Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Bake and Trade 2014


I organized a Bake and Trade (aka cookie exchange) at the office again this year and I have to say, I took it up a notch. We had the Christmas music playing like last year, but we also voted for what we’d like to have for our first bite. The winner (the only savory treat – jalapeno cornbread muffins) got a box of really pretty cupcake wrappers. 

I also gave out the cutest party favors – mini holiday cookie cutters. Whenever I wondered if I was going overboard, I thought, what would my friend Gabbie do? Because Gabbie always goes the extra mile when throwing parties and basically everything in life. For example, for Halloween, she gives out Starbucks travel mugs to the parents!!! What parent wouldn’t love that??

So anyways, I asked myself, what would Gabbie do, and I’m pretty sure she’d do something even more extravagant, so I went ahead with my Bake and Trade party at work. And it was fun!

Thank you to everyone who participated! We had such a wonderful variety of treats!

And by popular demand, the recipe for Mock Skor Bars. Just some history on this treat: Every year we get super excited about this treat brought in by our colleague Allison. This year, it was brought in by Sophie and we are so happy she made it!


Mock Skor Bars
Recipe from here.

Ingredients
24 salted soda crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place crackers evenly on pan.
2.  Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and stir until melted and combined. Mixing constantly, bring mixture to a boil for 2 minutes. Pour mixture over crackers.
3.  Bake in the oven for 5 minutes.
4.  Sprinkles chocolate chips evenly over caramel and return to oven just until the chocolate melts. Spread with an offset spatula.
5.  Place pan in fridge or freezer until firm. Break into pieces and devour.

Note: I’ve made this with Ritz crackers and it is phenomenal.

I made the Mars Bar Blondies that I made for my wedding. Check out the recipe here

Check out these cute cookie cutter party favors! Love!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Some Leftover Cakes and Bakes

Over the last few months, I’ve been baking but not necessarily sharing recipes because I wasn’t completely happy with the way the cakes turned out and I wasn’t going to go back to the kitchen and re-do it to perfect it. Or things go really busy with the wedding and I didn’t have the energy to do a post. Now that I have more time, I thought I’d share some of the pictures.


First off, a boozy cake that was just not boozy enough for father’s day. Next time, be heavy handed with the whisky!


Next, a Double Strawberry Cake whose drizzle glaze was too drizzly. Next time, don’t add so much liquid to the icing sugar! Plus, I never actually tasted the cake so I have no idea if it turned out.



Halloween Cake – there wasn’t anything wrong with this cake, just a simple vanilla cake with vanilla frosting. Pretty standard.


There was also chocolate bark with Oreos. And check out these ones that my friend made for Halloween!


Here are the caramel and chocolate covered pretzel rods that my sister and I made for the wedding. These were AMAZING! But those bags of pretzel rods have so many broken ones! Boo!

So, you know how at weddings, there’s a ton of desserts left over? Well turns out my guests were those people as they went crazy over the desserts. I guess that’s what happens when there’s a lot of selection? One of the desserts that they really liked, and that my sister and I had made, were the Mars Bar Blondies. Here’s the recipe:


Mars Bar Blondies

Ingredients
2 1/3 cup flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
2 Tablespoon milk powder*
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup + 2 Tablespoon butter, softened
1 ¾ cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla
4 Mars Bars chopped into small bite sized pieces

*You could probably get away without milk powder, but apparently it’s the magic ingredient in the baking world (Milk Bar uses it a lot!), so I threw it in. And fyi, people went crazy over these blondies.

Directions
1.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with parchment paper.
2.   Whisk flour, baking powder, milk powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
3.   Using a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until smooth.
4.   Add eggs and beat after each addition. Add vanilla and beat.
5.   Add flour mixture in 2 batched, beating until almost combined.
6.   Add half of the chopped Mars Bars and mix until just combined, 10 seconds.
7.   Press the thick dough into the baking pan with an offset spatula.
8.   Insert the remaining Mars Bar pieces throughout the surface. Feel free to add sprinkles.
9.   Bake for 23 minutes or just until toothpick comes out clean. Do not over bake or they will dry out and you will be sad.
10. Cool for 20 minutes before cutting.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Layer Cake


Guess what??? I got married! And it was everything that we could hope it would be – low key but beautiful and intimate. Imagine a conservatory in the evening with tea lights in mason jars and hanging string lights. And now, back to real life – and yet it feels different. Not the day to day routine, but just us, inside. Like we have a fun secret. That’s the only way to explain it.


