Chocolate Maniac Fire Bread

Chocolate maniac fire bread with smoked salt raspberry butter. I know, it’s a mouthful and probably sounds a little strange. It’s good though, seriously. That is, if you like chocolate and a bit of a kick.

This little treat is bursting with pockets of flavour. It’s a chocolate quick bread with Cacao Barry Extra Brute, a high quality amber cocoa powder from Barry Callebaut that tastes amazing. Then it’s got chunks of bittersweet chocolate for pockets of chocolatey goodness. And it wouldn’t be a maniac fire bread if it wasn’t laced with bits of bird’s eye chili that pack a serious punch while at the same time complementing the intense chocolate flavour. To top it all off is butter mixed with raspberries (from my grandmother’s garden in exchange for vacuuming my grandparent’s house) and smoked salt. Chocolate maniac fire bread with smoked salt raspberry butter is what it sounds like, a symphony of flavour complexity you have to try to understand.

I’m not sure if this maniac bread is a breakfast food or dessert, so I’m just going to eat it as both.

A Pile of Books Cake

I always found it remarkable during my early baking years to see photos of cakes that don’t actually look like cakes. I finally achieved that with this one – a graduation cake shaped like a pile of books! Reportedly during the graduation party, the mother of the graduate asked, “who is going to pick up the cake?” She didn’t know that the pile of books sitting on the counter WAS the cake.

This tiered celebration cake is a vanilla cake in disguise, with raspberry filling and buttercream. The hat is a chocolate cupcake in disguise. While the pages of the books and cake board are covered with a white fondant, the covers are a contrasting chocolate fondant that smell a bit like a Tootsie roll. The books and hat are then decorated with both hand painting and applique to achieve the final detailing. A special shoutout to Skylar for suggesting the second book be modelled after the CISC Handbook of Steel Construction, 11th Edition. Clearly, a Civil Engineering special.

A pile of books cake

Congratulations to Bikram on graduating from Civil Engineering! It was a pleasure to create this special tiered cake for you.

Sugar Lace Cakes

Flexible and edible, sugar lace has amazing detail. For quite some time I have been in awe of this decorating medium, and recently I finally got the chance to make some of my own. How it works is you mix up a paste and apply it to a silicone mat with the lace impression. Then you scrape away the excess and let the lace dry for a few hours (or speed things up by baking the mat in the oven on low heat). Once set, you remove the lace and get an intricate lace piece that’s completely edible.

Flexible sugar lace

I followed this up on a couple cakes. The first features a toasted coconut chocolate cake, decorated in edible lace, pink sugar carnations, and a big floppy bow. The result is fantastically elegant.

A modern lace cake

For my sister’s birthday, I experimented in creating a more playful design with a chocolate raspberry cake that features a layering of bright colours, Antwerp lace, and applique flowers.

Layers of bright colours, Antwerp lace and applique flowers
Antwerp Lace birthday cake

Ice Cream Sandwiches

A few weeks ago, I was busy baking cakes with my sister. A lot of cakes in fact, for a three tier wedding cake. The cakes were levelled, filled and looking perfect. This left a lot of garbage cake.

And I mean a lot of garbage cake! This is probably one 1/4 of the total garbage cake

You might ask, what do you do with all that garbage cake? You certainly don’t throw all it in the garbage? No, of course not. There are in fact a number of great things you can do with garbage cake, and here are just a few of the many options:

  1. Eat it for breakfast
  2. Make cake pops
  3. Make ice cream sandwiches

I picked #3 a couple weeks ago, and I am sure glad now that the weather has suddenly warmed up. The great thing about making ice cream sandwiches are that they are a great opportunity to also use up any leftover icing, cookie chunks, etc. you have lying around from previous projects.

