Croquembouche

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Take a chance. Try something new and difficult. That’s my lesson for the day! I recently started the “100 Happy Days Challenge” on Instagram, and I’m trying to do things that I’ve been putting off due to lack of time and energy, or purely because fear of failure. One such project is making a Croquembouche. What is that? It’s a tower of cream puffs wrapped in a cage made of spun sugar. Every component of this dessert was new to me, and (in my mind, at least) difficult to make. Of course, given the right amount of time, patience, and guidance from Food 52, nothing is impossible!

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The first step is to make the pastry cream. You need very basic ingredients for this: egg yolks, whole milk, butter, cornstarch, sugar, and vanilla. All things you have in your kitchen, I’m sure. It’s so simple, but so versatile! You can use the pastry cream to fill cakes, eclairs, tarts, and more.

Next, the pate choux, or choux pastry. Easy peasy! Just follow the instructions in the recipe below, and pipe 1 inch rounds onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-17 minutes at 375 degrees. Once cooled, fill the puffs with pastry cream, and set aside.

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To make the caramel, heat up sugar and water until it becomes a very pale amber. Use this as glue to stick together the cream puffs, and build a tower. For the sugar cage, grab yourself a fork, dip it in the caramel, and twirl all over the tower. Keep doing this until you are satisfied with the way the croquembouche looks.

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It honestly appears so much more difficult that it is, and by the time you’re done, you’ll feel like a professional pastry chef!

Enjoy your weekend,

-G

Croquembouche

Recipe adapted from: http://food52.com/recipes/25406-croquembouche

Serves 4

Pate Choux

  • 1/2cup water
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2+ 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 eggs
Pastry Cream

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/8 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoons butter
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. On medium-high heat bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a simmer. When the butter has completely melted, add the flour and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon. With every bit of elbow grease you can muster, continue mixing for 4 minutes. A mass of dough will form and it will begin to come away from the sides and bottom of the pot. Remove from the heat and transfer dough to a stand mixer outfitted with a paddle attachment. Add eggs one at a time, making sure each is consumed by the dough before you add the next. You can also leave it in the pot and mix by hand.
  3. Cool for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally to release steam. When cool enough to handle, transfer into a piping bag. Pipe out 1-inch rounds. Smooth out any pointy peaks by dipping your finger in water and gently pressing them out; this will ensure an even bake. Bake until golden brown, approximately 20 minutes. Allow them to cool then fill them with pastry cream.
  4. For the pastry cream: In a small heavy-bottomed pot, warm the milk gently to a simmer. If you want to flavor your pastry cream, do so now: You can use vanilla, lavender, or even a chai tea bag. Allow a half hour for the flavors to mature, and then reheat back to a simmer.
  5. Meanwhile, mix the sugar, salt, yolks, and cornstarch together in a bowl. Temper by adding half of the hot milk into eggs, whisking feverishly. Add the egg mixture back to the milk and stir constantly with a wooden spoon on medium high heat until it coats the back of the spoon. Immediately transfer to a bowl and stir a couple minutes to cool down, then add the butter and mix well. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the cream so as not to create a skin. Chill until completely cooled.
  6. Transfer to a piping bag, poke each cream puff gently with the tip of the bag, and fill.
  7. For caramel, place 1/3 cups of sugar and 2 tbsp of water in a pan, stir to combine, and cover. Cook over medium-high for about 15 minutes, until the caramel is a light amber.
  8. With tongs, gently dip each cream puff into the caramel and begin to start stacking your croquembouche. Make sure your base is sturdy and continue upwards. Once you are done mounting reheat, your caramel until it turns a darker shade of amber. Allow to cool for a few minutes until it resembles the constituency of honey, then with a spoon drizzle it about, try to get thin stings of the caramel to wrap around. I also drizzled some ganache over everything and dusted it with powdered sugar.
  9. Eat within 2 to 3 hours, as the caramel will start to soften
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Christmas Cookie Madness!

When you’ve been having a tough week, it really helps though when you call your parents and they tell you that they got you the gift of your dreams! Something I’ve been thinking about getting for the past couple of years. They bought a KitchenAid Stand Mixer! OMGS, I essentially combusted due to the excitement!

Sooo of course, once I got home I had to bake up a storm. Also, my Pinterest has been flooded with so many delicious looking Christmas cookies, that I just had to try a few different ones. The three I decided upon were: itty bitty sugar cookie sandwiches, light gingerbread, and brownie cookies.

