Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Crockpot Chocolate Clusters

If you want a simple chocolate candy recipe that takes very little effort and can make about 100 candies, you've found the right place! This mint, nut and chocolate combo hits the spot for your holiday candy-making sessions.

This recipe was inspired by blogger My Messy Thrilling Life's candy recipe.

Set a crockpot on "low" and layer in the following ingredients:
1 lb of cashew halves (roasted preferred)
1 lb of chopped pecans
2 (12oz) bags of Hershey's Special Dark chocolate
1 (12 oz) bag of Andes Mint chopped pieces
1 (12 oz) bag of milk chocolate chips
2 lbs Vanilla (white) Almond Bark (also known as candy coating)

1) Cover the crockpot with the lid and cook for one hour.
2) After one hour stir all ingredients and allow to cook another 30 minutes or longer until all chocolate and almond bark pieces have melted.
3) Place parchment paper down on a flat surface, and spoon the chocolate/ nut mixture by the tablespoon (or smaller) into mounds on the paper to dry (I use a small cookie scoop from Pampered Chef to get a good chocolate cluster shape).

Variation Ideas
-You can add any variety of ingredients to tailor this recipe to your tastes- you can use puffed rice cereal, various nuts (peanuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, or any combination you like), mini-marshmallows, or anything to give the chocolate some structure. 
-Try substituting peanut butter chips for the andes mint candy pieces.
-Use your favorite sprinkles to decorate the tops of the candies, or drizzle a contrasting color (such as white, red, green, etc to theme it for various holidays)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Creme Brulee Cupcakes

I love Creme Brulee...then again, who wouldn't love the stuff? It has a nice but not overly sweet flavor, and crunchy sugar topping that has been caramelized using fire (you can't go wrong with fire and dessert- as long as the fire was a planned part of the dessert process and not an unhappy consequence of course). 

Now, stick that crunchy caramely custardy goodness in a cupcake, and you have a little cup of heaven that pleases the masses (or even just your husband, your BFF on their birthday, or yourself when you're really in the mood to just indulge). FYI- I adapted this recipe from the I Heart Cuppycakes blog.

For cupcakes
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch for the egg whites
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 cup milk (I used Heavy Whipping Cream or you could use half and half too)
3 tablespoons caramel syrup (I used homemade salted caramel- but Mrs. Robinson's caramel syrup or Hershey's caramel syrup work great too)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Steps: Prep: Preheat oven to 340 degrees F and line cupcake pan with liners.
1) Mix together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the two egg yolks until incorporated.
2) Add in the vanilla, caramel and milk or heavy whipping cream.
3) Make a dry mixture with the flour, salt and baking powder, then slowly incorporate into the wet mixture.
4) In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form, then fold the egg whites into the batter, or mix them in on "slow" in your stand mixer.
5) Scoop batter into cupcake liners and bake from 15-20 minutes until cupcakes have a golden brown crust.
Note- cupcakes will be slightly porous but that's ok- you still need to add the frosting! Sometimes if they do not bake long enough they will slightly cave in the middle, but that is still ok because you will fill with the frosting to make the creme brulee!

For Frosting
1 stick butter (1/2 C), softened
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened (I usually buy pre-whipped)
4 C powdered sugar
1/4-1/2 C brown sugar (to taste)

1) Blend together the butter and cream cheese until well combined and smooth.
2) Mix in the powdered sugar until smooth.
3) Add in the brown sugar and beat until smooth and slightly fluffy.

Combining the two:
1) Once cupcakes have cooled, using a piping bag fitted with a plain coupler- no tip is needed (or ziploc bag that has been cut), pipe some of the filling into the cupcake (by sticking the coupler slightly under the surface of the crust), and slightly squeeze until the filling rises above the surface, then continue to squeeze until you get a little mound of frosting on top of the cupcake (see photo above).
2) Sprinkle a little bit of sugar (about 1/2-1 teaspoon) on top of the frosting.
3) Using a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar- it may turn dark or look like it is turning into beads of sugar, but keep going a little longer until you get a nice caramelized sugar topping.
4) Serve warm or cool- either way these are super yummy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hot Cocoa on a Stick

I love the "winter"- now in Southern California, winter typically includes a couple of days of rain, a couple of days of drizzling waters, and sub-50 temperatures... horrible right? Well- my version of winter typically includes chilly evenings, baking and peppermint hot cocoa.  Throw in some homemade marshmallows and now we're talking!

