Easy Toddler-Friendly Popsicles


Somewhere in this still-not-fully-unpacked-and-sorted kitchen are at least three popsicle contraptions. I have a regular little plain one, a set Peo got as a really cool goodie-bag gift from a birthday party that makes rocket pops, and a set that makes highly detailed (and thus hard to release) animal pops.

England suddenly woke up last week and remembered that it can, in fact, do summer, so I’ve had Robin the backyard and wanted to whiz up some simple popsicles for her. We’ve received free samples of two kinds of vanilla yogurt from our grocery ordering company (we still do not have a car), and we judge them too sweet for regular eating so I figured they’d be perfect blitzed with some blueberries with the stick blender. I’ve seen various recipes on doing that and they mostly add honey or other sweeteners, but honestly with sweet yogurt and good quality berries (I buy mine frozen and always have some in the freezer for blueberry French toast) you do not need to add extra sugar of any sort.

But when I decided to make them, do you think I could find any of the popsicle makers? NOPE. I rooted through so many half-unpacked boxes and found other things I have been searching for (like my black ribbon that I need to go around cake boards and some flower cutters), but I just could not find those popsicle makers.

So I pulled out some of my vast stash of silicone moulds and various kinds of sticks and winged it.

I thawed about a cup-ish of berries on the counter for a few hours and then threw in some of the vanilla yogurt. I whizzed them with the stick blender. Then I dribbled some layers of just the yogurt (I really wanted to use it up before it went off) and the mix into some moulds.

First I used this matryoshka mould with regular lollipop sticks:

pink matryoshka mould

popsicle 1

Vanilla yogurt on top, pureed vanilla yogurt with blueberries below.

I still had some mix and yogurt left so I used this ice-cocktail-stick-thing mould even though I couldn’t find the sticks that go with it. But I did find some other plastic sticks and used those instead:

green popsicle maker

I over-filled these just to use the stuff up, and they came out fine. Never heard a kid complain, “Oh noes, this popsicle is too big and poorly shaped on the back end, I could not possibly eat it.”

plastic sticks

I think I got these at HEB years ago. They’re washable so they’re better than the disposable sticks, but I wasn’t sure if they were okay to be chomped on. Robin did fine and I was supervising her, but I wouldn’t give these to little kids unsupervised since they’re not made for this.

I froze them overnight and let Robin have some the next day in the yard. I think she liked them…

robin eating popsicles

Well actually these are inside the kitchen because it’s a Rule of Toddlerism that the child begs all morning to be let outside and the moment they’re out there, all they want to do is get back in. They’re on the wrong side of every door.

robin eating popsicles

I call this “Joker Face” because I am an inappropriate parent.

robin at picnic table

Robin has a really hard life with Duplo and jam and bread and blueberry yogurt popsicles out in the sunny backyard.

At the end of each disposable stick I let Robin put it in the trash because she’s very good at picking up trash when we volunteer at Anglesey Abbey. Then I caught her sticking the stick into the trash and taking it back out and licking it. Repeatedly. Toddlers are so gross, srsly, I just can’t even.

But…popsicles. Yay for easy fruity popsicles made in whatever you have on hand. Yay for random silicone moulds. Yay for summer and sunny days!

Posted in Other Food | Leave a comment

Penny Powers Cookies


A few months ago I bought Mallory Mae’s Craftsy class called “Cookies that Pop!” and ever since I’ve wanted to decorate a batch with a detailed few focal cookies in her suggested style. I don’t get a lot of free time for involved projects like that with a toddler in the house, especially with the problem of royal icing separating overnight so you can’t just set it aside and pick it up the next day.

But I also happened to know that my friend Charles Dowd who writes girl-positive comics my older daughter loves was about to release a Kickstarter for his latest project, so I asked him if I could replicate some of his art on a cookie set and he was happy to allow me to do so.

And so over a ridiculous amount of time (such that they actually got fully stale during the decorating process) I made these:

penny powers cookie set

They’re not perfect but I think they’re pretty good for a first go with this style of decorating, especially given how long it took me to get them done, and hopefully this serves as a good inspiration to others that you don’t have to be competition-perfect to have fun and play with cookie design. The yellow gave me particular problems because of separation; if I’d been using proper fresh royal icing, these would have gone much better. I can’t wait for Robin to start preschool!

Anyway, I started out by printing off a sheet Dowd gave me of the two main characters – Penny Powers and Hypercat – plus her heart symbol. I eventually decided these were too big and printed a smaller version to make templates for cutting the actual cookies, but used the larger version to make colour notations. The Craftsy course included doing two-tone skin and other shading, so I really wanted to bring out that part of the Penny Powers art as well. That does mean making a lot of bags of icing, though!

test sheet

My plan sheet, including where I rubbed test bits of colour on the white paper to compare to the promo pics of the comic to determine which colours matched most closely.

Dowd will be releasing the sheet as a freebie on the Kickstarter so you can make cookies of your own as well, so be sure to stay tuned to the Kickstarter page. Remember that the best way to track updates is to be a backer!

For these or any other custom cookies, simply print at the desired size, cover both sides of the page with clear packing tape to make it grease-proof, and cut out the shapes with enough space at the edges so icing won’t spill off. Roll out your dough (I used my regular dark chocolate rolled cookie recipe), lay your template over top, and cut around it with a sharp knife.

