Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back in the Saddle, again!

What a crazy year! How time flies! I find myself, back to almost the same time when I began this blog, wondering where it all went. I was scopin' out the blog universe, paying some attention to some long-neglected e-friends, when I stumbled on my own little pathetic page. What a mess.

Well the time has come to expand my horizons and start it up again. I'm going to have to expand past cupcakes - unfortunately that endeavour ended in a pile of hardened icing...and a failing bank account. I'm a suffering student now, complete with tuition debt and all the rest, so my blogs will have to be filled with fewer expensive ingredients...but hopefully still tasty!

I've moved across the country, to a city about the same size as the one I left. I'm on the East Coast now, where the sun rarely shines - but the people are as warm and welcoming as summer. So it's a fair trade, I think. My fiance and I have just moved into our first house and now that the first round of renovations are complete, it's time to unwind, take some deep breaths, and do a little writing.

Hence: the restart of the blog :)

I hope to still do some baking - but also talk about art, and books, my other two loves. We'll see where the wind blows us!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Apologetically Yours,


What a couple of months. At the end of August I left my job at the financial institution and enrolled myself in a nursing program. I am super scared, it means another five years of school to get the qualifications I want, but it is so worth it. We are only two months into VERY BUSY classes and already I am exhausted...and exhilirated! It has been such a great change from working - I feel like a sponge for all of this knowledge, and I can't get enough. I know, I know, it is a complete 180 degree turn from Art History and English Lit, but I don't care!

I'm happy!

The only smudges on the landscape are te fact that my recent school overload, as well as my participation in a community theatre play (which, actually, opens this week) has meant two things. First and foremost, I haven't seen the girls from work. I think it's because I feel so guilty going to see them and not bringing cupcakes. Which brings me to my second failing: the death of my cupcake challenge. I don't know how it happened, I thought I could do it all. But I can't. And unfortunately my exciting challenge seems to have fallen by the wayside. However, once this show is over (in two weeks time) I'm hoping that I'll be able to start at it again.

Because I miss it! And I miss my friends from work, and owe them one humdinger of a cupcake to show my adoration for them has not faded (as I am sure it appears).

So that's the update. Wish me luck this week and see you (promise, promise) in two weeks!


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When the Boss Hits 25

It was my boss' 25th company anniversary last week, and I was in charge of making the cake.

I revisited the margarita cupcake recipe (his favourite) by making a coconut layer cake (with lime curd between the layers) and coated in coconut buttercream (general recipe here) which was a great success!

Karen was good enough to take pictures - unfortunately, it was only afterwards we realized that his "wife's" hair had got on her face, lol. Ah well!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chocolate Ginger Cupcakes Stuffed with Ginger Creme and Chocolate Ganache

Holy cow.

I know I rave about a lot of the recipes I make. It's not because I'm a great baker - it's because I use solid recipes from sources that I know are far more talented than I.

But this, this cupcake is my favourite. Of all the little darlings I have created, this one is currently at the top of my list. I found a really, really, good, moist, amazing chocolate cake recipe (if that isn't enough descriptors, I don't know what is),

The bad news? I have no photos. That's right, my computer suffered some minor short-term memory loss with its recent infection, and (of course) I have already deleted them off of my camera. So I will wait until I bake them again (for I will, without a doubt, bake them again...soon) to post some pictures.

I love the combination of chocolate and ginger. But for this particular recipe (which I got an idea about from chockylit's blog) I pieced together some of my favourite recipes and ideas to come up with the ultimate cupcake.

I actually think I ate about four of these when I made them.

If you like chocolate, these are for you. If you like ginger, these are for you. If you like those little stuffed snack cakes that Hostess makes, these are for you.

In short, they are delicious!

Chocolate Ginger Cupcakes
makes 24 cupcakes

1 c. baking cocoa
1 c. boiling water
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 c. sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sour cream
2 inch piece peeled fresh ginger, grated

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Paper 24 cupcake tins
  • Dissolve cocoa in water, let cool
  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  • Add eggs, one at a time; add vanilla
  • Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl, set aside
  • Add dry ingredients alternately with sour cream, beating well after each addition
  • Add cocoa mixture, beat well
  • Add ginger by hand, mixing well to incorporated
  • Bake 20-22 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean
these puppies will dome up a lot, which is OK since you need to dig the middles out. Still, don't fill more than 2/3 of the way full or it will just be a mess. Tried it. Believe me.

Ginger Creme

2 c. whipping cream, well chilled
1/2 c. sugar
pinch of cream of tarter
4 inch piece peeled ginger, grated very fine

  • Whipping cream works better when it's chilled
  • Whip chilled cream with cooled utensils until soft peaks form
  • Add sugar very slowly, making sure not to deflate
  • Add cream of tarter (just a pinch)
  • Add ginger
  • DO NOT OVERBEAT. I've always heard of this, but never done it until this recipe - whip that sucker too hard and you'll get butter. Odd, ginger butter. Just believe me on this one
Chocolate Icing

1 c. heavy cream
12 oz. dark chocolate
1 c. icing sugar
2 tsp grated fresh ginger

  • Chop chocolate in a small bowl, add ginger
  • Bring cream to a low boil, pour over chocolate
  • Let stand for one minute before stirring until incorporated
  • Add icing sugar slowly, beating well to keep smooth
  • Wait for cupcakes to cool, then dig the middle out with a spoon
  • Fill middle with ginger creme
  • Ice those puppies
You know, I really have not done this post justice without any picture, but suffice it to say that this really is a wiiiiicked cupcake, that I cannot wait to make again. It was universally loved and I think claims the number one position in my heart!

