Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Baking for Christmas - Hermit Bars

     Christmas baking has been fully underway for two weeks now.  Gingerbread houses for our young friends to decorate, cookies for co-workers and neighbours, and now prepping for our Christmas party on Saturday night.
     I got up early today to make more whipped shortbread, as it seems I never make enough.  Note for next year: just make two double batches and be done with it!
I used to make a whackload of truffles, but in recent years I've found them to be too labourious and expensive to make.  On a whim, I decided to make a bar that I've never baked for Christmas.  I was  tired of florentines, shortbread and nanaimo bars ( well, not totally! )    
     With the ingredients I had on hand and with my Mum coming on the spur of the moment - Hermit Bars!  I usually make then in the winter, when something spicy and homey is the antidote to dreary, cold days.  This recipe is from Martha Stewart Living - the only thing I've changed is to eliminate the candied ginger as Hubby is not a fan and I've used a twelve by twelve pan instead of the 10x15 called for.

the butterscotchy drizzle is super yummy!

Link to the RECIPE

chewy, spicy and full of raisins.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sour Cherry jam

I've made jam in the past, but this year I'm trying to experiment with fruit I've not used before and different combinations.  There are so many amazing variations out there now to get inspiration from, I could spend a whole day surfing the web just for jam and jelly ideas!
Friends of mine have a fabulous cherry tree on their front lawn.  I've never worked with sour cherries before, but have fond memories of my Aunt Eileen in her kitchen making cherry everything from her own trees.  So I went to pick cherries with Amy and Scott - the cherries wouldn't have lasted another day they were so ripe!

If all goes according to history, Scott predicts a bumper crop next year.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  

Monday, April 02, 2012

Relay for Life Bake Sale

This sunday -  in Stittsville, On - my team captain and several team members sold baked goods to fundraise for our Relay for Life team.  They did a fantastic job and raised over two hundred dollars towards Cancer research.  I didn't get to go to the sale but was a baking fiend for several days before the event.  Here are pictures of some of the treats.  I didn't have time to photograph the homemade Oreos - which I've called 'Moreos' or Nanaimo bars.  There wasn't time to figure out a way to get pictures that really did them justice.    It's always a challenge to take something everyone has already seen and make it really mouthwatering.

Vanilla cupcakes with lemon curd filling.  I loved the gum paste daffodils I had made last year, but I needed something quicker to make and simpler in design for these cupcakes.  These royal icing daffodils fit the bill perfectly and really looked great with some yellow luster.

I love making iced sugar cookies!  I had packaged these in the half dozen and sold the rest by each.  The Mister really likes it when I make these too as there are so many extras!  I always keep a couple aside to stick my finger into so that I can test how set the icing is.  I would love to be able to just leave them all over the dining room table overnight, but cats make that totally impossible.

Sweet little guy eh?

I'm glad the sale went well and am looking forward to our next fundraising adventure.  We might have another sale lined up in Ottawa and also coming in May, our Second Annual Wine & Cheese tasting at the Chateau des Charmes location in Minto Place, Ottawa.  If you are interested in attending this event on May 25th, contact me for tickets, they are $25 each.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Gum Paste Class - All Done

Last night was the last class of my four week gum paste class at Michaels.  It was Course 4, the new Advanced gum paste.  The class was a lot of fun and I'm really pleased at the flowers that we learned.  Mostly I wanted to make the Stargazer Lily, and it doesn't disappoint.  The only thing I would do differently if I had the chance, would be to bring a cake to the final class to put the bouquet on.  I know the course doesn't require it, but it would have been a fitting end, given the finished product.  Here are the different parts made in advance of class four.

The little filler flowers with an ivy leaf.  The blossoms learned in class are alright, but I prefer hand pulled blossoms.

The stephanotis were fun to make.  I could see doing a bouquet of these with the buds and leaves only.  I mean to dust these with some pearl dust.  

These are the petals for the lily that we made in class three.  I made an extra set, in case of breakage.   We learned to colour the petals and assemble them last night.   Luckily, none have broken so I will make another bouquet and hopefully get a cake together.

The lily leaves after steaming.  The sheen doesn't really last though.

The finished spray.  See how it needs a cake?

Close up of the lily.  I made a different set of stamens as I din't think the ones by Wilton were as natural looking as I would have liked.  These are not that difficult to form by hand.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ah St. Patrick's Day.

where you can drink your face off and not feel you should apologize for your behaviour the next day.  What is it about our notions of the Irish and drinking??

