Thursday, December 3, 2009
My apartment is no different - the sweet smell of gingerbread was in this air this weekend as I prepped for my holiday photo shoot. Not for me, silly - my cookies! (no, that's not some "milkshake" euphemism) I decided to do homemade holiday cards, and what could be more fitting than a cookie on the cover?
One "cover try" possibility:
Will be posting holiday baking throughout the month!
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I thought I'd end this month by discussing something I made at the end of last month - Marshmallow Ghouls for Halloween! I had, as usual, pretty elaborate plans for Halloween - I wanted to make macaroon candy corn, decorated sugar cookies, and these little ghosts. But as I had only a mere 4 days before Halloween (this also had to include my costume-making time), I had to pick one recipe to try out. Homemade marshmallows, other than being delicious, have major wow-factor and I thought I'd test out piping them out in different shapes.
I think I discussed in previous post on the ease of making your own 'mallows - really, it's easy! You just need a heavy and reliable saucepan and a stand mixer. You could use a hand mixer, but it would take a long time. A long, long time. The trick for piping and shaping marshmallows is to whip up the syrup so that it's really thick and strands of marshmallow are whipping around the bowl - that's when you know it's ready.
They look a little melty, and I did the chocolate super-fast, but otherwise, not bad, right?
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The cake I used was a classic dark chocolate cake that I've used for years - it's extremely reliable, light (yet rich), fluffly (yet dense), and delicious. There are definitely a lot of smudge marks on that page! It was a last-minute frosting job - the event I was going to was further away than expected and it was a last-minute decision to attend. I'm glad I did!
As a result, as soon as I got home, the butter got softened, and away we go!
The short form - 3 egg whites + 1 cup sugar, whisked over simmering water until the sugar was dissolved and the mixture was warm to the touch. Stick that bad boy in a mixer and whip until good 'n ready - and then gradually integrate a cup of butter and cup of jam. Yeah - not for the dieters, for sure, but it was delicious! And easy!
It does look a little....congealed, right? But even in the Martha vid - they looked kind of gloppy. I'm wondering if the jam separates the fat a bit to make it not-as-appetizing-looking.
So apart from that horrendous first buttercream, I'm 2 for 3! Let the good luck continue!
(below left: up close shot of the cupcake, below right: tray of cupcakes)
Sunday, November 22, 2009
(ah, will I ever format my pictures again? Maybe one day. But they actually look really decent before I do all ma fancy edging. So perhaps for quality's sake, I'll keep them....'raw'. Maybe borders?)
I let Annie know that a cake was a comin' her way - what flavour would she like? "Chocolate..." is the response I received. "But what kind of chocolate?" I replied, "there's dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate hazelnut, chocolate orange, chocolate with coconut...!!"
"Give me direction...!" I pleaded, "I'll give you until Monday to decide."
Monday came and went with no response. :( Luckily for me, the local grocery store would make my decision for me. 2 packets of raspberries for $5! Score! Get me 4, Mothership!
Dense chocolate cake base, doused liberally with Raspberry Marie Brizard (raspberry liquer, not as good as Chambord, though), topped with fresh raspberries and then covered in chocolate mousse. (two layers)
Cake was then covered on the sides with crumbled chocolate wafers, the top was edged with more raspberries and then ganached to within an inch of it's sweet, sweet life.
(Top Left: It's like a wafer cobblestone. Like from a Willy Wonka dream. Top Right: "Hey, watch what you're doing with that knife!" Bottom Left: I practiced that icing writing three times on Saran Wrap (on top of a template) before doing it for real. Bottom Right: On first glance, it looks like a landslide disaster. On closer inspection - it's just the miracle of dessert.)
While nibbling on my second slice, I was asked whether or not this took me a long time. Yes and no. Yes, it took about a week from start to finish, but I had delayed this cake for a week (frozen the cake layers for the days in between). Technically it would have taken me....three days? One to make the cake. Another to do the mousse and chill. Another to assemble. But that's doing it leisurely and on a good pace. If you try and attempt to do it all in a day - forget it. You're not giving yourself enough breathing time to enjoy the process - not to mention time to do another cake in case you mess up. (I did mess up the mousse - forgot the gelatin, added it in TOO late, made the custard too watery. Start again. Thank G for Costco-quantity FRO eggs.)
But each step, really didn't take me too long. I suppose I've made enough cakes that each step can get completed fairly quickly.
But it's all avec l'amour, mon amie! Bon anniversaire!
