Hello Kitty! {a cookbook review}

I haven't often been given cookbooks to review, but there have been several lately, and the Hello Kitty® Baking Book came right on the heels of my brownie book.

Right off, I bet you are thinking, "Hello Kitty is just for kids," but this book has a greater appeal to me - the recipes are fantastic. I’m not sure I understand little girls’ fascination with Hello Kitty, but it is genuine, and it turns out to be unexpectedly fun.

Michele Chen Chock has done what many books in this ilk have not done; she has created whimsical confections to appeal to children with flavors and quality that appeal to adults. And, by adults, I mean food snobs. And, by food snobs, I mean me.

Her "Getting Started" section is very thorough and should be read first. (Mea culpa: I usually skip this and check out all the recipes and pictures first.) It includes a list of ingredients (if you want black or red icing, you will need to use gel-based food coloring - they won't thin your icing and the colors will be intense), baking equipment (I really do need to invest in a candy thermometer...), and decorating equipment (my favorite tip is to use disposable piping bags. My waxed canvas bag was a disgusting mess after making two Hello Kitty cakes. Jackson Pollock had nothing on me...).

Following all the technical stuff, the real fun starts. The recipes: six cookie recipes (including my favorite - Hello Kitty French Macarons), eight cake and cupcake recipes (I made the Hello Kitty Shaped Cake), and six pies, party treats and more (the cake pops are really cute).

Following the recipes are some really good and practical pictorials on "how to" create all these fun and colorful confections.

Down to the nitty gritty... as I said, the recipes are good. I got more compliments on this cake than on any other I have made. Rich, but not too sweet (both the cake and the icing), incredibly moist, and perfect for kids and adults alike. This one adds coffee to the chocolate: I recommend a good decaf if feeding this to young ones. Sugared up and highly caffeinated children can be ... well ... um ... er ... you finish the sentence.

I had a bit of a tough time with the icing. It worked in the end, but my piping skills were not anywhere near Michele's. The icing was thinner than I expected, and needed to be chilled before piping, and then re-chilled a couple of times during my protracted piping session. It came out well, but was in no way a work of art.

This particular recipe makes two cakes. Michele suggests creating a single two-layer cake with a filling. I know two families with young children, so I created two single-layer cakes and skipped the filling. I had to double the icing to cover two cakes, and when I gifted them, it made two households with young girls very happy. As you can see from the photos, I followed the book and piped 45 billion stars on one cake, and iced the other in a more standard manner. In a way, I think this provides a less intimidating version for people without piping bags or skills (my star skills are not stellar, as you can see...).

Author Michele Chen Chock, a Hello Kitty superfan, is the creator of the I Heart Baking!  blog. Her work has appeared online in such publications as Glamour, Wedding Bells, and Huffington Post. The Hello Kitty Baking Book is published by Quirk Press and is now available for $14.95. It is also the first-ever licensed Sanrio cookbook. (Sanrio is the creator of Hello Kitty.)

Two very happy kitties!
At this point, all that is left to say is, "Hello Kitty! Welcome to my kitchen!"

~ David

Hello Kitty Shaped Cake(s)
(To make this cake, I did purchase a very inexpensive baking pan by Wilton.)

For the Chocolate Cake2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups sugar
1 cup good-quality cocoa powder (unsweetened)
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup hot coffee
3/4 cup hot water

For the Icing (this recipe makes enough to ice two single-layer cakes)
2 8-ounce packages (2 cups) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
6 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
pinch salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
gel-based food coloring (pink, yellow, black)

To make cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour pan, or coat with baking spray.

Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Whisk until combined. In another bowl, lightly whisk milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients in three batches, whisking after each addition. Add hot coffee and water and stir until combined, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Pour half the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in pan for at least 30 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Wash and recoat the cake pan, and bake the other half of the batter.

While the second cake is baking, make the icing.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip cream cheese and butter until creamy. Add sugar, salt, and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Use immediately, or cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate, mixing briefly before using.

To Decorate: Divide icing into four bowls. Tint 1/2 cup black for the eyes, whiskers, and bow outlines. Tint 1 cup pink for the bows. Tint 1 tablespoon yellow for the noses. (Michele recommends 1/4 cup for the nose, but that is really overkill.) The rest will remain white. Fill 4 disposable piping bags with the 4 colors. (You will not want all the white in the bag - keep some in the bowl. You will use it for the crumb coat and it makes piping easier when the bag isn't too big.)

Spread each cake layer with a light coating of the white frosting. This is the crumb coat, which will make icing much easier for the second cake. It will also fill in any dents or pockmarks if parts if the cake stuck to the pan. This coat should be thin enough that you can see the design indentations of the cake.

Cake No. 1: Using the black icing, and a small round tip, pipe the outline of the Hello Kitty's eyes, bow, and whiskers. Fill in the eyes with the black frosting.

Using the same small round tip (cleaned), pipe the outline of the nose with yellow icing, and finish by filling in the nose.

Change to a clean star tip and, using the pink icing, pipe pink stars in the black-outlined bow. (If you have never piped a star, get ready for some back exercise!) Holding the bag at a 90° angle to the surface, touch the tip to the cake surface, squeeze gently, stop when you see a star, then quickly pull up. I recommend testing this on paper or cardboard first. I wish I had done that!

Clean the star tip and then, using it with the piping bag filled with white icing, begin piping white stars in concentric circles around Hello Kitty's nose. I stopped as I got to the edges, and then did the vertical sides separately.

My advice: 
 Be patient. • Don't rush. • Keep the bag perpendicular to the surface. • Don't pipe too much icing out. • Keep your stars close to one another. • Chill your icing a bit if it begins to look too glossy.

Cake No. 2: For the other cake, after the crumb coat, decorate in the opposite order of Cake No. 1. Start by covering the cake completely up to, but not including the bow area, with a thick and smooth coating of white icing. Make sure to give the ears their 3D nature by showing the upper edge.

Then, using a medium round tip and the pink icing, pipe the outline of the bow, then continue to fill in the bow area, either by piping it in, or using a spatula.

Using the small round tip and the black icing, outline the bow sections, and create eyes and whiskers on top of the icing. Use the empty cake pan as a guide for placement.

Finally, using a clean small round tip and the yellow icing, outline and fill in an oval for her nose.

Voilà - two different (but equal) Hello Kitty cakes! Together, these will easily feed 30!

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