The Comeback Kid and the Neapolitan Rose Cake

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

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So, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been around here in a while – a long while. A very long while, actually. In case you were wondering, no one died (thank God). I didn’t move to Mars or decide to kayak around the world. The thing is, that somewhere along the way I lost my groove. I spent several frustrating months trying to find it. And when that didn’t work, I realized that maybe I needed to step back for a while. Let me explain…

We all have those times when things we try to do don’t turn out as planned. For me, it started some time between New Year’s Day and Valentine’s day. It happened so subtly, that I didn’t think anything of it at first. A fallen soufflé here… A curdled buttercream there… A burnt caramel sauce. Gummy pasta dishes. The list goes on. Nothing, and I mean n.o.t.h.i.n.g. that I cooked or baked was turning out right. Even recipes that I’d made dozens of times before went very wrong, and I couldn’t figure out why. Even Mr. SGCC noticed it – although he was smart enough not to mention it unless I brought it up first. I began to view my kitchen as hostile territory.

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And, don’t even get me started on the photography! Mini SGCC came home from college for the summer – and brought three times more stuff back with her than she had when she left. It spilled out of her room, all the way down the hall and right into my little makeshift photography studio. Boxes were stacked up on top of my hand painted backdrops and antique French cheeseboards. Plates, bowls and serving platters were crammed into nooks and crannies out of my reach. And, I needed a search party to locate my lighting equipment. I tried setting up a table outside on my porch, but have you ever tried shooting a bowl of ice cream in ninety-five degree Florida heat? It isn’t pretty!

There was also the writing thing. As much as I tried to reach for them, the pithy, witty words eluded me. I felt as though I’d run out of interesting things to say. I was terrified that my literary well had run dry.

I felt defeated.

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So, I gave myself some time to lick my wounds and do other things – at least until Mini SGCC went back to school. The funny thing was, however, that once I took the pressure off of myself, things began to get better. Once I began cooking simply because we had to eat, and baking just for fun, I started to enjoy it again. Being able to prepare a meal without a camera hanging around my neck was liberating. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and then the emails started coming.

“You haven’t posted for months. Did you move to another URL?”

“Have you shut down your blog”?

“Is everything all right? We miss you!”

“HELLLOOOOO! Anybody there?”

Yes, I’m still here. Thank you for asking.

I’ve been debating for over a month about how to get myself back in the swing of things. How would I explain my absence? Would anyone even notice that I was back? Did most people even realize that I’d been gone? Was I relevant anymore?

Well, relevant or not, I’m back. I decided that I’d poured too much of my blood, sweat and tears into this little blog over the past five years to just let it go. And, I still loved it. I always did. I missed it too – and all of you.

I thought about just diving in and picking up where I left off. But, that didn’t seem very fair – or honest. If nothing else, I’ve always been straight with you, dear readers. I’ve shared the good, the bad and definitely the ugly! And now, I’m going to share this fabulous cake that I made last weekend.  The photos were taken with my iPhone, so they don’t really do it justice. But trust me when I tell you, this cake was something special! 

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When I first saw this Neapolitan Rose Cake on the I Am Baker website, I fell in love. It was absolutely gorgeous! It had three different kinds of cake and three different flavors of fluffy, pillowy buttercream. Then, there were the roses. Oh, those roses! They swirled and billowed and trailed all up and down and around the cake – perfect in their imperfection. I knew I had to make it!  But, in light of my ongoing slump, I was reluctant to try.  So, I waited for just the right occasion: my mother’s 75th birthday party.  Go big or go home!

A Neapolitan cake is derived from the classic Italian dessert, Neapolitan ice cream, which is made up of thick layers of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream stacked up together to form one large block.  Presumably, the dessert originated in Naples, Italy, hence the name.  I remember eating more than my fair share of this delicious treat as a little girl in the Bronx.  The cake version boasts a layer each of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla cake with corresponding colored and flavored frostings. 