  1. To make the outer cookie, mix 5 cups of cake crumbs with 1 cup of icing (you can use more or less icing depending on how moist the cake is). Mix it until it comes together into a dough. It should be like a cookie dough consistency.
  2. Line an 8 inch square pan with plastic wrap. Ensure there is a lot of excess along the sides (to cover the top and help get it out of the pan).
  3. Press half of the dough into the bottom of the pan.
  4. Cover the dough with ice cream
  5. Freeze until firm.
  6. Press the remaining dough onto the ice cream and freeze again until hard.
  7. Unmold the pan, and cut into squares.
Finished ice cream sandwiches

I made orange lemon vanilla ice cream sandwiches as well as chocolate vanilla cookie ice cream sandwiches. The orange lemon vanilla ice cream sandwiches are made with lemon cake and orange buttercream icing, then filled with vanilla ice cream. The chocolate vanilla cookie ice cream sandwiches are made with chocolate cake and cream cheese icing. They are filled with vanilla ice cream mixed with Oreo cookie chunks. You can be creative with your cake and ice cream flavours for all sorts of tasty combinations!

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

The festive season brings a good excuse for all manner of baking. This December, I revisited some old favourites – chocolate chip cookies, and the decadent Queen of Sheba Chocolate Torte. At the same time, the month was also a first for me in chocolate making, with Earl Grey Ganache Bonbons for gifts. I also baked madeleines for the first time, a traditional shell shaped French cookie. Finally, for Christmas Day, I made a batch of two dozen cupcakes. Cupcakes are my childhood baking favourite, so I’ve likely whipped up more of these than any other baked good. Yet, I am proud to say I also incorporated some experimentation in flavour and texture.

Meet my Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes!

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes
Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

They are all cupcake in appearance, but inside, they have some pie genes. Lemon shortbread lines the bottom for some lemony crunch. The centre of the cupcake holds a surprise of strawberry puree, surrounded by lemon cake. With the best of both worlds, the beautiful aesthetics of a cupcake is present with strawberry buttercream ruffles piped on top with a large rose tip, and finished with a sprinkle of yellow and pink sanding sugar.

Cupcake anatomy
Strawberry lemonade cupcakes – inside and out

I have to say, the cupcakes got some great reviews. A funny story – earlier, after hearing there was still one left in my fridge, my dad hurried over (while worrying that my sister might beat us, and therefore gobble it up before him).

As the year comes to an end, many wishes for more cupcake-pie hybrids in 2017!

Creamy Artichoke and Garden Tomato Tart

October has come, and summer seems to be long gone. It has been snowing a fair deal already, as if retribution for last year’s mild winter. It snowed last weekend. It also snowed last Friday, causing all sorts of havoc on roads.

Rewind back a couple weeks ago. The tomatoes were still happily growing late in the season, abundant and green, when my sister hurried outside to harvest them amidst the frost warnings. Now, they are ALL getting ripe. A large abundance of fresh, flavorful heirloom tomatoes straight from our backyard. In boxes on the floor, all over the kitchen table, filling up the fridge…

There doesn’t seem a better way to celebrate this bountiful harvest than adorning a homemade quick puff pastry tart with artichoke filling. To top it off, I added a variety of tomatoes including yellow pear and zebra (with green and red stripes), as well as other mystery types. One is a pinkish colour, while another a more conventional tomato red. Just use what is on hand for a delicious treat – layers of crisp flaky pastry, creamy and tangy artichoke, and succulent tomatoes.

Creamy Artichoke and Garden Tomato Tart
Creamy Artichoke and Garden Tomato Tart
All the glorious tomatoes
All the glorious tomatoes

Disclaimer: I have no gardening talent. Luckily my sister does.

Gougères

What is a gougère? The French pastry version of a cheese puff. Since I happen to love cheese and pastry, I made some this weekend. These are a type of pâte à choux pastry (the same type of pastry as profiteroles, éclairs, etc). For a traditional gougère I added gruyère cheese and spices to my choux paste. These little treats baked up with a crisp shell, and interior of air pockets surrounded by gooey cheese and tender crumb.

Yum yum tasty little gougère
Yum yum tasty little gougère

Gougères would be perfect little appetizers to serve at a dinner party. And even better is that they can be made ahead of time and frozen for quick preparation. Just pipe them into two inch balls on a baking sheet (or use a teaspoon) and stick the tray in the freezer. When fully frozen, transfer them into another container for freezing until it’s time for baking. Of course, I did not do this today, as I was eager to bake all the gougères and eat them right away.

