Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wilton Cake Course Cake #2- Coconut!

This cake has quite the story. For our final class of the Wilton Cake Course 1, we were required to bring in a cake so that we could decorate it. I did some searching, and what caught my eye was Bobby Flay's Throwdown Toasted Coconut Cake with Coconut Filling and Coconut Buttercream. What a name! You can see that there's no toasted coconut on top, but I needed a flat surface to do decorations. So I spent all day making this multi-step 4-layer cake that turned out beautifully. Here's the catch: the classroom we were in was very warm, and the cake was sitting out for about 2 hours, which resulted in the icing and filling getting very soft. Jaylene and I were 4 turns and 1 minute away from my place when.... schloopp. Top 2 layers just slid right off. So in the midst of my panic, I was able to open the carrying box and shove the top layers back on- leaving a not so pretty looking cake. Hand-print on the side, layers uneven.... NOT IMPRESSED!! Because the icing was so soft I managed to somewhat put it back together when I got up to my apartment, but I could not completely fix the unevenness. The picture isn't the greatest but it was my one chance to snap a picture of the whole cake before it got gobbled up!

This cake was not at all like the last cake I made for the course (not that that one didn't taste good!). It was light and fluffy with a perfect crumb while still being able to withstand being stacked. The coconut filling was delicious, like a whipped pudding, and I could have eaten all of it on it's own! The only thing that I would say about this cake is that despite the 3 coconuts in the name, it didn't actually have a strong coconut flavour like I was expecting. The cake was fantastic, but I was really hoping for that coconut flavour to shine through. In the recipe below, I've added and starred a couple ingredients that I might use next time to try and bring out that flavour, but because I haven't tried it yet, I can't guarantee that it will work!

As mentioned before, the cake is made in stages. I've separated each ingredient list with the corresponding instructions, so that you don't have to keep scrolling up and down. They are in order of how I made them.

Coconut Simply Syrup:
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup flaked coconut

Bring water and sugar to a boil. Stir in the coconut, remove from heat and let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Strain the liquid into a clean saucepan, bring to a boil and let cook until the mixture is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely. Set aside.

Coconut Custard:
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons coconut rum (such as Malibu)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the milks and vanilla bean and seeds in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Whisk together the yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Slowly whisk the warm milk into the egg mixture then return the mixture to the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, until thickened. This will happen quickly- make sure not to burn. Press the custard through a mesh sift into a bowl to remove any clumps or cooked egg bits. Whisk in the rum and vanilla extract. Cover custard with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down into the bowl so that it is touching the custard. This will prevent a skin from forming on the surface. Refrigerate custard until cold, at least 2 hours. *This is not the filling yet, instructions to come after the cake.

1 1/2 cups cake flour, plus more for pans
3/4 cup whole milk, at room temperature
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
3/4 teaspoon coconut extract*
1 cup and 3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 tablespoon and 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at cool room temperature
** Measurements might look odd because I cut the original recipe into 2/3. This recipe makes enough for 2 6-inch cake pans; the original makes enough for 2 9-inch pans.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Use shortening or butter to grease pans and then sprinkle flour on top.

Whisk together the milk, egg whites, vanilla bean seeds and extract in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With the mixer running at low speed, add the butter, one piece at a time and continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the remaining 1/2 cup of the milk mixture, increase speed to medium and beat 30 seconds more. Scrape sides of bowl and mix for 20 seconds longer. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and tap the pans on the counter a few times to even out.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, about 22 to 24 minutes. Leave in the pan on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the sides of the pans and invert cakes onto the baking rack. Let cool completely.

Coconut Filling:
3/4 cup coconut custard, cold
3/4 cup very cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon coconut extract
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut*

Combine the custard, cream and extract in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Fold in shredded coconut.

Coconut Buttercream:
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup coconut custard
pinch sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract*

Beat the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the coconut custard, extract and sugar and beat until combined and smooth.

To Assemble the Cake (finally!):
Using a long serrated knife, slice each cake horizontally into 2 layers. Brush each top side of the layers with the coconut simple syrup. Spoon 1/3 of the coconut filling onto the bottom layer and using an offset metal spatula, spread into an even layer, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the cake. Repeat with the 2 other layers.

Frost the sides and top of the cake with the buttercream. *If you are not decorating the cake like I did, you can pat toasted coconut onto the sides of the cake and sprinkle the top.

Source: adapted from Bobby Flay (visit if wanting to do a larger cake)

Now... you didn't think I would let you go without showing you the flowers I was taught to make in the course! The following day I spent an hour practicing- they're so much fun to make!

They're so pretty! My favourites are the white ones with the pink center. Once you get the hang of them, they're very easy and quick to make, but look so professional!

