Christmas baking, here we come!

If you know me, you also know that Christmas is not my favourite holiday. And, I have to do it twice. That’s right, we have Christmas on Dec 25th and again on January 7th. And New Year’s in between, which my mom makes kind of a big deal out of. So yeah, its a busy time and a bit stressful and I am sooo glad when it is all over.

What I do love about Christmas though (besides spending time with my lovely family) is…you guessed it, BAKING!!! There’s something cozy about making all sorts of yummies while it is ridiculously cold and snowy outside. And the best part is that my little one is now old enough to “help” and join in the fun. She’s already talking about the cookies we’re going to make. This was something I shared with my mom growing up and hope to continue the tradition with my little one. I have all sorts of ideas just waiting to be unleashed on those lucky enough to be my trusty “taste testers”.  So its a win-win. I get to play in the kitchen and holiday gatherings give me more reasons to do more baking!

Maybe Christmas and I will get along one day after all……

 

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Decorating Cookies With Royal Icing

Who doesn’t love sugar cookies? They’re super yum on their own, or decorated with icing. And the best part is that they are very versatile, meaning you can decorate them to look like just about anything.

For my brother’s recent birthday, I decided to make cookies shaped like Ninja Turtles and pizzas. If you know the show, you will know that Ninja Turtles love pizza, so this seemed like the perfect combination. I started by making my sugar cookie recipe, and then cut out the cookies with cookie cutters. For the turtle, I used the Wilton “apple” cutter from their Halloween set, and just turned it sideways. For the pizza, I used a scalloped circle cutter I have from another set.

 Once the cookies were baked and cooled, I set to decorating them. I used my royal icing recipe, and coloured the icing in green, red, black, tan, a pale yellow, and left some white. I used both piping and flooding consistency icing, and used piping bags and candy decorating bottles to outline and decorate the cookies. My piping icing is right from the mixing bowl with just the colour added. I find this thins it a bit and I don’t need to add water. You want a nice smooth line to come out of your piping bag and stick to the cookie. The flooding icing is simply thinned with water, to a creamy consistency that spreads when piped onto the cookie. Oh, I also want to mention that the candy decorating bottles are a life-saver. Easy to use and clean and the icing goes where you want it!

Here are the cookies being outlined. I used the tan colour for the pizza “crust” and the green to outline the turtle’s head.

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I let the outline dry for a while, about 20 minutes, and then set to flooding the cookies. I find that by the time the last cookie is outlined, they are ready to flood. For the pizza cookies, I wanted to add “cheese” to the middle. I made a few squiggles and then kind of spread them around. Melted cheese looks kind of messy, so I wanted to achieve the same effect here. If you’re a bit of a perfectionist like me, you might have a slight issue with the icing going OVER the edge of the cookie. It’s ok though. Breathe and remember the messy cheese!

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While those dried, I continued with the turtle cookies. I added the red sash to the green outline of the head.

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Starting to look like Raphael! Once all the turtles were outlined, I went back to the pizzas. I added some red to resemble sauce. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect!

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Once again, I went back to the turtle cookies. I flooded with both red and green icing, and then left them alone. I let them dry overnight before adding the mouth and eyes, because I definitely didn’t want the green and red mixing with the white icing. 

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Back to the pizzas! I added some red dots for pepperoni and green squiggles for peppers. Then I let them dry overnight too. The pizza cookies were finished!

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The next day, I went back to the turtle cookies to add the whites of the eyes and teeth. I was in a hurry so I didn’t think to take a picture, but it was pretty simple. I piped two dots on top of the red sash for the eyes, and sort of a figure 8 onto the face for the mouth/teeth. Then I let those dry overnight too. When they were dry and hard to the touch, I went back in with a black food colour marker to add black dots to the eyes and lines for the teeth. 

I think they turned out pretty good, and everyone loved them!

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Have a sugarrific day!

M xoxo

Hooray for sugar cookies!

This recipe is one my mom found, and we’ve been making them for years. We have a tradition where we make these for Christmas every year, and she always got a kick out of my brothers and I cutting out the cookies in different Christmas shapes. And then eating them of course, which is always the best part. Now I make them with my little one, and she absolutely loves them.

I now use this same recipe for all the cookies I make. It is versatile (you can add cocoa powder to make chocolate as well), it is easy to roll out and cut, and they bake nicely and hold up very well to royal icing. And the recipe is easy-peasy, meaning you can make a whole load of cookies in not a lot of time.

This recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies, but that depends on the size of cookie cutter you use.

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

Make it:

-stir flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.

-mix butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in mixer bowl on medium speed until light and creamy

-add the dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until well blended. As I add more of the dry mix, I prefer to switch to the dough hook attachment as it makes the mixing a bit easier.

