Saturday, 15 December 2012

A Quick Update, And Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies Preview

Sorry for the immense silence around here, folks!

I've gotten caught up in all that darned "real life" junk, like working and dealing with family issues, and all that lovely junk. On top of that I got involved in this awful thing called Tumblr which just saps hours of my time in the blink of an eye and I love it.

But I digress. Baking!

It's that time of the year where I have a billion things to bake, so I'm gonna do my best to tell you guys about it! Right now I'm in the middle of a big batch of 60 cupcakes for a baby shower, so keep an eye out for those. At the moment the farthest I've gotten is...


... cake mix! I'm so busy I know I can't make all those cupcakes from scratch in one night, so I've spread out the work. The frostings are all fully made and hanging out in the fridge, and here I have all the dry ingredients for my cupcakes pre-mixed and ready to go with the remaining ingredients and instructions sticky-noted right on them. In a prettier container, these would make a great gift!

Getting ready for this crazy baking season also meant cleaning and organizing all my cookie cutters. I never realized just how many I had until I put them all in the sink to wash, and the sink was completely full. No, really, completely full! Look at this:

It's not just that plastic ones are floating here, there are metal cutters at the top of the sink. There's... there's at least 300 cutters here. I might have a problem.

Just to prove I really have been baking and not just slacking off, here's a preview of a post I just haven't gotten around to writing yet:



Mmm, peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips and - and... what is that peaking out of the chewy peanutbuttery cookie bite? How mysterious!

I guess y'all will find out next time!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Canada's Baking and Sweets Show 2012

***Mini blogger's note: This post is ultra-late due to unavoidable life circumstances. Sorry for the recent radio silence, folks, things should be back on track soon! Thanks for your understanding.***

So I went to my very first baking convention on September 30th, Canada's Baking and Sweets Show! It was on all weekend but because of my work/life schedule I was only able to attend the Sunday. I was so excited to be among fellow foodies! I didn't enter any of the contests or anything, but oh, did I ever enjoy looking at some of the entries.


This incredible cake by Beatriz Muller won the Wedding Cake Competition, and it's easy to see why. Okay, maybe it's not with that lame pic, but look at THIS:

Look at that detail. Are you looking??
That teeny, tiny, superfine piping! I've done string work, but I have NO IDEA how Ms Muller managed to achieve those delicate bridges of crisscross icing netting spanning between the cake surface and the draping icing layers at the bottom. Just - how? And those delicate, thinly-petaled flowers? All gumpaste. No, really.


The delicate swirls up the sides - the little bell-shaped protrusion on the left, the delicate, gorgeous royal icing butterfly precariously perched on the front panel!! I can't comprehend how many hours of work must have gone into all these tiny, perfect, delicate details. Amazing work, Ms Muller! This is the kind of stuff I aspire to.


This cake didn't win, but if I'd been a judge, Mary De Masi's wedding dress cake would have placed very high. I wish I could have got more detail shots of this baby; the ruffles are perfection, the gathered fabric bits towards the bottom absolutely blow my mind right out my ears, and you can't find fault in the piped texture work... or at least I can't!



When hubby and I were done ogling the entries in the Wedding Cakes and Theme Cake - Christmas competitions, we started checking out the places to grab snacks.We were attracted to La Casa Dolce by their beautiful cake displays, and then we saw this:


That, my friends, is a chocolate fudge cupcake with peanut butter buttercream, and a crumbled Reese peanut butter cup on top. Are you kidding me? You may be able to tell I couldn't resist swiping my finger through the frosting before I could even focus the camera. Also there might be a bite missing out of the other side. Maybe.

Hubby and I absolutely devoured this thing. I am dying to make my own version now. I'm going to have to trek out to Etobicoke again sometime just to try their other flavors!


Okay, one more cake to gawk over. Again, the string work. I am in awe of string work this delicate and intricate. The only string work I've done was very simple, the precision and beauty of this work impresses me more than I can explain - especially since this isn't a competition piece. This is just the kind of stuff Geraldine churns out on a regular basis. She was an absolute delight to chat with - just a fount of information!

I hope we get to meet again so we can chat and I can gaze in wonder at more of her work.

Speaking of people who were absolutely delightful to speak to...


Oh my gosh, you guys, it's Marian of Sweetopia! She was demonstrating her awesome cookie decorating techniques for Redpath Sugar. She was totally approachable and sweet and even posed for pictures and apologized for her icing-sticky hands when I wanted to shake her hand.