Last year I made hot chocolate on a stick with homemade marshmallows- and I had to do it again this year- with a twist!  I flavored my marshmallows and added fun stuff to the fudge to make it a little more festive. Chopped pecans, chopped up candy canes and plain ol' chocolate were the variations of the season... so far :)

Here is the recipe again so you don't have to search through last year's posts:
Marshmallow Ingredients:

.75-oz unflavored gelatin (3 envelopes of Knox gelatin- 1 envelope = 1 Tbsp so .75 oz = 3 Tbsp)
1/2 C cold water
2 C granulated sugar
2/3 C light corn syrup
1/4 C water
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vanilla extract (or other flavor extract)
Confectioners’ sugar (for coating the outside)

1) Line 9 x 9-inch or 8 x 8-inch pan with plastic wrap and lightly oil it using your fingers or non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

2) In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Soak for about 10 minutes.

3) Meanwhile, combine sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a rapid boil. As soon as it is boiling, set the timer and allow to boil hard for 1 minute.

4) Carefully pour the boiling syrup into soaked gelatin and turn on the mixer, using the whisk attachment, starting on low and moving up to high speed (this keeps the boiling candy from splashing and scalding you). Add the salt and beat for approximately 15-20 minutes (the mixture will be fluffy like the consistency of marshmallow fluff, and will be cooled to almost room temperature). After it reaches that stage, add in the extract and beat to incorporate. I prefer to use concentrated extracts to decrease the amount of additional liquid I am adding to the recipe, and I typically beat for about 2 minutes after the extract has been incorporated.

5) Grease your hands and a rubber or silicone scraper with neutral oil and transfer marshmallow into the prepared pan. Use your greased hands to press the marshmallow into the pan evenly. Take another piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap and press lightly on top of the marshmallow, creating a seal. Let mixture sit for a few hours, or overnight, until cooled and firmly set.

6) Once marshmallows have set, turn the block-o-mallow out onto a cutting board that has been covered with powdered sugar. Generously cover the top of the solid piece of marshmallow (I use a flour sifter or a powdered sugar shaker), and cut into 1" squares. It is best to use a heated knife (it can be run under water then dried) to cut the substance more easily. Cover with plastic wrap, or place in plastic bags or another air-tight container after cutting- leaving them exposed to the air can help them to dry out and become rubbery within a couple of hours.

Fudge Ingredients: (Originally from the King Arthur Flour Company, adapted by Foodie with Family blog)
½ C heavy cream ($3.29 / Quart) (Cost ~$.41)
14-oz can sweetened condensed milk (1 1/4 cups) ($1.49 / can) (Cost~$1.49)
3 C semisweet chocolate (~1.5 bags) ($1.99 / bag) (Cost~$3) 
3/4 C 60% Cocoa Chocolate Chips (~1/2 bag) ($1.99 / bag) (Cost~$1) (=Total Cost to make ~$5.90 + tax)
wooden sticks, lollipop sticks, candy canes or bamboo skewers ($4 / 50 bags, $3 / 50 sticks at Michael's)
optional, crushed candy canes, marshmallows and/or cocoa powder

1) Line an 8 x 8-inch pan or a 9 x 9-inch pan with foil and set aside.

2) Combine the cream and sweetened condensed milk in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Heat until it is steaming, but not boiling, stirring occasionally to keep from scorching.

3) Add all of the chocolate and remove from the heat. Allow the chocolate to melt, undisturbed, for 10 minutes.

