Sweet Leaf

Finding Beauty through Baking ~by Susan Baxter-Peace

Guest Post: A No Bake Cake!?! June 30, 2014

This week I asked my husband, Tom, to do a guest post, as he is a budding ice cream cake maker and just made one for our daughter’s birthday. Here he shares his method and experience so you can try one for yourself on a hot summer day. Enjoy!

 

We’re now in the thick of summer. It’s hot, stuffy and humid. If you’re anything like me, the last thing that you want to do is warm up the oven and bake. The problem is that celebrations are also kicked into high gear. Kids have birthday parties. There are long weekend parties. It’s a great time of year to get together. Usually this means spending time in a hot kitchen.

This weekend our family celebrated our daughter’s third birthday. What to do? With temperatures reaching 30 degrees, neither Susie nor I wanted to use the oven. Thankfully, our daughter requested an ice cream cake – a developing specialty of mine – and Susie asked that I share my experiences making these cakes with you.

The first thing that you should know about ice cream cakes is that they are EASY and (relatively) CHEAP. Aside from the ingredients all you really need is a spring form pan, a bowl, a pot, and a spoon. It gets even easier if you have an electric mixer, though this isn’t necessary. As for ingredients, here’s a list of what I used to make the 10″ cake this weekend (I’ll note some variations that I’ve done in the past as I go through the post):

  • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup butter (you could probably use less)
  • 2 litres vanilla ice cream
  • 2 litres chocolate ice cream
  • 1 regular bag of chocolate chips (226g)
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • 3 spoons of raspberry jam

Making an ice cream cake is basically an effort in layering. This cake has four layers. After you finish each layer, you need to put the cake back in the freezer and allow it to adequately cool. Failure to do so will result in uneven layers and, in the worst case, their mixing (basically just making a new flavour of ice cream). This happened to me this weekend because I was in a rush. Patience is an absolute necessity!

The first layer is the base. On the cake I just made, I used a graham cracker crust. To make the crust, I just melt some butter (about 1/4 cup) and mix it in with graham cracker crumbs. Although this only loosely binds the crumbs together, I’ve always found my crusts too firm once the cake is put together. Less butter is better here. Alternatively you could make a regular graham crust by baking it at 350°F for about 10-12 minutes (but that, of course, would require the oven). Once complete, put the crust in the freezer for about an hour.

The next layer is an ice cream layer. This is where the electric mixer is useful. You want the ice cream soft and malleable. If you have a mixer, just toss the ice cream in there and soften it up. If not, put it in a bowl and begin beating it with a wooden spoon. While you’re doing this, you can add ingredients to the ice cream. Don’t bother buying fancy ice creams for the cake. Just add what you want at this stage. This allows you to make a more customized cake. In the past, I have added crushed candy canes, Reese Peanut Butter Cups and Oreo cookies. Generally, for a 10″ pan, one 2-litre brick of ice cream is sufficient for each layer. Once the ice cream can be easily spread, take the crust out of the freezer and spread the ice cream over top in a smooth layer. Then place it back into the freezer for at least an hour. You want the cake to be hard for the next layer.

The next layer I add is a chocolate middle. To make the chocolate middle, I just melt a bag of chocolate chips and add about 1/4 cup of milk. Basically, you don’t want the chocolate to freeze solid. It should be soft but firm when you bite into the cake. For this cake, I also mixed some raspberry jam into the melted chocolate. This gave the chocolate a berry flavour and texture. I suspect here, you could also add peanut butter or marshmallow fluff as another type of variation. When the chocolate is a thick liquid, spread it onto the well-frozen bottom ice cream layer of the cake. It is important to have let the cake freeze solid. Then put it back in the freezer.

After an hour or more, add the second layer of ice cream following the above instructions. Once that layer is well frozen all you need to do now is dress the cake. How you do this is entirely up to you. For our cake, we just used whipped cream and gummi bears. In the past, I’ve used melted chocolate and cookie crumbs, and I’ve heard of some people even using traditional icing. In any case, what you do is really dependant on the occasion. I’m sure that you can figure this part out on your own.

There are a couple of variations to ice cream cakes that I have not yet tried. For example, many store bought cakes, have the same flavour ice cream (usually vanilla) completely surrounding the cake’s inside. The key to doing this, I imagine, is merely to leave the ice cream firmer as you build your cake. Essentially, ice cream cakes are all about layering and sculpting. Once you understand this, the sky is the limit.

