baking

Is there such a thing as too much chocolate and peanut butter? Maybe…

It’s been well-documented in my years of blogging (and even more years baking and not putting it out there on the interweb) that chocolate and peanut butter is a flavour combination that rates very highly with my test audience.  Frankly, I think that the very best cookies contain lots of peanut butter and little to no chocolate, but hey, give the people what they want, right?

I grabbed my Baking Buddy and told him we were going to try the Buckeye Brownies as published on the Brown Eyed Baker.  Even though I don’t typically like having someone else around when I’m baking (seriously, this towel has my name all over it), it was actually a really ingenious if kind of Marxist solution: by splitting the cost of ingredients, each person is only out half the cash, and each person gets half a pan to eat rather then try to work through an entire 9 x 13 pan alone.  Plus, it’s a fairly inexpensive way to spend an afternoon, and feels productive.  That’s what, win-win-win-win?  I can’t argue with that kind of logic.

Although I’ve got a totally kickin’, never-fail brownie recipe of my own, I took a leap of faith and followed the recipe to the letter.  My devil-may-care attitude was rewarded; those brownies – a.k.a. the ultra-important foundation of this entire endeavour – turned out perfectly.

Buckeye Brownies 1

A lovely, slightly cracked top – what a sight to behold!  Baking Buddy’s mind was blown when I demanded the aluminum foil to line the pan: he had never done that before, and marveled at the ridiculously easy clean-up that followed (eventually).  Waiting the recommended time for these to cool enough to add the next layer was the longest part of the entire process, so if you’re going to try these, make sure you can find some way to amuse yourself for a while.

Buckeyes require peanut butter, right?

Buckeye Brownies 2

Action shot!  (And clearly, we don’t believe in putting our groceries away during brownie-cooling downtime; sorry.)

This part was a lot like the peanut butter frosting I use on cupcakes, only…more.  Lots more.

Buckeye Brownies 3

Only here did I deviate from the recipe.  The recipe called for milk chocolate chips in the ganache/glaze, a thought which immediately made my teeth hurt.  Don’t get me wrong, I love milk chocolate, particularly if it’s got peanuts, caramel, or nougat in it.  But the thought of it smeared on top of a thick sweet layer of peanut butter?  Shudder.  I used semi-sweet instead, a twist heartily supported by Baking Buddy.

Buckeye Brownies 4

As we cut them, my first, stomach-dropping thought was, “They look like Nanaimo bars!”  (Something I would likely never make because they’re far too sweet and rich.)  “Hey, they kinda look like Nanaimo bars,” remarked Baking Buddy cheerfully.  It’s all about agreeing on the important things, folks.

These brownies are lovely, and the layers showed perfectly, and…holy crow, are they ever rich!  I can’t begin to imagine what milk chocolate chips would have brought to the party.  If you’re going to make ’em and eat ’em like this, a cup of coffee or glass of milk (depending on your preference) is strongly recommended…but during the postmortem, we discussed ways to make them better.  Halving the peanut butter mixture?  Halving the peanut butter mixture and omitting the chocolate glaze?  The top two layers almost ruin a wonderfully chewy brownie that stands up well on its own – but on the bright side, I now have a second basic brownie recipe in my arsenal.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Uncategorized

10-Year Anniversary

Ten years ago today, I basically went, “Hey, I made something!” and hit Publish for the very first time.  Nothing like hitting any sort of double-digit anniversary to make you feel old, eh?  😉  In honour of this momentous occasion, I present:

