Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Celebration Cake

Happy Easter! Here is the cake I made this year for Easter. I kept it fairly simple, and stuck with a round cake instead of a shaped cake. Not necessarily to be quicker or easier, but for something different and also I had to make another round layer cake anyway. I began with my signature chocolate cake recipe. Then I tried something a little different. Normally I just stick to my standard buttercream icing to frost a cake, or my favorite fudge frosting if i am looking for chocolate. This time, I decided to try a simple chocolate ganache to cover the cake.  I have always seemed a little daunted by ganache, since it seems so decadent and professional. But I went with it today, and I am sure glad I did! Gananche is a lot easier, faster, and more smooth looking than whipping up buttercream, spreading it on, and struggling to get it smooth. And I bet some would say ganache tastes better too, especially chocolate fans. It is so easy to cover a cake with ganache. I will probably resort to this instead of frosting again. Another bonus is, if you use dark chocolate  you can make a less sweet frosting if you like. Two downsides to using ganache is there is no real "vanilla" ganache, though using white chocolate may work (I've never tried), and you need to refrigerate the cake to let it set before continuing decorating. 

Once the ganache was set, I did make up a small batch of buttercream. I colored some yellow and some purple, Easter colors of course. Using two piping bags, two open star tips, and two hands, I piped an alternating star border around the bottom of the cake and a rope around the top. Then, I used cookie cutters to gently press the outline of a bunny head and a chick (it's actually an egg, I added the head) into the ganache, as I am not great at free-handed shapes like that. The chick turned out a bit on the big and fat side, but oh well. I filled both shapes in with open star tips, which is a simple technique, but one that always turns out nice  and often one I forget about. I really should use it more often. I added some facial features, then wrote Happy Easter at the top of the cake, and piped on a small Easter egg as well. It is a simple design, but very suitable for Easter!
I hope the Easter Bunny was good to everyone! :)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bunny Cake From The Past

We seem to always have a cake for Easter. In the past, we usually always made our standard bunny cake. This is where two round cakes are baked. One is used for the bunny's head, the other is cut into three pieces and used for the ears and the bowtie. It is a popular design, and I am sure many of you have seen it before. My father usually made the bunny cake, and iced it, and we helped decorate it with candy and other icing. I particularly like the time we used shredded carrot pieces for the whiskers, as this looked quite neat, and is a bit ironic since bunnies like carrots. This worked well, as we are not licorice fans. However, there is no good picture of this cake, because back in the day, we actually used to focus our pictures on people, and not food.
I can remember a funny story from one Easter. I was quite young, and had only just begun taking French classes at school. My parents used to talk to each other in (limited) French when they did not want me to know what they were saying. But they made a mistake this time, because I was able to pick up two key words, and that was all I needed to hear. Basically, what I heard was, "Blah blah blah, something something...un gâteau de lapin?" Which I immediately reacted to by exclaiming, "Bunny cake!" My mother was asking my father if he was planning on making one that year, and after I caught on, of course the answer had to be yes.
I am not sure if this is the bunny cake from that same year or not, but this cake is from seven yeas ago. Now that we are older, I have taken over a lot of the cake baking and decorating, and i have strayed from just these simple bunny cakes to full-body bunny cakes, basket, cakes, chick cakes, and more. I will have another cake ready for Easter tomorrow!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Hot Cross Biscuits

Hot Cross Buns are a Good Friday tradition, with the crosses representing the crucifixion.  I like the idea of hot cross buns, but the process seems to be a bit much. I love baking and complicated recipes, but I tried making traditional, yeasty hot cross buns before. Not only was the process long and labor-intensive with a lot of waiting, but the buns were not very good at all. they were very, very dry and lacked flavor. So the next year I tried making chocolate hot cross buns. These were much better and tastier (most chocolate things are), but were far from traditional and still a little on the dry side and time consuming. So last year I made hot cross muffins (see April 6th, 2012). These were the best yet, quick, moist, and tasty! This year I tried another take on hot cross buns, which are probably the closest to traditional yet, and I made hot cross biscuits. Just like hot cross buns, but a quick rise version instead of using yeast. They are still spicy, sweet, and chock-full of raisins!

Hot Cross Biscuits
3 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2 Tablespoons granulated (white) sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup raisins or currants, soaked in water for a few ours to plump up, drained and patted well dry
1 large egg
3/4 cup cold buttermilk, plus extra if needed and for brushing tops

Preheat oven to 425F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk the first dry ingredients. Cut in the butter, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the raisins. Make a well in the center. Mix the egg and buttermilk together and add to the well, mixing with a fork until just moistened.
Pour the scrappy dough onto a work surface and knead lightly just to form into a one inch thick or so round mass. Do not overwork the dough. Add a little extra buttermilk, a Tablespoon at a time, if needed. Cut with a round floured biscuit cutter or glass.
Transfer to prepared baking sheet, and brush tops with buttermilk.
Bake for about 15 minutes until biscuits are golden brown and firm.
Let cool, then pipe on crosses (just use a little icing sugar, vanilla, and water). 

