Monday, January 23, 2012

This Engagement is 'The Cat's Meow!'

Last month brought happy news of an engagement for my oldest sister Danielle and her boyfriend Niel.  Such great news warranted an amazing party and of epic cake!
Niel and Danielle both enjoy the style and glamour of the 1920's era so my sister Gill planned a surprise engagement party with a 1920's Speakeasy theme.
Her apartment was transformed into an illicit bar "The Cat's Meow" (the only speakeasy left in town.)
Upon entering The Cat's Meow you had to mutter the password (the bee's knees).
Fella's were suited up with ties and fedoras
Gals adorned with long strands of pearls and feather boas.
The tables were set up with mason jars and flasks for everyone to enjoy their giggle water.  Tea lights were used  to create a dim glow down the length of the table.
Guests even enjoyed some Moonshine to really get into the 'spirit' of the party.
The top tier of the cake was a vanilla cake with vanilla bean buttercream.  The cake was shaped into a fedora and covered in gray fondant and fitted with a black band and peacock feather
Below the fedora the cake had a 'neck' of chocolate cake with espresso buttercream wrapped in golden pearls. A knotted sugar pearl necklace draped down the three tiers.  The first tier was covered in cream fondant and decorated with hand painted jewel tone peacock feathers.  The entire cake sat atop a board covered in blue fondant decorated with a hand-piped black lace pattern.
As they cut into the cake they were surprised with a teal velvet cake (one of Dani's favorite colors) with oreo buttercream filling.
The couple first thought the cake was a fancy hat rack.....boy were they excited to find out it was a yummy cake for them to enjoy!
The three flavors of the cake served as the first cake tasting for the couple.
Congratulations to the happy couple! I can't wait to get together with the family again for wedding celebrations and create a bigger and better cake for the event! (=

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mini Gingerbread House Cookies

****Baby it's cold outside****
And the perfect time for curling up with your sweetheart and a hot cup of cocoa!  The best way to keep your love snuggled warm by your side instead of out throwing snowballs????....bake him a yummy gingerbread treat to enjoy with a warm cup of chocolate because after all baby, it's cold outside (=

You will need:
x-acto knife
piping bag and tips (I used size 00-2)

I discovered this idea on the NotMarthaBlog.  Megan does an excellent job explaining how to make them and showing some simple and cute decorating ideas.  I added some different decorative touches to her original design inspired by my favorite Winter love song.
Roll gingerbread out to around an 1/8" thin.  Gingerbread tends to puff so for a neater looking cookie that fits together well, the thinner you can roll the dough, the better.
I used Megan's templates for mini gingerbread houses that perch on the edge of your mug.  You can print and cut these templates out yourself.  Simply cut two pieces of dough out of each template for each house.
Place cut pieces out and lay on cookie sheet.  Chill in the fridge before baking to help prevent puffing (I skipped this step because I was impatient haha).  Feel free to trim and reshape your pieces once they are on the tray if they get misshaped when you move them.
The recipe I used tends to puff a little more, but I like the way it tastes so I wanted to use it.  The pieces didn't bake up as neat, but I enjoyed the rustic look it resulted in.  To assemble, arrange all the piece you need in front of you.  Fill your pastry bag with white royal icing and a small round pastry tip.
Take one of the front pieces and pipe a line of royal icing down each side.
Carefully press the two side pieces into the piped icing.  DO NOT move.  Let it set for several minutes before moving to the next step.
Pipe the royal icing down each side of the back piece.
Press the back piece onto the house.  Adjust it to make sure the house is square.  Once set up properly, DO NOT MOVE, let it set for several minutes to allow the royal icing to begin setting up.
Before attaching the roof, pipe whatever decorative design you would like on the.  I like to decorate them before because it is easier to decorate them while lying flat then when they are attached on an angle.
Pipe a line of royal icing on the angled edges on one side of the roof top.
Gently press the roof into the icing.  Hold for a second and then let set.  Repeat on the other side.
I finished the houses by piping a design down the center of the rooftop to cover any cracks and added simple decorative touches along the front and sides. (next time I'll pipe all the details on the front and side pieces as well before I assemble them).
My mug has a slanted top so the houses wouldn't sit exactly square around the rim but they still worked.  I had to file the door openings slightly with an x-acto knife to widen the doors because my mug was slightly thicker than what the template allowed for (and my dough puffed during baking which narrowed the opening).
These are the perfect cookies to make for your sweetheart on a wintry afternoon, or great for a winter get together with friends.  Gingerbread houses are fun to make and even more fun to enjoy with a warm cup of your favorite hot chocolate and your favorite person.  Make these cookies and you might find your guests wanting to stay for maybe just a half drink more...!