So that’s what I blame the lack of posts on – just the wedding. But now that that’s over (and btw the husby said “aww, I’m kinda sad it’s over” and after which I rolled my eyes thinking about how stressed he was prior to the wedding to the point of almost calling it off!), I want to catch up on sharing some of the baking that’s been going on. And no, I didn’t make my own wedding cake – in fact, we didn’t have a “wedding cake”, just a bunch of cakes and desserts. But my sister and I did make some of the treats, but more on that later.

Anyways, first one up is a Toasted Coconut Chocolate Layer Cake that I made for my colleague’s baby shower. And this is my undercover work on finding out what flavours she likes: “Hi Sophie, do you like chocolate? You do? Ok, that’s all” (and I walk out of the room). And on a subsequent day: “Hi Sophie, do you like coconut? Yes? Ok, that’s all”, followed by the turning around and walking out. But I like to think she was surprised by the cake.

Check out the verdict at the end of the post!

Chocolate Cake
From hereI halved the recipe and baked them in 2, 6-inch baking pans.


Funfetti Cookie Crumble
Adapted from hereCan be done ahead of time and kept in an airtight container.

Ingredients
1 cup flour
¼ cup sugar
½ cup butter, room temperature
2 Tablespoons sprinkles

Directions
1.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.   Combine flour and sugar in a bowl. Cut butter into the mixture with a pastry cutter until you get small pieces.
3.   Add sprinkles and mix. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
4.   Break it apart to get big chunks and bake for another 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheet and store in an airtight container.


Coconut Ganache
Ingredients
255g dark chocolate, chopped to small pieces
1 cup whipping/heavy cream
¼ teaspoon coconut flavouring

Directions
1.   Put chopped chocolate in a bowl. Set aside.
2.   Heat cream in a small saucepan until almost boiling. Pour over chocolate and let it sit for 5 minutes.
3.   Whisk to combine.
4.   Add ¼ teaspoon of coconut flavouring and whisk. Taste it before adding more, 1/8 teaspoon at a time (coconut flavouring tastes nasty when there’s too much!).
5.   Cool to room temperature. Whip to soft peaks – as it stands, it will become stiffer.


Toasted Coconut (can be done ahead of time and kept in an airtight container)
I used about 2 ½ cups of flat dried coconut ribbons. I placed it on a cookie sheet and baked until golden in a 300 degree F oven – about 10 minutes, stir, then another 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it – coconut burns easily in the blink of an eye! Cool completely before using on cake.


Assembly
1.   Slice cakes into 2 layers each. Place a dollop of ganache on a cake plate and place the first cake layer on top.
2.   Spread a thin layer of ganache on the cake. Sprinkle on cookie crumbs. Place next cake layer on top and repeat with all layers.
3.   Spread ganache on the top and sides of the cake. Don’t worry about crumbs because you’ll cover it with coconut. The thicker the ganache layer, the easier it will be for the coconut to stick.
4.   Place toasted coconut in a bowl. Hold the cake over the bowl in one hand and grab some coconut with the other hand and place it on the side of the cake. Make sure the cake is hovering above the bowl so that the extra coconut will fall back into the bowl.
5.   Fill in gaps by delicately inserting coconut. Leave out until ready to eat!


Verdict: This cake was pretty darn awesome! The cake was super moist but fluffy and not overly sweet. Loved the coconut flavour. Unfortunately the cookie crumb lost its crunch, but it was still tasty. Everyone loved!


Monday, 13 October 2014

Star Wars Cake


Guess what? One month to my wedding. We’ve been really busy with the final details and most of the things are done. Everyone is super excited, but is it OK that I’m not? We’ve been planning it for a year, so I’m kind of done. And I feel kind of guilty for feeling this way. Anyone else felt like this? Hopefully I get a second wind and get excited closer to the date!

In the meantime, there are a bunch of baking projects. One is a Star Wars cake for a now 6 year old (What? When did that happened??) boy. I’ve made these cupcakes and this cake for him in the past. This year he requested a vanilla Start Wars cake, which was a bit challenging because I know nothing about Star Wars. And I wanted to make a version that didn’t use fondant. Here’s the final cake! I hope he likes it!!!

Star Wars Cake
Vanilla Funfetti Cake
I used this Vanilla Buttermilk Cake originally from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes 
I tossed some sprinkles on the cake batter after pouring in the baking pans and swirled it with a butter knife.

Whipped Vanilla Pudding Buttercream
Ingredients
1 vanilla pudding cup
1 ½ cups butter, room temperature
6 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Blue and yellow gel food colouring

Directions
1. Combine butter, icing sugar, and vanilla pudding cup in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with a paddle to combine.
2. Add vanilla and beat on high until fluffy.
3. Divide into 3: about 1 cup for the filling, 1/3 cup for the label and stars (yellow), and the remaining for the outer layer (blue). Add food colouring and whip until smooth and blended.