Happy eats!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is not a picture of my chocolate chip cookies - it is an image that google was good enough to offer. I make these so often, I'd never thought to ever photograph them, nor write a blog about them. Then I brought a batch to work and my co-workers all couldn't stop talking about them! Since then they have been heckling me to post the recipe.

Well, now the time has come to share. And I'm afraid I am going to disappoint them all when I come clean and tell them that my "super amazing chocolate chip cookie recipe" is not really as secret as I let them think it was.

In fact, it's right off the back of every package of Hershey's Chipits Chocolate Chips you get at any grocery store!

The secret to chocolate chip cookies is not the recipe. Granted, not all chocolate chip cookies are created equal, and this recipe is darn good even if just slammed in the oven directly after mixing. But no, the real secret ingredient is time.

There's something about letting chocolate chip cookie dough sit for a while that just makes it miraculous. I'll let mine sit in the fridge over night if I can, but always at least for an hour. It just makes all the flavours in the dough so much better.

Still, I did promise to write down my recipe, which I hereby dedicate to Linda, Toni, Stephanie, Karen, and Janice (the five ladies I work closest with). Just because it turns out it isn't secret, doesn't make them any less delicious!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
from the back of the Hershey's Chipits bag
makes 4 dozen cookies

1 c. shortening or softened butter (truth? I use shortening. Butter makes them very runny)
1 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla (I usually just do 2 tsp)
2 c. all purpose flour (although cake and pastry flour makes them that much lighter)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder (my addition)
1/2 tsp salt
1 package of chocolate chips (approx 350 g)

  • Cream together shortening and both butters until creamy
  • Beat in eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy
  • Combine flour, baking powder and baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl
  • Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients
  • Turn mixer off.
  • Add chocolate chips by hand with a spatula
  • Drop by the tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes until golden brown
  • Cool on a wire rack
These cookies will surprise even the most discerning chocolate fiend. They are sublime and sinfully simple. They travel well, keep for days (although they never last that long) and are sure to be a favourite.

My Two Cats

These are my cats on the back porch. The cow-coloured cat is Cedric (who is actually a female) and the tabby is Elmo (the male). Elmo is much older than Cedric, but tolerates her fairly well. Still, just as they know there is more peace to be found on the back porch than in the kitchen when I'm baking - Cedric also knows there is more peace to be found on her own chair rather than cuddling up with Elmo!

They are sulking back here because I have commandeered the kitchen again! Poor things, looks like a hard life, eh?

Strawberry Rhubarb Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Frosting

Mmm, how lovely. Rhubarb is such a lovely flavour, but it isn't something you can just buy in the grocery store. So when a friend's grandmother handed me a whole container of stewed, unsweetened rhubarb from her garden, I just knew I had to make a cupcake with them. Strawberry is the obvious counterpoint to any rhubarb recipe, so I picked me up a quart of 'em and set to work.

The cupcakes were pretty standard, which were a great backdrop for the sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb. Topped with the famous whipped cream frosting (this stuff is the best EVER) they made for an excellent cupcake. Since most of my cupcakes are consumed in lieu of breakfast (when the advisors get to work), they were the perfect taste combination for early morning - and not a single one made it past noon!

Strawberry Rhubarb Cupcakes
makes 24 cupcakes

2 3/4 c. cake flour
1 c. softened unsalted butter
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
1/2 c. milk
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
1 c. stewed unsweetened rhubarb, in its syrup
5 tbsp. sugar
1 c. hulled and sliced strawberries

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees; paper 24 cupcake tins
  • Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy; add eggs one at a time and beat well after each
  • Combine flour and baking powder, set aside
  • Combine milk and vanilla, set aside
  • Alternate wet and dry ingredients until fully combined
  • Fold in fruit so as not to break fruit with spatula
  • Fill tins 3/4 full and bake 20-22 min until golden brown and slightly springy to the touch
  • Cool completely before frosting
Whipped Cream Frosting

1 c. whipping cream
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 c. flour
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 c. icing sugar
2. tsp vanilla
  • Mix cream, flour and salt together into a saucepan on low heat
  • Whisk gently to remove lumps, then mix with wooden spoon until it forms a paste that pulls easily away from the side of the pot (like play doh). Allow to cool completely
  • Once cool, beat. Add butter and beat until fluffy. Add sugar and continue whipping. Finally add vanilla and mix well.
*note: this icing especially should be refrigerated because of the whipping cream.

And there you have it! Such a lovely, summery, satisfying cupcake. Give it a try!

