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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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! 🙂

I feel like I’ve gotten away from baking cupcakes lately.  Maybe because it’s all been done?  I don’t tend to get too crazy trying new flavours or techniques, and there are only so many ways to blog about chocolate (“No!!”) or vanilla (“Really?!”) cupcakes.  It’s a bit like watching someone’s really terrible vacation slideshow.

Whatever my reason, conscious or unconscious, I decided to make some mummy cupcakes for Halloween.  And this time I did exactly what I didn’t want to do the last time I made them: I broke down and bought candy eyeballs by Wilton.  In my defense, I saw no less a baking authority than Anna Olson use them.  I can’t explain why, but I tend to trust her far more than I do most of those soi-disant “experts” on the Food Network – she actually seems to know what she’s doing.  If these little shaped sprinkles (as the package describes them) were good enough for her, well, they’d be more than adequate for my purposes.

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Adorable, right?  My frosting process was thus: fitted with a basketweave tip, I first piped a strip across the cupcake to secure the eyes, and then added my bandages in what I hoped was a random pattern.  I didn’t want to paint on a bloody-looking mouth this time, so I left negative space instead to let my dark-chocolate cake show through.  Did you know that it’s really, really hard to randomly generate the mouth shape you’re hoping for?  After the first couple, I started outlining the mouth before adding my bandages – only to discover that my cupcakes looked like they were wearing blackface.  Ugh!  Some of them look truly horrified at that unhappy coincidence; luckily the end product turned out completely inoffensive.

All was well until I stored the uneaten cupcakes in the fridge to be consumed the next day: when I pulled them out, some of them had arbitrarily dilated pupils – usually just one, but not every single mummy had that problem.  I assumed that somewhere in the room temperature-to-refrigerated-to-room temperature cycle, condensation had formed and dripped on some eyes.  They were kind of ugly, but still tasted fine.

A few days later, I made a batch of vanilla funfetti cupcakes for a friend’s birthday, and was able to use more of my candy eyes to Minion-ize them.

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(You’re not losing your mind; those are two different sizes of eyeballs.)

These guys made me smile so much, and I was determined to keep them looking good, so I kept them well away from the fridge.  But lo, by the next morning, some of my Minions were afflicted with the same ocular disorder that had plagued my mummies.

(I am so, so glad that I decorated these the day of his little birthday soirée, and that only the leftovers got bug-eyed.)

Having seen this happen with no significant temperature change, I can only guess that it’s not a condensation/temperature issue; rather, once the icing softens the eyes a bit, the pupils bleed.

Has anybody else had this problem with the Wilton eyes?  Or is there some trick to keeping the eyes looking (ha!) the way they should, short of using them immediately before serving?  At $4 a pack, I don’t think it’s worth fighting over, but I’m going to have to think long and hard before buying them again.

Oh, well.  Thanks for – ha, ha – looking. 🙂

So, I recently left a job after more than two-and-a-half years for greener pastures.  I’m excited about the type of work, pay scale, etc. – but am I ever going to miss the people at my old job!  Everybody was so sweet to me on my last day: one girl brought me a cinnamon roll/croissant hybrid from Starbucks to have with my morning coffee, and later that afternoon my boss took me out for a donut glut (lookin’ at you, root beer glaze!).  By the end of the day, I felt admittedly a little unwell and rather full of pastry, but also loved.  And so because food obviously equals love, I wanted to bake a little something over the weekend and do a desk-drop Monday morning for some of my nearest and dearest.  (This isn’t quite as creepy and stalker-ish as it sounds; I’m still working in the same building, so no security guards had to be alerted to escort me from the premises.)  I had mulled over margarita cupcakes, or faux-Hostess cupcakes, but didn’t want to lug six individual cupcake boxes around.  But ah, the Marshmallow Crunch Brownie Bars from the Brown Eyed Baker sounded like a winner.

I did have my reservations, as I’ve had mixed results with some of her recipes in the past.  My solution?  I used my own fail-proof brownie recipe for the base before proceeding as directed.

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(Hot tip, kids: always, always line bar-cookie pans with aluminum foil before greasing, and cleanup will be a snap.)

After all, if I could nail the brownie part, how hard could it be to sprinkle marshmallows and melt some chocolate and peanut butter together?

The answer: just a little harder than I thought.  I had expected the marshmallows to melt into an even layer rather than just puff up (it’s been a long time since I’ve microwaved a Peep, okay?), and they created a bit of a retaining wall for my crispy chocolate mixture.  My test audience was obviously going to be sampling squares from the centre.

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I didn’t get quite the perfectly delineated layers seen in her photos, but aesthetics aside, it’s not a big deal.  These are moist and fudgy, and surprisingly neat to eat.  (And trust me on that.  I hate getting my fingers sticky, so if I can eat these and not immediately freak out, anyone can.)

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All packaged up and ready to go!

