Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chunky Toblerone Shortbread and Reliable Favourites

If you're a Canadian and it's Christmastime, it's almost sacrilege to admit that you don't like shortbread.  Really, it is - if you don't live in a country with a very Anglo history, you wouldn't understand why this would be true.  Until I tried this particular recipe, I was convinced my reaction to eating shortbread would never change.  Why bother with these really bars or rounds that were more dry than anything else?  Well, I'm happy to not only eat my words, but these cookies now. ;)

There are a lot of versions of Toblerone shortbread.  I tried an Anna Olsen recipe two years ago that my co-workers enjoyed but I didn't.  Since both Meg and Duncan, along with my co-workers, are fans of shortbread I thought I'd try another recipe version.  I found this on Kraftcanada.com and it couldn't be any simpler than this!  The Toblerone works so well because it's a nougat and will not turn into a runny chocolate mess when baked.  Don't be horrified at the amount of butter in the recipe - it yields four dozen cookies, so it's not like you're eating an entire stick in each cookie. ;)

2 cups butter (that's four sticks), softened
1 cup sugar
3-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 bars Toblerone Swiss Milk Chocolate, chopped (that's two 100 gram bars if you're in Canada)
icing sugar to decorate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare cookie sheets by lining with parchment paper.  I prepped four at once and was able to fit one dozen on each pan.

Beat butter and sugar in mixing bowl  until fluffy.  If possible use a stand mixer since it's easier with this quantity of flour.  In a separate bowl combine flour and cornstarch.  Add gradually to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition.

Using either a tablespoon or a 1 inch scoop, drop on baking sheet at least one inch apart.  I used a scoop because I like getting evenly sized cooiked.

The recipe suggested baking them for 20 minutes, which I did for the first batch, but they browned a teenie bit too much for liking.  For the second batch, I only gave them 18 minutes and they were perfect.

Remove to wire racks, allow to cool completely and dust with icing sugar.

I also made four dozen Triple Chocolate Cookies and five dozen Raspberry Walnut Thumbprints -

Gotta do some more baking though...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Some of my favourite things...

Well, they're not "bright copper kettles", but copper cookie cutters *are* some of my favourite things!

Which brings me to my amazing luck on Thursday.  I wasn't working at my usual office, which meant I got to visit Mecca, aka Williams Sonoma, at lunchtime.  As I stated before, when they have sales, they are fantastic sales and I couldn't believe what I found at the back of the store.  Of course most of the products right now are Christmas themed, but what I bought won't be used until next year and that's perfectly alright with me!

These are my pretties:

Copper utensils, bowls and cookie cutter are normally quite expensive - especially when the cutters are as large as these.  We're talking 5-6 inches across for the maple leaf!  I'm quite happy because I got them for this price:

After paying just $6.75 for three (that includes the tax), I can wait for next fall to roll around again. :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Time to get to work...

It's December 1st and time to seriously think about baking for the holidays.  I have five pounds of butter in my freezer - cut into sticks and individually wrapped - lots of sugar, flour, parchment paper and more jars of jam than I can possibly use, so I better get baking!

I know what I'll be making for sure - Chocolate Marshmallow Bars, Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies, Sugar Cookies decorated with Royal Icing (going to give them the old college try again!), Toblerone Chunk Shortbreads (for Megan and Duncan), Dark and Delicious Triple Chocolate Cookies and at least one more type of cookie...or maybe a chocolate bundt cake?  Sounds like a lot, and like I'm crazy, but I bake so much because I enjoy giving these treats as gifts.

The pretty tins are just waiting to be filled...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Triple Almond Chocolate Cake

This recipe is an old reliable - the results are always great and whoever I make it for just loves it.  I've even had co-workers fighting over the last slice at previous functions.  It's also a really old recipe - so old that it's actually typed, as in on a typewriter and my copy has dried tape holding it to a lined sheet of paper.  I'm sure it's over 30 years old because I no longer have the recipe book it used to fit into and can't remember how I even got it.  It's also from the days when I rarely baked anything from scratch and this cake would quite often fool the tasters by thinking I'd made it all by myself!

I made it most recently for the Hallowe'en United Way fundraiser bake sale that I organize in my office.  I was very happy that after the sale only one slice was left to bring home.

1 package dark chocolate cake mix
1 package, four serving instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream - I use the light version
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
3 tbsp almond liqueur - a great reason to keep Amaretto around the house :)
1 tsp pure almond extract - don't use the fake stuff, it's not as good!
1/2 cup slivered almonds
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

For topping:
container of prepared chocolate frosting
1/2-3/4 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a bundt pan using lots of non-stick spray, to ensure you cake comes out cleanly.  In large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, oil, eggs, liqueur and almond extract.  Blend until combined and then beat at medium speed for two minutes either with a stand or hand held mixer.  Slowly add in slivered almonds and chocolate chips.  The batter will be so heavy that you'll need to "scoop" it out with your spatula and smooth the top until it's even.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a tester comes out cleanly.  Cool in pan for 15 minutes before attempting to remove.

