Monthly Archives: December 2010

Welcome to Sugar Forest….

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My best friend enjoys Christmas.  Her house is usually flooded with lots of decorations from snowmen that sing, to wintery scene snow globes and everything else you can think in between that pertains to the holiday.  She also likes to have a real tree for Christmas.  Every year, sometime in December, her family goes out with axe in hand looking for the perfect tree.

This is her tree…

I on the other hand prefer the fake type of Christmas tree… the ones that come pre-lit, and require very little care on my part.  I do not, nor do I ever, pretend to have a green thumb. (This rule is applied for trees to even cactus’ – how sad.)

This is my tree….

So when it became my best friend’s turn to host our annual friends Christmas party, and I ended up being in charge of desserts – well, what else would be cuter than to focus on Christmas trees??

Okay, I originally got the idea from Bakerella.  How I love all of Bakerella’s sweet ideas.  And the Candy Cane Christmas tree cupcake has to be the sweetest.  It was also one of my fairly easiest projects.

Basically I whipped up a batch of white cake box mix and made into cupcakes.  Then I got ready with all my ingredients for decorating.

Mini ice cream cones, white chocolate candy wafers, sugar crystals and coloured sprinkles – everything I was able to gather from my local Bulk Barn.  Oh and candy canes!  I just happened to pick up a box of strawberry flavoured candy canes at the store … the rest, I actually pulled off my own Christmas tree.  Hee hee.

Placing one pound of the white chocolate candy wafers in a microwave safe bowl, I heated for about a minute and a half and checked the contents.  Then heated until all the wafers had melted down to a soft, gooey (very technical terms here!) liquid.

Now time to dip the mini ice cream cones. 

This was fairly easy, as well as really sticky – but I could work with that.  My big mistake was working with the chocolate while it was still warm and then immediately coating the freshly dipped cones into the sugar crystal.  Everything started to slide off to the bottom of the cone.  Not too big of a deal since it all hardens eventually, but you may have to reapply the sugar.

That’s pretty much the hard part.  With the cupcakes cooled, all that is left to do is frost the tops of them and then stick a candy cane into the centre (I broke off the hook part of the candy so that it would fit better).  Then gently place the sugared ice cream cones on top and viola – Sugar Christmas trees! Add some colourful sprinkles as ornaments.

I did one tree with ornaments and one without.  Either way, they are sweetly great.  A hit with all the little kids (and adults) at the party!

L

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A few sweet months of CAKES

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I can’t believe the year is almost over!

In a few days we’ll be entering 2011.  So what do I have to show for 2010?

 Well, my lovely cakes, of course! 

And it all started with one “little” castle cake that I took on rather ambitiously, especially since I had no I idea what I was doing when I was doing it.  The end result is not my favourite, but was the delight of the recipient who received it – and that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?

Since July, I’ve been staying up late at night, mixing up batches of cakes (and
occasionally cupcakes & cookies), burning my fingers against hot cake pans, rolling fondant, cutting fondant, spreading frosting, piping frosting … well, you get the picture.  What have I learned during my late night endeavours?

  1. That sleep is few and far between, some nights in my house.
  2. That I really do watch way too much “Ace of Cakes” and “Cake boss”.
  3. Fondant is a great invention!
  4. And although I’m a perfectionist/ control freak at the highest point of stress when trying to get every little detail set in the right way on my cakes – I truly enjoyed every single moment creating them.

To all my friends and family
who have been nothing but supportive (and have acted as guinea pigs
trying some new recipes and flavours) 

 THANK YOU!


Here’s hoping that 2011 brings on more challenges,  more cakes, cupcakes and treats.

L

Melting Snowmen

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I think, in my entire childhood I’ve only made 1 snowman. And he looked far from the snowmen shown on TV. You know the ones I’m talking about
– 3 different sizes of perfectly round balls of snow all stacked one on top of the other.  Thin branches jutting out of the body for arms, the whimsical aloof grin made from coal with coal eyes beaming beneath a tall top hat, and a red scarf snuggly wrapped around his neck for “warmth”. Yeah, that kind of
snowman.

