Friday, October 28, 2011

Inspiration: Darkness!

When asked to make cupcakes for an NYC Halloween cocktail party I was beyond excited.  I envisioned adorable cupcakes with pumpkin, ghost, and witch decorations balanced atop swirls of frosting.  But before I could share my festive ideas, the client informed me that they were hosting a dark, creepy, and gory Halloween Bash. the girl who used to wear a flower in her hair everyday and is distracted by sparkly and colorful objects, this project was going to stray far from my usual designs.  I shook myself free of my familiar bright and cheery inspiration and focused on something new.  This time, my inspiration would be DARKNESS!!!

To start, I baked dark chocolate and bloody red velvet cupcakes to set the tone. The Cemetery is an iconic image of Halloween; rows of tombstones conjure up sad, dark, and gloomy thoughts...perfect for this event!  I made tiny tombstones out of black fondant and wrote R.I.P in a runny red royal icing to look like it was written in blood. The tombstones are rising out of dark chocolate cream cheese frosting with gloomy Oreo dirt.
I wanted to include some classy gore into the cupcakes for this cocktail hour affair. Since vampires are far too overdone, I decided bloody shards of glass would add a beautifully gruesome touch of gore to the display. I created the shards of glass from a clear caramel. To create the blood I mixed food coloring with piping gel and dipped the caramel pieces in the 'blood' before viciously stabbing them into the cream cheese frosting.
The inspiration for the final cupcake came from a very dear college friend of mine. She has an incredibly dark sense of humor and LOVES the creepy Tim Burton classic, 'The Nightmare Before Christmas.' The hollow-eyed, stitched up face of Jack was the perfect gloomy touch to my dark and dreary cupcakes.
In addition to cupcakes I made spidery red velvet and chocolate Halloween whoopies
As well as some yummy sugar cookie candy corn to add (just a touch) of brightness!
HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all and hope everyone has a horribly dark, gloomy, (and Sweet!) Halloween weekend!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Candy Corn Cookies

Candy Corn is perhaps one of the most popular signature sweets of the Halloween holiday.  The sweet tri-colored treat adorns candy bowls around the country and is often enjoyed right out of the bag (I have nearly finished a bag all by myself!)  I enjoy this treat as much as the next guy; however, after a few handfuls, this Halloween treat is sure to leave you with a good tooth ache and unhappy belly.  Candy Corn is created from sugar, corn syrup, wax,water, fondant, and marshmallow (Basically sugar, sugar, and more sugar!)  Wouldn't it be nice to enjoy these festive treats without the extreme sugar shock? Inspired by the classic yellow, orange, and white candies, I created a sugar cookie that looks just as adorable as the candy, but may allow you a few extra handfuls before the sugar coma sets in!

You can use a favorite recipe if you have one, for this batch I used this Sugar Cookie Recipe from Alton Brown.  The only addition I made to the recipe is a teaspoon of Vanilla Extract.  This recipe creates a pliable dough that is very easy to work with this kind of project. Mix up the dough according to the recipe directions.  Divide into three equal portions.
Add a few drops of yellow gel food coloring to the first portion. With the second portion, mix in a few drops of orange gel food coloring.  Leave the third portion plain.  I decided to add some interest to the cookie by kneading in a few teaspoons of pumpkin spice into the orange portion.
Line a standard size loaf pan with some parchment paper.
Press the plain portion of dough into the pan in an even layer.  Repeat with the orange and then the yellow dough. 
I wanted to make cookies close to the size of an actual candy corn so my layers are fairly thin.  If you want to make a large cookie, simply make a thicker layer of each color.  One batch  of this dough makes a loaf pan full of smaller cookies, double the batch if you want a larger result. Wrap the paper over the top, press firmly, and chill in the fridge for an hour or two.
Remove from pan and place onto a surface to slice the dough.  Slice the stacked dough into 1/8 to 1/4 inch sections. 
Cut triangles from each of these slices.
  Once chilled...toss all the cookies in sugar and place on a cookie sheet.
  Bake at 375 degrees until the cookies begin to get golden around the edges.  The bake time will be determined by how large you make your cookies.  Watch them carefully as it will only take a few minutes to bake these tiny cookies (especially if you like them soft!) I made another batch with a chocolate layer by kneading a generous amount of dark cocoa into a portion of the dough instead of the yellow food coloring.  Making both variations is quick and easy and creates an adorably festive presentation. Once cool, mix the cookies in a dish with some candy corn and set out the sweet and surprising poppable treat for your Halloween guests!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lovely Apple Pockets

I love the fall weather because it is the perfect time to spend the weekend apple picking with friends and family, to take walks under the color changing trees, to carve pumpkins, and most of apple pie!!!. After spending a lovely morning apple picking with my boyfriend I hauled home a giant bag of apples and a whole lot of delicious apple baking potential. My first thought was to make an apple pie for us to eat for breakfast during the week (because obviously apple pie is the perfect balanced breakfast). The thought of transporting a piece of pie to work with me on New Jersey Transit conjured up images of a messy purse and hungry belly so I came up with a new plan....Lovely Apple Pockets! These apple pies are delicious, portable, and pretty darn adorable.