Once the cake has cooled completely, slowly heat approximately 1/2 a container of icing in the microwave.  Then drizzle the icing around the cake, until there is a nice pattern around the entire cake.  While the icing is still warm, sprinkle with the almonds and lightly press them into place.

The cake should yield up to 20 portions, depending on how thinly you slice it.  Here's how it looked at the bake sale, before the hungry shoppers arrived:

Even better was that in two hours, we raised $217 from baked goods for the United Way!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why I need a donut cutter...

Yesterday my daughters and I went vintage shopping at the Markham Fair Grounds.  I found the info for the Meister Markt Fair a few months ago and we decided we couldn't miss it, especially since it was only $5 admission for each of us -  how could you lose?  I get gently teased by Sarah for my love of Value Village - or the VV Boutique, as my best friend and I call it - but I've found amazing vintage items there so often.  Milk glass, Depression glass and Pyrex and, inevitably, I get the comment "Wow - where did you find that!" from one of the girls at least.  Quite often this is followed by "Can I have it?"  Yesterday was a bonanza of vintage goodies for all of us!

I saw these bowls early in the day, at a vendor I ended up shopping with multiple times.  I was so excited when I saw the bowls because I already have the red, divided Pyrex with this print on the clear glass lid, that matches the bowls.  They became my last purchase of the day and now all I need is the medium sized bowl that fits between these two, which is usually a solid red colour.  Here's my baking dish -

Before lunch, Megan and I were at one of the car boot locations (yes, we have them in Canada too!) and after I transcribed the German quote on a stein for her, I spotted this amazing hen dish.  It gradiates in colour from a bright red to an orangey red nest at the bottom.  Even without Meg's encouragement, "You've got to buy that!", I knew it would be making the trip home with us after we got a combo price for the hen and the stein.

My first purchase of the day was a box full of small, vintage Christmas ornaments.  I just adore them and use my mum's every year on the two trees I have in the house.  I don't care if the finish isn't perfect any more, because I love them for their quirky colour combinations and shapes.  This box still has its original price sticker of 79 cents on it too.  I've seen them for as much as $15 for a medium ornament at some antique "malls", so getting a whole box in great condition for $10 was a steal!

I was also on a mission yesterday to find vintage cooking and baking utensils.  My buddy Teresa asked me to look for an egg beater like my grandmother's.  You'd think that this would be easy, but no, the only ones I found were in terrible condition.  I lucked out on a very sentimental item, in a box full of $2 items - a donut cutter.  My paternal grandmother, who originally owned my egg beater, didn't bake a lot but would always make home made donuts for Lent every year.  Her cutter didn't look exactly like this one, but seeing it took me back to those days immediately and I knew I couldn't leave it at the sale.

I might not be making any donuts in the near future, but wouldn't that cut a great looking wreath cookie for Christmas?  And yes, I use all my vintage items, with great pleasure. :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Vince's Tiramisu

Since I've finally calmed down after meeting Duff Goldman last Saturday, it's time I posted this wonderful, and very easy recipe for tiramisu courtesy of my co-worker Vince, which I made for my mum's birthday party last month.  I first tasted this a few years ago at an office send-off party and finally asked for it before the party, since my mum's favourite dessert flavour is coffee.  The dessert was such a hit that I didn't have time to take a photo of it!

Image Courtesy of Google.com

We recently had another retirement party and I was finally able to tell Vince how much everyone enjoyed the tiramisu at the party.  He told me that it wasn't originally his recipe, but that of his late sister and that he thinks of her whenever he makes it.


  • 4 eggs, warmed to room temperature
  • 4 tbsp icing sugar
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder or square of semi-sweet chocolate for decoration
  • 6 cups espresso or very strong regular coffee
  • 1/2 cup of Irish Mist (or otherclear  coffee liqueur), divided into two 1/4 cups
  • 475 gram container Mascarpone cheese
  • 400 gram package Ladyfinger cookies (Savoiardi brand recommended)