July Daring Bakers: Filbert Gateau!

The obvious first comment that will undoubtedly jump to your mind when you correlate the title with the date will be "but Maria, it's not July". And, dear reader, you are correct. The post date for the July Daring Baker's Challenge was July 31st, alas my computer was deathly ill and in a computer ICU for the last few weeks. It's a family computer, which means that there is far too much downloading, and browsing, and cookie-accumulating for the poor old beast. And every once in a while it just catches a bug and needs a vacation.

But I'm back! And finally with some pictures and stories to tell about this great challenge. This month's challenge was a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from Carole Walter's "Great Cakes". It was hosted by Chris of Mele Cote who obviously is a sucker for punishment. Not that this wasn't an enjoyable challenge - it was amazing, such an accomplishment, and delicious. But it took me SIX HOURS to finish this challenge from start to finish, and peeling hazelnuts was ridiculous.

It had a lot of expensive ingrediants (namely the hazelnuts and the booze) - but it made a very large, rich cake that could have been cut quite thin and still been exceptionally satisfying for every person.

It turns out that to bake with hazelnuts, you have to peel them first. Otherwise, their skins have a very bitter taste (like the bitter taste you get off a walnut). In order to peel them you can roast them for a few minutes, but I found that wasn't enough, so I actually boiled mine for a few minutes to get the skins off. Even after that, they didn't just "rub off" as promised and I found myself logging a lot of hours peeling individual skins off a few hundred hazelnuts. It really made me appreciate how much work making a cake like this is, and why they are so damn expensive. Over and above the ingredients, the manpower in this thing was unreal!

The recipe is here if you are feeling very adventurous, but let me tell you, it is worth the effort.

The cool thing about this cake is its lack of rising agent. It was done all with eggs, which meant that we had to move quickly and gently in order to combine all of the parts, get it into the pan, and then into the oven. I was really impressed with how light and fluffy the batter was. When I poured it into the pan there were bubble throughout the mix, but tapping it a few times on the side with a spoon helped remove them. You have to be careful, though, because although you don't want air trapped inside, you still need it to be very light - so you can't overmix!

For my apricot glaze I actually chose a brand of Smucker's Jam that was an apricot, peach and passionfruit ("triple fruit") combination. It was unbelievable. The jam was also reduced sugar, which was nice because every component of this recipe was very rich, and it added a slightly less sweet element to the cake. The jam was definitely not tart, but it wasn't as sickly sweet as most jams are. It was spread all over the cake (which at this point had been divided into three layers and spread throughout with praline buttercream) just before glazing the sucker with chocolate ganache.

When the cake was finished I tried piping the little leaves on the top of the cake that the original recipe called for, but my praline buttercream was not as smooth as I had hoped. No matter how much I ground up the hazlenut brittle I had made (yes, you even make hazelnut brittle!) I couldn't get it into a paste - just into a really wet meal. While that was OK, and added some texture to the buttercream, in the end it proved too hard to squeeze through a leaf tip and so I just added it in "blobs" with raspberries on the top of the cake. Gimme a break - I was now leaning into hour six, and only slightly exhausted.

The final product, though, was unreal. The cake was moist and so delicious. I used both Grand Marnier and Dark Rum in the recipe (as called for), and it added such a good kick to the whole recipe. While I can't see me whipping this up all that often, it was an excellent Daring Baker's challenge, and a great cake to learn how to make. It was also comforting that, although even this one wasn't perfect, it was not nearly as disastrous as last month and re-instilled some confidence and daring in me!

So better later than never let me present: Maria's Miraculous Filbert Gateau!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Margarita Cupcakes (Lime and Coconut Confections!)

Mmmm. My quest for summery cupcake recipes was totally gratified by this recipe that I slightly adapted from Marcianne Miller's book The Artful Cupcake (she called them "key lime" cupcakes). This little beauties are coconut cupcakes topped with lime curd and coconut buttercream. I was really satisfied with this recipe because not only did it attempt a coconut cupcake (these are so tricky to get the coconut flavour to actually come out) but it also taught me how to make curd - and sweet heavens this is way better than anything you could get out of a box and impressively easy (if you negate the fact that you have to squeeze about half a dozen limes for juice...and I don't have a juicer).

The cupcakes themselves are a little bland (I read review that would be the case, so I even added a couple of tablespoons of coconut extract, but no luck) - but they are totally just vessels for the super-tart lime curd. I decided to pipe a little coconut buttercream around the edges just to amp up the taste, which was great.

My only warning on these little puppies is they are SWEET. You wouldn't sit around and gobble down two in a row. Well, maybe if you skipped the buttercream and just left it coconut cupcakes with lime curd - but I'll give you all the recipes and you can decide for yourself.