I really like this tea biscuit recipe, and it is quite easy to do. The trick to this is to handle the dough as little as possible - no kneading! It has a nice flavor and texture, and is full of juicy raisins. They are especially good warm. I thought I was doing very well, but then ended up forgetting the spices in the biscuits. The spices are not necessary if you are just making biscuits, but if you are trying to imitate hot cross buns they are. So I just added a little cinnamon and a pinch of cloves to the icing, which is what gives it its brownish color.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter Cake Ideas

Every year, I like to make a cake for Easter. I have already made numerous bunny head cakes, a full bunny cake, a basket cake, a chick cake, egg cakes, a white bunny cake, and a brown bunny cake. I have also already made chocolate cakes, carrot cakes, and chocolate carrot cake. I am running out of options. What other flavors and themed cakes are Easter related? I suppose I could do a different type of bunny cake,there are plenty out there. I could also do chick or bird cakes, or a lamb cake. I could do any type of egg cake, a basket cake featuring other things, or cupcakes for a change, although I did do those last year as well. Flavor is a bit trickier to decide on, but I am thinking of a hummingbird cake, which is a moist, springtime cake containing pineapple, banana, pecan, coconut, and often a cream cheese frosting. However, I do feel this might be better suited to a cake that is also decorated with a hummingbird and flower theme, which I don't want to do for Easter. I am thinking of making a cake that is sort of a collaboration of all of these previous ideas and themes. Not for the flavor, of course, as I may just settle for my signature chocolate cake recipe. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? There are many candies that can be easily used to decorate Easter cakes, and they include candy coated chocolate eggs, jelly beans, chocolate eggs, peeps, colored coconut, chocolate bunnies, and more. I am sure I will come u with some cute Easter cake, even if I do end up just winging it, though knowing me, I will be sure to plan in advance! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Multigrain Soda Bread

Multigrain Soda Bread
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus extra for kneading
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup natural wheat bran
1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 Tablespoons oat bran
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375F. Grease or line a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except milk. Make a well in the center and pour the milk in, stirring to moisten. Knead dough lightly until it holds together, adding a little extra flour if necessary to make a sticky but manageable dough. Pat into a seven inch round, about one inch high. Cut n X in the center Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Traditionally, classic Irish Soda Bread is made with just four ingredients: flour or grain, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. Modern versions contain additions of sugar, butter, egg, and raisins or other fruits for added flavor. This is a take on the classic version, except instead of simply using white flour, it uses a variety of different grains for added texture and nutrition. Sugar, butter, and fruit may be added as desired, and the dough may also be brushed with egg wash before baking. Irish soda bread is a popular Irish cake-like bread, especially around St. Patrick's Day. I have made many versions of it. It is hearty, and good warm with a little butter or jam. It gets its characteristic taste and texture from the tangy flavor of buttermilk, and the baking soda that reacts with this acid to make the bread rise.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Macaroon Easter Nests

I have never made macaroons before. I don't even think I have tried one before. I have always wanted to make them, but I'm just not a huge fan of coconut so they were not high up on my list. However, my mother recently did make some for the Easter season. Of course, these are chocolate macaroons. They feature three candy coated chocolate eggs in the middle, so they resemble little Easter nests. They are colorful and chocolaty. Jelly beans or solid chocolate eggs could also be used in the center, but I think these are the most realistic (and tasty). 
This macaroon recipe is quite different from a typical macaroon recipe. While most macaroon recipes get their body from egg whites beaten until stiff, this recipe does not contain any eggs. It does contain a large amount of coconut, and sweetened condensed milk. In addition, these macaroons are chocolate  and the chocolate flavor actually comes from a package of instant chocolate pudding mix, which becomes moistened when mixed with the milk, but not of actual pudding consistency.  The macaroons are then baked, like most macaroon and cookie recipes, and the eggs are pressed in. 
The idea for these Easter nests works with several different cookie recipes, including macaroons, haystacks, and no bake oat drop cookies (see April 9th, 2012). Chocolate cookie recipes work the best. Jelly beans, chocolate eggs, and candy eggs may all be used. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Buttercream Cookies

I hate wasting food. I often have a problem with buttercream. I am terrible at judging how much I will need to frost a cake or cupcakes, and usually I overestimate. A lot. Now there are a few things you can do with leftover buttercream. You can always whip up more cake, or cupcakes, or cookies and frost them, but that's a lot of sweets around. You can freeze the buttercream, either in that form or frosted onto a cake. But if you'd rather not, or are using buttercream that has already been frozen, there are a few other solutions, besides just eating it by the spoonful (though it is good!). If you happen to have some leftover cake as well, try making Cake Truffles (see October 29th, 2012). If not, try making Buttercream Cookies. That's right, I did some searching and found that buttercream can be used in cookies. It is just like skipping the first few steps of creaming the butter, sugar, and vanilla together, because that is essentially what buttercream is! These cookies are quick, easy, tasty, and a good way to avoid food waste.
Buttercream Cookies
1 cup (approximately) buttercream, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, rewhip the buttercream. Mix in the cocoa, adding the egg when it gets to dry to stir. Mix in the flour and baking soda, using your hands if necessary. Depending on the amount and consistency of your icing, you may need to add more flour or maybe even another egg. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Roll dough into one inch balls or drop by a spoon onto prepared baking sheets.
Bake for ten minutes. Let stand on cookie sheets at least five minutes before transferring.

