April Subscription Box Review: Sample Society and Birchbox

Monthly delivery for $15/month
Includes 4-5 full and deluxe sized beauty and makeup samples
This month I received Jane Iredale Rio Lip Plumper, Illume Tonka Noir Sample Tin, Benefit Cosmetics the POREfessional, Mt. Sapola Lavender-Chamomile Lotion, Bumble & Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil VOC and Marc Jacobs Daisy Dream Fragrance Sample. The Jane Iredale uses peppermint to produce some plumping action, and comes in a brown shade that the magazine notes is great for darker skin. It probably is, but that also means that its a bit too dark for me- but really, you can’t please everyone and this is the first time (I think) that anything has been targeted to a darker skin tone, so I wasn’t to broken up about it. I was, however, thrilled to see the travel candle! I am one of those people that actually packs a candle when I go on trips because I like to feel cozy, and this scent is perfect. OK, regarding the POREfessional, the Lavendar-Chamomile Lotion, and the Invisible Oil- I am so happy to see these products, but the samples are tiny, tiny! I got a POREFessional sample from Sephora recently, and it’s actually larger than the one I got in this box, which is really disappointing. This is the second month in a row that I’ve been disappointed with Sample Society and the value/quality of items that I’m receiving, especially since they claim to send 5 deluxe sized samples each month. I’ll plan to see how things work out next month, but if the value isn’t there for a third month in a row it might be time to cancel this sub and try another.
Birchbox

Monthly delivery for $10/month

Includes 4-5 beauty and lifestyle samples

This month my box included 12 Benefits Instantly Healthy Hair Treatment, LAQA & Co Sheer Lip Tube Pencil, CLEAN Original Parfum, Not Soap, Radio Body Wash, and Cynthia Rowley Beauty Brightening Illuminator. I knew exactly what I was getting, because I chose the Mad Men California Box, but I still can’t help feeling a little disappointed that Birchbox insists on including perfume samples and counting them towards the five sample items. Anyway, the products- I’ve mentioned before that I really like getting the Not Soap, Radio samples because they are perfect for travelling, and this one is no exception. I was also particularly happy with the Lip Tube Pencil- it’s moisturizing and the color is a nice, soft pink…I think I was pleasantly surprised at the quality. The Illuminator looks tiny and, especially after my Sample Society box, my instant reaction was a little ragey, but you really only need the smallest amount to make a nice impact, so I suspect it will actually last a while. The 12 Benefits Hair Treatment is my only wild card- it claims to moisturize and condition my dry, parched hair and since I just ran out of my usual leave-in conditioner, I’m looking forward to trying it out. Overall, Birchbox gave me a few items that I love, one that I’m looking forward to trying, and a perfume. It’s not my favorite ever, but still a win for this month.

Triple Coconut Macaroon Cake

This cake.

Coconute Cake 3This beautiful, majestic, gorgeous, fluffy, Triple Coconut Macaroon Cake. This cake was so many things this week- on Sunday, it was a perfect ending to a lovely Easter weekend. Today, when I was eating the last bit directly from the cake plate, it was a salve to the sting of discovering (in the middle of the night, during a week of storms) that our sump pump had failed, and our basement was taking on water. On a grand scale, I like to think that this cake was the celebration of the end of winter, and a particularly stressful chapter of life.

Coconut CakeYou may know this about me, but cake is rarely my first choice is desserts. For one thing, I think it’s very hard (for me, at least) to make a cake, especially from scratch, that is delicious and moist and fluffy. Also, I don’t tend to make lovely cakes- my layers tend to get a bit lopsided, and whatever I put in the middle always mushes out, and I can never frost the sides- which is sort of okay, because I actually don’t like frosting! And, to be completely real…I actually really, really love funfetti cake with funfetti frosting (boxed and canned, respectively) and, given the option, I would choose that over nearly all other cake.

coconut cake 2The above reasoning notwithstanding, last weekend really seemed like a cake weekend. I settled on coconut because Evan and I has a series of terrible macaroon experiences (seriously, it’s not like we are macaroon obsessed, but I think we had three or four terribly dry macaroons over the course of one week). At first, I was just looking at a white cake with white frosting, sprinkled with coconut. The more I thought about it, thought, the more I wanted to add coconut to EVERYTHING. And, in the spirit of chocolate dipped macaroons, I added a layer of chocolate ganache at the last minute.