Coconut Cupcakes
From The Artful Cupcake by Marcianne Miller
makes 24 cupcakes

3/4 cup shredded (sweetened) coconut (plus about 1/2 cup for topping, later)
1-1/2 cups (unsweetened) coconut milk
1 egg
3 egg whites
2-3/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cups sugar
2 tbsp. coconut extract

  • Soak coconut in 1/2 cup of coconut milk, set aside
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees, paper 24 cupcake tins
  • Sift flour, baking powder and salt - set aside
  • Mix remaining coconut milk with egg and egg whites - set aside
  • Cream the butter and sugar in the bottom of a big mixing bowl, then add soaked coconut and mix well
  • Alternate wet (egg mixture) and dry (flour mixture) in three parts, mixing well until fully combined (this is where I finished by adding the coconut extract)
  • Fill cupcake tins to half and bake 20-22 min (these are wet cupcakes, so they might need a few more minutes, but keep an eye on them). Use the clean toothpick test.

Lime Curd (I doubled this recipe. And it was a good idea because I think I ate half the batch right out of the bowl before I even got to the cupcakes.)

1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 3 limes
Green food coloring
Zest of 1 lime
2 oz. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces

  • Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in the bottom of a bowl and let soften
  • In a heavy saucepan, whisk together egg yolks and lime juice
  • On a medium heat, continue to stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it steams and thickens. (you need to really watch at this step, you don't want to scorch the bottom, but it needs to get quite hot. I found I needed to stir the mixture with an oven mit because it "spit" a little bit - it was worth it)
  • When you can draw your finger across the curd on the back of the stirring spoon and the line stays without dripping, take it off the heat.
  • Strain the curd into a bowl with the gelatin and whisk well to incorporate
  • Add a few drops of green food colouring until you reach the desired colour
  • Add the zest and the butter and mix well until everything has been well incorporated
  • Chill for at least 20 minutes until a spreadable consistency

Coconut Buttercream Icing

1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
3 c. icing sugar, sifted
1/4 c. unsweetened coconut milk
2 tbsp. coconut extract

Mix coconut milk and extract together
Cream butter, then mix in two cups of icing sugar and beat until smooth
Add coconut milk mixture and beat again until smooth
Add last cup of icing sugar and beat until smooth


  • When cupcakes are cool, hollow out a little teaspoon in the middle and fill with lime curd
  • Pipe coconut icing in stars around the lime green centre
  • Top with coconut (toasted lightly 2-3 min under the oven broiler)
  • Serve!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Blog Blitz #2: Sweetheart Sugar Cookies)

Last weekend, after a very busy baking bonanza, and getting everyone off on a sail race, I still wanted to work in the kitchen (I mean, I had it all to myself for an entire weekend! Who can give that up?) but I needed something no-hassle and fun. Of all things, I got the urge to make sugar cookies.

I love sugar cookies. They so remind me of being a kid. They are so simple to make, that they are easily whipped up and the dough chilled until little hands are bored. The recipe I used came from Nigella Lawson's "Feast" that I had bought on a seriously price-reduced table at the local Walmart last week. I know - Nigella on Sale? I've never seen it before either. I had to have it, although I do try to avoid Walmart at all costs (although they are the only place in town with silk ivy leaves and I was making a Peter Pan costume. Don't ask).

Once I got home and started looking through this glorious book, I realized that the problem was that all the recipes were in grams (not cups), which is the European way. But I figured I would just google a conversion and be done with it.

The first search result I got back from my question "how many cups is 200 g. of flour?" provided me the snarky answer "cups and grams are not interchangable. Deal with it and find a new recipe".

I thought that was very rude, but as I flipped through the other search results I realized that it didn't convert that well. You see, while we might be able to read the butter box and see how much butter is in a pound and a cup...flour is a different density, so it isn't the same.

The guy was right. Either get a scale, or move on.

Once I dug out the scale, it was easy. And the recipe was totally worth it (I also added one tsp. of almond extract to the icing for a little pep) because (especially when you keep them cool) these cookies are delicious.

Try them, they're worth the effort

Cut-Out Cookies
From Feast by Nigella Lawson

90 g. soft unsalted butter
100 g. sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
200 g. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

15o g. of icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. hot water
food colouring pastes

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  • Cream butter and sugar, the beat in egg and vanilla until well whipped
  • Combine all dry ingredients separate
  • Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until a thick dough (dough, but not tough)
  • Wrap immediately in cling wrap and chill for 30 minutes
  • Once chilled, turn out on to a floured board and roll 1/4 inch thick
  • Cut out designs of your choice and bake 8-12 minutes until golden brown (the middle might still be a bit soft, but don't worry, it will set)
  • Make icing by putting water in the bottom of the bowl with the almond extract and sift in sugar until you get a good stiff icing. Add pastes until you reach your desired colours (in my mind, the more colours the better)
  • wait until cookies are entirely cool before icing

Blog Blitz #1: Summery Strawberry Salsa

I don't usually blog about anything but baking, but recently I have made a few cool dishes (that are simple and amazing) that I just needed to share. The very term "salsa" is defined as mixtures of raw food, which means no cooking at all, although I did later use it as a marinade. This was just too good not to share. Plus, the colours of the food was so amazing that they were begging for a photoshoot, and I have just figured out how to use my camera to get a half decent picture (I am a work in progress, believe me!) so I was a little excited.