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First, let’s talk about the mini sugar cookie sandwiches. This is a Baker’s Royale recipe I’ve made a few times now, and I really love it! It takes no time to mix up, bake, and fill. Another plus is that this recipe is egg-free, so if you have an allergy or just don’t have eggs around, this is the perfect recipe for you! I made the dough, rolled it in various sprinkles and sanding sugars, and baked at 350 for exactly 8 minutes. Put the cookies in the freezer to cool completely, and in the meantime, make your favourite vanilla buttercream. Once cooled, pipe some buttercream onto the centre of each cookie, and squish together with another cookie of a similar size. These are a classic at my house, now!

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The gingerbread cookies are actually more like gingerbread-spiced shortbread cookies. They have a very light spice flavor, while the shortbread texture and taste really comes through as well. I received this recipe from a family friend, and it was originally published in a children’s picture book called Gingerbread Mouse. I’m not a huge fan of legitimate gingerbread cookies, so these were perfect! I had some leftover buttercream from the sandwich cookies so I spread it on, and topped the cookie with green sanding sugar and a star sprinkle.

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Now for the masterpiece: Brownie Cookies! This recipe is modified from Bakerella’s “Comfort Cookies” post, and is honestly the best combination of brownies and cookies I have ever had. Go ahead and add any combination of nuts and chocolate chips, because the more stuff that’s in it, the better it will taste.

All three of these cookies make great gifts, tea time treats, and would be great to leave out for Santa!

Have a great Holiday Season, and see you soon!

-G

Itty Bitty Sugar Cookie Sandwiches

Source: Baker’s Royale

Makes 36 sandwiches

1 cup butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup icing sugar, 1/4 cup plain white sugar

1 tbsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups all purpose flour

Sanding sugar, or sprinkles, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Cream butter, sugars, salt until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat.

3. Add flour and beat until just combined.

4. Scoop by tsp and roll  into balls. Roll around in sanding sugar or sprinkles.

5. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until bottoms are golden.

6. Fill with buttercream (use any recipe you like), and make sandwiches.

Gingerbread-spiced Shortbread Cookies

Makes 24 large cookies

2 1/2 cups All purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon OR pumpkin pie spice

1 3/4 sticks butter (14 tbsp)

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1. Mix up dry ingredients.

2. Beat butter and sugar until creamy; then add egg and vanilla.

3. Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out dough and chill until firm.

5. Use cookie cutters to make shapes, and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Brownie Cookies

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup peanut butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a small bowl, mix flour, cocoa, soda and salt using a wire whisk and set aside.
  • In another bowl, cream butter, sugars and peanut butter until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.
  • Add flour mixture to creamed mixture and mix until combined.
  • Stir in dark chocolate chips.
  • Roll cookie dough into 1-1/4 inch balls. (If desired, roll balls in chopped pecans.)
  • Place on parchment paper covered baking sheet.
  • Bake 10 minutes.
  • Place cookies on cookie rack to cool.
  • Makes about 30 2-inch cookies.

THE Vanilla Cake

Hiiii! I know I haven’t posted anything for a few weeks, and I am so sorry! Sooo to compensate, I have for you CAKE! We recently celebrated a big birthday, and thus, a special birthday cake was in order for my brother.

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Every single year, about a month before his birthday, I ask my brother what kind of cake he wants. I’m always hatching a plan for an extravagant cake, and he always asks for a plain vanilla cake. Just a white cake with white frosting. No fancy decorations or fun flavour combinations. Being a pizzazz-loving person, I cannot accept this, so we usually end up getting him a store-bought vanilla cake.

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This year, I thought I would finally give in to his demands, and bake the plainest cake of all time. Luckily, it just so happens that I found a new vanilla cake recipe, which claims to be the “best”. I’m constantly on the hunt for a better recipe, and mayhaps this is it. I used this recipe that I had pinned on Pinterest a while back: http://sweetapolita.com/2012/06/how-to-make-a-perfectly-delightful-vanilla-birthday-cake/. It was just perfect! I often find that homemade vanilla cakes never really turn out as fluffy and as moist as store bought vanilla cakes, but this one was just to die for.  I made a 6” two layer round cake by halving the recipe. To make sure it stayed extra moist, I made a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar, and brushed it on both layers after they cooled.

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To decorate it, I frosted the outside of the cake with our favourite fluffy buttercream, which is literally THE BEST. Oh, by the way, if you ever make it, and it ends up a teensy bit runnier than you would like it, just throw it in the freezer for 10 minutes, and it will firm up! For the frosting in the middle, I wanted to try this cool effect I saw on Foodgawker. I made a plain jane vanilla buttercream, and a Nutella buttercream (the recipes are below), and I piped concentric circles of alternating frostings. You want it to look like a target, and when you cut it, you will get a cool effect!

