Sunday, May 29, 2011

custom cakes and goodies: baby shower and star wars


Hello kids, just a quick update on what I've been up to lately. I had a lot of fun making these cakes for some friends. First up is a deliciously geeky Star Wars Lego cake for the biggest Lego fan I have ever known. I wasn't really sure how the little guys were going to turn out but they looked pretty good in the end. Though their hands were kind of a pain to make...so small!


It took me a couple of tries to get little Darth's head right, but somehow it didn't seem to even matter to the birthday boy because it was eaten up in 2.5 seconds. I guess that's a good thing! I cut this recipe in half for a 6" layer cake and filled it with chocolate buttercream.

I also made a cute baby shower cake where the theme was ducks with yellow and green colours. I love the baby's face and the tiny bottle! The cake was lemon with whipped cream filling and fresh raspberries.


Can't wait to show you more new cakes!

Friday, May 20, 2011

whole-wheat bread



You know how most people think about what they would want to do with their lives if they knew they only had a few more days to live? Well I think about all the things that I would want to eat. Considering the fact that we are apparently all doomed as of Saturday, I should probably start loading up my plate. There are so many recipes I want to try! 

Alright, so I'm not exactly a firm believer that the world is going to end anytime soon, but it got me thinking as to what I'd like to try making.

 

And the answer is: EVERYTHING. 

I've barely scraped the surface yet. The possibilities are endless! It's almost exhausting, really. Yesterday I went to the most adorable, yet little known, bakery in town and tasted the most delicious chocolate-chai cupcake ever. Rich, dark and moist with just a tiny spicy kick. I'm really craving another one now. Which made me really want to find that "perfect" chocolate cake recipe. I still haven't figured it out yet, but I'm sure I will with more experimentation. 

The thing is, it's all about the quality of the ingredients. Good quality cocoa powder and chocolate makes all the difference, but it's difficult to always use that when it's really expensive. But I think sometimes it's just necessary in order to get the best results. So that shall be my next quest! If anyone has any suggestions I would really appreciate it.


As for this time, it's something a little more traditional. I've always loved simple baked goods and bread couldn't be anymore comforting. I've made bread at school before but it was different when I attempted it at home. For one, I don't have a proofer to help the dough rise faster, but there's something nice about letting dough rise on its own. And then shaping it, baking it and cutting that first slice to reveal the soft and warm interior. Honestly, there's not much out there that can beat fresh bread.

Unless that bread is accompanied by some cheese, fresh vegetables, fruit and a picnic outside in the sun. Yup, that pretty much does it.



This post is featured on Sweet as Sugar Cookies: Sweets for a Saturday

Whole-wheat bread

Yields two 9x5" loaves
Recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma Baking Book

Ingredients

1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast
a pinch of brown sugar
1 cup (250 ml) warm water (40-45 degrees C)
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) tepid buttermilk (32 C)**
1/4 cup (75 g) maple syrup or honey
1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
1 tbsp salt
3 cups (470 g) whole-wheat flour
3 1/2 - 4 cups (545-625 g) bread flour

**If you don't have buttermilk you can replace it with milk and vinegar. For every cup of buttermilk, place 1 tbsp of white vinegar in a 1 cup measuring cup and fill the rest with milk. Let it sit for about 10 minutes until it's slightly foamy and thicker. 

Procedure

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast and brown sugar over the water and stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.


In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the buttermilk, maple syrup, oil, salt and 2 cups (315 g) of whole-wheat flour. Beat on medium-low until creamy, 1 minute. Beat in the yeast mixture and the remaining whole-wheat flour, beat for 1 minute. Beat in the bread flour 1/2 cup (75 g) at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides (you may not need all the flour, so make sure to check after each addition). Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed, adding bread flour 1 tbsp at a time if the dough sticks, until smooth but slightly sticky, about 5 minutes. Test if ready by taking a small piece of dough and stretching it out slowly. If it doesn't tear and you sort of see spiderwebs, it's ready. 


Transfer dough to a lightly oiled deep bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a tea towel. Leave to rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.