A few coworkers and I were talking the other day about a really interesting recipe one of them found in a local paper that combined strawberries with jalapeno peppers. The combination sounded really weird, but actually pretty good - which got us to talking about other odd strawberry recipes we had seens.

You see, Southwestern Ontario has a lot of strawberries. A LOT of strawberries. Not that you'd know it, though, since the ones in the supermarket are still marked as imported from California (there is no logic to this one), but if you make it to a local market the whole place practically smells like a giant, ripe strawberry at this time of year. So it makes sense that there are a lot of recipes created to do this little fruit service.

Well I poked around on the internet and in a google search I found this recipe for strawberry salsa that looked so intriguing that I just needed to try it! However, I adapted it a little bit as I went along, and I was really pleased with my outcome. I found that the jalapeno was a little on the potent side, so I added two peaches, chopped, to the mix, which I thought soaked up a little more of the spicy (believe me, it was still HOT!)

I also topped mine with some grated cheese before serving, making it look a little more like a traditional salsa. My only other word of advice would be to gauge the cilantro - the taste is really delicious, but can be a bit overwhelming, so start a little under the proposed amount, and then add more if you need it.

The taste combination was really different, but in a good way. When I brought it to my cousin's birthday party it was demolished (by kids and adults alike) in less than five minutes flat!

I also doubled my recipe (I have a big family with a lot of appetite!) so I had some leftover the next day. My Mom and I got the idea to pack our chicken breasts in the rest of the salsa and bake it in there. WOW! What a delicious recipe that turned in to! The acid in the orange juice and lime really made the chicken tender, and there was this really neat spicy/cilantro-y taste that just infused into the meat. I will definitely make this as both a salsa, and a marinade again!

Berry-licious: Blueberry and Raspberry Cupcakes with Blackberry Cream Cheese Frosting

I know it has been a dog's age since I posted anything on here, but it wasn't because I was lazy. In fact, my next couple of posts are all going to be a blitz today getting everything I've done up on here!

Summer has long since forgotten her promise of lazy afternoons, and I have felt my schedule accelerate at break-neck speed these past few weeks.

In truth, July is always busy. One reason in particular is sailing. I love to sail, myself, but it is my boyfriend and my father, and all my male relatives who do the brunt of the heavy competitive sailing. They all compete in the Bayview to Mackinac Race every year (my boyfriend and father race on separate boats, making for competition, of course), and then my boyfriend flitts off to Chicago to do the Chicago to Mackinac Race. ::Sigh:: He left again this morning.

So getting everything ready is always a bit of a chore - but now I have six days to finally get all of these pictures posted!

So two weeks ago I made raspberry-blueberry cupcakes (they are in season, after all). One of my friends from work had let slip she was moving on in her career, so I made them with her especially in mind (since I found out she goes crazy for fruit).

The cupcakes were sensational and at least half a dozen people told me they had surpassed all others as their favourite (although, to be honest, one of those people says that every single week, so I don't know how much they are to be trusted!)

There was so much fruit in this cupcake, and since I folded them in whole instead of beating them in, they both kind of exploded in the cupcakes and were still a little oozy when they had cooled the next morning.

For the icing, I just wanted to give it some pep, but I didn't think whole fruits were the right way to go so I tried the sickly sweet blackberry syrup I just picked up at Winners (Canadian TJ Maxx, pretty much). I think any type of fruit syrup would work, you just have to be ready for a slightly thinner icing (I didn't mind that)

(the plate though did come from TJ Maxx in a set of four! Isn't that just the cutest design? I wish my camera would stop being so ridiculous. I think I need a new one...)

Ok, back on track - here's the recipe, it's dead easy. I think these are one of the best summery cupcakes I've ever had - but since I'm biased you better try making them yourself!

Blueberry-Raspberry "Berrylicious" Cupcakes
makes 24 cupcakes

2 3/4 c. cake flour
1 c. softened unsalted butter
2 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 banana, mashed
1 c. milk
2 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
1 c. whole washed blueberries
1 c. whole washed raspberries

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees; paper 24 cupcake tins
  • Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy; add eggs one at a time and beat well after each
  • Add banana and beat well
  • Combine flour and baking powder, set aside
  • Combine milk and vanilla, set aside
  • Alternate wet and dry ingredients until fully combined
  • Fold in fruit so as not to break fruit
  • Fill tins 3/4 full and bake 20-22 min until golden brown and slightly springy to the touch
  • Cool completely before frosting
Blackberry Cream Cheese Icing
The zingy cream cheese and slightly tart blackberry made for a stunning combo

8 oz. cream cheese, softened (1 package)
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
4 c. icing sugar
1/4 c. blackberry syrup (not jam)

  • Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth; add two cups of icing sugar (one cup at a time) until smooth
  • Add syrup by the tablespoon
  • Add the last two cups, one cup at a time, until full combined
  • If the icing is too runny, add more icing sugar by the tablespoon - but realized that this icing is just a little thinner
And voila! Ice, decorate with some leftover fruit, and enjoy!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

June Daring Baker's Danish Braid - Preactivation Required.

