Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Treats for Gifting

These little gift items are a good example of how I never like anything to go to waste.  Maybe my mum being born in the '30's has something to do with it, but I abhor food being thrown out.  Even when making something that needs to be scraped out of a bowl or container, I'll scrape every last speck out with my spatula before consigning the bowl to the sink.  On occasion this has resulted in a extra cupcake or rum ball and that pleases me to no end.

Broken candy canes are so sad.  These couldn't be hung on the tree as they were a wee bit banged up.   I bought these ones because they were red and white without the green that I always see.  When I opened up the box however, they were in a sad state.
Dip 'em in white chocolate, roll them in sprinkles - I'm sure some sparkly red sanding sugar would have looked great too - and Voila!  Pretty treats.

But what about all the broken bits?

I ground up the broken candy cane bits in the food processor and sieved them.  The larger chunks might go into some dark chocolate cookies later, but the finer peppermint dust was perfect to sprinkle onto the leftover white chocolate from dipping the candy cane sticks!  I didn't need to add any peppermint flavour because the chocolate had lots of bits from dipping the broken candy canes.  It's a subtle flavour and the white chocolate just melts in the mouth.   You can put the chocolate in a squeeze bottle,  plastic disposable bag or I just dropped small amounts from a spoon to make small coin sized drops.
I love that both the candy canes and white chocolate get all used up and I have something to give when a small token gift is appropriate.  The cute glassine envelopes were from InTheClear on Etsy.

These are cute just for decoration on the counter

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Peppermint Marshmallows for Christmas

I'm sure most recipe hungry bloggers out there have come across recipes for homemade marshmallows.  A couple of years ago, it seemed you couldn't shake a stick without hitting 'Gourmet' marshmallows at boutiques and farmers markets.  That being said, they really are such an easy treat, that I hope you won't overlook making them this winter, as they require little in ingredients and are SO superior to their packaged counterpart.

Here the pan has been lined with parchment and well oiled.  Marshmallow is sticky stuff so make sure you have vegetable oil on everything, including your fingers.

Place water, gelatine, and flavouring in the bowl of your stand mixer.  Softening the gelatine like this is called 'blooming'.  I used a mixure of peppermint oil and vanilla extract.  What I didn't know, was that the peppermint oil is REALLY strong.  One drop would suffice for this recipe.

Add the sugar, salt, corn syrup and remaining water to a saucepan and bring to a boil with the lid on.  Once it has come to a boil, take the lid off and continue to cook, without stirring until the syrup reaches the softball stage. (234 - 240 *F)

With your mixer on medium, VERY Carefully pour the hot sugar syrup slowly down the side of the bowl into the gelatine mixture.  Be slow and mindful so the hot syrup doesn't splash up.  If you have a splash guard, great.  Mine has long since gone so I just go slowly and watch what I'm doing.  When all the syrup is in, put the mixer up to full speed.  Beat for about 8 to 10 minutes until fluffy.  It will get voluminous and stiff as it beats.

Quickly pour it into the pan and smooth top with an oiled offset spatula.  I dropped red food colouring randomly onto the top and then swirled it with an oiled toothpick.  Allow to sit overnight.   When ready to cut you can either oil some sissors, a knife or a pizza cutter to cut into cubes.  Mix equal parts rice/corn  starch with icing sugar and roll each cube in the powder.  Shake off excess and store in a tin or tupperware.  These will keep several several weeks.  If they last that long.

Because I found the peppermint oil so strong, my first batch required some doctoring.  Others thought they were fine, but we are always pickier about what we make than the recipients are - non?  I decided the best way to spread the flavour out was to make Rice Krispie Squares.  I chopped up some peppermint candy to sprinkle on the top as well as some red sugar for decoration.

Oh man these are yummy.

Basic Vanilla Marshmallow recipe available at: Brownie Points Blog

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's Starting to Look A Lot Like Christmas.....

Tree is up, mantle is decorated (first working fireplace I've had since I was eleven - Yay!!), plans for treats to make are set and prezzies are in the works.  This also means I am stitching up a storm.  In the past I've stuck pretty closely to red and white ornaments with the odd scotty ( template courtesy of  Allsorts ) thrown in.

This year I've decided I need to branch out a little bit.  I think these stars need to be stitched to a ribbon to make a garland.  Just what a plain white mantle needs.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Petit Fours

I have for a long time, had this obsession with these wee desserts.  They seem impossibly chic and European, like the haute couture of the pastry world.  I have over the years tried to make them with little success.  Years ago there was an article about them in Gourmet magazine for Valentines Day and it included the instructions for making the fondant from scratch, pouring sugar syrup onto a marble slab and scraping endlessly until it was opaque and pliable.  These cakes didn't work for me then either, but it was my first introduction to the candy thermometre.  Peggy Porschen includes them in her books, making them look easy and using a powdered fondant for dipping.  Well I guess this elusive powdered fondant must be another 'found in the UK only' kind of product as I've had no luck sourcing it here or in Halifax.  Well I just had to give it another go.  Food Processor Poured Fondant seemed to be the answer.  It would cover these perfectly right?