I also screencapped one of his promo pics and printed out the Penny Powers logo to cut out a general shape for that cookie, plus some basic hearts, rounds in various sizes, a rectangle, and some random-pointy burst shapes all to serve as secondary cookies in the set.

After baking your cookies and letting them cool fully, cut out another version of the templates into pieces so you can use a black edible ink marker on a light cookie or a scribe/needle tool on a dark cookie to trace the main elements of the design as a guide. This is covered more thoroughly in Mallory Mae’s Craftsy class, which I highly recommend.

Then mix up the icing colours you need and fill the areas almost like a paint-by-number project.

Penny Powers focal cookie

Penny has eleven different colours on her: black, two shades of brown for her hair, two shades of flesh tone, two shades of purple for the mask, red for the shoulder parts of her cape, two shades of pink for her outfit, and white for her eyes and mouth.

I used the plastic wrap trick to make lots of small amounts in the various colours in a way that will let me wash and reuse many plastic icing bags. I do them as shown in the video although I tie the back end closed. I also used couplers so I could swap out my number 1 and 2 tips as needed, because while I do have multiple of each, I don’t have enough for all of these colours.

Hypercat cookie

Hypercat has eight colours, although originally I planned more and just gave up on a few for lack of time. He’s got a main gray plus a darker gray for shading (I originally planned a light gray for highlights), red for his cape (I originally planned a dark red for shading as well), black for outline and his eyes, two shades of purple for his mask, and yellow for his medallion.

The final tally of colours I actually used and the Americolor gels I used to make them is:

  1. White (just the plain icing, although Mae recommends adding white food gel if you’re going to colour large areas white)
  2. Black (Super Black)
  3. Light brown (Warm Brown with a tiny amount of Chocolate Brown)
  4. Dark brown (above Light brown with some more Chocolate Brown added)
  5. Light Purple (Fuchsia)
  6. Dark Purple (above Light purple with a tiny amount of Super Black added)
  7. Red (Super Red)
  8. Medium Gray (tiny amount of Super Black)
  9. Dark Gray (slightly more Super Black than the Medium Gray)
  10. Yellow (Electric Yellow)
  11. Light Pink (Deep Pink plus a bit of Dusty Rose)
  12. Dark Pink (above Light Pink with a bit more Dusty Rose added)
  13. Light Flesh (tiny amount of Ivory)
  14. Dark Flesh (slightly more Ivory than the Light Flesh)
logo cookies

The logo should have had a yellow border around the purple letters and the hearts, but the yellow was flooding poorly and I didn’t feel that I had enough control to do that level of detail.

Once I’d used what was needed for the main character cookies and the logos, I played around with what was left on other shapes I’d cut for the batch. There was no particular pattern for any of the rest; I just piped some designs and words pertaining to the Penny Powers comic. Dowd told me that her catch phrase is “Holy cats!”, I’d observed some KA-POWs in the promotional material, and I figured at least one should have Hypercat’s name. I did several with Penny’s initials in various styles just to play and learn with the icing.

round cookies

Rounds with various designs and wording, including Penny’s catch phrase.

ka pow cookies

I probably should have planned the letters better so the top one didn’t have to droop to the side, but I’ve also watched enough vintage Batman to know that the letters on these things don’t need to line up perfectly.

heart logo cookie

Penny’s heart logo, done with an outer edge of leftover dark pink, red on the inside, and lined in black. You technically don’t even need a template for these since you could use any heart cutter and just trim the sides straight.

other cookies

These were my less-than-stellar experiments. In the upper left I was trying to evoke the white eyes motif on the purple background, but it looked a little weird. Then I thought I’d try doing the eye band, but it looked weird by itself so I added a mouth. But the hair isn’t right so it looks more like a little buzz-cut version of Penny. Maybe it’s some little kid mimicking her outfit? The Hypercat cookie is okay but my piped lettering isn’t perfect.

So there you have it: even though I’m fairly experienced doing cakes, I’m actually pretty new to this type of cookie and my piping skills aren’t top notch, yet I could make up a fun batch of Penny Powers cookies. This means you can too! Remember to just play around and practice. If you’re daunted by all of the colours, don’t do the shading and stick to the basic colour palette Dowd will be putting out instead. Just cut up the template, transfer it to your cookies, and fill in with icing. And if it goes all wrong, eat that evidence and nobody has to know!

Happy cookie making, and here’s to hoping the Kickstarter is a huge success!

Disclaimer: I am a contributor to the Penny Powers Kickstarter and have received no compensation from Dowd for this post, although in the past he’s included my kids in his comics. I have never received any payment from him and in fact I regularly pay him for his books. I have also paid him to do the cover art for my latest novel “Finding Gaia“.

Posted in Cake Decorating, Cookies | 4 Comments

Flexible Chocolate – AKA Chocolate Gummy


I’ve posted a huge new page all about my latest award-winning cake decorating invention: Flexible Chocolate, or Chocolate Gummy. Go check it out and learn how to turn chocolate into lace, how to braid it, and even how to knit it!

flexible chocolate promo graphic

It’s chocolate. It’s flexible. What will YOU make with it?

Posted in Cake Decorating, Experimental Techniques, Flexible Chocolate, Gummy, My Recipes, Prize Winners, Severe Nerdery | 3 Comments

Quick Tip: IKEA Knives Protect Dishes


If you’ve got a cake or pie in servingware you don’t want scratched or marked by metal utensils – like the bottom of a non-stick springform pan or a pretty ceramic pie plate – use a sturdy plastic knife to cut your baked goods instead!

