I feel like I’ve gotten away from baking cupcakes lately.  Maybe because it’s all been done?  I don’t tend to get too crazy trying new flavours or techniques, and there are only so many ways to blog about chocolate (“No!!”) or vanilla (“Really?!”) cupcakes.  It’s a bit like watching someone’s really terrible vacation slideshow.

Whatever my reason, conscious or unconscious, I decided to make some mummy cupcakes for Halloween.  And this time I did exactly what I didn’t want to do the last time I made them: I broke down and bought candy eyeballs by Wilton.  In my defense, I saw no less a baking authority than Anna Olson use them.  I can’t explain why, but I tend to trust her far more than I do most of those soi-disant “experts” on the Food Network – she actually seems to know what she’s doing.  If these little shaped sprinkles (as the package describes them) were good enough for her, well, they’d be more than adequate for my purposes.

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Adorable, right?  My frosting process was thus: fitted with a basketweave tip, I first piped a strip across the cupcake to secure the eyes, and then added my bandages in what I hoped was a random pattern.  I didn’t want to paint on a bloody-looking mouth this time, so I left negative space instead to let my dark-chocolate cake show through.  Did you know that it’s really, really hard to randomly generate the mouth shape you’re hoping for?  After the first couple, I started outlining the mouth before adding my bandages – only to discover that my cupcakes looked like they were wearing blackface.  Ugh!  Some of them look truly horrified at that unhappy coincidence; luckily the end product turned out completely inoffensive.

All was well until I stored the uneaten cupcakes in the fridge to be consumed the next day: when I pulled them out, some of them had arbitrarily dilated pupils – usually just one, but not every single mummy had that problem.  I assumed that somewhere in the room temperature-to-refrigerated-to-room temperature cycle, condensation had formed and dripped on some eyes.  They were kind of ugly, but still tasted fine.

A few days later, I made a batch of vanilla funfetti cupcakes for a friend’s birthday, and was able to use more of my candy eyes to Minion-ize them.

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(You’re not losing your mind; those are two different sizes of eyeballs.)

These guys made me smile so much, and I was determined to keep them looking good, so I kept them well away from the fridge.  But lo, by the next morning, some of my Minions were afflicted with the same ocular disorder that had plagued my mummies.

(I am so, so glad that I decorated these the day of his little birthday soirée, and that only the leftovers got bug-eyed.)

Having seen this happen with no significant temperature change, I can only guess that it’s not a condensation/temperature issue; rather, once the icing softens the eyes a bit, the pupils bleed.

Has anybody else had this problem with the Wilton eyes?  Or is there some trick to keeping the eyes looking (ha!) the way they should, short of using them immediately before serving?  At $4 a pack, I don’t think it’s worth fighting over, but I’m going to have to think long and hard before buying them again.

Oh, well.  Thanks for – ha, ha – looking. 🙂

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So, I recently left a job after more than two-and-a-half years for greener pastures.  I’m excited about the type of work, pay scale, etc. – but am I ever going to miss the people at my old job!  Everybody was so sweet to me on my last day: one girl brought me a cinnamon roll/croissant hybrid from Starbucks to have with my morning coffee, and later that afternoon my boss took me out for a donut glut (lookin’ at you, root beer glaze!).  By the end of the day, I felt admittedly a little unwell and rather full of pastry, but also loved.  And so because food obviously equals love, I wanted to bake a little something over the weekend and do a desk-drop Monday morning for some of my nearest and dearest.  (This isn’t quite as creepy and stalker-ish as it sounds; I’m still working in the same building, so no security guards had to be alerted to escort me from the premises.)  I had mulled over margarita cupcakes, or faux-Hostess cupcakes, but didn’t want to lug six individual cupcake boxes around.  But ah, the Marshmallow Crunch Brownie Bars from the Brown Eyed Baker sounded like a winner.

I did have my reservations, as I’ve had mixed results with some of her recipes in the past.  My solution?  I used my own fail-proof brownie recipe for the base before proceeding as directed.