Oh my great expectations. Ohhhhhh my great expectations. This was my inaugural baking experience with the Daring Bakers. It was one of the deciding factors in the purchase of my beautiful mixer.

This was to be my baking coming-out party.

If this had been a party, it would have warranted a tropical storm or avalanche theme :)

Here's the thing. As a baker and cupcaker, I rarely have to work with yeast. I'm more used to baking powder and baking soda. Still, I wasn't too worried, because one medium can't be that far from another...right? I mean, it's similar...right? I mean, shit yo, people have been working with yeast for hundreds of years...I can do this...right?


Saturday morning dawned grey with a low ceiling of clouds and a damp feel in the air. It wasn't great baking weather, but with the persistence of wet, cool weather in the area as of late, it didn't seem to make sense to wait for another day. I was so excited! I laid all of my ingredients out on the counter and began with great solemnity. I had read the instructions through three times. I had debated my ingredient choices with purpose. I had bought my mixer.

I knew it was meant to be a challenge, but I felt prepared. Like a student sitting an exam, I had studied and I was ready to write.

After following all of the directions, even waiting the full hour to patiently chill my dough, I turned it onto the counter and waited for the proofing time (the time you spend allowing the dough to rise before baking it). There it sat on the counter - it wasn't very pretty, but it was good, it was mine, and I was proud.

However, as I waited, I noticed something. Actually, I noticed a lack of something. My dough wasn't moving. There was not elegant rise. No puffing. Nothing danish-y at all. Just the same, poorly braided loaf.

I was confused. I called my Mother. We sat and stared. And sat and stared. This was worse than watching the grass grow, or paint dry. There was nothing. We sat. And stared.

Finally she asked me - hesitantly, cautiously - "Did you activate the yeast?"

I turned slowly away from the loaf and looked at her like she had two heads. "What do you mean?" I scoffed "I followed the whole recipe from start to finish. I swear I followed every single, instruction!" (I was rather offended, really, that she would suggest I had missed a step. I knew these instructions inside out). She asked to see this recipe, and as she looked at it, a look slowly crossed her face that merged sadness and pity. It was a pained look, and I felt my stomach sink like a stone.

"Maria," she said slowly, "when they say to add a tablespoon of yeast, you have to activate it".

Here's the thing. It turns out that in the world of baking, there are some things you are just supposed to know. A simple instruction like "don't forget to activate the yeast" wouldn't even cross their minds as a mandatory sentence to a group of good bakers. I mean, it turns out that to some it is common sense. To some, the idea of activating yeast, is second nature.

To the rest of us unlucky bakers, the yeast gene is not as strong. Some, like me, thought it came preactivated. I mean, like baking powder...or baking soda. They asked for a tablespoon so I poured one in there!

Heartbroken, I slammed it into the oven anyway. My mother slunk out of the room to verify her queries with an old friend, and bread baker. She confirmed that the yeast was indeed not preactivated, and also cautioned my mother that eating baked goods with unactivated yeast would result in nothing but sore stomachs.

When my flat, hard, danish left the went straight to the trash.

What a waste. Mom suggested I just take pictures and submit them and pretend it all went well, but I was not about to give up and I sure as shit wasn't going to pretend that my danish had been a success when I hadn't even had the chance to try it. As soon as the first danishes were out of the oven, I plugged in the mixer.

Determined. Maybe stupid, proud, and stubborn are also apt descriptors - but I'm going to just say "determined".

This time the ingredients were not laid out in an arc on the counter, they were grabbed from all corners of the kitchen. However, this time I activated the yeast. That includes mixing the yeast into some warm water and letting it double in size. Then the whole mess gets poured into the batter. Ta-da!

I also had used all my cardamom so I switched to some chai tea powder I have. It is a combination of cardamom, cinnamon, all spice, cloves, ginger, nutmeg...etc. and was a dreamy substitute.

As for my filling, the first time through I had filled the braid with Vanilla Custard (from a can) and Orange Marmalade (from a jar) to offset the spicy, orange-y seasoning in the braid (it was soooooooo good - it tasted like a warm orange creamsicle danish!). The second time through I also tried some blackberry syrup in one of the braids (also good, but the orange really was divine). Then I chilled them overnight (just to be safe) and greeted them Sunday morning.

Well when these puppies proofed, they proofed. They proofed so hard that they squeezed filling out of their edges. They proofed so hard they expanded right off the edges of the board. They proofed so hard that I was fearful of the yeast's potential and quickly shoved them into the oven - worried about their franken-danish properties I did not feel in control of!

But the smell. The heavenly aroma. They came out of the oven and I made an orange glaze (with orange extract, water, and icing sugar) with pecans and drizzled it over the top. It wasn't the beautiful braid I had seen in the instructions from the DB Kitchen. It wasn't elegant at all - but I had done it.

Now I have read a lot of people's rave reviews about the dough being flaky and light. I've read that it was beautiful even after beating the crap out of it.

