Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Strawberry + Cream Vanilla Sponge Cake

Remember the scene in one of the first Pippi Longstocking movies where she goes to Tommy and Anika's house and their mom is hosting afternoon tea with the ladies? Pippi looks like anything but a lady, 
swiping her finger along cake frosting, stuffing her face with cookies, completely oblivious to the stunned stares from the women around her. Remember that? 

This is the sort of cake you would expect to see in that scene with all the pretty china, dainty table linens and dreamy desserts. It screams Spring is here! And summer is not far behind.

Layers of light vanilla-speckled sponge cake nestled against fluffy cream and juicy strawberries. When I dream about cake, this is what I see.

There have been repeated requests for this cake as soon as I reach for my baking apron. So many of these have been baked chez nous that I can almost go without referring to the recipe. The formula is flawless and full-proof. 
Using quality ingredients never hurts. I have a reputation for splurging on butter and free-range eggs, organic milk, Madagascar vanilla beans. Hope you don't find me snooty. I've been through my fair-share of sponge cake recipes and most demand the patience of a saint.
 "Carefully SEPARATE the eggs."
"Whip the whites til SOFT peaks form." 
"Gently FOLD the dry ingredients into the egg whites."
Then there's always the impending danger of DEFLATING your egg whites.  

Never mind about all the leftover yolks. What to do with them? You can't just throw them away. Think about how hard the hens worked to produce those eggs. The usual sponge cake recipes require so much tiptoeing about that there is hardly any room left for FUN. 

Then this one found me during a typical late-night escapade, scouring the internets for tasty things to make. If you have a stand mixer and short attention-span (like I do), you are going to LOVE making this cake.

It's fun, because you get to do cool new things, like letting the mixer run wild for 4 minutes, then for another 4 minutes. And you do weird stuff like melt the butter into the milk.
But, I haven't told you about the taste. This one is not just easy on the eyes. The cake is airy with just the right amount of sweetness for the cool creamy cream and sweet-tart strawberries. 



In the end, you always get a winner, even if you overbake a bit, like I did last night. And, it's just such a pretty cake. Even those of us who have the cake-decorating grace of a bull in a china shop can do this. Each time. Every time. Guaranteed. Or your money back.
Strawberry + Cream Vanilla Sponge Cake

Adapted from cakeboss
Supplies
1 cup  milk
1/2 stick butter
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
4 whole grade A free-range eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
2 vanilla beans (or 2 tsp extract)

2 cups strawberries, chopped
2 cups heavy cream, whipped
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar


Steps
Grease and flour two 8" round cake pans.

Heat milk and butter in a small pot on low heat. After the butter has melted, remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 325*F.

Sift flour, baking powder & salt together into a clean bowl. Set aside.

Beat eggs in stand mixer with paddle for 4 minutes.  Set the kitchen timer to 4 minutes.

Reset the timer for another 4 minutes and add sugar. Beat until creamy.

Grate zest of lemon and add 1 tsp of it to the mixture.
Using a sharp knife, cut one of the vanilla beans lengthwise down the center
and scrape the seeds and pulp out. 
Add vanilla pulp and eggs to the mixture.
Add the sifted dry ingredients a bit at a time and mix just long enough to incorporate.
Add milk and butter.
Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans and pop into the warm oven.

Bake until fragrant, maybe 35 minutes. 

Meanwhile, wash and chop strawberries into small chunks. Collect them into a clean bowl and set aside.

Insert a clean toothpick into the center of each cake. If
the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is ready.
Remove from oven and allow the cakes to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Then, turn them onto a metal rack to finish cooling.

Using the stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip heavy cream with pulp from the second vanilla bean and confectioner's sugar til fluffly.
Cut cooled cakes in half horizontally. Place one layer of the cake onto a pretty plate. 
Spread about a 1/4th of the whipped cream over the cake, sprinkle some strawberry bits over the cream and set another layer of cake on top.

Repeat layering the cake with whipped cream and strawberries until all 4 cake layers are assembled.
Cover and chill until ready to serve.