If you’re a parent there’s a good chance you’ll have a set of IKEA inexpensive but strong plastic cutlery around. The knives aren’t sharp, but they do have a small toothed edge and they’re strong enough to cut through cakes and pie shells.

Clean cuts, no marks on the pie plate.  Winning at chocolate pie!

Clean cuts, no marks on the pie plate. Winning at chocolate pie!

Posted in Quick Tip | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday To Me


I recently picked up one of Lakeland’s “anti gravity” cake kits by CakeFrame and decided to try to entire their November online contest to win £50 worth of store vouchers. I didn’t win the contest, but it was an excuse to make myself a birthday cake fit for a cake decorator.

piping bag cake

The piping bag is floating as if someone has just paused piping and left it in mid-air.

The piping bag was made out of rice cereal treats, shaped around the plastic stick of the kit with the angled piece sticking out.

rkt bag

Then I covered that with royal icing to smooth it out, let it dry, then covered the whole thing with fondant, shaped a tip, and hand-painted some gel colour to look like a piping bag logo on it. I’ve done this sort of thing before, just not standing upright.

I then made a dark chocolate cake and covered it with dark chocolate ganache and chocolate fondant. I added other fondant accents to look like piping. The cake was slightly too short for where the bend in the tub occurred, so I made some fondant flowers to hide the pipe.

piping bag detail

We took some photos to make it look like I was using the piping bag but then able to back away from it in mid-air.

holding bag

letting bag go

But the funniest photo was this badly overexposed one with my toddler totally photobombing in the background.

photobomb

peekaboo

Peekaboo.

Posted in Cake Decorating, Fancy cakes | 1 Comment

BB-8 All The Cake


I had intended to do a crazy, nerdy gingerbread thing for my husband’s work Christmas party, but I had a colossal failure. So instead I made a BB-8 cake. Which is fine, except I know it’s going to be a fairly common thing this Christmas and going forward. In fact I suspect cake decorators who are sick of Frozen cakes will suddenly find themselves inundated with requests for BB-8s. I hope everyone has sphere pans!

bb-8 cake

My toddler had never seen BB-8 before. To be fair, I made this cake the weekend before the new Star Wars movie even premiered. So she calls this “ball cake”, and now that BB-8 is appearing everywhere, she keeps pointing at the droid and shouting, “CAKE!” I may have warped her brain.

I didn’t take in-progess photos because I was too busy. If you want a great tutorial on how to make a BB-8 cake (albeit a much, much larger one), see Yolanda’s wonderful video here.

For mine, I used the Wilton Sports Ball Pan for the main cake and the Wilton Mini Ball Pan for the head. I used my recently acquired CakeFrame kit from Lakeland with just the straight piece to stabilize the main ball. The head is affixed with a skewer all the way through the head down into the plastic tube of the CakeFrame, plus three wooden skewers trimmed level to where the head rests on the body. The head has a small piece of foil-covered cardboard at its base, with the whole head then wrapped in fondant. I pre-poked a hole through that cardboard and foil so the skewer would go through easily.

The main coverings are fondant and the accents are modelling chocolate tinted orange or tinted grey and painted with silver food powder. I used the template linked from Yolanda’s site here, but I just printed it as-is and then cut the pieces using circle cutters and freehanding.

side detail 1

side detail 2

The bottom is cocoa powder held in by a fondant rope stuck to the board, and more cocoa powder was used to dust BB-8 all over since he’s a dusty sort of droid.

from above

The eyepiece is covered with piping gel to make it look shiny.

Oh and of course, as is becoming tradition in my house, I made this a certified Christmas cake by sticking a fondant holly leaf and three red sugar pearls on it.

head detail

The Christmas party folks were delighted and consumed poor BB-8 before he could roll away to safety.

PS I just realized I didn’t post the first cake I made with the CakeFrame stand here. Hang on and I’ll put that in a separate post

Posted in Cake Decorating, Fancy cakes, Severe Nerdery | 1 Comment

Guest Post: Gingerbread Candle Holders by Tunde Dugantsi


I recently saw a friend’s amazing gingerbread cookies on social media and asked if she had a tutorial on how to make them. She said she’d just learned the technique at a class by Tunde Dugantsi, whom I noticed had a video on YouTube demonstrating a similar cookie. Tunde has graciously provided Eat the Evidence readers with a unique tutorial on how to make candle holders using her gorgeous gingerbread decorating skills. This is a fabulous holiday project because you can make a batch of dough for some cookies for eating and others to act as table decorations. You can also adapt the instructions to put edible fillings in the cookies instead of candles if you like.

I’ve added Tunde’s Gingerbread Christmas Wonderland and Gingerbread Academy: Techniques of Hungarian Gingerbread on Amazon UK to my wishlist for Christmas. You can also get them at Amazon.com or via her website here. Her piped cookies are so beautiful and I want to learn more techniques on how to make them. I’m betting a lot of my readers would like that as well, so add her books to your wish list and gift list and let’s get started with Tunde’s generous guest post!


gingerbread candle holders

I am a Hungarian gingerbread artist living in the United States. Gingerbread is a living tradition in Hungary and many other European countries. These cookies taste wonderful for months, then dry out and can keep forever as a decoration. They are really attractive, but still easy to make. This is a great family project around the holidays. Let me show you how to make these candle holders.

