Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Christmas in February

If I was any good at prankery, I would try in earnest to convince you that today is in fact Christmas. It’s April Fools’ Day, after all. But if any truth could be said about me, it would have to be Homer Simpson’s famous line, “You couldn't fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine!”

Sadly, I don’t have anything like an electrified fooling machine (and what I really want is a waffle iron). I guess I’m kind of pranking you with the title “Christmas in February” but, to be honest, today totally feels like February. It’s a snow day, my office is closed, everything in town is shut down because we’re going to get at least 100 feet of snow, and we might not see any signs of spring until next Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, I was so busy during last Christmas that I didn’t get time to write about all of my Christmas makings and bakings during Christmas. Or after Christmas. Or after after Christmas, for that matter. Too many papers, too much work, too much... just much too much. That’s me: much too much. I’m all in, all the time. Why can’t I just be like normal people and not do anything for a change? No, I must make and do ALL of the things. All the cakes, all the crafts, all the cookies, all the fudge, and all of the masters degrees.

Seeing as how I don’t have anything scheduled for today, I decided to make some work for myself by writing one big post that covers my Christmas 2013 treats and post it right at the point when most people have totally forgotten about Christmas. Oh, you’re welcome.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I made a boatload full of food, including the pie and tarts that I showed you in my last post. FYI, a “boatload” of something is my favourite unit of measurement. I didn’t take photos of everything in the boatload, but I can show you the ones that I did.

Fudge: I forgot to get pictures of my “Everything” fudge (trail mix, cashews, peanuts, almonds, macadamia, pistachios, vanilla cream sandwich cookies, Smarties and M&Ms) and my butterscotch chocolate walnut fudge. But here are photos of my batches of rocky road fudge with mixed nuts and white chocolate candy cane Oreo fudge. 

I just love the look of those big ol' slabs of fudge before they're cut into pieces! By the way, next to “boatload,”  “slab” is my most favourite unit of measurement. The candy cane fudge is made using my favourite Eagle Brand cookies n' cream fudge recipe with candy cane sandwich cookies from Walmart that I call Oreos (or you can use the original Mint Oreos) with chopped candy canes on top.

Cookies: I made some melting snowman chocolate chip cookies and Rudolph oatmeal raisin cookies. 

The melting snowmen were decorated with royal icing to look like melted snow and scotch mints were used for their heads. The reindeers were made using a gingerbread man cookie cutter and decorated upside down. They're decorated with royal icing, chocolate chips for eyes, and a red Smartie for the noses.

Cake pops: After years of following Bakerella’s blog and poring over her books, I finally got over my anxiety and made cake pops for the first time. I made vanilla elves, Christmas trees, and snowmen. It was hard, messy work but totally worth it. After they were completely dry, I packaged them in small, clear cellophane bags secured with a silver twist tie. These photos were taken at night so the lighting is not the best.

I adore the snowmen in their jaunty candy berets! For some reason, the snowmen look very pleased with themselves, like they know they're cute and they’re happy to be here. Those are the kind of snowmen and people I like best: those who are just happy to be wherever they are.

Cupcakes: This year I decided not to do a big decorated cake for Christmas Eve like I usually do but I made cupcakes decorated as little snowy winter scenes instead. These are vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting and homemade marshmallow fondant shapes made by hand and using mini cookie cutters.  I made a variety of little fondant characters and shapes for the scenes including snowmen with scarves blowing in the wind, snowmen wearing hats, snow-covered trees, Christmas gifts, reindeer, and Santa hat-wearing gingerbread men.

In case you’re wondering what I did with this stuff, nearly all the treats were given away as gifts to relatives, my coworkers, my mother’s colleagues, and assorted friends and neighbours. The best part is that I got to sample everything I made.  

I keep saying that next year I’m not making anything, but I already know that I’m going to make another boatload of treats topped off with innumerable slabs of fudge. I'd better start planning.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The First Pie of Spring

This feels like the longest winter in history. It’s just never-ending.  I’ve been so busy since I last posted in November that most of this never-ending winter has seemed to pass by quickly, but it still feels as if it should be over by now. 

I spent part of the winter watching old episodes of Pushing Daisies each evening, a TV show that came on a few years ago about a piemaker named Ned who has the magical ability to bring dead people, animals, and plants back to life, with the catch being that he can’t touch them again or he will kill them forever. On the show, they always showed images of huge mouth-watering pies displayed in Ned’s pie shop, the Pie Hole, in the background. My favourite part of the show was when Ned’s brought-back-to-life girlfriend, Chuck (a.k.a. Charlotte) would bake pies with gruy√®re cheese baked into the crust and homeopathic liquid antidepressants dropped into the filling for her two mourning, cheese-loving aunts, who didn't know that she had returned from the dead. Chuck would make the pies and then have them secretly delivered to her aunts to cheer them up.

I don’t know that this winter has been bad enough to start baking antidepressants into my desserts (although putting cheese in the crust is something I definitely have to try), but in my attempt to will spring into existence, I decided to make the first pie of spring today.