As I work early early sunday morning I will not be drinking my face off this Saturday night.  However, I still made some cupcakes for the occasion because it just didn't seem right not to.  I used the same recipe as I did last year from Smitten Kitchen because it's a reliable recipe for the cupcake batter  - when something works, I don't mess with it!  I didn't use a ganache filling, instead making butterscotch pudding to fill some of them.  The rest I didn't fill at all.
I also - don't shoot me here - didn't use Guinness.  I bought a wonderful stout brewed here in Ontario.

On the back label it said it was brewed with chocolate wheat.  How could I resist?  It really was a lovely beer.  ( there was a bit leftover, a fitting reward for slaving over the stove!)  I am sure you can find it at any LCBO - Black Creek Brewery.  Go local!

I had already made the toppers

 when I was planning to attend a party and bring these, so even though I'm not sure what to do with them, I dressed them up anyway!

I encourage everyone to check out Smitten Kitchen for all the wonderful recipes and fantastic photography.  It's well worth visiting!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I made a promise to myself that this New Year, that I would give myself time to paint.  My husband made the comment that 'I was always happy and relaxed' when I was painting.  To that end I found a job closer to home where I can work one day less for the same number of hours with the added bonus of not having to commute.  At Eddie Bauer, I needed to work five days in order to get at least 20 hours.  Compound that with two hours of commuting per day and you've got someone whose not exactly the 'relaxed' type.  My new job is a five minute walk from home and they have regular length shifts.  So now the task is to get down to painting!  I haven't really had the time since 2008 to sit down and relearn the craft.  I really feel like I've forgotten everything I learned all those years ago.
These are my first attempts.....I have to remember that it's more important to 'do' that to worry about doing it 'right'.  My main goals right now are to look, really look at what I'm drawing or painting, keep it cheerful and not worry about what it looks like as I go.

10" x 8" acrylic

8" x 6" acrylic


The fun part of painting fruit is that you have lots of fresh fruit to eat after you've finished your sketches. I just made a fantastic lemon loaf with lemons I drew last week.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice....and a recipe

I haven't made decorated cookies in almost two years now.  There is no real reason, I just fell out of the habit and it's a shame because I have a basket full of cookie cutters that are just packed away.  With Valentine's Day coming quickly, I decided that sugar cookies are in order.  This means that I need to make several practice batches to become reaquainted with the steady hand I used to have.
When seeing all these perfect cookies on sites such as Pinterest, it's easy to forget that they take a lot of practice and those pictures are the result of folks who do this all the time or even professionally.  Here is what I have been making all these royal icing flowers for!

Getting a nice smooth line is tricky.  Having all of your icing coloured and the correct consistency is also important, but making lots and lots of cookies is the only way to get better.

The other challenge was the chocolate cookie.  It occurred to me that I've only done regular sugar cookies or gingerbread cookies for decorating.  I found one recipe online that was credited as a Martha Stewart recipe, the photos of the cookies look amazing but the recipe itself didn't work for me.  The dough was almost the consistency of icing and the cookies spread unevenly and never crisped up.  I took my original sugar cookie and replaced a 1/4 cup of the flour with 24% cocoa.  The smell of the dough was like fudge and the cookies have a lovely chocolatey flavour.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa ( prefer the dark 22-24%)
pinch salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Sift dry ingredients and set aside.  Beat butter and sugar until fluffy and pale.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Add flour mixture and mix on low until completely combined.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap, flatten and chill for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 325*  Have cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.   On a lightly floured surface,  roll dough 1/4" thick and use an offset spatula to loosen dough from countertop.  Try to use as little flour as possible.  Place sheets with cookies in freezer for 15 minutes.
Bake 15-17 minutes or longer if cookies are large.
Cool before decorating,  yield will vary greatly depending on the size of the cutters used, but this recipe lends itself to doubling.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pretty Packages - Royal Icing Flowers

I just love making these.  The trick right now is finding the time to do them.  On the other hand, part of their beauty is that once made, they can wait indefinitely in the cupboard until such time as they are required to dress up cupcakes, tarts, brownies - anything!

So far I have done these: apple blossoms, forget-me-nots, primroses and simple rosettes.  Next up I may just use some different colours.  I am starting to think ahead to Easter, although the rosettes would dress up some sweet Valentine's cookies.

Makes me happy to think of spring