These are seriously easy and tasty, and would make a wonderful addition to a potluck or bake sale.  My afternoon was filled with IMs from my peeps squealing over the fudginess.

Happy Monday, and thanks for looking! 🙂

So, recently I had been part of a project at work informally known as the “Blackout Blitz”.  In all fairness, its name comes from its ties to production quotas and inter-departmental deadlines; however, from the very beginning, it made me think simultaneously of the Blitz of WWII and of the blackout drills held during the war.  Hardly unusual, given the name.

(This raises an important question: why do so many people glorify the WWII era?  I do it, too, but why?  I’m perfectly able to wear oxfords and listen to big band music today, but without all the hassles of rationing, polio, wartime casualties, the marginalization of women and minorities…  I can only chalk it up to there being a heckuva spin doctor there somewhere, who made the whole damned thing seem so glamourous and wholesome.  And, let’s face it, the Bomb Girls of the eponymous television series seemed to know how to make a blackout drill a real gas.)

Needless to say, by the time my mom’s birthday was approaching, I had blackouts and blitzes on the brain, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that for her cake, I decided to duplicate Ebinger’s Bakery’s famous Brooklyn Blackout Cake.

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I turned to Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Vegan Desserts for the basic how-to and for the killer chocolate pudding to slather between layers and all over the outside – and was I ever excited when the mixture smoothed and thickened exactly as it was supposed to! – but deferred to Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for the cake portion.  Their Basic Chocolate Cupcake recipe is moist and foolproof, and with the addition of black cocoa powder to make it extra-dark and rich, there was no going wrong.

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I was concerned that the step of pulsing part of the cake in the food processor to make crumbs to be sprinkled on top would detract somehow from the finished product, but au contraire!  They only add to the chocolatey goodness.

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Moist chocolate cake sandwiching rich chocolate pudding?  Sign me up!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

I try very hard to adhere to my Birthday Cake Rule (longtime readers, you know what I’m talking about!), but every so often, a wrench gets thrown into the works.  Take my dad’s July birthday; the first thought that popped into my head was, “Ugh, it’s too darned hot to bake!”

(In all fairness, I had that same thought last year and took what I thought was an easy out by ordering an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen.  Their regular decorator was on vacation – though no one told us this when we special-ordered it a week in advance – and the resulting dessert fell firmly into the “can’t-sleep-clown-will-eat-me” nightmare category.  But hey, all cats are grey in the dark, right?)

To my credit, I had a plan this year.  I had made the Peanut Butter Cup Icebox Cake from the Brown Eyed Baker for Father’s Day, and it was a resounding success.  Chocolate and peanut butter appear to be the way to his heart – so why not make it again?

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I’ve started to think of this as my “cardio cake” (which is really stretching to make something sound far healthier than it really is): because the instructions indicate that each layer needs to chill in the fridge while the next one is prepared, and because there’s never a 9 x 13″ chunk of spare real estate in the upstairs fridge, I had to keep running it down to the basement fridge for its solitary confinement and then back down to retrieve it when I was ready to proceed.

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But was it worth it?  Just look at those layers of chocolate-peanut butter-y goodness!

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It does generate a lot of dishes – and necessitates the dirtying of that clunky monster, the food processor – but for a cool and creamy finish to your meal, you could do a lot worse!

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

Did everybody have a great Mother’s Day?  It took me longer than usual this year to come up with a cohesive gift/meal plan, but luckily that all fell into place within the last week or so.

My original intention had been to make the Tiramisu Pancakes from Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, but then I saw the IHOP commercial touting their new Cupcake Pancakes and Red Velvet Crepes, and darn it, I was moved.  The nearest location to me that doesn’t require a passport still requires an overnight bag, so it was time to take matters into my own hands:

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Behold: Confetti Pancakes, courtesy of the plain pancake recipe from Vegan With a Vengeance plus a handful of sprinkles thrown into the batter.  (Note that “plain” is a bit of a misnomer; the batter has cinnamon and maple syrup and vanilla in it for flavour before my own addition, and is wickedly delicious.)  And yes, that’s blueberry syrup drizzled on top.

My Birthday Cake Theory extends to Mother’s Day as well, so I whipped up a batch of chocolate cupcakes from VCTOTW last night and decorated them this morning.  Now, as I’ve gotten older and less cute, I’ve been replaced by a furry, four-legged little sibling, and he provided me with decoration-inspiration.

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It’s like looking into a decorating gel-covered mirror.

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He’s really quite impressed by this homage.

Also:

Thanks for looking!

I know I’ve disappeared for the last month – January seems to have gotten away from me, but I was quite pleased with myself for having been able to post at least one handmade/home-baked item per month last year, and had no intention of letting my streak disappear!

