Thursday, December 22, 2011

joyeux noel!


Happy Holidays to everyone! I wish you all a wonderful time with friends and family. Like every year, my parents host Christmas dinner to our whole family and some friends. We're going to be a big bunch this year, but I think that makes it even better. I'm so excited for our traditional Christmas eve brunch before the last day of work and exchange our secret Santa gifts. And then wake up to another big brunch at home before opening gifts on Christmas day. And then inevitably eat some more for the next couple of days!

What are your Christmas traditions?


I must get back to my holiday baking, but for now I leave you with some twinkling lights.

 

Little birdie says: I'm dreaming of a white Christmas (please).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

soft gingerbread cookies: white wonderland


A light sprinkling of snow. That's about all we've gotten lately. Sadly, I don't think it's going to be a white Christmas this year. 


I have to be honest, I don't particularly love winter. It's great sometimes, but the intense cold, ice and strong winds really deter me. But I must admit that it would be nice to have a little bit of snow finally.

There is just something about a white Christmas that makes it so enchanting. Also, snow is quite vital to tobogganing, which I most certainly plan on doing this holiday break. And maybe build a snowman. 

When I think of snow, I always remember my childhood. I used to have so much fun playing for hours with my friends - building forts, huge ice slides and more forts (snowball fights against the boys, perhaps?) Nothing could stop me in my pink one-piece snowsuit, huge mittens, boots and tuque. Those days were priceless and I hope to never forget them.


Hmm maybe I should get myself another pink snowsuit...oooor pull on some waterproof pants and most likely get snow all over myself. Either way, it's fun! 

I really can't wait until Christmas. It's so close yet still seems so far away. Maybe I can finally finish that book I've been reading forever. I also can't wait for some holiday baking but since I don't have much time this year, I decided to make my gingerbread cookies a little early. What better way to get people in the Christmas mood?! I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do. This will probably be my last recipe post before the holidays. I hope you all have a wonderful time wherever you are and whatever you'll be doing.

Happy Christmas.


Soft Gingerbread Cookies

Yields approximately 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
* 2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom 

* This time I used fresh ginger. Peel and cut fresh ginger very finely into about 2 tablespoons' worth. It's the first time I've done it and at first I grated it as I read about it online, but that just made it very stringy so I just minced the rest. Fresh ginger is much more potent than ground ginger so you will need more than usual. It give a very definite and delicious spicy taste.

Procedure

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Set aside. In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the molasses and the vanilla extract.

Add the flour mixture in batches, beating only until just combined. Turn out dough onto plastic film, wrap and chill for at least 1 1/2 hours or overnight.

Meanwhile, prepare the royal icing following these steps. On a floured surface, roll the dough out but not too thin for a puffy and soft cookie. I usually roll it out between 1/4 and 1/2 inch. Cut out shapes with desired cookie cutter. With a spatula, set the cookies on a parchment (or Silpat) lined baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to darken around edges. Leave to cool on a wire wrack.
Once cookies are cool enough. Pipe out royal icing borders and flood with desired colours. If you want, you can also pipe more decorations on top. Just wait at least 2 hours or overnight for the icing to set. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

italian meringue buttercream: lonely boy


I'm not really sure where the sun has been hiding lately but I think it's time that it came out to play. Although the days are getting shorter, there are still some things that make it seem brighter.


For one, this song has been pretty much at the top of my playlist lately. I just can't help but blast it whenever it's on. Also, my new purse, the maple salmon that will be dinner, the thought of amazing friends coming home soon and my boyfriend keep me happy.


What makes you happy?

I'll tell you another thing that puts a smile on my face. Beautifully piped cupcakes with buttercream. I can't believe I've gone on this long without posting a recipe for buttercream. I know it must seem like I don't really use it, but I actually make it quite often, especially for specialty cakes. Birthday cakes just wouldn't be the same without buttercream! Also, any cake that is going to be covered with rolled fondant should be masked (crumb coated) with buttercream first, otherwise the fondant will have nothing to stick onto.


If you're wondering what the difference is between all the different types of buttercream, then take a look at this list.