Sunday, November 15, 2009
I had been wanting to make this cake for a long time - I believe it was originally featured in Martha's January 2006 "Year of Cakes" spread. Yes, I have been holding onto this recipe for almost four years.
I'm glad I waited - I think if I had made it in 2006, it would have been a disaster. In the almost-four years since, I've really improved my cake and dessert making skills. Not to mention scheduling.
(above: view of cake in box)
Let's take a look at the pictures (unformatted again!) before we begin dissecting:
(upper left: candied hazelnuts with tails - air bubbles - reheated caramel? 'Virgin' caramel yields clear caramel? upper right: originally, I had 'x' amount of hazelnuts in the centre of the cake ONLY. However, I had a plate of caramel tail scraps, and therefore it became a nest of caramel. Bottom left: a stack of crepes. Bottom right: a cross section of the cake - with layers of strawberries and various other fillings. Funny, we ate lasagne for dinner too.)
So. Final thoughts.
The recipe called for 8" crepes. I went with 10" crepes because I would be feeding a large crowd. However, I used 10.5" - 11" pan. In retrospect, if I wanted to really duplicate the cake, I would have filled the entire pan instead of trying to make 10" crepes. All the layers were different in diameter and although it really didn't make much difference in terms of height, it just didn't look as nice. I also think making thicker crepes would have yielded a taller cake. This cake was tall, yes, but it wasn't as dramatic as I had hoped.
I used a variety of fillings - Nutella whipped cream, chocolate frosting, strawberries, hazelnuts, and icing sugar. I'm glad I used a variety of fillings - I think using the same one would have been pretty boring. Although my final results was a little...lumpy.
But like the title, it tasted better that it looked.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
As I meandered the aisles of the local drugstore, I realized that the holidays were just around the corner. Well, less 'realized' and more 'hit-in-the-face' with all the seasonal chocolate already on display. Out with Halloween, in with Christmas! I admit, I do enjoy holiday chocolate - especially the novelty box sets. I am looking forward to the Loacker Advent calendar! Maybe I'll buy one for work and one for home. Hee hee....
Anyway - this past week I made two cakes, a Boston Cream and a Maple Pecan. The Boston Cream was for a coworker and I forgot to take photos - but another colleague did, so I'll have to remind myself to ask for the pics.
I didn't quite realize that the Maple Pecan birthday was quite so soon. As a result, I had to pull together a cake in an afternoon. A fully frosted and assembled three-layer cake. It was ambitious, but I knew I could do it - if I was smart. Here are the results:
The cake itself was flavoured with maple with a very generous helping of chopped pecans. It was frosted with a maple buttercream (it worked this time!). I used a different recipe for , provided by the lovely Martha Stewart. It was a lot easier than the Joy of Cooking version, although it did get a little soupy. A quick 15 min in the freezer solved that and it fluffed up nicely after that (also with the help of about 1/2 cup of icing sugar as well as a stabilizer).
I couldn't get a good pic of the finished and decorated cake, I hadn't really thought of a good concept on how to frame the shot, so here are a few of cake slices.
A few final comments.... This year for Christmas, I'm going to ask for the following:
- cake decorating triangle
- cake decorating turntable
- cake decorating book
Almost forgot - the cake was decorated with candied pecans. Very easy to do - caramelize 1 cup of sugar over medium high heat until medium-amber in colour. Gently stir in 1 cup of pecans and make sure each nut is coated. Take off the heat (if you haven't already) and CAREFULLY remove each pecan onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. They recommended two forks. I recommend a long skewer. It's less messy if you work quickly and doesn't collect as much caramel build-up. Let cool 5 min and then decorate (or eat)!
Monday, November 2, 2009
It was a busy, busy October. You could say I was thoroughly baked out. Much of it went undocumented.
Thanksgiving: Chocolate-coated shortbread tart filled with crushed blackberry-whipped cream and topped with strawberries.
(I'm particularly proud of this creation. What started as a mocha roulade turned into a tart. This is the second time a jelly roll sponge has failed me. I will conquer it! I am determined to make a buche de noel this year. At the end of the night, I was very impressed with my kitchen improvisational skills.)
Boxed cookie hurricane: Classic chocolate brownies, chocolate chip cookies and said maple leaf cookies.
Halloween: Marshmallow Ghouls (upcoming post)
So - you'll have to excuse my lag in posting. I had a great week in Montreal and Toronto where I ate enough foie gras for the next decade and had more drink in one week than in the last few months (which, quite frankly, isn't a lot anyway). It was terrific meeting up with old friends and catching up - it's funny what a few years of adulthood can do to a bunch of college cronies. We've got jobs and commitments now! I miss them already and am hoping to see them again soon!