First let’s prepare the cookies.

preparing the cookies

I use my yummy gingerbread recipe at http://www.thegingerbreadartist.com/2014/08/yummy-gingerbread-recipe.html. The dough has to be made the night before you want to bake them. Roll the dough quite thin, between 1/8 and ¼ inch thickness.

Cut out six bigger snowflakes (but you can do stars, or circles or any other shape that is big enough to put a candle in the middle).

Bake the 6 cookies. 3 of them will serve as the base of the candle holder. The other 3 need a hole in the middle. Cut out this hole with a circle cutter that has similar diameter to the candle (slightly bigger cutter is fine). While the cookies are still warm and soft, turn them up side down and cut the hole in the middle. If the top is on the surface when you cut, the edge will stay nice and sharp.

Then let the cookies cool completely.

For the decoration, you will need a simple royal icing, which is really easy to make. See my recipe at http://www.thegingerbreadartist.com/2014/08/royal-icing.html. The magic of the symmetric shapes is that you can draw the most simple design, repeat it a couple of times and the whole picture will look amazing. This is the reason I love snowflakes. Let’s see these three designs:

first design

The first design is a very simple snowflake. You repeat the same thing on each tip of the snowflake. Start with a straight line, then draw branches to both sides. Only a few simple lines.

Then add a few dots wherever you see a little gap in the design.

Finally, outline the snowflake. The top part is ready.

For the bottom part, there is not much decorating to do, as only the tips of the snowflake will be visible after assembly. So draw the straight line, and one line on both sides, repeat on each tip, then outline the bottom cookie.

Let the cookies dry.

design 2

The second design might need a little practice, but the lines don’t have to look perfect for a nice finished product. Start with two curly curves starting from the middle. Then add three touching tear drops that form a fleur de lis. Add three little dots to the pattern, and repeat the whole thing six times.

For the bottom cookie, just the tear drop fleur the lis is enough.

design 3

The third design is using the same basic shapes: start with a curly curve, then add 3 curved tear drops inside and one longer one to the outside of the curve. Finish it up with a few dots. Repeat this pattern six times. For the bottom part I just do three tear drops for each tip.

When all the cookies are dry, you can start the assembly.

cookie assembly

Use the icing to gue the parts together. Turn the top cookie upside down, add a thick circle of icing then place it on top of the bottom cookie.

Place the candle into the hole.

Fill the gap between the candle and the cookie with icing dots. It will look like a bead border and hide all imperfections.

You can also use colored candles to match your other decorations:

red candles

I hope you enjoyed this project. If you would like some more, check out my book Gingerbread Christmas Wonderland to learn 33 Christmas projects.

Christmas Gingerbread book cover

Or Gingerbread Academy to learn more about the secrets of Hungarian gingerbread.
(http://www.tundescreations.com/books.html)

Gingerbread Academy book cover


Thank you Tunde for your beautiful creations and your generosity in sharing them!

Anyone who wants to take a class with Tunde in person should check out her list of upcoming classes here or use that form to request a class in your area.

Posted in Cake Decorating, Cookies, Guest Posts, Links, Other People's How-Tos, Other People's Recipes | Leave a comment

Book Review: Wild Eats


Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book for review. I was upfront that I only do honest reviews. All opinions stated here are mine and I have not been paid or compensated other than the free copy of the book.

Wild Eats and Adorable Treats cover

The short version of this review is that my ten year old daughter absolutely loves Wild Eats and Adorable Treats and I think it’d be a fun addition to any family’s cookbook library.

The book is by blogger Jill Mills of Kitchen Fun With My Three Sons. Mills says in the introduction that one of the boys being a fussy eater inspired her to start making food more fun and engaging by creating faces, animals, and getting her son to participate. Indeed, a common tactic to inspire a fussy eater is to get them involved with the preparing of the food; not only does it allow them to see what goes in – and possibly have a say against elements they don’t like – but the very act of preparing food gives one a mental relationship with the food, which can often be enough to get a fussy eater to try something new.

I know, because I am a lifelong fussy eater, and much happier to eat something I’ve made myself so I know nobody’s put in something I can’t/won’t eat!

The day the book arrived, Peo grabbed it and ran off to the living room to read it while I was still packing up our Austin house for the move to the UK. I told her we’d be making a few things out of the book before we left, but that since I was limited on what ingredients I could buy – as in, I wasn’t going to buy a whole jar of a particular condiment if we were going to end up abandoning it three weeks later – she had to be flexible in which recipes she tried and what ingredients we used.

Luckily for me, Peo’s never been a particularly fussy eater. She has preferences but it’s never been too hard to cater to them. And two-year-old Robin eats cardboard, dirt, tissues, snails, and pretty much anything.

Anyway.

Peo gleefully read through the book, calling out various recipes with excitement and begging to try pretty much all of them in one way or another. We settled on three, which I’ll review below.

Whether you have a fussy eater you want to inspire (or just even feed) or you are looking for fun ways to get the kids involved in some basic cooking, there’s a lot in Wild Eats for all sorts of families. Mills suggests alternatives for some ingredients, but there’s also nothing stopping anyone from using each recipe as a suggestion and then completely reworking it to suit their family’s needs and tastes. It’s clear that Mills wants to inspire precisely that sort of creative freedom for everyone involved, and I like her empowering approach.

A lot of kids’ cookbooks emphasize “healthy” ingredients that are either not particularly healthy (ie brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added back in, but too many moms mistake brown sugar as being less processed and thus think it’s “healthy” when it’s actually considerably higher in calories than white sugar) or are, frankly, kind of gross and not what kids want to eat (ie tofu, which is pretty much just proof of evil in the world as far as I’m concerned).