  1. Brew 6 cups of coffee, place in bowl, add desired sugar to taste and 1/4 cup of liqueur.  Allow to cool.
  2. Taking 2 bowls, separate the eggs into whites and yolks.
  3. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then refrigerate.
  4. Beat the  egg yolks, adding 4 tablespoons of icing sugar gradually, followed by the second 1/4 cup of liqueur.  Once this is mixed together add the Mascarpone and finish blending together.
  5. Fold the chilled egg whites into the Mascarpone mixture.
  6. Prepare glass rectangular container (or whatever cake pan you prefer).  I used a rectangular Corningware roasting pan that I've never used for roasting!
  7. Pour coffee mixture into a low dish and dip Ladyfinger cookies one at a time, ensuring you dip quickly and don’t let them get too soaked.  Place cookies in a even layer, until the bottom of pan until the pan is fully covered.  Pour half of the Mascarpone mixture over the cookies and smooth out.  Repeat with a second layer of cookies and remaining half bowl of Mascarpone mixture.  Sprinkle cocoa with a fine strainer or grate chocolate on top, covering evenly.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 24 hours before serving and enjoying.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I finally met Chef Duff Goldman!

I've had the most wonderful weekend!  It started on Friday night with my co-worker and friend Laurie, her sister and I attending a craft show and shopping until we almost dropped.  We originally planned to go on Saturday until about two weeks ago, when Laurie made a trip to the Michael's store in North York.  The next morning, Laurie gasped and said "You're not going to believe this - Duff is making an appearance at the Michael's in North York!" 

Now, Duff had just been at the Cdn National Exhibition on September 3rd, but I didn't attend because it was horribly hot and very crowded.  I ended up calling the store *three* times to confirm this information, since it wasn't advertised on their store's events page, or on Charm City Cakes' events page or anywhere in the media in Toronto.  The third call on Wed. last week was the best - Duff was going to be signing his signature black aprons and they would be given to attendees for free!  Duff now has an extensive like of baking products and tools that are only sold directly by Michael's and the apron sells for $25.

Here I am with Duff, grinning my head off!  I tried to crop it, but seeing the security guy on the left and the pile of aprons on the right appeals to me. :)  The tubs on display are different flavours and colours of fondant icing.

Laurie and I are veterans of many, many scifi conventions and waiting for hours is the norm, so we decided to get there by 10:30 am - Duff was signing from 2 to 4 pm.  No kidding, we really did get there that early.  We also had Michael's coupons to use on even more craft supplies (Friday night is another story all together!), so we were able to kill some time.  This area of the store was only being set up when we arrived and they finally set up the waiting line by 11 am, when one couple was waiting.  I became the 5th person in line at 11:30 to hold our three spots, when the ladies offered to get us some food and drinks.

Both Laurie and I have the "Ace of Cakes" book, which is not a cookbook, but all about how the show came to be, Duff's path to becoming a successful cake designer (although he is also a trained chef) and bios of all the staff at the bakery.  It's also full of gorgeous photos of the cakes they've made.  We were told very specifically that Duff would "only sign ONE item - either a book or an apron."  We would still get an apron, signed or not, after meeting him.  I was the first in line who with his book and he was pretty pleased "You've got the book!" I told him I'd had it for 2 years and he said he was thinking of writing another one.  Of course I told him he should.  I also told Duff that now I had his and Ina's autographs (his comment "She's sweet!") and said that Ina taught me not to be afraid to bake and that Duff is inspiring to be more creative.  He said, "aww, baking's not scary!" and thanked me.  Of course, I was so excited I didn't let the Sharpie ink dry properly, so it's smooshed a little, but I don't care!

I really didn't know what to do next, since the apron was also part of the meet and greet. so I asked one of the assistants about it.  Duff had a stack of aprons in front of him (see above), and said "Here - let me sign one for you."  I couldn't believe it after the lecture we got before the event began.  I squeeed as I walked away!

I like the heart in front of "Duff" and his little happy face.  We also got a little sample of Duff's fondant - I think I'll have to try it out on some cupcakes...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Baker's 80th Birthday Party!

Sheesh, I thought it had been a while the last time I posted, but now I've actually gone over a month without posting!  Between moving family members, pickle-making parties and birthdays, I haven't had much time to try new recipes or blog.  Hopefully that will change this month as I warm up for the annual United Way bake sale that I'm organizing for Hallowe'en Monday.

We had a major family milestone on September 16th - my little mom, The Baker, turned 80!  Definitely a big event, but she asked that we not have a party "like the last one", her 75th, when 35 family and friends surprised her.  This time, it was a "Kaffee und Kuchen" Sunday afternoon party, which for non-German speakers means coffee and cake.  But we Europeans like to do things a little differently - we have the coffee/tea and drinks with baked treats *before* we eat anything else.  Hey, we have our priorities!  Then, for those guest who really enjoyed the party and stayed later, which we hoped would happen, we have a light buffet dinner.