Strawberry and Cream Vanilla Sponge Cake is the perfect excuse for you to host your own afternoon tea party, that is, if you are willing to be neighbourly and share your sweets.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bombshell Bars



Finally, there is a cure for brownie cravings: Bombshell Bars, and no one with a sweet-tooth can be trusted with them. Irresistible layers starting with a buttery bottom, creamy chocolate layer, crunchy nuts, chewy coconut, all glued together with a drizzle of caramel.

Are you scared? Yes, well, maybe you should be. What they lack in looks, they make up for in dazzling flavour that promises to draw a crowd.  And, they are better than brownies.

My friend, Michala came over with the original recipe. While the kids played, we mommies got to bake. We changed things up a bit, because that's what people do in my kitchen. Smoked almonds were the craziest thing we did, but proved their worth with a subtle salty punch and hint of campfire smoke. Then, the oven did the rest of the work. Something like magic happened in there when ordinary sweetened condensed milk turned into a chewy, gooey, dulce de leche-like thing. These bars are quick to make, bake and disappear.



Bombshell Bars
About 8 2-inch squares

Ingredients
1 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 cups graham crackers
1 1/2 cups smoked almonds
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
pinch coarse sea salt

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350*F.
Line a square 8" x 8" brownie pan with foil.
Crush graham crackers into soft butter. Press onto the bottom of the pan.

Put almonds into a clean tea towel and gather into a bunch. Use a heavy coffee mug
of small frying pan to give them a good bashing.

Sprinkle nuts over crust, add chocolate chips, coconut.
Drizzle condensed milk over the whole lot and sprinkle a bit of coarse sea salt on top.
Bake for about 25 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow the block to cool to room temperature.
Chill in the refrigerator overnight.
Cut into 2" x 2" squares and enjoy with a tall glass of cold milk.

Thanks to Michala, my mind is finally clear of brownies, but preoccupied with a new obsession. Forget what you know about blondies, brownies, chews, and squares. You now have the blueprints to make the bombshell of all bars. If ever there was a time I wish I could just reach through my computer monitor and give you a slice of something, it is now. But, I can't. So, you must fend for yourself.

Don't forget to enter in our latest giveaway. There will be THREE winners, thanks to Scott Hawaii!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Accidental Caramels: Three Winners Announced!

Thank you to everyone who participated and very special thanks to the Scott Family.
And now, the winners are...
For the Scott flip-flops, Kassandra Lynn and Robin Fay!
For the box of homemade caramels, Tamara Bennington!
I'll contact you ladies via email to work out the details. Alooooooooooooooha!


It appears I am in the Candy Fairy's good book. The plan was fudge. The result was caramels, purely by accident. Things do not always turn out the way they are supposed to, especially when working with sugar. Fire morphs it into such different forms. You really have to do know you're doing. Of course, it helps to have the right tools (yeh, like a candy thermometer) and good instructions (e.g., recipe) which you are committed to follow.

Our kitchen is very well stocked with all manner of tools and gadgets...juicer, mandoline, food processor, Vitamix, dehydrator, etc. We even have an OXO avocado slicer (which we never use). But a candy thermometer, we have not.

It is not a necessity. Grandma did not have a candy thermometer.
So, why would I need one?
All I needed was a cup of iced water and a few drops of hot fudge to do the necessary testing.

Had I done what my own recipe says to do, I would probably have fudge now. But, I do not follow instructions as I should. The plan was to make a big batch of Island Fudge for my friends at Scott Hawaii to thank them for treating Daisy and me to our favourite flip-flops.

In my defense, I did test to make sure the fudge had reached the soft-ball stage. Once the fudge cooled, it was just too soft and would not hold up under the knife.
So, back onto the fire it went.
.
It didn't help that I was distracted cooking dinner while the fudge was bubbling away. The colour looked good, lots of nice bubbles at the top of the big pot, all was going well. So I thought, anyway. It poured beautifully into the pan and chilled in the freezer overnight.

The next day, this "fudge" was so hard, it nearly broke the blade of the big knife. So, what I'd promised the folks at Scott was fudge, but what they were going to get (with profuse apologies) was caramel, hard as granite, but devilishly buttery. Pretty little black specks proved real vanilla beans were used. These accidental caramels tasted like old-fashioned candy parlour toffee SO good that I did not care if they yanked all the fillings and crowns right out of my mouth!