So I don't know...maybe I jinxed it with my angst. Perhaps I'm still fending off some bad karma from resorting to a cake mix instead of baking from scratch a few weeks ago. Chances are I am jut a novice and such is life. But the braid wasn't really as lovely and flaky as I hoped it was. The best laid plans of mice and men, you know?

But I did it. And I seriously thank Kelly and Ben, this month's hosts, because without them I would never have tried a recipe like this. And frankly, although it will probably take another month's challenge to rouse the desire to work with yeast again, I'm glad to say I've done it. Check out Kelly's site or Ben's site for the recipe (should you be a Daring Baker in the making yourself) and don't miss the blogroll where some very talented bakers have done much more appealing braids than I.

You know what, forget this self-defacement. I made a Danish Braid. Lumps and all, it was mine. And although I might not yet be a great baker, I'm a daring baker - and that's a pretty darn good first step.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summery Strawberry Almond Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Frosting

Oh June. There is a reason brides are married in June, for it is truly a romantic month. June is the month (in Ontario at least) that you really feel that warm weather is here to stay. All flannel pyjamas can be safely stored and replaced by white cottons, dark coloured pants are replaced by flowing patterned skirts, and difficult, sensible shoes can be victoriously shunned for snappy strappy sandals.

Even this year, in the midst of this grey weather funk that has descended upon us in Southwestern Ontario, it feels like Spring. The poppies in the garden are bobbing diligently, and the roses are fighting the cool weather to bloom anyway!

June also marks the beginning of strawberry season. Well, late June, anyway. I have a lot of very dear memories of strawberry picking with loved ones. Just outside of town is a farm which has u-pick strawberries. Back in the patches it is as quiet as another world, and in the June the earth is still muddy and wet and smelling of new life. And what better way to celebrate the first hand picked fruits of the season than with cupcakes?!

I really like this cupcake recipe. It was given to me by a friend who wanted Strawberry cupcakes a while ago, and I've never really found out where she got if I'm stealing from someone let me know! because I'd happily give credit where credit is due.

The only downfall to this recipe is the texture is a bit more muffin-y and less cake-y than I would prefer. I am a strong believer that there is a real difference between a cupcake and a muffin. A muffin is a cupcake charading health, while a cupcake is a cup of cake making no excuses and gung-ho for the journey, regardless of calories. In fact, most muffins and cupcakes have similar caloric statistics, and fat content. Just with a cupcake, there's no pretending.

I like honesty.

But the cupcake really is exquisite, especially when topped with this very odd recipe for whipped cream frosting. It's a real messy mix between a frosting, and a whipped cream topping. Somehow this technique just works and makes a truly phenomenal frosting - more like Cool Whip than whipped cream. You know? Anyway, it's awesome, and I always make a double batch so I can really load it on the cupcakes (it's not as sweet as traditional icing, and it makes this muffiny cupcake seem a little more decadent) and then use the rest for a bowl of berries on a hot day.

I didn't top them with strawberry slices, as I had hoped, because I ended up using them all in the batter, so I might sprinkle just a hint of red sprinkles on the top of the cupcakes tomorrow before work (I really mean just a hint - I want the visual, not the taste). Yep, that will be delicious.

Sensational Summer Strawberry Sweeties. I'll have two.

Strawberry Almond Cupcakes
makes 24 cupcakes
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
3 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. slivered blanched almonds (some people prefer these toasted)
4 eggs
1 c. vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. crushed strawberries mixed with 3 tbsp. sugar

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Paper two cupcake tins
  • Mix flour, baking soda, sugar and nuts in one bowl. Set aside
  • Mix eggs, almond and vanilla extract, oil in another bowl. Add strawberries and mix well, but leave chunks of strawberry visible
  • Slowly add flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly
  • Bake 20-22 min. until cake is springy to the touch and testing with wooden skewer comes clean
  • Cool completely before frosting.
Whipped Cream Frosting
I always double this recipe - but here is the original (undoubled) version
Also, I know this recipe looks weird. Try it anyway. It's actually amazing. Seriously.
1 c. whipping cream
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 c. flour
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 c. icing sugar
2. tsp vanilla
  • Mix cream, flour and salt together into a saucepan on low heat
  • Whisk gently to remove lumps, then mix with wooden spoon until it forms a paste that pulls easily away from the side of the pot (like play doh). Allow to cool completely
  • Once cool, beat. Add butter and beat until fluffy. Add sugar and continue whipping. Finally add vanilla and mix well.
*note: this icing especially should be refrigerated because of the whipping cream.

Cakemess Revisited, or Wilton Cake Decorating Class 4...Almost

Sweet heavens. If there has ever been a cursed cake-ing experience, it has been the relationship I have struck up with my dear friend, Wilton.

This isn't Wilton's fault. In fact, Wilton has been nothing but a gentleman. He arrived with detailed diagrams, concise to-do lists, and glossy photos. He came politely, without fuss, neatly boxed. He was nothing but proper on all fronts.