This year both my lovely daughters Sarah and Megan helped with food prep and baking, for which I was very grateful.  Apart from a massive shop at Costco for the party basics, Megan made two delish salads and Sarah made gluten-free lemon bars, to make sure one of our favourite guests wouldn't be excluded from enjoying the treats.  I made Red Velvet cupcakes (Ina's reliable recipe), my buddy Vince's Tiramisu (I'll do a separate post with this recipes) and an oversized cupcake birthday cake.  For the cake, I bailed and used a French Vanilla box mix because I knew it would hold up well for the shape I was making.  Here it is before the candles were added.  Can you tell that the theme for the party and decorations was cupcakes? ;)

And here's the birthday girl being surprised with her cake!  My uncle asked if I made one for everyone - seriously, 19 of them?!?

She seemed to really enjoy the party and I know the family did too!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

For a while now, Megan's sweetie Duncan has been asking if I could make my banana cranberry walnut bread just as banana chocolate chip.  I ended up making this version using my trusty BCW recipe, adding one cup of dark chocolate chips as the extra which yielded 16 muffins.  Unfortunately, Duncan wasn't here to try them, so they were gone before he got a chance to sample them!

I'll have to make them on Friday night, before the gang shows up to move furniture to Meg and Duncan's new place. And I don't think having a 2.4 kg bag of chips is too much - it's a necessity at my house. :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lemon Yogurt Cake - Without the Yogurt!

My best friend Fern recently gifted me with a big bag of lovely Argentinian lemons.  At my godson's wedding, one of the lovely touches were sliced lemons added to the water pitchers on the tables.  The lemons I received weren't used at the wedding and Fern knew I'd be happy to use them up by baking.  I've wanted to make this recipe from Ina's cookbook, "Barefoot Contessa at Home" for a while, so these lemons were the perfect excuse.

For once, I didn't use my favourite appliance, my big red mixer!  This cake only needs two bowls to be made and a little bit of elbow grease.  Since I don't buy whole milk, plain yogurt - Ina's recipe ingredient - I used 5% reduced fat sour cream instead.  The cake was still moist and flavourful - I'm sure no-one would notice the difference.

Before you start baking it's best to get the lemons to room temp, since it makes both zesting and juicing them much easier.  Zest with a fine rasp (my preference) or grater first, then juice the lemons.

Cake Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsps grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice

Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup icing (confectioner's) sugar
2 tbsps lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare loaf pan by either spraying with non-stick oil or with butter and flour.  If using butter and flour, line bottom of pan with parchment paper for easy removal.

Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt into one bowl.  In another larger bowl, whisk together the sour cream or yogurt, 1 cup of sugar, the eggs, lemon zest and vanilla.  Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet mixture.  The mixture will look quite lumpy at this point and you'll wonder what you did wrong!  With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's fully incorporated.  At first it will look like there's way too much oil, but as you continue to fold the ingredients it will all become incorported and - voila! - the lumps in the batter will disappear.  Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for about 50 minutes or until a tester into the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile combine the last two ingredients - the 1/3 cup sugar and the 1/3 cup lemon juice either by cooking on the stove or very slowly in the microwave.  I did mine in a glass measuring cup and it worked perfectly.  Cook only until the liquid is clear, so that the sugar is fully melted.  Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes and carefully remove to a baking rack set over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon sugar mixture over the cake and allow to soak in.  The help this process, I poked holes over the top of the cake with a toothpick and poured the mixture in stages so that it would soak in slowly.

For the glaze, combine the icing sugar and fresh lemon juice over the cake once it has fully cooled off.  If you try this when the cake is still warm, it will look like a puddly, thin mess.  What you want is a nice drizzle pattern on the sides of the cake before it's sliced.

The cake got a big thumbs' up from the family and I know I'll making it again!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Inherited Treasures

Wow, it's about time for an update, don't you think?  I can't believe I haven't updated this blog in over a month!  Between incredibly hot weather and special events during July, my baking has been almost non-existent.

What I've wanted to write about for a while has been what I consider real treasures - the cooking and baking supplies passed along to me from my mother and my grandmother.  When my family left Europe 58 years ago, they didn't have a lot of "worldly possessions", but humble everyday items that I now treasure.

For years I've wanted to display my grandmother's egg beater.  It's really worn - the red and white paint shows years of wear - but I've never found the right way to show it off in my kitchen.  One day I might just splurge and have a custom shadow box made for it.  The tablecloth in the picture was made from a printed panel - the seamstress would just have to pick the colours she wanted to use.  Fortunately for my daughters, both of my grandmothers made a tablecloth using the exact same panel, but in different colours.  One is in mauves and pinks (below) and the other in vibrant reds and golds.