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For my cake layers, I borrowed from a couple of different sources.  I found the recipes for the chocolate and strawberry cakes here and here.  The vanilla cake came from here

For the cake filling, I used a basic vanilla buttercream with a thin layer of strawberry preserves spread on top.  And, for the roses, I used a “crusting” buttercream, also called decorator’s buttercream.  This type of frosting is excellent for piping flowers and designs because it stays firm and holds its shape – even in high heat and humidity.  The original recipe, also from I Am Baker, calls for the use of shortening instead of butter.   I couldn’t do it, though.  I’d never used shortening in place of real butter before, and was really concerned about the taste.  I compromised instead, and made mine with a blend of real butter and shortening – about 2/3 to 1/3. I used melted, unsweetened Scharffen Berger chocolate to flavor the chocolate frosting and a box of strawberry Jell-O (Yes, Jell-O.) to flavor the strawberry frosting.  Each one worked perfectly.  And, they tasted great!  

I was a nervous wreck when the time came to decorate my cake!  I’d tried to make fancy cakes before, and failed miserably.  But, the great thing about buttercream is that it’s very forgiving.  If you make a mistake, you can just wipe it off and start over.  And despite how lovely they are, the roses are surprisingly easy to pipe.  Really!  They are much easier to make than they look.  Amanda from I Am Baker has a very helpful video tutorial that shows exactly how to make her rose cake.   I also found another great video tutorial that was even more detailed.  As you can see, I figured out how to swirl my own roses – and lived to tell about it. 

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Happy Birthday, Mom!

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Make a wish!

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I’ve already linked to the three different cake recipes I used to make my rose cake, so I won’t reprint them here.  But, I am sharing the recipes for the different buttercream variations that I used, as I modified each one slightly. 

So, there you have it.  My mom absolutely loved her Neapolitan Rose Cake!  And, I must confess that the “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” heard around the room when the cake was revealed made my heart swell with pride.   I sincerely hope that any of you who feel “buttercream challenged” will give this decorating technique a try.  It really is not difficult at all. And, the results are so worth it.   Trust me.  If I can do this – you can too! 

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39 responses to The Comeback Kid and the Neapolitan Rose Cake

  1. On October 08, 2013 at 12:11pm, Jenni said...

    It’s funny that your post comes along right now. I just went to a workshop this weekend where part of what we talked about was learning to disconnect in order to reconnect later on. You can’t convey passion if you’re feeling defeated, so I’m glad you stepped back for yourself. Yay, you!

    Glad you’re back, Susan! Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy will Always be relevant. =)

    And good for you for avoiding the all-shortening trap. Ew. ;)

    • On October 08, 2013 at 12:29pm, Susan said...

      Thanks, Jenni! I agree wholeheartedly. It felt really good to click that “Publish” button again! :D

  2. On October 08, 2013 at 1:07pm, Debbie Penge said...

    Susan, This cake was an amazing success! It was gorgeous and delicious! I brought home 2 pieces with the hopes that one was for me? both boys devoured them and I was sent back to grandma’s for another slice! Thankfully mom, saved a piece for Rachel in the freezer! FYI…. my birthday is 10/27/2013 hint hint!!!! and I LOVE COCONUT~ just say ;)

    • On October 08, 2013 at 2:50pm, Susan said...

      Thanks, Debbie! Glad you enjoyed it! :)

  3. On October 08, 2013 at 1:13pm, Rosa said...

    Welcome back! Lack of inspiration happens to us all…

    Your cake is splendid! What pretty decorations.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    • On October 08, 2013 at 2:52pm, Susan said...

      Thanks, Rosa! :)

  4. On October 08, 2013 at 2:25pm, Ivy said...

    Welcome back Susan. We all have these dry spells and there have been many times I wanted to quit blogging entirely. I call it “blogging fatigue” and hope that I will not end up like “metal fatiguing” and snap one day :) You did the right thing to stay away and relax. The cake is stunning and I can see lots of love in it. Belated birthday wishes to your mum. The decoration looks fantastic and I have bookmarked it.

    • On October 08, 2013 at 2:54pm, Susan said...

      Thank you, Ivy! Blogging fatigue is a good way to categorize it. Just like everything else, it can weigh you down. Glad you liked the cake. If you do make it, let me know how it turns out. :)

  5. On October 08, 2013 at 2:50pm, junecutie said...

    Oh God, I thought I was the only one who had these periods of intense disasterly failures. I am not glad that you were hurting, you understand. Just glad that I’m not as screwed up as I thought. They say misery loves company; but I’ve been miserable, and I hated company. So, there you go. I have a friend who tells me that everyone has bad times and failures so that they really appreciate when things go well. From my perspective, your triumphs are pretty spectacular! Thanks for sharing all of this with us. You really helped me today.