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(Hot tip, kids: always, always line bar-cookie pans with aluminum foil before greasing, and cleanup will be a snap.)

After all, if I could nail the brownie part, how hard could it be to sprinkle marshmallows and melt some chocolate and peanut butter together?

The answer: just a little harder than I thought.  I had expected the marshmallows to melt into an even layer rather than just puff up (it’s been a long time since I’ve microwaved a Peep, okay?), and they created a bit of a retaining wall for my crispy chocolate mixture.  My test audience was obviously going to be sampling squares from the centre.

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I didn’t get quite the perfectly delineated layers seen in her photos, but aesthetics aside, it’s not a big deal.  These are moist and fudgy, and surprisingly neat to eat.  (And trust me on that.  I hate getting my fingers sticky, so if I can eat these and not immediately freak out, anyone can.)

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All packaged up and ready to go!

These are seriously easy and tasty, and would make a wonderful addition to a potluck or bake sale.  My afternoon was filled with IMs from my peeps squealing over the fudginess.

Happy Monday, and thanks for looking! 🙂

Quick confession time: I tackled cherry jam again this year.  After last year’s attempt, I tried making proper freezer jam using the basic instructions from the Certo box, and wow.  Wowee wow.  This stuff is good.  Not nearly as sweet as last year’s, and actually (ta-daaa!) a proper, jam-like consistency.  No more holding my toast perfectly level!  I did not, however, document the process in photographs, since the hour and a half leading up to jam-making found the two of us with red, juicy hands and increasingly cranky temperaments as pits kept shooting onto the floor.  (There must be a market somewhere for pre-cleaned fruit.)  Ah, well.  Suffice it to say it was worth the struggle.  And now on to today’s adventure.

I had fully expected the cherry jam to be my swan song for the summer.  How much jam does one need in one’s freezer, anyway?  But then this happened:

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A big ol’ box of blueberries for $8.99 seemed too good to pass up.  And with the holiday weekend, well – that could have meant blueberry waffles, blueberry-oatmeal bar…did I mention waffles?  Unfortunately, the bathroom was being redone that weekend, and the neighbour’s cats were being baby-sat, and so it wasn’t quite the lazy weekend I had in mind.  By the time I rescued them from the basement fridge the following Saturday, they were still holding up really well, but I wanted to get them dealt with while that was still true.  Did you know they make pectin especially for freezer jam?

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Well, they do!  And look at how simple it is:

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So, I got to a-washin’, a-crushin’, and a-measurin’.  Note my extremely sophisticated berry-crushing station.  I bet Smuckers hasn’t got a set-up like I have.

After adding my crushed fruit to the sugar-and-pectin mix, and stirring for three minutes, I got this:

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I left the fruit fairly chunky on purpose, figuring that if the pectin didn’t gel up the way it was supposed to, the fruit would give it some body.  I just noticed now that there’s a lot of vintage Tupperware gracing my pictures here – this is what happens when you have two former dealers in the family.  (Dealers?  Representatives?  Oh, holy spirit of Brownie Wise, what do you call those ladies?!)

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My jars are Dollarama specials – at $3 for a pack of three-250 ml jars, they’re slightly more expensive than the flats you can find in all the grocery stores at this time of year – but darn it, check out those adorable gingham lids!

I wasn’t sure how non-Certo pectin would work, but this turned out really well!  Because the recipe uses less sugar, it tastes pretty much exactly like fresh blueberries – like summer (or Violet Beauregarde) in a jar.

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

Note: This post was originally written and meant to be posted on Sunday; however, because of some technical issues with WordPress first obscuring my photos and then abruptly deleting my entire text, there has been a slight delay.

My neighbours, who are DINKs (to clarify: very nice people, who happen to be Dual Income, No Kids), made the rookie mistake of going out for breakfast this morning.  The restaurant, they reported later, was absolutely packed.  You people have no children!  That’s a free pass from having to do the Mother’s Day brunch mob!  That’s one big advantage to not having kids!  Of course, the advantage to having children who are old enough to use the stove without summoning the local fire department is that you also get to avoid the crowds, and enjoy a home-cooked breakfast, possibly still in your pajamas.