I’m still learning how to make good-looking ice cream cakes. I’d love to hear your thoughts about my process. The recipe I shared with you takes about one hour of work spread over about six hours (because the cake has to freeze at each stage). In addition to it being relatively quick and easy, it’s also considerably cheaper than store bought ice cream cakes. A comparable ice cream cake retails for about $30 or more. The cake I made cost $12 for the ingredients and, though I could be wrong, I suspect my ingredients were of a higher quality.

Like so many things, you can taste the difference when it’s homemade.

 

Giving Toddlers the Baking Bug May 12, 2014

As my daughter gets older, it’s easier to involve her in the baking process. Her fine motor skills are getting tuned and she can now use cookie cutters to cut out shapes, move the cookies onto a pan, and she is super-good at eating them! I have to say, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so when she starts to put the cookie cutter down halfway across one that’s already cut, I often leap in to move it. But then I got thinking, these cookies are just for us, and she seems pretty proud of what she’s doing, and they’re going to taste the same no matter how they’re cut, so why should I get all worked up about it? After all, it’s an activity I invited her to help with, and at this stage in her life this should be a fun activity, not something she gets frustrated with because I keep butting in.

We have a great cookie cookbook that has pictures of each cookie with the recipes, which is perfect since she can’t read yet. She looks through the book and finds a picture that she likes, and we do our best to make them. Sometimes I have to improvise ingredients, and I almost always cut the recipe in half (or smaller!) That way we don’t have an over-abundance of cookies, and it takes less time which is great for her toddler attention span!

I think one of the things I like best about involving her in baking and cooking is that she has started to bake and cook in her ‘oven’ (which also happens to be the big box that her car seat came in!) We never got one of those Fisher Price kitchen sets, she just uses what she can find around the house, which I think is great. I keep my nice baking equipment out of reach, but there are still lots of pans and utensils to choose from. She regularly makes feasts of pizza, pasta and salad; and of course desserts: blueberry pie, chocolate cookies, ice cream, pecan pie, apple crisp to name a few. I like to cook and bake from scratch as much as possible, and if I can involve her in the process I end up teaching her how to do that too without really even trying. It’s one thing to tell her something, but it’s so much better when she can learn it hands-on. It can take some creativity to get an impatient toddler to participate, but if you pick recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, and cut the recipe size down so it doesn’t take as long, you can have a lot of success with it. As she gets used to the process, and grows and develops more, it will be easier to tackle more complicated recipes, and as an added bonus, work on math skills – all those fraction measurements!

My sous-chef at her oven with all her pans, preparing a feast!

My sous-chef at her oven with all her pans, preparing a feast!

Here’s a modified recipe we did recently that worked pretty well (you can probably make out the full recipe if you click on the photo above):

Butterscotch Fingers

  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 c all purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg white. Stir in flour and mix well.
  2. Spoon mixture into a pastry bag fitted with star tip and pipe 3-inch fingers onto lightly greased baking sheets (you can use parchment paper, but it may slide when you try to lift the piping tip).
  3. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

My daughter helped soften the butter by pushing the buttons on the microwave, dumped the sugar in the bowl, helped hold the mixer, dumped the flour in the bowl, and helped stir in the flour with a big wooden spoon.I had to do all the piping at this stage, but she was pretty fascinated watching it happen. And she was a very eager taste-tester. She also didn’t seem to mind that we didn’t make the frosting for the middle, she was just happy to have some cookies!

 

Sneaky Chocolate Beet Tart March 31, 2014

The first exciting baking experience I want to tell you about is a recipe that my brother sent to me. He knew I had tried baking with beets before, and he had a friend who made a purple velvet beet tart, so he sent it along for me to try. Last year we seemed to get beets all the time in our CSA box, but this year I waited and waited to get beets so I could finally try to make this recipe.

This is a custard pie (same consistency as a pumpkin pie), using lots of eggs. It was pretty straightforward to make, and when eaten fresh you would hardly know there were 2 1/2 cups of beets in it – although the colour may be a giveaway!

I must confess, when I saw the list of ingredients in the crust I rolled my eyes; not because I think they’re bad or that it wouldn’t taste good, but because I didn’t have most of them on hand and didn’t want to buy full packages of all the ingredients for one tart. So I made a plain old graham crust, which worked just fine.