But November...ohh...November. Birthday of J. Plus two of my best gal pals. Also another Toronto college crony. And a coworker. Mama mia, thas a lotta cakes.
Better get butterin'!
Monday, October 12, 2009
Fall is in the air! Which means it's time for a vacation. This year I'm off to accompany and visit friends on the East coast (Montreal and Toronto) and do some serious (I'm talking suuuuuurious)
shopping. As a thank-you gift to my Toronto host, I'm sending him a box of homemade goodies. On the menu? Chocolate chip cookies, chocolate brownies, and maple cookies.
I have a special story about these maple cookies - (of course, right? Or else there wouldn't be a blog post...) I've been making these cookies for a long time - for at least a decade and they've always been a hit. A little maple frosting on top and you're good to go. Anyway, during one of my many cross-Canadian moves, I managed to lose the recipe! Oddly enough, even though it's a Martha recipe, I could not find it on the website. So after a few years of being deprived of the maple goodness, I emailed the Marthaship - begging for the recipe. "Please...." I pleaded, "I must have the recipe! I've tried and tested so many others....but they don't even come close. Not even close."
A few months go by and I receive my November 2008 MSL - and the Cookie of the Month? Maple Cookies.
I know, I know, it seems like a 'happy coincidence' right? But I think it was her way of sending her thanks to me - for supporting her all these years.
My triple-decker cooling rack. Purchased at the old workplace. Pretty pimp, right? Only a baker like me needs a triple-decker cooling rack.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
The Mothership and I have a good cooking relationship - in my kitchen. In other words - she's a decent sous chef in my kingdom. Or queendom. Or Spoon-dom. Ha. That sounds funny. Anyway - we do particularly well when we have to do wrapping or decorating. As regular readers have seen in previous posts - she's got an excellent icing eye (and hand) and an adept dumping wrapper roller. I did the pleating, in that case. In this particular instance, however, the Mothership revealed some pretty decent won ton wrapping skills!
I had just come home from a long day at work - an end-of-day meeting had run long and I didn't even have time to turn on the TV when the Mothership was a-knockin'. She seemed disappointed that our won ton dinner night was off to a late start, but hey - what am I going to do? I quickly whipped up a filling, put the chicken stock on the hob, and away we went!
The filling? Equal parts lean and regular ground pork (1/2 lb each), 1/4 chopped water chestnuts, 1/2 lb chopped peeled shrimp, 3 minced green onions, a spoonful of cornstarch, a generous splash of rice wine and soy sauce. Salt and pepper. Oh, and some of that magic sesame oil. Gotta have the sesame oil. I'd throw in some oyster sauce if I had any.
Take some standard won ton wrappers - trace a line of water around the edges, plop a generous teaspoon of filling in the middle and wrap away. Everyone has different techniques in won ton wrapping - the Mothership employed a more traditional style whereas mine was...Italian-inspired, ha ha. They were cooked in homemade chicken stock and served, with said stock and baby bok choy. And it all took less than an hour!
Sunday, September 27, 2009
-yellow butter cake layers doused with liquer
-sandwiching layers of whipped cream and local blackberries
-topped with a dark chocolate ganache and more whipped cream
But let me explain this whole "saving my life" story. This is a pretty small cake - probably smaller than a catalogue envelope (5" by 9"), I wanted to keep it small, but dense and full of flavour (success!). Handily, it fit on my lovely Epicurean "Handy" cutting board (picture a thin, flat, wood-composite cutting board about the size of a catalogue envelope with a 4" handle on one end - like a small rectangular pizza peel) and I had been steadily shuttling it in and out of my fridge while assembling. I had put together all the layers and had inserted a few skewers for support (wow! what a hidden lifesaver) and was JUST about to frost - when the unthinkable happened.
I dropped it. On the floor.
I think I was being too cavalier in the kitchen; whirling around my small space with cutting board in hand - when I looked away for a split second when I heard it.
I looked down, and all I could see was the top of my cake and a ring of whipped cream around it. My heart stopped.
But it started beating again when I realized - "hey, it's still upright!" It had landed as perfectly as a dropped cake could. The impact caused some of the filling to spurt out, but otherwise, it was intact. Thanks to that cardboard base and, I suppose, the skewers.
With a shaking hand and beating heart, I quickly finished decorating the cake and let it rest in the fridge until presentation time.
