Category: Baking

Sweet Hearts

You know me: I’m an easy target when it comes to finding an excuse to bake for an occasion and what better occasion than Valentine’s Day? So I got out the trusty ol’ sugar cookie recipe care of Martha Stewart and dug out my heart shaped cookie cutter and got to work.

Heart shaped sugar cookies
Heart shaped sugar cookies

I whipped up some royal icing, also care of Martha Stewart, tinted it with a dash of pink gel to get a nice baby pink and got to work icing them.

Pale pink royal icing
Pale pink royal icing

I sampled a cookie–which I don’t normally do because I want to make sure there are enough for the kids to give out to all their classmates, but we had plenty. I was pleasantly surprised…it had a nice crispy outside and soft and moist inside. And the icing was sweet but it didn’t overwhelm the cookie. Now I remember why this is always my go to cookie recipe.

Sweet Heart cookies
Sweet Heart cookies

 

 

 

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Kitchen Cheat Sheets

I was perusing Pinterest just before hitting the sack when I came across this fancy dancy kitchen cheat sheet. Although it applies moreso to people living in the UK, as it from Everest, I thought those of you who are diehard cooks and bakers would appreciate it. It’s a fabulous retro-looking download that you can print off and put up on your fridge or at the very least keep in a drawer close by for when you need to convert weights to cups, etc. Enjoy!

 

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Tasty Treats: Rugelach

I have a weakness for rugelach (the ch is that hard, throaty sound that one perfects through one’s Jewish upbringing). Unfortunately indulging in these tasty treats only happens at special occasions, which includes dinner at my in-law’s and sadly at shivas. Why? Because these devilish but divine desserts are expensive! Yes, you have to pay by weight. And much like chips, you can’t eat just one. 

Rolled out rugelach dough

Now I know why the bakery charges for rugelach by weight–because there are so many steps involved in the making of them! And one recipe only produces a dozen and a half of them. So that’s a huge investment of time for little return. I found a recipe in Evelyn Raab’s book, The Clueless Baker. My copy is well loved and well worn. I’m not sure it’s still in print but if you can find one I strongly recommend adding it to your repertoire of cook books. The dough is actually more of a pastry made with butter, cream cheese, flour and a bit of sugar. The whole recipe itself is easy, it’s just the time and steps required are labour intensive. Once the pastry is made I had to divide it into three portions, shape them into round discs and refrigerate them for at least an hour.

While that was happening I made a mixture of chocolate chips, cinnamon and sugar. The recipe also called for walnuts but I didn’t have any. I whizzed the mixture through the food processor. Then I rolled out the pastry dough and sprinkled the mixture on it.

Rugelach pastry dough with filling

The next step is to take a pizza cutter and cut the dough into about eight or ten wedges. This was followed by the final step, which was to roll each wedge from the wide end to the point into a crescent shape. 

Ready to bake

Baking the rugelach for about 20 minutes was the final step–actually eating them was the final step. They turned out so flakey and light and the perfect balance of chocolate and cinnamon. But was it worth the time and effort? According to reaction from my family it was. So I think I’ll be making these again.

Mmmm...rugelach!

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I’m Ba-ack!!!!

Okay, it’s been WWWaaaaaaaaaaYYYYYYYYYYyyyyyy too long since my last post. But life gets in the way–a NEW life, in fact. Yes, we welcomed baby boy #3 into our lives about 3 months ago. So we’re through the first tough stretch with him, which I guess should allow me to turn my attention to some other items on my *to do* list. In the last 48 hours that includes baking a key lime pie, a banana chocolate chip cake, mowing the lawn and cutting out the pieces for two baby quilts, which should have been made a long time ago.

Mmmm...key lime pie!!!

The key lime pie was an homage to our recent trip to Floridahhhhh….it came out a bit on the tarty-limey side, and the crust was a little too hard for my liking but not bad for my first attempt. The most annoying part of the recipe was juicing all those tiny key limes to get half a cup of juice. I used my reamer but quick work it did not make. The recipe is from Martha Stewart if you’re interested in trying it.

Best Banana Chocolate Chip Cake EV-ER

The banana chocolate chip cake is my go-to stand-by dessert. I make it into muffins, cakes, loafs…you name it. If you’ve got bananas sitting in the freezer or spotty ones sitting on the counter that no one in your family is going to eat, then this is the recipe for you! If you can decipher the recipe I’m posting, it’s yours. I’m not going to make it easy because I guard this recipe closely. It came from my mom’s friend Fern, and I get nothing but compliments when I bake it. Enjoy!!!