Lightly grease two 9x5" loaf pans. Punch down the dough by bringing the sides in toward the middle. 


Divide dough in half (try to weigh them if you can for more accuracy) and shape each half into a rectangle. Fold over the edge of one long side (like when sealing an envelope) and roll up dough like a log and continue rolling until it's the length of the pan. Place the loaves, seam side down, in the pans. Again, cover loosely with plastic wrap or tea towels and let rise until about 1 inch over pan rims, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350F and bake until loaves (tops and bottoms) are golden brown and pull away from the sides, 35-40 minutes. Turn out onto wire rack and let cool completely.

Friday, May 13, 2011

pretty sugar cookies: all shook up


Job hunting....sucks. But unfortunately it must be done, if you know, I want to be able to buy food and junk. I like food.

It's a really stressful feeling trying to find boutiques (there are so many french pastry shops in Montreal, it's a little ridiculous). You'd think that's a good thing, and in a way it is, but it also makes it difficult to select from. But what I'm really hoping for is to find something a little different. Don't get me wrong, I love French pastries (in fact, I pretty much love anything that tastes good - again, I'm no snob) but what I really love is simple home baking with some fun decorating. And well, that's not as easy to come across around here.


I've told myself that I at least have to enjoy the process as much as I can. You're thinking that I must be crazy because job hunting, well...SUCKS! But no! I must stay positive in the hopes that there's something out there for me. Right?

Hmm I wonder if praying a whole lot will work. Like condensing a normal amount of praying into a shorter time span. Alright, that's kind of silly. I think this calls for some buckling-down and persistence. And always having a smile plastered on my face. Yes, smiling is vital. People say I have a nice smile so that's one thing I can cross off I suppose.

List of places to visit
Resumes, both French and English
Portfolio
Bus pass
Good walking shoes
Pen
Smile



I was definitely doing a lot of smiling when I made these cookies. I know it's too late for a Mother's day post, but these totally count for a spring-themed post since flowers are starting to appear. Yaaaaaay flowers and vegetable patches! 

My mum's favorite flowers are daisies so these are specially made for her and I thought the hearts with the fondant roses added a nice touch with their pastel colours. All wrapped up in a nice box with pink tissue paper and pink ribbon. Yes, I love pink.

Sugar Cookies

I split the recipe in four, which yielded about 2 dozen 3" cookies. However, the recipe that I am providing is the FULL recipe. These cookies are nice and not too sweet, but I feel like they would be even better with a bit of lemon zest and juice. I think I'll try that next time.

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart 2010 Holiday Cookies magazine

Ingredients

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, soft
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Procedure

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well incorporated. Add the flour mixture gradually and beat only until just combined. Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. 

When ready to roll out, take out dough to soften about 10 minutes. Dust counter space with a bit of flour and roll out dough to 1/4" thickness. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place evenly on baking sheets (they don't really expand so they can stay relatively close together). Chill for 30 minutes before baking. 


Bake for 12-14 minutes or until edges start to turn golden brown. Leave to cool completely on wire rack before decorating. 

Royal Icing

Ingredients

3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
4 cups (500g) icing sugar, sifted

Procedure

In an electric mixer with the whisk on medium speed, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Slowly add 1/4 of the icing sugar until stiff peaks. Switch to the paddle and gradually add the rest of the sugar until thick and glossy (you may not need all of the sugar). The first picture shows about the consistency for piping/outlines and the second is for flooding. When you lift the spatula and let the icing fall back, it should disappear into the rest of the icing in a few seconds.



Tips for royal icing
  • If icing is too stiff: add a tiny bit of water or lemon juice until desired consistency (add a drop at a time!) 
  • If icing is too runny: gradually add more icing sugar until desired consistency
  • Stiff peak royal icing is used mainly as "glue" for stacking cake tiers
  • Soft-medium peak is good for piping borders
  • Runny consistency is used for flooding
  • If you're trying to pipe out borders but find that it's too hard, then your icing is probably too stiff; add a bit of water or lemon juice to thin out
  • If left uncovered, royal icing can harder quickly so make sure to always keep it covered with a wet towel on contact.
  • If well covered and wrapped, royal icing can be kept for a couple of weeks refrigerated (the high sugar content keeps it from becoming moldy)

For cookie design:

If you wish to colour your royal icing, dip a toothpick in a very small amount of gel-based food colouring and mix into icing until desired shade.