Cutting this stuff was a serious challenge. So, in came the cavalry - Hubby to the rescue. Shawn patiently cut the caramel block into small, bite-sized bits. Then, Daisy and I wrapped them up in parchment paper, singing "Rolly, rolly, rolly. Twist aaaand twist." It was a whole family affair, with Milou resting underfoot, ready to catch any bits that may find their way off of the table, headed toward the floor. We had a blast, working together that Friday night.

Then, something unexpected happened. 

While the sweeties sat in the pan waiting to be wrapped, their outer layers turned into crumbly, crunchy crystals, a bit like the way the tops of brownies become in the oven. It was like some kind of sugar magic. The insides softened up and became just the right amount of chewy. They were just perfect and I was so relieved.

Now, I want to tell you how to make these Accidental Caramels, because you really do want to, even if you do not know that you do.

Accidental Caramels
Makes: About 100 1/2-inch caramels

Supplies
2 sticks butter, cold
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk 
3/4 cup milk 
2 Tb honey
4 cups granulated sugar 
2 vanilla beans or 2 tsp extract
1/2 cup toasted sweetened coconut
1/2 cup crushed macadamia nuts
1 tsp coarse sea salt

Steps
    Follow my original recipe for the Island Fudge, but instead of heating the concoction to the soft-ball stage (~235*F), let it go all the way to the firm-ball stage, between 245-250*F. 

    If you do not have a candy thermometer, have a cup of iced water nearby. When you drop the sugar mixture into the iced water and it solidifies, you're there.

    Pour it into a 9x11x2 pan lined with foil and pop it into the freezer overnight. 

    Cut parchment paper into about 100 2"x 2" strips.
    Let it the block reach room temperature before you try to cut it. 
    Cut the caramels into 1/2-inch cubes. Separate them from each other and let them sit another 30 minutes before wrapping them in parchment paper. 

    If that all sounds like a lot of work, today is your lucky day. Enter in our drawing below. Daisy and I will make a batch just for you. (OR) You could win yourself a snazzy pair of Scott Hawaii flip-flops, the real thing. (AND) There will be THREE lucky winners. Scott Hawaii has generously offered TWO pairs of their heavenly slippahs.

    What are you waiting for? Go for it! Good luck!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Wednesday, March 19, 2014

    Sunny Saffron Rice Pudding (SholehZard)

    Tis the night before the first day of Spring which marks the Persian New Year! "Nowruz" literally translates to new day. And that is exactly what Spring is, a beautiful fresh start for all of Nature.
    Trees are speckled with pretty little blossoms that fragrance the air. The nightingale serenades the wee hours. The clouds dissipate to give way to sunny days. And, we take queue with a renewed spirit. Time to throw out that closet of clutter and refresh our homes. Out with the old, in with the new.

    Although Armenian, my family is from Iran and we revel in joining the traditional celebrations of our homeland. Nowruz is one of my absolute favourite holidays and demonstrates the unending hospitality of the Persian people. This year, I'm quite late in organizing my haft sin, a table setting dating back to Iran's Zoroastrian roots. Seven items whose names begin with the letter S in Farsi are featured, each one signifying an important element. My set of 7 is comprised of  items readily available in our kitchen:

    -Apple represents health & beauty
    -Garlic stands for medicine
    -Green sprouts grown from lentils or wheat symbolize rebirth
    -Sumac (a tart spice) translates to the sunrise
    -Coins symbolize prosperity
    -Vinegar stands for patience
    -Wild olive fruit (oleaster) symbolizes love
    -Hyacinth represents Spring and Heaven

    A little goldfish is also present on most haft sin tables to symbolize Life, but having a toddler and dog, I can just see its ironic ill-fated future. So, we usually forego getting the little guy.

    The best part of any celebration is the FOOD. There is no better way to welcome Spring than with something sweet. Sholehzard is an old fashioned Persian dessert made of rice and saffron. Its name, which means yellow flame, well suits the bright colour from the saffron.


    Now, before you poo-poo rice pudding, know that I am not usually a fan of mushy things, especially rice pudding. In fact, I would rather forego dessert altogether than eat rice pudding. So. have faith that I would never present a recipe that I did not personally test, taste and love.