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Now, for the glitz! I was at the baking supply shop, and I found this edible silver dust (http://www.wilton.com/store/site/product.cfm?sku=pg_pearldust)! I made a stencil of a symbol that my brother wanted on his cake, and just dusted the silver dust on the surface of the cake with a metal sieve.

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It was a special day and a great cake! I hope this cake makes up for my absence, and I’ll see you again as soon as I can!

Enjoy,

G

THE Vanilla Cake

Adapted slightly from: http://sweetapolita.com/2012/06/how-to-make-a-perfectly-delightful-vanilla-birthday-cake/

Yield: One 2-layer, 6-inch round cake

Ingredients

¾ cup milk, at room temperature

3 egg whites, at room temperature

1 whole egg, at room temperature

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 ¾ cup flour + 2 tbsp corn starch, sifted

1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

¾ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes

3 tablespoons vegetable shortening

 

Simple Syrup

¼ cup water

¼ cup sugar

Combine, and heat in microwave until sugar is dissolved.

           

Instructions

1. Grease, line with parchment and flour two round 6-inch pans. I use Parchment Paper Circles for ease.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment and flour two round 6-inch pans. I use Parchment Paper Circles for ease.

3. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir 1/4 cup of the milk, stir the egg whites, whole egg, vanilla. Set aside.

4. Sift flour and cornstarch. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients, including the sugar, together on low-speed (I use the “stir” setting on my mixer) for 30 seconds.

5. Add the butter and shortening, blending on low-speed for about 30 seconds, then add remaining 1/2 cup of milk, and mix on low-speed until just moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for 1 -1/2 minutes (90 seconds), but no more.

6. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg/milk/extract mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.

7. Pour 1/2 of your batter into each prepared pan spreading it evenly with a small offset palette knife.

8. Bake cake layers in center of oven and 20-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes clean when inserted into the center. Check cake at 20 minutes, but not before, and once you feel it’s almost ready, set the timer for 2 minute intervals. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small metal spatula, and invert onto greased wire racks. Gently turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.

9. Once cool, brush on simple syrup.

Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream

(Source: Baker’s Royale)

Ices 2 layer 6” Cake

Ingredients:

3 egg whites

¾ cup sugar

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed

tiny pinch of salt

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1) Combine egg whites and sugar in a bowl placed over simmering water. Bring mixture to 150 degrees F while whisking constantly.

2) Transfer mixture to stand mixer bowl, fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on medium speed until mixture cools and doubles in volume.

3) Add butter one piece at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition. Add salt and vanilla and mix to combine.   The frosting may appear to look separated, keep mixing and it will come together (this commonly happens when making Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

Vanilla Buttercream

¼ cup butter

1 cup icing sugar

1/8 – ¼ tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp milk

Beat all ingredients together using an electric mixer.

Nutella Buttercream

¼ cup butter

1 cup icing sugar

2 tbsp Nutella

1/8 – ¼ tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp milk

Beat all ingredients together using an electric mixer.

Blue Baby Shower Cake!

Hello!

We’ve been making up for lost baking time at Sweet Little Brownies! This week, I have for you, a beautiful baby shower cake! The highlight of this cake is pretty much the frosting technique, which is stunning. The mom-to-be is expecting a baby boy, and so the theme of the cake was baby blue.

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Making this cake was a bit of a process, in that I made the fondant decorations the day before, and then spent the next day baking and decorating. To make the fondant toppers, I used homemade marshmallow fondant, for which the recipe can be found here: http://whatscookingamerica.net/PegW/Fondant.htm. It is super easy, and actually tastes good, compared to traditional fondant. S came up with the idea of making baby blocks to put on top of the cake. I simply cut out cubes of fondant, and decorated them with buttercream. To make the elephant, I used a shape that I printed out, as a stencil to cut the fondant. Don’t be intimidated by fondant – it will be worth the effort!

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I made a funfetti vanilla cake with blue sprinkles to go with the theme of the cake. I used a new recipe from I am Baker (it is listed below), and I thought it was quite good, but not as fluffy as I would have liked. The White Velvet cake posted in the Happy Diwali post is still my go-to white cake recipe!

I wanted to incorporate both the Petal frosting technique and an ombre effect, so I decided to make a diagonal blue pattern with the dots. I loved the look of the frosting so much! There’s a photo tutorial on this website: http://www.mycakeschool.com/blog/pretty-petal-effect/.