Coconut Cake 4I’ll be honest- the Triple Coconut Macaroon Cake isn’t a one bowl recipe, and it doesn’t come together in 30 minutes. But if you can put in a little bit of effort, I think you’ll be so pleased with the results! This is a moist, made-from-scratch white cake with great flavor. The frosting is a Swiss buttercream, but it’s a much smaller quantity that most SB recipes, and it comes together really easily with the help of an electric mixer. And I mentioned above that I can’t frost a beautiful cake, so I negated that entirely by just layering things and not even bothering to frost the sides. I like to think that ‘naked’ cakes are supa fancy…but I could be making excuses. Either way, I think this is an impressive presentation of a really delicious cake!

Triple Coconut Macaroon Cake

Cake

3 egg whites
1 whole egg, separated
2 cups flour
¼ cup corn starch
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup coconut milk (the canned kind, and use the rest in the frosting!)
1/2 tsp vanilla

Egg Whites: start with a clean bowl, glass or metal. Add all 4 egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form; set aside. (I did this in the bowl of my kitchenaid and transferred them to another bowl. Then I moved on to the next step without washing anything…because I’m lazy.)

Dry Ingredients: sift the flour, corn starch, powder, and salt together…I sifted it together about three times, because I was a little excessive, and I wanted it to be perfectly aerated and light.

Batter: cream together the butter and sugar until they’re light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, and mix well. Then add the dry ingredient and the coconut milk in alternating parts (I went dry, milk, dry, milk, dry). Don’t overmix- just mix until everything is incorporated. Remove the bowl from the standing mixer (or, if your mixing by hand already- keep on keeping on) and fold in the whipped egg whites. I did this is two parts- the first part was less gently, just to loosen the batter up some. The second half of the whip was folded in super gently, to preserve as much of the air as possible.

Bake: divide the batter between two 8 or 9 inch cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake at 350 for about twenty minutes, or at 325 for about 35 minutes (the lower temperature allegedly creates flatter cakes, so you don’t have to trim any cake domes, so I always drop the temp and increase time). When a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry, remove from the oven and let cool for ten minutes in the pan, before inverting the cakes on a cooling rack. Allow the cakes to cool completely before topping.

Coconut Swiss Buttercream

¾ cup sugar
3 egg whites
2 sticks butter diced into cubes ~1cm in size
½ cup coconut milk
½-¾ cup shredded coconut

Buttercream: fill a saucepan with about an inch or two of water, and heat over medium. Place a heat proof bowl over the pan, and add the egg whites and sugar. Whisk this mixture often for about five or six minutes, until the sugar is completely dissolved (if you rub it between your fingers, you shouldn’t feel any sugar). Transfer the egg whites to a mixing bowl, and whip on high until a stiff meringue forms. The next part is where people can run into trouble. So, test the meringue and make sure that there is absolutely no heat in the egg whites (by test, I mean with your fingers or by tasting). When no heat is left, start to add the butter one chunk at a time. If the mixture ever starts to get weird/soupy, stop adding butter and just whip for a while, before continuing to add butter. After all the butter is incorporated and the frosting is pretty solid in texture, drizzle in the coconut milk until it’s fully combined. Divide the frosting in half, and stir in the shredded coconut to one half. Set this aside.

Chocolate Ganache

¾ cup dark chocolate chips/chunks
¼ cup cream or milk
½ cup shredded coconut

Ganache: microwave the chocolate and the cream for 30 seconds, until the milk is pretty hot. Remove from the microwave and stir vigorously until the mixture comes together in a really lovely, satiny chocolate mixture. Here’s where you need to make some executive decisions- if the chocolate isn’t melted enough, return to the microwave. If the mixture is too thick, stir in some more cream. If the mixture is too thin, add more chocolate. For reference, you want the texture to be thicker than a glaze but thinner than frosting- you want to be able to spread it and have it stay in place.

Assemble the cake: place one of the layers on a platter. Add the chocolate ganache and spread until it’s about ½ inch from the edge of the cake. Next, layer on the frosting with the coconut- I dropped several spoonfuls around the cake and smooshed together, because I didn’t want to spread the ganache away from the center. Top with another cake layer, and spread with the rest of the coconut frosting. Sprinkle on the rest of the coconut. At this point, I thought about drizzling some more chocolate over the coconut, but I held back. If you’re so inspired, though, by all means- add more chocolate! And enjoy 🙂