This recipe makes A LOT of filling. I made one crust in a 9-inch pie dish, filled it up, and probably had enough left for a whole other pie! Since I didn’t have another crust ready to go, I just baked the rest in a few ramekins. So if you make this recipe I would recommend either making two crusts, or cutting the recipe in half.

I would also suggest eating it fresh. It was extremely delicious in flavour and texture on the day it was made. We were going away the day after I made it, so I froze the ones in the ramekins. When we got them out to eat, the flavour of the beets was much more pronounced. So if you love beets, it would be fine; but if you’re trying to hide the beets, it might not work so well. The texture also became a bit more curdled, as opposed to the velvety texture when it was fresh.

You can find this delicious recipe here.

 

Zucchini Challenge, Take Two August 26, 2013

The abundance of summer is back in our CSA boxes, with another season of zucchini upon us. You may remember the great zucchini challenge from last summer, where my husband and I went head to head to see who could make a better use of zucchini. Well, there was no competition this year (not yet, anyway), but I did make it a personal challenge to try and come up with more interesting ways to use our zucchini.

It’s been a few weeks since I made this recipe, so I can’t even remember what made me think to look for it, or how I searched for it, but I found a recipe for a quiche crust made with zucchini. The recipe also called for carrots; I didn’t have any carrots, but I did have beets, so I made the substitution – hence the bright pink in the photos.

This recipe used 2 whole cups of grated zucchini – fantastic! Now, you might ask, as I did initially, won’t that be a soggy crust? Zucchini is so full of moisture, it always makes the top of my pizza soupy unless I cook it first to release some of the moisture. Well, if you read the recipe at the link below you’ll see that you sprinkle the grated zucchini with salt and let it drain for awhile, and then squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can. It’s a bit of work, but well worth it, both for the meal and for using up the zucchini!

I highly recommend trying this recipe out. It also uses a minimal amount of flour, so those of you who are gluten free could probably substitute another flour for the wheat flour and still get great results. You can find the link for the recipe below the photos.

Click here for the recipe for zucchini crust.

 

Baking Class Fundraiser June 10, 2013

I recently led a baking class at my workplace as a fundraiser for a trip they are planning. I have never taught a baking class before, and felt a bit intimidated by it at first, but they were a pretty easy-going and eager crowd so it ended up being a great experience.

We had two hours and one oven, so when I started planning I knew that there would not be enough oven space for everyone to bake several things at the same time. But I also wanted to make it worth their while. I picked three recipes that were very easy, and titled the class “Easy Baking.” Two of the recipes required baking, so I opted to just demonstrate those ones, and one was a no-cook, no-bake recipe, which allowed for everyone to participate in actually making something, instead of just watching.

We started with a mandarin orange cake, which has just five ingredients that you quickly stir together, pour into a pan and bake for 40 minutes. While the cake baked, we made the no-cook recipe, everyone working in teams of two. They were three ingredient apricot coconut balls. Once the cake came out of the oven, we moved onto the last recipe, peanut butter cookies, which also only had three ingredients. And when all was said and done we had time to sample everything.

I’m really happy with how it all went, and although the recipes were simple, the results were delicious. You can find the recipes for the apricot coconut balls and peanut butter cookies below the photos.

No-Bake Apricot Coconut Balls

  • 1 1/2 cups dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 2 cups coconut, unsweetened,shredded
  • 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk (about half a can)
  • powdered sugar
  1. Mix apricots and coconut.
  2. Add condensed milk, combine thoroughly.
  3. Shape into 1 1/4 inch balls and roll in powdered sugar.
  4. Let stand until firm.

Super Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  1. Mix all ingredients together.
  2. Roll into balls and flatten with fork on ungreased baking sheet (dough rolls more easily if left to sit for a few minutes, otherwise it is quite sticky).
  3. Bake at 325F for 15 minutes; do not overbake.
 

Tortillas with Pronounceable Ingredients May 27, 2013

Have you ever looked at the ingredient list on a bag of tortillas at the grocery store? From the ones I’ve seen there are a lot of things listed that I don’t recognize, and some I’m not sure I can even pronounce. This is another product I took for granted. A simple flatbread; one would think it would be pretty straightforward. But like so many mass-produced products, it’s more important to make it more cheaply (even though they don’t seem cheaper in the store!) by throwing in a  few chemicals than to provide a natural product and readable label.

This tortilla recipe didn’t actually come out of reading a label and deciding to make a change, but out of necessity one night when we wanted tortillas but didn’t want to go back out to the store. It was only after I found the recipe and saw how simple it was that I decided to look at a package. (On a somewhat related note, I was pleasantly surprised to see that most pita bread packages had very common, pronounceable ingredients.)