American buttercream: creamed butter with icing sugar and sometimes a bit of milk or whipping cream, and flavouring. Quite easy to make but very "buttery".

Swiss Meringue buttercream: a meringue of egg whites and sugar warmed up to body temperature over a water bath, then whisked on high speed and butter added once meringue has cooled completely. The egg whites should not be hot, just warm enough to break the cold. This is a very easy and good method.

Italian Meringue buttercream: sugar syrup heated to 121 C poured slowly into egg whites that have been whisked to soft peaks. Syrup is added while whisking on low speed then increased to high and butter added once meringue has cooled completely. Italian meringue is very similar to Swiss method but I find it holds a little better.


Italian Meringue Buttercream

Ingredients

8 (250g) egg whites
2 ½ cups (500g) sugar
200 ml water
4 sticks (1 lb or 450g) butter
1 tsp vanilla

Procedure

Make a syrup with the water and sugar by placing them in a small pot over medium-high heat until you reach a temperature of 121oC (250oF) on a candy thermometer. Do NOT stir the water and sugar once the syrup starts to boil! This is extremely important. Just let the sugar cook.

Meanwhile, place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and start whisking on medium speed when the syrup reaches around 115oC. If you feel as though the temperature is going up quickly, you can start whisking before. Just make sure that your egg whites are at soft peaks and have risen a bit before adding the syrup.

When syrup is ready, lower mixer speed and pour sugar slowly into egg whites. Increase speed (medium-high) and whisk until meringue is shiny and cool (feel the bottom of the bowl to check - this can take about 10 minutes). Start adding butter a little bit at a time with the mixer on medium speed only when the meringue has cooled down. Add vanilla and mix until you have a nice, smooth consistency and the buttercream doesn’t slide off your spatula too easily when picked up. (Don’t worry if it looks all separated and scary when you start adding the butter, once it’s all in it will come together).

 

Use to decorate cakes and cupcakes!

Buttercream keeps well at room temperature but should be refrigerated if more than three days. Can also be frozen in an airtight container. When ready to use, thaw in refrigerator the night before and whip again for a couple of minutes in case the butter has separated. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

fig muffins with sweet apple sauce: when darkness falls


Daylight saving pros and cons:

Pro: not depressingly dark when I wake up in the morning.
Con: depressingly dark when I get back home from work.

WINTER IS COMING. If you are lucky enough to live in a country where everything does not freeze over for 3-4 months...I hate you. Sure winter has its fun moments. Like the 30 seconds before the beautiful white snow turns into brown slush. But I gotta tell you, I don't love winter. I'm not exactly going to run away from it, but I wouldn't mind extending autumn.


This year however, November has been quite warm, so I'm a little scared that winter will be dead cold. But fear not! I have a new pair of awesome boots. So maybe I should change my attitude and tell winter to bring it on! 

Winter pro: snuggling and drinking heaps of chai tea and dark hot chocolate.
Oh yeah, and Christmas!


How could I forget that wonderful holiday when all the trees on the streets twinkle with lights and candy canes are made in abundance? I love Christmas for many reasons: decorating the family Christmas tree (and my own little one this year), making gingerbread cookies, eating my mum's delicious Christmas feast, buying gifts, making gifts, eating a huge breakfast before opening gifts and most of all, those couple of days where I lounge around the house and do nothing but watch movies, play games and eat with my family.
That's Christmas for me. I get excited for it every year and I secretly don't mind listening to Christmas music all day during the weeks leading up to it (alright maybe not all day). But before December hits, I've got a few more apple and pumpkins to use up.

So what does Christmas mean (or not mean) to you?


After making the apple-fig galette, I still had some figs to use up so I baked this recipe for the muffins, but instead of apples I used about 18-20 figs, cut into quarters and mixed into the batter. A tasty breakfast treat along with some sweet apple sauce,

Apple Sauce

Adapted from Sarah's Applesauce

Ingredients
4 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
3/4 cup water
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom 

Procedure

Place the apples, water, sugars and spices in a large sauce pan and cook over medium heat, 15 - 20 minutes or until apples are soft and stirring occasionally. Leave to cool and mash with a potato masher or blender. Place in a large jar once completely cooled. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze. 