-I like to wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for about 20-30 mins just so it is easier to roll out.

-when ready to roll out, dust your work surface and the dough with flour and then get to work. Roll out the dough to approximately 1/4 inch thickness, and cut out with cutters. You can use any variety of cookie cutter, just make sure everything is well-floured to prevent sticking.

-bake at 375 °F for 8-10 minutes or until edges are just slightly browned. These bake for 9 minutes in my oven, but times will vary depending on the thickness of the cookie and the oven itself. Just watch them, they can burn quite easily if you’re not paying attention.

-decorate with royal icing, buttercream, sprinkles, candies, etc, etc. The possibilities are endless! They are also delicious when eaten plain.

These cookies can keep in a container for up to a week, but they rarely last that long in my house! You can also freeze the dough for later use.

Happy cookie making!

Have a sugarrific day,

M xoxo

 

A Turtle Kind of Birthday

One of my younger brothers had a birthday this past week and I decided to make him a cake. He never asks for cakes for his birthday, figuring I’m too busy and doesn’t want to trouble me. Yeah he’s sweet like that. Only this year, I didn’t ask him if he wanted a cake, deciding just to make one instead.

My brother likes a lot of different things; movies, comics, wrestling, etc. One of the things I remember him being really fond of though is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And, really, who isn’t? Those turtles are awesome! I remember us watching the cartoon together for many years and when I see it now it always brings back fond memories. And yeah you guessed it, at the age of 26 he still loves them. So naturally, I knew what the theme of his cake would be. Now, I couldn’t remember which turtle was his favourite, so this took some digging. I got my little one to ask him in kind of a sneaky way,
we found out it was Raphael, and the preparations began.

In addition to the cake, I also made some decorated sugar cookies, but I’ll discuss those in more detail in another post. Back to the cake, I knew his favourite flavours are chocolate and orange so that part was easy. I did some research to help me remember what Raphael looks like and how I wanted the cake to look as well.  I decided to make it look like Raphael was coming out of a sewer. ‘Cause they live there, you know. Which turned into a day-long discussion with my daughter, as she couldn’t understand why ANYONE would live in a sewer. Then I prepared the fondant and some of the embellishments ahead of time, and then made and decorated the cake the day before his party.

It turned out exactly like I pictured it and he was surprised and so happy and kept thanking me. He couldn’t wait to eat it and was super excited!

His reaction was adorable and I’m so glad he liked it. That’s what baking is all about, people! When a loved one gets an awesome cake their reaction is priceless! Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside 🙂

Here is his Raphael cake. I had loads of fun making it 🙂

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Have a sugarrific day!

M xoxo

Let Them Eat Cake! But at a reasonable price….

I don’t know about you, but I am slightly disturbed by the lack of courtesy surrounding making custom cakes.This also goes for other custom desserts. People seem to think that they can get a customized cake for a very cheap price. I know those of you who take cake decorating seriously will disagree.

Most folks don’t seem to realize just how much work a custom cake is. It takes time, people! Which is time taken away from family, possibly work, and other activities. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely in love with baking and cake decorating, otherwise I wouldn’t bother. I make a lot of cakes and other things for family and friends for free, and it’s more about the joy of creating than making money. There are plenty of people who respect cake decorators and understand that a custom cake is usually not cheap, and are ok with that, because to them it is worth having something special for their special occasion. After all, it is pretty much art in edible form. However, it bugs me that some people are quick to undermine my time and effort, being quick to write it off as a “simple” (meaning cheap) cake.

I had a request for a “simple” wedding cake of 5 tiers for 150 people with handmade gumpaste roses, and the person wanted to pay $50. Like, really?! Just the roses alone are a few day’s work. Shop around and ask a bakery to do a custom 5 tier wedding cake for $50. See what they tell you.

Then there are the people who want carved cakes to look like their favourite cartoon character, car, logo, etc, etc. They seem to think that a custom carved cake (made from scratch, that is)  is reasonably priced at $20. It would be more than that for the ingredients. What about my time, effort, equipment, electricity, etc? Ha! I say these people should go to WalMart, and purchase a lovely generic vanilla cake which tastes like the box it came in. If you like WalMart cakes, don’t take offense. I just don’t see WalMart making cakes shaped like Yoda and charging $20 for them.

I understand that times are tough and all that, but you wouldn’t go to a store and bargain about the price of a cake or other dessert. You pay what the sticker says or you don’t buy it.You also get what you pay for. Simple. I am all for working within people’s budgets, but I know most decorators
wouldn’t want to be taken advantage of. It just isn’t fair.

So, please be considerate to your friendly neighbourhood cake decorator. He or she (and their awesome creations)
are worth it! And if you’re the one doing the baking and cake decorating for a profit, make sure it’s worth YOUR time 🙂

Have a sugarrific day!