I had mulled over a few ideas for what to make for breakfast, but decided to go with an old standby: giant(ish) baked apple pancakes, which I’ve posted on here before.  They come together really quickly, and yet look so impressive – because whoa, that thing’s the size of my plate!

Just after coming out of the oven, all puffed-up and golden at the edges.

The butter and brown sugar create a built-in syrup of sorts as it bakes, no maple required.  Fun fact: I once forgot to add the brown sugar to the pie pans before baking, and although they released super-easily, they were a little dry and not…quite…right.

I also wanted to make something for dessert, but not the same-old.  Cupcakes are nice, and all, but it’s been done.  While flipping through my collection of cookbooks, I found a recipe for flapper pie in the Kitchen Magpie’s book.  (Hardly surprising, since said book is titled Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky.)  The recipe took me a little bit out of my comfort zone, but seemed fairly simple, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Did I say “a little bit out of my comfort zone”?  This thing had me tense.  It was only the second time I’ve had to make a thick, pudding-like filling using cornstarch and heat as my catalysts (the first time was the pudding for my Brooklyn Blackout Cake), and I thought it was never going to thicken.  When it did, though, did it ever.  One minute, I was stirring what was in essence a pot of liquid, and the next it was producing a diabolical plopping sound as it came to a boil, and I’m pretty sure I could have gotten my spoon to stand up in the middle of it.  Also, I had never had occasion to make meringue before, and was convinced I would never get stiff peaks out of what seemed like fairly benign ingredients.  But lo (and behold!), the Kitchen Magpie did not fail me, and before long I was topping my pie and popping it into the oven to brown up.

It didn’t come out of the pan quite as neatly as I would have liked, but it did stay more-or-less intact, and tastes like it’s supposed to.  Certainly the Woman of the Hour was impressed – and that’s what matters, right?

Thanks for reading – Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂

“Glass…glass, hmm…I’ve got it: ‘alas’!” – Linus Larrabee, Sabrina

With Easter approaching (or, ahem, upon us), I wanted to make something light and springy – in taste and appearance, not texture.  No one likes rubbery cake.  Years ago, my grandmother used to make a dessert we called “Broken Glass”.  A quick Google search reveals that yes, this is still something that people know about, and recipes abound.  I used this one, but I think I’ll re-write it for myself to better order the steps.

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If you decide to make this, you really ought to consider making your gelatin first.  The recipe calls for strawberry, lime, and orange, but I opted for a cherry-lemon-berry blue combination.  You’re limited only by your imagination, your personal preferences, and what’s readily available in your local grocery stores.  (There, that’s not very limiting, is it?!)

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Although the crust is the first step in the recipe – and the second, if you count “chill” as a step – I held off on making it until my gelatin was nice and firm.  The crust really doesn’t need to chill for that long, and you want to make sure you’ll have sufficient fridge space for everything.  If you’ve got a gloriously large and/or empty fridge, good for you; feel free to shove everything in there at once to chill and/or firm up.

A word about the dreadfully ambiguous eighth step “Set aside until slightly thickened”: I have no idea what “slightly thickened” means, especially since at no time are we told to put it in the fridge to start the thickening/setting process.  At last, something that doesn’t go in the fridge!  When I made this, I let it cool to room temperature so that it wouldn’t completely dissolve my formerly-frozen, now-thawed whipped topping.

And a quick word about pineapple juice: make sure it’s pure pineapple juice, unsweetened, and untainted by other “filler” juices.  My friend made this recipe using a pineapple/apple/pear blend, and it left a funny taste to the filling.

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You should wind up with something that looks like this.

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Isn’t it pretty when it’s cut?

This makes a light, fruity dessert that goes down easily.  It’s also a great recipe for summer because there’s no oven involved – and no stovetop, either, if you boil your water and pineapple juice in the microwave.

Thanks for looking – and Happy Easter! 🙂

D’oh! Nuts!

