Wednesday, February 19, 2014

GF Pistachio Raspberry Cake & FBS 2014 Recap

“You can’t have your cake and eat it too”

Though I’m not exactly sure why, this post has been one of the hardest for me to write . But it must be the right thing for me to write, because it scares me a bit.....  And I’ve recently been learning that fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Writing this post has required much more personal reflection than I anticipated and a good deal of vulnerability...

It was a somewhat last minute decision when we decided I should attend Food Blog South 2014 in Birmingham, AL. I had been dreaming of attending a food blogging conference for years, but either the timing was off, or the conference just didn’t fit into the budget. Food Blog South had been well recommended by my friends Helene and Tami, and in the month prior to the conference date, I just couldn’t get the idea of attending out of my head.

I thought attending FBS could help me with some of the technical side of blogging and perhaps help me figure out how to monetize Sweet Treats. I don’t have advertisers or sponsors, so most of the time, everything seen on Sweet Treats is paid for out of my own pocket. I would love to generate some income from something I’m passionate about, like pastry and photography and teaching and documenting/telling stories....

So on a leap of faith, and a few prayers, I purchased my ticket for FBS, booked the hotel, and figured out my airline ticket.  Since Tami was also going to the conference (she and Helene were speaking at a couple sessions about food styling and photography), she graciously invited me to come to the Atlanta area before the conference and drive to and from Birmingham with her.  Little did we know that I would later get stuck in Georgia due to the snow storm, but I’ve already told that story.

I knew before the conference that I would be given a lot of of information all in one day, but I don’t think I quite understood just how huge that amount of info would really be.  So much information in one day!  By the end of it, I truly felt like my head may explode....  It felt like trying to drink from a firehose instead of a water fountain. 

Though I wish I could have attended multiple sessions at the same time, I decided to attend mostly “Technical Track” sessions. I took as many notes as possible & even live-tweeted a few of the sessions to help myself remember key points. But in the end, Food Blog South challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. I left with a lot of personal questions to contemplate and soul searching to do... Why do I blog in the first place? Who am I creating these posts for? Myself? Others? Potential advertisers/sponsors? I don’t have all the answers, even now that I’ve been actively pondering these questions for several weeks.

I realize now that my preconceived ideas about attending the conference were a bit naive. Of course there isn’t a magic button or a simple way to turn what I do into a business, if that’s even what I still want to do. And I realize that it was foolish to think I could keep Sweet Treats exactly the same as it has been & expect to turn it into a business.  Something would have to change, potentially quite drastically, and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to compromise what I’ve been building for over 4 years. That’s not to say that in the future there won’t be changes, I just know that I’m not ready now. I can’t have my cake and eat it too.

But one of the most profound, lasting effects of Food Blog South 2014 is that it has challenged me to think of myself, for the first time, as a writer. Even typing that sentence makes me a bit nervous. I’ve more often considered myself a pastry chef/photographer/educator, who happens to do a bit of writing on the side.... I’ve never considered myself good enough to be called a writer. But I’m realizing that the writing I do is just as important as the photos or the food.  My blog readership might not be large, but they are *readers* nonetheless.  FBS showed me that perhaps I need to explore this world of “writing” more than I have in the past. 

One final note, before I switch to cake..... I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Molly Wizenberg’s lovely keynote address at the end of Food Blog South. Her words were so inspiring and encouraging that I really feel they deserve their own recap in a future post.  In some ways, I think her talk helped me to have the courage to write this post. But, if you want a preview, author/writing coach/editor and FBS speaker Dianne Jacob transcribed a portion of Molly’s address, which you can read here.

As I’ve been trying to process my feelings and grapple with thinking of myself as a writer, my mind has continued to wander towards cake. I know, shocking, since I do have an insatiable sweet tooth.  I’ve been thinking about layer cakes & about how much I wanted to make one--also ironic, because layer cakes are usually more of a source of stress rather than joy. But there’s something almost meditative about the steps to make the cake, the icing and the assembly/decoration process. All the steps take time, giving a person a lot of time to think.

During the making and assembling of this delicious pistachio cake, the phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” kept cycling through my head. It has been a good reminder to me and frankly a comfort too. I know the cake isn’t perfect (I’m a bit out of practice), but I appreciate it’s aesthetics, imperfections and all, and what the cake stands for.  And yes, I ate two slices :)  

Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Filling 
cake adapted from
Design inspired by Seven Spoons 
Yields 2-6" cakes (approximately 8 to 10 servings)

I've been eyeing this cake design for several years. Though the original source sadly doesn't include the recipes (or any images of the cake interior), I found a suitable replacement on Epicurious. The pistachio cake just might be one of my new all-time favorite cakes!  

Pistachio Cake 
6 oz Raw Pistachios
4.25 oz / 1 cup Jeanne’s GF AP Flour Mix (or use regular AP if not GF)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 fl oz / 1/2 cup whole milk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp Almond Extract
4 oz / 1/2 cup / 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
7 oz / 1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter two 6-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper & butter the parchment. Set aside. 
  2. Process the pistachios in a food processor until finely ground (but not so much that you create pistachio butter). 
  3. Whisk together the finely ground pistachios with the GF flour, baking powder and sea salt. Set aside.
  4. In a liquid measuring cup, combine the milk with the extracts. Set aside. 
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar on low to medium speed until the ingredients have completely come together, have lightened in color and increased in volume.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. Add the eggs in two additions, mixing on low speed after each addition.  
  7. Add the pistachio mixture alternately with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the pistachio mixture. Mix on low speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, remove the bowl from the mixer & finish mixing by hand. 
  8. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Smooth the tops well with a small offset spatula. 
  9. Bake the cakes in the preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. 
  10. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes onto a cooling wrack to cool completely. 
Note: I had a few mishaps when baking the cake layers. The original recipe makes a single 9" cake, but when I was adapting the recipe, I increased the amounts too much, overfilled my pans & ended up with overflowing cake batter in the oven during the baking process. Coincidentally, the lava-cake phenomenon caused the middles to sink more than they normally would.  I have adjusted the cake amounts so that you shouldn't have the overflowing mess I had and hopefully the sinking middle is fixed as well :) And if you're looking for volume amounts instead of weights, see the original recipe link. 