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I first put a crumb coat of my favourite buttercream (https://sweetlittlebrownies.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/me-love-coookies/) on the cooled cake, I separated the remaining frosting into three bowls. Two of the bowls were tinted different shades of blue using Wilton Royal Blue gel colour. The remaining frosting was left white. I filled three plastic pastry bags with the frosting, and piped dots onto the cake (I did not use a tip). Then, using my icing spatula streaked the frosting dots to the right. It is MUCH easier than it looks, but does take some time to finish. Just put on some Maroon 5, and you wont notice the time go by!

The cake was yummy and beautiful! I hope you try it out! All of the high quality photos are taken and edited by V – thank you!

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Thanks for coming by,

-G

The Perfect White Cake
From: I am Baker

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup milk at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened but still cool

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8-inch cake pans.
  2. Make sure milk and eggs are room temperature.
  3. Pour milk (I used skim) , egg whites, and extracts into medium bowl and mix with fork until blended.
  4. Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed. Add butter, cut into cubes and continue beating on low for about 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to flour mixture and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat for about 1 minute.
  6. Pour batter evenly between two prepared cake pans.
  7. Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 27 to 30 minutes.
  8. Allow cake to cool to room temperature.
  9. Frost cakes with favorite frosting.
  10. Just barely adapted from epicurious, taken from Cooks Illustrated.

Happy Diwali!

Diwali was last week, at this point most of you must know that Diwali is the Festival of Lights, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

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Image from http://www.gheehappy.com/

I may know how to bake the most delicious cakes in the world (fake it ‘til you make it, right?), but making jilebis or ladoos gives me nightmares. So, since Diwali is my favourite festival, I thought I would show you my most favourite cake to date: Pink Ombre Rose Velvet Cake.

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Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the inside (people just pounced and ate it up so quickly!), but you’re just going to have to trust me when I say that the layers looked just like the inspiration pic below!

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Photo from: http://www.glorioustreats.com/2011/08/pink-ombre-swirl-cake.html

This cake is beautiful! A four layer white velvet cake was tinted pink and then frosted with roses made of our favourite fluffy vanilla buttercream.

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I used Rose Levy Berenbaum’s White Velvet cake, and this was the perfect vanilla cake. If you’re looking for a classic white cake, this is the recipe for you! I mixed up the batter, and split it into four equal portions. I left the first portion white, and tinted the next three with Wilton Pink Gel Icing colour, in gradually darker shades. I then baked each of the layers in an 8” round pan, at 350 for 15-18 minutes.

After I whipped up the frosting (I made about 2 times the recipe listed below), I split it into four portions, with one of them having slightly more than the other three. The first portion was left white and the other three were also tinted gradually, to give the “Ombre” effect.

To assemble the cake, place the darkest cake layer on a cake plate, spread white frosting on the surface of the cake, and place on the next coloured cake layer. Repeat this process until all the cake layers are assembled, with the lightest layer on top. Then spread on the remaining white frosting very thinly to make the crumb coat. Use a 1M tip and pipe roses on the darkest frosting along the bottom of the cake. Repeat this with the remaining shades, and for the top face of the cake, make little blossoms just by dotting on the lightest colour frosting with the 1M tip.

Here’s a YouTube vid, on how to make the roses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3DYBho02fI

Ta da! Now you have a super glamorous cake!

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Happy belated Diwali everyone!!!!

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Thanks to V and M for the awesome photos!

-G

White Velvet Cake:

Ingredients:

4 ½ Egg whites

1 cup milk

2 ¼ tsp Pure vanilla extract

3 cups cake flour

1 ½ cup sugar

1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

12 tbsp unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare your pans by applying butter to the inner surface, linking with parchment paper, and then buttering the parchment, and flouring the entire inner surface.

2. In medium bowl, combine egg whites, ¼ cup milk, vanilla.

3. In large bowl, combine all dry ingredients, and then add butter and remaining ¾ cup milk. Mix on low speed, until moist. Increase to medium speed, and beat for one minute.

4. Add egg mixture in three batches, beat for 20 seconds after each egg addition.

5. Pour batter into prepared pans, and tap the pan hard against the counter to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 15-18 minutes. Allow to cool before frosting.

Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting from Bakers Royale

5 large egg whites

1 ½ cup sugar

4 sticks unsalted butter, diced and softened

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1) Combine egg whites and sugar in a bowl placed over simmering water. Bring mixture to 150 degrees F while whisking constantly.

2) Transfer mixture to stand mixer bowl, fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on medium speed until mixture cools and doubles in volume.
3) Add butter one piece at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition. Add salt and vanilla and mix to combine.   The frosting may appear to look separated, keep mixing and and it will come together (this commonly happens when making Swiss Meringue Buttercream.)