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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hunting for Easter Eggs

The only request was that the family Easter cake have some Cadbury Mini Eggs on it.

Well, this cake not only has them on it, but also in it! The kids - both big and small - will have fun picking the flowers and hunting for eggs on the cake. 

The inside is just as important as the outside - even more so in my opinion - and this cake won't disappoint.

The bottom layer is vanilla cake filled with a smooth, silky vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream with crushed mini eggs. The top layer is vanilla cake filled with a light lemon Swiss meringue buttercream. Both cakes are covered with vanilla fondant.
The tree stump is made from Rice Krispie Treats and covered with dark chocolate fondant. Bunnies are gumpaste.

Happy Easter everyone!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Easter Bunny Sugar Cookies

For years I’ve made Easter egg sugar cookies decorated with several colours of royal icing. The cookies were really pretty, but they seemed to take forever. As a matter of fact, there is a little yellow sticky note in my cookbook that says, “Remember how much work these were last year. Don’t do it!” I put it there about 5 or 6 years ago to serve as a reminder the following year when I opened up the book to the sugar cookie page. Each year I’ve ignored that little yellow sticky - until now.

For the past little while, I’ve been decorating holiday cookies with fondant instead of (or sometimes in addition to) royal icing. There are so many great tasting fondants out there now and the cookies have always been a hit. It only made sense to make fondant covered cookies for Easter too!

These cute little Easter Bunny cookies can be decorated in no time. Here’s what you’ll need:
Baked Sugar Cookies (recipe below)
Gel or paste food coloring (pink and blue)
Pink sanding sugar
Small batch of royal icing (or buttercream)*
Piping bag and #1 or #2 round tip
Corn Syrup

*If you aren’t up for piping royal icing, you can always use edible ink markers for the eyes, nose, mouth and whiskers.

  1. Colour a small amount of fondant blue for the eyes and colour a slightly larger amount of fondant pink for inside of ears and for nose.
  2. Colour a small amount of royal icing or buttercream pink while leaving the rest white.
  3. Using the cookie cutter you used to make the bunny cookies, cut the same shape out of white fondant.
  4. Cut away the inside of the ears using a small leaf cutter.
  5. Lightly brush the cookie with corn syrup – you just want enough to make the fondant stick.
  6. Place the fondant on the cookie.
  7. Replace cutout ear sections with pink fondant leaf cutouts.
  8. Smooth out edges using fingers or a fondant smoother.
  9. Using a small brush dipped in water or edible glue, dampen the pink section of the ears. Sprinkle sanding sugar on top. Flip over and tap lightly to remove excess sugar.
  10. Roll two small balls of blue fondant for the eyes. Flatten slightly and dampen one side using small brush. Place eyes (damp side down) on bunny’s face.
  11. From pink fondant, cut a small heart either freehand or by using a fondant punch. (You could also just roll a round ball for a nose.) Dampen nose and place under the eyes.
  12. If using petal dust, dry brush a small amount on the cheeks of the bunny.
  13. Pipe mouth out of the pink icing and whiskers out of the white icing.
  14. Let cookies sit under a tea towel for 24 hours before packing in a tin or wrapping in cello.

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

This is by far my favourite sugar cookie recipe. The addition of pure vanilla bean paste really intensifies the flavour. The cookies are great plain, iced with royal icing, or topped with fondant. I bet they'd be incredible dipped in dark chocolate. I must put that on my "to do" list.

2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste
6 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

  1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well.
  3. Mix dry ingredients together and add two cups at a time to creamed butter mixture.
  4. Mix well.
  5. Divide dough into three or four equal amounts.
  6. Roll each piece to desired thickness between two sheets of parchment paper and then place in refrigerator for about ½ hour.
  7. Once thoroughly chilled, cut dough into desired shapes and place on baking sheet.
  8. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until just beginning to turn brown around the edges.
  9. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before carefully moving to cooling rack.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cocktail Cupcakes

 A few weeks ago, as the temperature hovered around zero degrees, we decided - along with several of our neighbours - that no matter what the weather on April 10th, we were going to get together, dress in our summer clothes, and have cocktails on the deck. Well, we did end up having a quick toast to the upcoming Summer out there, then quickly ran back inside where it was warm and where the boys were firing up the oven for homemade pizza. The appetizers were wonderful (thanks Cathy) and the pizzas were awesome (thanks Paul and Joe).

In keeping with a summer theme, we had Pina Colada cupcakes for dessert. It’s a simple recipe that starts with a white cake mix. Drain an 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple (save the juice). Add pineapple, ¾ cup sweetened shredded coconut, ¾ tbsp rum flavouring, 1 Tbsp coconut flavouring and 1/2 tsp pineapple flavouring to the cake mix along with the eggs and oil in amounts specified on the cake mix box. In place of the water, substitute the reserved pineapple juice topped up with water to make up the required amount of liquid. This recipe makes about 24 medium-sized cupcakes. (Bake at 350 degrees for about 18 minutes).