    • On October 08, 2013 at 2:59pm, Susan said...

      Aww. Thank you! I so understand how you feel. We tend to be our own harshest critics and beat ourselves up over every little thing. It’s hard not to take it on the chin. I’m glad my little rambling helped. :D

  6. On October 08, 2013 at 3:45pm, Margie said...

    You’re cake is beautiful. But more important, I am glad that you are back. You were missed.

  7. On October 08, 2013 at 4:05pm, Vicki Bensinger said...

    I was wondering why I hadn’t seen any posts from you in a while. Glad you’re back and all is fine. I saw this post on I Am baker as well and bookmarked it as well. Now sewing this again reminded me to create this beautiful cake. Looks like you broke your streak because this cake is stunning!

  8. On October 08, 2013 at 4:50pm, Sherri said...

    Glad you are back… And what a GORGEOUS cake!!! I love that!!!

  9. On October 08, 2013 at 11:31pm, Angie@Angie's Recipes said...

    How gorgeous! You did an excellent job in creating this stunning cake!

  10. On October 08, 2013 at 11:49pm, Shelby said...

    Welcome back! The cake is beautiful. Your mom looked so proud.

  11. On October 09, 2013 at 12:17am, Abbe@This is How I Cook said...

    Well, I must say-you sure know how to make an entrance – or a re-entrance.This is glorious!

  12. On October 09, 2013 at 7:59am, Sprigs of Rosemary said...

    And a glorious comeback it is! What a cake!And thanks for expressing so well the sentiments I, too, have been having this past summer. I was feeling quite alone in losing my mojo. There’s hope.
    Glad you’re back. You were missed.
    And a happy birthday to your mom.

  13. On October 09, 2013 at 8:22am, Nancy Goldstein said...

    Susan,
    Welcome back to reality and the dryness of Sarasota. What a summer, no wonder nothing worked for you.
    Glad you took the time for yourself, most of us need a little reflection time.
    I also celebrated my 75th this year with a wonderful coconut cake my daughter made from scratch with lemon curd filling from our Meyer lemon tree.
    So Happy Birthday to your mother and Happy Re-birth to you.

    • On October 10, 2013 at 9:04am, Susan said...

      Sounds wonderful, Nancy! Perfect for my SIL’s birthday in a few weeks.

  14. On October 09, 2013 at 8:44am, Carla said...

    As with many of the other comments, thanks for the “realness” (is that a real word?). I’ve also been having some failures, I’ve been trying to blame my oven, but maybe it’s me. Thank you for the recipe. It truly is a beautiful cake, but not nearly as beautiful as your Mother.

    • On October 10, 2013 at 9:05am, Susan said...

      Aww! Thank you – from both of us! :)

  15. On October 09, 2013 at 12:38pm, Kayle (The Cooking Actress) said...

    so glad to have you back! And this cake is the perfect re-entry, it’s stunning!

  16. On October 09, 2013 at 1:02pm, Alice said...

    What a gorgeous cake, like a bunch of roses right there in your face and good enough to eat. You did a wonderful job and you gave my dark cloud a silver lining today. :) Thank you. xxx

  17. On October 09, 2013 at 9:20pm, The Italian Dish said...

    Nice to have you back, Susan. And this cake is AWESOME!! I’ve made Amanda’s rose cake, but not in multiple colors. I love your version – I’m Pinning it!

  18. On October 10, 2013 at 9:07am, Susan said...

    Thank you all so much for your sweet comments and encouragement! It really warms my heart! XOXO :D

  19. On October 10, 2013 at 6:31pm, Sue said...

    Yay! You’re back! And I LOVE that your re-entry was an amazing, gorgeous cake for your momma! Happy Birthday, SGCC’s Mom!

  20. On October 10, 2013 at 10:27pm, Rachel (S[d]OC) said...

    Beautiful. Mom is very lucky.