My mother bought the milk glass bowls back in the 1960's at a Toronto institution, Honest Ed's.  Back then the discount stores and Walmarts didn't exist in Canada, so anyone new to the City went to Ed's to stock their kitchens.  The bowls have a fruit pattern on one side and led to my collection of milk glass.  I've actually found fruit bowls that match this set at our local Value Village - or the VV Boutique as my friends and I also call it. ;)

The loaf pans are quite newly inherited.  My mother made the most amazing, most, rich fruitcake for years, but there are less family members now who want to eat it, no matter how soaked in brandy it is.  Since she knows I bake loaf breads quite often, this spring she surprised me by saying "Here, take these - I don't use them any more."  As pleased as that makes it, it still rattles me whenever The Baker gifts me with her baking tools!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lemon Blueberry Crumb Bars

Last Sunday I celebrated another birthday (sigh!) and my daughter Sarah surprised me by baking an absolutely lovely treat.  She blogs on tumblr and found the recipe there.  It was wonderful and the friends I shared it with couldn't stop raving about how tasty the bars were.  No wonder at all, because Sarah is a great baker.  If she hadn't started using my first Barefoot Contessa cookbook before I did - yes, that's right! - I don't know if I would have had the guts to try the baking recipes myself.  She hasn't had much opportunity to bake in the last four years of university, but maybe now she'll be making Martha Stewart's decadent Fudge Brownies again!  She also knew I'd want to blog about this and share the recipe, so she took the pictures for me. :)

1/2 cup butter
1 package lemon cake mix
2 eggs

2 tsp. zest and 3 tbsps. lemon juice (divided)
2 packages of 8 oz. cream cheese, softened (low fat is fine)
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 13x9 inch pan with foil or parchment paper, letting it extend over the sides for easier removal after baking.

Microwave butter for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until melted.  Combine melted butter with cake mix, 1 egg and the 1 tbsp of lemon juice - mix until well blended.  Press 2/3 of the mix onto the lined cake pan.
With a mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar together.  Add in remaining egg, lemon juice, and lemon zest and mix well.  Pour this cream cheese mix layer over the cake mix.  Add the blueberries on top of the cream cheese.  Use the remaining 1/3 of the cake mix to crumble over the top.

Bake 48 to 50 minutes.  Let cool and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before slicing.  The cake slices best when lifted out of the pan completely.  Slices can be refridgerated in a sealed container to keep them moist.

After sampling the bars, my buddies Teresa and John came up with other possible versions.  Teresa sugested dark chocolate base with fresh raspberries, with melted chocolate swirled into the cream cheese and John's idea was chocolate base with pecans, with caramel swirled into the cream cheese.  I'm sure creating new variations of these tasty bars could go on and on...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Meringue Nests with Mixed Berries and Another Little Treat

Life has been so busy!  Between renos on the house and my daughters' university convocations this month, I haven't had much time to bake any new treats, much less update my blog.  Fortunately, last weekend I did get to make these lovelies which I brought as a dessert to a party.  Even more fortunate is that this is the prime time to enjoy fresh berries of every kind - in my case it's been raspberries, strawberries and blueberries.

For the party, I made meringue nests with mixed berries and whipped cream:

This is one of the easiest desserts I've ever made, but it's one of the most impressive.  Here's how it's made:

For 8 Meringue Nests:

3 room temperature egg whites (you want them room temp. for better volume)
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
pinch of Cream of Tartar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Using a 3 inch cup or glass, with a pencil trace the circles onto the paper.  Depending on the size of your cookie sheet, you will be able to draw 6 to 8 per sheet.  Flip the paper over, so that the pencil is on the UNDER side of the parchment.  This will give you the perfect size guide for piping the meringues.

Using a stand or hand held mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Add the Cream of Tartar until blended, followed by the sugar which is added in 2 tbsps at a time, to ensure it's fully incorporated.  Keep whipping the egg whites until they are glossy and form peaks when the mixer whisk is lifted.

Using a star tip on a piping bag, pipe the outer edge of the nest first, filling in the centres afterward.  Once done, pipe another edge around the circle, which creates the "nest" for your berry filling.  Bake the meringes for 2 hours - it's more like drying out than baking, so do not remove them early.  Allow to cool before moving to cooling racks.

For berry mixture:

I used a 2 lb container of strawberries, 1 pint of blueberries and 1/2 pint of raspberries.  I washed and cut the strawberries into smaller pieces, made sure there were no stems on the blueberries and mixed these two together with about 3 tbsp of sugar.  They sat in the fridge until right before we left, when I topped them with the raspberries, which I didn't want smashed into the mix.

The whipped cream:

Normally, I'm not a fan of whipped cream, but for this dessert it's essential and I'm happy to make an exception.  It's very simple - one cup of heavy whipping cream (yes, the 35% stuff!), 1 tsp good vanilla and 1 tbsp of granulated sugar.  Again, beat all ingredients until peaks form - soft ones for whipped cream, unless you want to make your own very sweet butter.  Try to make the whipped cream as the last thing you prepare before assembling this dessert, so that it doesn't have a chance to separate.  If you're taking it with you as I did, keep it as cold as possible before dessert is served.