    Last night, my sweet-toothed monster dropped by for a visit and refused to leave. I had such a craving for sholehzard that I had to make a big pot of it.

     I must confess that I had neither the time nor the patience to soak the rice as tradition dictates nor to run to the store for cheap quality rice. We usually have very nice basmati rice on hand and when my mother reads this, she just might kill me as she learns I used Tilda last night.

    This saffron rice pudding can be served warm or cold. I prefer it chilled, although I was in such a hurry to taste it that I burned my tongue because I could not wait for it to cool. But, it was so worth it.

    Originally, my first batch turned out really firm when it cooled. But, because I had used a good amount of precious saffron (and the taste was FABULOUS), there was nothing I was unwilling to do to try salvaging it.
    I put the pudding back onto a very low heat and added about 1 cup of hot water, gently mixed in. Luckily, that did the trick!

    Another confession (yes, I have many vices today) is that I have lost Mom's recipe. Since I was in such a rush to make this, I went right to my friend Azita of Turmeric & Saffron. Her colourful blog chronicles the beauties of traditional Persian cuisine with instructions that are easy to follow.


    Saffron Rice Pudding (SholehZard)
    Notes: Traditionally, raw blanched almonds are tossed into the mix, but you can omit the almonds altogether, if you like. Orange blossom water is a lovely substitute for rose water, but has a much more intense flavour. So, use less of it. Cardamom stands in for cinnamon in my version.

    Adapted from Turmeric & Saffron
    Serves 6 sweet-toothed monsters

    Ingredients
    12 cups water

    2 Tb hot water
    1 tsp saffron
    1 tsp sugar

    2 cups basmati rice
    3 cups sugar
    1 tsp ground cardamom
    1/3 cup rose water (or 1/4 cup orange blossom water)
    1/2 cup ground raw unsalted pistachios

    Instructions
    Rinse rice until the water becomes clear.
    Measure 12 cups of water into a heavy-bottomed pot.
    Heat on medium until it just reaches a rolling boil.

    Grind saffron with sugar in a small mortar & pestle. Add a couple of tablespoons of hot water
    and allow it to steep.

    Add rice to the pot and cook until very soft, maybe 40 minutes.
    Next, in goes the sugar,
    followed by the saffron and cardamom. Stir and lower heat.
    Allow the pudding to simmer another 10 minutes.
    Turn the heat off and add the rose water. Mix gently.

    Once the pudding has cooled to room temperature,
    transfer to a pretty bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
    Chill in the refrigerator.

    Put a generous handful of pistachios into a clean tea towel and gather like a pouch.
    Using a small pan or rolling pin, give them a good bashing.
    Shprinkle ground pistachios on top of the pudding and serve.



    You cannot help but smile at the sunny face of this dessert. The sweet and fragrant flavour is sheer heaven. And once chilled, it is such a refreshing treat. This one is very easy to make and lasts several days in the fridge, which means you can keep celebrating long after the first day of Spring.

    Weeknights are chaotic in most households as there is the typical mad rush to make dinner, feed the kids, bathe them, read bedtime stories, beg them to fall asleep, then unwind for some brain-numbing entertainment in front of the TV. Last night, Daisy was forever hungry.

    After she had a big bowl of borsht*, a mammoth slice of leftover birthday cake**, 2 fried eggs, she claimed she was still hungry and wanted another egg. It was difficult to figure out whether this was just a ploy to delay bedtime or she was truly hungry. So, we agreed to a small bowl of Cheerios, juice and bedtime stories.
    There had been no time for me to think of dinner. And, since everyone knows a good chef always tastes the goods before presenting them to the patrons, that SholehZard was waiting patiently for me in the kitchen. Maybe that is why I slept like a baby, dreaming about the sunny days ahead.


    * A Russian cabbage-beet soup Mom makes
    ** Vanilla sponge cake with whipped cream and fresh strawberries

    Saturday, March 15, 2014

    Island Fudge



    I wasn't the only one who lost it after seeing this. The whole world went mad. This is usually what happens at the sight of that dense, slightly crumbly sweetness we hold near and dear called FUDGE. 


