KUMBAYA!!

Last weekend we had a birthday celebration at the house – Jaks’ 2nd birthday and Hudson’s 13th birthday.  10 kids, all cousins, on a beautiful, sunny day, all playing, laughing, eating bbq’d hot dogs and burgers, being silly……being kids!  Along with Mom, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, Grandma, Grandpa, Great Aunts, 2nd cousins, friends, basically a nice, big family party.

  Happy Birthday   taste test2
What better fun birthday dessert could I make for the event, but Minion cupcakes!  Anyone who knows me, knows that I love the Minions, they’re funny, cute, silly and they sort of walk to their own beat!  Making these definitely brought out the kid in me, (not that the kid in me isn’t out almost every day already)., but I got to make Bob, Dave, Kevin, Stuart and have fun making goofy smiles with them!  I used licorice wheels, giant marshmallows, the brown Reese’s Pieces and some black icing to create their faces.

End ProductFor the cupcakes, I used a basic vanilla recipe out of this amazing little recipe book I have from the Food Network Magazine.

  • 1 1/3c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1c sugar (I used brown sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2c milk

This book has everything from a birthday classic cupcake to salted caramel toffee to malted milk to passion fruit to root beer float – yes, we are still talking about cupcakes!  There are 50 different kinds of cupcakes……hmmmm, maybe this should be the recipe “book” that I use to make every recipe listed.  Not enough variety maybe?  We’ll see.  Anyway, back to my Minions…..I sliced the tops with an ‘X’ and filled them with a shot of vanilla custard just to give the kids an extra surprise when they bit into them, which was a HUGE hit!

           ready to mix    Filling

As much as using a boxed cupcake mix would be simpler and maybe save me about 5 minutes (ok, maybe 10)……there’s just something about a cupcake from scratch that is sooooo much yummier than a powder in a bag in a box where you add oil, an egg and some milk.  Nope, not gonna do it!!  Plus, I can also modify the ingredients and make it a “healthier” version if I want to.  Same goes for the icing – none of that plastic tub stuff.  I want the real deal……scrumptious, fluffy buttercream frosting, which conveniently, I found on the Food Network’s website.  Mmmmmm, YUM!  It’s crazy simple to whip up and it tastes way better than the ready made store bought icing.   From the looks on these little munchkins’ faces, I think it’s safe to say they’re “kid approved”!

Collage

So next time you’re throwing a birthday party for one of your kidlets, be creative, be adventurous, have some fun with the “cake”.  And remember, it doesn’t have to be the traditional cake that you cut into pieces for everyone – cupcakes are kind of like their own personal mini cake.  Plus, you won’t have anyone fighting over the flower, balloon or whatever the decoration may be on the corner of the cake slab so they can have extra icing!!

Happy BakingBusiness Card heart

 

Mushy Smooshy Heart Day

Yes, I’m talking about St. Valentine’s Day.  Some people look forward to this “holiday” as soon as New Year’s is over, some people loathe this day (for varying reasons) and some people (like me) are completely indifferent on the day.  It really has no bearing on the way, (or more specifically when), I show my love for those that are close to me.  The only impact it does have on me is that it’s an excuse to make some treats – not that I really need an excuse!  This year, I made something new and a bit different than just my regular lovey-dovey heart shaped shortbreads, something that is sort of trending lately – Cake Pops.  They were both fun to make and a big hit!  The nice thing about the cake pop maker I bought is that it came with a pretty good recipe book, with simple recipes from scratch.  To use the maker itself, is as easy as pie, as simple as ABC, like taking candy from a kid……well, you get the idea!  It’s like a waffle maker – you can only mess it up if you put too much batter in each of the divots, which if you follow the directions of 1 tbsp of batter, you’re good to go!

