baking

Love from the great white (and red) north

I actually made this last year for Canada Day, too, and it a) got inhaled so quickly that I never got any “completed” pictures, and b) was such a hit that my mom stole my recipe for a get-together at her sister’s house a few weeks later. So when I wanted something vaguely patriotic to make, this felt like the obvious choice: Strawberry Shortcake Icebox Cake.

Because I’m working from home and get to skip the commute, I used what would normally be my on-the-road time to clean and chop the strawberries as prescribed.

Once they were ready to go, the rest of it came together really quickly and beautifully after work.

Two things I did differently from the recipe: I used 3 full cups of heavy cream (horrors!) rather than the 2 3/4 cups called for in the recipe; also, it was too ding-danged hot to turn the oven on and do the topping, so I settled for a sprinkling of graham crumbs instead.

If, however, you are making this on a day when it’s not 38 degrees with the humidity, or you have a naturally higher tolerance for the oven in summer, I highly recommend making the topping. It’s crunchy and wonderful against the creaminess of the whipped cream-strawberry mixture.

The first piece was a mess to get out of the pan, but look at the beautiful layers it revealed! The ladyfingers do tend to get quite soft after a couple of days, so best to enjoy this within the first day or two after making it.

Happy Canada Day! 🙂

baking

Good Vanilla Hunting

Although I am not by any stretch of the imagination a professional baker, I’m a relatively experienced one. I understand how to not overmix, how to check for doneness, and how to fold in the cheese. And while I accept that there are some things I will likely never have the inclination to attempt (croquembouche, anyone?), my Moby Dick white whale continues to be vanilla cupcakes.

It should be such a simple thing, right? But nearly every recipe I’ve tried has left me underwhelmed: they’re either dense, or dry, or some combination of the two. Maybe it’s because my chocolate cupcakes are fail-proof and so moist-moist-moist that vanilla pales (and fails) by comparison, but it still drives me nuts. My go-to cookbook, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, has a vanilla recipe that’s really similar to the chocolate, but with two tablespoons of cornstarch (and no cocoa, obviously). Was that what made it not-perfect? I’ve tried varieties that call for cake flour rather than all-purpose, to no avail. (I’ve also since read tips that recommend adding cornstarch to your A.P. if cake flour is unavailable, which really makes me think there’s a connection there somehow.)

Recently I came across this recipe, and was hopeful. Straight-up all-purpose flour, no separating of eggs (not that I inherently dislike separating eggs, but anything that calls for just the yolk or just the white invariably leads to wasting the unwanted part, unless you have an excellent recipe-stacking strategy to use up those leftover yolks or whites, which I do not), nothing funny.

And…they weren’t bad.

They came out a little browner around the edges than I would have liked, but all things considered…not bad. The batter was thicker than pretty much all of my other scratch recipes, and I think I overfilled them a bit because of this, which in turn necessitated baking them a minute or two longer than might otherwise be prudent. Whether because of bake time or simple batter composition, they were just a wee bit on the dry side, too. I could see making them again, but filling the cups less full – and mayyyybe adding an extra tablespoon of oil to the batter for moisture?

I topped them with a root beer buttercream icing, which paired so perfectly with the vanilla cake, like having a root beer float. Oh, and because you’ve probably noticed the liners by now…

Yep, those are absolutely Christmas liners. Everyone’s socially distancing – who was going to see these anyway? But look how pretty they are!

After my underwhelming success with vanilla, I went back to my old standby – chocolate – for a Father’s Day treat. There was pretty much no doubt in my mind that they had to be topped with peanut butter frosting.

To add a bit of texture and interest, I put a few Reese’s Pieces in a baggie and smashed them with a rolling pin before sprinkling the aftermath on top of the frosting.

This is the best combination…

They’re practically moist enough for themselves and the vanilla cupcakes, if cupcakes worked that way.

Light and moist and perfect, no crumbling at all.

Has anyone had tremendous success with light, moist vanilla cupcakes? Or am I better off box-mixing it?

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Cross-stitch and Embroidery

It’s your first name initial, a great big initial…

Soooo…a few weeks after the last swap of Craftster/first swap of Lettucecraft wrapped up completely, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a little ‘zine-type booklet in the mail from the organizer. She had made a list of some of her own little good things (like big fluffy cats, fun clothes, oak trees, etc.) and sketched out a small cartoon for each one before photocopying the whole shebang and sending one to every swap participant. How cool was that?