It's cool, Marian, I'm a cookie decorator too! Maybe one day I'll be as good as you. Seriously, guys, if you love baking and cookie decorating, you gotta check out Sweetopia. You have no excuse.


I wish, wish, WISH I had gotten this lady's name. She was full of enthusiasm and made the Purdy's chocolates Chocolate Martinis demonstration super fun. Of course, the event couldn't have have happened at all without the amazing Chef  Gary Mitchell, head chocolatier for Purdy's, Canada's largest (and best, IMHO) chocolate company. Seriously, those Mayan chocolates - I almost died of deliciousness at their samples booth.

Chef Mitchell showed us how to make and serve mixed chocolate drinks - both alcoholic and non-alcoholic - using real Purdy's chocolate. Now, I've had a chocolate martini or two (or twenty) before, but never one made with real, high-quality chocolates. I mean, dang. We couldn't sample the hard drinks due to their lack of liquor license, but darned if I'm not whipping some up at my next soiree.


Speaking of hard drinks, my husband disappeared a couple of times during the 7 hours we spent at the show, and both times I found him over at the Tia Maria table in the 'Lounge' - an area of the show serving mixed drinks and paired treats. These two lovelies, Aaron Male and Taryn, were wonderful conversation, and the Dark Desire drink they were serving up with biscotti to compliment was ahh-MAZING. I have to track down a bottle of Tia Maria, stat!

Here's where I need to mention that this blog post is criminally out of order. I met and chatted up Aaron and Taryn towards the end of the day, but I haven't even told you how our day started yet! See, I wanted to save the most exciting stuff for last - mind you, it was all way too exciting, but you'll see what I mean.

The first time hubby disappeared to the Lounge was while I was sitting in the competition stage area, waiting for a couple of highly-anticipated shows to start.


First, the Pastry Kings Competition - where two very talented pastry chefs (whose names I really should have written down - help?) put together a couple of delicious, high-end, complex and beautiful desserts to be judged. I sadly missed the judging later that day, occupied as I was with everything else in this post, or I would tell you who won. I was sort of rooting for the fellow on the right though, he employed molecular gastronomy to make mango ravioli to go with his delicate cake with salted caramel sauce... yes, please!!

Next up... the man I came to see. The major draw that made me say, "Screw going to Wizarding World of Harry Potter this year - I'm going to this show!!"

So what could possibly make me give up a chance to see an attraction based on one of my favorite book series'? What could make me book a hotel in Mississauga, instead of Orlando?

If you knew anything about this baking show, you can probably guess.


Duff Goldman, everybody!!

Ladies, contain yourselves.

If you don't know who this guy is - what? Really? It's the Ace of Cakes, baby! You know, the guy who was making incredible, beautiful, delicious, occasionally animated/pyrotechnic/light-up cakes, before anyone else on television? Founder and owner of Charm City Cakes?

My idol. No, seriously, this is the guy that inspired me, initially, to pursue my hobby of baking and try to turn it into a career. This guy, right here.


Duff's portion of the show was brought to us by the fine folks behind PAM baking spray - which definitely has its uses, as Duff was obligated to point out. This is actually a neat trick he showed us, though! Is your rotating cake stand squeaking? WD40 isn't exactly kitchen safe, but PAM will do the same job and not hurt your food!


That sucker went from creaky to spinning beautifully. Duff's all, "Do you see that folks?"

Mind = blown.


Then Duff showed us some basic fondant decorating techniques: stripes, polka dots and... I forget what he called the thing he did to the top tier but anyway...

He called up young Jessica from the crowd to assist, and she did a pretty dang good job! Very diligent and careful. Heck, if I'd been called up in front of that crowd, I probably would have just squeaked, cried, and melted through the floor.


Duff also showed us some super-helpful tricks of the trade, like how an airbrush and a touch of vodka (he had to use water in the demo, though, no vodka handy apparently) can help eliminate white patchy bits of cornstarch (or icing sugar) clinging to your fondant.

Interesting note on the whole cornstarch vs icing sugar argument: Duff swears by cornstarch, saying it's easy to brush off of the fondant, while icing sugar will soak in and combine with it, messing with the fondant's texture and also becoming overly sticky if it becomes moist.

Geraldine, who I mentioned earlier, says that only icing sugar will do for rolling out fondant, and that cornstarch will cause fondant to dry and crack.