Gougères galore!
Gougères galore!

Mini Citrus Pavlovas

French meringue is sort of magical. It starts off as egg whites – liquid, clear, and sloppy. Then somehow it transforms with beating and sugar into a shiny, white, voluminous cloud-like dreaminess that’s also tasty. If that isn’t magic, what is?

If you can’t tell, meringue is one of my favourite things to make lately, so it’s about time for some pavlova! Pavlova is a light dessert with a French meringue base, topped with whipped cream and adorned with fruit. In January, citrus is in season, so orange, grapefruit, and mint leaves decorate my mini pavlovas.

Mini citrus pavlova
Mini citrus pavlova

I made these and brought them to a friend’s place for dinner. They actually transport quite well and are light. Just wrap the meringues in plastic, and place them, the whipped cream, and cut fruit in containers. Assembly can be done quickly at your destination. Pavlovas are also versatile and can be made in any size. I made mine in individual portions, but they could also be giant cake size for serving to many guests. You could also bake the meringue in a creative shape, like a heart.

A pavlova for one
A pavlova for one

I recently also had a discussion with my sister about the origination of pavlovas. As it turns out, pavlovas are from New Zealand (but were first published in Australia). They are popular desserts in both countries. It is said a New Zealand chef invented and named this creation after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova when she was on tour there.

Alsatian Tart

I was hungry and it was a Sunday afternoon, so I decided to make an Alsatian Tart, which turned out to be a pastry crossed with pizza sort of too good deliciousness. Too delicious to possibly be good for you, so I need to tell myself not to eat this every day. But hey, it does have all the food groups at least (fruits/vegetables, grain, dairy, meat, pastry).

Alsatian Tart, a savoury goodness from the Alsace region in France
Alsatian Tart, a savory goodness from the Alsace region in France

This tart looks quite akin to a pizza, and the topping pairings would work well on one. But this in particular is not a pizza, as the Alsace Tart has a pastry rather than bread base. I cut some homemade puff pastry out into a circle and baked it to let it rise. My thin piece of rolled dough rose nicely in the oven giving way to flaky layers of golden pastry.

See all those golden puff pastry layers
See all those golden puff pastry layers

I layered the top with thinly sliced potatoes. I believe this is a German influence, as the Alsace region in France is along the German border. (Yes, remember history class where you learned Germany’s prior annexation of Alsace-Lorraine from the Franco-Prussian War was one cause of resentment that led to World War I?) I also topped my pastry with caramelized apples and red onions, spices, Edam cheese and a bit of bacon. Bon appetit!

Having a slice!
Having a slice!

Triple Chocolate Glaze Cupcakes

Chocolate cupcakes are a crowd pleaser. Triple chocolate glaze cupcakes are also a crowd pleaser, but more importantly will get hoarded by any chocolate fanatic. I know this from experience.

I actually made these cupcakes a while ago, but just recently dug up the pictures of them. It all started with another fundraiser bake sale for EPCOR’s annual United Way campaign back in early October 2015. I was intent on participating, but didn’t have much time despite the fame and attention my 2014 “Put a CAP on Poverty” cupcakes conjured. I whipped up some chocolate cupcakes and then dipped them in a bittersweet chocolate glaze with leftover ingredients from my Queen of Sheba Chocolate Torte. Similar to the Queen of Sheba, they are crumb coated in ganache first, dipped in the glaze, and drizzled with white chocolate to create a smooth coating with contrast. Quick, easy, and of course beautiful. Ta da!

Triple chocolate glaze cupcakes
Triple chocolate glaze cupcakes
Chocolate swirls
Chocolate swirls

I donated a dozen of these to the bake sale. Soon after, they had all disappeared. Reportedly, one person bought all twelve of them soon after the bake sale opened to the public. So there you go with the chocolate fanatic hoarding tendency. I hope that person enjoyed them, whoever they are.