I wanted to send her something back, but what? I like it when crafts can be functional as well as pretty, and somewhere along the line I hit on the idea of a hand-embroidered monogrammed handkerchief. I know the thought of handkerchiefs grosses some people out, but I envisioned this being the perfect accessory for delicately wiping away a tear of joy at a summer wedding, not handling winter-level snotty output. I mean, the handkerchief, at least, won’t fall to shreds after bouncing around one’s purse or being balled up in one’s hot little hand, so there’s that. (This is back when the virus was a problem for other continents, and there was no conceivable reason that there might not be summer weddings. Oh, how I laugh now at my childlike naivete.)

That was nearly two months ago, and I’ve yet to hear boo from her about it. There are lots of reasons that could have happened, right?

  1. The Canada Post/USPS liaison I’ve come to rely on has finally failed me, and it’s lost somewhere in the bowels of the postal system. Maybe it’s just due to the newfound slowness of everything, or maybe USPS squeezed the benign-looking greeting card envelope and was alarmed by it’s plush squishiness and had it destroyed, or maybe the envelope glue gave out and there’s a card and a handkerchief sitting loose and unclaimed somewhere.
  2. The postal system did its job, but as I forgot to add my Lettucecraft handle to the card when I signed it, the recipient has no idea who her mysterious benefactor of such beautiful, heirloom-quality linens is.
  3. It made it to its destination in a prompt and timely fashion, completely unscathed by its rather plebeian form of transport, and…she can’t believe that someone sent her this. A handkerchief? How disgusting! This is the 21st century, people, and Kleenex were invented for a reason! Ugh! It’s things like this that help viruses proliferate. And anyway, this is ug-leee! Those colours assault my delicate eyes!

Of those above, which one feels the most likely? And yet, which one does my mind jump to?

In any case, even if she positively hated it, I was pleased with how it turned out. I used the white handkerchiefs from Sublime Stitching, and they are honestly so perfect. I washed them before starting to embroider in order to remove any sizing, and they’re soft and delicate but not totally papery.

Here, in all its 12″ x 12″ glory, you can see the pattern of the floor beneath it faintly.

Once it’s folded into quarters, you get a slightly better sense (maybe) of how wonderfully soft the fabric really is – that drape, though.

A close-up of the embroidery! I used this pattern, which is probably something I would never have bought for myself, but I love how it turned out. I used stem stitch for the A, satin stitch (outlined with backstitch) for the petals, lazy daisy for the leaves, and a single French knot for the centre of the flower.

I’ve still got three hankies left from the package…I might have to stitch up one for myself, because wedding season is bound to resume sooner or later.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

cooking

Hello, I’m Jell-O

This is how I envisioned my self-isolation when authorities everywhere told us to stay home and flatten the curve:

This is what it’s actually been like:

Ha! Just kidding! I’d kill for a paper file right about now. But seriously, I’m working from home, yanked from my extremely paper-based environment and plunked into a paperless wonderland. And I’m not complaining, because hey, I have a job, I and those I care about are healthy, and I’m helping people. But it’s hard not to be a little jealous of those who have all the time in the world to bake and craft and create all day, every day, or who can undertake some great project. Apart from saving the commute, my routine really hasn’t changed. The grass is always greener, right?

Because my weekdays are filled with PDFs and occasionally wonky network connections, I took the opportunity over the weekend to try something deliciously retro: Ribbon Jell-O. I don’t have deeply-rooted memories of this being made for family dinners (but a classmate’s mom made it once, I think?), so I wasn’t in danger of ruining the nostalgia. Also, it’s a) bright and colourful and b) pretty straight-foward and simple, which was reason enough to give it a try.

(A word to the wise: I was a heck of a lot happier before I started reading nutritional information on things. There’s a whack of sugar in this, so, you know, proceed with caution.)

I’m not going to rewrite the recipe here – the original is quite simple enough to follow – but offer some insight for those who might want to follow in my footsteps.

  1. Be aware of the capacity of your kitchen implements. The recipe called for “six small bowls” to mix the Jell-O. I used soup bowls, figuring they’d be more than enough – but by the time I added my one and a half cups of water to each flavour, those babies were full. Ditto the “small saucepan” for warming the milk. Luckily, I decided while the milk was still in the carton that a small saucepan couldn’t hold a litre and sized up. Also: some of the comments complained that all the layers wouldn’t fit into a 9″ x 13″ pan as promised, so I bought a deep (3″) disposable one just for this project.