 

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake Recipe

The Building Blocks of a Boy’s Birthday Cake

It’s rather ironic that tonight of all nights I choose to sit down and write a post about my son’s birthday cake, since I am forbidden from eating such things at the moment. Forbidden might be a strong word to use given that my ban from indulging in such sweet pastries is self imposed. I am on a Spring cleanse. That means many delectables are off limits for a week and a half. And so I must satisfy my cravings through the only means I know how: eye candy. Literally.

My younger son turned three last week and I got it into my head several weeks back that I had to make him a spectacular cake. Put my new found cake decorating skills to work and turn out something fabulous. Being the over ambitious person that I am and with only borrowed time to do it, I thought I was picking a rather easy design in the form of a Lego cake. Lego has become a favourite past time for my boys so I thought it fitting to make a cake in the shape of bricks. The bonus came in the form of a Lego man cake mold from a neighbour. So I started by baking Ina Garten’s flag cake as well as her chocolate butter cream cake. I baked slab cakes AND mini cupcakes. Once baked, cooled and refrigerated, I sliced the slab cakes in thirds and constructed two rectangular cakes, four layers high alternating the flag cake with the chocolate cake. I topped them off with the mini cupcakes, all with a mocha butter cream that I kind of made up a recipe for. Once crumb coated and cooled, I applied home-made marshmallow fondant. I know, I know, I’m crazy. I just could have bought the fondant from the store, but no, I had to make this damn cake FROM SCRATCH! I didn’t love the way the fondant turned out but it was definitely more malleable than the store-bought kind. To make myself super crazy I decided the two bricks needed to sit atop one slab cake, which I covered in green fondant (that one was store-bought). And with a star tip I decorated the Lego man in coloured vanilla butter cream. I think I must have made enough cake to feed a small army. While there were plenty of leftovers there was no man left in sight. He was devoured by the kids and the adults had to satisfy their sweet tooths with the giant bricks of cake (too bad!).

I think it was well worth the effort, and while I’m nowhere near as talented as some of the crazy cake decorators who do this for a living, I did give myself a pat on the back for my attempt. I’ll leave it to you to be the judge. Unfortunately I can’t give you a taste, but I can leave you with the recipe for the mocha butter cream.

Lego Cake

MOCHA BUTTER CREAM RECIPE

1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)

3/4 cup vegetable shortening

4 cups of icing sugar (sifted)

1/4 cocoa powder (sifted)

2 Tbsp. (give or take) strong brewed coffee

Cream the butter and shortening together

Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder and whip until fluffy, adding the coffee to thin consistency of icing as necessary.

What a cute tasty looking Lego man!

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Fun with Fondant…and icing…and cake

So I have evidence that I’ve actually learned something in the last 2 months at my cake decorating class. Probably the most important lesson learned was to give up trying to make royal icing with egg whites and go with meringue powder. It resulted in the most fluffy, sweet yet pliable icing for creating delicate roses, branches and leaves that now decorate my cake. While this past week’s class was supposed to be a trial run at putting fondant over a cake dummy, I decided to stay up into the wee hours baking a heavenly white cake and whipping up a batch of butter cream frosting so that I could do the real thing. I added blue food colouring gel to the fondant and it came out a lovely Tiffany blue. I piped the bottom edge of the cake with royal icing beads and then added brown food colouring gel to make the branches. The roses were so-so, but I can live with imperfection on a cake like this–heck, it was my first attempt! And the finishing touch was definitely the green leaves. That was Margaret’s suggestion (she’s our instructor) and the piping tip #352 is an absolute dream. The leaves were the most fun to do. I took lots of pictures but we aren’t tucking into the cake until Friday. Hopefully it will be well worth the wait because the cake is staring back at me from underneath the glass cake plate saying “eat me” and I’m doing everything in my power to resist temptation.

