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Category Archives: Baking

Is That Rhubarb in Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Is That Rhubarb in Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Hey folks, thanks for coming back or visiting for the first time.

The weather the past few weeks has been fantastic and wonky all at once. For May/June this time of year, I have to say, it’s not usually as hot, but it’s been pretty warm the past few weeks. I love it! You will never catch me saying, “Hot enough for ya?” Mostly because I prefer not getting punched in the face by someone who really doesn’t like the hot weather. I figure it this way… it’s better than a blizzard.

A couple months ago a, local to my job, farmer’s market opened up to kick off the season. My family loves visiting farm stands and supporting local growers. Nothing beats fresh grown veggies and fruits. Admittedly, some of these things come from other areas than Long Island, but for the most part, they’re Long Island, NY grown. Also, prices are comparable to the prices at the supermarkets, so we’re not spending more for local grown.

This is where the title comes in. The farmer’s market had rhubarb!!!

You may or may not know the intense love I have for this stalky red tart deliciousness. I love it. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the whole veggie/human thing, I’d marry a whole field of the stuff. Love it. You get the point. So, I ended up relieving the market of just under 10 pounds of the stuff. Cradling it like a baby as I walked around browsing the other delights, but this was my cherished purchase and the blinders were turned on. I only had eyes for the rhubarb. It was almost as if it was a slow motion high school dance sequence in a movie… I turn… the glistening stalks of rhubarb becoming vignettes with a dreamy glow. I was locked on my target… my breath leaving my lungs all at once… drifting over to the currogated box cradling my seasonal delights. We spent the afternoon in the air conditioned office of my workplace pouring over the endless pages of type corrections and photo clipping until it was time to go home.

Yes, I love rhubarb. I have had the fantastic first time opportunity last year to make some strawberry rhubarb preserves… personal use only of course. This stuff is like gold. I will share… if I hafta. (for a night of babysitting, I’ll send you home with your own container to enjoy) This stuff is even better in the freezer. It doesn’t get hard in the freezer which makes the application of this treat endless. I have put it on ice cream, on toast, on a spoon, anything. Yum… drooling now…

I also made two strawberry rhubarb pies for the Fourth of July gathering we go to every year at my husband’s aunt’s house. Let’s just say… 2 isn’t enough. I had a slice (as the baker, I’m pretty sure I’m allowed) and then all holy heck almost broke out. Who’d have thought this simple delicious flakey crusted pie would make people get all frenzied. Well, maybe that’s elaborated upon a bit… there were no fisticuffs, but it might have come to that… eventually.

This year… I made personal pocket sized Strawberry Rhubarb pies. Delicious!

First I cleaned the stalks…

Then I trimmed, skinned and cubed the stalks…

Then… a week or so later, bought strawberries and made the filling from Smitten Kitchen (LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS SITE!), and froze it until I needed it.

Once I was ready to use the filling, I defrosted it, and admittedly helped it along with a little bit of warming. While that was happening I made some dough. I like to make my pie crust by hand. I don’t usually use a mixer because I don’t “feel” how the texture is using the machine. I blend the butter, flour, salt together to make a sort of crumb like texture like sand or brown sugar. Then form the dough. I rolled it out and cut out 5 inch circles and put just over a spoonful of the filling into the center of each circle.

Once that was done, I wet halfway around lightly using water and a gentle fingertip and folded the dough over to form a pocket. Once in place on a parchment lined cookie sheet I brushed each with egg, sprinkled with “sugar in the raw” and cut vent holes (which became larger as I went because there were some exploding pockets).

 The smell of these little pockets of sweet and tart goodness filled the air and I couldn’t help but be giddy with anticipation.
I would call this a success, but needs improvement. Definitely plan to try these out with different fillings and  methods until I can get all of them to keep from splitting open. Let’s just say that they were definitely enjoyed at the annual 4th of July barbecue and there was plenty to go around.
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Passions of my cake “profession”…

Passions of my cake “profession”…

Well, thanks for coming back or joining me for the first time.

Last installment had me turning another year older… no big… I survived. ‘Twas a piece of cake! I also had the pleasure of making the cake for my son’s 2nd birthday. He’s a little character my little Logan. He, much like other kids his age, and older, loves dinosaurs. More importantly he LOVES Dinosaur vs. books by Bob Shea. I’d say without fail, just about every night since we’ve had the dinosaur books, he’s had at least one of them read to him. And after story time is over, the book is wedged, by request, between the side of the bed and his mattress.

