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I threw myself an impromptu birthday party!

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This was the second session of the Wilton’s cake decorating class. In the first session, we learned a lot of basic shapes. This class we learned how to make a shell border, how to make roses, and some super swirls for cupcakes. I made this cake in the class, and gave it to my friend Carly for her birthday. P1160067 P1160087 P1160072 P1160081

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Today I went to a cake decorating class! My mom generously gave my friend Tracy and I a certificate for the introductory class by Wilton (thanks mom!), and today was the first of two classes. To prep for the class, we made frosting according to Wilton’s recipe… or at least Tracy did. The recipe calls for shortening because it is stable in varied temperatures, and holds up well to a warm hand grasping a decorator bag full of frosting. I, however, have no interest in vegetable shortening. So I used butter and coconut oil instead. I also used corn starch and baking powder instead of Wilton’s meringue powder, as those are the two main ingredients. Here are both of the frosting recipes.

Wilton’s Class Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1 cup solid white vegetable shortening
  • 1 teaspoon Wilton flavor (vanilla, almond, or butter)
  • 7-8 teaspoons milk or water
  • 1 pound pure cane confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Wilton meringue powder (may be eliminated in case of egg allergies)
  • Pinch of salt

My Altered Recipe:

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 teaspoons milk or water
  • 1 pound pure cane confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt

The instruction book describes the correct consistency of frosting, which is imperative to the decorations coming out smoothly. A stiff frosting is preferred, but can be made thinner if needed by adding a teaspoon or two of milk or water. My frosting started out great, but quickly got too soft as my hands warmed it up. It was good enough to work with, but not ideal.

After we got the basics of baking and preparing a cake, and mixing frosting, we got to start decorating! We learned how to make stars, simple little flowers, pearls, and rosettes. Here are some pictures of cookies I decorated!

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Chocolate. Again. What to do?!?! I’ve done chocolate with: peanut butter, jelly, smores, red wine, peppermint, vanilla, bourbon, oreo, chilies, hazelnut… and that’s just what I can remember off the top of my head! Luckily I remembered that this website made chocolate and orange sound like a winning combination, and luckier: blood oranges are in season now! I quickly whipped up my favourite chocolate cake recipe, and some blood orange frosting. Incredibly delicious!

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When I met Becca she was dressed like a flower in a Halloween costume she sewed herself, which may be the best way to describe her. She’s delightful! Sweet, friendly, and bursting with positivity! I had a hard time figuring out what to bake for her. I started with the idea of Jamaica (hibiscus flower). I steeped the dried jamaica in milk on the stove. It turned the prettiest shade of purple, but the milk separated. This was the second time I tried this, and the second time it separated. Eh, whatevs, I whipped it up into this frosting anyway…only to find out that it has no flavour! Fail, fail, fail. I scrambled with the rest of the cake, using a mixture of fruit jams as a filling (strawberry jam that Tomas made, blueberry jam that his mom made, and some farmer’s market grape).  And yes, that is cilantro garnished on this cake. Becca, you deserve better!

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My favourite cake friend, Tracy’s birthday is today! She likes delicate floral flavours, so I headed to David’s tea to find something she might like. The salespeople were very knowledgeable, and gave me several great options. I chose Three Wishes tea, a lovely blend of rose petals, jasmine, and sunflower! The intoxicating aroma of the tea got me so excited to bake.

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I used my favourite tea cake recipe, which uses almost a cup of milk steeped in tea. It’s delicately moist, and carries the tea flavour to the cake beautifully. I whipped up some buttercream frosting with the tea infused in it as well. Here’s the recipe:

Tea-Infused Buttercream Frosting:

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • about 1oz of tea

Heat the milk just until boiling and add the tea. Let steep for about 20 minutes, then strain and discard the tea. Whisk the flour and milk together till smooth. Place in pan on stove and heat while continuing whisking. It will thicken and look like mashed potatoes when ready. Remove from heat and put to side to cool completely.  Mix together butter, vanilla and sugar in mixer until creamy. Add cooled milk mixture and mix until smooth.

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Tracy’s roommate Krista’s birthday is tomorrow, so I baked for her too! As Krista is lactose intolerant, I used almond milk and coconut oil to replace the milk and butter. I’ve made this cake with dairy products several times, and I didn’t notice the difference with this dairy-free version. For her cake, I whisked up a honey-rum sauce. The buttercream frosting looks beautiful, but the honey-rum sauce is incredible! Here’s a quick recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon tea
  • 1 tablespoon rum

Heat the honey in the microwave for 30 seconds, and add the tea. Let the tea steep in the honey until cool, then place in the microwave for another 30 seconds. Add the rum, stir to mix, then strain and discard the tea leaves. 

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20140302_120308I didn’t like pie until my 3rd grade math teacher brought an apple pie to class for Pi Day. I immediately fell in love with it, to the woe of my mother who wished it was her pie I fell for (don’t worry, we’ve since made up.) So pi day has always been very special to me, and it was fun to celebrate this delicious baked good on the anniversary of my love for it.

I have only made a handful of pie crusts, and I can promise that anyone is capable of doing it as long as they’re willing to put in the proper time. Dough can be tricky, but it’s helpful to think of it like playdoh: mistakes are an inevitable and fun part of the process, but easy to fix. This crust is a bit trickier than most because without gluten, it’s not as “sticky,” and can crack or fall apart much more easily. Never be defeated though, because you can always fix it! I got very skeptical and nervous as I worked on this crust, and lo and behold it turned out beautiful. I highly recommend a pastry blender to help you mix the crust ingredients together. They can often be found for pennies at your local Goodwill.