Enjoy it with muffins, scones, ice cream, pies or even mix into some oatmeal!

Monday, October 24, 2011

custom cakes and goodies: wedding, anniversary and birthday cakes



I've been meaning to post some of the most recent cakes that I've made, but quite frankly, I forgot. The wedding cake was for the same couple who's engagement cake I had made a little while back. They wanted a very simple design like their engagement cake. It was so hot that weekend that the fondant was shiny as soon as I took it out of the fridge!

 


I also made a really fun cake for my friend's birthday party that was marble chocolate and vanilla with praline buttercream. It's a nice big frothy mug of beer with pretzels and peanuts! My favorite part was definitely making the wood grain effect on the board. So great!

The last cake was for my brother and sister-in-law's 5th wedding anniversary. I made a chocolate cardamom spice cake with honey buttercream. They prefer simple designs so I created this flower and feather look all in white. I enjoyed making the flower and am anxious to learn how to make lots of other models of flowers.

Let me know what you think!


Friday, October 21, 2011

apple fig galette: only in dreams


Can't sleep, clown'll eat me.

 

A little light Simpsons humour, brought to you at 2:30 am. 

I am not a night owl. I need sleep. In fact, some of my friends call me a granny because I tend to fall asleep quite early most of the time. No such luck tonight apparently.


I've been a little sick the last couple of days and for some reason, my body just won't go to sleep. I honestly don't know what to do. What do people usually do when they stay up so late? This is seriously unsettling. I mean, common' brain, just shut off and let me get some sleep. Plus I'm kind of getting hungry...and possibly being a little nonsensical. How can people possibly deal with insomnia on a regular basis?


Or maybe these non-drowsy cold pills have something to do with it. Blurgh. Whatever it is, I need some kind of a lullaby - stat.

I wish I had some of this galette left because it was delicious. Fresh figs are not easy to find around here, and when I saw them at my local market I knew that I had to make something with them. And since I still had lots of apples left over from apple-picking...apple-fig galette! This is really easy to make and quite customizable. You can use berries, plums, or almost any fruit, really. So if you're reading this late at night because you can't sleep, why not make some pie?


Galettes are quite simple to make if you're looking for an alternative to pies. Just simply roll out to any size as long as it can fit on a baking sheet and fill with whatever fruit you like and bake. You can even make mini pocket fruit pies! However, don't make the same mistake I made. Once you roll out your dough, cut a circle and then place it on a baking sheet and fill it there...instead of on your counter where it can get a little messy trying to lift it up to transfer.

One recipe of pate brisee: click here 
For a 9 inch galette, roll out dough on a lightly floured counter to an approximate 14 inch circle and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Keep refrigerated until needed.

Apple-fig filling

3-4 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch thick pieces
8-10 figs, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch or flour
pinch of salt

1 tbsp butter
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix all ingredients except butter and egg together and place in middle of dough leaving about 2-3 inches all around. Fold over the dough, overlapping and pressing to stick folds together. Use a little bit of water if dough isn't sticking together. Dot with a few pieces of the butter on apples.

Beat egg with a little bit of water and brush all around edges of dough and sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired. Bake about 50-60 minutes until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling. Cool slightly before serving.

 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

sprinkle brownie pops: stick(y) fun


I'm not sure what it is, but lately I've been drawn to comfort food as if I'm afraid of trying something new. Even when it comes to desserts, I keep gravitating towards what I know best and can rely on.

Like these amazing brownies that I've made time and time again. Yes, I could try making a different kind, but sometimes I think, why mess with something perfect?

It's not that I'm actually afraid of trying something different, I think it just goes back to that laziness. Sometimes I go through these phases of being unproductive, but that usually comes to an end as soon as I notice what I'm missing out on. But I still believe that the tried and true are usually the best. So instead of laziness, let's call it "extensive product testing for constant consumer happiness", as in: what I know won't let me down. 