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Seeing as Valentine’s Day typically goes for reds, pinks, hearts, x’s & o’s, smoochy lips and chocolate, I thought it best to stick with tradition.  We don’t have a microwave (and honestly, I don’t even miss it!), so melting the chocolate in the oven is the best option for me – plus, I find melting chocolate slow in the oven just works better.  Dipping the cake pops into the chocolate does require a bit of patience, as you have to wait until the excess chocolate has dripped off so you don’t waste any or get it all over the place.  The secret to getting the stick to stay in the cake ball is to dip the end of the stick into the chocolate first, then jab it in (gently of course).

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If you plan on using sprinkles or small candies to decorate, keep in mind to roll the cake pop in the decorative whatever-you’re-using once the chocolate or glaze stops dripping and they are tacky, or you’ll get ‘bald spots’ on them!  And if you are drizzling chocolate on them, make sure the chocolate or glaze is dry, otherwise the drizzle just slides right off! Just remember that however you choose to decorate them, they will be amazing because it’s YOUR creativity that’s making them!

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Now of course, I had to make shortbread, but I wanted to do something really cool with them.  Something I hadn’t tried before, something that tested my “skills”.  So, these happened!  My simple shortbread cookies became pretty!  Ha

February 2016 054Although these took a little bit of time to create, it was relatively simple “artwork”.  It just took some diligence and a steady hand.  The trick to blending the icing without it running is to use flood consistency Royal Icing, which you can find on various different websites!  You will need a #1 icing tip to create the designs, as well as a scribe tool.  I wouldn’t try using a toothpick instead of the scribe tool, as the wood will soak in the icing and it will run, which won’t work too well for your little hearts.

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It’s also important to remember to let your charming little indulgences set overnight so they don’t stick together when you package them up for a beautiful little gift d’amour!

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Both cake pops and yummy shortbread cookies are great for all occasions – parties, luncheons, birthdays, family get togethers, even business meetings!  Contact me to place your custom order!

 

 

 

 

Christmas in……..January??

So, if you remember my blog post back in November on our family Thanksgiving, I mentioned that our holiday get togethers aren’t exactly always celebrated on time!  So, in keeping with our Levear tradition, this year’s Christmas was no different.  I know that when there are extended families involved with holiday gatherings, they don’t always happen on the exact date, however, we really pushed the envelope on this one and had our Christmas dinner on January 31st.  Yes, 37 days after the actual day!  But seriously……does it really matter that much when we have it?  As long as it’s still technically in the winter, right?  I probably shouldn’t mention then, that the weekend of January 31st was also the weekend that our temperatures were a record high of 17!  LOL.  Oh well, we still had a great dinner, as always!  We all piled into my brother’s dining room and once again filled it with copious amounts of laughter, loud conversation, a hodgepodge of beverages and crazy delish food!  We had a big, fat turkey with all the traditional fixings, including my sister-in-law, Angela’s, heavenly cranberry sauce, stuffing, taters, salads and veggies!  And in following Dutch tradition, my amazing mom got us all our Chocoladeletter.

Chocolate letterSince my brother was hosting all of us, I gave him the option of which dessert he wanted me to bring – my Oma’s apple pie or a cheesecake of some sort, which completely threw him for a loop.  He actually had to take a night to decide…….all I got the next day was a text with the word “cheesecake”.  I’m not the biggest fan of a simple (and in my mind, boring) cherry cheesecake, so I elected to go with a dark and white chocolate cheesecake.   And just to be sure I scored extra brownie points, I made sure to use Lindt chocolate too!

cheesecake 004Chocolate crust, with a rich concoction of cream cheese, eggs, vanilla and the melted white chocolate.

                             cheesecake 001   cheesecake 006
Dollups of the dark chocolate blended with a bit of the cream cheese mixture, swirled in through the cake just enough to create a kaleidoscopic design and keep the contrast of colours visible, then into the oven she goes for the hour.