4) After 10 minutes, whisk firmly until it is thick and shiny. You can add a few drops of flavoring extract or oil at this point, or add some powdered espresso or vanilla. Whisk vigorously again to incorporate the flavoring (if used.)

5) Use a rubber or silicone spatula to spread the mixture out evenly in your prepared, foil-lined pan. Allow to cool at room temperature 12 hours or overnight so that it firms slowly.

6) Take the fudge from the pan and remove the foil. Place on a cutting board. Using a knife heated with hot water and wiped dry, cut the fudge into 1" cubes.

Assembling the Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows... On a Stick

1) Skewer the marshmallow with a lollipop stick or whatever you are using to assemble your treat. Next skewer the block of cocoa (cocoa blocks can have candy decorations (peppermint, cocoa powder, coconut, etc) on them already, or be decorated after skewering them with the marshmallow).

2) Place on top of a parchment square, or place directly into a treat bag, then tie the bag to seal out additional air.

3) The treats will keep without getting stale for about 3 days at room temperature, about 2 weeks when saved in the fridge, or for up to 3 months when frozen in an airtight container.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Salted Caramels

I love caramel. It is safe to say that I love caramel even more than I love chocolate. But- when you combine the two, the taste is what I can describe as joy... add sea salt to the combo and it is a combo you can't even explain- but you find that you just keep wanting more!

I found a wonderful and easy salted caramel candy recipe on About.com that I made tonight. It was so simple and very tasty! The caramel was very easy to cut using small cookie cutters once it set- or you could use a knife to score while it is still warm, then continue cutting once it has set.

For a simple caramel recipe- look no further than this blog post! This recipe was modified from the Sea Salt Caramels Candy recipe on About.com

1 1/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup honey (cane syrup can also be substituted)
6 tbsp butter, cut into 1 Tbsp pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract (I use pure homemade vanilla extract)
3 tsp sea salt (e.g. Fleur de Sel, or I prefer Mediterranean Sea Salt)
1 lb Dark (60%+) chocolate, chopped


1. Prepare an 8-inch baking pan by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Place the cream in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil. Stir in the sugar, corn syrup and honey and stir until it begins to boil. Periodically wipe down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent sugar crystals from forming.
3. Cook the candy, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 257 degrees F on a candy thermometer.*If you do not have a candy thermometer, you can take it just past the soft ball stage. The color turned a nice "caramel" color once the temperature hit around 255 degrees F. So if you continue to stir until you see a golden caramel color, you are probably around 255-260 degrees F. Be very careful at this stage because the temperature increases quickly and you are much more likely to burn the mixture at this point. 
4. Remove the pan from the heat immediately and stir in the butter, vanilla, and 2 teaspoons of salt.
5. Pour into prepared pan and let set at room temperature until firm enough to cut.
6. Cut the caramel into small squares or strips with a chef’s knife.
7. Temperate the chocolate and dip the caramels in the chocolate one at a time. Place them on a baking sheet covered with waxed paper or foil to set. While chocolate is still wet, sprinkle on the remaining salt and allow to set completely.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Killer Whale (Orca) Cake

My coworker's son's birthday is coming up- so she asked me to make him a "whale" of a cake :) Her son LOVES Shamu (the Killer Whale from Sea World), dolphins, sharks, whales, fish- so basically anything aquatic.  He asked for an Orca cake (aka Killer Whale), so I made him a white cake with strawberry filling, vanilla buttercream icing, covered in black and white fondant.

So here are a few photos of the killer whale cake before he headed off to the birthday party!

150 Wedding Cupcakes and a 2-Tier Wedding Cake- Black and White Theme

My cousin Derrick married his lovely bride Rebecca last month, and last weekend was their reception at my parents' house. I was blessed by the happy couple, by being asked to make the cupcakes for the reception!  So I got to play with several flavors of cupcake and flavor combinations.

Due to this experience, I've decided I like making cupcakes much better than cakes! Much less precision is required, and you can make several varieties all at the same time (ok, call me lazy, I'm totally fine with it :) )!  So 150 large cupcakes, 75 bite-sized cupcakes and a two-tier cake later - here are the flavor combos I came up with!