M xoxo

Cakes that move!

Today I’m going to talk about my first “moving” cake. It’s actually a cake with a moving part, as requested by my little boss who wanted a jungle Toopy cake with Toopy swinging from a vine. Who’s Toopy, you ask? From Toopy and Binoo of course, which if you didn’t know is an adorable show from Quebec which airs on Treehouse. It features Toopy who is a rat (I think) and Binoo who is a cat. They have some awesome and hilarious adventures together. My little one and I have been watching it since she was a baby and she loves it, and so do I.

She was very specific about her cake, it had to have Toopy and Binoo and some jungle animals on it. The most important part was Toopy swinging from the vine. Her birthday was in September and I started planning this cake about 3 months prior.I hadn’t done a moving cake before so this was all new to me. Hey, I’m not the Cake Boss, you know. I pondered on how to get Toopy to “swing” and eventually decided to use a clock pendulum motor. This was no easy feat as Toopy was made of fondant and quite heavy, but after some tweaking I managed to get it to work.

I decided to create a tree out of rice krispy treats and then attach the motor to it. It took a lot of tinkering and was a bit stressful, to be honest. I won’t lie, there were some frustrating moments. Like when my “tree” looked less like a tree and more like something else. But that’s a discussion for another day.  I then covered up the motor with fondant leaves and attached Toopy to the pendulum. The motor had a battery in it and as soon as it was balanced properly, Toopy began to “swing”. Yay!!! My discriminating little customer was over the moon, and said “wow he moves! I had a dream about this but I had to push him, but look, he moves all by himself!!” And that, my friends, was worth the time spent pondering and tweaking. And of course her little friends loved it too. And she still talks about her moving cake. I hope I can top it next year!

Here’s a picture of Toopy. You can’t really see him “swinging” aside from the blurry bit since he was moving, but you get the idea.

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I hope I’ve inspired you to create something different! It’s a lot of work but an awesome feeling when it comes together, and you learn along the way.

And my little bunny was super happy with it, which is what it’s all about 🙂

Have a sugarrific day!

M xoxo

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Yes, you CAN make fondant at home!!

People often ask if fondant can be made at home. Guess what? Yes it can! Yay! You will find that home made marshmallow fondant tastes better than the store bought kind, which is great. However, this is not for the faint of heart. It requires some patience and persistence to make, as well as sufficient clean up time. I have tried this a total of once, and then gave up. It was far too messy and time consuming. Remember the Rice Krispies commercial where the Mum has flour all over her face after making Rice Krispy squares? You might actually look like that. Your cat might too. Only it will be powdered sugar instead of flour.

Why don’t I make my own fondant, you ask? No, it’s not due to sheer laziness. I have found a ready made fondant brand which gives me consistent results and the taste is pretty nice so why mess with a good thing, right? Right! And by nice tasting I mean certain family members will eat it like candy right out of the container. So yeah.

If you wish to venture into the abyss of no return (err, making fondant at home, I mean) here is a recipe for homemade marshmallow fondant. Good luck 🙂

This recipe makes about 1 1/2 lbs fondant

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz miniature marshmallows (4 cups, or half of a 16-ounce bag)
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar, and a bit extra for dusting
  • 2 tbsp of water
  • food colouring, or flavouring (optional)

Make it:

to avoid a sticky mess, dust your counter or a large cutting board with powdered sugar. Also, coat your bowl with cooking spray or shortening before melting the marshmallows. You’ll be glad you did.

-place the marshmallows and the water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute, until the marshmallows are puffy and starting to expand. Be careful not to burn them. Microwaves are sometimes overzealous that way.

 stir the marshmallows  until they are melted and smooth. If they don’t all melt right away, return your bowl to the microwave in 30 second increments until all of the marshmallows are melted and the mixture is smooth and lump-free. You can add colours or flavours to your fondant at this point if you wish.

-add the powdered sugar to your marshmallow mixture. Stir, and stir and stir some more. Basically until you can’t stir anymore. Or until your arm falls off.

scrape the mixture onto your counter or cutting board. It will be VERY sticky and quite lumpy. At this point you will be thinking WTF and about ready to chuck the whole thing in the garbage. Keep going, though, you can do it! Dust some powdered sugar onto your hands and begin kneading the mixture.

-keep kneading the fondant until it is smooth, adding more powdered sugar along the way to get rid of the stickiness. Add only a bit at a time though, as you don’t want your fondant to turn out dry from too much sugar.

-once your fondant is smooth and not sticky, you are done! You can now use it right away, or wrap it well in plastic wrap for later use.

Whoo hoo! Give yourself a pat on the back, if you’re still standing 🙂

Have a sugarrific day,

M xoxo