    Today, the same old-timey vanilla goodness gets a tropical update in honour of my friends at Scott Hawaii who are most deserving of a homemade treat. They make the best "slippahs" on the planet. 
    Trust me. I checked. 

    These flip-flops are so comfortable, in fact, that even little Miss Daisy who usually goes barefoot actually prefers to wear hers, which were a generous gift from the Scotts. 


    She even loves running in them. Two candlesticks mark the start line in the living room and off she goes, running and giggling all over the house in her slippahs! 
    So, I got to thinking about what I could make for them in return. Between Nigella's gorgeous recipe and visions of the islands was born
    a candy so brok da mout  (surfer-speak), you'd stuff the whole thing into your mouth at once. It really is that delicious. 

    Vanilla, toasted coconut, crushed macadamia nuts and little crunches here and there from coarse sea salt make it the halva of the Islands.


    One bite will take you to palm trees swaying gently in the warm island breeze, blue water glistening under the gorgeous sunlight and colourful surfers floating over waves. 

    There you are, sitting in the sand, sporting Scott slippahs, sipping a mai tai, nibbling on this fudge. 

    Life       is       great. You can't stop looking at it, can you? It's ok. You're not alone. Oh, but just wait til you TASTE it.
    The hardest part to making fudge is knowing when to take it off the heat so that it cools to that delicately crunchy, crumbly consistency. Thankfully, this recipe is very forgiving for those of us who are not professional candymakers. Mine did not turn out well at first. So back into the pot it went for more time on the heat. Once bubbles pop to the surface, you're close. Be sure the fudge is thick and your wooden spoon leaves an impression from your stirs. This takes patience, about 20-30 minutes. 

    The knife will tell you when you got it right. If you cut into the fudge and it holds its form with straight lines and sharp edges, then the consistency is just right. Mom cut mine into pretty diamonds.

    Now, less talk, more ACTION. Let's get crackin'.


    Vanilla + Coconut + Macadamia Fudge

    Based on Nigella's Vanilla Fudge
    Makes: 82 1/2-inch diamonds (not counting all the odd little bits I ate along the way)


    2 sticks butter, cold
    14 oz can sweetened condensed milk 
    3/4 cup milk 
    2 Tb honey
    4 cups granulated sugar 
    2 vanilla beans or 2 tsp extract
    1/2 cup toasted sweetened coconut
    1/2 cup crushed macadamia nuts
    1 tsp coarse sea salt



    Toast the coconut until just golden and fragrant. Be careful as it burns quite quickly toward the end.

    Put some macadamia nuts into a clean tea towel and hold it like a sack. Use a pan to give them a good bashing. 


    Cut butter into small cubes and toss into heavy-bottomed pot and set onto medium heat. Let the butter brown and bubble a bit, but do not allow it to burn. 
    Add both kinds of milk, honey, sugar and stir until smooth and creamy. 

    Bubbles will start to form around the edges and pop. Take care not to get burned.

    Next, add the vanilla.
    Finish with the coconut and macadamia nuts. Continue stirring over medium heat another 10 minutes.
    Drop a bit into a cup of iced water. If a soft ball forms, the fudge is ready. This registers between 250-235*F on a candy thermometer.

    Pour fudge onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.

    Sprinkle coarse sea salt on top.
    Allow fudge to cool completely before cutting, about 2 hours.

    If you can't wait that long, toss the whole lot into the fridge for accelerated cooling.


    If that still sounds like it will take too long, toss it into the freezer for 15 minutes.

    Cut into desired shapes.

    This one will bring out your evil selfish twin, because you will NOT want to share it. But, remember that the best things in life are only worth having when enjoyed with those you love. No fear. You will have PLENTY to share.

    Thursday, February 27, 2014

    Piggy Celebration Cake! (Vegan Mocha Fudge)

    Pink is not exactly my favourite colour. I have always been a RED girl. Red car, red shoes, red couch. But, now I have every reason to love pink. Piglets are pink.
     CaraCaras are "pink." Daisy is oh-so pretty in pink (even with her rockstar ballerina pirate smile). And I'm celebrating my first anniversary as a breast cancer survivor. While it has not been the easiest process, I have been so lucky in having a devoted family, supportive friends, state-of-the-art medical attention and chocolate. Yes, CHOCOLATE. The champion cure-all. During treatment, when my taste buds were hibernating, everything tasted like sawdust. But, Lindt tasted real. That's proof right there of a god or gods and goddesses, lots of them, watching over us.
    A lot has changed in the last year. Household chores take the backseat to my dancing in circles with Daisy or kicking the ball around with her. Another big change is that baking got promoted and for several reasons. With cooking, I like to taste as I go, just to be sure everything is in place...salty, sweet, tangy, spicy in good balance. But, since everything tasted bland, baking became my refuge.