When I first thought about a dairy-free, gluten-free pie crust, I immediately thought that coconut oil would be the right consistency to replace the butter, and maybe the rice flour sitting in my pantry would work well. A little bit of research reinforced these ideas, and also brought me this recipe, which I based my work off of. Here’s what I ended up with:

20140302_120424Crust Ingredients:

  • 2-1/4 cups of white rice flour
  • ½ cup of organic coconut oil, chilled in the fridge and solid
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2/3 + cup ice water

 Instructions:

  1. Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Add your solid coconut oil and work it into the flour mixture using a pastry blender. It will be very crumbly and dry at this point. Pour in 2/3 cup of water as you mix, and the dough will start to come together. Add more water a little at a time if needed to help the crust stick to itself. The dough won’t be smooth, and shouldn’t be – those little crumbs are what make the crust flaky.
  2. Shape the dough into two balls, one for the top of the pie and one for the bottom. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 10-30 minutes. Take this opportunity to get your pie filling ready. If you’re making the crust for future use, you can place these dough balls in a freezer bag and freeze.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 450°.
  4. Once chilled, place each dough ball onto a piece of wax or parchment paper that has been dusted with rice flour. Use a rolling pin (or an empty wine bottle) to shape each dough ball into a flat disk. This is the hard part. The dough will likely be brittle and crack as you roll it, but just sprinkle some cold water to help it come together again and keep working. In general, if dough is dry and brittle, add a little cold water; and if dough is too sticky to work with, add a little flour. Roll it out until it’s about ¼” thick. Cut some slots (or a design!) in the top crust to allow the steam to vent properly.
  5. Press the bottom crust carefully into the baking dish. Use your fingers and sprinkles of water/rice flour to mend any tears while fitting the dough to the dish. Add your choice of filling, and then place the top crust over it. Press the edges of the crust to seal the top and bottom crusts together. Tip: press a fork along the edge to get a pretty pattern.
  6. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is GBT (golden brown and tasty)!

Will it still be flaky without butter and traditional flour? Yes! The flaky texture is created by the structure of the fat and flour. Remember the crumbly texture from step 1 above? Those crumbs are little bits of solid coconut oil which melt as the crust is baked, creating pockets of air and a light, flaky crust. Using cold coconut oil and cold water prevents the coconut oil from dissolving smoothly into the flour (the same way it’s hard to dissolve sugar into iced coffee). If the dough gets too warm as it’s formed, the coconut oil will melt into the flour and the flaky texture is lost. This is why ice water and cold coconut oil are important, and also why using bare hands on dough is discouraged (hands are warm, and coconut oil melts at 75°).

20140302_111120Mango Pie Filling:

  • 3 mangoes, peeled, pitted and cubed
  • 10-15 fresh mint leaves
  • 4 tbsp of turbinado sugar or coconut nectar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Sprinkle of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp of coconut oil, melted

The mango filling paired perfectly with the slight coconut flavor of the crust, and the fresh mint added a touch of je ne sais quoi. Simply mix all of the ingredients together. I sprinkled some crushed almonds and turbinado sugar on the crust for fun!

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Half white flour, half almond meal, sweetened with honey!

Honey-almond cake with stewed mangoes and fresh mint

Olivia’s birthday! Finally, I’ve been waiting to bake for her ever since I started the birthday cake project. She’s incredibly passionate about food, and she has an adventurous palette, so I couldn’t wait to come up with something special to share with her. Somehow I landed on this cake, sweetened with honey, flavoured with clove and cinnamon, and enhanced with espresso. To appeal to Olivia’s paleo preference (and because almond is delicious!), I replaced1/2 of the flour with almond meal. The result was incredible: soft, sweet, moist, with an oh-so-delicate crumb! Seriously, one of the best  cake  textures yet!

Honey-almond cake with stewed mangoes and fresh mint

Honey-almond cake with stewed mangoes and fresh mint

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This cake is for Katie, a friend in my book club. I missed her birthday in December, so I surprised her with this cake after the holidays. I made this cake with a blend of tea my mom brought home from Russia, called “love tea”. It has a beautiful blend of rosebuds, orange peel, hibiscus petals, and other bright florals. The frosting is a simple buttercream, also infused with the love tea. Here’s the recipe:

Tea-Infused Buttercream Frosting:

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • about 1oz of tea

Heat the milk just until boiling and add the tea. Let steep for about 20 minutes, then strain and discard the tea. Whisk the flour and milk together till smooth. Place in pan on stove and heat while continuing whisking. It will thicken and look like mashed potatoes when ready. Remove from heat and put to side to cool completely.  Mix together butter, vanilla and sugar in mixer until creamy. Add cooled milk mixture and mix until smooth.

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Cheesecake Bites with strawberries mixed in, and Chocolate Ganache

Alexis’ birthday called for something sweet and sophisticated. It was also going to be celebrated at a bar, so small easy bites were necessary. I got the idea for these cheesecake balls from DesignLoveFest. The recipe was easy to follow and worked well for me. The only thing I changed was the chocolate covering the cheesecake balls. The recipe calls for dipping chocolate, and I don’t know where to find that, but a simple chocolate ganache did the trick:

Chocolate Ganache:

  • 8oz heavy cream
  • 8oz dark chocolate, chopped

Heat the heavy cream on the stove until it simmers (or for 1-2 minutes in the microwave). Pour the heated cream over the chocolate, and stir until smoothly combined.

Press a fork firmly into a cheesecake ball and dip into the warm chocolate ganache. Set it down in a cupcake liner and place a little strawberry or crushed graham cracker to decorate the top of the cheesecake ball.

You can also top the cheesecake balls with caramel sauce. I used Danas’s bourbon caramel sauce recipe, and dipped the frozen cheesecake balls in the same manner. Delicious!

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