Blue Fondant cake
Royal icing details

Cake decor 101

I’ve been taking a cake decorating class for the past 5 weeks every Tuesday night for 2 hours with my girlfriend. Up until last night I felt fairly confident in my abilities to construct a cake and make it look half decent with buttercream, but then came royal icing. Ugh! Being the ambitious A-type that I am, I made my icing from scratch using egg whites and icing sugar instead of store-bought meringue powder. It looked great and tasted great but it was useless when it came to making apple blossoms, drop flowers and especially roses. So I think I’ll be heading to the store in the next couple of days to pick me up some meringue powder, or even better, store-bought royal icing. In the meantime I thought I’d share pictures of the rosettes we practiced making about 3 classes ago and the cake I successfully decorated last week and then proceeded to share with my colleagues at work. You can tell from the picture I’m so over winter and ready to get into my garden. But that’s another story.

Green buttercream rosettes
Green buttercream rosettes
Spring Vanilla Buttercream Cake

A Hulk of a birthday cake

More often than not my older son complains about how life isn’t fair, he never gets to do anything, he fundamentally disagrees with the concept of sharing, life isn’t fair and did I mention life isn’t fair? But once a year my son gets exactly what he wants: his choice of birthday cake. He usually puts his “order” in the day after his last birthday, so that gives me roughly 364 days to think about how I’m going to do it. Believe me, it’s a lot of pressure and expectation to live up to when the order is coming from your 5 year-old child. And with each passing year, the cake requests are becoming more involved and elaborate. Years 1 to 3 were baked and designed for my whims, but Quinn quickly caught on and for his fourth birthday he requested a Buzz Lightyear cake. Rather than kill myself trying to pipe a Disney character in buttercream, I got a fabulous cake topper (which Quinn got to keep afterwards and add to his astounding toy collection) and iced the cake in coordinating colours. The character cake theme continued for his fifth birthday upon which he requested a Batman cake, only this time he also requested the cake be a lemon cake, so I dutifully complied, making Martha Stewart’s knock-out 1-2-3-4 Lemon Cake with homemade lemon curd in the middle. I did a simple yellow buttercream icing with the Batman symbol in black piping. And once again, this year Quinn wanted the same flavoured cake, but this time he wanted the Incredible Hulk. In rather out of character fashion, I left the planning of the cake decorating to the last minute. In fact I had no idea how or what I was going to do because I’m definitely no visual artist and was not even going to attempt to pipe the Hulk in icing. So I panicked. After scouring online and failing to find a Hulk cake topper that I could buy in the next 24 hours, I headed over to the bakery at the grocery store. Sure enough the kind baker behind the counter told me he would go in the back and look for the Hulk cake topper. God must have been smiling down upon me that day because sure enough the baker returned with the cake topper (which, again will be added to my children’s ever expanding collection of toys). With cake topper in hand I headed home to embark on the icing. I should backtrack a bit and let you know I baked the slab cakes on a Thursday night and decorated them on Saturday afternoon for a Sunday morning party. Saturday rolled around and my girlfriend, Karen, who is taking the cake decorating class with me, came over after offering to help me with the cake. Unlike Karen, who always has a vision and a plan for her children’s birthday cakes and who incidentally, is a bonafide artiste, I am a bit of a MacGyver when it comes to decorating a cake–no plan, just some icing, a piping bag and toothpicks. We settled on a pale grey for the base colour and a fabulous green for the “trim.” Karen came up with this great idea to melt sugar, add food colouring and then pour it on to a sheet of parchment to dry, which we could then use as a plaque for writing on. We added other details like the blue and green sugar and shards of the candy to make it look like the Hulk was about to smash the words on the plaque. I’m pretty pleased with how the cake turned out (as you’ll see in the pictures). I must be a glutton for punishment because I’ve already asked my son what kind of cake he wants for his next birthday. His answer: “a lemon cake again!”

Aaaarrrgh! I'm the Incredible Hulk!
Eat Me!?*@!?!


Comfort Food: Rice Pudding

If you’ve ever been stuck with leftovers and are feeling stymmied about what to do with the dribs and drabs of last night’s dinner, fear not. Seize the opportunity to get creative in the kitchen with that sorry looking piece of chicken or that less-than-full-bowl of spaghetti. For me it was a not-quite-full serving of cooked basmati rice. It sat in the fridge fora day or so while I mulled over whether or not to add it to the next night’s dinner or save it for a special project. Since it didn’t make the cut for dinner, I decided to turn it into dessert, although I could eat this dessert morning, noon or night since it is the ultimate in comfort foods. Rice pudding, if made the right way, can be the perfect compliment to any meal or mood. For me that usually comes at night when I’m parked in front of the television in my sweats. I consider rice pudding guilt-free indulgence. Maybe it’s because it’s made with rice and eggs and milk. I just omit the sugar from that mental list and voila: a healthy snack.