For this party, I doubled all the quantities and had enough for 18 desserts.  Everyone seemed to enjoy them very much!

I also found another way to use raspberries recently on mini Lemon Tarts:

This was the easiest thing in the world - frozen mini tart shells, prepared lemon curd and fresh berries.  I followed the directions to bake the shells, let them cool and spooned in the lemon curd.  One raspberry each and they disappeared very quickly!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Promoting a Young, Local Cake Designer

At my daughter's recent grad show at the Ontario College of Art and Design, one of the events we attended was the celebration of the graduates' catalogue.  To celebrate properly one of the students, Nadia Colella, created this amazing delicious cake!

Details about this yummy cake:

Apart from being a student for the last four years, Nadia also has a business making custom cakes.  Her website is well worth a look:

Nadia's Cake Creations

This talented young lady is furthering her business goals by heading off to culinary school in Chicago as her next venture - good luck Nadia!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Burnt Offerings

I'm happy to say that I usually have pretty good luck with my baking attempts, but there are some days when it seems like *nothing* goes right!  And, without fail, those are the days when you really, really want your baked goodies to be perfect.

Two weeks ago my best friend and her relations threw a bridal shower for her son's fiance.  Her son is also my godson, so of course this godmother volunteered to bake.  The shower was a lovely Italian luncheon, followed by a sweet table with goodies prepared by the nearest and dearest.  The night before the shower I made mini Red Velvet cupcakes and they were one of the best batches I've made yet.

I decided I'd wait until the next morning to make sugar cookie umbrellas, decorated with flower sprinkles.  I had just made the cookies the previous weekend for Easter and they were no problem - I think the ducks, bunnies and eggs looked very cute.

It's a false assumption to think that a "simple" sugar cookie is easy - it's not.  They're actually one of the most finicky things to bake - the butter has to be soft enough before you use it, then it has to be chilled again before rolling out/cutting and chilled a THIRD time before they're baked.  Of the two batches of dough that I made, one half of the first batch wouldn't hold together at all, when I attempted to roll it out.  The green bin bag got very heavy...

They also need to be watched very carefully during baking, to prevent them from browning to much.  I bake mine for 12 minutes, turning the trays and switching high/low racks in the oven after 6 minutes for successful cookies.  They're actually quite labour intensive little buggers...which leads me to what happened that morning...these sad umbrellas...

They don't look nearly as bad in this photo as they did in reality.  To add insult to injury, those bloody sprinkles had to be placed individually to stick to the dough...sigh!  Those umbrellas that weren't too toasty actually made it to the luncheon.  Here's a photo of the sweet table and everyone enjoyed all the the lovely treats.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rainbow Sprinkle Cupcakes

I haven't blogged in a month because my life has been wrapped around the main floor bathroom reno, which is now entering its fourth week! :(  My house is covered in a very fine coat of dust, which is not a very appetizing environment for mixing batter or rolling out cookie dough.  However, this weekend my younger daughter celebrated her 22nd birthday, so it was time to dust off the Kitchenaid mixer. ;)

When I originally asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she asked for something very "old school" - rainbox sprinkle cake from a box, with chocolate frosting.  Nothing from scratch, just something sentimental - she's pretty sweet that way!  Since the whole family won't be over again until Easter weekend, the cake evolved into cupcakes, which are also much easier to share with the office gang.  Neither of us has any desire to have all the cupcakes sitting at home for the rest of the week, so my office buddies will be happy to see the treats tomorrow.

Maybe I should leave some at home to encourage the contractor to finish the bathroom faster...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

Before I made the Herbed Cheddar Soda Bread recipe from Chatelaine magazine, I wanted to make this one after seeing Ina bake it on her show a number of times of course, I always watch her reruns!.  I'm just thrilled with the results and, for once, I didn't tweak *anything* about this recipe!

The recipe is in Ina's "Barefoot Contessa at Home" cookbook and here's the link to her site.  If it disappears at the end of the spring when Ina changes the recipes, drop me a line and I'll send you the ingredients:

Ina's Irish Soda Bread

I know I enjoyed it so much because it's flavoured with my favourite citrus, orange, and the end result isn't heavy as you might expect from a soda bread.  The house smelled wonderful while it baked and I enjoyed two slices with my raspberry orange jam that I made on Canada Day last year.  Then I took the dog for a walk to work it off. ;)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Send Bakerella some good vibes

I discovered Bakerella last year - the inventor of the very popular "Cake Pops", which led to her book by the same name.