It’s apple, peach and blueberry. I made half of my favourite Perfect Pie Crust recipe and I used the leftover pie dough to cut out flower and leaf shapes. I baked these on a separate baking sheet and then placed them on top of the pie once I took it out of the oven to cool.

This pie reminded me of some pies that I made in December: a Christmas chicken and broccoli pie and some starry lemon mini tarts.

For the Christmas chicken pie, I cut out small Christmas shapes (snowmen, reindeer, and stars) and baked them separately for a few minutes on a baking sheet, and then added them to the top of the pie once it came out of the oven, just like I did with the spring pie. The pie filling was made of chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, garlic, milk and cheese, with flour to thicken, that was cooked ahead of time before being added to the crust.

I also made starry lemon mini tarts.

I made my own lemon curd for the tarts. These tarts were made to look like traditional British Christmas mince pies with the star on top, which I’ve never made and never tasted. There’s something about the word “mince” that turns me off. I’ve never seen mincement in the stores and I don’t know if I want to make it myself. I think I’d like to try these little tarts with a chocolate filling. Maybe Nutella with chopped, toasted hazelnuts mixed in.  Hazelnuts are pretty Christmassy.

Looking at these pictures of my Christmas pies reminds me that I still have a bunch of photos of Christmas food from last year that I haven’t had a chance to share. When I get time, I will post them. Hopefully before next Christmas.

And in case you are still digging out from this long, miserable winter and don't have access to a pie with cheese and antidepressants baked into it, here’s something that’s sure to help brighten up your day: a Mini Maestro from Kyrgyzstan who takes her conducting very seriously and very cutely.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cake Break

I needed a break from cake so lately I've been making non-cakey treats

I forgot to take a picture of it, but I made White Chocolate and Macadamia Rocky Road squares. It's funny because what originally inspired me to make these squares was the picture of them on the original recipe site, but mine weren't quite as pretty. I made a few tweaks to the original recipe.  I toasted the macadamia nuts and pistachios (or “smishsmashios” as I like to call them) in the oven first to enhance their nuttiness. Instead of dried cranberries, I used dried cherries that I snipped in half with kitchen scissors. I also used unsweetened coconut because that’s what I had on hand.

The only problem I had with this recipe was the proportion of white chocolate to the other ingredients. I used chocolate chips rather than baking chocolate, which was probably the wrong thing to do. I think it needs about one-third more white chocolate chips (so 180g + 60g = 240 g) in order to get it to set up right.

(I always call pistachios "smishsmashios" because it reminds me of the Ghost of Christmas Present/Willie the Giant in Mickey’s Christmas Carol who can’t pronounce pistachios.)

Still in keeping with my Cake Break, for my birthday supper tonight, which is to celebrate my birthday tomorrow on November 25th, I made two types of brownies: Oreo brownies and chocolate chip cookie dough brownies.

For the Oreo brownies, I mixed some chopped Oreos into the brownie batter. Once the brownies were baked and cooled, I made half a recipe of Wilton's vanilla icing (the same one I always use for cake decorating) and mixed in chopped up Oreos. After spreading the Oreo frosting onto the brownies, I pressed a few pieces of cookie into the top.

And here are the cookie dough brownies.

These are just regular brownies with walnuts that, after they cooled, were frosted with a chocolate chip cookie dough frosting, which was made according to this recipe.  I used half vegetable shortening and half butter, regular sized chocolate chips, and I doubled the vanilla.

I used brownie mixes rather than make them from scratch. I find that the boxed brownies mixes always give the best results. I’ve tried several brownie recipes from scratch and they never turn out right.

And finally, because I didn’t want a total Cake Break, I made birthday cake fudge, also known as cake batter fudge.

It gets its name from the fact that it uses boxed cake mix in the recipe. I followed this recipe but I added an extra bit of milk (about 2 tablespoons) and a half teaspoon of clear vanilla extract.

I didn’t think I could find a new favourite fudge recipe but cake batter fudge totally takes the cake. No, let me rephrase that: It takes the cake and the fudge. All of it! It takes all the cake, all the fudge, and everything there is and ever was times infinity it's so good.

I think the only way to improve upon it would be to add gumdrops to make….GUMDROP CAKE FUDGE! Oh, man. That’s the sort of dangerousness that comes from thinking. I'm going to stop that now before I get myself into trouble.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A bear-eating bear and some pup-cakes

I’ve been pretty busy with work and grad school these past few months so I haven’t had much time for anything cake related. Or anything else related, really. But I do have a birthday cake and some cupcakes to share.
I made this little cake for my mother’s birthday in late June. It’s a small bear baked in a mini Wilton stand-up bear cake pan. It's about 5 inches tall. The bear is made from chocolate chip pound cake and covered in chocolate buttercream icing. The tree stump is made from the same cake and icing, and the small birthday cake on top is made from gumdrop cake covered in vanilla buttercream and decorated with mini cub gummy bears.