So I got out my oven proof Corningware dish and put my concoction together unaided by a recipe. You must think I’m nuts but the ingredients required to make a sweet custard pudding never deviate. The basic requirements involve eggs, milk and sugar. Add to this a dash of vanilla extract, cinnamon and some golden raisins and you’ve got yourself heaven in a bowl. Oh yes, and don’t forget the heaping cup of cooked rice! I have yet to experiment with the flavour profile because really, who wants to mess with a good thing? But I might go out on a limb next time and try some orange or chocolate. Once I combined all the ingredients I popped it into the oven and baked it until creamy (sorry, I didn’t watch the clock), every now and again stirring it so the custard on top wouldn’t burn. I would say it came out a little on the sweet side, but I’ve got a sweet tooth so it didn’t bother me. Adjust the sugar depending on how tolerant your own personal sweet tooth is and sit down with a big bowl of warm rice pudding on a chilly night, under a cozy blanket with a good book (or movie) and you’ll never want to leave your house again.

Home-Made Rice Pudding

1 to 1/2 cups of cooked white rice

2 eggs

2 cups 2%milk (the higher the milk fat content, the creamier the custard)

3/4 of a cup of sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup of golden raisins

Mix all ingredients together and bake at 350 degrees until the custard is creamy. Stir every ten minutes to avoid burning.

Oh So Thankful For Good Food

My appetite has excellent timing. It’s been “on leave” for a while. Ironically, my stomach isn’t fond of the food that I like to eat. In fact, my entire digestive tract doesn’t like anything I put down my gullet. Humor me here for a minute: imagine eating a simple meal; it could be toast with peanut butter and a banana with a glass of O.J. in the morning. Or maybe a bowl of soup and tuna sandwich for lunch. Now imagine not feeling the slightest bit hungry when you’re supposed to be eating those meals and a full three hours later you feel as though you’re going to upchuck the sandwich, salad and the full breakfast. These have been the joys (or misfortunes) of my dining experiences as of late. I brought this to my doctor’s attention several months ago. This was followed by some tests, which included drinking the most awful chalky concoction after which I was expertly tipped flat on a cold metal table while having my innards X-ray’d. I’ve even been injecting with radioactive nuclear medicine, which I’ve been assured will not shorten my lifespan nor make me glow in the dark. Neither of these tests has revealed the great mystery of my incredible indigestion. However the doctor decided to put me on a prescription strength anti-acid, which I think has helped my case. I no longer wake up in the middle of the night with the feeling of someone’s fist forcing its way up my esophagus. But the most miraculous improvement has been my appetite and it couldn’t have returned at a better time. Thanksgiving weekend is a glutton’s wet dream come true. It’s the harvest. There is no shortage of good, fresh food. So I decided to embrace the spirit of the holiday and cook and bake for my family while up in prime harvest territory: at the cottage. Saturday’s dinner consisted of chicken stew with chickpeas, sweet and yellow potatoes and sweet onion. We had a fabulous salad of fresh lettuces on the side and not one but TWO pumpkin pies! We only polished off one of the pies, but that meant I could use the dish to bake the most scrumptious apple pie for the Thanksgiving dinner. I decided to pay homage to the slow food movement by making beer-braised beef short ribs, steamed savoy cabbage with roasted chestnuts and garlic mashed potatoes. Yes, I roasted the chestnuts and the garlic. And let’s not forget the pies that came at the end of the meal. It was one of those meals that makes you want to hibernate for the winter or put on a cable-knit sweater and cozy up by a fire. And guess what? Not a single bout of indigestion the entire weekend (you know I’m going to live to regret writing that down). Boy was I thankful this weekend, if for no other reason than I was able to enjoy a good meal with my family for the first time in months. To tell you the truth I would have been just as happy eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if it meant  I could eat without fear of my food revisiting me in the middle of the night. But having a good meal go down certainly doesn’t hurt.

Beer braised beef short ribs
Beer braised beef short ribs
Garlic mashed potatoes
Garlic mashed potatoes
Savoy cabbage and chestnuts
Savoy cabbage and chestnuts
Not one, but TWO kinds of pie!
Not one, but TWO kinds of pie!