While Mills does nod towards healthy possibilities for some of the recipes, she states from the outset that her goal here is to inspire kitchen fun, not enforce dietary rules. I find that very refreshing! Instead of healthwashing or pretending that everything she feeds her kids is 100% nutritious, Mills includes a lot of healthy ingredients alongside the fun, tasty, not-so-healthy stuff. If you can get your kid to try a healthy bit because they made an animal design with it using something else they already love, YOU WIN.

Here are the three things Peo and I made:

The first recipe we tried was for Panda Pita Pizza in the Lunch section, which in the book looks like this:

Panda Pita Pizza from Wild Eats

Panda Pita Pizza from Wild Eats and Adorable Treats, reprinted with permission from Skyhorse Publishing.

The recipe as written in the book is as follows (bolded comments in square parentheses are mine):

Panda Pita Pizzas

Ingredients

  • 2 pitas
  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 10 turkey pepperoni slices
  • 1 slice of provolone cheese
  • 1 black olive

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F [180°C]. Place the pitas on a baking sheet. Spread 1/2 cup of pizza sauce on each pita. Place two pepperoni slices on the top sides for ears. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese on each pita, covering the edge of the pepperoni that is touching the sauce.
  2. Place two pepperoni slices on top of the shredded cheese for the eyes. Using kitchen scissors, cut out another pepperoni slice into a nose and mouth. Place the pitas in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted.
  3. Cut out two small circles from the slice of provolone cheese and place them on top of the pepperoni eyes. Using a knife, cut out two very small dots from the black olive and place them on the cheese eyes to look like pupils. Place the pitas on a plate and serve.

We changed almost all of the ingredients for this one! I meant to buy whole wheat pitas at Trader Joe’s but accidentally grabbed whole wheat tortillas instead. Whoops. The only package of pepperoni we could find was huge and we wouldn’t get through it before we had to leave the US, so I suggested she could cut slices of ham into whatever shapes she wanted and she liked that idea. She doesn’t like olives so we skipped that part and we didn’t have any provolone so we just went with mozzarella.

Peo cutting ham

Peo cutting face shapes out of the ham using kitchen scissors.

adding cheese

Adding cheese to the pizzas.

Fairly early on she decided she didn’t want to do panda faces, so I told her to go ahead and make whatever faces she wanted. She had a whole backstory for each of these characters. I don’t remember what it is, since again, I was packing an entire household at the same time as getting her to cook this lunch. Plus there was a lot of shrieking from Robin.

pizza faces

Peo’s pizza characters before baking. Very anime-looking.

She was super-excited when they came out of the oven and had to be reminded to wait a moment!

Peo and pizza

Peo pointing out the facial features on her pizza.

pizza face

A pizza face, after cooking.

Then I let her cut them with the wheel herself, which she seemed to think was a great treat.

cutting the pizza

She approached the cutting with a slightly disturbing amount of glee.

Peo declared her pizza faces to be very tasty. On another day we made more, one of which she shaped into a sort of puppy, and one of which was just random.

I asked Peo to type me up a little review of the recipe. She said, “The panda pita pizza was very good but we used tortillas instead of pitas and ham instead of pepperoni. It was still delicious but if we had used the correct ingredients it probably would have been better. I give it a 5 out of 5!”

The next recipe we tried was the one she was most keen on when she first read the book, the Penguin Fruit Snacks, which look like this in the book:

penguin fruit

Penguin Fruit Snacks from Wild Eats and Adorable Treats, reprinted with permission from Skyhorse Publishing.

Penguin Fruit Snacks

Ingredients

  • large black grapes
  • toothpicks
  • 1/2 8 ounce package of cream cheese (softened)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 7.5 ounce container Marshmallow Fluff
  • 1 cup whipped topping
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • blue or black sprinkles
  • mandarin oranges

Directions

  1. Place 2 black grapes on a toothpick and stand them up on a plate. If the grapes are not standing up, you can cut off a thin slice from the bottom to prevent them from rolling.
  2. Combine the softened cream cheese, sugar, Marshmallow Fluff, whipped topping, and vanilla in a small bowl. Mix well using an electric mixer. Spoon the fruit dip on the top grape for the eyes and add the blue sprinkles for the pupils. Squeeze more dip on the front of the bottom grape for the belly. Smooth out the dip with a knife.
  3. Cut the mandarin orange slices in half and place two on the bottom for feet. Cut the tips off the mandarin orange slices and press the tips on the face under the eyes for the beak. Cut thin slices from the grapes to make wings. You can attach the wings and orange beak with a little bit of the dip using a toothpick.

For this one, I wasn’t keen on Marshmallow Fluff being in the house at all and certainly wasn’t going to buy any just before we left the country. I also wasn’t keen on adding sugar to a “fruit dip”. I asked Peo if she’d like to try it with just the cream cheese and she said she preferred that as well. I’d already packed all of my sprinkles already so we also did without those.

Peo assembling penguins

Peo assembling her penguins.

spreading cream cheese

Spreading the cream cheese on the bellies.

penguin made from grapes

Peo’s result. She couldn’t make her penguins stand up and stay intact but said she was okay with that.

Despite some frustrations with toothpicks, Peo had a good time making the penguins and is keen to do it again soon.

Peo tasting penguins

Also, she declared that cream cheese on grapes is delicious.