                            cheesecake 007   cheesecake 008

One of the first times I baked a cheesecake, I made the mistake of opening the oven door a few times to see how the cake was coming along – BIG MISTAKE.  By the time it was done, there were so many cracks across the top, it looked like remnants of an earthquake!  Needless to say, that cheesecake was topped with lots and lots of whipped cream!  Luckily, I’ve made enough cheesecakes since then to almost perfect them!  I’d say this one is pretty close and appears that it was quite popular too!

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Merry (very belated) Christmas everyone?? 

 

Rolling with my BIT (baker in training)

When it comes to baking, at least for me, it’s usually something you do on your own.  It’s my escape from…….everything really!  However, there’s always an exception and that’s when any of my nieces, nephews or friends’ kidlets ask me to bake with them.  I just can’t say no to spending some fun time with them and helping them make some yummy treats!

                          Kya chilling in the leaves    Kya waterfall b&w

This is Ric’s beautiful daughter, Kya.  I have the joy of being able to hang out with her on a weekly basis and just seeing her makes my day brighter!  She’s a ball of magnificent energy and her smile lights up a room, so when she asked me if we could make some cinnamon rolls together, I was all over it.  We picked out a recipe together from Food.com, which took us a little bit to find, as we were looking for a recipe that didn’t call for yeast (we didn’t have any in the pantry and wasn’t able to go out & get any).  Kya then took over the reigns and basically did everything from the measuring to the mixing to rolling the dough out on her own.

     Kya rolling   Sprinkling cinnamon   Cutting the roll of dough

She wanted them to be extra tasty, so we used a little more butter and cinnamon/sugar mix than the recipe called for on the dough before rolling it up!  My only job was slicing up the rolled dough and taking them out of the oven.  Now, I have to admit, we probably should have used a recipe that included yeast, as these ones came out a bit dense and flat, but they were still tasty…. just look at that big smile, it’s obvious that Kya enjoyed them!

cinnamon rolls yum

Heavenly Treats For The Holidays

Another year has come and gone and I hope that everyone had a wonderful and relaxing Christmas and New Years.  I know, I know, the word relaxation within Christmas holidays for most people doesn’t exist and I can admit that I did my fair share of late nights and running around.  However, I can contribute most of those late nights to creating some heavenly treats as gifts to some of my friends and my family.  I threw in my ear buds with some great tunes and away I went making a floury and chocolaty mess in the kitchen.  Thankfully, I have an incredible space in the home where I live with a nice, big island and a double oven.  This definitely helps!  As I mentioned in a previously, I had a list made up a while ago of what I wanted to bake, I just had to cut in down a bit from the dozen or so that was on that list!  I finally settled on shortbread, chocolate truffles, spiced mocha fudge, peanut clusters and caramel pretzel bark, all of which, I’m proud to say got exceptional reviews

Christmas Cheer 2

Out of all these little morsels of ooey-gooey tastiness, I still, after more than 20 years, enjoy making my shortbread the most.  It’s your basic, simple ingredients – sugar, butter, egg, vanilla and flour, and when they are mixed and baked just right, the first bite is like a party in your mouth!

                           Shapes cut        Cut & baked

I had a customer that placed an order for 2 dozen French Macarons – 12 chocolate and 12 salted caramel, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to create these delectable little French almond meringue cookies once again.  Basically, these are what kept me up until the wee hours of the morning (which was entirely my own choice).   Whipping the egg whites just enough to create that slight peak, then gently folding in the cocoa without over mixing (otherwise you end up with flat and cracked Macaron shells), letting your perfectly round little discs harden just a bit at room temperature before popping them in the oven and keeping a close eye on them so they don’t overbake, which would make them hard and crunchy instead of light and chewy.  Messing up on any of these steps is what causes many bakers copious amounts of frustration and a lot of four-letter words!  I’ve had the good fortune of not having run into these issues (and hopefully won’t in the future) and having my French Macarons turn out – with a really great review from my friend that ordered them!