S'mores (including graham cracker crust, chocolate cupcake and toasted marshmallow topping)
German Chocolate
Chocolate with Caramel
Chocolate with Raspberry
Chocolate with Bavarian Cream
Chocolate with Chocolate Buttercream
White with Raspberry
White with Vanilla Buttercream
White with Chocolate Buttercream
White with Toasted Meringue
Coconut with Coconut Buttercream and Toasted Coconut flakes
Lemon with Lemon curd filling and Lemon Buttercream
Lemon with Raspberry

 Pictured Above: German Chocolate, Chocolate Chocolate and White with Chocolate

Pictured Above: S'mores, Chocolate Caramel

Pictured Above: Mini Chocolate and Vanilla, and Large Chocolate and Vanilla

Pictured Above: White with Vanilla Buttercream and White with Raspberry

Pictured Above: Lemon with Raspberry

Pictured Above: White with Vanilla and Toasted Coconut (bottom)

Pictured Above: S'mores! These were definitely my favorite!

Pictured above: Chocolate with Caramel

Last but not least- the cake! It was a simple 2-tier cake. The top tier was carrot cake with cream cheese buttercream, and the bottom tier was chocolate WASC cake with chocolate buttercream and bavarian cream filling.  Accents were black and white royal icing and silver dragees.

Happy Marriage to the happy couple! Love you both!

PS- here is the recipe I used for the Cream Cheese Buttercream:

Cream Cheese Buttercream

1 8oz pkg Cream Cheese (I prefer whipped, but regular is fine too)
1 stick butter (softened)
1 Cup vegetable shortening
8 Cups powdered sugar
3 tsp pure vanilla (I use homemade vanilla- I would use less than 3 tsp vanilla in this recipe if you are using store-bought extract)
2-3 Tbsp heavy whipping cream or milk

In an electric mixer using the paddle attachment, mix together the cream cheese, butter and shortening until smooth.  Next add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Next add in the vanilla then the heavy whipping cream (or milk) 1 Tbsp at a time, adding more or less (if necessary) to produce the desired consistency.


Dessert Pizza

I was dying for dessert- and happened to have some pizza dough sitting in my fridge that needed to be used so after a little bit of thinking, I decided to make a dessert pizza.

I took a basic pizza crust and rolled it out on a baking stone. I coated the crust with melted butter, then covered it with a cinnamon / sugar mixture.  I baked the crust at 400 degrees F for about 12 minutes, then removed the crust from the oven.

Next I sprinkled chopped up Toblerone chocolate on the crust and let it melt before I spread it on the crust to make a sauce. From there I chopped up strawberries, pecans, and extra chocolate, then sprinkled it on the crust.  Next I added halved large marshmallows (I'd probably use small marshmallows if I did this again), then baked for about 5 minutes until all ingredients were warmed and the marshmallows looked toasted.

I cut the crust then served slices of dessert pizza with vanilla bean ice cream.  My husband even told me I could make this every week for the rest of his life if I really wanted to ;)

Enjoy and happy baking!!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

80th Birthday Rose Cake, Slot Machine Cake, Poker Card and Poker Chip Cookies

I was asked to make the cakes and cookies for my great Aunt's 80th birthday party.  I made a total of 3 cakes and 150 cookies.  It was such a joy to bake these desserts for my family!

First I made two rose cakes with a lavender "8" and a "0" on individual cakes.
One cake was lemon with lemon curd filling, and the other was white cake with strawberry filling.

The last cake was a slot machine cake. It was made of chocolate cake and chocolate buttercream with a bavarian cream filling. Unfortunately there was a slight accident with the cake during transportation to the banquet hall- a car cut me off and the cake fell over :(  But it was still salvaged and tasted ok when all was said and done.  Hopefully I'll have another opportunity to make a slot machine cake in the future to redeem myself and make the cake I really wanted to see served to someone. 