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cranberry Scones

On Monday morning I had some time and was experiencing the urge to make something, but as some of you may know, Monday is my grocery-planning day, which is equivalent to no longer having a full fridge and pantry. I had an abundance of oranges, so I knew that would be one ingredient, but what to make? I was caught between my favourite orange coconut loaf, cranberry orange scones, and pull-apart raisin cinnamon muffins. The scones won out because I will be making a coconut cake later in the week, and I didn't think I had enough time to make the muffins. Oddly enough though, the scones were more frightening to me than the multi-step yeast-rising pull-apart raisin muffins. I'm not sure why, as my mother frequently made scones for Sunday morning brunches and I would see her throw all the ingredients into the food processor and be finished in no time. While I always loved my mother's homemade scones (sorry if you're reading this mom!) they were frequently dry and dense, and would require a lot of butter to go with them! And that was my sole experience with scones, so I was in for a surprise with the cranberry orange scones.

These are remarkably simple to make, particularly if you do have a large enough food processor (I do not and instead have a mini food processor, and so did it in 2 batches because I thought this would be less complicated than trying to mix it myself- probably caused me more work realistically). If you do not have a food processor a stand-mixer, pastry blender, or 3 knives works as well. The end result was a delectably light and fluffy scone that was slightly tart from the cranberries but had a hint of sweetness from the sprinkled sugar on top and an undertone of orange from the zest. Unfortunately both my batches got slightly burnt on the bottom :( which confused me because for both I took them out before the minimum allotted time, and the second batch I moved the rack higher up in the oven and turned the temperature down. But it didn't make that much of a difference, they were still the best scones I've ever had! To give you an idea, I brought 2 freshly-made scones into work for Sean to have, and he later told me that he had gobbled both up probably before I had even made it up the 2 flights of stairs to my office, WITH the burnt bottom included! (Although I did tell him to peel it off/ignore it/not look at it/pretend it wasn't there)

Yield: Approximately 10 scones, depending on size

1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest (lemon works great as well)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1 cup heavy cream  (I didn't have a full cup, and so ended up using 1/3 cup heavy cream and the remainder with table cream and this worked fine, so for a lighter version I'm sure you could substitute a full cup table/half & half cream)
Additional sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a food processor, combine the lemon zest, flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse briefly to blend. Add in cold butter pieces and pulse again briefly until the mixture resembles coarse meal and the butter pieces are no larger that peas. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl.

In a small bowl, toss together the chopped cranberries and remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar. Stir this into the flour-butter mixture.

In another small bowl or a liquid measuring cup, combine the egg, egg yolk, and heavy cream; whisk to blend. Add the liquid ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir gently with a spatula or wooden spoon just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Knead gently to be sure the dough is evenly mixed, being careful not to overwork the dough.

Place a 2 1/2 or 3-inch round biscuit cutter on the lined baking sheet. Scoop some of the dough inside the cutter and pat down gently to form a 1-inch thick round. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the rounds 2-3 inches apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with additional sugar. There are many different ways to shape scones, You can shape the dough into one large disc and slice it into triangular wedges, roll it out and use a biscuit cutter, make drop scones, etc.

Bake in the preheated oven until lightly golden brown, about 14-18 minutes.

If you'd like to make scones ahead of time, they can be frozen. Flash freeze the scones at the point before baking them (once you've shaped them the way you want) by placing them on a baking sheet in the freezer until frozen. Transfer to a freezer-safe plastic bag and store until ready to bake. If baking from frozen, add an additional 5 minutes to cooking time.

Source: adapted from: Smitten Kitchen

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Berries and Quinoa Hot Cereal

Most mornings, I'm fairly unmotivated to put anything together other than milk and cereal, which is a shame because this breakfast is so easy to make and doesn't take too much time. This recipe can be adapted to suit your own tastes, and has an ideal combination of flavour and nutrients to get your morning started! The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to serve more than one person.

For some people, quinoa can be off-putting due to its texture. It's comparable to something like couscous... but not quite the same. For myself, certain recipes are a complete no-go. For instance, I just made a wonderful bocconcini and oregano salad, full of fresh and tasty vegetables. Yet I could not get over the texture of the quinoa! Most of the salad went to waste, which was disappointing because the ingredients were not cheap. I think what makes this recipe different is that it has oats in it as well, so texture-wise it seems just slightly different from regular hot oatmeal.

1 cup water
3 tablespoons quinoa
3 tablespoons quick-rolled oats
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup, honey or brown sugar
1 teaspoon flax (*ground or whole seeds)
3 tablespoons fruit of choice (I didn't have any fresh berries on hand, so ended up thawing a frozen 4-berry blend)
milk, half and half cream or yogurt (vanilla or flavour of choice)

* Most experts will recommend using ground flax seed over whole seeds. Ground flax is easier to digest than whole seeds, so you may not end up getting all the health benefits from whole seeds. Flax seed is high in fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. If purchasing flax seed for the first time, store in an airtight container or bag and keep refrigerated, as it will go rancid over time.

Place the water and quinoa in a small pot, bring to a boil and cover. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 12 minutes. Stir in the oats, cover and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, until the oats are tender. Stir in the maple syrup and flax and keep over heat for 1 more minute. Top with fruit and cream and serve immediately.

That's it! Enjoy!

Source: adapted from: Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Salmon on Red Quinoa and Aspargus with Lime Chive Sauce

I made this dish about a month and a half ago, and my immediate reaction was, "Wow. This is a show stopper meal and perfect for entertaining." I banked the recipe in the back of my head to make at a later date, and when my trip home was planned, it was a no-brainer that I would be serving this to my family. This is an ideal dish to serve to guests as it requires few ingredients, little time, and is very simple to make. Not only that, but if arranged like I have, it looks like a professional dish! Your guests will be in awe when you bring this dish to them, and will beg you for the recipe.