I hope you're not thinking that it's always going to be this way. No no, there are heaps of recipes that I want to try. In fact, I just went apple picking, which means...apple pie, apple cake, apple strudel, apple sauce...apples apples apples! Oh yes, this is my favorite time of the year so get ready for a lot of apples, and I'll probably throw a couple of pumpkins in there too for good measure.

So as I mentioned, these brownies are incredible, but this time I decided to make brownie pops - large brownie pops. I dipped them in chocolate and covered with sprinkles. So sweet, but so delicious and just perfect with a nice bowl of frozen yogurt. Now excuse me while I wipe all the chocolate off of my mouth.



Procedure

Make this recipe or your favorite recipe for brownies. After baked, leave to cool completely then remove from pan and place in freezer about one hour. Cut into squares or rectangles with a large chef's knife. 

Depending on the size of your brownies, stick an appropriately-sized popsicle stick into each brownies and place on a baking sheet. Place in freezer for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile melt about 500 grams (1 lb) of chocolate (any flavour you want) until smooth. I like to pour it into a tall glass and dip the pops half way into the chocolate. Place on the baking sheet and immediately put sprinkles on top before chocolate hardens. Continue with others. If chocolate begins to thicken up, just warm it up a little again.

There you go! Super simple and super cute brownie pops! 


Monday, September 26, 2011

warm caramel sauce: a fresh start


I feel awful. Really awful. For about a month now I've been thinking about how I've neglected my blog. The poor thing has just been sitting there waiting for me to show it some love. 

Well, I'm sorry little blog, I've been a terrible owner. I could tell you that I've been too busy working or traveling or doing very very important things. But the truth is: I've been lazy. And it's been difficult to get out of that habit of being lazy.

I decided this year that I was going to enjoy my summer as much as possible. As a result of that, I spent a lot of my free time with my family and friends, going out, staying in, having BBQ's, taking walks and all around just enjoying the weather, which means that I spent very little time in the kitchen. But now that the weather is starting to cool down I've so been looking forward to cooking and baking. 


As much as I love summer, autumn is my absolute favorite season. There is something so wonderful about autumn; whether it's the crisp, cool air, the crunchy leaves (stepping on them: favorite pass-time) or the general all-around cozy feeling. I can't wait to stay in and make stews and bread and roasts and pies and...and...and. I sound like a kid in a toy store (trust me, I know exactly what that sounds like!) 

I can't wait to try so many of the new recipes that I've been eyeing from all the amazing blogs out there. But then why do I seem to be going back to some old favorites? As much I want to try making new sweets, sometimes the tried and true are the best. It's got to be some of that laziness still lying around in me.  

 

Seems to have traveled with me too last week. I had the best week in Vancouver visiting an awesome friend where all we did was eat, shop, go to thrift stores, eat and bake. Yup, it pretty much reeked of laziness. And it was fiiiiine by me. I guess that's why I decided to make that delicious apple cake once more, but this time I poured some caramel sauce all over it....o..m..g. It was a perfect Sunday: organic farmer's market after breakfast for some fresh apples and eggs, then eating it with some tea in the afternoon while the sun shone through the window. I wish I could do that all the time. But being back home now is so nice. 


Next weekend I'm going apple picking, which in my books means that it is officially autumn. I am so excited, you have no idea. I haven't been since I was a child, so this is definitely an exciting event! Note to self: clear up some space in the freezer for the many apple pies that I will subsequently make and freeze.

So this post is a reminder to myself that even though summer is over, there are plenty of good times ahead. And honestly, I can't wait to spend them with the people I love.

Silky Caramel Sauce

Yields approximately 1 cup

Ingredients

1 cup granulated sugar
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) butter, cubed
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Procedure

The first thing to do is prepare all your tools and equipment. Making caramel is quick business, so it's imperative to have everything ready from the beginning. It might also be a good idea to have a bowl of ice water and some oven mitts near you in case you get burnt. Trust me, cooked sugar is extremely hot and can do serious damage. Make sure the butter and cream are measured and ready to go.
Place the sugar in a heavy-bottomed large saucepan and cook over med-high heat. Once the sugar starts to melt around the sides, stir quickly with a wooden spoon or whisk and then let it come to a boil. Do not stir once it starts to boil! Just let it boil and turn to a deep amber colour. As soon as it starts to look amber, add the butter and whisk quickly until completely melted. Remove pan from the heat and add the cream slowly. This part can get a little scary so do it slowly and carefully. Keep whisking as you add the cream. Watch out because the cream will foam up and rise quickly. Just keep stirring until you get a nice smooth texture. Leave to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes to thicken up. Once cool, you can pour it into a glass jar and refrigerate up to 2 weeks. Warm before serving. You can also add flavourings or alcohol after the cream. 