So without further adieu I give you “DINOSAUR VS. BIRTHDAY”

Some of you reading may know how to execute a sculpted cake and some of you watch all the cake challenge and reality shows. I’ve never been on one of those shows (this is good and I’m greatful to enjoy my love of cake decorating in private… for now) but I imagine how incredibly challenging it might be to complete a creation in a set amount of time. Being a mom who also works full time, my cake decorating extravaganzas happen once the kids are in bed and I’m left to my own little world of sugar, spatulas and the occasional cup of regular coffee to keep me going into the wee hours of the night… morning… you get the picture.

Since this cake wasn’t going to serve a lot of people, I made a smaller cake and had a base (the dinosaurs tushy) carved out of floral foam. Very easy to cut and shave to get a nice and reasonably smooth surface.

I used half inch thick floral foam and hot glued all the layers together. Then I cut away at the foam to get this rounded shape. Topped it off with a half inch thick piece of foam core and voila, dinosaur butt ready to receive legs.

The base of the entire cake is two pieces of half inch thick foam core with two holes cut out for the legs to slide in to. There’s also a cake board on the bottom of those boards with no holes to keep the legs from falling through. Used the same thought on the foam parts. Holes cut all the way through the foam core that end with the piece of cake board on top. This gave the legs enough stability to minimize wobbling.

Here’s a rough “cut” of the actual dinosaur cake body. I actually carved the cake before splitting it to make sure that I wouldn’t cut too far in to the dam of the cake and allow the filling to ooze out. Damming is where you put a bead of buttercream or icing between the layers where the fillings are placed.

Here’s the body with a crumbcoat of buttercream. Some smoothing was done and the cake is ready for more work.

Here is the cake on top of the foam bottom. I used royal icing to help keep the styrofoam from coming in contact with the actual cake, should a spatula slip and ding the foam. I used a separate bowl of royal icing when doing this. As much as the floral foam looks like rice cakes, I doubt seriously they taste like them… well… that’s definitely debatable… I wouldn’t want to eat it either way.

The cake is smoothed. The head and tail are both made of rice krispy treats. I used another board cut into almost an egg shape to support the weight of the head. There are also dowels running in the cake to keep him from collapsing. To ensure the head didn’t tilt forward I used a bamboo skewer and ran it from almost the back of the head toward just right of center of the cake and into the boards of the bottom.

Here is the finished cake. The arms were also made from rice krispy treats. Needless to say, Logan loved his cake and the best compliment was him saying it was a “cute dinosaur”. What other reason than to make someone small could there be? This is my passion, next to my family of course. They come #1 always.

Which brings me to my second project within a week of the dinosaur cake.

I had the great pleasure of also making a cake for my future sister in law’s bridal shower this past weekend. I made a lot of gumpaste flowers. Roses, tulips, hydrangeas, stephanotis and gerber daisies. It’s definitely a nice and welcome change from the somewhat weird off the beaten path cakes I’ve made in the past. I love flowers. I love making them and putting them all together. It’s like making a mini garden.

I often get asked if I ever feel sad once the time comes to cut in to a cake I’ve made. Thankfully, I think most of them have had to be sliced in to by others, but after my first few I kind of got over it. You can’t and really shouldn’t save a cake forever. It gets funky. I take lots of pictures and when I happen to be cutting in to a cake I’m surrounded by support from family and friends.

Hope you’ve all enjoyed this installment of my recent cake adventures. Thank you for reading, share some love and have a delicious day!

On a very side note: Some readers may have been following me in my weightloss journey. I’m happy to share I’ve lost about 17 pounds and am gradually saying adios to the pounds. They didn’t all arrive at once and they’re certainly not going to leave all at once… although it’d be nice. =D I have also signed up to participate in this year’s 2 day 35 mile walk to fight breast cancer and will begin training in a week or two. Usually try to walk about 6 miles a day by the last month before the walk at least 3-4 times a week. If anyone is interested in donating please visit www.li2day.org my walker ID number is 10898. Thank you.

They Say 35 is the New 21… Really?!