What's even better about this dish is that it is extremely healthy for you. Salmon is high in protein, rich in good fats, and loaded with other nutrients like vitamin D. Quinoa is high in protein and fibre while being low in cholesterol and sodium, making it an ideal replacement for less nutritious grains like white rice. And lastly, asparagus is a good source of fibre and various vitamins, and low in cholesterol and sodium. You can't go wrong with this, you gotta make it! Do it, Doo it, Dooo it!!!

1 cup red quinoa
2 cups water or vegetable broth (if using water, I would suggest adding a bouillon cube for flavour)
1/2 cup light sour cream
3 tablespoons light mayonnaise
1-2 teaspoons grated lime zest (based on personal taste)
2-3  tablespoons fresh lime juice (or about 1/2-1 lime)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger/dry ginger
*2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
pinch of salt and white pepper
4 fresh salmon fillets
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 lbs asparagus (I really load up, and so use closer to 2 lbs)
1 tablespoon butter
extra lime juice for asparagus

*Note: The original recipe uses cilantro rather than chives. I despise the taste of cilantro and will not use it in my cooking, and so replace it with other suitable herbs. Dill would work as a substitute as well, but if using either dill or cilantro, because of the stronger flavour, I would recommend using half the amount and adjusting it to your taste.


Bring the quinoa and water/broth to a boil in a small pot. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until quinoa is no longer crunchy. (Every recipe that has quinoa in it I find drastically underestimates the cooking time. Quinoa is like rice, and takes awhile to soften up. Perhaps I know nothing and quinoa is supposed to be crunchy, but I do not enjoy it and would like it to have the texture of cooked rice. I have also found that recipes underestimate the amount of water needed, and so I am constantly adding more which slows down the cooking process. I have reflected my changes in the amounts and cooking time above.)

In the meantime, combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, lime zest, 1-2 tbsp of the lime juice, ginger, chives, and pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl, mixing well. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the fillets on a foil-lined baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray (I find this helps in removing the fillets easier). Brush the fillets with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake uncovered for about 11 to 14 minutes until the salmon is pink and flakes easily with a fork.

While the salmon is cooking, prepare the asparagus. Snap off the tough portion on each spear by grasping the asparagus ends with either hand and bending it near the bottom third. The asparagus will snap where it begins to get tough. Make sure to rinse the asparagus thoroughly to remove any dirt or sand. Place the asparagus in a large saucepan of boiling water and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but crisp. They should have a nice bright green colour. Toss the asparagus in the butter and remaining 1 tbsp of lime juice. Season with additional salt to taste.

Serve immediately while hot. Enjoy!

Source: adapted from Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Guinness and Baileys Irish Cream Cupcakes

I'm at home this weekend for several reasons, the main one being that it is my best friend's Stag and Doe tonight! This is an event that we've all been looking forward to for some time, but I can tell that today is going to be a very long and busy day. Last night when the bridal party was getting together for some prep work one of the ladies said something to sum up the situation perfectly: "Your good friends' Stag and Does are something you look forward to so much, but if you're in the party, you don't really get to enjoy it that much." Of course she didn't mean that we won't be having a good time, but what she did mean is that we'll be busy working the games and such all night. And THEN doing clean-up afterwards. 4:00 a.m.? Most likely.

Keeping this in mind, I created some treats to keep us going in the hours to come. Guinness and Baileys Irish Cream cupcakes in honours of St. Patty's Day. While the thought of Guinness in cupcakes might turn you off (if you're not a fan of the dark ale like myself), I'd be surprised if you weren't reaching for a second one. The cake is incredibly light and moist- which I'm attributing to the carbonated beer- which gives a lovely deep chocolatey taste with just the slightest hint of Guinness. And ohmygosh. The frosting? Baileys Buttercream. Might just be my favourite... I was licking up the leftovers in no time. And if that all doesn't sound good enough to you, let's just sweeten up the pot further. Inside the cupcake is a surprise: a Baileys chocolate ganache. In other words, this cupcake is pure heaven inspired by the luck o' the Irish.

You can't go wrong with this.
Yield: 24 cupcakes *I was able to get only 20, but I like my cupcakes a little fuller.

For the Guinness chocolate cupcakes:
1 cup stout (Guinness)
16 tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1½ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

For the Bailey’s ganache filling:
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. Bailey’s Irish cream

For the Bailey’s buttercream frosting:
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4-8 tbsp. Bailey’s Irish cream
*Note, I used up every last drop of icing on 20 cupcakes, so if you are able to make 24, and enjoy icing like myself, I would increase the amounts slightly.
Also, I didn't have any Baileys, but used a similar Irish Cream which worked out just as well.