    Focus is not my strong suit when it comes to recipes and cooking is very bendy to changes. But, in baking, you have to stick with the recipe which was a bit of a challenge for me. Luckily, my episodes of insomnia were put to great use by working on my skills well into the wee hours of the night. One of the best things that came out of those quiet nights in the kitchen was something I have been saving for a special occasion like today. We are not just celebrating my success. This one is for ALL the Pinkies* out there. And what better way to partay than with a pink piggy taking a "mud" bath on top of CHOCOLATE cake?!

    Now, there you go, worrying all about your figure. But, you know I save the best stuff  for you. This one is purely vegan, all natural and guilt-free. Vegan is not my trademark, not only because I love evil stuff (like cream cheese, butter, sour cream), but also because I do not have experience with specialty ingredients that are staples in strict vegan households. So, the plan is to keep it simple, stay with the basics. And since it turned out FABULOUS, I knew this one was worth sharing with you. I made the first one with a friend who was visiting from Japan. The second one went to the office. Both disappeared so fast that I didn't have a chance to snap a pic of a slice. 

    This fancy little number is old-fashioned to the core. It can be made with a simple bowl and wooden spoon, the way Grandma baked before there were any food processors, blenders, mixers. And, the vinegar reacts with the baking soda to provide leavening without tainting the beautiful chocolaty taste. 

    Rummage through your kids' toys for some plastic piggies. After a good wash, they're ready to dive into a chocolaty mud bath on top of this lovely cake. Make one tonight with the kids. 
    No eggs. No butter. No kidding. 

    Vegan Mocha Fudge Cake
    Note: Orange compliments chocolate oh-so-well, but you can omit the juice and zest if it's not your thang. 
    The pink roll cookies are available at Middle Eastern grocery stores, usually in the cookie aisle, top shelf.
    If you can't find them, look for the store manager.

    VEGAN CHOCOLATE CAKE

    Supplies:
    1/2 cup cocoa powder
    1 1/2 cups flour
    3/4 cup sugar
    1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp extract
    1 cup orange juice (or water)
    1/3 cup peanut oil
    pinch salt
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp balsamic vinegar
    Steps:
    Preheat oven to 350*F.

    Grease and flour 2 cake pans. Line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit.

    Sift flour, cornstarch, cocoa together.
    Combine sugar, vanilla and orange juice (or water) til smooth. 
    Add the oil and salt. 
    Gently incorporate the flour + starch+cocoa into the mix, but do not overwork the batter. 
    Finish with the baking soda, then vinegar. 
    Divide batter between cake pans and transfer to warm oven.
    Bake ~30 minutes, until you can smell the cakes.

    Remove from oven.

    Wait 10 minutes before flipping them onto a rack to finish cooling.

    VEGAN MOCHA FROSTING

    Supplies:
    14oz can coconut milk (full-fat)
    1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tsp extract
    1/3 cup cocoa powder
    1/3 cup powdered sugar
    2 tsp instant coffee
    2 tsp orange zest (optional)

    Steps:
    Do not shake coconut milk. Open the can and spoon the creamy thick
    pulp on top into a bowl.
    Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth.

    ASSEMBLY

    Supplies:
    2 canisters strawberry pirouline/roll cookies 
    plastic toy pig
    ribbon

    Steps:
    Cut several strips of parchment paper and arrange along edges of a cake plate. 
    Slice the cakes horizontally into 4 layers.
    Place the bottom layer onto the plate, cover with a bit of frosting, top with another layer, apply frosting until all 4 layers are stacked on top of one-another.
    Frost the sides and prop piroline cookies around the cake to build a pen for your piggy. 
    Tie a pretty ribbon around the cake to keep the pirolines in place. Nestle a toy piggy into the chocolate "mud" and off you go!