There's really nothing like a cake with fresh fruit - it's so underrated! I'd be tempted to make a traditional mango cake - but I don't trust myself around ripe mangoes. They'd never make it to the cake stage.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
I suppose it's become a bit of a tradition of mine to present my friend with a custom birthday cake for the occasion. I think in the years between school and family - we tend to overlook the tradition of presenting an actual cake! It sort of disintegrates into a birthday dessert at a restaurant or, *gasp* a birthday drink. Not that I am opposed to a birthday drink - but hey! I want to slice a cake!
I had two cake presentations this week - the H-izzo's birthday was earlier this week, so I had to schedule my week strategically so I could get both of them done. I didn't bring my camera to H-izzo's house, so I'll publish T's cake this post.
It was an unintentionally dense coconut cake baked in a round cake mold, 'filled' with sweet lemon curd and topped with seven minute frosting. Yes, it was quite an undertaking. I had no idea coconut cakes were so....rich! All the recipes I looked at contained a sinful amount of butter and eggs, so I opted for a buttermilk-style cake and added coconut and coconut milk (instead of buttermilk). It was baked in a round, Bundt-style cake mold and then I carved out a ring on the top, scooped out some cake, doused the whole thing in a Malibu-syrup, filled it with lemon, replaced the top cake ring and then frosted that mo-fo.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
This recipe made a massive amount of cake. I managed to get three decent sized portions out of it. They are relatively flatter than a traditional cake, but meh - more to go around!
-Used 5 bananas instead of 6
-Substituted cream instead of creme fraiche
-Added two generous handfuls of chocolate chips
-Added 1/3 cup of toasted coconut (pantry orphan)
-Substituted pecans for walnuts, not toasted
-Reduced oil and sugar with no noticeable difference (reduced by about 25%)
Friday, September 11, 2009
Unfortunately, it didn't turn out quite how I had envisioned it. The cake was great! Amazing, in fact! (Martha recipe, of course - Yellow Butter Layer Cake) But the buttercream...wow...not so much. Looks decent in the photo, right? But let me tell ya - a classic buttercream is a skill to be learned. And I was schooled. Big time.
The method has three parts:
- Make a syrup.
- Heat and whisk eggs
- Incorporate the two and a mutha load of butter.
My problems were:
- The syrup was waaaaay too hot. (no thanks to my TWO thermometers!)
- It cooked some of the eggs (yeah, I know, eewwwwww!).
- I didn't strain out the egg bits - I didn't know if straining the syrup would break the syrup or not and I didn't want to risk it.
- There are teeny globs of egg in the icing.
- I know! Gross, right? But you can't taste them! And I already put three bloody sticks of butter in that mess, so it's too late!
- Other than the little globules of egg - they look really pretty.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I was attempting to write lyrics for a berry-baking themed "Deck The Halls", but you try and think of something that goes along with, "Strike the harp and join the chorus"! Not easy, I tell ya...
But this weekend I did manage to make a seasonal favourite of mine - Blueberry Lemon Bundt Cake. Unfortunately, the weather was not quite nice enough for us to go picking, but we went to a local farmstand and loaded up on blueberries. Which really wasn't that much more expensive than picking them ourselves.
The first time I made this cake - it came out of the pan in two (maybe even three pieces). Mind you, it was still good, but it looked a little rough. And I had to use a ton of icing sugar to make it look relatively uniform. And looking like it came out of the pan in one piece. I was much more careful this time around and carefully buttered-and-floured the pan - with fantastic results! I've never had a Bundt cake come out quite so...lovely and golden.
I decided not to dust with icing sugar because the marbling of the blueberries was too unique to cover up. It kind of looks like the cake version of Tiger ice cream (what was that anyway? Orange with chocolate swirl? Mmm...that would make a good cake.)
As usual, I didn't have enough patience to wait for the cake to cool before we sliced it up - the inside was so warm and the blueberries would explode with a burst of juice - the dense cake was a wonderful complement! And juice soaker!
Want to give this cake a try? Check out the recipe here.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
3 cups of whole milk/half&half (I use a combination of the two to make 3 cups)
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon Amaretto
4 egg yolks
1 lb strawberries
Prepare strawberry base:
In a saucepan, cook strawberries over medium-low heat until a good deal of liquid/juice has been produced (roughly 3/4 - 1 cup), gently crush remaining berries.
Strain and return liquid to saucepan, reduce by a quarter - add berries back in and chill until ready to use.