    One thing I have learned about blogging is that you can’t be on all of the time. Weeks can go by for me where I just can’t seem to cook anything that doesn’t seem like something I cooked 12 times before. I’ve been doing this for 6 years. Since I’m a total amateur, I can’t always be coming up with brilliant new recipes. I have to wait longer for inspiration to come to me.

  21. On October 12, 2013 at 2:15am, Donna said...

    I know exactly how you feel… or felt! I’m going through that now myself. I haven’t posted anything on my blog since Valentine’s Day! I got into a funk and couldn’t get myself out, but the longer I let it go, the more I couldn’t bring myself to post anything. I also wondered if anyone missed me. My biggest excuse is that I had a total hip replacement about 7 weeks ago, and the months leading up to it were more painful than childbirth! I had let it go on for so long I actually had the walker out. The worst part was I couldn’t stand for more than 5 minutes at the stove any longer. I couldn’t stand to do anything, and I desperately missed my baking… baking cakes, cookies, bread… baking anything! Anyhoo… long story short… I finally got my hip replacement and I’m on the mend. Now I have to mend my blog and get it up and running again, just like me!

    Gorgeous cake Susan! You did an amazing job!!! I’ve been admiring her cakes myself and have made smaller versions of it, but I can’t wait to try a large party cake. That’ll be a present to myself :-)

  22. On October 12, 2013 at 9:55pm, Kirsten@FarmFreshFeasts said...

    Susan,
    I’m glad you are back. Your mom looks delighted with this cake, and you sound delighted to be sharing it.
    Thank you.

  23. On October 13, 2013 at 8:11am, Joshua Hampton (Cooking Classes San Diego) said...

    Wow. What a comeback. I’m glad you’re back and I have to say that cake is absolutely gorgeous.

  24. On October 13, 2013 at 9:38am, Lucy said...

    It’s great to have you back blogging – we all need a break sometimes. This cake is the perfect way to return – it looks incredible!

  25. On October 13, 2013 at 11:12am, wendy said...

    SUSAN…..WELCOME BACK! THIS CAKE IS SPECTACULAR,…..WHAT A SHOWSTOPPER!!
    I SO ENJOY YOUR BLOG…THANKS FOR ALL YOU DO.
    BEST WISHES
    WENDY

  26. On October 15, 2013 at 7:38am, Mary Morris said...

    Last night made cornbread as usual, it was awful. Same recipe, same pan, who knows? This morning I read your blog and realized it happens to everyone. I love your blog and photos. Your writing is terrific.

  27. On October 15, 2013 at 11:20am, Wadi Hana said...

    Everyone gets through a bad cooking/baking spell…I am glad you got through yours. Baking reflects the enjoyment you get in the process so suffice to say, the product won’t be good if the passion has fizzled. So happy you got your groove back, and this cake is stunning. Happy birthday to your mummy!

  28. On October 16, 2013 at 7:02pm, Denise said...

    Someone just told me about your blog and also “Cooking With Mr. C.” on Facebook. I will check your blog out. Denise

  29. On October 22, 2013 at 3:13pm, Dawn said...

    Welcome back! I missed you as well. :)

  30. On December 14, 2013 at 2:24pm, Foodiewife said...

    How did I miss this comeback post? I was searching for a specific recipe, and your blog came up. I do know exactly how you feel, Susan. Ever since my knee replacement, in June, my blogging mojo has gone downhill. I’m still cooking, of course, but I just don’t feel like setting up my camera and light equipment With a full-time job and ongoing physical therapy, I just don’t have the time to blog. My traffic has suffered, but that’s the price I have to pay. I hope to come back strong, again, but probably not until daylight savings begins and I can shoot in natural light. It’s great to have you back. Your loyal fans, which includes me, will always stick around for your beautiful recipes. I’ve always loved this cake, and have wanted to make it. It definitely makes a statement.

  31. On May 02, 2014 at 11:35am, Jane said...

    I want to cry when I look at that cake!
    So Beautiful! Go big or go home!

  32. On September 09, 2014 at 11:06am, Mom24_4evermom said...

    Not sure if you’re still monitering or not, but I wanted to let you know I miss you and your blog. Hope everything’s still ok. Thinking of you.

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kiss the cook!

Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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