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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Back at it!

For the past couple of weeks I have been neglecting to post something new. After Easter weekend was over, I started building a wedding cake for a culinary salon, to which i participate every year. I do apologize for those of you who follow the blog on a regular basis and who have no been able to find new material to read. Fear not, I am starting to write again in the upcoming days.

Here are a few pictures of the final cake which I presented at my 3rd culinary salon since being in the pastry profession. This year was a little difference, due to the fact that I was in the professional category. Never the less, it got me my third gold medal in the wedding cake category! So a big thank you to everyone for their patience! 

Tomorrow I will be posting the steps which I took to achieve this cake and a few tips to building wedding cakes! Stay tuned for all the details! 

Eat well, sleep well and till tomorrow! 


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Easter Cupcakes

What a great time of the year to celebrate spring and having gatherings with loved ones. Here's a few interesting questions about the traditions of Easter; How did the responsibility of bringing eggs to children, fall upon the rabbit? And why eggs?

Well the rabbit seems to share many similarities with Santa Claus, in the way that it is a fictional character bringing gifts to children on the night before the respective holiday. The rabbit was first mentioned as being a hare and this in the Alsace culture tradition of the egg gift giving. This was published in George Frankenau's De ovis paschalibus (About the Easter Egg)

 And just as the traditions of  Kriist Kindle (Santa Claus) arrived to America with German settlers, so did the tradition of the Easter bunny in the early 1700's. The early tradition was that the Easter bunny would bring colored eggs to the children's home made baskets if they had been good. The first edible Easter egg wasn't made until the early 1800's in Germany and was made of pastry and sugar. 
But why eggs? Well the egg was always seen as a big fertility symbol and of rebirth. This tied in with the resurrection and rebirth of Christ, the tradition stuck. The rabbit, of hare, was always seen as a symbol of fertility because of it's very large liters in the springtime, at the Vernal Equinox. The rest, sadly, is simply commercialization just as is Santa Claus. 

Never the less, it's springtime and the nature seems to be renewing itself once again. So why not celebrate it! Here's a delicious treat to share with kids of all ages to celebrate this special Holiday; Chocolate Easter Nest Cupcakes. This is very east to put together and does not need a lot of time for assembly. This could ever be a nice activity to do with kids. 

First off, bake some chocolate cupcakes from a cupcake mix found at the store, or find a recipe online to make them yourself. Which ever is most suitable for you. Here's the recipe from Canadian Living that I use for chocolate cupcakes. 

- 3/4 cup milk
- 2 Tsp lemon juice or vinegar 
- 1/2 cup butter, softened 
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar 
- 1 egg
- 1 Tsp vanilla
- 1 cup flour
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda

- Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or grease(being precocious, i do both). In a small bowl, stir milk with lemon juice. Set aside. 
- In large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in egg and vanilla. In separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda; with wooden spoon, stir into butter mixture alternately with milk mixture, making 2 additions of dry ingredients and 1 of milk (start with flour mixture and end with flour mixture). 
- Spoon into prepared muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full. Bake in centre of 375F oven until cake tester inserted  in centre comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool COMPLETELY. 

These cupcakes are a nice alternative to chocolate if you are not a fan of eating chocolate candies. They can be made in advance, covered and frozen for up to 2 weeks. Simply thaw out to decorate. Next you will need some chocolate buttercream. This recipe is great if you are making these cupcakes after Easter with leftover chocolates. 

- 1 1/2 lbs butter, softened
- 1 lb confectioners sugar (icing sugar), sifted 
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla 
- 5 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled

- Add to the bowl of a mixer with paddle attachement; the butter, sugar and vanilla. Incorporate ingredients on low speed and then increase speed to high for 2 minutes, until mixture is very light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of the bowl and stir in melted (cooled) chocolate. WARNING: do not put HOT melted chocolate inside your buttercream, you will end up with chocolate soup. 

For the Easter decorated cupcakes, you will need to place 2 Cups of shredded coconut on a parchment paper in a 350F oven until it is lightly golden in color.  You will also want to have some mini eggs handy to place in the coconut nests created on top of the cupcakes. Scroll down to see how to assemble. Very easy! :)

Step 1:
- Have your buttercream in a pastry bag ready with a 10mm tip. Also have your toasted shredded coconut in a container to be able to  dip your frosted cupcakes in. 

- Simply pipe a circle of icing around the top of the cupcake. Press the ices cupcake lightly in the coconut to cover the icing completely. All you have to do after that is to place 3 mini eggs in the centre of the nest. 

These easy Easter themed cupcakes will put a smile on every children's face. Feel free to use the cupcake and icing recipe for any other cupcakes you'll need for all other occasions during the year. 