March 19, 2017

I had never really been a huge fan of doughnuts/donuts.  Sure, if a box happened to appear at work – as was a near-daily occurrence at a different job, what feels like a lifetime ago – I was happy to grab one and continue reviewing commodity codes on a sugar high.  But they never really excited me in one of those oh-boy-gotta-have-one ways.  They have a tendency to go stale quickly (particularly when stored in their original, not-airtight boxes), or else melt and ooze glaze all over the place.  That’s not to say I don’t still consume the odd one today; I just do so much more judiciously than the Witty Child of yore.

When a new, “gourmet” donut shop opened up a block or so from my office, despite the buzz of excitement from my coworkers, I remained at first impervious.  It was nearly two months before I made my first trek over.  Lemon meringue?  Chocolate-peanut butter cup?  This wasn’t your parbaked Tim’s fare.  They were certainly delicious, but at $3 or $4 each, were definitely a treat.  And so I more or less regained my immunity to their siren song, at least until the day I decided to go for a walk and found the shop boasting a vegan yeast donut with a root beer glaze.

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Who would have known that something so deceptively simple could be so good?!  Words can’t describe it.  This is a full-on-Snuffles-float, lick-the-glaze-off-your-fingers-until-they-turn-pruny delight.

Naturally, I decided I had to try to recreate these.

I’m not a fan of deep-frying (or, let’s be honest, pan-frying) at home due to the inherent chance of setting the kitchen alight, and also because everything in the house will smell like nasty fried oil after.  Fully aware of this self-imposed limitation, I was pleased to find a recipe for baked donuts in Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Vegan Desserts.

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The batter came together really quickly, which I loved, and baked quickly, too.  However, I’m starting to suspect I’m not such a fan of baked donuts due to their propensity for getting distinctly darker on the bottom (think muffin bottom vs. muffin top).  The recipe also called for way too much nutmeg which made them smell suspiciously like a baked ham as they cooked, but that can easily be altered if I make them again.

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But ah, it’s all about the glaze, isn’t it?  My stockpile of root beer extract from Watkins came in handy, and let me double-dip these bad boys.  Hands down, the best part of the donut!

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

So, recently I had been part of a project at work informally known as the “Blackout Blitz”.  In all fairness, its name comes from its ties to production quotas and inter-departmental deadlines; however, from the very beginning, it made me think simultaneously of the Blitz of WWII and of the blackout drills held during the war.  Hardly unusual, given the name.

(This raises an important question: why do so many people glorify the WWII era?  I do it, too, but why?  I’m perfectly able to wear oxfords and listen to big band music today, but without all the hassles of rationing, polio, wartime casualties, the marginalization of women and minorities…  I can only chalk it up to there being a heckuva spin doctor there somewhere, who made the whole damned thing seem so glamourous and wholesome.  And, let’s face it, the Bomb Girls of the eponymous television series seemed to know how to make a blackout drill a real gas.)

Needless to say, by the time my mom’s birthday was approaching, I had blackouts and blitzes on the brain, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that for her cake, I decided to duplicate Ebinger’s Bakery’s famous Brooklyn Blackout Cake.

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I turned to Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Vegan Desserts for the basic how-to and for the killer chocolate pudding to slather between layers and all over the outside – and was I ever excited when the mixture smoothed and thickened exactly as it was supposed to! – but deferred to Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for the cake portion.  Their Basic Chocolate Cupcake recipe is moist and foolproof, and with the addition of black cocoa powder to make it extra-dark and rich, there was no going wrong.

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I was concerned that the step of pulsing part of the cake in the food processor to make crumbs to be sprinkled on top would detract somehow from the finished product, but au contraire!  They only add to the chocolatey goodness.

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Moist chocolate cake sandwiching rich chocolate pudding?  Sign me up!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

I haven’t done a ton of baking lately (including a “gee-but-I-really-wanted-to” Halloween treat), fixated as I have been on Christmas crafting, but a dear friend celebrated his birthday last week and I thought it was time to get off my heinie and get baking!  This is somebody who, if you ask him, will request vanilla over chocolate every (every, every) time – and although I don’t have a problem with that, it’s been done.  There’s just not a lot you can do with that.  I still didn’t want to do the rather obvious chocolate option, however, so I put my thinking cap on.  And, inspired by the best! freaking! donut! I have ever eaten, I came up with…drumroll….root beer float cupcakes.