Added to the cake at the banquet hall was a set of candles (one for each birthday person ages 80, 77 and 82!), and had a photo of each of the birthday honorees in rice paper on the slot machine reels. There are also 80 "gold" chocolate coins coming out of the front of the slot machine for the "winners" :)

Lastly was the cookies! 150 poker card and poker chip cookies- the numbers were made in royal icing, with colors drug through in colored royal icing to make the numbers and symbols. 

Happy 80th Birthday Tia Anita!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Vanilla Extract- 3 Months Later

Hello Vanilla Lovers!

This post is to follow-up to my original post 3 months ago titled "Vanilla Extract-a-Palooza." To recap- I had 7 different types of vanilla beans, and made 7 different types of extract.  The original photo looked like this:

And 3 months later the same bottles look like this:

Unfortunately I wasn't able to duplicate the lighting of the first batch- but I'm going to try to get new photos at a different time of day for documentation purposes.

About 2 months ago I added in slightly more vodka to fill the bottles completely to the top as a slight amount evaporated during the first month, leaving the tips of the beans slightly uncovered.

As you see all bottles got much darker,  but the Tongan vanilla was the least darkened in the 3 month time period.  The darkest extract was the Madagascar vanilla bean.

And here is the final packaging we gave to family members as gifts:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake House

Here it is! The house of Strawberry Shortcake.  It is made of White Cake and Strawberry filling with a Vanilla Buttercream icing, all covered in Fondant. The best part of making this cake was when I bought a Strawberry Shortcake doll to sit on top, and opened the package to smell Strawberry Shortcake's hair- and it still smelled like strawberries- just like it did when I was a little girl!

The White Cake I made was modified from the recipe at Food.com. I also Quadrupled the recipe to make the 4 layer cake.

1 C Sugar
1/4 C Butter
2 Eggs
1/2 C Sour Cream
3 tsp Vanilla Extract (I use homemade vanilla)
1 1/2 C Flour
1 3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 C Milk (or Almond Milk, or water if milk is not available)

1) Blend sugar and butter until fluffy.
2) Add eggs, vanilla, Sour Cream and half of the milk.
3) Add in dry ingredients, mix until combined.

Mixture will be thick. If it does not pour well, add another 1/4 C of water or milk.
Bake in a preheated oven of 350 F (I bake at 340 in my oven because it runs a little hot).
Original recipe quantities will make a 9x9 cake. Quadrupling the recipe made 4 x 6" cakes.
Bake for 30+ minutes (time will vary depending on your pan size).

Red Robin's "The People's Burger" Contest- I Need Your Help! :)

I've entered a contest with Red Robin for the "People's Burger". I created a Spicy Shrim Po Boy sandwich (think Forrest Gump when you say it out loud :) ), but I need your votes! I'm in the top 60, and I have until September 11, 2011 to beat out the competition! So please vote for me daily (all you have to do is click this link: http://www.thepeoplesburger.com/my/Spicy_Shrim_Po_Boy , and click "Vote")!  If you can pass this on to friends and family on FB and Twitter or wherever you want to on the Internet, I would be very appreciative!

Thanks so much and happy Cooking and Baking!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bits of Kibble- Cookies

I recently hosted a book club where we read the book Running with Scissors- a memoir written by author Augusten Burroughs.
In this witty and insane memoir Augusten reveals that his "family" likes to eat kibble- yes, puppy chow- as a snack because it is "tasty."  

I decided to make my own version of kibble for my book club guests to enjoy.  I made sugar cookies using my favorite sugar cookie recipe- and added a little bit of red, brown and orange food coloring, then made tiny balls of sugar cookie to make it look like kibble. Some of them have miniature chocolate chips inside to add a little bit of variety. These were a fun variety of sugar cookie and helped tie in some of this book's insanity to bring a bit of levity to our get-together :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sugar and Spice Baby Shower

 This baby shower was thrown for my younger sister by me, our mom, and our aunts in January, and I'm FINALLY getting around to blogging it.  The theme was "Sugar and Spice" and the colors were brown and pink.  It was such a fun shower!