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. Combine the stout and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is completely melted. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and sour cream to blend. Add the stout-butter mixture and beat just to combine. Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed just until incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners, filling them about 2/3 to ¾ full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache filling, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until simmering, then pour it over the chocolate. Let sit for one minute and then whisk until smooth. If the chocolate is not completely melted, place the bowl over a double boiler or give it a very short burst in the microwave (15-20 seconds). Add the butter and Bailey’s and stir until combined.

Set aside to let the ganache cool until it is thick enough to be piped. (You can use the refrigerator to speed the cooling process, but be sure to stir every 10 minutes or so to ensure even cooling.) Meanwhile, cut out a portion from the center of the cupcake using the cone method (a small paring knife works best for this). Once the ganache has reached the correct consistency, transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a wide tip and pipe it into the cupcakes. (A plastic bag with the tip cut out works equally as well, and less mess after)

To make the frosting, place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the powdered sugar until it is all incorporated. Mix in the Bailey’s until smooth. Add more if necessary until the frosting has reached a good consistency for piping or spreading. Frost the cupcakes as desired.

Source: Annies Eats (adapted from: Smitten Kitchen)

Who's lucky enough to win this trophy?
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Brown Butter Banana Bread Cookies

Anybody familiar with the phenomenon of slowly browning bananas? You know, the ones that have passed that 'perfect to eat' stage and as days pass they continue to sit on your counter and become more brown, until the point comes where you decide to either make something with them or give them the toss. That's almost  what happened to me here. 2 lonely bananas had just passed the perfect stage when I saw a post on Tracey's Culinary Adventures for Brown Butter Banana Bread Cookies, and I knew they'd have to be saved for this recipe. The name does give a perfect description of what these cookies are: soft and fluffy cookies that have a spiced banana bread flavour and texture, while being topped with a delicious brown butter frosting. If left sitting out, these cookies will be gobbled up in no time, unlike your poor brown bananas sitting in the corner :(.

This was my first try at browning butter, and I was a bit nervous. I'd never even seen it done before, and after my multiple failed attempts at caramel sauce, I was almost certain I would fail. What resulted was me hovering over the saucepan, my nose 2 inches from the butter (probably not a smart idea), trying to catch a waft of that unmistakable 'nutty' aroma that is supposed to occur when the butter has browned. In the midst of that, I was running back and forth to my laptop rereading the instructions over and over, to the point where I finally brought my laptop into my kitchen and started googling other instructions on how to brown butter. Can you say slightly neurotic and over-anxious? I can't defend myself... I'm not perfect in the kitchen and it kills me to have to throw out butter, having done it more times than I can count on various occasions.

Yield: About 2-3 dozen depending on the size
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 medium bananas)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups powdered sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon half-and-half (or evaporated milk)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together in a medium bowl. Add the butter to a medium skillet set over medium heat and let it start melting. Continue cooking, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter becomes golden brown and smells nutty (be patient and watch carefully, it can go from brown to burnt quickly). Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Allow the butter to cool for a few minutes. The butter will most likely have flecks of what you think is burnt butter. Don't worry about these.

Add the sugar to the mixer bowl and beat on medium for 1-2 minutes, or until well combined. Mix in the egg until completely incorporated. Combine the mashed bananas and baking soda in a medium bowl, then let sit for 2 minutes. Add the banana mixture and vanilla to the mixer bowl and beat until completely incorporated. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl in 3 additions, mixing until just combined before adding the next batch.

Use a small cookie scoop to drop balls of the dough (about 1 tablespoon each) onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches in between them. If you don't have a cookie scoop, like myself, simply use a spoon or even your hands if it's not too sticky. Make sure that you flatten the cookies down a bit- if not they will stay in the same original round shape, which is not what you want. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges, and the centres spring back when lightly pressed. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool for a few minutes before removing them to the rack.

To make the icing: Add the powdered sugar to a large heatproof bowl. Put the butter in a small saucepan, set over medium heat and let it start melting. Use the same process as before to brown the butter. Once done, remove it from the heat and pour it over the powdered sugar, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as well. Add the half-and-half and vanilla and stir until the icing is smooth. If you don't have half-and-half, a slightly lesser amount of milk will do. I had heavy cream and milk, so made a mixture of the two. Using a spatula or knife, spread icing on each cookie. If the icing stiffens up too much before all of the cookies are frosted, add a little more cream to lighten it up.

Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Source: slightly adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures, (who slightly adapted from Iowa Girl Eats, who adapted from Simply Recipes) Brown Butter Icing from Martha Stewart's Cookies

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wilton Cake Course

Recently, my good friend and I started taking the first Wilton Cake decorating course through Michaels. Initially I had wanted to jump right to the second course because the first course seemed very basic. I was right about the basic part, but we've learned a few handy tips we didn't know before and we've had fun goofing around. For our second class we were told to bring in a cake so we could decorate it. I made a simple 2-layer 6 inch vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. The instructor had asked us to make 2 batches of decorating icing, which is basically a buttload of shortening, icing sugar, extract and water. Ew. Something about eating icing made out of shortening does not seem natural. So I opted to make a buttercream for the icing and used the shortening icing just for the decorations.