I've always used icing sugar and haven't had a problem yet but... Maybe I will try cornstarch and see for myself what the fuss is all about!


Duff also taught us that if you get a smudge of the wrong colour of fondant where it shouldn't be, an ever-so-slightly-damp paintbrush can be used to gently brush and scrape it away. Oh, the cakes that tip will save!


Once the basic fondant decorations were on, Duff airbrushed some beautiful fall leaves to stick on the cake, and had the lovely Artsy Baker up on stage to help snip their stems so he could attach them properly. He then busted out a bunch of custom-made little edible plaques showing all his favorite things about Canada, and festooned the cake with them.


See? Everything from RUSH to Justin Bieber, from the Leafs (which he actually hates, but he was trying to appease the largely Torontonian crowd) to beavers to narwhals, of all things!

After his demo, he did a great Q & A session, then moved on to his book signing, which I of course lined up for. I was roughly the 1200th person in line, and no, I don't think I'm exaggerating. This crowd was insane.


There was a line beyond which you weren't allowed to take pics, so this was about as good as I could do. Even with all the rules they had in place and Duff's bouncer-like manager/handler/bodyguard/general important-looking imposing dude standing by to move folks along, hubby and I waited well over an hour to get our book signed.

And even though they were on a tight schedule, Duff took a few moments to smile and chat very briefly with each person in that line. He was totally genuine, and humble, and just.... you know, the best way to describe it is to just transcribe how our little meeting went down.

Hubby, being the socially forward one, immediately greeted Duff and said something like, "Great to meet you, we're big fans."

I awkwardly blurted out, "WOW DUFF GOLDMAN CAN I SHAKE YOUR HAND SIR" just like that, in all-caps and everything.

Duff kind of scoffed and was like, "Don't call me 'sir', I'm just Duff."

"So uh, can I shake your hand, Duff?"

He extended his hand and we had a brief little shake, and I tried not to explode with excitement because oh my gosh, Duff Goldman is talking to me and letting me shake his hand. He got my name, there was a touch of chatter I don't remember while he signed my book, then I blurted out "ACTUALLY DUDE CAN I GET A FIST-BUMP?"

He laughed and put out his fist and I frickin' fist-bumped frickin' Duff frickin' Goldman, and started to walk away with my autographed book, delirious with happiness. But it gets better, because he said, "Nah, man, that ain't a fist bump, come back here."

What.

I returned and he demonstrated the proper way to do an awesome, righteous, exploding fist-bump. Because that is just how he rolls. So I'm driving everyone I know crazy passing along the proper Duff-approved fist-bump procedure.

Oh, gosh, I could go on all day and night about what a great guy Duff is, and what a great time we had and all the amazing vendors and exhibitors we met and made purchases from, but this is getting AWFULLY long and this post is already over a week late so...


A picture says a thousand words. We came back to the hotel laden with so much swag - some free, much purchased - that our arms ached from carrying it all. This isn't even all of it. We had multiples of a couple of things! I'll just break this down uber-fast:

- Canadian Living Magazines and one year's subscription (not shown) with Great Grains cereal sample I didn't get to try because hubby totally scarfed it.
- Hot Mamas awesome specialty hot sauces and hot mango jelly, which hubby claims aren't hot enough, and which nearly burned through the roof of my mouth, so, you know, your mileage may vary. Delicious, though!
- The Ace of Cakes book, of course.
- Cake Mate frosting in a spray can... this was part of the free swag, and I haven't tried it yet. I'll let y'all know how that goes when I get around to it.
- Girl Guide cookies. I just... I just can't help myself. I'm sorry.
- Monkey Butter Peanut Butter. I can't describe how awesome this is. Just, go to the link. If you have any love for peanut butter at all, buy yourself one of their flavored natural peanut butters - or the 6-flavor set, like I did, and treat yourself. I don't care if it costs twice what Kraft or Skippy or whatever does, it's worth it. Do it! Go now, I'll wait.
- A Tia Maria shaker tin Taryn gave to hubby, because he's such a bartending enthusiast, and was just in love with the shakers, and they weren't for sale. You're awesome, Taryn, thanks! (I hope that doesn't get you in trouble!)
- Adorable kitty cat cookie cutters from Golda's Kitchen. I can't wait to make these, you don't even know. I want to make a cookie of all my cats... and all my friends' cats... and all my favorite internet cats...
- There's these awesome microwave cakes from Hansell's, that I had never heard of before, but let me tell you, they're quick to heat and way, WAY too easy to eat. Makes me want to try and make my own version!
- A tiny, tiiiiiny little jar of edible orange sparklies that shall someday adorn fancy cupcakes... I have completely forgotten where I got them from, sorry! If I remember I'll be sure to update y'all.