  • The cocoa is optional. But using cocoa does allow you to disguise the icing color. Otherwise, you can just add extra flour and make vanilla cookies, and depending on what color icing you use, they could be really pretty!
  • Use any type of leftover buttercream you have on hand. Chocolate would be especially good. You can leave out the cocoa in these or keep it to make them extra chocolaty and counter some of the sweetness. Try mocha, peanut butter, Nutella, whatever.
  • Instead of chocolate chips, add nuts, coconut, raisins, candies, or a combination.
  • I have not tried other icings, but cream cheese frosting, whipped frosting, and others may work as well.
These cookies are flatter and softer than most cookies, and the texture is a bit different, but certainly good! The cookies are sweet and delicious. I can taste a hint of buttercream, but maybe that's because I know it is in there. I used 1/2 cup chocolate chips, which may have been a bit too much, but it really makes the cookies chocolaty and delicious! My leftover buttercream was blue and green, but if you mix it in enough, you can't even tell.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Multigrain Hot Cereal

Multigrain Hot Cereal (one serving)
2 Tablespoons old-fashioned oats
1 Tablespoon oat bran
1 Tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 Tablespoon wheat germ
1/2 Tablespoon natural wheat bran

Stir all together in a bowl. Add 2/3 cup water. Microwave for two minutes at medium (50%) power. Stir, then microwave for an additional 1:30 or 1:45 minutes on medium until all liquid is absorbed. Let stand for a minute or so to settle.

Microwave Directions (single serving): If you made a big batch of my mix from yesterday's post, simply measure out some dry mix and add double the amount of water. I usually find 1/3 cup dry mix (and 2/3 cup water) a good single serving size. Cook as above.
Microwave Directions (four servings): Use 1 1/3 cups dry mix and scant 3 cups water. Be sure to use a large bowl. Microwave for 3 1/2 minutes at high (100%) power. Stir, then microwave for an additional 3 - 3 1/2 minutes on high until all liquid is absorbed. Let stand for a minute or so to settle.
Stovetop Directions (single serving): Use same ratio (1/3 cup mix to 2/3 cup water). Bring water to a boil, adding salt if desired. Add cereal, return to boil, reduce heat and simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes. Cereal can be covered and allowed to stand to thicken.
Stovetop Directions (four servings): Use same ratio (1 1/3 cup mix to 3 cups water). Bring water to a boil, adding salt if desired. Add cereal, return to boil, reduce heat and simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20-25 minutes. Cereal can be covered and allowed to stand to thicken.

Milk can be used for a creamier cereal. Adjust the amount of liquid for a thinner or thicker cereal, as desired. Salt, sugar, or spice may be added before cooking; honey, maple syrup, molasses, jam, fresh or dried fruit, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, or whatever else you like may be added after cooking. Feel free to experiment!
I like the convenience of just taking this cereal mix from the freezer, adding some water, and popping it in the microwave  But you can make a single serving just to try if you don't want a full batch of mix on hand, and you can also opt to cook it on the stovetop if you prefer.  This cereal is much tastier and much better for you than one of those packets of instant oatmeal you just add boiling water to! 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hot Cereal Mix

I love oatmeal. But lately I have been becoming slightly bored of my usual old-fashioned oatmeal. I know there are many ways to jazz up oatmeal, but I was looking for a different kind of hot cereal mix. I have already made plenty of dry cereals, so I was looking for one I could cook in the microwave quickly in the morning and enjoy hot. I have a wide variety of healthy whole grains on hand that I love. So I developed a hot cereal mix using only five ingredients; oats, oat bran, flaxseed, wheat germ, and bran, that can be whipped up in less than five minutes.

For simplicity's sake (or maybe to complicate things further), we will call the oats "A", the bran "B", and the remaining ingredients (oat bran, flaxseed, and wheat germ) "C". 
The ratio of ingredients to make any amount of cereal mix is as follows A:B:C = 4:1:2. So 4 quantities of oats to 1 quantity of bran to 2 quantities of the remaining ingredients. Just start with an amount of bran, put in four times that amount of oats, and two times that amount of all the other ingredients. 
Here are some examples:

Hot Cereal Mix
old-fashioned oats....2 cups...1 cup...1/2 cup...1/4 cup
oat bran................1 cup...1/2 cup...1/4 cup...2 Tablespoons
ground flaxseed.......1 cup...1/2 cup...1/4 cup...2 Tablespoons
wheat germ...........1 cup...1/2 cup...1/4 cup...2 Tablespoons
natural wheat bran...1/2 cup...1/4 cup...2 Tablespoons...1 Tablespoon

The first amount makes approximately 5 1/2 cups or 16 serving, the second 2 3/4 cups or 8 servings, the third 1 1/2 cups or four servings, the fourth 3/4 cup or 2 servings.