Assembly
Fill the layers with white frosting. Crumb coat the entire cake with blue frosting. Use the yellow frosting to pipe stars and the Star Wars label.
*I made a stencil for the Star Wars label with acetate. I first placed the cake in the freezer for 15 minutes, then placed the stencil on the cake and smeared the yellow frosting over top. I put it back in the freezer for about 5 minutes before carefully removing the stencil.

Smearing buttercream on my stencil.




Verdict: This is my go to recipe for vanilla cake. Dense but fluffy and moist – a very pleasant texture. The frosting was a bit sweet for my liking, but an American style buttercream crusts (as opposed to Swiss Meringue Buttercream), which I needed for a smooth and sturdy cake. I was happy with the way the stenciled label turned out. Yay, no fondant needed!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Macarons



I have made these before. And it’s never worked. Cracks, dull, no feet fails. And then it happened. It started to work. And although they’re not perfect yet, my macaron making mind is revitalized!
So macarons are supposed to have a shiny shell, with feet (not separated or collapsed), non-hollow shells, and a balanced amount of filling. That’s a lot of characteristics that can go wrong. These aren’t nearly there yet, but since they are starting to work for me, I thought I’d share. Btw, the key to delicious macarons: ripen in fridge for 24 hours before consuming. Makes a world of difference.

Macarons
An amalgamation of this and this recipe.

Ingredients
1 cup icing sugar
¾ cup almond flour/meal
2 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Gel food colouring

Directions
1.   Line two baking sheets with parchment.
2.   Sift icing sugar and almond flour together into a bowl.
3.   Wipe the inside of a metal bowl and whisk with vinegar. Whip egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and whip to soft peaks.
4.   Gradually add sugar while beating. Whip to very stiff peaks.
5.   Add vanilla and gel food colouring and whip to mix.
6.   Dump sugar-almond mixture into meringue. Set timer for 30 seconds and mix with a spatula to deflate the air.
7.   Start folding and test periodically so that if you hold the spatula up, ribbons flow off of it and gradually disappear into the batter.
8.   Put the batter in a piping bag with round tip. Pipe fairly small rounds on the parchment lined baking sheets. Remember, they spread out a bit, so try not to pipe too big.
9.   Hold baking sheet and bang on counter 2 times each to release bubbles.
10. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F. Let the macarons sit and form a shell as the oven is pre-heating. 15-30 minutes.
11. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the shells easily release for parchment. Cool on tray before releasing.
 
Before adding almond flour.

Strawberry Lemon Filling
½ cup butter, room temperature
2 cups icing sugar
3 Tablespoon seedless strawberry jam
½ teaspoon lemon flavouring
2 Tablespoon cream

Directions
Beat all ingredients until smooth. Adjust strawberry jam to taste. Add more cream for smoother texture.

Chocolate Buttercream Filling
¼ cup chopped chocolate
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup icing sugar
1 Tablespoon cocoa
1-2 Tablespoons cream

Directions
Melt chocolate over a double boiler. Take off heat and cool so that it won’t melt the butter, but is still smooth. Combine butter and sugar in a bowl. Sift in cocoa. Beat until combined. Add melted chocolate and beat until smooth. Add cream until you get the consistency you like.

Assembly
Pipe filling onto a shell and sandwich with another. Place in a container and leave in the fridge for 24 hours before bringing back up to room temperature to eat.





Verdict: The strawberry lemon macarons were delicious. The chocolate buttercream macarons were a tad sweet. I’ll have to adjust the recipe. Back to the kitchen to practice.

Btw, the next batch cracked horribly. Anyone know how to make macarons when it’s humid??

Monday, 11 August 2014

Vanilla Strawberry Ice Cream Cake


As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I recently bought a townhouse. To celebrate, I threw a housewarming party and decided to make an ice cream cake for dessert.

Dairy Queen ice cream cakes – yay or nay? I pretty much only like the cookie fudge middle. My plate is always left with sad looking vanilla and chocolate soft serve because I just eat the middle. But I think my problem with that cake is that it’s soft serve. If it was real ice cream, I think I’d love it.

So, my ice cream cake was going to be made with real ice cream. And not that stuff from the store that has a bunch of ingredients that I can’t pronounce, meaning they really shouldn’t be in my ice cream. I’m talking about the home make stuff – with egg yolks, and real vanilla, and only ingredients you’re familiar with! And you know what? It’s going to have cake too – because ice cream cake without the cake part, is just ice cream shaped like a cake if you ask me.