Ten Fun* Facts About The Witty Child

  1. The blog name comes from a Humbert Humbert quote: “Now I do hope that’s all, you witty child.”  Hardly à propos for a cooking/crafting-type blog, but when I first started it, I didn’t really have a long-term plan, and it seemed like a good idea.  Famous last words…
  2. That having been said, I have no plans to change it after all this time.  It’s kind of my thing, now.
  3. I show my inner Bob Belcher, only instead of punny burger names, it’s pop-culturey blog post titles.  I’m always a little disappointed in myself when a title is plainly descriptive.
  4. Sometimes I’m a little too punny/witty for my own good.  Case in point: in my list of blog posts, I kept seeing one called “Tin Roof, Rusted”.  I knew immediately what song the line was from, but couldn’t remember doing anything remotely resembling a love shack (I don’t think there’s any interior decorating on here…yet).  It turns out (spoiler alert, if you haven’t read it!) that I had completed a sewing project dubbed “Love Elephant” by its designer.  That morphed into “Love Pachyderm” and eventually “Love Pach”.
  5. There’s clearly a frustrated writer in my somewhere, because usually as soon as I start a craft project or see a recipe I want to make, I start mentally composing a post title if not the actual post.
  6. This is especially true for my Craftmas posts, and it’s not uncommon for me to pick up a notebook on my breaks at work and start writing out a post longhand, to be edited and typed later.  And for those of you who are curious, that’s exactly how this post came to be.
  7. I do not get social media.  I do have an account on Instagram that was a tie-in to my now-defunct Etsy shop, but ever since I stopped selling, I can’t be bothered to play the IG game.  What you see on this blog are original posts, not cross-posted to five different platforms (excepting, perhaps, Craftster).  Also, I will not take a post from five years ago and give it today’s date when I can’t come up with any actual new content.  (Seriously, why even bother?)  I hate when blogs do this, and the dates on the comments give it away every.  Single.  Time.
  8. When not crafting, blogging, or complaining about these whippersnappers and their social media, I’m an avid reader, and compile my finishes on Goodreads.  It’s not always highbrow, but I’ve made peace with that.
  9. I don’t bake as often as I used to.  Whether this is due to a greater awareness of sugar consumption, changing jobs and not having the same peanut gallery, or simple sloth, I’m not sure.  Sifting through my archives was like, “cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes”, but lately?  Not so much.  I’ll have to work on that.
  10. Normally, I don’t believe in amending old blog posts save for small spelling corrections – I prefer to leave them as-is, like a digital time capsule.  One notable exception: I changed a post title that joked about Bill Cosby.  It was originally written back when he was just America’s Dad and not a convicted sexual predator, but…I just couldn’t leave it.  I like the new title much better, anyway.

Fighting the urge to become sentimental and self-aggrandizing, I’ll leave it at this.  Thank you for looking, and if you like what you see: awesome! 🙂

(*not really)

baking, cooking

Strawberries, cherries, and an angel’s kiss in spring…

…my summer jam is really made from all these things.  (And a lot less likely to leave you hung over and robbed of your silver spurs!)

The very first year the cherry tree in the front yard yielded fruit – honestly edible fruit, and not the kind you leave for the birds to peck at – I was thrilled.  This isn’t exactly the Okanagan, so this was a novelty to me, one that elicited fantasies of making jam and…well, I didn’t make it much past jam.  And when I first tried it using a Jell-o jam recipe a couple of years ago, the results weren’t great.  (What did I expect?  Jell-o is not and will never be a proper substitute for pectin.)

Jam and Crisp 1

It’s not a huge tree, but it’s got spirit and bursts forth with cherries like it’s going through some sort of weird tree puberty.

Last year yielded another large crop.  Since the idea of “real” canning terrifies me and has me convinced I’ll give someone botulism, I looked for a recipe for freezer jam, and found this.  Even though the recipe specifically calls for sweet cherries, it works wonderfully with my tart little harvest, too.  It’s remarkably similar to the one found inside the Certo package, with the small addition of microwaving the fruit-and-sugar mixture for a few minutes to increase the saturation point and help the sugar dissolve for non-grainy jam.  (There’s something a little disturbing about a recipe using so much sugar that the fruit can’t absorb it all on its own, but even the Certo box calls for the same amount.  In any case, that brief heating works like a charm.)

And, sure, the cherry jam was good, but I sighed that I wished I had my late grandmother’s recipe for strawberry jam.  Hers was the best, bar none, and I had spent the entirety of this millennium to date without tasting it.