Surprisingly, I think this was the first from-scratch cake I have ever made... possibly even the first cake I have made without the aid of my mother years ago. So I was going in not knowing exactly what to look for recipe-wise. There were a few problems with this cake, which is why I'm not going to post any recipes. I ended up searching around for awhile and settling on the 'versatile vanilla layer cake' recipe from Martha Stewart. Why I chose this cake, I'm not sure. Half of the reviews said the cake was fantastic, moist and a light crumb, and just delicious. The other half... said that it was an awful cake, extremely dense and had a cornbread-like texture. I suppose I was up for a challenge. Guess which side this cake fell on? The cake was extremely dense- which makes it ideal for layering multiple cakes, but not ideal for a relatively simple cake. It was even more dense when I tried a slice as it had just come out of the fridge. On the plus side, if you let the cake rise to room temperature before eating, it was much nicer. AND the actual cake had a very nice flavour, perhaps a tad sweet. Originally I had examined the cake upon slicing and thought that there was not nearly enough icing- a rookie mistake. However, the icing was rather sweet and I thought it turned out to be a perfect amount.

More Wilton Cake Course posts to come, I'm planning on taking the next course in April! Pin It

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cabbage Rolls

Monday is my day to do the food planning for the week. That might seem like an odd day, but the reason is that Independent allows students to receive a 10% discount on Tuesdays, so browsing the grocery store flyer and skimming through cookbooks is my Monday ritual. I will often ask Sean for input, as we try to meet somewhere in the middle. You see, I'm a pescatarian, which means that I will eat most seafood, eggs, milk, etc., but no 'land' meat. Normally when somebody asks I just tell them that I'm vegetarian, as I've found most people have no idea what I mean when I say I'm pescatarian. Sean on the other hand I'm sure would love to eat meat on a regular basis, but since dating me the poor guy sees more vegetarian meals than not. AND he doesn't enjoy most seafood, so we're quite at odds. However, somehow we make things work.

This past week, Sean suggested we have cabbage rolls. I admit, the idea did not overly peak my interest, but since Sean was offering to cook them I decided why not. Cabbage rolls are not something I get excited over... perhaps it's because I've only eaten them a few times in my life and they've never been overly satisfying. Even when I was looking at the finished product I was skeptical- the cabbage rolls I'd seen before had tomato sauce over them; these cabbage rolls were sitting in 2 cans of tomato soup.

I don't think I've ever been more pleasantly surprised! These cabbage rolls were a-m-a-z-i-n-g. I don't say that about very many things, especially a seemingly plain dinner. I could not stop eating them! I had them for 4 days in a row, and was left wishing for another one when I had the last one this evening. I can't rave about these babies enough- the filling was a perfect mixture, and the tomato soup added a hint of sweetness. Originally I thought there would be plenty of soup leftover, but there was hardly any. And I can't even take credit for them! Sean made the whole dish while I was at work. Ladies, perhaps you need to get your men to make you these!

We were able to get 10 rolls out of the cabbage, and so had some leftover filling.


1 whole cored cabbage

1 cup uncooked brown rice
2 cups water
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup peas
1 egg
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white wine
1 can whole tomatoes, juice reserved
1 package of Veggie Ground Round OR conversely, for meat-eaters, 2 cups ground beef

2 cans tomato soup
1 soup can of water
pinch of salt and pepper
Place the rice and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 40 minutes, or until tender. In the meantime, place the cabbage in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook 15 minutes until the leaves are easily removed. Drain, cool, and separate leaves. 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, mix the tomato soup and 1 soup can of water.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion, carrot, red pepper and garlic. Cook until tender. Mix in the wine and continue cooking until almost all liquid has evaporated. Stir in the rice and Ground Round (or cooked ground beef), reserved juice from the tomatoes, egg, and peas. Season with basil, cayenne, garlic powder and onion powder. Cook and stir until heated through.

On 1 cabbage leaf, place 1 whole tomato on the bottom, and about 2 tablespoons of the stuffing mixture surrounding the tomato. Roll the cabbage leaf tightly and seal shut with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining stuffing. Arrange the rolls in a casserole dish and pour the soup and water mixture over the cabbage rolls. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover, and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the cover and baste the cabbage rolls. Continue baking for 10 minutes. Serve with a side salad and enjoy!

Source: adapted from: All Recipes
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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Banana Pancakes

I'm not a huge breakfast person. That's not to say that I don't enjoy breakfast; in fact, at times it can be my favorite meal of the day. It's just that I'm often too lazy or unmotivated to make anything more complicated than a fried egg sandwich. Every so often I'll make something that takes a little more effort on the weekend, such as pancakes. Oddly enough though, pancakes do not seem to be my strong suite. Give me a boxed mix and I'm good to go, but making them from scratch? For some reason I have a tendency to under cook them, which leads to a mushy middle. Ask Sean, he can attest to my failed, but still tasty, attempts.

Fortunately enough, this recipe worked out well for me. In my own defence, I have one old school oven. Before moving into my apartment, I had never even seen something like my current oven. Rather than having a dial for the different temperatures, it has buttons. The buttons are: off, warm, low, 3, 2, and High. Huh? Well, see for yourself:

I understand if you're gaping in confusion at this picture. Perhaps a close-up will help clarify things.

