baking

Like the Teddy Bears’ Picnic, only slightly gorier

I’m not going to bore everyone with a bunch of backstory and details, except to say that I made these for a recent birthday (the last small-bubble get-together before the latest lockdown). The birthday boy loves gummi bears (really loves them), and when I saw something like this on Pinterest, I knew I had to make them. The best part is, they’re so simple that you don’t really need to have a webpage open to follow along.

Without further ado…

Step one: Bake cupcakes. Any kind will do, but I did chocolate just because. Make or buy some chocolate frosting, and frost each cupcake with a thin-ish schmear using an offset spatula. You want to have frosting left over.

Step two: Tint your remaining frosting with black gel colour. You don’t have to get it black-black, but something vaguely dark grey would be good. We want to make these cupcakes look like barbeques, and this darkened frosting is going to be used for your grill. If you don’t trust your freehand drawing skills, trace the lines using a toothpick first so that you’ve got something to use as a guide.

Step three: This is the fun part! Grab some bamboo skewers – the ones I used are longer than a standard toothpick but shorter than the kind you actually barbeque with – and force those gummi bears onto them. Don’t listen to their little squeals. I used two different sizes because when I was at Bulk Barn I couldn’t decide which size would look more to-scale on a cupcake, but you do you.

Step four: Lay your skewered bears across your “grills” and hope people don’t think you’re macabre.

I put my very first skewer in rainbow order because that’s how my mind works and I have problems with randomness…but I tried to live large and let go for the others.

These went over really well – the birthday boy loved them, which meant it was easier to send some home with him later on so I didn’t wind up eating them all.

I think these could be fun for a summer birthday as well, or a backyard cookout.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

Like Bert and Ernie…Bogie and Bacall…

I’ve been trying to behave. While everyone and their grandmother is Instagramming homemade sourdough or who-knows-what, I’ve been squelching my urge to bake, because how many cookies do I need to eat, seriously? I’m not saying I miss going into the office, but I miss having an outlet for all that baking.

I had to give in, though, when I found the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting on Sally’s Baking Addiction. Cupcakes were required, and immediately. How could I say “No” to chocolate and peanut butter? Besides, I reasoned, I could share these with my parents – there was no way my dad was going to complain about that combination.

I started out with my usual chocolate cupcake recipe, which I can almost make in my sleep. How good are they? The cat thought she needed to try them.

Why, kitty, why???

The frosting recipe was simple enough to follow, but made a way bigger batch than I’d usually use. Naturally this meant I had to go nuts piling it on, right? I mean, if I’m going to bake something utterly unnecessary, I might as well go whole-hog.

It was also really stiff, and I realized after piping the first couple that I should have added a touch more milk to it in order to soften it up. Normally, I hold a cupcake in one hand and rotate it as I pipe with the other; this stuff was a two-hand job. My hands were shaking so badly trying to get enough pressure on the piping bag that a casual observer might have thought I have some sort of neurological problem.

Despite the stiffness, the frosting wasn’t at all dry or hard, even after a couple of days. And its firmness may have been beneficial when one of them toppled off its plate onto the floor; it flattened a little bit but didn’t make a huge mess the way a softer frosting would have. In any case, they went over really well and were the perfect excuse to bake something.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

Happee Birthdae Harry

When the Harry Potter books were initially released in the late 1990s, I more or less ignored them. They were clearly for kids (I mean, clearly), which I was not (I mean, clearly), and I found all the hubbub tiresome. Then the movies came out, and…I still didn’t care. Nope, not at all.

More than 20 years later, I decided it might be time to see what all the fuss was about, and picked up a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone last summer. I didn’t have high hopes, because the last two series I poked at to see what all the fuss was about were Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray, both of which were utterly terrible. And actually, pretty much the same books, give or take a little kink.

Maybe it was because my expectations were so low, but I devoured Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, and then got the complete boxed set of all seven books for Christmas. Talk about your revelations: “Oh, so this is what everyone was going on about!” My biggest surprise came when I realized Harry was older than I am. Prior to reading the books, my only knowledge of him came from seeing newsy bits about the movies, whose main trio were all decidedly younger than me. But no! According to the books, Harry was born July 31, 1980, meaning that the Boy Who Lived rings in the big 4-0 this year.