The icing is simply an 8 ounce package of cream cheese (at room temperature), blended with ¼ cup of butter, 1 Tbsp dark rum and 5 cups of icing sugar. Once cupcakes are cool, pipe icing on with a 1M tip. Top with a piece of pineapple, a cherry and add a small drinking straw.

Another great recipe for cocktail cupcakes is  Margarita Cupcakes with Key Lime Icing . These look great when the icing is “rimmed” with white sanding sugar to represent the salt. Stick a slice of lime on the top along with a straw and you’re done! This same recipe can be used to make Strawberry Daquiri cupcakes by substituting the frozen Margarita mix for frozen Strawberry Daquiri mix.


Friday, April 08, 2011

Banana Chocolate Cupcakes

Who says cupcakes aren't healthy? These babies cover two of the basic food groups - fruit and chocolate!

Under that sinfully delicious dark chocolate ganache frosting is a moist, rich banana chocolate chip cupcake. Topped with Cadbury Mini Eggs, these are perfect for an Easter Brunch.

Banana Cupcakes

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
2 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
5-6 very ripe, medium size bananas
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place baking cups in muffin tin. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Peel bananas and mash in a small bowl. Set mashed bananas & flour mixture aside. Combine butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat on medium speed until creamy and smooth. Add eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Mix until thoroughly blended. Add the flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, mixing on low speed. Stir in bananas and chocolate chips gently so as not to overmix. Pour batter in baking cups, filling about 2/3 full. Bake for about 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle of cupcake comes out clean. If touched gently with finger, top of cupcake should bounce back. Let cupcakes sit in tin for no more than 5 minutes. Gently remove and cool before icing. (Makes about 24 cupcakes)

Chocolate Ganache Icing 

1 pound dark chocolate - either finely chopped chocolate or good quality chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream (35%)
1 Tablespoon butter

Place chopped chocolate in large bowl. Heat cream to a simmer, remove from burner and then pour over chocolate. Stir gently until chocolate has melted. Add butter and stir again. Set aside for 3 - 4 hours to let ganache set up. At that point, the ganache can be piped it on as is, or another 1/4 cup or so of whipping cream can be whipped together with the ganache for more of a mousse topping.

Edible Images

Rice paper maple leaves.
A couple of years ago, I bought myself an edible image printer, which has proven to be a worthwhile investment. 

It’s a regular printer that uses special cartridges filled with food colouring. Otherwise, it works just like a normal printer. With an edible image printer, one can use their own photographs, pictures found on line, company logos or custom designed graphics. I have even used real maple leaves which were then scanned into a jpeg file. The image is printed on special icing sheets or on rice paper sheets, depending on the application.

Spines and cover are edible images.

Vintage travel decals are edible images.

I don’t like writing on cakes. Nothing would tick me off more than to have spent several hours on a cake only to ruin it by writing “Happy Birtday” by mistake. Trust me, it’s done more often than you’d think. So, I’ve been using my edible image printer in place of having to use my somewhat messy handwriting on a nicely decorated cake.

Happy Birthday banner is an edible image

Check out Cakewrecks for some hilarious examples of spelling gone wrong!

The first cakes

When I was a little girl, my mother went to great lengths to ensure that my Christmas-time birthday was special. I remember her having a little cake decorating booklet that showed how with a knife, a few simple cuts, and some rearranging of cake pieces, one could turn two 8" round cakes into an adorable lion or a cat or even a clown with legs and arms. My birthday cakes were always special.

When my children were growing up, I wanted their cakes to be special too. I found a great little bakery that made custom cakes, mostly using the Wilton character pans. The owner turned out a mean Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cake! My own cakes at the time were sad by comparison, so the custom cake lady became a part of our lives for a number of years. 

Fast forward some twenty years. When our grandson was turning one, I offered to make his first birthday cake. I had no experience but I did some reading, got some recipes from a friend and the purple, green and turquoise caterpillar cake was born! I remember staying up very late piping all those little stars. Lesson number one: Thin the icing before piping or it will take forever and your hand will hurt for days. Lesson number two: Don't put too much icing in the bag. The warmth from your hands will melt it a bit and change the colour of the icing - hence the two different purples.

A couple of weeks after our grandson's birthday came our granddaughter's birthday. Again, I offered to make the cake. Every little girl needs a white teddy bear - so she got both a stuffed one and an edible one. The edible one was gone within about 1/2 hour. The stuffed one lingers on ... not as fluffy, certainly not as white, but very well loved.

I knew after those two birthday parties that I wanted to be remembered twenty or thirty years from now as the grandma that made the cakes. And so, I set out to make that happen.