The great thing about this type of cake is that the options are endless! I went simple, but you can mix and match ice cream and cake flavours and add extras like cookies, crumbles, nuts, fruit, and sundae syrup between the layers. And multiple ice cream flavours!

Vanilla Strawberry Ice Cream Cake
Parts:
Vanilla cake
Vanilla ice cream
Strawberry jam
Whipped cream frosting
*Note, this cake takes 3 days to make

Vanilla Cake (Make on day 1)
Use your favorite vanilla cake recipe. I halved this one and baked it in a 6-inch pan. Feel free to use whatever size you like!

After baking and cooling the cake, cut into two layers. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze overnight.

Alternatively, you can buy a pre-made pound cake.

Vanilla Ice Cream (Make on day 1 or 2)
You can use your favorite store bought ice cream. Or make it from scratch! I used this recipe by David Lebovitz. 
If making from scratch and refrigerating the base overnight, make on day 1. If not refrigerating base overnight, make on day 2 (same day as assembly).

Whipped Cream Frosting (Make on day 3)
Ingredients
2 cups whipping cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
Gel food colouring

Directions
1.  Chill metal bowl before whipping. Beat whipping cream until soft peaks.
2.  Sift icing sugar and add vanilla. Beat to stiff peaks.
3.  Add food colouring to your desired shade and beat to blend.
*I added a stabilizer (like Whip It http://www.amazon.com/Dr-Oetker-Stabilizer-Whipping-Packets/dp/B000NY8OLU), but since it’s going to be frozen, I don’t think it’s necessary in retrospect.


Assembly
Day 2:
1.  If using store bought ice cream, take out and soften for about 10-15 minutes before proceeding. If using scratch ice cream, it should be in soft-serve consistency (feel free to stick in the freezer until ready).
2.  Smear a little jam on the cake plate. Place frozen cake layer on top. Spread jam on top.
3.  Wrap stiff acetate tightly around the cake and tape to secure.
4.  Spread ice cream over the cake – up to you on how much and how tall you want the cake!
5.  Spread jam on the other cake layer. Carefully place it on top of the ice cream, jam side down.
6.  Freeze overnight.
Day 3:
7.  Make whipped cream frosting.
8.  Take acetate off cake. Frost cake with whipped cream and decorate to your preference. Freeze until ready to serve.
 
Acetate around the cake.

 



Verdict: This ice cream recipe was A-MAAAzing! So creamy, rich, and flavourful! I only used ¾ of it in the cake, so I had a bit left over. And good thing too because my friends requested it and devoured it! I’m dreaming up new flavour combos!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Strawberry Rice Crispy Pops


What is it about food on sticks that make them so fun? Is it that food doesn’t readily come on sticks on a regular basis (unless you’re from South East Asia – think satay)? Is it that we associate fun/not-so-good-for-us foods-but tasty foods with the stick delivery (e.g., lollipops, ice cream bars, popsicles, corn dogs)? I’m pretty sure I’d like certain things a lot more if it came in stick form.

Desserts on sticks are blowing up lately! Cake + stick = cake pops; Pie + stick = pie pops; get the pattern? I wanted to try the Rice Crispy Pop because compared to the cake/pie pops, they are sooo easy. And just by inserting a stick, makes them so cute and appetizing!

I found a bag of HUGE strawberry marshmallows (meant for campfires and s’mores). Invented: Strawberry Rice Crispy Pops. I made these for a one year old’s Hello Kitty themed party.

Check out the verdict at the end of the post!


Strawberry Rice Crispy Pops 
Ingredients
¼ cup salted butter
5 cups strawberry marshmallows (If using the large ones, cut them into quarters)
½ teaspoon vanilla
6 cups Rice Krispies Cereal
¾ cup white candy melts
Sprinkles
Lollipop sticks

Directions
1.  In a big pot, melt butter on medium low. Add marshmallows and melt (stirring occasionally).
2.  Take off heat and add vanilla and stir.
3.  Add Rice Krispies and working quickly, stir to combine. Pour and press into a pan (I used an 8 x 8 inch pan). When it cools slightly, use an offset spatula to press down so you get a flat surface. Cool completely.
4.  Place candy melts in a double boiler on low and melt, stirring occasionally. Set out parchment to place your dipped Rice Crispy Pops on to harden.
5.  Cut Rice Krispies into desired size. Use a ruler and take the entire thing out of the pan before cutting for uniform squares (I learned that through trial and error!).
6.  Spoon the candy melts over the squares, decorate with sprinkles, and set to dry before inserting sticks. Voila!



Verdict: I think these looked so cute! They were chewy and delicious as Rice Crispy Squares are. And not super artificially strawberry-y! Everyone kept asking how I got them pink! No need to added food colouring here!