If this somehow wasn't enough for you, check out the Imgur album where I stuffed my remaining 75 photos from the show... more the half of them may or may not be Duff Goldman. Also a really cute pic of me and Marian lookin' like we're pals. That'd be cool, maybe someday... Anyway, check it out here.

I think that about sums it up. In short, if you have a chance to go to this show for 2013, go go go!! It's totally worth it, way too fun, and heck, I might even see you there.

Until next time!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Cookie-Stuffing Madness

The following letter was found in a basement apartment, surrounded by cookie crumbs and chocolate smears. The location of the author is yet unknown:

To anyone who finds this:

Help me. I can't stop stuffing cookies.

It began innocently enough, a friend's request, some inspiration from Picky Palate, and a package of Reese peanut butter cups. I had no idea that Reese cups were... a gateway cookie filling!

Soon, I was sending hubby to the grocery, to the bulk store - anywhere to find more items to bake inside cookies.


Oreos (original idea here!), York peppermint patties, fun-size Oh Henry bars, even Williocrisp squares. I knew I was out of control, but I couldn't stop. 


Soon, I had whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and doled out scoopfuls onto a pan.


I found the Willocrisps small enough that they needed only a dough ball and a half to cover them entirely. Somewhere in my diseased mind I thought that made them more okay, more acceptable somehow.

Bet you can't guess which one is the Oh Henry.

Soon I had formed dough around all the fillings and was ready to place the first batch in the oven, pushing flashbacks out of my mind. I waited with bated breath outside the oven, trembling with the early stages of withdrawal as I anticipated the results. As soon as they were out of the oven, I busied myself with the next tray, trying desperately to restrain myself from devouring the cookies while they were still 350 degrees.


The moment I deemed the cookies cool enough to try, I selected what I thought my most unusual stuffing and savoured the sight of the monstrous baked good beside its confectionery brethren, before finally splitting it open to observe its wondrous insides.


I could see that the mint patty had held its shape well, and as I jammed the cookies into my face obsessively, I was vaguely aware that the patty's strong mint flavor had mellowed ever-so-slightly in the baking process, infusing the cookie with a sweet, minty aroma that did not overpower the cookie's own flavor.


No sooner had the first cookie vanished than I had to explore another, viciously cutting open the Oreo-stuffed variety. The Oreo held its shape and flavor exceedingly well. It passed through my mind that there was something inherently wrong with stuffing a cookie with another cookie, but by this time, I was well past morals.


 Next, the Willocrisp cookie. I had barely waited for it to cool, and the magma-like melted candy within nearly burned my tongue to cinders. The candy was chewy and had lost its characteristic crispy crunch. Mad with the need for a delicious stuffed cookie, I tossed the failure aside and dove into the next pan.


 Oh. Oh, this was it. The Oh Henry's nougat softened luxuriously in the oven, the nuts remained crisp, the caramel warm and gooey, and the chocolate - oh, the chocolate!  Time seemed to cease existing as cookie after cookie disappeared into my mouth. Space seemed to shift and take on psychedelic qualities as I spun completely into cookie-induced madness.

The walls liquefied, the floor became as a heaving ocean, until I collapsed into sugary unconsciousness.

I write this, still surrounded by cookie shrapnel, from the floor of my basement apartment; my head pounding, my limbs weak. But still, I feel the stirring, the need for this confection, and I reach for the previously discarded Willocrisp cookie. Huh. Hey, you know, once these are fully cooled they actually get crunchy on the inside again. Oh wow - this is really good!

...

Oh dear - it's happening again. Send help! Send vegetables! Send insulin!

Whatever you do, don't bake this at home! Save yourself! Your family!

If this letter is found, tell my family I love them.

- Tamara


*Okay, so maybe I'm being just slightly ridiculous. Ever so slightly. And using the tiniest bit of hyperbole. But seriously, stuffing cookies is a slippery slope. In reality, my bro Duck helped me sample the first batches and the above scenario was completely avoided.

But this could have happened, had I not had a helper. So always use the buddy system, kids. And experiment with baking safely.

Until next time!

PS - For anyone who's never had them, Willocrisps have basically the same stuff inside as a Crispy Crunch bar. Super tasty stuff.