Well, that was definitely not what I made….

For starters he was about a foot tall from the ground.  Not that we didn’t have snow, it’s just that for a 7-year old, pushing around a snowball that big is hard, let alone trying to heave it up into a tiered tower of snow!  Also we didn’t have coal – so we used a variety of different shaped rocks.  We also didn’t have sticks that were easily accesiable – so my poor snowman was armless.  And we didn’t have a top hat.  What we did have however, was a long grey scarf, so at least he was still “warm” through the winter months.

Despite how I just described my little snowman, I loved him, because he wasn’t perfect and because I made him.  (Wow, I’m sure this is a tag in a
Christmas special somewhere..
..)

So obviously I thought about my little snowman when I came across IHeartCuppycakes blog.  Right up my alley, isn’t it?  The melting snowman was whimsical and cute and and even a little sad, and it immediately pulled at my heart.  For the cupcake, I decided to go with a vanilla base.  That was the easy part.  The creative part came after realizing that I couldn’t have any frosting, since the fondant would take the top portion of the treat.  So I decided to cut out a cone of cupcake from the centre…

And spooned in a generous dollop of cream cheese frosting into the well of the cupcake.  Be sure to cut off the tip of the cone and place the top portion of the cone back into place.  There you go.

Think of it as inside-out cupcake!


Then I place a thin layer of frosting across the top of the cupcake.  It kinda holds everything in place.

Rolling a thin layer of white fondant, I used a round cookie cutter with wavy
edges (to give a slight “splattered” look and cut out several circles for the base. Taking a grape size amount of white fondant, I rolled into a ball shape and created the head.  I used a small amount of frosting to “glue” into place.  I then rolled out black fondant and using the end of a straw, created “buttons” that were placed across the “puddle” snowman base.  Black fondant was further used for the top hat.  Red fondant, cut into strips were made into scarves and wrapped around his neck.  I used half a toothpick and used that to secure the hat and the head through the entire cupcake.

 I was too much in a rush making these little guys (as usual my procrastinator side rules) that I didn’t have time to create little “carrot” noses.  If you’ve got the time, you can roll out some orange fondant into tiny little cones, or do what IHeartCuppycakes did and use sunflower seeds – too smart!!

And there you have it.  He’s just as cute as my little imperfect 1 foot, armless snowman from years ago.  Really cute, definitely under a foot tall, and a whole lot sweeter….
L

Chocolate Mint Cookies

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 Who doesn’t like cookies? 

Kids loves them.  Santa loves them.  I love them. I can eat batches of them, anytime of the day, anywhere.  And the great thing about cookies is that they  are the ultimate of simple desserts!  You can have them as a snack or after dinner, take them out in little bags or pile them up on plates and you can even enjoy them with tea, coffee or milk.  Personally I love them with milk or if I’m feeling very decadent – ice cream.  Ohhh ice cream …. yum …. um, okay I digress.

For the past few weeks I’ve been making batches of different cookies left, right and centre.  The varieties are endless.  One of my favourite cookies that I came upon just last year needs the addition of one of my favourite chocolate mints: After Eight.

I’m sure you can use any other type of mint chocolate wafer for this recipe, but I love these.  The recipe in itself is fairly easy.

Chocolate Mint Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup each granulated sugar and light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • approx. 32 thin chocolate mint wafers (each 1 1/2″ square)

In a medium bowl stir together flour, baking soda and salt.  In larger bowl, cream together butter and sugars until fluffy using electric mixer on medium speed.  Beat in eggs and vanilla until well blended.  Stir in flour mixture until moistened.

Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm for at least 2 hours.

Make sure you have this chilled since it makes the cookie dough easier to work with when you start to roll them.