Egg whitesMixing Choc GanacheChocolate shells unbaked

 

 

 

 

I find that the trick to baking the meringues really well is rotating the baking sheet halfway through (I actually do this with all my cookies too).  Maybe it’s just me or maybe it really does help, but now that I’m in the habit of doing it, I have to do it all the time!  Not all Macarons are going to come out looking the same, some rise a bit more, some spread out a bit less, just remember that if they are still round-ish and not cracked, they’ll most likely have the same texture.  In fact, even when using the same recipe, they’ll likely be a tiny bit different each time you make them.

                            White shells baked        Chocolate shells baked

The filling for the Macarons is definitely the easiest part of these little 2-bite slices of heaven.  You can use either ganache, butter cream, meringue or jam, which so far, I’ve found that the ganache and butter cream pair the best.  Once you place a dollup in the centre of the cookie and gently press the top half on top of it, you have your masterpiece!

                            Salted Caramel         Chocolate French Macarons

Now that a new year is upon us, so is a new year of creations and adventures in the kitchen for me.  I am excited and happy to announce that I will be expanding my business and will now be offering Dessert Dutchess packages which will cater to weddings, private parties and corporate events.  Please contact me for more details.

I want to thank everyone for following my blog and I welcome your comments as well as suggestions for any baked goodies that you may want to learn more about – which recipe is the best, which to stay away from and why.

OMG Shortbread

Who doesn’t love shortbread?  When it’s baked just the perfect amount of time so the bottom is light golden, it crumbles just a little when you break off a tiny piece and that piece melts in your mouth with a buttery smoothness……..Mmmmmm, YUM! It’s like a party in your mouth! 

As I mentioned before, I do have my own super dee-lish recipe for shortbread, but a wonderful lady, Auntie Bernie, posted this recipe on her Facebook profile, so of course I just had to try it.  Looking at the it, it seemed like a pretty straight forward shortbread recipe, just with the exception of some yummy peanut butter added to it. I threw it all in the bowl, mixed it up, rolled & wrapped it to be refrigerated and waited (this was the hard part LOL).  Once it was chilled, I cut some nice, big, fat slices, because really…..who’s craving is going to be fully satisfied by a thin, puny little piece?  It did crumble a bit when I cut them (as the recipe said it would), but it was easy to shape them back together, plus it created a bit of cookie dough chunks for me to taste test.

PB Choc Chip Shortbread mixPB Choc Chip Shortbread logPB Choc Chip Shortbread log cut 2

 

 

 

 

In to the oven they went……..tick tock, tick tock…….the 12 minute baking time seemed like an eternity!  Especially since the irresistible smell of fresh cookies was not just filling the kitchen, but drifting throughout the whole house!  Finally, they were done and when I opened the oven door, heads turned.  An even stronger yummy cookie aroma filled everyone’s noses and I was pretty sure they’d suffer through a bit of a burnt tongue just to get a bite as soon as possible!

PB Choc Chip Shortbread baked

PB Choc Chip Shortbread stacked 3Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies from The View from Great Island website – and yes “OMG” were the words that escaped from the lips of a couple people.  There was also “Are you kidding me?”, “These are ridiculous” & a muffled approval that I couldn’t fully understand because she had just sunk her teeth in to this heavenly indulgence!  Now, I’m not going to admit that these are better than mine, they’re just……a different recipe with a few different ingredients and I can guarantee that they will be made again

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 chocolate chips

Cream butter & peanut butter with a hand mixer, beat in vanilla.  In a separate bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together and add to the butter mixture until the dough is no longer crumbly.  Stir in the chips and turn the dough out onto a piece of wax paper. Gently form the dough into a log. Roll it up in the paper, smoothing it out as you go. Twist the ends securely and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Take the log out, unwrap it and slice into 1/3 inch slices with a sharp knife.  If it crumbles a bit, just smooth it back together.  Bake on parchment paper for 12-14 minutes at 350F.  Let them cool on the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to the cooling rack.  ENJOY!!