Fancy Tail Birthday Squirrel Cookies

Monday is my sister Danielle's birthday.  Naturally, I wanted to create a sweet birthday treat to send her way.  Dani is a very unique and awesome person. She has an incredible amount of knowledge about pretty much everything and is one of the most thoughtful and caring people I know.  Besides her smarts and kind heart, she has a sophisticated and creative style as well as a crazy ability to get great clothes from places like Anthropology at incredible prices.  Her clothes and savvy shopping have always been a point of jealousy and admiration for me.  One of her great finds was this blue knit sweater that had a squirrel stitched into the design.  For some reason now when I think of her, I always think of that sweater. Her birthday cookies are squirrel cookies that remind me of that awesome sweater....made to fit Dani's unique style with fancy lace tails.

Unfortunately, I don't own a squirrel cookie cutter (odd, I know), so I had to cut all of these squirrels out by hand with an x-acto knife.  If you don't have a cookie cutter shape you need, print a picture that will work online and use it as a guide to cut around with a sharp knife.

To create the Fancy Tail Squirrel Design, I first outlined the shapes with gray royal icing.  I painted them gray because red squirrels are mean (everyone knows that).
After it dried, I filled the outline with thinned royal icing.
Before adding the decorative details I let the base layer dry for at least 30 minutes.
My sister loves teal and blue so I piped the decorative details in a pretty blue that provided just enough contrast to the gray.
You are an amazing sister and an inspiration to me in so many ways.  Enjoy your fancy tail squirrels...I hope they are the perfect sweet touch to your stylish and beautiful life (=


White Chocolate Peppermint Fudge Candies

Two sweets that immediately pop into my mind in the wintertime are starlight mints and fudge.  I smile thinking about my Grammy rummaging through her purse for those red and white mints, or her stuffing some in my pockets from one of her (many) candy dishes.  My siblings and I made a batch of fudge with my gram every winter, it was always a day long affair and ended with everyone scrapping the leftovers out of the pan with spoons!  This winter I wanted to make something that would combine the two wintertime memories with my Grandma while at the same time exploring something new.   I tried out a recipe for white chocolate fudge and added some peppermint extract and a creative twist for a minty treat full of sweet winter memories.

You will Need:
One recipe White Chocolate Fudge
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
circular cutter
royal icing
plastic wrappers

Combine the butter, salt, sugar, and sour cream in a heavy bottomed medium saucepan.