My mom celebrated a birthday recently, and those of you who follow me regularly know my Birthday Rule.  Obviously there was going to be a homemade cake of some kind; it just took me a while to decide which kind.  I had contemplated tiramisu (vanilla cake, coffee, Kahlua, chocolate shavings) in all its adult glory, but finally decided I needed something chocolate-based.  No matter how fancy I get, she always seems to like my plain chocolate cake/cupcakes best of all.  I got the idea to make a chocolate buttercream frosting laced with raspberry syrup (the latte kind, not the pancake kind), with fresh raspberries for garnish.

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But the true stroke of genius, in my obviously completely unbiased opinion, was to place some raspberries on top of the bottom layer once it had been frosted.  It reminded me of some of the fruit tortes from store bakeries, and adds a really nice bit of flavour and texture where one might not expect it.

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I also had the perfect birthday card in mind: a Margaret Sherry illustration from The World of Cross Stitching a few months back.  It features a sweet little mouse presenting his hedgehog friend with a birthday cake.

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When I showed it to one of the other party guest, he commented, “Aw, look at the cute little muskrat!”  I’m not sure he was joking.

Also, update on my grammar hoop: I finally got to give it to its intended recipient this week, and he loves it.  He’s displayed it proudly at work, only to have one of his coworkers ask him: “Do you really do it silently?”  Maybe not always…

Pink cake and orange cat

February 15, 2015

Hello there!

My mom had her birthday at the end of January, but due to work scheduling, I wound up having to make her cake the weekend before.  I saw the basic idea in an old issue of Woman’s World, which is a magazine that I would generally never, ever buy – except that this issue had featured adorable Hello Kitty cupcakes on the front cover, and I had been unable to resist it.  They also had a layer-cake version of the cupcakes inside, but their recipe used something like four egg whites in the batter and another two in the icing, with no mention of what to do with the yolks, so I quickly dispensed with that idea and instead used my trusty vanilla cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World as well as the fluffy buttercream icing from the same.  I also thought I might leave the kawaii characters off the cake, and maybe give it a more mature vibe.  Because nothing says “mature” like pink cake, right?

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I, of course, did not think to get a picture of it while it was intact and free from candle holes.

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Holy ombre, Batman!  I used varying ratios of gel food colours to get the different shades, and they worked like a charm.

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That’s a chocolate-cream cheese filling between layers.  Since the cake itself is just vanilla and not overly sweet, it provided a nice balance and helped keep it moist for the next few days until we could get it all eaten.

She had to wait a couple more days to get the rest of her birthday goodies.  I always try to make a handmade card of some sort:

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And when I first saw this design on Urban Threads, I knew it had to be made into a t-shirt:

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I did him in orange to look like her big ol’ furbaby.  He’s painted on – not embroidered – and I think the blue really makes him pop!

Thanks for looking – have a wonderful weekend!

Last week, I decided that I hadn’t baked cupcakes in a while, and it was high time to change that.  And just in case I needed a reason, it was my cat’s birthday – according to the official Humane Society paperwork, which may or may not be all that accurate.

In any case, I brought out my trusty chocolate cake recipe from VCTOTW, and gave then a kitty-centric decorating job, since I had some fondant left over from my dad’s birthday cake.  As one of my professional-baker friends noted, fondant lasts practically forever, and with a little kneading is good as new.  Suddenly, buying a whole box of the stuff for a few little cutouts doesn’t sting so much.

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That’s blue raspberry frosting, by the way.  I can’t resist anything blue raspberry.  And, as my mother noticed, if you turn the cupcake 90° to the left (or your head 90° to the right), the cat turns into a bunny of sorts, like one of those bizarre optical illusions.

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The birthday girl was mildly intrigued, until she determined they were non-fishy in nature.  “Thanks a lot, Ma.”

Where does the time go?  One day, I was stitching up Christmas ornaments, and now, poof!  Finals, summer birthdays, that feeling of irritation that occurs when you upgrade your operating system only to find out that none of your (admittedly embarrassingly rudimentary) Windows XP software will run on Windows 8.1….

But I digress.

My dad celebrated a birthday a few weeks back, and in keeping with my Birthday Cake Rule*, I knew I had to come up with something good.  I had seen this cake on the Brown Eyed Baker some time ago and had been wanting to try it for a while.  Here’s my take:

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Since my dad is just a wee bit (ha!) older than the BEB’s birthday boy, I passed on the rainbow cake in favour of something just a little more adult.

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This is my modification of the basic chocolate cupcake recipe from…wait for it…Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  It’s rich and moist without being too sweet, nice and light, and goes down easy.  Absolutely worth skipping a half-day of classes to make!

I also took a break from needling away at the rather large needlepoint project that’s been occupying my leisure time to stitch him a card.  I saw the pattern in an issue of The World of Cross Stitching, and he rather reminded me of my parents’ cat.

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*The Birthday Cake Rule, for the uninitiated: If you really love someone, you’ll make them a birthday cake, or pie, or cookies, or other dessert of choice, from scratch.  None of this store-bakery sheet-cake stuff.