Fill a piping bag with a small round tip with the soft/medium peak royal icing and pipe a border around the edge of the cookies, or create your own shape. Leave to dry at least one hour.
Fill another piping bag or a squeeze bottle (I really must get one of those) with the runny royal icing and flood your cookies. You don't need too too much because you can spread some with a toothpick or the tip of the nozzle.


Leave to dry a couple of hours or preferably overnight until completely set. The last thing you want is to ruin your icing! If you're not adding any more designs then you're done at this point. If not, pipe lines, dots or other designs with the soft/medium peak icing and again, leave to dry completely a few hours.

Or you can make pretty flowers or anything else with rolled fondant or gumpaste and glue it with some royal icing. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

tarte bourdaloue: seasons of change


Grass is being mowed as I write this. Could there be a better sound? Well, yes, but this sound signals the beginning of summer! The sun is out after a week of rain and the trees are growing flower buds. Aaahh the beauty of summer.

I'm really excited for summer this year because I'll be moving closer to the city and will get to experience a more lively area than I am currently in. Also, summer + friends + picnics in the park = awesomeness. Despite the fact that I am currently in a state of "oh my god I have to figure out what I want to do with my life", seeing the sun shining always makes everything seem less tragic (not that my life is tragic in any way).


I'm pretty excited to go to farmer's markets and will soon be planting a vegetable garden with my mum. Mmm fresh veggies and fruit. When I was younger, we used to have many trees in our backyard; a sour cherry tree, two apple trees and a really tall tree that was my "sitting under the shade and reading tree". We also have vine leaves that my mum uses to make dolma. My neighbours and I were very close so I used to go into their yard and pick at their raspberry bush and grab a couple of pears from their pear trees.

Unfortunately, those days are somewhat over. The cherry and tall trees died after the ice storm broke them into pieces (I actually cried) and the apple trees eventually died after all the birds and bugs ate through them. The raspberry bush was cut down (but we recently planted a new one) and the pear trees don't produce as much. But as cheesy as it sounds, with every end comes a new beginning. So it just makes room for new plants and trees! 

I wish I could say the pears from this tart came from the garden but I have to admit that the supermarket provided them for me. Still quite delicious and they go perfectly well with the almond cream. I've been wanting to make a tarte Bourdaloue for some time and finally got the chance around Easter. So make yourself a cup of tea with a slice of tart and grab a nice book to read (possibly under a big tree) to soak up the sun.


Tarte Bourdaloue

Yields one 8 or 9" tart

Ingredients

For almond cream:
75 g butter, soft
75 g sugar
75 g ground almonds
40 g all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 tsp almond extract

For poached pears:
2-3 medium-sized pears (I used Bartlett)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
(you can also add half a split vanilla bean, a cinnamon stick, anise stars, ginger, lemon, etc) 

Procedure

Preheat oven to 350 F. Make this recipe for pate sucree and roll out about half to line an 8 or 9" tart ring. Refrigerate until ready to bake.

For almond cream: In a small bowl mix the ground almonds and flour. In a mixer bowl with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the almond mixer and beat on low speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and almond extract one at a time slowly to emulsify. Beat until well blended and fluffy.

For the poached pears: Peel, core and cut pears in half. In a small sauce pan, bring the water, sugar and any addition to a boil, add the pears and reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer about 20-30 minutes until you can easily poke through with a knife.

Spread almond cream evenly in prepared tart shell. Arrange the pear slices to your heart's desire (I arranged the pears in a cross but admittedly they weren't spread out evenly for cutting so perhaps cutting each pear in quarters and arranging eight rows is better). Bake about 30-40 minutes until top in lightly brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool until ready to serve. Perfect with afternoon tea!

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