I noticed last week that she hadn't updated her blog since around Valentine's Day and a few days ago she posted what's going on in her life.  I'm sending her all the good karma I can for a speedy recovery - she's much too young to be this ill.

Bakerella - Twelve Days

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Herbed Cheddar Soda Bread

I decided this weekend would be a good time to try this recipe from the March issue of Chatelaine magazine, especially since I still had buttermilk to use up after making the red velvet cupcakes.  The shredded cheddar was also in the frig and I had good intentions of going out to buy whole wheat flour for this recipe.  After waking up to 10 cms (that's 4 inches) of snow and no ploughing on the side streets, I decided to try the recipe using all white flour instead.  Hey, when don't I tweak a recipe?

Since this recipe uses baking soda and buttermilk, which are leavening agents, it doesn't need yeast to rise.  The recipe called for two 8 by 4 inch loaf pans - the size used for small fruitcakes - which I don't current own.  I asked The Baker to check her pans and she reminded me she'd given me a bread loaf pan, which is long and narrow.  I think it used to be called a "Pullman Loaf" pan.  The amount of dough from this recipe filled the pan very nicely to 2/3 height, allowing for room to rise.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups whole wheat flour (see my note above on changes)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1-1/2 cups coarsely grated cheddar (I increased this to 2 cups)
1-3/4 cups buttermilk

Position oven rack in bottom third of oven.  Preheat to 400 degrees.  Spray loaf pan with non-stick oil and set aside.  Alternatively, you can also line the pan with parchment paper.  In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix slowly until combined.  Add butter cubes and mix until they are the size of peas and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in cheese slowly.  Pour in buttermilk and stir until just combined.

Transfer dough to well-floured surface and form loaf.  Place in prepared pan and bake until top is golden brown, 35-45 minutes.  Remove to wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Run knife around the inside edge of the pan, then turn out loaf and allow to cool completely.

I think we're going to have this tomorrow night with homemade minestrone for dinner.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

When I got Ina Garten's latest cookbook, "How easy is that?" the first recipe that grabbed my attention was her Red Velvet Cupcakes.  This weekend was the right time to make them because I had the perfect decorations - dark chocolate hearts!  We have a chocolatier who visits our office building at holidays and when I saw these hearts last week, I knew I had to get them for the cupcakes.

The cupcakes not only look good, but they taste great too - this recipe is definitely a keeper!


2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1 tbsp liquid red food colouring (or enough red gel paste until the colour is right!)
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted, softened butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 extra large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin tins with paper liners. Ina states the recipe will yield 15 large cupcakes, but I got 16 out of the batter, without having to scrape out the bowl.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Now normally I cop out and just whisk all the dry ingredients together, but when using cocoa powder I do use a sifter.  Cocoa powder always seems to have lumps so it's essential to sift it before mixing.  In a large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, food colouring, vinegar and vanilla with a whisk to make sure the food colour is blended well.  For anyone wondering, "butter"milk is not fattening - it only has a 1% fat content.

In the bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed for 1 minute until light.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat until combined.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and wet alternately in three parts (dry, wet, dry) and mix until well combined.  Scrape the bowl with a spatula to make sure everything is mixed.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cups using a 2-1/4 inch sized ice cream scoop.  Bake for 25 minutes.  My oven is quite hot, so they only needed 22 minutes, so the baking time should be adjusted.

I did not make frosting from scratch, but used a can of cream cheese frosting and didn't get any complaints!  Added the chocolate hearts and they were another tasty tribute to St. Valentine. :)

Sweet Vanilla Hearts

I made another variation yesterday of the "One Dough, 30 Cookies" recipe from the Martha Stewart Holiday 2010 magazine, this time using the most basic vanilla flavoured dough.  I also wanted to use my new set of heart cookie cutters to help celebrate Valentine's Day today.

They were very easy to prepare and decorate and everyone seemed to enjoy this crispy, not-to-sweet vanilla cookies today.  Aren't they cute?


3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks softened, unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tsps vanilla extract

Prep before baking:

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Beat butter and sugar in large mixer bowl on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture.  Beat until combined.

Shape dough into two discs, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 45 mins-1 hour until chilled.  Allow dough to "warm up" slightly for 15 minutes before rolling out onto lightly floured parchment paper.  I placed the paper right into the baking sheets, since the dough goes *back* into the fridge to chill a second time before cutting out shapes.

Remove from fridge after 30 minutes and cut desired shapes.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  The quantity of cookies will depend on the size of cookie cutters used.  The great thing about this dough is that it doesn't expand when baking - the cookies hold their shape beautifully and my batch yielded 4 dozen cookies.