Naturally, I had to bake something to celebrate. I’ve seen a lot of recipes for Butterbeer cupcakes floating around the internet, most of which make my teeth hurt to look at them. Harry may be older than I am, but I get the feeling that my lack of a sweet tooth renders me pretty old, too.

Instead, of completely sugar-bombing my test audience, I made some really simple Cheater Butterbeer cupcakes instead. How simple, you ask?

Start with these:

I promise I’m not sponsored by either General Mills or Kraft Foods, but I wanted something foolproof. When you empty the dry cake mix into your bowl, add the pudding mix, and then proceed as directed on the cake mix box (oil, egg, water, mixing times). Be sure to only fill the cupcake liners half-full as indicated – the pudding mix does not add the volume to the batter one might expect, and you’ll be short if you try to fill them 2/3 full as you would for any other recipe.

I baked mine in Gryffindor red, naturally:

I opted for an ΓΌber-casual build-your-own-cupcake type of topping. Rather than make a stiff, pipeable frosting, I made homemade whipped cream. This was spooned on to the eater’s desired thickness – I thought that it would look more like the foam on top of a mug of beer that way. (And saved me dirtying a piping bag and tip – woo hoo!) A drizzle of caramel sauce sealed the deal.

Want to make this even simpler than it already is? Grab a tub of Cool Whip, or a can of it if you’re craving perfect peaks. Usually whenever I whip cream it’s got cream cheese in it to act as a stabilizer, and without that, it separates after about a day in the fridge and looks a little gross. I’m so glad I got perfect first-night shots here.

Also: although I chose to do mine up like this, some of my testers discovered that with leaving the cupcakes naked and adding the toppings later, they preferred cutting the cupcake in half and laying it flat-side down on the plate, to prevent tipping over later. This also allows more surface area for whipped cream and caramel, so win-win.

The addition of the pudding mix to the cake mix made the cupcakes slightly chewy, but wonderfully moist. The whipped cream was a marvelous balance against the sweetness of the cupcake and the sauce – although my testers also discovered that the cupcakes were good enough to be eaten with nothing on them, so you do you.

And with that bout of kitchen magic, I sit patiently to await my invitation to Hogwarts.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚

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 375Β° 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! πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚

baking

If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain…

First off, can we all just agree that that song is not some romantic, carpe diem-type thing? They both tried to cheat, and caught each other in the act. That marriage has issues a pina colada or two won’t fix.

A while ago at work, our friendly neighbourhood social committee organized an island-themed potluck. I found myself lumped in with Team Hawaii, and although I didn’t wind up taking part in the end due to mitigating circumstances, I had started brainstorming dessert ideas. (Isn’t a dessert island far preferable to a desert island??) Faithful readers know that I’ve been having fun since January experimenting with mini cheesecakes, and they seemed like a great option. Bonus: no getting caught in the rain required.

I started with the blank-slate mini cheesecake recipe from Life Love & Sugar (with a graham-crumb base and not vanilla wafer crumbs, thank you very much), and added between one and one-and-a-half teaspoons of coconut extract and half a cup of shredded toasted coconut to the filling mixture.

Once they were baked and cooled, I combined one cup of crushed pineapple (in its own juice), a quarter-cup of sugar, one tablespoon of cornstarch, and about a half-teaspoon of vanilla in a small saucepan. Once the mixture came to a boil, I stirred for 30 seconds before turning the heat down to low and stirring for another minute – until it was nicely thickened – before removing it from the heat and dolloping it on my cooled cheesecakes.

A maraschino cherry in the centre of each cheesecake sealed the deal, and in my haste I completely forgot to sprinkle some additional shredded toasted coconut on the tops, which would have added some extra flavour and crunch, and I am absolutely doing that next time.

Although these didn’t make it as far as the office, my test audience loved them. My dad – who basically only eats cookies – described them as “really good” (which is kind of the equivalent of a Michelin star or two), and my baking buddy took a few in for his coworkers, who devoured them and then scraped their cupcake liners clean.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

How do you spell “fun”? F-e-t-t-i!

Back in the spring, I had made some cookies to share with my coworkers in celebration of what was admittedly a rather arbitrary anniversary. Oh, I didn’t make a big deal of it, plastering “Five Years Since I Accidentally Took the Elevator to the Wrong Floor” banners across my cubicle walls, or anything like that. I packaged them unceremoniously in a Gladware container, scrawled “Funfetti Chocolate Chip Cookies” in green Sharpie on a folded piece of notepaper, and dropped the whole works in an obvious place in the communal kitchen. Free food always moves, and by eleven o’clock that morning, they were gone.