I made a homemade crust for mine but if you don't have the time a store bought dough will work just as well. I highly suggest using this recipe as it is super easy to work with and results in a flaky tasty crust to incase your apple filling.

For the crust you will need:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 cup butter, cut into 1 inch cubes and chilled
1/4 cup shortening (White Crisco), chilled
6-8 tbsp ice water

Begin by whisking the dry ingedients together in a small bowl.
The rest of the process can be done by pulsing the ingredients in a food processer; however, you can call me old fashioned because I prefer to do it by hand on my countertop. Start by combining the flour mixture with the chilled (very important!) butter and shortening on your countertop.
Using a bench scraper (available at most kitchen stores) cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture.
Continue 'cutting' the butter into the flour mixture until it is the size of small peas.
Next, create a small well in the center of the flour/butter mixture to pour in a few tablespoons of ice water. Again, very important that all ingredients are very cold! This will ensure a flakier end product.
Begin working the dough together with your hands (or a fork if you don't like getting dirty).
Continue adding in small amounts of ice water and working together with your hands until all the ingredients come together to form the dough.
Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least an hour. It is essential to chill the dough because it will make it easier to roll out and will result in a finished product with a flakier and more tender texture.

While the dough chills, peel, core, and dice your apples.   I used a peeler to remove the skin from the apples and then used a melon baller to scoop out the core.  A melon baller is a safe and efficient tool to use for this purpose!  I used 4 large apples and made about 12 apple pockets.
I used a mixtured of apples I picked at the orchard. After dicing them into small squares a tossed them in a hot pan with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar until they were tender. I had some homemade caramel sauce leftover from my last project so I then tossed the apples with the caramel sauce for the filling. This is where you can get creative. You can make your own caramel sauce or use store bought if you want to follow what I did. Or, you can use your favorite apple pie recipe and dice your apples and follow the same process of tossing the ingredients in a hot pan to soften and cook the filling. Set aside while you prepare your dough.

Place your chilled dough on a floured surface with some extra flour on the side in case you need more.
Roll the dough out to about 1/8" thickness.
I chose to make my pockets in the form of an apple. Since I did not have a proper shaped cookie cutter I simply drew out my desgin on parchment paper and used the cut out as a guide when cutting out my dough. You can be creative with the shapes you want to make them. When cutting out the pieces make sure to cut an even amount so you will have enough for the tops and bottoms of the pockets.
I then put a few drops of food coloring in the scraps and cut out some small hearts to use as decoration. Place all the pieces on a cookie sheet and chill for a few minutes before filling.
Scoop a mound of your filling (drain off extra juice) into the center of half of your pieces, leaving space on all sides. You can mound the filling up high as the apples will deflate as they cook more in the oven. Take the top piece and stretch it slightly before placing on top. Pinch it together on all sides to seal in the filling. You can swipe a small amount of water around the edge before placing the top on to help it stick. Using a fork, press around the edges to ensure the pocket is closed and to create the classic apple pie edge. Brush the tops with egg wash and adhere your decorations. Poke a few holes in the top to let the steam out during baking.  Sprinkle with sugar and bake in a 375 degree oven until the crust is a golden brown (about 15minutes rotating sheetpan halfway through).
These are delicous warm or at room temperature. They can easily be frozen after they are cooked and then warmed in a toaster oven at a later time. Enjoy as an easy and impressive fall dessert, snack, or breakfast (my favorite)! Be creative and have fun as you bake your own version of these lovely apple pockets and enjoy the sweeter side of fall!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Baker?!!!!!....I hardly know her!"