    A bit of kitchen chemistry turned out a bouncy, moist cake without all the fuss. It only TASTES like it's bad for you. Chocolate cake without the guilt. That alone is reason to be happy and celebrate!

    *The statistics are astounding with 1 out of every 8 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year in the States. That means someone you know may be affected by breast cancer. And, don't forget to take care of #1 - Book that mammogram today! Goooo, PINKIES! 



    Friday, February 14, 2014

    Purple Heart Cupcakes ~ Pineapple, Purple Yam, a Kiss of Rose

    Happy Valentino Day! Cupcakes were doing cartwheels in my dreams last night. Spring has come a little too early this year here. Just outside my window, baby birds are chirping in the mornings and the branches of nearby lemon trees are dotted with delicate white blossoms. The pretty purple hyacinths Mom planted among the roses in our front garden have already popped their heads out of the soil and fill the air with their sweet perfume.


    Purple is the new colour of love. During the ancient Roman Empire, it was reserved exclusively for royalty. It is modest, rich and very elegant. And Daisy's favourite. Purple is also the colour of the lovely yams a friend brought me recently. I had never had purple yams before and scoured online to see what I could do with them.

    A starchy root vegetable with a lavender flesh and sweet flavour, purple yams are favoured in Philipino desserts. While commonly incorporated into the batter of the cake, it makes a more striking statement in the frosting. Decadently dense and creamy, this frosting only seems wicked. A few drops of rose water bring out the subtle fragrant sweetness of the yam. Because there are no evil ingredients, you can pile it on and enjoy without any guilt.

    Purple yam gets along famously with its tropical cousin, the pineapple. My go-to favourite for cakes is a simple buttery recipe. I know all the measurements by heart. It is so easy to make and bakes beautifully as a bundt, layer-cake or dainty little cupcakes. Fresh pineapple adds a delicious sweetness and makes the cake light and moist.


    Purple Heart Cupcakes
    Makes about 15

    Ingredients

    Cake:
    1 stick butter, softened
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 egg
    3/4 cup fresh pineapple cut into small (1/4-inch) cubes
    1 1/2 cups flour
    1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    pinch salt

    Frosting:
    2 medium purple yams
    3 Tb powdered sugar
    2 Tb vegetable oil
    1/2 tsp rose water

    Instructions
    Boil purple yams until fork tender. Cool, then peel.
    Using a food processor, blend with powdered sugar, oil and rose water until creamy.
    Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

    Preheat oven to 350*F.

    Cut the head and bottom of the pineapple. Tracing the blade along the yellow flesh,
    slice the thorny outer layer off, working around the fruit.
    The center is tough and inedible. Cut around the center. Store half of the pineapple a plastic bag in the fridge for use later in a salad or mai tai!
    Chop the other half into small cubes, about 1/4-inch each.

    Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg.
    Incorporate salt, flour and baking powdered until just incorporated. Do not overwork
    the batter.
    Using a wooden spoon, gently add the pineapple cubes and mix into the batter until nicely coated.

    Line a cupcake pan with paper liners and fill each about 3/4 with batter.
    Bake 15-20 minutes, until you can smell the cupcakes and a toothpick inserted into the center
    comes out clean.

    Transfer to a wire rack for cooling.
    Finish with a generous slather of the purple yam frosting and sprinkle decorative edible stars on top.


    This morning started out with the best surprises from my hubby, not only for myself, but also for our Daisy.

    Shawn treated both of us to stunning flower arrangements and thoughtful greeting cards, my favourite part of any gift I get from him. Daisy's card had a crown that he assembled for his little princess.

    I was spoiled, as always, with a large carrara marble pastry board and a kitchen torch that has an adjustable flame. There have been ideas of toasting meringue toppings for things on my mind lately. Not sure I can be trusted with fire, but as my hair is still quite short, the fire department can relax.

    If you are looking for the perfect last-minute gift tonight, bring  the double happiness of purple yams and pineapples together. But, ditch the can and grab a fresh pineapple, because nothing says love than something homemade using the freshest ingredients. It's easy to treat your sweetie like royalty with these Purple Heart Cupcakes.