No such luck.  I thinned it with sugar syrup as I'd read, positioned my hand just as I see in Porschen's step by step photos.  Argh...so frustrating and I hate to waste good ingredients.  I had been so sure these were going to work out this time that I'd even made homemade marzipan for the tops. (totally yummy and not hard at all to do, by the way)  So I finally decided to use rolled fondant to cover - that has been what I've seen all over the web so I figure there must be a reason why everyone is doing it.

Yes, they look lovely.  But they really are a lot of work, stretching and smoothing the fondant over each, one at a time.  After these two I gave up and put everything away and went to bed.  In my sleep, I was dipping cookies into the poured fondant. It was really bugging me that I couldn't get this down.
This morning, after a good run,  I decided to give it another go.  This time I thinned down the fondant quite a bit more than I had the night before, using the rest of the sugar syrup.

both types of petit fours

This is the finish I was hoping for.  They are paler than the original ones as I only tinted half the fondant, and used all of it together.

One of the reasons I keep going back and trying to get this poured fondant to work is that  I love, love, love the texture of it.  Because the fondant is cooked to the soft ball stage, the finished product has a wonderful 'chewiness' to it.  I also believe that dipping is faster than covering and these are already enough work as is.  There is still work to do, they have more of a matte finish and from all I've read, the finish should be shiny.
Yes these are INCREDIBLY sweet.   Next batch I will make them smaller, but they are supposed to be a real 'once in a blue moon' treat.  I am thinking of using something tart in place of the raspberry jam to try and balance them, but please don't expect if you try these that they are anything other than pure sugar.  Definitely not an every day dessert.
Stay tuned, I plan to make these again and document the steps.  At that time I will post all the recipes as well.
I have so many of these now from this batch.....what the hell am I going to do with them????

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween - Death by Chocolate Edition

Boo!!     Halloween really snuck up on me this year.  I had intended to remake the devils horns that broke when we moved as I still have the pointy tail and together, they make a quick and easy costume.  No such luck.  I did sit down with hubby one night this past week though and we made skulls and bones!  I still had some fondant from the Eddie birthday cake and I hate to let anything go to waste, so we sat together for about an hour and a half and fashioned these little guys:

I decided to do a chocolate on chocolate cupcake with the pile of bones on top to take to work for Halloween day.  Never one to let well enough alone, I decided that the cupcakes needed tombstones.  My very patient husband helped me design a cupcake topper that made these wee desserts seriously cute.

I am thinking that if we do something similar next year, I'd like to model the bones with white chocolate modelling clay.  This way, they would be seriously yummy to eat on their own.  Although several people at work thought these were quite tasty.  I assume that's because the fondant was mixed with homemade marshmallow fondant that I had made, but then realized I didn't have enough and had to mix with the Wilton stuff.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Plaid Birthday Cake for Work

This saturday was a huge sale at work.  Our company is now hugely respectful of its own history so Eddie Bauer's Birthday - he would have been 111, were he with us - was cause for celebration.  We had a potluck lunch and as it was a birthday, I knew I would have to make a cake.
KDavidClark on Flickr
The signature plaid seemed to be the obvious choice, but plaid seemed like quite an undertaking.  By simplifying the design and getting a lot of help tinting the fondant from my patient husband, I turned out better than I anticipated

The bottom 8" square cake is Devil's Food with a chocolate buttercream and some raspberry preserves.  It was done dairy-free so that all my co-workers could enjoy a piece.  No need to settle for a dry grocery store slab cake when I'm happy to make you what you want.

Devil's Food Cake
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup hot, strong coffee
1/2 vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla 
1 1/2 cake flour
3/4 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Preheat oven to 350*.  Grease and flour two 8"round or 1 8"x3" square cake pans.  Combine cocoa and coffee in a small bowl, mixing well.  Put shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in large mixing bowl and beat for a minute until light and fluffy.  Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Add the cocoa mixture alternately with flour mixture in three parts, beating well after each addition and ending with dry.
Pour batter into pans, smooth tops.  Bake 25mins for 8' round pans and 45-50 for square - test with toothpick inserted in centre - it should come out clean or with a few crumbs on it.  The cake should be slightly fudgy so try not to over bake.  Let cool on racks for 10-15 mins before turning out onto cooling racks.  

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Recipe: London Fog Cupcakes

London Fog Cupcakes

2/3 cup Milk
3 Earl Grey tea bags
2 eggs
2 yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350*.  Place liners in 12 muffin cups.  In a small saucepan, simmer the milk over medium heat.  Add tea bags, remove from the heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Remove the bags and squeeze out the remaining milk. Let the milk cool completely. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, yolks, vanilla and half of the Earl Grey milk. In the bowl of a mixer sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat on low for about 30 seconds, then add the butter and remaining milk. Mix on medium low speed until light and fluffy. Next, add the egg mixture in three additions, making sure to scrape the bowl well after each. Divide the batter among the cupcake tins, and bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.