Eat well, sleep well and till tomorrow! 


Hot Cross Buns

Staying in the them of Easter, let's explore another baking tradition. A delicious treat which seems to always turn our noses around and lead us to buy at least a dozen of them at a time. Yes, Hot Cross Buns are one of my favorite Easter time bakery items. Best part is, they are easier to make then most people would think.

These sweet buns are believed to even predate Christianity, with the first record of them being in 1733. At that time, a lot of controversy surrounded this yeast risen treat. Protestants English monarchs thought the bun as a strong holdover of Catholic beliefs in England. They fought to ban the hot cross buns, but instead, Queen Elizabeth I legalized commercial sales of the buns during the Easter and Christmas holidays. Even to this day, some institutions still find offense in the representation of the crucifixion on top of the baked product. And this to the point that schools in England even go as far as having to ban the product from being sold in cafeterias.

Whether you mind the legends and significations or not, this still remains one of my favorite and I definitely had to try and make them on my own this year. Have some spare candied fruit, cherries or raisins laying around? Make them yourself for Easter, or any other time of the year for a taste treat! This following recipe was adapted from the one found at Martha Stewart's website. Keeping the dough part of the recipe intact, I change the type of fruits added to the dough. Here's the recipe.

HOT CROSS BUNS (makes 30)
- 1 cup plus 3 Tbsp and 2 Tsp whole milk
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 ounce (4 1/2 Tsp) active dry yeast
- 6 ounces (170g) butter, melted and cooled
- 1 1/2 Tsp salt
- 1/2 Tsp Nutmeg (Freshly grated if available)
- 1/4 Tsp ground cinnamon
- 4 large eggs, slightly beaten
- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (more for dusting surface)
- 3/4 cup candied maraschino cherries (found at bulk food stores)
- 1/2 cups golden raisins
- 1/4 cup candied fruit mix (also found at bulk food stores in the same section as cherries)
Egg wash:
- 1 large egg white + 1 Tbsp water, whisked by fork to brush over buns before placing in oven
Icing for after baking:
- 2 Cups icing sugar, sifted + remaining 3Tbsp and 2Tsp whole milk + 1/2Tsp Vanilla
- Mix well to obtain a smooth texture, place in piping bag with a 1/4 inch round tip, or in a plastic sandwich bag, cutting a small hole in one of the corners to pipe lines onto the buns.
To make the buns:
Step 1:
Heat 1 Cup of the milk in a small saucepan for it to reach 110F (or till very hot to touch seemed to be good enough for me). Pour milk in mixer, armed with a dough hook attachment. With the mixer on slow speed, add to the milk; the granulated sugar, yeast, cooled melted butter, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and the slightly beaten eggs.  Then add the flour, 1 cup at a time and knead till the mixture comes together, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the hook as much as needed. Knead till the dough becomes smooth.

Step 2:
Add in the fruit to the mixer and knead until incorporated. I had a little trouble at this part to get my fruit incorporated so I just finished kneading them in by hand by transferring the dough to a well floured work surface. Knead to a nice smooth ball and place in a well buttered bowl. Cover with plastic and let rise till doubled, about 1 hour. Again for yeast mixtures, I place the bowl on top of my warming oven to give the yeast mixture more heat and make it rise faster.

Step 3:
Generously butter a rimmed baking sheet. I used a 12" by 18" cake mold from Wilton. Turn out the risen dough on a lightly floured surface and lightly knead. Divide the dough into 3 parts and cover the unworked ones with a plastic to not dry them out.  Divide each third into 10 pieces, and shape each into a tight ball. If wanting to have them all exactly the same size, you may use a scale. Simply start with the total weight of the dough. Let's say that the total weight of the dough was 1800. Divide that into 3 parts of 600g each. Then Each part of 600g, divide into pieces of 60g to make the small balls of dough. Place them on the prepared sheet pan, 1/2 inch apart. In my case, 4 rows of 7, i had 2 extra pieces which i squeezed in there. Cover the pan with a plastic, place on top of your warm oven and let double in size again.

Step 4:
Make sure that your oven is now at 375 degrees F. Before placing the buns in the oven, brush them lightly with the prepared egg wash. Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until golden brown, 20-22 minutes. Let cool on wire rack for 30 minutes.

Step 5:
Whisk together remaining 3 Tbsp and 2Tsp of the whole milk with the icing sugar and vanilla. Pipe the mixture in a cross shape on top of the buns. Serve immediately.

Hope you get to try out this recipe sometime soon, or even get your hands on a dozen of them at your grocery store while they are in season. For those of you who have already fallen in love with these Easter time treats, why not try and make them yourself next time you crave them! 

Eat well, sleep well and till tomorrow!