So this is what I have to work with. I recognise that my inability to make a perfect pancake lies somewhat with me- but can you blame me when I'm working with this? The problem is that the ideal temperature lies somewhere in between 2 and 3, as 2 cooks the pancakes too fast and results in burning, and 3 goes way too slow. I end up flipping 2 on for half a minute before turning it back. And if you turn the oven on... that changes everything. As a result, everything burns much hotter. So number 3 can turn into 2 or even 1. And you better watch yourself- touch the top of the stove (not on the element unless it's off of course) when the oven is on, and you will burn yourself. It becomes outrageously hot and raises the temperature of my tiny apartment by several degrees. That also might have something to do with the fact that the door doesn't shut properly.

Anyways, now that I've whined about my inadequate appliances, I'll get back to the banana pancakes! These babies miraculously did turn out as hoped. They had a lovely banana flavour, and topped with sliced bananas and warm maple syrup they made a tasty and filling breakfast, that is what I like to think somewhat healthy! In the future I may even substitute half the flour for whole wheat flour, which is something I often do in breads or muffins.

Yield: about 10 pancakes

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing the pan
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
2½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 small ripe banana, mashed
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Additional banana slices, for serving
Maple syrup, whipped cream, etc. for serving

Preheat the oven to 150˚ F. Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl; set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; whisk together to combine.
In a another bowl, combine the mashed banana, milk, eggs and vanilla and whisk to blend. Add the melted butter and the banana mixture to the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix gently with a rubber spatula until just blended (the batter will be slightly lumpy).

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat. Grease lightly with butter. Drop the batter in 1/3 cup portions onto the heated cooking surface. Cook until a few bubbles form in the top surface and the bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip the pancake over and cook on the remaining side until golden brown, 1-2 minutes more. Transfer finished pancakes to a plate in the warm oven while you use the remaining batter, re-greasing the pan as needed. Serve warm with maple syrup and sliced bananas as desired.

Source: Williams Sonoma

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Peanut Butter Mini Cheesecakes

A couple weeks ago Sean and I had planned to have dinner with his parents, as we hadn't seen them in quite awhile. I decided that it was my guestly duty to bring dessert, and knowing that cheesecake is a favorite of both Sean and his step-dad, I set off on a mission to decide what kind of cheesecake to make. I narrowed it down to 2: these peanut butter chocolate cheesecakes or raspberry swirl cheesecakes. Since it was still February at the time, the richer peanut butter chocolate won out over the summery raspberry cheesecake, and boy did that decision pay off!

This mini cheesecake was wonderfully rich while still being fluffy and not too sweet. The ganache topping is decadent and thick, so turning them into muffin-size cheesecakes was the right choice. I don't think I could handle a whole slice of this, but I'm sure some dessert lovers could. This recipe is also perfect for mini-mini cheesecakes, and would be a lovely addition to a party or event as a small bite size dessert. However large your sweet tooth is, the choice is yours!

Yield: 12 mini cheesecakes, or 24 mini-mini cheesecakes
For the crust:
1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs (I use Oreos and crush the whole cookie, with the icing)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. sugar

For the cheesecake:
12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup sour cream
½ cup peanut butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
Dash vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

For the ganache:
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line muffin pan with 12 liners (or conversly, if you have a silicone muffin pan, spray it with cooking spray. An interesting product I saw recently that I'm hoping to purchase sometime in the future can be found here: Norpro brand mini cheesecake pan. It's a mini muffin pan where the bottoms can be pushed out, perfect for making mini cheesecakes without needing to use liners!)

To make the crust, combine the chocolate cookie crumbs, melted butter and sugar in a small bowl. Mix with a fork until evenly blended. Divide the crust mixture between the wells of the prepared pan, about 2-3 tablespoons in each. Press the crumb mixture into a flat layer on the bottom of the well. (The bottom of a shot glass or something similar is great for this. I used a tin from Davids Tea (amazing place by the way- if you enjoy looseleaf tea!)) Bake for 10 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300˚ F. To prepare the filling, combine the cream cheese, sour cream and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth and well blended. Add in the sugar and mix until incorporated, about 1 minute more, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Blend in the egg and egg yolk, vanilla and salt. Continue to beat until the mixture is completely smooth. Divide the mixture evenly over the cookie crumb crusts and smooth the tops slightly (I found that rather than trying to smooth the surface with a spoon or knife, giving the pan a good couple jiggles and bangs on the counter worked best). Bake just until set, about 21 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Try to catch the cheesecakes before they end up cracking- you really have to pay attention in the last few minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Once completely cool, transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill thoroughly, at least 2 hours.

Once the cheesecakes are well chilled, carefully remove them from the pan. To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat. Once simmering, remove from the heat and immediately pour over the chocolate. Let stand 1-2 minutes. Whisk in small circular motions until a smooth ganache has formed. Whisk in the butter until completely incorporated. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until slightly thickened for piping onto the cheesecakes. (Speed this process in the refrigerator or freezer, but be sure to whisk every 10 minutes or so.) Once the ganache has thickened, transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip and pipe onto the cheesecakes. Cover and refrigerate until the ganache is set.

Source: Annies Eats

Enjoy with a glass of milk, yum!