2. One of the comments asked whether it was necessary to grease the pan. The author swore she never did, but I didn’t feel like taking that chance. I gave my shiny new pan a couple of quick spritzes with PAM and spread it around with a small wad of waxed paper. It’s a really easy insurance policy (and I promise it doesn’t make your dessert greasy).

3. The layers take about 45 minutes each to set up, which adds up when you’re adding 11 of them in total. This is actually a great isolation dessert, because really, where are you going to go?

4. Remember the 3″ pan I procured just for this? Holy heck, am I ever glad I had it! That puppy was almost full to the top when I was finished. Oh, and heavy, too! I had decided to store this in the basement fridge for the duration, and had the foresight to realize I didn’t want to have to carry it upstairs each time I wanted to add a new layer. Because there’s no way those soup bowls were going to make it downstairs without spilling, I emptied each one into a 2-cup measuring cup when it was time to add it and took that down instead. (For the white mixture, I measured out my cup-and-a-half in another 2-cup measuring cup.) An added bonus: because my last few colours were gelling even at room temperature, it was easy to pop the measuring cup into the microwave for 20 seconds or so to loosen everything up again.

5. I’ve blocked out a lot of high school physics class, but I can tell you that there’s a lot of pressure working on this structure from all sides. The adhesion of the white to the colours isn’t absolute, and in serving, the layers start to slide a bit.

6. It fares slightly better if you lay it on its side, although it will also collapse from this position. If I ever make this again and really want it to stay intact, I’ll do individual parfaits – but as it is now, it’s still delicious and fruity, even when it’s a slippery mess.

Thanks for looking – hope everyone’s staying safe! 🙂

General Sewing

“Is ‘mask’ the keyword?” – Humbert Humbert

Because if there’s one thing I love, it’s a bandwagon to jump on.

OK, snarkiness aside, I’ve been seeing different patterns for non-medical-grade face masks popping up everywhere over the last few weeks. My regional health authority has been telling us that we don’t need masks, that they don’t protect us, that all they do is provide a false sense of security – however, I figured they couldn’t hurt, either. Even if you’re keeping your distance like a good citizen, there’s always some rando in the grocery store who thinks he can breach your six feet to squeeze in behind you and grab a pack of gum from the checkout rack, having a coughing fit as he does it.

In the end, I went with this pattern, mainly because I liked that it wasn’t just a video tutorial. I’m old-school darn it, and I like my step-by-step instructions to read. I also thought the contoured shape would offer a better “seal”, for as much good as a homemade mask is.

My dress form, Dolores (named after Dolores Haze; my dad keeps calling her “Doris”, citing that her short blonde ‘do seems inspired by one Miss Day), kindly offered up her head to model the finished masks. She’s a little shocked-looking at the best of times…

…but she looks positively panicked at having to wear a mask.

The recipient of the coffee-printed mask, on the far right, told me later that he undid a few stitches in the lining and inserted an unfurled paper clip as a makeshift nose wire, which helped prevent his glasses from fogging up. (The tutorial I used offered a variation using wire, but I had dismissed it as being uncomfortable. Colour me wrong.) When I made the next two, I used grocery-store twist ties for a gentler, more pliable wire.

I’ve had that Simpsons fabric in my stash for three years now, not knowing what to make with it – this was such a great project for it. I also figured out that by removing Dolores’ wig before putting on her mask, I didn’t have the issue of the elastic scooting her hair back and making it look weird. Too bad that doesn’t work on humans.

Here’s hoping they offer their wearers at least a little extra protection!

Thanks for looking…and stay home and stay safe! 🙂

baking

Cross my heart and hope to die, here’s the digits that make pi…

3.14159265358979323846…. (see here)

Happy Pi Day! (Pie Day?) Although I have made pie before, with reasonable success, it’s not my first choice of things to make. My pastry is okay (my mom’s is a million times better), and I honestly find it a bit fussy, with the cutting-in of butter/Tenderflake, the keeping it cold, the not overworking… Someone else can do the baking, thanks; I’m happy to just be a taste-tester.

I was inspired partly, I admit, by Lara Jean’s turnovers in To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You – yay for Netflix original movies! – but thought this seemed like a good time to find a way to slake those pie cravings without getting up to my elbows in flour. And if they were individually portioned, that would be great, too.

Did someone say hand pies?