I just measure all of the ingredients in a seal-able bag, seal it, then shake it up real good. I also give it a good stir each time before using. I store this mix in the freezer and cook it from frozen, because all of this ingredients go rancid quickly. I store all of these ingredients in the freezer anyway to keep them fresh.  If you began with your ingredients at room temperature or refrigerated, you can probably store this mix in the fridge for a few weeks instead.

The ingredients in this mix can probably be varied, and I know you can definitely leave the bran out if you don't like it, as well as probably other ingredients too, except for the oats. The amounts need not be 100% accurate either. I really like the texture of this cereal, but it is certainly different than oatmeal, and may not be everyone's cup of tea. Salt, sugar, and spice can be added to the dry mix, or you may add these as well as honey, maple syrup, molasses, jam, fresh or dried fruit, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, or whatever you like to individual servings after cooking. I like a hefty spoonful of cinnamon and some fresh fruit myself. Cooking instructions are to follow in tomorrow's post.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Catan Cupcakes

I've been asked to decorate cupcakes again. With no solid theme again. This time, they were simply for a potluck. No real event either, just a gathering of a group of my brother's friends from school. I know this group enjoys board games, and I know "Settlers of Catan" is one of the games they enjoy playing, so I decided to base my cupcakes on that game. I have never played this game myself, but I have watched (or rather overheard) my brothers and my father playing many times. From what I have heard, it would not be my type of game.
Anyone have any sheep? I need some ore! Why does nobody have wood around here? Brick, brick, I need more brick! Anyone have a sheep? I could use some grain. I NEED A SHEEP!!!!! I'll trade you some wheat for some lumber. Sheepy, sheepy, sheepy, sheepy.......
Now take three to five grown male voices yelling that across the room at each other while you're trying to sleep.
You get the idea.

Anyways, as you may have guessed, Catan involves islands, and knights, and building settlements with brick, lumber/wood, sheep/wool, grain/wheat, and ore, along with rocks, trees, water, and grass. Or something like that. So that is what I based my cupcakes on.

I frosted them with buttercream tinted green and blue. The blue cupcakes were for the water surrounding the settlements. I also included some piped islands and trees on these cupcakes, as well as these miniature cookies I found in the cupboard with buildings etched on them that reminded me of the villages of Catan. The eight green cupcakes were for the resources, two for each of the ones I featured. Chopped chocolate bar for lumber, shredded wheat cereal for wheat, red icing piped in bricks, and white icing piped as wool. These cupcakes were easy and fun to do. The frosting was easy, and then I just looted around in the cupboards for foods I could use on top!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Muffin In A Cup

This is a fantastic little recipe I recently tried for the first time. It makes a nice little muffin in a cup for a hot breakfast in a flash, kind of like a take on a chocolate mug cake. It is so quick to put together, and makes a very nutritious breakfast - it contains the protein of an egg, the fiber of flaxseeds, and a good fat, coconut oil. In addition it contains little or no added sugar or salt, and not preservatives or artificial flavors. You can also increase the nutrition content by added other nuts, nut butter, seeds, or fruits, for added healthy fats, fiber, or antioxidants. The only complaint I have is that the muffin is a bit on the dry side. Next time I may try adding a splash of milk or juice to it.
1 teaspoon coconut oil, melted
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup ground flaxseeds (I use frozen, and it works fine)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
stevia to sweeten

Choose a large, microwave-safe mug. I use an extra wide. 
In the mug, melt the coconut oil and beat in the egg. Beat in the remaining ingredients. Microwave on high (100% power) for exactly one minute. The muffin should be fully cooked and well-risen. You should be able to run a knife or spoon around the edge of the mug and lift the muffin out; or you can just eat it out of the mug. Serve warm.

This is a gluten-free recipe. If you don't have stevia on hand, honey, molasses, maple syrup, or regular sugar work too, although the muffin doesn't really need any sweetener at all. The cinnamon can be traded for another spice as well.
Add any nuts, seeds, or dried fruits you please for added flavor.
This is an excellent breakfast served with some fruit and milk!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mom's Pineapple Chicken

Tonight my mother decided to try a different recipe for supper. As usual, she looked at several recipes online for pineapple chicken, decided she didn't like any of them entirely, and took the parts she liked from each of them and made her own recipe. This was really just an experiment and the first trial run, so she wanted all of our feedback; good and bad. She plans to try again and perfect the recipe. She is certainly off to a good start, as it turned out quite tasty.
Here is basically what she did:

In a large pot or saucepan melt a little butter or margarine.
Add 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/4 cup liquid honey, and one Tablespoon soya sauce.
Cook over medium heat for a few minutes to make a nice sauce.
Add in two cooked, chopped chicken breasts and one can (398mL) pineapple chunks with the juice. Cook until warmed through and chicken absorbs the sauce.
Most of the original recipes call for cooking the chunks of chicken breast in a little oil beforehand but my mother used precooked chicken because she had it on hand. Because the chicken came form the freezer, when it was cut, it turned out more like a shredded consistency. Personally, I liken this consistency, and it would be especially good over a bed of rice or even on a bun. But chunks of chicken would probably look nicer and work better with the sauce.