Do you want to know the difference between a “normal” person and a social committee member? The “normal” people instant-messaged me to say thank you, or how much they enjoyed them. Awww. One of the social committee members led with an instant message that started out like that, but turned into, “You should make some for our bake sale! I’d totally buy some! My kid’s two favourite things are chocolate and rainbows.” And so, it came to pass that I was going to be part of the sale.

I’m not going to torture you with a long and complicated recipe, insisting that you not overmix and taking a tape measure to your prepared cookie sheets to determine exactly how far apart your portions of dough are. I’m going to KISS (Keep It Super Simple; or Keep It Simple, Stupid – depends on how surly you feel).

Are you ready?

Take your favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe. In this case, the tubes of dough from the refrigerator section of your local superette does not count as a recipe.

When you get to the point where you’re about to stir in the chocolate chips, add in half a cup (or more, depending on the size of your recipe and your own aesthetic preferences) of rainbow sprinkles – jimmies, not nonpareils.

Bake as prescribed in the recipe.

Enjoy your colourful homemade treats.

I used my grandmother’s recipe, which yields a not-overlarge batch of cookies, and which bakes up nice and chewy, with just the slightest crispiness at the edges. They proved just as popular at the bake sale, even when people had to pay for them – by ten o’clock, only one package was left.

Thanks for looking! πŸ™‚

baking

The cake is a lie. (And so were the cookies, cupcakes, etc.)

A confession: for years, I thought that all recipes everywhere were part of a giant conspiracy theory to prevent others from replicating the originator’s success. Who were these weirdos baking cookies at 375 for 10 minutes? The only thing that was a recipe for was failure, and burned cookies galore. Now, admittedly, I knew for years that my oven ran hot, thanks to an oven thermometer (the best six bucks I ever spent!) as recommended by Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. If I wanted 350, I set it for 325. I also adjusted baking times downward, because the times called for in recipes were generally far too long, and although you can certainly add to baking time once something’s in the oven, you cannot take it away. It was a system that served me well for oh, ages and ages.

Sometime in January or February, I gradually came to the realization that all was not well with the oven. The 25-degree window I had come to know and tolerate was failing me. If the dial was set for 325, I was seeing 375; if I cranked it down to 300, I got 315 or so. What I didn’t quite twig to for a while was that I now had the kitchen-appliance equivalent of a traditional Greek song: it would start at a manageable tempo (or temperature) before stepping on the metaphorical gas to the point where your feet can’t keep up or putting frozen “chicken” strips in for longer than ten minutes required one person to fan the smoke alarm to keep it from going off and one to hold the back door of the house open to clear out the resulting haze.

New stove? Oh, yes, new stove. Only now, recipes looked like a foreign language to me. Is that really 350, or just “bake in a moderate oven”, like old-time recipe books like to say? When I finally screwed up my courage to take the plunge and try baking something, it made sense to try a recipe I’ve baked dozens of times before, right? Instead, I tried my hand at a new-to-me variety of mini cheesecakes. The chocolate-peanut butter people in my life won this round.

I compared making cheesecake to a baking trust fall before, but I’m honestly not sure which time was more stressful: when the oven was running even hotter than I realized and I didn’t know what I was doing, or when I was worried that somehow the new oven wouldn’t run hot enough.

I shouldn’t have worried, because these came out beautifully. In fact, I suspect the ones I made for my mom’s birthday got just a tiny bit overdone – this batch was smooth, creamy, and not the least bit dense.

Rather than make the chocolate whipped cream called for in the recipe, I used my remaining 4 oz. of cream cheese to make a half-batch of the cream cheese-whipped cream frosting from the pumpkin spice latte cupcakes I made last fall, sifting in 1/4 cup of cocoa before beating the cream cheese. It generated the perfect amount to pipe generous-but-not-mountainous swirls on top of each cheesecake, with enough left over for my taste testers to lick out the bowl and not fight over it. I couldn’t be happier with the results, and I think I have the perfect Father’s Day dessert figured out.

Thanks for looking – and remember, always use your oven thermometer! πŸ™‚