Ok. I’m totally fine accepting my fate as a soon to be as of tomorrow a 35 year old. It’s crazy. I can’t believe that on most surveys and forms I’ll be moving to the next increment of age to categorize me into whatever demographic related to the entire form I fill out after tomorrow.

It’s been a crazy week/weekend leading up to my birthday. Not so crazy that anyone outside of this house would scratch their head at, but for me… a bit more unusual. Being a parent by itself is a bit of an adventure. Last week found us helping our little one fight his double ear infection and pink eye in both eyes. We figured the fever he had had the week before was just a fluke or we could write it off as teething, but no. This wave of torture for him hit hard. He doesn’t like to play illnesses low key, he likes to get things all at once. Poor little guy. Most of last week we were first trying to figure out what was causing his sporadic fevers, to finding out he’d be taking antibiotics for a week or so, plus eye drops (not fun). Towards the end of the week, I found myself getting hit hard with back aches and congestion… yep… the little man shared some germs. Next time I’ll try to be more specific in what I want the kids to share… toys and crayons… yes… illnesses, boogers and general gross stuff… no. Now he’s just about back to his usual self again, except now he lets me know when he’s got a special “gift” for me to open.

Saturday night, really really late I happened upon an e-mail from Cake Central saying that one of my cakes was being featured with other Star Wars related cakes. Find it here. Mine happens to be the Han Solo in Carbonite cake (see below).

I made this cake for my husband 3 years ago for his birthday. This cake was two years in the making. Here’s my description from the gallery listing: Chocolate cake with caramel buttercream. Covered in chocolate fondant. Han is made using modeling chocolate. Dusted with Moonstone Luster Dust. Also, it lights up! A year later I made him a Max Rebo cake: Chocolate cake infused with “duchess first love tea” from tay tea, chocolate bavarian creme filling, vanilla buttercream covered with chocolate fondant. Max Rebo is rice crispy treats covered in colored modeling chocolate.

This weekend I also happened to be working on a small cupcake request. My husband wanted me to make Minion Cupcakes for his boss for her birthday. They were fun and super easy to do. I love how cute they came out and am proud of the great responses on not only my post of them on Facebook, but on her picture she posted of them. It makes me feel good.

Cakes should automatically put a smile on the recipient’s face. That is the BEST payment (money is definitely good too) I can get. The reaction I get from anyone who’s ever asked me to make a cake for them is why I do what I do. That is my passion. Baking, decorating and making people smile with their treats I make for them. I don’t know them, but I put heart into all that I bake. Sure, in the beginning it was dodgy at best. Anyone starting out in cake decorating has hit bumps (literally) in the road. Now it’s a craft of love and patience. The latter… well… let’s just say I have good days and bad days, mostly good.

 

So, I’m imagining, while you’re all reading this… you’re wondering where my birthday fits into all this. Well, tomorrow’s the day, as mentioned before. It’s bittersweet, and not in a chocolate kinda way either. There are a lot of things I’m so incredibly thankful for. Just about 35 years ago, I happened to come into the world of all the days on my grandfather’s birthday. He and I were like two peas in a pod. Here we are (below) at his surprise 80th birthday (my 21st). We had drinks, cake and family that day. I’ll never forget it. Do I feel like I did at 21 now? Well… maybe a little… plus a husband, more responsibility, regular job… oh and kids… they’ll make my day the way it should be… or at least wake me up for the good parts.

Resolve to Dissolve … and other stuff

Hello readers!

Happy New Year!!! Hope everyone had a festive holiday season and that your year is off to a great start.

Let’s see. A quick Christmas recap from my life. Christmas Eve and Day were great! Lots of love and excitement in the house. The baking fun didn’t end with the cookies as I had planned. I decided to make some loaves of sour dough bread. Let me tell you all, so delicious. Letting a sour dough starter “grow” for about a week makes really fabulous bread.

Also made a croquembouche for both Christmas Eve and Day. Used a Martha Stewart recipe for every bit of this delicious treat. You can go here for the recipe. I used extra cruschikis to “spruce” it up a bit too. If you attempt this at all, be aware of the extreme high temperatures of the sugar for the decorating. I’m not talking, ouch, it burns… it’s more like sticking your hand into a fire and having a hot coal stuck to your hand until you can gather your senses long enough to put your hand in ice cold water to prevent further pain. It hurts, but it’s almost a good hurt. (no, no it’s not)

Kids got lots of great stuff and so did the parents (hubby and myself, yay!). One of my favorite gifts this year happens to be from said hubby. He found a really neat lens to attach to my phone to use with macro photography. It is SUPER cool!!! Click here to check it out! Here is also one of the many photos I’ve taken with the lens.