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Baby Shower Cookies

It's a Girl! Sophie!

The story behind this one: pretty self-explanatory. Last week my manager sent out an email stating that we would be throwing a surprise baby shower for a co-worker of mine. My immediate reaction? 'Yes! An opportunity to make something at last! What to make... onesie cookies for sure, that means I need to make a trip to Michaels to purchase some cookie cutters TONIGHT... and cute cupcakes too! Brilliant!' Sean, my partner, would probably roll his eyes and guffaw at this, mentioning that it had not, in fact, been weeks since I last baked something up, and that I had just been to Michaels within the last week. Umm hello?? Who can pass up an opportunity to make the cutest things ever?! Not I.

I've only recently started fiddling around with sugar cookies and royal icing, about 3 months to be exact. I've used several different recipes and variations of each, and while I have not tried too many, the following is my favorite so far. Using royal icing does take some practice, and the trickiest part is finding the right consistency. Without this, you will end up with either icing that will be too thin and roll right off the cookies, or too thick and it will create a bumpy, unspreadable and not-pretty final product.

If you research royal icing, the technique that you will most find is to create a thicker icing that you use to outline the cookie, and a thinner icing to 'flood' the inside of the cookie. This was what I did for my first attempt at these cookies at Christmas time, and boy did they take a lot of work. This is not to say that they don't always take a lot of work- these cookies are time consuming, no matter how skilled you are. The former method is perfectly fine to use, and you can read up on it further here It has a lot of information on royal icing. However, the method that I currently use is a one-step process (basically). Instead of creating 2 different consistencies of icing, I use one to do both steps. Here is the key to having the right consistency. For this, I use the 10-second rule. What I mean by this is when you are finished preparing your icing, you take a knife and draw a line through the surface. It should take about 10 seconds to disappear back into the icing. If it disappears sooner, the icing is too thin; if it disappears in longer than 10 seconds, it's too thick for this step. I know I'm being brief in my explanations, so I may end up creating another post in the future if people want to know more just about royal icing and it's tricks.

The recipe for the sugar cookies I use now is directly from Marian at Sweetopia. She's an utter genious when it comes to sugar cookies. The royal icing recipe is very basic. If you don't have meringue powder (it's not overly cheap) you can use egg whites. The link I provided above explains how to make royal icing, as to talk about royal icing is a post of its own. Everybody has their own preference in using meringue powder or egg whites. Some are opposed to using egg whites because they are not cooked. Meringue powder emits a certain taste, which some people love. If you're not opposed to using egg whites, the best way to find out which you like better is to try both!

2 1/2 cups butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3 tsp vanilla or almond extract (My favorite is almond)
5 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
*I often halve this recipe. For the baby shower cookies, it created almost 30 cookies, but obviously the amount depends on the size of the cookie cutters that are used.


Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer on low to medium speed using the paddle attachment. Mix until thoroughly incorporated- for about one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to ensure full incorporation.

*Over mixing the batter and sugar in this step will cause too much air to be incorporated into the dough. This is ideal if you'd like a light and fluffy cookie, however the dough will spread more during baking; not ideal if you'd like the cookie to hold its shape.

Add eggs slowly and mix. Scrape down the side of the bowl with spatula as needed. Add extract and stir briefly.

Sift your dry ingredients together (flour, baking powder and salt).

Add all of the flour mixture to the bowl. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds- be aware that the flour may poof up. An easy remedy for this is to cover the mixer bowl with a towel until the flour is mixed in slightly. Observe the dough mixing; when it clumps around the paddle attachment it's ready. It's also important at this stage not to overmix the dough.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to cool in the fridge for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Once dough has cooled sufficiently, remove from the fridge and allow to warm up slightly if it is too hard to roll out. Sprinkle your working surface with some flour and roll out the dough, adding more flour on top of the dough if it starts to stick to the rolling pin. Place cut out cookie shapes on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Re-roll scraps and repeat.

Put your baking sheet in the freezer for approximately 8 minutes before putting the sheet in the oven. This will help prevent spreading and the cookies will hold their shape better. Since my oven is small and will hold only 1 sheet at a time, I have created a system. When one baking sheet goes in the oven, I have the next one ready to move into the freezer, while working on cutting out the cookies for the third sheet. Once the cookies are done in the oven, everything is rotated. :)

Bake the cookies for 8-12 minutes or until the edges become golden brown. The baking time will depend on the size of your cookie and your oven (individual ovens vary in temperature).

Let the cookies cool to room temperature completely and decorate!

Royal Icing:
1 cup water
5 tablespoons meringue powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 kilogram powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract

Add water and meringue powder to the bowl of a stand mixer, and mix together using a hand whisk for 30 seconds. Add cream of tartar and mix for another 30 seconds. Add all of the powdered sugar into the bowl, and using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 10 minutes. Add in extract and mix for another minutes.

*Icing may need further water to reach desired consistency. Tint to desired colours.

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Strawberry Cupcakes

This is my very first time blogging, so I apologize if things don't flow as smoothly as other seasoned bloggers. Some of my posts may be backdated, as I've been taking pictures for several months now, but had not built up the courage to start blogging. So without much further ado, I'm going to jump right in to what I think blogging should sound like!

