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.

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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.

Easy Peasy Banana Bread

In the past 6 months, I think I’ve made this recipe at least a dozen times, I can almost make it with my eyes closed!!  This is because it’s both a delicious bread and also because of Leanne’s, Ric’s and consequently now Kya’s, Ryland’s and Jaks’ love, (I think it’s actually nearing obsession ), for banana bread.  Only difference between them with their unanimous love of banana bread is that Ric isn’t too fond of the chocolate chips in this recipe – he tolerates them, but I think he truly believes that they have no right to be in any type of banana bread!  If I remember to, sometimes I’ll add the chocolate to the batter just before I put it in the oven and only into one side of the bread.

                               Ingredients   eaten

This recipe from Allrecipes, is probably one of the simpler ones I’ve made and believe me, I’ve made copious banana breads, cakes and muffins over the years.  Mush the bananas, add some melted butter, an egg and mix that into your flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and your batter is ready.  After baking for about 45 minutes, you have a fluffy, spongy yummy cake.  It’s even better when it’s still warm from the oven – just ask Leanne and Ric!

Squares cut

Family Thanksgiving

So before I get started on today’s blog, I wanted to share something uber exciting that happened for me……on my Instagram, I posted my yummy chocolate peanut butter tarts and not only did I get a whole bunch of ‘likes’ and a few comments, but Chef Taylor Erickson from the Food Network’s show Chopped AND Chef Dan McClumpha, the Head Pastry Chef for Jamie Oliver, yes, THE Jamie Oliver are amongst those people!  Eeeeeek…..that’s so cool!!

Ok, so back to Thanksgiving

Yes, I know, Thanksgiving was about a month ago (for us Canadians), but if anyone knows my family, we kind of do things……well, on our time.  With wonky work schedules and both my brother and sister having in-law families, sometimes our dinners and holiday celebrations don’t always fall on (or even close) to the actual day.  This past weekend we got together for our Thanksgiving dinner, and as I was responsible for bringing dessert (shocker, I know!), it was either going to be apple or pumpkin related.  So, I decided on pumpkin with all those tasty fall spices – cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, but I wasn’t really in the mood to make another pumpkin cheesecake.  I found a great little concoction on Allrecipes for a Pumpkin Spice Cookie.  All the yummy ingredients for your basic cookie – flour, butter, eggs, sugar (I almost always substitute in brown sugar), add in a bit of those savory spices and pumpkin puree and there’s your mix.  Pop ’em in the oven for about 15 minutes and while they’re baking, you can make the glaze and drizzle it over them once they are cooled off enough.  I made the mistake of not waiting for them to cool before the glaze because basically, I wanted a nice, warm cookie and didn’t want to wait.  Unfortunately, the glaze just oozed off and more ended up on my fingers and in my hand than what stayed on the cookie!

MixOut of the ovenGlazing

 

 

 

 

This is a pretty straight forward and simple recipe, plus it makes a big batch of cookies to share with all the cookie monsters in your family Even my youngest niece and nephew loved them – I just left out the fact that there was pumpkin in them!  Like every family, things may not be perfect, BUT the main thing is that we do get together to celebrate birthdays and holidays and it’s always filled with laughter, reminiscing stories, more laughter, amazing food, a few refreshments, even more laughter and great company.  And this Thanksgiving was no different.  I’m so grateful to have such a wonderful and crazy, fun family, I love them all to the moon and back! 

ready to eat