To decorate with sugar, brush lightly with water and sprinkle with coloured sugar.  Bake 6-8 minutes, remove and rotate baking sheets and bake for an addition 6-8 minutes, totalling no more than 15 minutes at most.  Enjoy!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lemon Drop Thumbprints

Now that I've got a new camera and have figured out how to upload photos, it's high time for me to post this recipe.  I really wanted to make these cookies before Christmas, but ran out of time and energy so the ingredients had to wait.  It turns out that this is one of the easiest cookies I've ever made and the taste testers just loved them!

The recipe is from Martha Stewart's Holiday 2010 issue and there recipe was featured in "One Dough, 30 Cookies" - infinite variations from a basic dough.  I knew I wanted to make thumbprint cookies, which are usually rolled in nuts and filled with jam, but I wanted a change after baking so much with chocolate for Christmas this year.  I made the citrus dough variation and filled the "thumbprints" with lemon curd, hence Lemon Drops!  They really didn't look like fried eggs, but like little lemon suns. :)


3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks softened unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup lemon curd for filling - I used E.D. Smith's brand, rather than making it from scratch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk together flour and salt in bowl and set aside.  Beat together softened butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy.  Beat in egg, lemon zest and juice and reduce speed to low.  Scrape bowl to ensure all the lemon zest is fully incorporated.  On low speed, add flour mixture and beat until combined.

I used my trusty 1-1/2 tbsp scoop to measure out the dough which gave me a 4-1/2 dozen yield.  If you use a smaller scoop, you'll get a higher cookie yield.  After scooping, roll dough into balls and place on parchment lined cookie sheets.  Instead of using my thumb, I used the back of my 1/2 tsp measuring spoon, which has a flat bottom, to indent my cookies.  Then refrigerate your cookies for 30 minutes, so that the dough is very firm before baking.

Bake chilled cookies for 7 minutes, then remove from oven and re-press the "thumbprints" since the cookies rise slightly during baking.  You want a deeper indent for your filling.  Bake another 8 minutes (depending on your oven temp.) until firm.  Allow to cool completely on racks.

If you've ever tried to "spoon" lemon curd, you know it's very difficult to do neatly, let alone into a 1/2" indent on a cookie!  I used a small zippered sandwich bag, added the lemon curd, snipped off a tiny opening on one corner and voila! I had an improvised piping bag without a lot of lemony mess.  I only used 1 cup for all the cookies, since it took just a tiny swirl to fill them all.  The "swirl" settled into a big dot and they looked like little suns when they were done.

They're a wonderful, light two-bite cookie that I've already been asked again to make for a bridal shower this spring...of course I said yes. :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Apple Bundt Cake

I haven't had time to bake for just for fun since before Christmas (hey, I love baking then, but it's pressure!) but today I took a day off for hobbies and baking.  I love making bundt cakes - they're easy, they stay nice and moist and are appreciated when I make them.  I went in search on Amazon.ca for a good bundt cake recipe book and found this one:  Bundt Cake Bliss

The decided to get it based on the table of contents and, after making an apple bundt this afternoon, no disappointment!  When my daughter walked in the door tonight, she said "it smells like delicious in here!"  As noted in the book the recipe was originally from the Epicurious website, which the author then tweaked.  I've tweaked it again and really like the results.

Apple Filling:
3 large or 5 medium apples, diced small. I used Crispins, which have a lower moisture content and hold their shape nicely when baked
5 tbsps sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsps cinnamon

3 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tbsp grated orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare 12 cup bundt pan either with butter and flour or non-stick spray to prevent sticking.

Peel and dice apples finely.  Mix apples with lemon juice, 5 tbsp sugar, cinnamon and set aside.  Blend flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  In large stand mixer bowl, combine 2-1/2 cups sugar and oil.  Add eggs one at a time, followed by orange juice and zest and vanilla extract.  When fully blended, add flour and mix slowly.  This is a very heavy batter and the bowl should be scraped to make sure all the liquid is fully mixed in.

The cake is layered with batter and the apple mixture.  Start with the batter and spread evenly, top with a layer of apples, followed by batter, apples and the remaining batter.  It was recommended that it bake for 1-1/2 hours, but 1 hour and 15 minutes was enough in my oven.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes on a rack before turning out the cake.  The cake needs to cool for a full hour before cutting, since it will fall apart if attempted too soon.  I dusted the top with a little powdered sugar and it was a big hit!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Well finally...here are my lovely cookies!

My very clever daughter has sorted out my camera problems and thankfully it doesn't involve buying a new one!

Here are the wonderful Dark and Dangerous Triple Chocolate Cookies that I made in December (recipe link in my last post):

I treated myself to a day off work on Monday, so there will be more new posts soon.  I plan to try an apple bundt cake recipe that sounds delish...