 The dessert bar contained cupcakes from a local bakery, and various cookies baked by me in the "Sugar & Spice" theme: Orange Spice, Brown Sugar and Spice, Sugar Cookies, Chocolate Spice, Snickerdoodle.
 A better view of the super-cute cupcakes!
The diaper cake and a view of the paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling- not edible, but added a beautiful touch!
 The drink bar included the Sugar & Spice theme and the Brown and Pink: Pink and brown water bottles, sugar rimmed glasses for the strawberry lemonade, and Vanilla Chai Tea with cinnamon sticks.
Food included: Tomato Pesto Croissants, Turkey / Ham / Roast Beef Sandwiches, Chicken Salad, Potato Salad (traditional family recipe used), Green Salad with Romaine / Spiced Nuts / Cranberries and Raspberry Vinagrette, Spinach and Artichoke Dip, a Vegetable tray with various dips and Baked Brie covered in Honey and Spiced Pecans served with an assortment of crackers.

The first favor was a brown and pink box filled with Hershey's kisses.
 The second favor was a tealight candle with a poem written on it - to encourage the recipient to say a prayer in the baby's name when she was born.

The third favor was "Seegars"- chocolate cigars from Sees Candy.

We had a fondue table with homemade marshmallows, rice krispy treats, sponge cake and various fruits.

The Flavored milk bar with: Chocolate, Regular and Strawberry milks.
Onesie Sugar Cookies :)
 The Mommy-To-Be chair with an adorable banner found on Etsy.

 Mommy-to-Be's reaction when she first saw the house (standing right next to her Aunt- one of the hostesses)

Mommy-to-Be in her first "real" photo of the day.

Mommy-to-be with her(our) mom.

Mommy-to-Be with Me (Older Sister).

Onesie / Washcloth Cupcakes- used for various table decorations.

Paper lanterns everywhere!

More paper lanterns and a view of the Sugar & Spice sign.

Another Sugar and Spice Sign in Pink and Brown.
Such a fun event- the entire family chipped in, worked hard, and put on a fabulous event.  My niece was born on March 5, 2011- such an adorable baby- I love her to pieces.  Congrats to my lil' sis!!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Navy and Silver Wedding Cake

It was such a joy making this cake for a wonderful couple! Their colors were Navy Blue and Silver- they wanted their cake topped with gorgeous blue roses from Ecuador, and a two-heart topper.  This photo doesn't do the roses justice, but you get the idea!

The Happy Couple! Congratulations to you both!!

The bottom layer was dark chocolate WASC cake with chocolate filling and chocolate buttercream. The base of the layer was lined with navy blue ribbon, and the details were hand-piped royal icing dots accented with silver dragees.*

The middle layer was a white almond sour cream cake with a raspberry filling and vanilla buttercream. The base of the layer was lined with navy blue ribbon, and the details were hand-piped royal icing scrolling accented with silver dragees.

The top layer flavor was a repeat of the bottom layer, and the details included navy blue ribbon, hand-piped royal icing dots accented with silver dragees.

The chocolate buttercream I used was my take on the Wilton Buttercream recipe- it held up great in the 90+ degree heat!

Crusting Chocolate Buttercream:
Quantities used were to cover a 16" square cake and an 8" square cake- split recipe as needed.

2 1/2 C Vegetable Shortening
1 1/2 C (3 sticks) Butter
3 C Cocoa powder
4 teaspoons vanilla
16 C Confectioner Sugar
1/2 C Heavy Whipping Cream or Whole Milk
1/2 - 3/4 C Water (depending on the consistency you're trying to achieve)

1) In a stand mixer (you can use a hand mixer, but it can get difficult with large quantities) Blend the shortening and butter together.

2) Slowly add in the cocoa powder and vanilla.

3) Mix in the Confectioner (powdered) Sugar alternately with the whipping cream/milk and water until you achieve the desired consistency.

4) Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

*Dragees were used for decoration only.