Presenting…pie in less than an hour.

Start with your base ingredients:

This is it, plus an egg and some white sugar. That’s all. So far, so good, right?

Start with one of the two crusts in your box. They come round, to fit into a pie pan, so we squared out the corners as best we could. Hey, this was for home consumption, and appearance wasn’t going to count for too much. Score your dough into eights – a 4 x 2 arrangement. Half of these are going to be your bottom crusts, and the other half will be your top crusts. Try to pair the funny-shaped ones together. Heck, if your cutting is more precise than ours was, you should have mirror-image pieces for easy pairing.

Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. We used smaller sheets, so four felt like an adequate number to make at a time. We got four complete pies from each dough round, for a total of eight.

Spoon your filling into the centre of each bottom crust, and brush the edges with an egg wash (really just one beaten egg) so that the tops will stick. I hate to be the bearer of retroactive bad news, but that’s way too much filling you’re seeing. Use less than we did. It’s tempting to fill them to the gills, but don’t. You’ll want a nice wide border along the edge for your top to stick to, no matter how delicious you think cherries are.

Speaking of your tops: perforate them with a common dinner fork, and set each one on its corresponding bottom. Use your fork to press the edges together, crimping them as you go along. See that ooze along the sides? Like I said, use less filling. Learn from my mistakes. Oy. Once your edges are all crimped, brush them with some egg wash and sprinkle with a bit of white sugar, if desired. Coarse sugar would be an excellent substitute, if you like a little bit of extra crunch. We baked ours at 375° for 17 minutes, but time and temperature could vary depending on whether your oven runs hot or cool. We had set the timer for 20 minutes initially, but pulled them out early…

…and had these to show for it. The murder-scene cherry ooze would have bothered me if I were trying to impress a VIP, but for home consumption, it wasn’t an issue. (And anyway, once they cooled, any excess ooze stayed on the parchment.) The tops look a little thin and delicate, likely from the dough being rolled thinner than was prudent, but the taste wasn’t impacted.

These are kind of the culinary equivalent of rounding pi down to 3, but if you’re craving pi…er, pie…they’ll do the trick.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Cross-stitch and Embroidery, General Sewing

Stop! Grammar time!

Happy Grammar Day! I did not craft some lovely, grammatically sound work of art (nor did I invite the strippers, JFK and Stalin. Always use your Oxford commas, people!), so I’ll leave you with this because it makes me smile.

Oh, Jasper…watch out for that pencil sharpener…

But back to our regularly scheduled crafty post, and apologies for the bait-and-switch.

Back in December, Craftster closed the membership part of its site, leaving a bunch of us without a crafty place to call home. (The site still exists, but in archive mode, and you can still look up projects assuming the original poster didn’t take down her pictures.) Just before that unpleasant little announcement was made, one of the members had started gauging enthusiasm for a Little Good Things swap: we’d send our partner something quick and simple, that took two hours-ish to make, plus a sweet treat and a little card telling what one of our personal little good things was. I liked the idea of a quick turnaround, and if I was considering it before the announcement, the fact that it would be the last Craftster swap ever sealed the deal.

I wasn’t the only one thinking like that: this thing turned out to be epic, with 50 participants (something that hadn’t happened there in years) and zero flakers. I requested two partners, and although there was a bit of overlap between their questionnaires and likes, I wanted to make sure I didn’t send twin packages.

My first partner mentioned adult merit badges as a little good thing, and I thought this would be a fitting way to commemorate her time as a member of the site. I cut two 3″ circles out of light blue felt, and then resized an image of Craftster’s mascot (unofficially known as “Cork Guy”; I don’t think he has a name) to fit and cut him out of felt, too. Cork Guy and the dates were sewn only onto one circle, and then I attached the second one with a rainbow blanket stitch to hide the back of my work. The numbers really set my nerves on edge, trying to make them a) the correct size and b) legible. But oh! I got to use math to figure out how long each colour of blanket stitch should be: πd / six colours = 1.57″ per colour.

Although my second partner had also mentioned adult merit badges, I wanted to go a different route. Her questionnaire declared stormy weather to be a little good thing, particularly if she didn’t have to go out in it. The darker blue fabric with the silver streaks reminded me of lightning streaking across the sky, so I paired it with a bright-sky blue fabric to make a 6″ x 8″ mug rug. There’s a layer of fleece in between to offer a bit of extra cushioning and absorbency. To round out the “cozy night in” theme, I sent a few individually wrapped tea bags and some chocolate.

