Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hellllllllllllllo Hibiscus!

Since moving to New York City I have found that it is a lot easier to try and discover new and exciting flavors.  The city and its suburbs offer the cultural diversity in its groceries and restaurants that have enabled me to discover flavors I never would have experienced in my small NH hometown.  After being obsessed with passion fruit for the past few years (because it is AMAZING) I recently developed a new flavor obsession after enjoying a delicious Hibiscus Margarita.  Hibiscus offers a very unusual and amazing flavor that is hard to describe, but I will do my best.  Being a dried flower, you would think it has a floral taste, but it is not overpoweringly 'flowery' like rose or lavender, instead it has somewhat of an earthy fruity taste.  It basically tastes like sitting in a beach chair with a tropical breeze grazing your skin, looking out at teal waves splashing over the sand.  So yeah...its pretty delicious.  The other night I was enjoying my new found flavor in one of my homemade mojitos when it hit me that this flavor could be a delicious addition to buttercream.  So voila!  Below is the result:  Vanilla cupcakes topped with hibiscus infused ruffled buttercream.
You can find dried hibiscus at many Mexican food stores as well as in gourmet groceries and online at such sites as Amazon.  To extract the flavor from the flowers simply boil a pot of water.  Once the pot is at a boil, shut off and add the dried petals.  The more petals you add the more intense the flavor.  Let set for 20 to 30 minutes.  The color of the water will change to an intense and bold reddish pink color.  Strain the liquid and it is ready to use.  You can than use this to add flavor to various cocktails, lemonade, ice cream, or cupcakes as I did!

To make my hibiscus buttercream I decided to make a hibiscus infused simple syrup to add the flavor to my buttercream recipe.  Hibiscus water would thin the frosting out too much so I figured the syrup could get more flavor into the buttercream without sacrificing its consistency.  It worked out pretty well; however, the intense color from the syrup did not transfer to the buttercream like I hoped.  The flavor was good but still not as intense as I would prefer.  Next time I am going to try and grind the petals into a fine powder and add that to the buttercream for perhaps a bolder and brighter result.  I also plan to soak the cake with the hibiscus syrup for even more flavor.
I used the hibiscus buttercream to make a ruffled cake for a dear friend of mine who grew up enjoying the flavor in her home country.  She loved the cake and is excited to help me perfect the balance of flavor and color in the buttercream.  I am going to continue to explore this unique flavor and I hope you do the same.  Start with some hibiscus water or cocktails...who knows what fun creations you will make from there! (=

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Valentine

Valentine's Day is one of my favorites because it means I have an excuse to make something especially cutesy and cheesey for my man!  As I was walking down the card isle of Duane Reade pharmacy in NYC, searching for the perfect 'I Love You' card, a sweet, sophisted, and sparkly pair of birds caught my eye.  While the message inside the card was quite dear, the fact that the front design would make an AWESOME cake was the reason my man opened a sparkly love birds card this Valentine's Day!
The card inspired cake was made up of thin layers of chocolate cake soaked with Kahlua and layered between Starbucks coffee buttercream and nutella ganache.  It is covered in vanilla fondant and decorated with fondant cut outs and royal icing doilies decor.  A 'manly' touch of red sparkle was added just to the birds' wings.

Ever since my Francisco and I met, I have had the same nickname for him.  I don't know why or how, but for some reason I endearingly call him my 'Goose'.  Sometimes its prefixed by 'silly', but usually he's just my sweet and simple 'Goose'.  My Valentine gift to him this year were decorated sugar cookies inspired bu this unique nickname.
I hand cut each of the Goose cookies and then decorated them with grayy royal icing (using the outline and flood method).  Black royal icing details of feet, wings, beaks and eyes were then added.  To add a little cutesy love to the cookies I then added a sparkly red royal icing heart I had piped separately and covered in red disco dust.  These cookies came out super cute and sure did put a smile on my Goose's face and gave him a happy Valentine's belly! (=

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Conversation Heart Cookies

Valentine's Day is just around the corner and it is the perfect time to start your sweet treats for the holiday!  I love chocolates and flowers just as much as the next girl, but I wanted to give my Valentine something different this year.  One of my favorite memories of my childhood is receiving the little box of conversation heart candies from my grandparents.  I loved snacking on the bite sized candies and reading all the silly and romantic messages printed on them.  Instead of making candies, I made a sugar cookie version of these sweet treats which allowed me to paint my own messages on all the hearts.  I chose cute words in English and Spanish to write on all the cookies so that all of my friends and my Valentine could have fun reading my sweet sentiments to them!

You will need:

One recipe of Alton Brown's Sugar Cookie Recipe (add 1 tsp of vanilla extract!)
Gel Food Coloring
Small circular cutter (or small heart cutter)
Xacto knife or other sharp knife
Skinny paintbrush
Luster Dust

Split the dough into as any different pieces as you have colors to make.  I decided to make my hearts purple, pink, green, and orange.  Knead the gel food coloring into the dough until it is completely incorporated.  Chill the dough for an hour.
Once the dough has chilled, pull one color out of the fridge at a time to roll out.  I rolled my dough out with a small amount of powdered sugar to ensure it wouldn't stick.  Roll out to 1/8"-1/4" thickness (I made mine closer to 1/4" to look more like the real conversation heart candies). 
If you have a tiny heart shaped cutter, you can obviously use it to make these cookies.  I seem to always do things the long way, so I did not have a heart cutter on hand.  Instead, I used a circular shaped cookie cutter a little less than an inch wide to make these hearts.  I then followed an assembly line process and did a series of 3 steps to turn them into adorable heart shapes.  It may seem like a lot of work, but once you get going it actually goes pretty fast....and it adds so much more love into these treats!

Using the circular cutter, punch out all the circles from the dough. 
With your Xacto knife, cut one side of the circle into a V-shape for the tip of the heart.  Continue until all the circles have been cut. 

Using the tip of your paintbrush, gently press into the side opposite of the tip to create an indent.
Gently squeeze the tops of the heart into a neat shape and place on your cookie sheet.  Repeat with all the colors.
Bake at 350 for 4-6 minutes (depending on whether you like your cookies on the soft or crunchier side).  I baked my cookies on the lighter side to make sure the colors of the cookies weren't affected by browning.
After the cookies are completely cooled, they are ready to be painted!  I mixed pink luster dust with a small amount of rum to create a paint that would easily dry on the cookies.  Using the skinny paint brush, use your creativity to create messages on your conversation hearts that are perfect for your Valentine (s)!!  You can store these cookies in an airtight container for several weeks to enjoy yourself, or package in a cute tin or baggy to give away.
Share your passion for the Sweet Life and make some sweet conversation for your loved ones this Valentine's Day!