“She just used the recipe from the Certo box,” my dad pointed out.  Wait.  The same recipe that I had just more-or-less used with great success?  “The very same.”  Suddenly, memories of her retrieving a new jar from the freezer, not the pantry/basement flitted past my mind’s eye.  I could have been enjoying this stuff for the past 15-plus years.

It was past strawberry season when I had that epiphany, but this year, there was no way I was going to miss out again.  Farmers’ markets may or may not be a giant rip-off (case in point: the cherries that proliferate unbidden in the front yard cost $5.49/lb at the market, and they’re tiny and mostly pit, and tart to boot), but there’s no denying that fresh, local strawberries taste only about a million times better than their pale, flavourless California cousins.  It was a challenge to not eat them all before I could puree and mix and jar them.

But I managed it, and was rewarded with this:

Jam and Crisp 6

Keepin’ it real with mismatched and repurposed jars, there – yet another perk to freezer jam.  Even tasting the mixture as I went along to make sure the sugar was dissolved was like a trip down memory lane.

Of course, it’s hard to justify spending $7.49/pint and not use the fruit you can get for free, right?

Jam and Crisp 5

The freezer is full of unlabelled reddish jars now.  But don’t worry; I can tell them apart.

Jam and Crisp 7

(Editor’s note: I could have sworn the line, “I can’t see the difference.  Can you see the difference?” was from some sort of margarine ad, but a quick Google search confirms it’s ABC laundry detergent.  The more you know!)

I still had half a bucket full of cherries after the jam, so I baked the Bourbon Cherry Crisp from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Jam and Crisp 3Jam and Crisp 4

Warm from the oven, it was a bit like a cherryish hot and sour soup.  But ah, at room temperature – heaven on Earth!  The topping is crisp and lovely, and the sliced almonds complement the fruit perfectly.  I’ve still got some cherries in the freezer, pitted and ready to go, so a second batch may be in order.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

The Hunt for Red Velvet

I know that red velvet cake is generally considered to be a southern dessert.  That’s “southern” as in “below the Mason-Dixon line”, and not “Windsor” – being within spitting distance of the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t count, but I really, really wanted some sort of red velvet cupcake for Canada Day.  It’s red cake!  With white icing!

Silly me: if I wanted a patriotic dessert, I should have stuck with something simple like Nanaimo bars or butter tarts (again).

See, I’ve got issues with red velvet cake.  The Crimson Velveteen cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World are moist and delicious, but, well, darkish.  (The authors fully own this colour issue, arguing that their dessert is much classier than some of the day-glo red versions you see.  Very well, but what if I want bright red?)

Last year I tried the recipe on the Brown Eyed Baker.  Those puppies were nothing short of fire-engine in the picture on her site, but were just as dark as my original recipe and much less flavourful once baked.  Talk about your bait-and-switch!

When I happened upon the red velvet recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction, I thought I had died and gone to baker’s heaven.  Sally is a full-on baking geek who understands the chemistry and technique involved in making a truly spectacular dessert.  I followed her recipe to the letter, and was rewarded with lovely, brighter-red cupcakes.  (The secret is using about half the cocoa called for in other recipes I’ve seen.)

RVCC1

They’re red and gorgeous and perfect!  They look exactly like the ones on the blog (piping techniques notwithstanding).  They rose, and formed these perfectly rounded tops upon which to pipe scads of icing

RVCC2

And they’re just as beautiful under the wrappers, too.

RVCC3

This is as striptease-y as it gets.

I so appreciated the methodology of the recipe: there’s butter for flavour; oil for moisture; buttermilk to make them tender; and two eggs, the whites of which were whipped and folded into the batter separately to keep things light and fluffy.

There was just one problem…they were kind of dry.  Okay, really dry.

My test audience was split about 50/50 as to whether or not this was a dry cake.  One conceded that “they were fine at first” and only got dry after a few days.  On the other hand, whenever I ate one, I felt like I was playing that old party game wherein one tries to whistle while eating crackers.  And I’ve made hundreds of moist cupcakes, so believe me, I know a dry cupcake when I taste one.  So disappointing!  The only thing I can figure is that the cornstarch in the batter dries them out – there’s cornstarch in the vanilla cupcakes from VCTOtW, and they’re nowhere near as moist as the other varieties.