I, however, am a constant mess, moving from one catastrophe to another in true Maria form. They say that baking a science...I make it look more like a bad science project. No level of boxing or diagramming is going to work to effectively contain my mess. And poor Wilton has born the brunt of my recent kitchen anxieties.

This past weekend, bad weather and all, I did a colossal amount of baking. So much so that I did what I never do: I delegated. I'm a control freak (as ironic as that sounds coming from a certified self-proclaimed klutz), and "letting go" has never been one of my strong points; however, on Saturday afternoon, covered in flour, I turned to my brother (and co-cake-decorator in crime) and said I was too tired to make this week's cakes and icing. All we needed was two round cakes, iced, and the icing as laid out in Wilton's polite handbook.

He accepted. I sighed. I delegated completely and left it in his capable hands.

His capable, yet disorganized hands.

Sunday morning my brother started baking our cakes at 12:30 for a 2 pm class. When I walked into the kitchen at 1:15 and he was lifting a cake out of the oven, and the second sitting on the counter still in liquid form, I gasped. Not only at the time, but also at the fact that Simon's lack of planning had poured one mix into a square pan that was headed for the oven. Still, I decided to let go. We had one round cake, totally useable. We could decorate together.

Except he hadn't actually checked the cake. It looked done, but as you and I know, a cake is not a cake until a testing poke has been done into the centre of the cake to ensure a thorough bake.

This cake wiggled like jell-o when you merely touched the surface of the cake.

I felt my heartbeat rising.

My Mom assured me it would be OK. Simon went to work on the icing. Now that he was flustered, though, he misread the instructions for the icing. Really misread the instructions. Instead of two cups of shortening he thought he read two cubes of shortening. That's right, he put two freakin' packages of shortening into the mixer (my beautiful, cherished mixer). At that moment I asked what he was doing and was met with a very curt "do you want me to do this or not?" which had me turning on my heel and leaving the kitchen, heartbeat only slightly accelerated.

Ten minutes later I came back into the kitchen. There was Simon, quietly scraping the mixing bowl directly into the garbage. As I stood and watched him, I caught my Mom out of the corner of my eye attempting to flip the uncooked cake onto a tray. She lifted the pan tentatively, took one look at the cakemess, and gently replaced the lid.

There was no fodder for this fire needed. By now I was hopping mad and barely able to contain myself. I mean, really, it was an innocent enough mistake, but the situation was infuriating and if my Mom said "oh don't worry, icing a warm cake will make the icing just glide on" one more time I was going to go ballistic.

It was now after 2:30. We had no cake, except the hot square cake just out of the oven, no icing, and no time. There was nothing polite or well behaved about our kitchen. My mother attempted to assuage our anxieties by suggesting we go and buy a cake from the local grocery store, but we were still icing less.

Still, we pressed on. Simon made our icing, while Mom attempted to flip the square cake. Unfortunately, Simon had forgotten to flour the bottom of the pan, so what flipped out was another jumbled mess.

It was at this moment that I surveyed the kitchen. I saw my Mother frantically piecing a shitty cake back together again and my brother nervously filling icing bags with shitty icing. It was ten minutes to class and an executive decision needed to be made.

"Why don't we just skip it," I said unexpectedly. "Because it is the last class, and you'll learn how to finish your rose!" my Mom replied adamantly. I shook my head "Mom, I don't care if I never learn how to make a rose, and frankly none of our icing is good and stiff enough to really make a rose anyway", I countered. Simon stopped and looked at me "yeah," he added, "lets stay home".

We were beat, and frustrated. I had already exhausted myself with a private cry in the living room (rule of thumb: Maria and stress almost always equals a little cry), the kitchen was a disaster, and the cake we had looked like this.

The deed was done.

After the kitchen was (silently) cleaned, and the tempers had cooled, the icing bags were filled and waiting on the counter to go into the fridge. I pulled open my Wilton box, fetched the Wilton book with the diagrams, flipped a flat bottomed round bowl over and said "Come here, Simon, we're going to ice a cake".

Week four was supposed to be decorating our "graduation cakes", showing off all the techniques we had learned, and Simon and I did just that. In our case, we have an Uncle Jack who is having a birthday soon. He lives in Nova Scotia, so we won't get to see him. This also means that although we might decorate a cake for him, he won't get to eat it doesn't matter that his cake was actually a flat-bottomed round bowl with icing!

We practiced all our techniques - the writing and drop flowers, the shell border and stars, dots and squiggles. No roses, but everything else. The finished product was actually a pretty cute little cake, if I do say myself!

As for the weird square cake, my Mom took the remnants of our icing and tapped into her artistic vein, creating an oddly pretty cake reminiscent of impressionist painters. It was a mess, really, but fun and silly, and made the cake look worth eating again.

And that's exactly what we did. Mom made a pot of tea and we sat by the big window in our kitchen where the threatening sky finally peeled open and rained harder than it has in ages. It rained so hard that hail came out of the sky, adding the most oddly perfect symphony to the craziness of our day.

As we watched all of our annuals await their certain death my Mother smiled, sighed and said "at least there's cake. If you need solace in a constant - there's still cake".

I'll eat to that.