The sauce was not much of a sauce. This is because my mother omitted the cornstarch from the recipe to boil in and thicken the sauce. So, once the chicken was added, it absorbed all of the sweetener and pineapple juice. It also absorbed more because it was shredded rather than chopped. This certainly made the chicken moist and juicy, but there was no separate sauce. Maybe crushed pineapple instead of pineapple chunks would work better too, and fit better with chunks of chicken.

The dish was very sweet. A little too sweet for a chicken supper. There is 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup honey, and the sweetness of the pineapple juice. Next time, my mother may cut back on the sugar a little, and add some more soya sauce or a little lemon juice or vinegar to cut the sugar a little.

The dish was fine as is, and none of the feedback was really negative. But there is room for a few improvements. We will keep experiementing, and see what we can come up with!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Truck, Flower and Heart Cupcakes

Recently I was asked by a family friend to make 48 cupcakes for her son's fifth birthday to share with his class. I was quite excited at my first real "order", and forty-eight cupcakes is quite the order! I had never made that many at once before, but really it is just two batches of twenty-four. I only have two pans and so much oven space, so I had to bake them separately, which also allowed me to make two different flavors. The only real guidelines I was given for this order was that I was given the muffin cups to use, white with hearts, sort of Valentine-themed, which also came with toothpicks to stick in the cupcakes: trucks, flowers, and hearts. The set was quite cute. The cupcakes also had to be peanut free. Well, I like to know exactly what I am doing, and would actually prefer specific instructions, no matter how bossy it may seem. I am known to ask a minimum of ten questions when someone asks me to bake something. I need the details.

I settled on half chocolate cupcakes and half vanilla. I also settled on half chocolate frosting and half vanilla. So in the end I had: 12 chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting, 12 chocolate cupcakes with white frosting, 12 white cupcakes with chocolate frosting, and 12 white cupcakes with white frosting. I nice variety, I think.
I also had 16 truck toothpicks, 16 flower toothpicks, and 16 heart toothpicks. So after baking and frosting the cupcakes, I decided to decorate them according to the toothpick themes; trucks, flowers, and hearts. 

Trucks: Orange buttercream piped with an upside-down basket weave tip in four straight lines, two long and two short. Chocolate fudge frosting piped with an open round tip for tires. 

Flowers: Chocolate fudge frosting piped with an open round tip for centers. Blue Buttercream piped with an open round tip in five circles for petals.

Hearts: Pink buttercream piped with an open round tip in two halves. 

Here they are with the decorative toothpicks.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Oat Nutri Bread

This is an easy bread recipe I developed myself from looking at other recipes. It is an easier recipe to make than most traditional breads because it is a batter bread - meaning the dough is fairly wet and therefore does not need to be kneaded, just stirred down and spooned into pans. This saves time and effort. I also find these breads tend to rise better, or at least more often, than some traditional yeast breads I make, so I like it for that as well. This is a hearty, healthy bread with the goodness of both oats and oat bran.

Oat Nutri Bread
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 teaspoon granulated (white) sugar
1 package quick rise yeast
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup oat bran
1/2 cup natural bran
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons molasses
1 cup boiling water
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in the water. Sprinkle the yeast over top and let stand for ten minutes until frothy.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, put the next eight ingredients. Pour the water over top and mix well. Let cool to room temperature while yeast mixture stands.
Pour yeast mixture into bowl and mix. Add 2 cups flour and beat. Add another cup of flour and beat well. Cover bowl with a piece of greased waxed paper and a tea towel and set aside to rise for 45 minutes.
Stir dough down. Stir in the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour, mix well. Divide dough among two greased 9x5 inch loaf pans. Cover with greased waxed paper and a tea towel and let rise for about 30 minutes.
Bake at 350F for 30 minutes. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day Ideas

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!! I hope you had more time to plan for St. Patrick's than I did. Not that the date really snuck up on me, but I just didn't have much time to bake anything or plan any tasty treats for it. I do have plenty of ideas though, and it is not too late to whip something up! St. Patrick's Day seems to be a lot about the drinks, so green beer, Irish whiskey, grasshoppers, and creme de menthe always seem to be popular. But if you are looking for something a little fancier, try one of these ideas!