I am lucky enough to have an AMAZING boss who is also an extremely good friend of mine.  He has inspired me personally as well as professionally.  Dan is a very smart man as well as an awesome personality to have beside me in the kitchen.  Aside from sharing a passion for entrepreneurship, humor, and baking, we also share an EXTREME sweet tooth.  When I realized his birthday was around the corner there was no doubt in my mind that I had to create a surprise birthday cake encompassing his passions and hysterical sense of humor.  The "Baker?!!!!...I hardly know her!" cake was born.  This cake is a 4 layer caramel banana cake layered with homemade dark caramel sauce and cream cheese buttercream.  To satisfy Dan's sweet tooth I also covered the cake in a bright blue layer of fondant (a sugar dough.)  All of the characters are animated versions of his delicious Downtown Cookie Co cookies created from fondant. The cake topper is a representation of one of Dan's favorite bites of baker humor. His Chocolate Chip cookie is shocked at the idea of 'Baking' Janestreet Jam when he 'hardly knows her.'
Representing one of his favorite activities, Chocolate Chocolate is sporting a chic green sweat band to keep the sweat away from his eyes as he bikes around the cake.  A handful of bright birthday balloons trail behind him as he rides along.
His love of inspirational and self/career improvement books is represented by the hipster Ginger cookie sitting up front with his stack of motivational reading and trendy Converse sneakers.  
Just as Dan likes to get his swell on at the gym, his classic Peanut Butter cookie is pumping iron around the corner to keep its criss cross abs in tip top shape.     
Dan was happy to see all of his interests and delicious cookies showcased on his cake and was even more excited when he got to try his first(and second and third) slice! HAPPY BIRTHDAY Dan and keep on enjoying your passion for the sweet life!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sew Cute Confetti Cupcakes

Growing up the daughter of a seamstress, I spent many days digging through my mom's buttons to use for all sorts of craft projects with my sister. We would sneak into her sewing room and rummage through her button drawers to pick out the prettiest ones we could find to add to our collections. As I was deciding how to decorate my confetti cupcakes I thought back to those days of button collections and arts and crafts. Just as it was the perfect finish to my childhood crafts, a bright button perched atop a swirl of buttercream frosting is a 'sew cute' way to finish these colorful cupcakes.

Making homeade Confetti Cupcakes is almost as easy as reaching for the Funfetti box in cabinet, except it's loads tastier! Simply choose your favorite Vanilla Cake Recipe and fold in rainbow ice cream sprinkles before baking. For this batch I used my grandma's favorite white cake recipe but I also enjoy this simple and delicious White Cake Recipe recipe from the foodnetwork.
After following the directions to mix up your vanilla cake recipe. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Gently fold in 1/2 to 1cup (I used about 3/4cup) of Rainbow Sprinkles with a spatula until incorporated.
With a small ice cream scoop (I used a 1 oz scoop), fill your cupcake papers 2/3-3/4 full. Resist over filling your cupcakes as the batter will rise substantially in the oven and you don't want them to spill over.
Bake according to your recipe's directions until golden brown.
Once cupcakes are completely cool, frost with vanilla frosting. I used a Swiss Buttercream recipe. This Vanilla Buttercream recipe is also a quick and delicious frosting to whip up.  Fill a pastry bag with your frosting fit with a medium round tip (or cut a whole in the corner of a plastic bag) and spiral the frosting on top of each cupcake.
Making the buttons is a fun and easy process! These buttons are made from a sugar dough called vanilla fondant. You can buy fondant at your local craft or cake store. Knead the sough until smooth and color small amounts of the dough with gel food coloring and keep wrapped in plastic wrap. When ready to use, remove from the plastic and roll into a small ball. Place on a smooth surface coated with a thin layer of cornstarch or powdered sugar.
With a small rolling pin, roll out the fondant until it's about 1/8" thick.
Using a pastry tip, punch out circular pieces from the dough (the size of the tip will determine the size of your button).
I used fondant modeling tools to add the details to my buttons. If you don't own any, be creative with the tools around your house. You can use a a pairing knife, fork, the end of a pen or pencil. Just make sure you clean the tools before and after using them with the fondant. First make a round indent in the center of each 'button'.
Make the design of your choice around the edge of each button. With the tip of a knife or toothpick make the 2 or 4 button holes in the center section of each.  Set aside to dry.
Make as many buttons as you want to top your cupcakes. Make a few extra to scatter on the table or platter where you showcase your cupcakes.
Get creative when making your buttons. The look of the buttons can be changed dramatically depending on the design you imprint and colors you use.
These cupcakes are a simple and fun additon to a baby shower or themed birthday party...or simply an adorable and special treat to make for your family and friends.  Make these cupcakes for your next party and prepare for everyone to tell you how sewwwww cute they are!