Halloween Leftovers

Halloween is now behind us and if you have kids, you’ve probably already sorted through your kidlets’ candy and maybe downsized the amount of goodies (namely chocolate bars), to save yourself a not-so-fun trip to the dentist, or for other reasons like avoiding borderline diabetic shock or possibly just to have a few for yourself!  Maybe you bought a whole big Costco size box of goodies to hand out to all those cuties that were supposed to be knocking on your door, politely chiming “Trick-or-treat” in unison, yet you had all of a dozen little costumed munchkins show up.  So what do you do with all those extra little chocolate bars?  You could eat them – “I’ll just have a couple, they’re only mini ones”, next thing you know, the whole bowl is empty and beside you is a big pile of wrappers.  Prepare for intense sugar crash!  OR there’s always the alternative – make something easy and fun out of them – Peanut Butter Cups!  I found a super simple recipe on Allrecipes and made some scrumptious little treats that got 2 thumbs up from Ric (I’m told he’s a PB cup expert!).  I simply grabbed some Hershey milk chocolate minis, some smooth peanut butter and a lined muffin tin.

PB Cups - prepMelted the chocolate, added some icing sugar to the peanut butter to make it a bit thicker, scooped a spoonful of each into the liners, then topped it off with some more melted chocolate. Let em chill in the fridge for about an hour and voila!!  Homemade Peanut Butter Cups!  And just to be sure I’m not tempted to eat the whole lot of them, I gave them to Ric so he could enjoy them! Haha.  These will make great little gifts for someone who is a bit of a chocoholic!

PB Cups - choc & pb

PB Cups 2

Baking From the Heart

I know that for some people, something as simple as baking a cake seems like climbing Mount Everest, but for me, I could spend a whole day in the kitchen, baking everything from cookies to cakes to chocolate anything!  And there’s nothing that makes me happier than to watch someone take that first bite, see their eyes light up and the expression on their face when their taste buds explode with pleasure!

 

Now anyone who knows me, knows I’m not exactly a big Christmas person (I’m not a Grinch, but I’m certainly not a Who-ville citizen either!).  However, I absolutely LOVE doing copious amounts of baking at Christmas, it’s my escape from the craziness.  Yes, I know that Christmas is still 2 months away, but really, that’s only 8 more weekends, and unless you love baking as much as I do, you’re probably not going to want to, or be able to, give up one of those weekends to spend it in the kitchen!  From experience, doing a lot of Christmas baking does require a bit of planning ahead of time, and for me, it usually ends up being more than just a single weekend event!  I’ve already started planning my list of goodies that I’ll be baking for gifts to my family and friends.  There will be of course, my 2 traditional treats, which are both my own recipes and ones that I’ve been making since high school – my secret recipe shortbread and my chocolate truffles (my brother, who loves these, has another name for them, however, it’s not exactly blog-friendly! Haha).  Like with any recipe, it takes some tinkering to get them just perfect and with about 20 years of practice, I’ve been told they’re pretty close!

Cut & baked

My secret recipe shortbread

White chocolate and white sprinkled dark chocolate truffles

White chocolate and white sprinkled dark chocolate truffles

One of my recent and most challenging creations was Chocolate Ganache French Macarons, which I decided to make for a birthday gift.  Now these delectable treats either work out or they don’t, there’s no in between.  I ended up looking through a bunch of different websites – Allrecipes, Martha Stewart, Food Network and Popsugar, (to name a few), to find a recipe that caught my eye – and believe me, there are LOTS of different recipes out there!  I finally settled on one that didn’t have about 25 different ingredients and that wasn’t overly time consuming (meaning less than 3 hours from start to finish)  The recipe I chose to use was from Chowhound and they turned out great!  As I mentioned before, the look on my friend’s face when she bit into it, was all worth it!

Chocolate Ganache French Macarons

Chocolate Ganache French Macarons