After the Power Ranger cake last week I had some fondant leftover. Last time I had leftovers I made some little fondant-covered two-bite brownies. We were about to host a party at our place and I didn’t think those would be the right fit, so instead I decided to try and make some imitation Oreos and use the fondant for the filling.
I looked up some recipes and settled on a chocolate sugar cookie. It was pretty straightforward, cutting out all the chocolate cookies, and then cutting out the fondant to match.
The fondant was quite smooth, so I knew it wouldn’t stick to the cookies very well on its own. I was also making some empire cookies, so I just put a dab of royal icing on each side of the cookie to stick the sandwich together. It worked out pretty well, and because I had two colours of fondant leftover, we had two colours of cookies: white and hot pink. They were pretty tasty little guys, I will definitely be doing them again if I have leftover fondant!
My daughter has been really into the story The Gingerbread Man lately. You know the old Golden Book classic, “Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man!” She has a pretty high attention to detail, so after reading the story many times she finally said we should make a gingerbread man, “with raisins for eyes, a currant for nose, and a pink sugar candy waistcoat.” She did also say that she wanted a girl gingerbread, but we ended up making some of both 🙂
So one Saturday morning we made the gingerbread cookies together; I helped with the rolling, but she did most of the cookie cutting herself. They cooled during rest time, and I set to work getting all the decorating requirements lined up, with a few additions just for fun. I had almost forgotten the most important piece, but when I went up to check on my daughter mid-rest (I don’t think she actually rested at all!), she reminded me with great excitement “raisins for eyes, a currant for nose and a pink sugar candy waistcoat.” I had about 20 minutes to produce some pink sugar candy waistcoats!
I threw together a mini-batch of fondant by melting some marshmallows in the microwave, mixing in icing sugar, then colouring it pink. It came out perfectly, and there was just enough for the number of cookies we had.
She didn’t seem to mind that we didn’t have any currants for noses, and was pretty happy with chocolate chips and gold dragees as substitutions. Even the raisins only made it on the first one she decorated! But she was very focused and spent about an hour meticulously decorating each gingerbread cookie, making each one unique from the last. And at the end she eagerly picked her favourite one to eat.
On the last page of the story (spoiler alert) a fox eats the gingerbread man, and it reads “that is exactly what should happen to all gingerbread men.” I couldn’t agree more, and I think my daughter does too!
It’s been a while since I baked in really large quantities, but I recently started doing the desserts for church dinners every couple months. Since it wasn’t very often I thought it would be fun and manageable; and it is, but I had to remind myself how much more 100 servings is compared to the couple dozen that most recipes give you!
My most recent offering to them was date squares. I used a recipe from my baking course book, which I remembered to be really good, and I knew the quantity would definitely be large enough. The problem was I didn’t have a pan big enough to hold the full recipe, so instead of quadrupling a recipe that only gave two dozen I had to quarter a recipe that would give me 100!
I made a full batch of the date filling all at once and divided it up into four containers to save some time. I had gotten the dates at a Bulk Barn, and in retrospect should have gone for better quality. They were okay, but they didn’t break down very well as they cooked. I added extra water a couple times to prolong the cooking time, but I ended up pulsing the paste through the food processor to make it a bit smoother.
Our kitchen smelled delicious over the couple days I made these batches of date squares. And the bonus of them was that they crumbled quite a bit as I cut them, so I saved the extra oat crumble to use as granola – so yummy!
It’s a bit of a challenge getting back into baking individual desserts for a large group, but I’m really enjoying it, and looking forward to coming up with the next one in a couple months!
I have decided to declare myself a brownie purist. No more of these ‘healthy’ substitutions, no more ingredient experiments. Chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar, all purpose flour, vanilla. It just doesn’t get better than that.
This declaration was sparked by a brownie recipe that used avocados, which in my opinion failed miserably. It used avocado and whole wheat flour to make them ‘healthy.’ I ended up with a pan of gritty, mediocre chocolate pudding (and it didn’t even taste that chocolatey). I felt like I wasted perfectly good avocados and free range eggs, amongst other ingredients. Such a disappointment, especially when the website raved about how good these brownies were.
This is not the first time I’ve been disappointed with an alternative brownie recipe. Now, I am extra jaded because this most recent was by far the worst one I’ve tried, so my memories of the others may be influenced, but I do remember that none of them were as good as the real thing. I’ve tried black bean brownies, which actually were quite good, but a bit pasty in texture (I was going to write a post about them back in May, but changed my mind, which you can read for yourself here); I’ve tried chunky monkey brownies that use banana and peanut butter, a fun combination, but again, the texture was off; and of course I have tried pumpkin brownies of my own design (find them here), which were good in texture, but just not chocolate.
This avocado flop has made me realize that life is too short to waste energy and ingredients on mediocre attempts to be ‘healthy.’ If I’m craving a brownie I want it to be a good one, tried and true. Everything in moderation, my friends, and you can enjoy that delicious chewy, chocolate indulgence guilt-free. As long as your diet is balanced you can say ‘I’m already healthy, so I’m going to enjoy this brownie that isn’t.’
For those of you who still want to find ‘healthy’ recipes, more power to you, I wish you all the best. If you have found a good recipe, you can let me know; I probably won’t make it, but if you make it for me, I’ll try it. As for me and my kitchen, we shall be brownie purists.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a craving to satisfy.
For Thanksgiving’s dessert this year I made a pumpkin cheesecake. I have made it before, but drizzled it with a simple caramel sauce as the garnish. This year I decided to be a little more extravagant and make some pralines, which I discovered are really just pecans in fudge. Oh yum!
I will diverge for a moment to clarify that I’m talking about American pralines. While looking up recipes for pralines I learned that European and American pralines (like many things) are quite different, each geographic region modifying the recipe a bit to use the most readily available nuts, sugars and/or chocolate. The European recipes mostly used almonds, so I decided to go with the American because I thought the pecans would go better with the pumpkin.
Now back to the delicious process (which you also can find by clicking here). I mixed, heated and boiled the pecans, sugars, butter, and milk to about 234F. I was having issues with my thermometer, so I ended up doing the water test to make sure it was at the soft ball stage – dropping a bit of the syrup into a bowl of cold water to see if it would create a soft ball. Once I reached the right temperature I removed it from the heat, added the vanilla, and set the pot in a sink of cold water for about 15 seconds while stirring constantly, then removed it from the cold water and kept beating until it started to lose its sheen. I knew it would only be a matter of seconds before it would turn into crumbs, so I scooped it out onto a parchment lined pan as quickly as I could, and it set beautifully!
I chopped the pralines into small pieces for the top of the cheesecake, and piled them on with abandon, while possibly sneaking a few to eat on the side. They added a sweet and nutty touch, as well as some nice texture, to the creamy, spiced pumpkin cheesecake. A delicious way to end a day celebrating all for which we are thankful!
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.
We had another gloomy cloudy day last week, so we decided to break out the cookie book again and tackle another cookie recipe. My daughter chose the teddy bear cookies. I’d been avoiding these ones because they looked complicated, but once we got going on them they were actually quite simple.
We had to make two batches of dough, a light one and a dark one, so it was double the activity to keep her busy. She enjoyed pouring in the ingredients after I measured them, rolling out the dough, cutting the shapes, and constructing the bear faces on the baking sheet. The recipe said to put the chocolate chip eyes on once the cookies came out of the oven, and they would melt in place, which worked until we went to move them. They didn’t stick on very well, so if we were to do it again we might use some icing for the eyes instead, or try to bake them right on.
It was a fun choice of cookie, and they made great snacks for a couple picnics once the weather got nicer!