There’s a happy ending to the Craftster trauma: almost immediately after its closure was announced, a few of the moderators put their heads together and launched a new crafty community. Lettucecraft (Just Let. Us. Craft.) has been up and running since January 1, and it’s already full of crafty inspiration.

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Snicker, snicker…

I don’t bake quite as much as I used to; fifteen or twenty years ago, I was a regular Lara Jean Covey (minus the Korean heritage, tiny body, and jock boyfriend), and one of my signature recipes was snickerdoodles. I used to make them all the time, from a recipe plucked from Reader’s Digest of all places, and one of my dad’s coworkers was especially enamoured of them. I’d send a tin of cookies to work with my dad, and a couple of days later, it would come back, presumably to be refilled. Don’t tell me that’s not an ego-stroke.

My initial plan was to re-introduce them to my cookie-consuming public this holiday season, but Christmas kicked my callipygian backside, and like so many other things it just. Didn’t. Get. Done. But when we had a blustery, blizzardy weekend a few weeks back that precluded doing much of anything that involved leaving the house, I had my chance.

The recipe says to make your dough and then chill it for an hour or so, but the smartest thing I’ve done recently was making it the night before, then wrapping the whole shebang in waxed paper and sticking it in the fridge overnight. Sure, my cookie scoop was useless on it the next day, but it shaped into balls so nicely without coating my hands in dough residue.

Bonus: that extra chill time meant they didn’t spread hither, thither, and yon as soon as they hit the oven. I was a little nervous, because the recipe called for a 400-degree oven, and I never, ever bake cookies higher than 350. Much soul-searching – and shockingly, no Google-searching – prompted me to split the difference, and 375 turned out to be the perfect temperature. They were just started to turn golden on the bottom, and the outsides had crisped up nicely while the insides were chewy and lovely.

It was comforting to know that that old recipe withstood the test of time. I think I’ll be adding to my semi-regular rotation (mainly to use up the two bottles of cream of tartar in the spice cabinet, but still).

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

The only kind of blackout you want in the winter

You guys! I’m so glad the holiday season is behind us, and I can get back to my somewhat regular baking schedule. Anything I made over the holidays felt like an obligation rather than something I wanted to do, and with so many store-bought options around (I’m still eating dominoes), it felt futile anyway.

I was itching to bust out my cupcake pans and bake something just for the heck of it, and finally got my chance a couple of weeks ago. Oh, it felt goooood!

A couple of years ago, I had made this Brooklyn Blackout Cake for my mom’s birthday, and although cakes make a lovely presentation for special occasions like birthdays, they’re a pain to store the rest of the time. And although the homemade pudding filling turned out most excellently that time, I didn’t feel like standing over the stove having chocolate splatter at me.

Instant gratification pudding to the rescue!

After baking and cooling a dozen chocolate cupcakes (made with a 2:1 ratio of regular to dark cocoa powder), I made two boxes of instant chocolate pudding, but used only half the milk called for. In other words, two cups for both boxes instead of two cups for each. That gave me an ultra-thick pudding that wouldn’t run all over the place.

I cored the cupcakes, setting the cores carefully aside instead of just eating them (for example). I loaded up a piping bag with my pudding and filled each cupcake, then spread a generous layer on top instead of frosting.

The finishing touch? I grabbed one of my cores and crumbled it on top of each cupcake for that crumb topping finish.

Crumbs on top of your frosting (or “frosting”) might sound weird and dry, but the cake is so moist that dryness isn’t an issue.

Look at that luscious chocolate filling!

On the whole, I’m extremely happy with how these turned out, and how much easier they were to make and store than their layer-cake counterpart. My taste-testers gave them two thumbs up, so it looks like we have a winner.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

craftmas, Other Crafts

On the fourth day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a last-minute Christmas quickie!

(Get your minds out of the gutter…)

I’m not going to do a big, long how-to, but keep it simple: I used this tutorial to create some golden snitch chocolates for a friend’s stocking.

They came together really quickly; I had Discord open in the background while I worked (because apparently I keep glue at the computer desk), and it took less than 10 minutes to get all three made.

There’s no way these were getting back in the cellophane sleeve, so instead, I’ve tucked them into a little organza bag to go at the very top of his stocking, and hopefully keep the wings from getting crushed.

Thanks for looking – Merry Christmas! 🙂