Tonight we had all of our friends from the neighbourhood over to celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah with us. I think we’re on Year 5 of our annual Hanukkah Party. What started off as a one-time shindig to celebrate the Festival of Lights with all of our gentile friends has turned into a bit of a tradition. And from what I hear, the neighbours look forward to the invitation!Â
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a bit of aÂ go big or go home approach to throwing a party so it should come as no surprise when I tell you I spend days preparing for the two or three hours of crazy that we host. It begins with copious amounts of baking, a Bar Mitzvah-worthy dessert-slash-candy table with a blue, white and silver theme and some delicious homemade latkes and hot corned beef sandwiches (full disclosure: this year I ordered the corned beef from Center Street Deli and it was well worth it).
I have a lot of fun baking and decorating the table and putting out a big spread for everyone. But man, I’m exhausted! So here are some of my photos of the dessert table, which seemed to garner most of the attention.
Call me a glutton for punishment, but every year for the last–oh, I don’t know–four years, my husband and I have hosted a Hanukkah party for our closest neighbourhood friends. You see, we are the token Hebrews in the ‘hood, so most of our friends have never been to a Hanukkah party, let alone tasted a latke. So, we felt it would be a Mitzvah (aka: good deed) on our part if we threw a little shindig to enlighten our friends.
Well that little shindig turned into a big shindig and has become something of a tradition. It has also given me licence to go a bit meshugenah (crazy) with the event planning, decor and yes, a dessert table!
Today I’m giving you a preview of some of my *crazy* ideas. I made a big batch of sugar cookies a la Martha StewartÂ and decorated them with royal icing and some confectioners’ decorative sugar. You will notice a theme of blue, white and silver.Â
I made the dough, chilled it, rolled it out, cut it into the shapes of dreidels, menorahs and stars of David before baking. Then I went to town on the icing. The icing was a piping consistency and I could have piped all the cookies and then flooded them, but I got lazy. So the icing is a little thicker (the kids will love me for it–not the parents) than usual and maybe not as pretty. But I’ll let you be the judge!
So I went on a cookie making bender last night. And there was a legitimate reason. We are in the midst of a United Way fundraiser at the office, so I thought I’d do my part. We decided to encourage people to make a pledge or donation by enticing them with homemade baking when the munchies hit around 3 in the afternoon. It worked like a charm and here are the results!
I feel like this was my warm up act to the big baking contest next week…the meringues were incredibly popular so maybe I’ll try those again. What do you think???
Okay, I’m finally getting back in the saddle and writing a post after a ridiculously long hiatus–and after I got my oven fixed.Â
I love my range. It’s a Viking Professional. We had it installed when we renovated the house and I couldn’t bear to part with it, even if it has had to be repaired twice now. It’s kind of like a favourite blanket or pair of shoes. It’s comfortable and familiar and I can’t imagine any other range living up to it. It’s simple. No fancy knobs or bells or electronics. Straight up gas. But it was not baking evenly. I’d get a mixture of under done to slightly burnt depending on where the pan was located in the oven. It was a true range inside the range. Ha!
Now that Joe the Appliance Guy came and fixed the oven, my motivation to cook and bake has been reinvigorated.
Since it is the season for pumpkin and spice and all things hearty and warm, I copied my mom and baked a double batch of Evelyn Raab’s soft ginger cookies. My three-year-old could eat these for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which I sometimes let him do. They came out perfectly and have a nice sparkly sheen of sugar coating their little brown selves.
Maybe it’s because these cookies are relatively unassuming and they have a healthy *look* to them, but you kind of feel like you’re eating something healthy, which is probably why it’s so easy to convince yourself to eat more (than one). Key ingredients to these tasty morsels is molasses and of course, powdered ginger. I can’t imagine adding anything to them, but let me know if you have experimented with ginger cookies and what combos work for you.
Here’s the recipe:
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp water
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
Mix butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg, water and molasses and continue mixing until smooth. In another bowl stir flour, ginger, baking soda and cinnamon together (I’m so lazy I actually skip this and mix it all together–but I digress). Add dry mixture to wet mixture and beat until everything is combined into a soft dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and put in the fridge while you tidy upÂ andÂ preheat oven to 350 F. Pour some sugar onto a plate–I used fine granulated sugar– Pull the dough out of the fridge and start rolling the dough into 1-1.5 inch little balls. Roll the dough balls in the sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes. They will look soft and like theyâ€™re not finished but reallyÂ they are. Let them cool for a couple of minutes and then move them to a plate.Â This recipe makes 4 dozen.
I wish I had more energy to put into this post but the truth is I’m pooped. So I’m going to keep it short and sweet.
I made yet another birthday party for my middle child–having all three kids with birthdays in the first quarter of the year is both a blessing and a curse. By the time this birthday rolls around every year I always say to myself and whoever will listen, “this is the time I do one of these.” Bu then of course next year arrives and I start planning out the cake, the decorations, the loot bags, the entertainment, the meal….
This year I combined the family and friends parties to kill two birds with one stone however this makes for a rather large and unwieldy party. We had a company that brings exotic animals to the house to teach the kids about the animals; where they are from, what they eat, etc. This kept the kids occupied for one hour. That only left one more hour of the party to surviveÂ feed the kids, do the birthday cake and usher them out the door.
My middle guy wanted a Smartie number cake just like his big brother so I baked a few vanilla cakes, got out the big serrated knife and got to carving. Then I slathered on some yummy creamy cheese icing and embarked on the painstakingly long task of doing a chevron patterned decoration on the cake with Smarties (or chocolate gems as they are referred to at the bulk food store).
Picking up on the Smarties I decided to go with a polka dot theme for the table settings found at none other than Dollarama.
And this was all completed by polka dot and chevron printed loot bags that I scored at Creative Bag (that place is dangerous–I could spend a lot of money there). I kept it simple for the loot: Kinder Eggs bought in large quantity from Costco and a $5 gift card to Indigo. I figured this was both easy and pleasing loot for both parent and child.
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.
I whipped up some royal icing, also care of Martha Stewart,Â tinted it with a dash of pink gel to get a nice baby pink and got to work icing them.
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.
I was perusing PinterestÂ 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!
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.Â
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.
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.Â
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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.