I made the flowers and toadstools from marshmallow fondant. I used a large flower-shaped fondant cutter as a sort of bowl and filled it to overflowing with regular gummy bears and the mini cub bears. I thought it would be fun for the bear to be eating a pile of gummy bears on her birthday. If there was a Heather-shaped candy, I'd definitely want to sit out in the grass and eat a big bowl of them on my birthday. The only thing that comes close to Heather-shaped candy is Sour Patch Kids, and they're only vaguely human looking.

Then I got bored one night a few weeks ago and made some spur-of-the-moment cupcakes for fun. These are vanilla cupcakes with vanilla and chocolate icing. I made dogs (pup-cakes!) and a boy and a girl.
I wanted the dogs with the collars to look like they had long, fluffy brown ears but the icing tip made it hard to get the ears to look anything other than spiky. The white dogs look like...white dogs. Terriers or something, I guess. Anyway, they tasted good. I brought the cupcakes in to work and then were all gone by 11:30 a.m. Pup-cakes for breakfast.

Pupcakes for Breakfast. That sounds like the name of a children's book.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

It’s been a while…

I’ve been so busy these past 6 months that I haven’t really had time to update this thing. I also had the misfortune of having my laptop crash and so I lost all of my photos of my birthday cake and my Christmas cookies and treats that I made last year.

Luckily, I still have a few photos of my Christmas Eve cake that I had saved in my email account that I can share with you.

The winter house cake was a traditional cherry pound cake with vanilla buttercream icing. I baked the cake in Wilton’s stand-up, 3D house cake pan. I made the wreath from royal icing and decorated it with sprinkles before letting it dry and attaching it to the cake. The green garlands around the door and windows were made from buttercream piped directly onto the cake and decorated with various sprinkles to look like ornaments. The snowman and the hedges were made from Rice Krispies treats molded by hand and covered in royal icing. The snowman and the icing snow on the cake board were covered in coconut to make them look fluffy. The evergreen trees were ice cream sugar cones covered in green royal icing that was piped using a star tip. I used chocolate pebbles to create the step in front of the door and for the border around the snow-covered flower beds. Originally, I wanted to dust icing sugar over the trees and the hedges to look like freshly fallen snow, but I decided against it because dusting powdered sugar never works out quite right for me. So, I left it as is. FYI, that's my Christmas tree in the background of the photo.

And here is my father’s birthday cake that I made a couple of weekends ago.

The pig pen cake is a two-layer, 8-inch brownie cake with chocolate ganache between the layers, decorated with chocolate ganache, chocolate cookie crumb "dirt," green vanilla buttercream "grass," and a pretzel fence to look like a pig pen. I made a gate for the pig pen by gluing pieces of pretzel together with royal icing and then letting it dry on a piece of wax paper. I made the pigs, vegetables, bees, ladybugs, and flowers from homemade marshmallow fondant. In case you're wondering, I made potatoes, carrots, apples, corn, cabbages, and pumpkins. Notice the pig at the top of the pen who dove right into the mud to get at his grub. All you can see are his leg, bum, and ears sticking out.

I also made some Easter brownies.

These are chocolate walnut brownies covered in a layer of chocolate ganache and decorated with homemade marshmallow fondant flowers and leaves, assorted sprinkles, and Hershey’s Eggies.

It's likely that I won't have much time to update for the next little while. For some (stupid?) reason, I applied and was accepted to another master's program. So, my cakes and cookies will be few and far between, but I'll be twice as master-y as I was before.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Nan's Birthday Cake and Cupcakes

My grandmother’s birthday was yesterday so I made her a cake for her birthday dinner while she was in town.
Birthday Cake - September 1, 2012 - 1
Birthday Cake - September 1, 2012 - 2
Birthday Cake - September 1, 2012 - 3

It’s a six-inch vanilla cake with raspberry cream filling, and it’s covered and decorated with vanilla buttercream. I used Wilton’s Decorator Favorites Patterns Press Set to imprint the designs on the top and side of the cake, and then I piped over the lines with green icing. The cake has a bit of an art nouveau look to it.

I also made some little monsters.
Mini Monster Cupcakes - 1
Mini Monster Cupcakes - 2
Mini Monster Cupcakes - 3

I’ve always wanted to make cupcake monsters but I just couldn’t wait for Halloween, which seems like an appropriate time for monsters. Anyway, these are mini vanilla cupcake monsters with vanilla buttercream “fur.” The eyes are made using Smarties on which I drew pupils with a black edible ink food marker. I used Smarties and baking gum candies for noses, and baking gums dusted with green and pink Wilton Pearl Dust stuck on top of coloured toothpicks for the antennae. Some monsters have horns and noses made from blackberry cobbler candy corn. The monsters' wonky teeth are soft gummy candies that I bought at Bulk Barn. The green monsters have an extra row of teeth that I piped on with white icing.