This is an “EXTREME CLOSE UP” of a thin mint cookie from my baking holiday extravaganza 2011. Very cool pic. I could totally see myself running around the little candy sprinkles and jumping over lines of chocolate, were I to be shrunk to the appropriate size, of course.

In the middle of all the holiday festivities and baking and working and chasing after a 4 and 1 year old, I started a couple projects. The easy one is a baby blanket for a new cousin about to be born in a few weeks. I think it came out rather well. (pats self on back)

The other crochet project was a Minion from Despicable Me. My husband’s boss loves these little guys. They are surprisingly fun to make too… well… until you get to the details. And if it was super easy, everyone would do it too. So I’ve heard. Here’s the progression in pictures.

Now (drumroll please) the main topic of this post. If you’ve made it this far, I’m grateful for your readership. Yes, I tend to ramble, but hope that my going on and on makes you smile or makes you feel good.

My husband and I have decided to go back on WeightWatchers (online). I say back because we’ve tried it with much success before and have fallen off the wagon a few times over the course of many years. I feel like this time is it… really. It has to be. I’m putting myself out here on the internet. I don’t consider myself to be… well… overdramatically unhealthy, if I can call it that. I feel quite active in my advancing years (not ready for AARP just yet) but I’m tired of not being happy with myself. I can make myself happy with food and tv just as much as anyone else can, but am I genuinely happy. Not in the least. Do I hope that eventually I become a success story for myself? Absolutely.

I didn’t gain wait overnight… well… I did, but it was little increments which when added up is a lot. Yes, I had two kids, and I don’t want that to be an excuse to be this way. I’m not sharing pics of myself other than the ones from one of the earlier posts from my hair donation. I will say that I’d like to be fitter, healthier and happier. I have EA Sports Active for PS3 and Wii. I will say I find the PS3 version to be a little better as I don’t need to hold any controllers in my hands with each exercise. I also have Zumba for Wii, which is pretty fun and probably funnier to watch me do as I have zero coordination or balance. Plus, it’s also wonderful to have access to the decent handful of streaming Netflix workout videos.

So here I am… I’m doing it. So there! =P

More importantly I’m doing it to chase these little munchkins around.

‘Tis the Season… for BAKING!!!

Hello folks!

It’s the season again for me to bake my heart out and make deliciousness for all my friends and family for Christmas. I love doing this, and while it is A LOT of work, it’s truly rewarding to see people enjoying a handmade, from the heart gift. Plus, I am “legitimately” a pastry chef, so I gotta produce deliciousness.

So, every year, I make Cruschikis. I remember, as a kid, making them every so often with my mom, and vaguely remember her mom making them. Being just a little Polish, I feel I need to make these every year to reconnect with those memories and honor my grandmother (hopefully she sees how I’m doing and is pleased). They are delicious crunchy fried bites of dough made up of egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, sour cream, booze (I use Souther Comfort) and flour. Mix it all up, roll it out, flip it through and fry in crisco. Yes, crisco. I hate using it, but get the best results from it. Dust with powdered sugar and yum! You can always tell when someone eats one of these… they’ve got the badge of honor on their shirt as a light dusting that’s attempted to be brushed off. Wear it proud!

I also like to make these brownies… I call them evil brownies because they really are. You can’t stop at just one, but in all honesty, my husband and I have the delight of eating the edges. They get cut into 2 inch pieces with much effort. There’s a lot of deliciousness happening on top. This is one of the few things I still use a mix for. I haven’t ever been disappointed with the brownie mix I use for these. Yes, I am capable of using a recipe for this, but as you will see after this little tidbit, I baked a lot and had to cut one little corner. I use the Hershey brownie mix you can get in Sam’s Club. They have 4 pouches in each box. I use 3 per sheet pan. Mix according to directions, spread in pan (prepared with butter and parchment paper)… then the fun or “magic” happens. Sprinkle the spread out batter with chocolate chips, then pecans, then shredded coconut, then drizzle that with sweetened condensed milk. Bake and enjoy the aroma of this awesome treat. It’s so good! The edges are the best part, as I mentioned a few lines up so be prepared to bag up those goodies and store them in a ziploc baggie in the back of your freezer for later consumption… if they make it that far.

