smooth and silky.

Helpful Hints
  • Always use unsalted butter for baked goods and frostings. Every brand of salted butter has a slightly different salt content. Using unsalted butter and adding your own salt will give you better control over the flavor of the final product.
  • If you're like me, you don't have time (or patience) to wait for butter to reach room temperature. You can cheat by placing a wrapped stick of butter in the microwave. Microwave for 7 seconds. Rotate a quarter turn; microwave for another 7 seconds. If necessary, repeat for sides three and four. Check after each 1/4 rotation. Butter should be slightly pliable but not squishy or runny. Do not over microwave! If you do, your frosting will be loose and runny.
  • To bring cream cheese to room temperature, hold the unopened cream cheese pouch between your hands. Gently squeeze the pouch until the cream cheese is pliable.
  • Do not use low-fat cream cheese for frosting. Fat helps frosting hold its shape. If you use a low-fat substitute, your frosting will be loose and runny.
  • Sifted powdered sugar produces smooth, silky frosting. It's tempting to skip this step, but don't. Just don't.
  • Add milk or heavy whipping cream slowly, one tablespoon at a time. Mix well after each addition. One tablespoon will make a big difference, so don't be too hasty. A thicker frosting will hold its shape better (better for a Bundt cake or cupcakes). A thinner frosting will spread better (better for a 9 x 13).
  • It may sound strange to add salt to frosting, but a little salt will balance the sweet and zingy flavors in cream cheese frosting.
  • If your frosting is runny, you may be tempted to add more powdered sugar, but that's not always the answer. Sugar holds moisture, so adding more can actually make your frosting even more runny. If you need to thicken your frosting, try adding a tablespoon or two of room temperature butter instead.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fitness Manifesto for 2014

I remember the moment I started feeling fat. I was in fourth grade.

I was standing in the girls’ bathroom with two friends, when one asked me how much I weighed. I paused, considering my answer and wondering why she cared. Before that moment, I never worried about my weight, but suddenly, I felt self-conscious and wondered if I should lie. What was an acceptable weight for a girl my age? What would these girls think of my weight? Did they think I looked fat?

We didn’t have a scale at home—or if we did, I never saw my parents use it. But I must have visited the doctor recently, because I knew my weight. Cornered by my peers, I debated shaving a few pounds off my answer, but I worried they would see my deception in the soft tissue of my adolescent figure. I decided to answer honestly. After all, we were all about the same height and build—at least that’s how I saw us—so my answer wouldn’t shock them.

I was wrong. My friends looked at each other, smiled, and giggled a little. Then one said, “Wow! That’s a lot!” And that was the end of the conversation. I fell silent as I watched them dry their hands and leave the girls’ bathroom. Having no other option, I followed them back to class.

From that moment on, I believed I was overweight. True or not, it’s how I saw myself. Throughout my teenage years, I went through periods of food rationing. You could not have known this by looking at me. I did not look frighteningly thin. But in my mind, I was at war with myself: struggling with the desire to be thin but believing it was morally wrong to starve myself. Craving control over my body and hating it for betraying me.

This mental battle followed me into adulthood. Over the last ten years, my weight has fluctuated up and down. But surprisingly, being thinner has never improved my self-worth or self-confidence. At one point a couple of years ago, when I was training about two hours a day, I got down to 12.5% body fat. That’s low. Very low for a woman. (I’m nowhere near that now.) I bring it up, because even at 12.5% body fat, I looked in the mirror and found things to criticize. Being thin didn’t change how I felt inside.

Fitness and nutrition are important to me. I’ve made major changes to my diet and exercise in the last five years, and I’m proud of the improvements I’ve made. But this year, as I sat down to write my New Year’s resolutions, I decided it was time to reframe how I think about diet and exercise. Time to stop focusing on being thin and start focusing on fixing my thoughts.

Below is my personal Fitness Manifesto for 2014. It begins with the origins of self-worth: my Heavenly Father, the Creator of my body and spirit. It ends with my personal motivation for staying fit: to be a better servant of God. I pray that this new focus will help me overcome the self-doubt and self-criticism that have plagued me since fourth grade.

As you work toward your own fitness goals for 2014, I hope you will also remember that your body is a gift from God. You are His. He does not make mistakes. Love your body. Honor His gift. Teach your daughters to do the same.

If you would like a copy of my Fitness Manifesto, email me at