These are pretty easy to make, though they take a bit of time and elbow grease (unless you have a tortilla press). I find it easiest to roll out the tortillas in stages. Dough likes to have time to rest before it can relax and stretch. Much like we need time to cool off when we’re angry and tense, give your dough a minute to rest and it will cooperate much better. I usually start rolling one out to about a four inch diameter, then set it aside and start another and repeat until I have four done. Then I go back to number one and roll it out a little bit more, and then do the others again. I usually do three sets of rolling per tortilla to get them nice and thin. I also find it helpful to have all the tortillas rolled out before I start to cook them, stacking them with wax paper in between, to avoid overheating the pan.

When cooking them on the pan, don’t leave them too long, unless you want a more crispy tortilla. 20-30 seconds is usually plenty of time per side, even if it doesn’t look ‘cooked’. I left a few of them too long this time and it was hard to roll them without splitting. But if you leave them just the right amount of time you end up with a lovely soft and pliable tortilla. I made black bean and sweet potato burritos with this batch, and they were very tasty! You can find the tortilla recipe below the photos.

Flour Tortillas

In a mixing bowl, stir together well 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking powder. Rub into flour mixture 1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces. Mix in to form a soft dough that is not sticky 1/2 cup, more or less, very warm tap water.

Cover dough in bowl and let rest 5 minutes. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, toss lightly in flour, and return to the bowl. Cover and let rest 15-30 minutes. Working with one ball at a time, roll out very thin (should reach about 8″ diameter). Turn dough over repeatedly while rolling, dusting with flour only when necessary to prevent sticking. Brush off and flour that may remain on the surface of the tortilla. Cook on a dry, medium-hot, heavy skillet until blistered. Flip over and cook the other side, just until very lightly browned. Cool on rack. When completely cooled they can be stacked and stored in a plastic bag in the fridge or freezer.

 

Banana Bread Muffins May 13, 2013

I have discovered that my favourite banana muffin recipe isn’t a muffin recipe at all. Well, I guess I didn’t discover it, because I always knew, but it was a bit of an experiment when I tried it.

The recipe I had been using was a very basic muffin recipe that had various adaptations, to make them into, say, blueberry muffins, oatmeal, cranberry etc., and banana. They were great fresh from the oven, but the next day they always seemed to be dried out. I would try freezing them as soon as they were cool to try and preserve the freshness, but I was never satisfied.

Banana bread muffins with chocolate and cranberries.

Banana bread muffins with chocolate and cranberries.

I decided to try a new approach. I found a banana bread recipe, and because I didn’t want to wait around for an hour for it to bake, I chose to make it in muffin tins, thereby decreasing the time needed to bake. They were very moist fresh from the oven, and stayed moist for several days! I was so happy! I even tried using whole wheat flour, and they still stayed moist.

So what’s the difference? They’re both quick breads, with basically the same ingredients. Why would one come out more moist than the other? I would say it’s because of the amount of each ingredient. I think because a loaf of banana bread is a larger mass and requires more time to bake, it has a higher quantity of ingredients that add more moisture; so as it bakes and the moisture evaporates away it will still come out moist. By putting the bread recipe into muffin tins, they have the same amount of moisture but aren’t baked as long, so not as much moisture is evaporated away, leaving a lovely moist crumb for the muffins. The banana bread recipe I now use calls for slightly less flour than the muffin recipe, more banana, and two eggs instead of one. It also calls for more sugar, and brown instead of white, which adds to the texture. I experimented with one batch by decreasing the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and they came out just as nice.

Here’s the banana bread recipe, with directions for bread or muffins:

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Sift together 1 1/2 cups unbleached or whole wheat flour, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt; set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, blend together in this order: 1/3 cup oil, 3/4 (or 1/2) cup brown sugar, 1 cup mashed ripe bananas, 2 eggs, 1/3 cup milk, 1 tsp vanilla.
  • Stir dry ingredients into banana mixture until just blended.
  • For banana bread: turn batter into greased and floured 9″x5″ loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.
  • For muffins: scoop into greased muffin tins. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Makes 1 dozen.
  • You can also add anything to make them more interesting: nuts, seeds, chocolate chips, raisins; or my favourite combo right now, dried cranberries and dark chocolate pieces! Yummy!
 

 
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