  • Meals: Corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash, Irish mashed potatoes, lamb dishes, Shepherd's Pie, beef stew.
  • Side Dishes: Irish soda bread, reuben sandwiches
  • Desserts: Grasshopper pie, mint Nanaimo bars, 
  • Anything flavored with chocolate and mint: squares, cookies, pies, cupcakes.
  • Anything flavored with Irish whiskey or stout: cakes, brownies, cheesecakes.
  • Anything made with Irish cream: creme brulee, coffee bars, cheesecakes, tarts.
  • Cute Treats: Green leprechaun hats (flat cookies & marshmallows covered in green frosting), mini pots of gold (chocolate cookie shells filled with chocolate coins or candies), mini treasure chests
PHOTO CREDIT:"happy-st-patricks-day-banner.jpg" WLRFM, n.d. Sunday, March 17, 2013.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cheesy Potato Shred

My mother wanted to make a different potato dish than usual to go with our supper the other night. So she looked through my potato book, but didn't find anything that stood out to her. Then she searched some recipe online, and from looking at those, came up with her own version of a potato dish. I guess this kind of thin runs in the family! When I asked her what she called it, she just said "Shredded Potatoes", so I jazzed up the name a bit. I am sure we will enjoy this dish again!
There is no really specific recipe for this, it is just shredded potatoes, chopped onion, grated mozzarella cheese, one egg, olive oil, and some ground black pepper. Amounts depend on how much you want, and how cheesy you want it. My mother mixed this all up and put it in a casserole dish, then baked it for almost an hour. I was surprised that the potatoes were completely tender without being parboiled, but I guess they cook fast because they are grated. A fairly shallow dish also helps. 
This is a good, hot dish. It has a different, but good texture, with a creamy center and a crisp top. It makes a good side dish for many different meals.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Chocolate Caramel Miniature Pies

Here is the recipe for the mini tarts from yesterday's post. They are fairly easy to make, but a bit tedious. I suppose this would also work as one larger tart and would be less work, but mini tarts are so much cuter!
24 mini pie shells
Caramel Filling
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
4 teaspoons water
1 Tablespoon butter
1/3 cup whipping cream
Chocolate Filling
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Pi Symbols
1 Tablespoon butter (hard margarine is okay, but not as tasty), softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
icing (confectioners') sugar

Caramel Filling: In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the water and the sugar. Cook for 10-12 minutes until mixture turns dark golden brown, brushing the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Remove from heat, stir in butter and cream until mixture stops bubbling. Return to low heat and cook and stir until smooth. Place 1/2 teaspoon into each tart shell.

Chocolate Filling: Add chocolate chips to remaining caramel mixture, heating over low heat if necessary. Top each tart with 1 teaspoon chocolate mixture. Chill until set.

Pi Symbols: Cream the butter well, then cream in the vanilla until blended. Gradually add icing sugar alternately with milk, until desired amount and consistency is achieved  You won't need a lot of icing just to decorate these tarts. Place in a pastry bag fitted with a plain open tip and pipe pi symbols on the tarts.
These tarts should be stored in the refrigerator, but served at room temperature. Surprisingly the caramel and chocolate mixture does not get too hard in the fridge, but let them sit for at least a few minutes out of the fridge before eating for best flavor. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mini Choco Caramel Pi Pies

Happy Pi Day! Pi day is being celebrated today across the world at 1:59:26, or anytime today really. It is Pi Day because it is March 14th or 3/14, the first three digits of Pi (the next five are 15926 in case you didn't guess). I like to make at least one pie for this occasion every year, but I also like to go even further and make Pi pie. Pi pie is any flavor pie that includes the pie symbol somewhere on it - it could be in the form of a cut-out in the crust, an extra piece of dough, a sprinkle of icing sugar, or a drizzle of icing or chocolate. Here are some delicious mini pies I made to celebrate  One little two bite pie has the goodness of chocolate and caramel in a neat handheld package. These mini pies begin with the cream cheese crust I featured yesterday. they are filled with a dollop of caramel filling, followed by a heaping dollop of chocolate filling. I topped them with a little vanilla buttercream in the shape of pi symbols. Here is the process:

The cream cheese pie shells.
Followed by the caramel filling.
Topped off with the chocolate filling.
And finished off with vanilla buttercream pi symbols.
Happy Pi Day!!!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cream Cheese Pie Crust

Cream Cheese Pie Crust
3 ounces cream cheese softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon granulated (white) sugar

Preheat oven to 450F.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients with an electric mixer at low speed until well combined. Roll dough into balls and press into bottom and up sides of 24 miniature muffin cups. Bake for 7-9 minutes until edges are golden. Remove from pans and let cool on wire racks.