 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

lemon pot de creme with red currant compote: timelessness



Warm summer air. There is nothing quite like it. It's invigorating, intoxicating and all too consuming. It makes one fearless. Warm summer air is peaceful and brings about all sorts of desires. The desire to be carefree and calm. No worries, just happiness.

It is quite extraordinary to think how nature can affect our mood. Despite the fact that autumn is my favorite season for many reasons, summer is usually when most people are cool and relaxed. Maybe do things they normally wouldn't - face fears and be a little adventurous.

 
 

Summer makes  you notice all the everyday things that are around you in a different way. Growing vegetables and plants in the back yard as opposed to buying them from the grocery store. Seeing all their features and noticing how unique each plant is makes it so much more exciting to take care of them. And also knowing that the end result will be delicious! 

Or stunning, like the hydrangeas in my mum's backyard. Hydrangeas are my absolute favorite flowers. Especially blue one, but I must say that I'm quite enamoured by the fused pink and blue ones. So gorgeous. Note to self: get some hydrangea gum paste cutters (but so expensive!)

 
 

I can't get over how beautiful some of these flowers are, but what I really can't get over is how I hadn't even noticed the details of the white flowers below. I had never really paid enough attention to them but I'm so glad I did now. So small and delicate, just what I love. I guess that's what summer does. Makes you relaxed enough to notice all these little details.


There have been red currants in my parents' backyard for a long time now and this year I finally decided to pick some to use in a dessert. Normally my grandmother would make a compote with them, but unfortunately I never paid enough attention to what she was doing when I was younger. I now wish I had learnt more from her. My grandmother always made the most delicious meals, often spending hours in the kitchen. But she always said that to make good food, you have to be patient. 

Apart from her cake, most people remember her for her dolmas (stuffed vine leaves) using fresh leaves straight from the backyard. Now my mum makes them and I suppose someday it will be my turn. I never realized how lucky I was growing up having a big back yard with lots of little treasures. I love going out and picking cherry tomatoes, little green peppers and cucumbers for a salad to go with supper. Healthier and definitely tastier! 

So I hope you are all enjoying your summers and taking advantage of all the little things around you. And hopefully have some time to sit outside enjoying a nice meal and perhaps something sweet.

This post is linked to These Chicks Cooked Link Party

 

Lemon Pot de Creme with Red currant compote

Yields 4-6 ramekins

Ingredients

1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
1 tbsp lemon zest

250 g red currants
2 tbsp water or lemon juice
2 tbsp sugar

Procedure

Preheat oven to 325 F. Place the currants, water or juice and sugar in a sauce pan and bring to a boil while stirring every so often. Leave to simmer until slightly thickened. (The only problem I found was that the currants still had the seeds which didn't give a smooth texture, so I would advise you to try and strain the compote as much as possible). Spread compote evenly on bottoms of ramekins and leave to set a few minutes in the freezer (with freezer safe ramekins) or in the fridge. 

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, bring the milk and cream to a simmer. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, honey, lemon juice and zest until thickened. Slowly pour the warm cream into the yolks while whisking to temper the yolks. Continue pouring a little at a time until well blended, then strain the whole mixture back into the sauce pan and transfer to a measuring cup.

Evenly pour the mixture into the prepared ramekins, place in a deep roasting pan and fill the pan half way up the sides of the ramekins with boiling water. Same method as creme caramel. Bake for 30-35 minutes until they are only a little wobbly (only one or two ripples when you shake the pan. Leave to cool in pan then refrigerate at least 2 hours or preferably over night. 

Enjoy eating outside in the warm summer breeze!

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