Place over medium high heat and stir until the butter and sugar melt. Continue to cook while stirring frequently until it comes to a boil. Once boiling, cook for 5 minutes. You must stir rapidly to prevent scorching. (You can see one side of my pan scorched slightly while i was taking a picture).
Remove the pan from the heat and add the white chocolate chips and fluff.  Stir until everything is melted and incorporated.
Stir in about 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract as well as the vanilla extract in the original recipe.  You could also fold in some candy cane crumbles for extra peppermint flavor.  I only added the extract because I wanted a smoother final product. 
Stir the fudge only until the ingredients are melted and combined.  Place over heat briefly if the chocolate chips aren't fully melted.  If you stir for too long, the fudge will begin to set up and be hard to transfer to the final pan.
 Pour into an 8 X 8 pan lined with foil and sprayed with non stick cooking spray.  Smooth into an even layer.
Once the fudge has completely cooled, cut into shapes.  Instead of cutting the fudge into squares per usual, I decided to use a circular cutter to cut it into rounds.  This wastes a small amount of the fudge (you can eat the scraps!); however, it is fun to have the fudge in a shape other than the usual square. 
I had some extra royal icing in the fridge so I dyed it red and put a quick swirl on the top of each fudge round to mimic the look of mint candies.
To finish off the fudge in a special way, I simply wrapped them in plastic and secured both ends with a small piece of ribbon. 
This simple fudge recipe was turned into a special treat with just a few extra touches.  I hope you have fun making these peppermint fudge candies, or using this recipe and adding your own interesting twist!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Home for the Holidays

Everyone laughs about how excited I get about Christmas, I talk about it all the time and look forward to it as soon as it ends. To me, Christmas has always been an important time of year because the day is tied to so many good memories with my family. As the years go by, my sibling and I have all grown up and moved away from home. It is such a special moment when everyone returns for this one day and works together to create a beautiful Christmas. This year was no exception; here is a little peek into the sweet memories of this year being home for the holidays.
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This year I wanted to make the Christmas table special, interactive, (and of course a little sweeter.)  For each table setting I made a special gingerbread cookie to set on the side of a mug.  This cookie was so simple to make.  I simply cut rounds out of gingerbread dough with a glass (just like my grammy used to do!) and before baking, I cut a rectangular slit on one side.  The cookie bakes up with a nice notch to slip onto the edge of the mug.  My boyfriend helped me pipe a simple dot design in red and green around the cookie and I piped 'Noel' in the center.  I finished the cookies with red and green edible disco dust to add some festive sparkle. 
I made a big pot of home made hot chocolate for everyone to fill their mugs with as we sat down for dinner.  This hot chocolate was so easy to make.  I simply warmed an equal amount of milk and cream in a pot ( you could use half & half) and added a splash of vanilla , dash of cinnamon, and whatever chocolate bars I could find in the house.  The result was a rich and creamy special chocolaty drink for everyone to enjoy.

For the interactive element, I had a small present at each setting filled with a surprise.  My sisters crushed candy canes and filled each present with the dust.  After placing slips of paper with 'naughty' or 'nice' inside, the presents were wrapped with a green ribbon and placed at each table setting.  As everyone opened their presents to pour the peppermint into their hot chocolate, they found out if they were naughty or nice this year, and the lucky one who opened a present reading 'nice' won a special gift certificate.  In an ironic twist, I was the one who was nice haha, but in the spirit of Christmas I gave it to my youngest sister (after making her show off some Christmas dance moves of course).
I was too wrapped up (pun intended) in the excitement of Christmas to snap a picture of all of the cookies I made but I managed to get a picture of some of decorated cookie remnants on the plate.  My mom and boyfriend helped me decorate sugar cookie and gingerbread trees, candy canes, snowflakes, and moose.  My brother and mom's fiance taste tested before dinner to make sure they tasted as good as they looked!
My mom always told us that even if we no longer believed in Santa Claus, that we should at least believe in the magic of Christmas.  The days of placing cookies and carrots out on Christmas Eve and waking up to half eaten cookies and bits of carrot strewn about the lawn are over; however, now that I am older I have learned to recognize a different sort of magic at Christmas.  A magic that comes from decorating cookies with your family, laughing about the silly game at the dinner table, and watching your siblings get excited about making this Christmas more special than the last.  This is the sort of magic that I look forward to all year round, and the sweet memories created during the 2011 holidays are what make me believe in and get excited for the magic of Christmas next year. 
I hope you all created sweet memories of your own during the holidays this year and wish you a happy and healthy 2012!