It’s back to the drawing board for a red velvet recipe that’s at once moist and red; in the meantime, I think I’ll have to order a piece from Sals when the craving hits:

RVCC4

(Now that’s a red velvet cake!)

Update: After this fiasco, I tried the Betty Crocker red velvet cupcake mix-in-a-box, and once I got past the shame of using a mix, was forced to admit that they’re pretty darned good.  Darker in colour than my scratch-baked cupcakes, above, they’re moist and light.  And I still made my own icing from scratch, so that makes them practically homemade.

Happy Canada Day! 🙂

 

baking

I found my thrill on blueberry hill…

or: What a Drag It Is Getting Old

Hey, guys?  This whole maturity thing is a buzzkill.  (Side question: do the Who still sing about hoping they die before they get old?)  Gone are the days of drinking-as-a-competitive sport, all-nighters, and greasy food whenever you darned well felt like it.

Okay, so I exaggerate somewhat – I was never much of a drinker – but this is my pity party, and I’ll embellish if I want to.

Last week, I made margarita cupcakes, and did I pile them high with swirls of tequila-lime-salt icing?  I did not.  I made a ridiculously small batch of icing, and demurely spread an even layer on each cupcake.  They still tasted fine, but didn’t feel as fun.

The weekend before that debacle, I saw a commercial for Robin’s Donuts new summer blended drink: a s’mores mocha.  My inner five year-old shrieked joyously, and the next day, I managed to con my friend into making a detour while we were out.  They had signs for it posted in the windows, and those marshmallows looked good enough to eat (obviously), and then I saw the nutritional information right beside the picture: “starts at 560 calories”.  I hate when people misuse the word “literally”, so when I say I literally froze, I mean it.  I wanted that chocolate-marshmallow-graham concoction so badly, and (with apologies to V.N.) what d’ye know, folks – I just could not make myself do it.  Cringing, I ordered a black coffee (and a Ghostbuster; I’m just old, not dead).

In light of these involuntary displays of maturity, I was intrigued by the recipe for Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins on Sally’s Baking Addiction.  I like oatmeal.  I like blueberries.  And no refined sugar?  Sign me up!

Sure, they’re sweetened with honey, and sure, a surfeit of sugar isn’t great for you no matter how natural the source, but honey is a lower GI sweetener, so I figure, it’s a trade-off.

Blueberry Muffins 1

The batter turned out super-thick thanks to letting the oats soak in the milk for the prescribed time.  This recipe makes great use of time: in the 20 minutes of soaking time, I had everything else pulled together, ready to add the oats and milk.  How efficient!

Blueberry Muffins 2

Blueberry Muffins 3

They baked up so nice and tall.  The whole house smelled like blueberry-oat-cinnamon magic (I did increase the cinnamon to about 1 tsp), and it was divine!

Blueberry Muffins 4

I really think these are no-fail.  I followed the recipe to a “T” (cinnamon notwithstanding), and they baked up perfectly, no overbrowning or mushy middles.

Blueberry Muffins 5

Just wholesome, blueberry-studded goodness.

My test audience couldn’t keep their paws off these.  I’m told they’re wonderful with just a little smear of butter on each half, but are excellent naked, too.  If you haven’t already preheated your oven, do it now!

I’m sure my self-imposed health martyrdom – if you can really call less-frosted cupcakes healthy – will come to an end soon enough, but I’ve got this recipe in my back pocket the next time I need a healthy snack or dessert.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

 

baking

It’s light…it’s lovely…it’s lemon

I should preface this by saying that I had a whole post planned out: “A Tale of Two Cupcakes, or: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Blurst of Times.”  However, cupcakes the second were more or less inhaled in record time, and may not have photographed as impressively (this is what I tell myself), and instead I was left with a bunch of pictures of cupcakes the first.

Well, then.