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In a nod to his usual preference, I used the basic vanilla cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and substituted in root beer extract instead of vanilla.  Shocking, right?  I had initially planned on a vanilla buttercream frosting to mimic the ice cream found in a float, but I was worried the root beer flavour wouldn’t carry through, so that is root beer buttercream gracing those beauties.

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…because he is!

Waiting for a wish:

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De-papered and -candled, and ready to eat:

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I like that these are kind of like stealth cupcakes…to the casual observer, they could almost pass for an unassuming vanilla – they’re only oh-so-slightly less white – but pack a flavour wallop when you bite in!  In fact, the birthday boy didn’t even question what they were when I first dished one up.  It wasn’t until he was about halfway through that he looked up and asked, “What is this?  It tastes almost fizzy!”  I don’t know about fizzy, but like a favourite soda?  Absolutely!

Thanks for looking!

At the risk of sounding like a crazy cat lady, Saturday was my cat’s birthday.  I’m not the best cat-mom when it comes to remembering stuff like that; in the eight years that I’ve had her, I think I’ve only remembered once before this.  But hey, my bad parenting/sieve-like memory doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have a fabulous celebratory cake, right?  The stars were aligned: it was a long weekend and I had icing sugar in the house.  And truthfully, I had been looking for an excuse to do up something like this, and what better reason than a birthday?

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Say, that looks tall.  How many layers did you say it was, again?

I didn’t, but: six.

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Proof that “vegan” ≠ “healthy”.  I used the basic vanilla cupcake recipe from VCTOTW, doubled it, and divided it amongst six bowls to tint each one separately.  You definitely don’t want to attempt this if you have a serious aversion to artificial colours – but my theory is, as long as the majority of my diet isn’t neon-coloured, a piece of cake now and then isn’t going to kill me.  I made a huge batch of the fluffy buttercream frosting recipe from the same book, and barely had enough to finish the cake.  Even though each layer is only 6″ across, it still used a lot!

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The birthday girl was somewhat intrigued by this candy-coloured confection, but quickly lost interest and resumed the nap from which she had been so rudely awakened.  Hey, more for me!

I’m not sure if I’d try this again.  It’s not difficult, just a bit fiddly, and is a bear to store as none of my cake-takers are tall enough to house it.  But I can cross “rainbow layer cake” off my baking bucket list.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

I try very hard to adhere to my Birthday Cake Rule (longtime readers, you know what I’m talking about!), but every so often, a wrench gets thrown into the works.  Take my dad’s July birthday; the first thought that popped into my head was, “Ugh, it’s too darned hot to bake!”

(In all fairness, I had that same thought last year and took what I thought was an easy out by ordering an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen.  Their regular decorator was on vacation – though no one told us this when we special-ordered it a week in advance – and the resulting dessert fell firmly into the “can’t-sleep-clown-will-eat-me” nightmare category.  But hey, all cats are grey in the dark, right?)

To my credit, I had a plan this year.  I had made the Peanut Butter Cup Icebox Cake from the Brown Eyed Baker for Father’s Day, and it was a resounding success.  Chocolate and peanut butter appear to be the way to his heart – so why not make it again?

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I’ve started to think of this as my “cardio cake” (which is really stretching to make something sound far healthier than it really is): because the instructions indicate that each layer needs to chill in the fridge while the next one is prepared, and because there’s never a 9 x 13″ chunk of spare real estate in the upstairs fridge, I had to keep running it down to the basement fridge for its solitary confinement and then back down to retrieve it when I was ready to proceed.

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But was it worth it?  Just look at those layers of chocolate-peanut butter-y goodness!

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It does generate a lot of dishes – and necessitates the dirtying of that clunky monster, the food processor – but for a cool and creamy finish to your meal, you could do a lot worse!

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