Peo’s exact words when eating the penguin were, “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO GOOD.”

Her typed review is below:

“The penguin fruit snacks are VERY yummy but HARD to make because it turned out that we didn’t have the right length of toothpick and it ripped the grapes so I used cream cheese to aid a half toothpick in holding it together. It worked, on the whole, pretty well and was also EXTREMELY DELISH. We used cream cheese instead of the mixture of things but it was still great. I give it a 4.5 out of 5!”

Lastly we gave one of the breakfast projects a go: the Birdy Breakfast. It looks like this in the book:

birdy breakfast

Birdy Breakfast from Wild Eats and Adorable Treats, reprinted with permission from Skyhorse Publishing.

Birdy Breakfast

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon white sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • frozen hash browns
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 1 slice of cheddar cheese
  • 1 raisin
  • green grapes

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Create a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg, and butter. [I assume there’s a sentence missing here about mixing the ingredients together, but obviously you have to do that.]
  2. Lightly spray a large pan with cooking spray. Pour the pancake batter in the pan over low heat in the shape of a tree with one large branch. Lightly brown on both sides and place the pancake on a plate.
  3. Scoop out a handful of frozen has browns and fry them in a pan according to the package directions. Place the cooked hash browns on top of the branch to look like a nest. Cut the hard-boiled egg in half and place the 2 halves on top of the hash browns. Cut out little wings, hair, and a beak from the slice of cheddar cheese and place them on top of the eggs.
  4. Cut pieces of a raisin to make the eyes. Cut green grapes in half using kitchen scissors. Place the grape halves on the end of the branch to look like leaves.

Our major change to this was to use a boxed pancake recipe, because while most of the time our pancakes are my own super-healthy recipe, while we were in the US we were pigging out on Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancakes. Also, for ease I just made a big round pancake and had Peo cut it to shape the branch piece.

We also used more of the black grapes we already had on hand for the penguins above. Here’s Peo’s result:

birdies on branch

A pretty easy and fun breakfast if you’ve already got hard-boiled eggs in the fridge.

She really enjoyed making it and said she loved eating it too.

Peo eating

Nom nom nom.

Her evaluation:

“It was very good but took awhile. I would’ve had more room for it if I didn’t eat one of the hard boiled eggs as the pancake was cooking. I still give it 5 out of 5.”

In conclusion, Wild Eats and Adorable Treats is a great resource for parents who want to engage kids in the kitchen. It’s fun, flexible, empowering, and engaging. Don’t get it as a cookbook for your shelf, get it for your kids to actually sit down and read as little foodie inspiration. There are even bonus animal fact pages sure to keep your kids delighted as they read through. It’s the kind of book you can hand them and pretend it’s a gift for them, when really if it helps them eat more variety, it’s a sneaky gift for yourself.

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Book Review: Grandbaby Cakes


Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book for review. I was upfront that I only do honest reviews. All opinions stated here are mine and I have not been paid or compensated other than the free copy of the book.

Grandbaby-Cakes-Cover-768x1024

The short version of this review is that Grandbaby Cakes is a really interesting book full of cake recipes, many of which are modernized versions of classic Southern US recipes. The two I tested were very tasty and on that basis alone I do recommend the book. However, I did find some editing issues that should give beginner bakers caution when proceeding with the instructions.

The book by blogger Jocelyn Delk Adams of Grandbaby-Cakes.com is rich with recipes and delightful family stories drawn largely from the author’s grandmother, referred to lovingly throughout the book as Big Mama. Big Mama’s cakes were the highlight of family gatherings and Adams has filled the book with her memories of learning baking arts first-hand from such a master.

Adams gives a solid introduction to baking techniques, including thorough explanations of her preferences as well as giving readers latitude for their own preferences where applicable. She then takes readers on a journey through pound cakes, layer cakes, sheet cakes, baby cakes (aka cupcakes), celebration cakes, and finally seasonal/holiday cakes, all adorned with photos from her childhood.

There’s an atmosphere of being invited over to family gatherings to peruse photo albums, listen to beloved stories, and eat fabulous food. When you read Grandbaby Cakes, you feel warmly welcomed into a delicious world of homey delights.

My older daughter Peo wanted me to test the recipe for the S’more Lava Cakes and I probably should have while we were still in the US, since it looks like graham crackers will be impossible to find here in the UK. But I wanted to try the Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake and the Cornmeal Pound Cake, so those are the recipes I will specifically review. I’ve promised Peo we’ll make some version of the S’more Lava Cakes someday soon, possibly substituting digestives for the graham crackers.

While we were still in the US, I had access to our big Kitchenaid stand mixer, my bundt pan, and all of the ingredients as listed for the Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake recipe, so I made that first while also packing up the house to move to the UK. In fact, this cake was the last thing we used the Kitchenaid for before selling it to a friend, since we couldn’t bring it with us to the UK (the electrical plugs are different here and not all electronics can be easily, safely adapted).

The recipe is also available on Adams’ blog here, but there are some ingredient and instruction differences. In particular, the blog version calls for 3 teaspoons of baking powder while the book version calls for 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda – a significant chemistry difference. There’s also a lot less butter in the cinnamon swirl element in the book version.

I’m reprinting the recipe below in its entirety as written in the book, as given permission by Agate Publishing as part of the review process. Bolded elements in square brackets are my additional notes, sometimes for international readership with varying measurements, other times to point out elements I believe needed better explanation.


Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake

From Grandbaby Cakes, reprinted with permission.

Ingredients

Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature [341 g]
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour [This means you sift the flour into a bowl and then measure 3 cups of it, versus if Adams had written “3 cups cake flour, sifted” which would mean to measure 3 cups and then sift. But this is very confusing to new bakers, and Adams’ discussion of sifting under her “Baking Rules” doesn’t specify. She says she often skips sifting, but 3 cups sifted versus 3 cups not sifted can be a significant difference in total flour amount. I suspect she actually means “3 cups cake flour, sifted” because then the sifting is adding air but not changing the total flour amount. When I prepared the recipe, I sifted flour and measured out 3 cups of that. It worked, but this should be clarified in the book.]
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Cinnamon Swirl

  • 1/3 cup (5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) unsalted butter, melted [76 g]
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Icing

  • 2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature [28 g]
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk (can be whole, 2%, or even refrigerated coconut)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For The Cake

Preheat your oven to 325°F [162°C]. Liberally prepare a 12-cup Bundt pan with the nonstick method of your choice.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on high speed. Slowly add the granulated sugar. Cream together for an additional 5 minutes, until very pale yellow and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, combining well after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Turn your mixer down to its lowest speed and slowly add the flour in 2 batches. Add the salt and baking soda. Be careful not to overbeat. Add the sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix the batter until just combined. Be careful not to overmix. Set the batter aside.

For The Cinnamon Swirl

In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients until well combined. Set aside.

To Bake

Pour 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan.

Drizzle 1/2 of the cinnamon swirl over the batter. Using a butter knife or skewer, swivel the mixture thorough the cake batter, creating a flourish pattern.

Repeat with the rest of the cake batter and cinnamon swirl. Top with the remaining batter. [This uses the remaining batter twice. I believe Adams meant to say use another third of the batter, then the rest of the cinnamon swirl, then top with the remaining third of the batter. This is why I advocate that newbie bakers thoroughly read recipes first, or else they might pour in the rest of the batter and end up with cinnamon swirl on the surface, not mixed into the interior of the cake.] Bake for 75 to 85 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out mostly clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Let cool to room temperature. Lightly cover the cake with foil or plastic wrap so it does not dry out.

For The Icing

Clean your stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment. Beat the cream cheese and butter for 2 minutes on medium-high speed.

Reduce your mixer speed and carefully add the confectioners’ sugar in 2 batches, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, turn your mixer back up to medium-high speed. Add the milk and vanilla extract and beat until the icing is smooth and pourable. [Mine never went perfectly smooth, but looking at the photo in the book, neither did Adams’.]

Drizzle the icing over the cooled pound cake. Serve at room temperature. [And here is a serious omission: this recipe should end with storage instructions that include refrigeration. Icing made from cream cheese and milk should not sit out for more than four hours. While you’ll find a lot of bakers being very casual about this, in terms of regulatory bodies anyone with any kind of food licensing is required to refrigerate a cream cheese frosting. There are multiple national, state, and local regulations pertaining to this. This is why the Austin cake show’s tasting category prohibits such ingredients, because we can’t provide refrigeration and we’d fail an on-site health inspection if we allowed cream cheese frostings to sit out for more than four hours. For the safety of anyone eating your cake – particularly at-risk populations such as small children or the elderly – you should refrigerate leftovers. You can bring the cake back out to warm up before serving again. The book should at least make mention of this.]


I used regular non-stick spray with a flour coating in my non-stick pan, but wherever the cinnamon swirl baked through, it stuck a bit:

top of cake stuck in pan

The top was very sticky to the touch as well, so it’s no wonder it stuck to the pan. It wasn’t baked on so much as wet-glooped on.

I was able to peel the top out and loosely put it back on the cake, and then pour the glaze so that it helped anchor the top down.

finished cake

The glaze came out a bit lumpy despite lots of mixing, but it tasted good anyway.

Overall despite some typos in the recipe, this cake was delicious. Everyone in our household loved it. The texture is very fine and it has a good flavour without being overly sweet. I will definitely make this recipe again.

The second recipe I chose to review was the Cornmeal Pound Cake, which I decided would be a good fit for when we first got back to Cambridge because even though the recipe called for using an electric mixer – something I still don’t have in Cambridge but hope to acquire in the next few weeks! – I was reasonably certain I could hand-beat the recipe well enough based on the ingredients. Further, we have a 10-inch cast iron skillet in Cambridge whereas the one in Austin (currently on the shipping container) is a 12-inch.

I also had found cornmeal in the UK already, and noted that it’s often sold as “polenta”. It comes in different coarseness levels and the stuff I had on hand was fairly fine, so I thought it’d be a good test of the recipe to see if it’s flexible enough to handle various types since no doubt the regular cornmeal called for would be more coarse.

I didn’t feel like buying a large container of buttermilk just to use 1/3 cup, so I substituted about 1/3 of a tablespoon of vinegar mixed into 1/3 cup of whole milk instead. This is a standard substitution for buttermilk, and works with lemon juice instead of vinegar as well.

Knowing that I was tampering with the recipe and thus ensuring to evaluate it fairly on that basis, I proceeded. Again, the book version of the recipe differs from the blog version, especially in terms of leavening. The book version also has a honey-butter glaze, which I made as directed.

As above, my notes appear bolded and in square parentheses.


Cornmeal Pound Cake with Honey-Butter Glaze

From Grandbaby Cakes, reprinted with permission.