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
4 oz Egg Whites
8 oz Granulated Sugar
12 oz Unsalted Butter, softened to room temperature 
splash Vanilla Extract
  1. In a very clean metal mixing bowl (preferably one that attaches to a stand mixer), whisk together the egg whites and granulated sugar. 
  2. Place the mixing bowl over a small sauce pan of simmering water to make a double boiler.  Continue whisking the whites and sugar until all the sugar has dissolved and the mixture reaches at least 140 F on an instant read thermometer.  
  3. Remove the top bowl (being careful not to burn yourself on the hot metal of the bowl or on any drips from the hot condensation on the bottom of the bowl) & attach to a stand mixer. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment. Whip on high speed until a fluffy meringue forms & the bowl cools to room temperature. 
  4. Once the meringue cools completely, lower the speed of the mixer to medium and begin adding the butter, one tablespoon at a time. 
  5. After the butter has all been added, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla. Mix on medium high speed just to ensure everything is combined. 
  6. Hold the icing at room temperature until ready to use. 
Pistachio Cakes (cooled)
6-ish Tbl Seedless Raspberry Preserves
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Fresh Raspberries & chopped pistachios for garnish 
  1. Use a long serrated knife to level each cake layer and torte it into two separate layers. Set aside. I use a revolving cake stand to decorate. It isn’t necessary, but it does make the process much easier! 
  2. Place approximately 1/4 of the icing into a piping bag, either fitted with a large plain tip or simply cut off the tip of the piping bag.
  3. Place one cake layer onto a cake board. Use a small offset spatula to spread 1.5 Tbl to 2 Tbl of seedless raspberry preserves onto the top of the first layer, leaving the outside 1/2” free from jam. Use the icing in the piping bag to pipe a “dam” in the jam free edge. Top with a second cake layer press lightly to adhere. Repeat the process until all the last layer is placed on top. 
  4. Crumb coat the cake, if desired, by spreading a very thin layer of icing over the top and sides of the cake, just to seal in any crumbs.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes. 
  5. After the optional crumb coat has chilled, give the cake a second, thicker layer of icing. Center the cake on the revolving cake stand, and add a generous dollop of icing to the top of the cake. Use a large offset spatula to spread a thick layer of icing over the top of the cake and down the sides.  Add additional icing to the side of the cake, if necessary.  Use a bench scraper (or the same large offset spatula) to remove the excess icing & smooth the sides (this process should also push the icing up to heights greater than the top of the cake).  Once the sides are smoothed, use the back side of a clean offset spatula to smooth the top of the cake. Come at the cake from a 45 degree angle & pass the back edge of the spatula over the top of the cake--this process should smooth the top and remove excess icing. 
  6. Once the cake has been iced, decorate with chopped pistachios and fresh raspberries. 
  7. Refrigerate the cake for a couple of hours to allow the flavors to meld, but allow to sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before serving for best flavor and texture. 
  8. Cover any exposed cake edges (after serving) and store the leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a week.  Or freeze, well wrapped, for longevity.  
Note: If you’re new to cake assembly or would like to see techniques very similar to the ones I use to to ice cakes, visit Zoe Bakes or Sweetapolita for their instructional videos.  

Note: this post contains affiliate links


  1. Boy Howdy girl.... you just opened a can of worms.... he he Or whoop a.... a southern expression, I think. You've spent some time there so I think it counts here. I loved your "story." As I am trying to muster up the gumption to launch a page myself this is particularly interesting. I've always always marveled at this appearance of glam, travel, advertisers and on and on. I don't have the option of jetting off to and fro but I'm so glad you were able and felt compelled to attend so that you could share. My impressions are the thought of taking yourself more seriously is stepping into the next level of commitment that would scare the pants of a person. :") You know that expression. he he Regardless, lovely photos and yes you can teach write and create. Don't worry about it.... :") xoxo

  2. How exciting to be in the place you're in right now, and very inspiring that you're thinking so deeply about it all. Thanks for sharing. As a baker by day, aspiring writer, and all around sweets junkie, I'm so glad to have found your blog, and especially to have stumbled across this post (via instagram)--I will be coming back frequently to see how you and your blog evolve.

  3. This post came at the right time for me! While I initially clicked on the picture via food gawker, I read your post and it was really refreshing. As a blogger myself, I find that sometimes I wonder what in the world I'm doing or what I intend to do with my blog. As many successful blogs there are out there, it's so incredibly refreshing to know that I'm not the only one who's scared/excited all at the same time, trying to figure things out as each day passes. It sounds like the conference really challenged you as a person & analyze everything you want to do. I think sometimes everything falls into place, magically, not over night, & that's the day us bloggers look back and smile at all the effort we put into our recipes & writing. Good luck to you & your blog! I'll definitely be back to try some recipes, I'm nearly licking the screen every time I see a photo of yours!

    xo, Angel

  4. raspberry cake is absolutely scrumptious. i will cook for my wedding anniversary

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