I had had some inklings of these cupcakes bouncing around my brain for a while, now, but I was inspired by the lemon-mascarpone cake on Life, Love, and Sugar.  It looked really good, but I didn’t want to fuss with making my own lemon curd from scratch, and unless you’re feeding a crowd (I’m usually not), whole layer cakes are an annoyance to store.

I started out with the golden vanilla cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and added some lemon zest and juice, plus just a hint of lemon extract in addition to the vanilla.  Oh, and maybe just a drop or two of yellow food colouring.  Once they had cooled, I used my trusty corer and filled the insides with jarred lemon spread.

(Quick aside: I had a childhood friend who would eat peanut butter and lemon spread sandwiches for lunch.  Shocking, I know!  Schools used to allow peanut products on their property.  We were made of tougher stuff then.)

While the thought of peanut butter and lemon spread together still makes me want to retch, lemon spread on its own is tangy and delicious, and did not make the cupcakes soggy – most important!

Instead of a mascarpone icing, I made one of my new favourites: the whipped cream-cream cheese icing from Brown Eyed Baker.  It’s just fluffy and perfect, not too sweet, and if you have some left over and can manage not to eat it by the spoonful on its own, it goes great on fruit, toast, you name it.

What’s that?  Quit waxing nostalgic about peanut-permissive schools and get to the pictures?

Lemon Cupcakes 1

 

Cue the striptease music…

Lemon Cupcakes 2

Lemon Cupcakes 3

Lemon Cupcakes 4

The cupcakes were moist on their own, but the lemon filling helped keep them moist over the next couple of days.  And after sitting, fully assembled, for 24 hours, the flavours melded and the filling was just a bit less tangy and became almost an extension of the cake (flavour-wise, not texture-wise).  I’m not sure about the best of times, but these were pretty darned good!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Cross-stitch and Embroidery, Other Crafts

It’s time to play the music; it’s time to light the lights…

Remember my twinchies?  Gah, that seems like forever ago.  (“Time’s fun when you’re having flies.” – Kermit the Frog)

Anyway, I had so much fun making them that when another round of the twinchie swap appeared on Craftster, with send-outs in September, joining in was a no-brainer.  I might be a bit late in posting these, but think of them as undiscovered gems.

My partner had a variety of themes offered as suggestions, and I was thisclose to running with Bob’s Burgers – can’t you just picture Louise’s bunny ears immortalized in four square inches of felt?! – when I saw that she also had Muppets on her list.  In that moment, the first coherent thought in my brain was, “Beaker!”

Muppet Twinches 2

That was followed a split-second later by, “Bunsen!”

Muppet Twinchies 4

It wasn’t until I began trawling the internet for source images to use, scrolling past picture after picture of Dr. Honeydew, that I realized with a start that he bears a striking resemblance to my dad’s old boss, only slightly more green.  I tried to find a picture of him, but came up empty-handed, so you’ll have to take my word on this.

With Bunsen n’ Beaker done, how could I round out my quartet?  Statler and Waldorf would have been fun, and practically begged to have a note included in my swap package complaining about what terrible needlework this was (“Ha ha ha!”), but they didn’t feel as iconic to me as some of the other Muppets.

Iconic Muppet?  Why, that would be…

Muppet Twinchies 5

Miss Piggy was the most challenging of the four, I found.  Her various pieces felt a bit more jigsaw-y to me than the others, and trying to capture that heavy-lidded look on a very small canvas wasn’t easy.  But the sparkly fuchsia background seems perfect for the self-proclaimed star of the show, and there’s a joke in there somewhere about casting one’s pearls before swine, but I haven’t found it…  (Comments welcome below.)

Knowing that my partner had already received a Kermit twinchie in the previous round, I couldn’t grab for the low-hanging fruit for my last piece.  Instead…drumroll, please…

Muppet Twinches 3

Big Bird!  Stitching him up made me so happy!  The bright yellow and blue felt, the thin lines of blue and pink around his eyes to make them pop…and those fun little feathers on top of his head to add some texture to the whole deal.

All together:

Muppet Twinchies 1

They made it to my partner with all their embellishments intact, and had me envisioning an entire installation of felt Muppet portraits…

Thanks for looking! 🙂