Rolling them into 1″ balls and then flattening them into disks in your hands is the fun part.  Place a chocolate mint wafer on top of the cookie dough disk.

Then quickly make a second 1″ ball and flatten, just the same as the first.  Place over chocolate wafer and pinch edges together.  Place cookies about 3 inches apart on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper – these will spread and when they bake the sides will touch if they are too close together.  As you can see I didn’t space them enough.

Bake the cookies at 375 for about 10 minutes or until edges are golden.  Carefully transfer cookies to cooling rack.  This made me approximately 20 cookies in total (although the recipe said this would make 32).  I think I’m overly generous with the cookie dough, making sure that the chocolate mints are completely embedded in the dough.

And there you have it …  Chocolate Mint Cookies.  Wonderful slightly warm or at room temperature, with or without milk.  Anyway you have it, just enjoy.

L

Christmas is coming….

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In honour of the Christmas season, I decided to create a “present” cake for some family members for an annual Christmas gathering.  After some careful thought, I finally decided on something simple – a two tiered square cake design, made to look like presents stacked one on top of each other.  Simple, right? 

So what cakes to make?  Well since it is Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is the colour red … and of course Red Velvet Cake follows closely behind in that thought.

I, by no means, hesitate at making a cake from scratch and would do so if I had the time.  However, I’m a procrastinator at heart and left this little project until 10:00 pm – which has become my usual baking hour lately.  So with that said, I love looking out for EASY recipes to help my life a little bit.  One of my favourites being a great Red Velvet recipe I found years ago on the internet.  The procrastinator in me loves that this recipe cheats by using a cake mix from a box, and unless you actually tell someone – you can’t really tell that it’s made from a mix (okay, I’m assuming that you can’t tell or else everyone is really really polite to me).  The recipe is as follows:

Easy Red Velvet Cake:

Ingredients:

  • 1 box white cake mix (2 layer size)
  • 1 box instant vanilla instant pudding
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 ounces red food colouring
  • cream cheese frosting

Preparation:

Mix the above ingredients for 4 minutes on medium speed.  Grease and flour cake pans.  Bake at 350 for 20 – 25 minutes or until done.  Cool cake.

Easy peasy, right?  Mix the ingredients together with red dye (I love the Wilton’s red gel with no taste, because it’s a concentration of RED colour … Red velvet is red, not pink – which I have done in the past and was really annoyed by the finished result, but that’s just me)  Anyways, mixing in the red glob of dye into the cake batter will initially result into something that looks like it was pulled straight out of a horror movie – have no fear, keep mixing until it’s all uniform and eventually it will look like this.

To add variety, I made the top-tier with a Butter Pecan cake mix.  Nothing fancy, just straight from the box.  After the cakes (4 sheets in total) were made, cooled on the rack and crumb coated with a thin layer of frosting, it’s time to move on to the fondant.  I actually like working with fondant.  It reminds me of being a kid and playing with Play-Dough (except now you can eat it).  However today this proved to be more finicky than usual.

See the cracks and pulls?  The fondant is too dry and I think I rolled it to thin.  For awhile I truly believed that if I kept running my hands over it, it would eventually smooth over.  After a few minutes of doing that, with no results – I half hoped it would, even though I knew better, I finally admitted defeat, and found that it was easier to just pull everything off and start all over again.  Sigh….

Onto a clean slate, and everything is looking much better now.  My favourite design detail has to be the bow.  5 pieces of fondant cut into stripes: 2 for loops, 1 for the bow centre and 2 for the bow ends.  (There is a great how-to technique from Cake Central on how to make beautiful pouffy bows – which is what I originally had in mind, but went for the traditional bow look.)

My finishing touch was the tag and the curlies (thin stripes of fondant swirled around a chopstick and left out to dry).  The tag I just wrote on with a black gourmet pen … and voila!

And there you go, “Presents” ready for under the tree or the dessert table….

Merry Christmas!

L