Next up… a new recipe. I had been making the same things year after year, and aside from my first two goodies, I needed a change. So, with all the whites l had left over from Cruschiki making I made Peppermint Meringue “kisses”. They aren’t as hard as anyone would expect. Before going to culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education a few years back, I figured it would be difficult to make the really seemingly difficult pastries and desserts… not so. Everything is methodical. With patience and understanding of  your ingredients and the concept of mise en place. It’s not that difficult to produce beautiful desserts. So without further adieu… here they are!

Next new recipe tried is “thin mints“. They were awesome and so easy to make. I love slice and bake cookies. You make the dough when you have time, let it chill for one hour to overnight, slice and bake. Easy peasy! I have a ruler just for baking so it’s got little gouges in it at various increments. It works out well. I like to keep things like that separate. No need to use a ruler for measuring paper and get cookie dough on it right? Right! These little gems were drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with either pink/red sprinkles or green sprinkles. Didn’t want to go overboard, less is more!

The next two cookie treats I make were from the Momofuku Milk Bar. I honestly don’t know why I’ve yet to visit this awesome place. I would very much like to stop in some time. I made Cinnamon-Sugar Squares, which if anyone that knows me really well knows, I LOVE LOVE LOVE cinnamon! I love the smell, I love adding it appropriately to baked goods, it’s my favorite… clearly. Of all the spices in my kitchen, it’s my favorite… but don’t tell cardamom, I hear they get jealous. My husband tried these little heavenly morsels of cinnamony goodness and his words were, “they taste like a healthier churro”. They’re fantastic! Highly recommend these. They came out a little spongy, with a lightly crunchy top.

The other recipe I tried from Momofuku are their Snappy Ginger Snaps. Another slice and bake recipe. Win-win for me. I finished making the thin mint recipe and while that was chilling I made the ginger snap recipe. YUM! I love ginger snaps. Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved them. My father’s father had this great cookie jar (which I have now) and he’d have ginger snaps every time we were visiting. I remember the sound the lid make when you took it off and the rustling of the cookies when reaching in to grab that spicy snack. This particular recipe, however, was amped up a bit. I felt a kick in my mouth a few times after eating one. Yum! Not super snappy, I liked them softer this time around. With the little bit of sugar on top before baking, they came out with a little bit of a crackle. Perfect for the ginger zing you get.

Finally, I made Neapolitan Cookies. I love the colors of neapolitan ice cream. Ever since my daughter was born I’ve grown to like and truly love pink. I don’t run around in pink track suits, but I’ve been known to wear pink now and then. Instead of jumping in to using the dough in a speckled look, I rolled out sheets like sugar cookies and layered them to chill stacked on top of each other. When they were firm enough I sliced off the jagged edges and swirled those together just enough to make a log for slicing later. The nice straight edged shape was then cut in to two inch wide strips, which were then cut in to 1/4″ pieces and baked. Once cooled, they were tasted, quality control never hurt anyone right? It tasted like the ice cream, minus brain freeze.

In case you are wondering, I have a 6 quart Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I’ve yet to name her, but she is reliable as all get out. For most of these recipes, all but the meringues actually, I used the Beater Blade. I’m not getting paid or free stuff from them, but I feel it’s necessary to praise this product. It is phenominal. If you don’t know what it is, check it out, but I will also explain it here. It is a great paddle attachment with what feels like your standard rubber spatula running along it’s length that scrapes the bowl as it mixes  your dough or whatever you’re mixing. I am in love with how thoroughly it gets all your ingredients incorporated without lumps or random dry or wet spots in the dough or batter. No wasted product is always good. Nothing is stuck to the bottom of the bowl. Truly great product.

Hope you enjoyed this installment of my crafty life. I’m working on a crochet project I hope to write about in the next week or so. Change things up a bit.

Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Holidays, Happy, healthy and save New Years (if I don’t write before then of course)!

Big hugs to you all.