Prepare ice cream base:
In a saucepan, heat up milk/cream, 1/2 cup sugar, salt and Amaretto until right below boiling point - and steam is coming off the liquid.
Whisk together egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until smooth. Temper yolks with 1 cup of liquid, and then add tempered yolks into the saucepan.
Strain ice cream base into a bowl set over an ice bath.
Once cool, stir in strawberry base.
Chill 'n churn.
That's my Amy Winehouse moment. She wails, "Blaaaaake"; I wail, "Flaaaaaake". By 'Flake', I mean that delicious chocolately imported goodness that can be found at any reputable retailer. I don't really remember the first time I had a Flake bar. But I didn't like it. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that when I actually ate it, it was half-crumpled, being a survivor of a trans-Atlantic flight from London. But my second Flake experience was with a full, luscious, intact Flake bar that crumbled at the lightest of touch. And it was...delicious. But back to the main point of this post - strawberry ice cream!
I admit, I have more fun thinking of ice cream mix-ins than I do the actual ice cream. Nuts, fruit, chocolate, cookies…whatever’s in the pantry tends to go in – as well as flavor complements. I had made a rough list of ice creams I wanted to make – I love how completely flexible and adaptable ice creams can be – just make your base and add away! One ice cream I think I will make in the fall, will probably be a maple-apple-spiced ice cream. Oh yum. Like..apple pie filling…in ice cream! You get your pie a la mode in a scoop! Anyway, I’m getting carried away in my fantasyland here.
Let me set the stage:
Base? Strawberry ice cream.
Mix-in? Leftover chocolate cake.
Kick it up a notch? Flake chocolate bar.
I was writing a shopping list and at the end I wrote, “Flake. Aaaagggghhhh!”
I love, love, love Flake bars. I love that they look like chocolate ribbon candy – with the gentle folds of chocolate piled into a 7” stick of goodness. How do they do that, anyway? That folding thing? What I like to do is crunch up a Flake bar IN THE WRAPPER, open one end and dump a load of chocolate in my mouth. Like one of those Pixie sticks. (you should see how I dissemble a Caramilk-Rolo)
Oh my god. Could you imagine? Orange or lemon sherbet with a Pixie dust swirl? Be still my beating heart.
Strawberry + chocolate = good times indeed.
*the latest David Lebovitz blog post has a recipe for Caramelized White Chocolate Ice Cream. I shall return triumphant with the results!!
Sunday, August 9, 2009
When I used to live in Toronto – my residence was about a 15 minute walk away from the Chinatown market. I used to spend countless hours wandering the streets, visiting my favourite vendors, eating at cramped restaurants and perusing the goods that lined the streets. My two favourite fruit vendors were on the North-West corner of Dundas and Spadina. Conveniently – they were right next to each other, and they would ‘compete’ with each other for the best prices and the most boisterious calls to prospective customers. “Buy, buy, buy!” they would yell proudly, “two for $5! Very ripe! Very sweet!” There were many a time when I was lured over to touch and fondle the fruits on sale. Naturally, there were seasons when certain fruits would be on sale : oranges, apples, strawberries, pineapples – you name it – they had it on special at one time or another. But three particular fruits were always on my ‘watch list’ – lychees, mangoes (the ‘good’ mangoes from the Philipines), and cherries. I would visit the fruit stalls often and look for the signs – I would also lean towards the window while sailing by on the streetcar – always waiting and hoping for one of those three fruits to be on special.
Currently – we are in the busy cherry seasons. The fruits of my labour? Pounds and pounds of pitted and frozen cherries in the freezer, white chocolate-cherry-almond ice cream, Black Forest cake AND Black Forest trifle – and now – cherry coffee cake!
This was a delicious recipe that I found via the tastespotting site – it was moist, dense, and dare I say, better the day after? I changed it up a bit and added a top layer for that added crunch.
So take advantage of the cherry season while it’s still here! And still cheap!
Did I ever tell you about the time I bought 8 kiwis for $1?
Cherry Coffee Cake
(c/o Series of Kitchen Experiments)
1 1/2 cups cherries, pitted and halved
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
Preheat oven to 375F, prepare an 8" square cake pan.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time until incorporated. Add vanilla.
Whisk flour, salt, and baking powder.
Add half to wet ingredients, then milk, then rest of dry ingredients.
Carefully fold in cherries.
Bake for 45-60 minutes.
*optional: I added a streusel-y type of topping for an added crunch (1 tb cold butter + 1 1/2 tb flour + 1 1/2 tb sugar, mashed up and sprinkled on top)