2015 Christmas Cookies

This year I made a number of sugar cookies for gifts, and to share with others. I made quite a few, as the cookies from my first batch ran out very quickly! After I brought some to work and they ran out there, I was asked a number of times per day if I had any more cookies. I brought some more later, as I made a double batch the second time. Our family also enjoyed them over Christmas. 🙂

I like the cookie recipe used as it has a tender crumb. It also does not shrink or expand as it bakes, giving a well defined shape for cookie decorating. This is also nice, as you can bake the cookies close together on the pan without worrying about them crashing into each other. Also, you can get them all into the oven quicker. Overall they still do take some time to make. I make the dough one day and chill it, then cut and bake the cookies later. I make the icing and decorate them after that.

Letting the run sugar dry on all my cookies
Letting the run sugar dry on all my cookies

I made a number of different cookies. They were of the very simple theme of “cookies I feel like making”. These included trees covered in snow, “lederhosen und dirndl”, polar bears, snowflakes, crocodilians, king penguins, and various designs from round shapes.

The trees were decorated with run sugar (a thin consistency royal icing, which runs together after a few seconds, but is not so watery that it flows off the cookie). Once the run sugar hardened, the snow was created by stroking a stiffer royal icing with a brush to create the snow effect. This is called the “brush embroidery” technique. This is the first time I’ve used brush embroidery and I like the effect, but I think my icing was a bit too stiff so I’ll have to try it again sometime. I let my mom do some of the brush embroidery too, and she looked really happy about it.

Tree cookies using brush embroidery
Tree cookies using brush embroidery

The cookie cutters for my lederhosen und dirndl (German traditional dress) are two of my favourites, as they have such a unique, funny shape. My sister bought these for me from a shop in Germany when she was working there. This is the first time I’ve really decorated them properly with run sugar. Aren’t they cute?

Lederhosen (pants) and dirndl (dress) cookies!
Lederhosen (pants) and dirndl (dress) cookies!

Here are my assorted animal cookies. This is the king penguin, which has brighter colours than the emperor penguin. I bought this cookie cutter in the Falkland Islands. I also made polar bears and crocodile cookies. I had forgotten about the crocodile cutter but it also makes a cute cookie. These were all decorated in run sugar.

King penguin, polar bear and crocodile cookies
King penguin, polar bear and crocodile cookies

I also made some assorted round cookies. I experimented a bit with these. Some used run sugar, incorporating some of the leftover royal icing colours. I also used fondant on some of the cookies for the first time with good results both in aesthetics and taste.

Assorted round cookies in various elegant designs
Assorted round cookies in various elegant designs
Vintage cameo cookies. Maybe these could have had a border and some gold. Or maybe that's too much cookie OCD.
Vintage cameo cookies. Maybe these could have had a border and some gold. Or maybe that’s too much cookie OCD.

Queen of Sheba Chocolate Torte

The Queen of Sheba Chocolate Torte is sure to please any chocolate lover. It contains a lot of chocolate, but actually only a couple tablespoons of wheat flour. (Almond flour is used instead). Meringue is used to make it rise, as there are no chemical leaveners (baking powder, baking soda). The texture is crumbly and moist with a slightly gooey centre.

This unique type of cake (Reine de Saba) was first made by Julia Child in her book The French Chef. I used this recipe from famous baker and chocolate expert Alice Medrich, in her book Seriously Bitter Sweet: The Ultimate Dessert Maker’s Guide to Chocolate. See my final cake below.

Queen of Sheba Chocolate Torte
Queen of Sheba Chocolate Torte

This beautiful torte is decorated by first crumb coating with a thickened (slightly cooled) chocolate glaze. Then the glaze is reheated to a liquid consistency and poured over the cake. Milk and white chocolate, as well as a bit of the reserved dark chocolate glaze are drizzled over the top. Finally, toasted almonds fringe the bottom edge of the cake. I love how the milk and white chocolate drizzle matches the colours of the almonds exactly.

Voila! We have an impressively beautiful decadent chocolate cake. 😀

Chocolate glaze and drizzle
Chocolate glaze and drizzle
Side view of the Queen of Sheba with almond fringe
Side view of the Queen of Sheba with almond fringe