This is an easy pie crust recipe that works well if you don't want to bother with the traditional flaky pastry, and want a quick and easy homemade alternative. No chilling is required. It is also good for something a little different. The cheese flavor is not prominent  but makes the crust melt in your mouth. To use this crust with savory fillings, simply omit the sugar and add a little salt. This will work with tartlets, mini pies, tarts, and larger pies.
I will be using this crust tomorrow when I make mini pies for Pi Day!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Nutella Kissed Brownies

As long as Nutella continues to exist, I will continue to bake with it. It is delicious after all. I call these Nutella Kissed Brownies, because not only do they contain a 'kiss' of Nutella, along with the cocoa powder cocoa for an extra chocolate hit, I also used mini kisses chocolates instead of just chocolate chips. I made these brownies with my boyfriend; it is a good recipe to make together because one person can work on the chocolate mixture, while the other gets the remaining ingredients ready. These brownies are rich and very chocolaty and easy to do. It seems like a large amount of sugar, but it is just to counter the amount of cocoa, the brownies actually aren't overly sweet. If you really want a chocolate fix, frost with chocolate (or chocolate Nutella frosting).

Nutella Kissed Brownies
1 cup (two sticks) butter or hard margarine
2 1/4 cups granulated (sugar) 
1/2 cup Nutella (a little extra never hurt anyone)
4 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional (I used instant coffee)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 package (10 ounces, which is 1 1/4 cups, more or less, preferably more) milk chocolate mini kisses or chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a 9x13 inch rectangular baking pan.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter completely. Stir in the sugar and cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly, do not boil. Remove from heat and stir in Nutella until smooth.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, put all other ingredients except flour and chocolate  Pour butter mixture over and stir until well blended. Stir in flour and chocolate until just combined. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes with just a few crumbs attached, and edges are set. 
These are delicious warm, but cool for at least 10 minutes for ease in cutting.

This recipe comes from another baking blog.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Oat Bran Molasses Bread

This bread has a nice texture, different than most breads I have made before. It is a sturdy bread for sure, with a nice flavor. It didn't rise well, but that's okay. I don't really believe in failures, I just think things don't always turn out exactly as we want them to. But that isn't necessarily always a bad thing. Since this bread didn't rise very well, I cut it into three horizontally, and then cut it into smaller pieces. Pictured below is the three horizontal slices. Looks quite neat, and this way you get some very different slices; some good for sandwiches, sore better as biscuits, and some good dipped in soup.

Oat Bran Molasses Bread
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon granulated (white) sugar
1 package quick-rise yeast
1/3 cup molasses
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oat bran
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup natural wheat bran
1 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in the water. Sprinkle the yeast over top and let stand for ten minutes until frothy.
Stir to dissolve yeast, then stir in molasses and oil.
In a separate large bowl, combine remaining ingredients, reserving 1 cup flour. Pour liquid ingredients in and mix until dough forms. Gradually mix in enough remaining flour to form a stiff dough that isn't sticky. Knead 8-10 minutes until smooth.
Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2-2 hours.
Punch dough down. Shape into a loaf and place in greased 9x5 inch loaf pan.
Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Double Chocolate Chippers

Double Chocolate Chippers
3/4 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose (plain) white
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease or line cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
Add next four dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.
Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until set.
Makes about two dozen (24) large cookies.
This is a classic double chocolate chip cookie recipe provided by a little Chipits Chocolate Chip Brand recipe booklet. I'll admit it isn't my absolute favorite recipe for double chocolate chip cookies, but it is certainly good and satisfies a chocolate craving. My mother made this batch of cookies.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Perfect Chocolate Frosting

This is my master, no-fail, go-to recipe for chocolate frosting. It is smooth, and has the perfect balance of butter, cocoa, icing sugar, liquid, and flavoring. This icing may turn out slightly different each time it is made, depending on how accurately the ingredient proportions are measured, but it always tasted good. It is good for frosting and filling cakes, as well as squares, brownies and cookies, and is also good for decorations. I used it for my cake featured yesterday.

Perfect Chocolate Frosting
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, melted
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
3 cups icing (powdered) sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir cocoa into butter until smooth. Stir in icing sugar gradually, alternating with milk. Stir in vanilla. Add a little extra milk or icing sugar to achieve desired spreading consistency.

  • The amount of cocoa may be increased or decreased to alter the color tone, as well as the chocolateness and sweetness of the frosting.
  • Replace milk with cold, strong coffee.
  • Use chocolate milk for an extra boost of chocolate.
  • Increase the amount of liquid slightly to use as a filling.
  • Replace vanilla with mint extract for a mint chocolate frosting.
  • Melt the frosting briefly in the microwave to use as a drizzle or ganache.

Here is a picture of the frosting in two different tones. The dark tone is as listed above, the light tone used for piping only has a touch of cocoa and much more icing sugar. 