Ingredients

Cake

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks [170 g]) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour [as above, this means you should sift the flour first and then measure one cup of it, although in this case I didn’t have a sifter so I just measured one cup, meaning I inevitably had more flour in the recipe than if I sifted]
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Honey-Butter Glaze

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter [28 g], melted
  • 2 tablespoons honey

For the Cake

Preheat your oven to 350°F [177°C]. Liberally prepare a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or round pan with the nonstick method of your choice.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 2 minutes on high speed. Slowly add the sugar. Cream together for an additional 5 minutes, until very pale yellow and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, combining well after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Turn your mixer down to its lowest speed and slowly add the flour and cornmeal in 2 batches. [I assume this meant to mix the flour and cornmeal together and then add half of that, mix, and then add the other half and mix again. But it might mean that I was supposed to add the flour first and then the cornmeal, mixing in between. I’m not sure if there’s an end result difference or not anyway, but it wasn’t fully clear. The blog version is vague as well about whether you should be pre-mixing your dry ingredients, which is a fairly standard thing to do, but it doesn’t make mention of two batches.] Add the salt. Be careful not to overbeat. Pour in the buttermilk and vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mxi the batter until just combined. Be careful not to overmix. [Given that she’s warned against overmixing twice, it’d make more sense to have the dry ingredients pre-mixed.]

Pour the batter into the prepared skillet or pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Set aside to slightly cool. Lightly cover the cake with foil or plastic wrap so it does not dry out.

For The Honey-Butter Glaze

Whisk the butter and honey together until well blended. Serve the cake with the glaze spooned over each portion.


Unsurprisingly, the cake looks like cornbread when it comes out of the oven, especially being in the cast-iron pan:

cornbread cake in pan

Very nice browning all over for an impressive-looking cake.

This time the non-stick method of my choice was Goop, because Goop is awesome. This was a sticky batter and look how gorgeously and perfectly it popped out of the cast iron pan:

underside of cake

That’s a variance in browning on the bottom…it didn’t stick to the pan AT ALL. My husband and I were incredibly impressed that I could just flop a cake out of the cast iron like that. Goop rules!

I made this in the late afternoon and then served it for dessert after dinner, and everyone in the family really liked it.

cake with glaze

A slice of the cornbread pound cake with the honey-butter glaze on top.

My husband and I agreed that it didn’t have as fine a crumb as the cinnamon roll pound cake, and we further agreed that if I made this again with a mixer and a sifter, it probably would. But even without those things, it was quite nice. The finer corn meal does not seem to have made it dry, but I’m going to try to get some coarser polenta for the next time I try it to see what it’s like that way as well.

It’s a really nice dessert version of cornbread. My toddler is currently obsessed with cornbread and cake, so when we gave her some and told her it was both, she made baby-woot type noises, and then shoved it in her face.

It would make a fantastic dessert after a barbecue.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a really charming, homey, friendly cake recipe book full of interesting Southern-inspired recipes, Grandbaby Cakes is a good buy. Even though it comes from a blog, the recipes have been altered for the book so you can’t just get them all for free on the blog. Inexperienced bakers should be cautious as some instructions are not written as clearly as they could be, but with some common sense, Googling, and careful checking as you go, you should be fine.

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Goop Part 2 – The Shortening Strikes Back


When I shared my excitement about realizing just how well Goop (equal parts by volume of flour, vegetable oil, and shortening mixed together) works to release baked goods from pans in the previous post, some friends on social media were understandably dubious about my claims that it worked better than more traditional grease-and-flour methods.

So to be thorough for my own benefit as well as theirs, yours, and SCIENCE, I decided to rotate my owl do some experimentation using my breakfast muffins which had been previously sticking quite badly to my pan.

In the photo below, from left to right, I did the following more standard methodologies of grease-and-flour: vegetable (sunflower) oil spray plus flour dusted on (the UK does not appear to have flour-in-the-spray available for purchase), shortening wiped generously and then floured, and butter wiped generously and floured.

preparing muffin tin

L-R: vegetable oil and flour, shortening and flour, butter and flour.

I then coated all other cups with Goop. The batch I made for the previous post using a 1/2 cup each of flour, shortening, and oil still has tons left.

I baked my muffins as usual, and here were the results:

used pan

The Goop-lined cups are on the top row, the oil, shortening, and butter are on the bottom.

The cups using Goop released their muffins with barely a nudge. Crumbs left behind fell off but are not stuck on.

The vegetable oil spray plus flour was terrible, which I expected since it’s what I’d been doing before I found the Goop. The muffin stuck, had to be carefully chiseled out with a plastic knife, and tore at the bottom as it came out.

The shortening plus flour worked very well, though, pretty much just like the Goop. So if you don’t want to make Goop, use shortening plus a flour dusting.

The butter plus flour was better than the vegetable oil spray but not as good as the shortening or the Goop. The muffin did come out with little left behind, but it took a lot of gentle cajoling with the plastic knife, and it did almost tear in the bottom middle. You can see that it left a thin film stuck there.

So the results are that Goop works better than vegetable oil and flour by a lot, beats butter and flour by a bit, but is tied with shortening and flour.

Use this data as you will. I like Goop because it’s fast and easy once you have a batch in the fridge, saving me precious time to write the next blog post…

Update: Check out Mat Brown’s test of Goop! And friends on G+ keep reporting other successes. Haven’t heard anybody not love it yet!

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