The inspiration for these cupcakes was a baby shower my co-workers were hosting for another co-worker. His wife just had a second beautiful baby girl on Valentine's day, what a blessing! But let me tell you, these cupcakes did not go nearly as smoothly as the baby shower cookies I made (which I will be posting shortly). It wasn't the cupcakes that were the problem, it was the 'bane of my existence' buttercream icing. I've made this icing once twice before, from 2 different recipes. The first was an utter failure, but might have had something to do with a lack of a stand-mixer (one of the greatest inventions on earth). The second time however, the icing turned out beautifully with not so much as a hitch. Beginners luck? I won't go into the nitty gritty details of these last attempts, but let's just say many, many eggs, cups of sugar and butter went down the drain. It was bad. When the last try finally worked out, I may have done a happy dance... that lasted for the next 10 minutes. 

Swiss Meringue/Italian Buttercream is my ultimate favorite. It is a rich, fluffy and silky smooth type of icing that is worth the time. You can add any flavor to it you like, and so far I've done a basic vanilla, caramel, and this strawberry. Since I've started making it, I have a hard time even imagining going back to standard buttercream icings that use powdered sugar. In fact, I'm pretty sure my nose crinkles in disdain. However, SWB is not for the beginner baker, and sometimes you just don't have the amount of time it takes to prepare it. 

Strawberry Cupcakes 

Yield: 34 cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2¼ cups sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg white
1 cup milk
2½ cups finely chopped fresh strawberries
*Note: 34 is a lot of cupcakes. I halved the amount and used 2 full eggsIt equaled out to roughly 14 cupcakes. 

For the frosting:
1½ cups fresh strawberries (8 oz.), rinsed and pureed
*2-3 tsp sugar
1½ cups sugar, divided (3/4 each)
2 oz. water (4 tbsp)
4 large egg whites, at cool room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tsp lemon juice
3 sticks (1½ cups) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
*Note: This frosting makes enough for 20-24 cupcakes.
For garnish:
Additional fresh strawberries

To make cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder and salt; whisk to blend.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs and egg white one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in two additions alternating with the milk, mixing each addition just until incorporated. Gently fold in the chopped strawberries with a spatula.

Divide the batter between the paper liners, filling each about ¾-full. Bake until light golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-28 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Allow to cool in the pans a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. *Be aware of your oven temperature and what pans you use. I find that my oven heats a little hotter, and using dark muffin pans speeds up the process. I typically will set my oven for a little under the recommended temperature, and also set my timer for a few minutes under the allotted time. This way I can keep an eye on things and make sure nothing burns or overcooks!

To make the frosting, place the pureed strawberries with 2-3 tsp sugar (depending on the sweetness of the strawberries, you may not need any sugar) in a small pot and heat over med-low heat. Keep on low heat for 20-25 minutes until the strawberry puree has reduced and thickened, and the flavor is stronger. Remove and let cool completely.

Over medium heat, bring water and ¾ of the sugar to a boil. Cover the pot and let boil for 2-3 minutes to wash any sugar crystals off the sides of the pot. Remove cover and cook until the sugar syrup reaches 248 degrees, F.

Fit your stand mixer with the whisk attachment. On medium speed, whip egg whites, salt and lemon juice until foamy. Add the reserved sugar and beat to medium-stiff peaks. Try to time this so the sugar and the whites are ready at the same time. 

When the sugar has reached 248 degrees, F and the whites are at medium-stiff peaks, with the mixer on medium-high, carefully pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream down the inside of the bowl. This will prevent the syrup from hitting the whisk and getting spun around the sides of the bowl instead of into your frosting. It will also cool the syrup just a bit so you don’t risk curdling your whites. Whip until cool, about 5-10 minutes.

Feel the mixing bowl, it should feel somewhat cool. If it doesn't, cool the mixture down by either putting the bowl in the refrigerator for a few minutes before continuing to whip or by rubbing the outside of the bowl with a bag of frozen peas, fruit, whatever you have on hand, while continuing to whip the mixture. What do I do? I grab a bag of frozen fruits I use for smoothies and stick it underneath to speed up the process. Once the bowl is cool, add the butter, 2 tbsp at a time. Whip until each piece is completely incorporated before adding another piece. The icing might start to look a little curdled, or conversely, feel like soft marshmallow fluff, but it should come together nicely by the time you have added all the butter. 

This takes patience and faith. It will appear like nothing is happening and you have wasted your ingredients (been there!). The transformation will be obvious when it happens, but the time it can take varies between almost immediately after the last piece of butter or several minutes. It will go from that marshmallow-y soft fluff into a firm, whipped icing that will hold it's shape. 

Fill a large (I use a 16 inch) pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip with the frosting. I used a Wilton 1B tip (my favorite so far). Decorate cupcakes as desired, and garnish with fresh berries or berry slices. 

The icing can theoretically be made using a hand mixer, but will require more time and a lot of arm strength. My first attempt was with a hand mixer and it never came together. 

Source: Cupcakes: Annie's Eats, Frosting adapted from: Reluctant Gourmet

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