Friday, March 08, 2013

Cupcake Cake

Here is a quick and easy cake I made for a cake walk. Sometimes I find making cakes for cake walks a bit difficult, because as I have mentioned before, I need strict criteria and direction to make a nice cake design. With cake walks, usually there is no theme for the cakes, the cakes are just simply cakes. I mean, you can choose to theme your cake if you wish, or just do a simple cake design, or just ice a cake and throw some sprinkles on or whatever. If the cake walk is being held close to a holiday or celebration, you can decorate the cake according to the theme, like a Christmas cake, Easter cake, spring cake, winter cake, Mother's day cake, etc. If the cake walk is being held for a particular fundraiser, say a local animal shelter, the cake could be decorated with a pet or animal theme. But at this tricky time of year, which isn't particularly close to any holidays or changes of season, cake themes are difficult to come up with. I suppose I could have gotten away with a St. Patrick's themed cake or a spring themed cake, or even an Easter themed cake, but it just didn't seem to be quite the right time for any of those cakes. I was settling on doing just a cake design, like one with a bottom border, top border, and some flowers or other piped decorations in the middle using a simple two or three color scheme. But then, while searching for ideas, and I found many endless good ideas, I found a few different versions of this idea; a cupcake cake. It is cute, simple, and quick and easy, which is certainly what I needed. It seems just a little ironic to put a cupcake on a cake, but hey, who doesn't like cupcakes?
For this cake, I frosted it with my perfect chocolate frosting, then choose a pink and green buttercream. I put an alternating rope border on the bottom and a spin on an alternating shell border around the top. Then I used my basketweave tip flipped upside down to pipe straight lines for the cupcake base in red, used my open round tip to pipe green swirls on top, then added a red cherry on top. It didn't take very long at all, but is simple and pretty for a cake walk.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Quick Golden Cake Layer

Quick Golden Cake Layer
1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan.
Put all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix to moisten, then beat 2 minutes until smooth. Pour into prepared pan.Bake for 25-30 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. 
This easy layer cake recipe is super simple, super quick, and makes a nice white cake layer to build on, that is firm for ease in decorating. It also comes in handy when you only want one layer and not two.

Paré, Jean. "Fruit Flan." Recipe. Cakes, Edmonton Alberta: Company's Coming Publishing Limited, 1990. 104. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

M&M Cheesecake Squares

This is a slightly different type of square. A regular, caramely crumble crust, topped with cream cheese filling and candy coated chocolates (M&M's or Smarties). Add nuts or chocolate chips or toffee bits as you wish! The crust is tasty, the cheesecake filling is creamy, and the candies add a special touch. I used miniature candies in the center and big ones on top.
M&M Cheesecake Squares
1/3 cup hard margarine, softened
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1 package (8 ounces/250 grams) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
3/4 cup candy coated chocolates (regular or mini)
or substitute/add chocolate chips and/or chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x8 inch square pan with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together. Stir in the flour Reserve 1/2 cup, and press remaining mixture into prepared pan. Bake for ten minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until well blended. Add egg, beat well.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of candy over baked crust. Spread cream cheese mixture over top. Combine remaining candy and crust and crumble over top. Bake for about 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

No-Touch Biscuits

This is a super easy, basic, but delicious biscuit recipe. The directions seem lengthy, but only because I added hints and comments to it. If you are an experienced baker, you won't even need the instructions. The key to awesome biscuits here is to handle them as little as humanly possible to produce the most tender and flaky product. That's right, no kneading!

No-Touch Biscuits
5 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/3 cup granulated (white) sugar
5 heaping teaspoons baking powder (HEAPING, don't worry, it won't be too much)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine (soft tub margarine works fine and is lower in calories & fat)
1 cup milk
1 cup water
Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the first four dry ingredients  Cut in the margarine until blended in, using a pastry blender, fork, two knives, or your hands. Add the milk and water and gently stir in until dough is just moistened, but still dry in spots.

Dump the mixture onto a clean counter or board. Mix together with your hands, adding a little more water if necessary. Dough should be sticky. Pat into a rough rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick. Do not use a rolling pin. Dough will look scrappy, and not smooth, but it's meant to. Do not knead this dough.

Cut the dough with a biscuit cutter, glass, or just into squares using a knife. Place on prepared baking sheet. They may touch, but place them far apart (bake in two batches) if you want crispy sides. If you cut them into squares, placing the biscuits close together will result in almost a "pan biscuit". The biscuits will form together and need to be pulled apart gently. These are delicious!

Bake for 15-20 minutes until risen and golden. Enjoy warm with any spread you like, or reheated later. 
Large square biscuits are good for sandwich building.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Molasses Wheat Quick Bread

Molasses Wheat Quick Bread
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup natural wheat bran
2 Tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. 
In a large bowl, stir the first six dry ingredients  Pour the wet ingredients into the center and stir until blended. Scrape into prepared pan. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. 
This is just a quick bread recipe to tie me over until I have time to bake a big batch of old-fashioned, slow rising bread that uses yeast and needs to be kneaded. Quick breads tend to be softer and not hold together as well for sandwiches  but some are quite sturdy. They certainly do make a perfectly good substitute when you don't have time for traditional bread making, as they are incredibly quick. This one gets its nice flavor from molasses, but also has a hearty mix of great grains in it!