2 cups 35% cream, cold
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup icing sugar*

Beat until stiff enough to pipe onto cool cupcakes.  Sprinkle with cinnamon.

* I used a little less ( 1 tablespoon maybe?) as I was in a 'less sweet' mood.  

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tutorial: Caramel Acorns

Recognize these? Must mean Halloween is around the corner. Here is a cute little edible decoration you can make with the kids. They make a great cupcake topper or decoration for your Thanksgiving desserts.

Cut the caramels so that you have a piece that is 2/3 the candy and 1/3. The larger section will be the body or the acorn and the smaller piece will be the cap

Here, I have rolled the big pieces into balls and the smaller into discs. The heat from your hands start to soften the caramels so it's good to make a bunch at once so that you can put one down and work on another to keep them from getting too gooey.

By pinching one end, form a wee point.

The caps can be lightly stretched over your finger to make a 'bowl' shape.

Attach the cap to the body and pinch to form a stem. I touch the top of the stem to keep it from being too pointy.

Here I am using a pin tool to make the markings on the cap. You could also use a butter knife or a plastic rotary fondant tool. The lines don't have to be perfect.

A close up of the cap.

The finished acorns. They even look super cute without the lines so don't worry if you don't want little fingers using a butter knife. Super yummy too.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Butterscotch Spice Cupcakes

I am participating in this year's Capital Cupcake Camp at City Hall. It is a fabulous fundraiser where amateur and professional bakers can enter their cupcakes for a small fee and you can also buy $10 Taster tickets good for 4 cupcakes of your choice. There are catagories that the amateur cupcakes will be competing in: Most Amazingly decorated, Best Filling, Tastiest Twist on a Traditional, Best Vegan and best savoury. You can only bring 24 or one flavour. My aim to make gum paste acorns and oak leaves, but for these samplers I made the acorn from a Kraft caramel. The cake is a brown sugar cinnamon sponge with a buttterscotch filling. The frosting is vanilla meringue buttercream with rum. I was going for something evocative of fall without having apple or maple. Nothing wrong with those flavours mind you.......

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Christening Cake

All the wee little gum paste blossoms.

Lemon Sponge with Lemon curd filling.

My first cake order here in Ottawa for a girls christening. Lemon cake with lemon curd filling. I just pray that there weren't any bubbles under the fondant. I find sometimes they appear later.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Renos - Second Floor

I love the yellow and black together which is funny as I didn't even buy the duvet cover because I liked it, but because it was $19 for a king size at Ikea. Now I have discovered that I love it.

The Master bedroom has the lightest shade of grey in the house. We had the paint retinted after we painted this room as I thought it was too light.

This hallway cupboard had floor to ceiling faux wood panel sliding doors that didn't slide properly any more. It was a joy to rip them out. Behind the curtain we put up hooks to hang the ironing board.

This room was pretty much empty the entire time we lived here. The bookcases are from the kitchen, the desk from the basement, the computer borrowed from Trev's Dad, Jack and the futon borrowed from Kyle. I was glad to realize that although it seemed like we had accumulated a lot when moving from the apartment, we hadn't gotten enough to fill a three bedroom house.

Renato's painting is perfect in this room, the red and black temper the soft blue and make it more grown-up.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Look at the Renos - Main Floor

The stagers did a great job of including my paintings around the house

New light fixture, new hardware, new floors - even the door to the pantry had to be changed.

All the trim is new as we haven't had any since we removed the wainscoting (when we moved in in 2006!!!!). Pretty much every outlet and light switch is new too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Renos are over!

So now that I am in a home decorating mode, I've been going back through old magazines and getting ideas for when we move. One thing I saw in Style at Home was a lovely necklace holder made from a branch and painted white.
I haven't painted mine, and I attached it to a piece of weathered wood instead of a block, but the effect is similar. I am quite pleased with the way it turned out.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Birthday Cake

Recently, a friend with wheat allergies had a birthday. I offered to make a cake as I have an old recipe I hadn't made in years that I thought would do the trick. It's also kind of fun for the challenge to make something where you can't rely on all the old standbys. The cake itself is built on eggs and nuts. I wanted a high cake and I also wanted something more gourmet seeming, so I made two batches and layered it with ganache and mousse. To decorate it seemed like I had no choice but to try and make the spiked hazelnuts that were featured in Martha Stewart a while back. I think I may need to work on those, although some usable ones did make it onto the cake.

Hazelnut Torte

4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar - whirl these in blender
2 tbsp flour ( I used Bulk Barn substitute that is a blend of bean,potato,tapioca and sorghum)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup hazelnuts
blend all on high until nuts are ground

Pour into 2 greased and floured 8" pans and bake at 350* for 20mins.
the cake is not a high riser but it has a wonderfully spongy texture that makes it moist and flexible. Definitely preheat your oven, as the batter is so quick and easy to make that you'll be done in a flash.