Product Review: Russian Piping Tips


A big trend going around cake decorator circles for the last six months or so has been “Russian piping tips”, which are large, multi-holed icing tips that are supposed to instantly give you all kinds of floral effects. And I do mean large: these will not fit on a standard coupler!

I decided I wanted to have a play, so I searched various websites and decided on some food-grade plastic ones I found on ebay (that’s a direct link to where I bought them, which may change in the future so search for plastic Russian piping tips, and no that is not an affiliate link or anything, I am not getting paid or compensated in any way for this review). I figured since I’m generally bad about getting around to cleaning up after rushing a cake out the door and am prone to leaving bags and tips waiting to be washed – which can leave metal tips rusty – the availability of a plastic version was a good choice to try. Being able to get 14 varieties for only £8.99 from within the UK was a great deal.

This evening I’m going to my WI craft club meeting (I am so like totes British now, all y’all) so since I had spare buttercream from a major cake I’m working on for this coming weekend, I decided to whip up an extra version of my favourite chocolate cake recipe in my 10″ pan so I could have a go with the new tips. I knew my WI friends would just be happy someone brought cake to eat, which means I could freely play with the tips for the first time without having to worry about perfection for a judge or customer.

(By which I mean my friends have made it abundantly clear they are willing to help me dispose of experimental cakes!)

My verdict is that these tips are tons of fun but do take some practice, and if like me you have hot hands that soften buttercream, you should probably pop your bag in the fridge every once in awhile. I didn’t, and you’ll see below what happened as a result.

I started with the unlevelled chocolate cake exactly as it came out of the pan, put upside down so the flatter side was showing (part of why I love this recipe is the cakes come out fairly level anyway). I cooled it for a few hours, and then got to work.

I baked the cake on a parchment circle for that nice flat bottom, but didn't level the other side at all.  I didn't cut and fill it because I knew I'd be piling buttercream thick on top and really, the point here was to have a canvas for play more than a perfect cake.

I baked the cake on a parchment circle for that nice flat bottom, but didn’t level the other side at all. I didn’t cut and fill it because I knew I’d be piling buttercream thick on top and really, the point here was to have a canvas for play more than a perfect cake.

I mixed some of the icing with Americolor Regal Purple and spread that on as a base, and then prepped three bags of multicoloured icing. I haven’t done a lot with mixed buttercream colours in one bag before, so part of this play was messing around with the colours to see what happened. The left one below has yellow (Americolor Electric Yellow) wiped around the inner lining of the bag with pink (Americolor Electric Pink) dolloped in the middle. The middle one has pink around the bag with plain, uncoloured buttercream in the middle. The right bag has blue (Americolor Royal Blue) around the outside and also plain in the middle.

piping bags ready to go

The tip patterns don’t have names, but the middle one makes rosettes and the outer ones make flowers with spiky interiors. I should name them, but knowing me the names would have to be silly ones…let’s save that for another post when I’ve tried all 14.

I also reserved some to mix as green at the end (Americolor Forest Green) to do as leaves using a standard Wilton #70 tip (which is also when I discovered that piping leaves with points is a lot harder than it looks, because I’m not sure any of mine came out with points…and again, I bet you none of the ladies at my craft group tonight will mind!).

Here was my overall result:

floral cake

A fairly garish cake but a good sampling of where the tips worked and where they didn’t. Click for a larger version.

Definitely not my usual style of cake (needs more blood), but it was fun to play and I bet everyone tonight will dig in.

So let’s get to how the tips performed:

I started with the pink and white one, which makes rosettes. My first few came out mixed, but I think I didn’t put enough white in the bag because after those they were all pink. I learned fast that it’s not 100% easy to get all of the petals – especially the interior ones – to stick to the cake, so sometimes I had to go back and re-pipe to make interior petals at all. Other times I left them a bit under done in the middle.

piped flowers

My first rosettes with good colour blending, and you can see some of the better yellow-pink ones there as well.

piped pink roses

Later rosettes came out single coloured.

Next I did a circle of the yellow and pink ones, and the dotted interiors were particularly hard to make stick on the cake. You have to really push down on that first squeeze, but if the icing is getting hot in your hand it’s easy to squoosh it out too far too fast. I got nice colour variation on these at least, and was really happy when I saw some of the outer petals come out two-toned. I just wish they’d held their shape better but again, I’ve learned to chill my buttercream more next time.

pink and yellow piped flowers

Two-toned outer petals are fun. Although you can really see in this picture how terrible I am at piping leaves! Evidence must be eaten soon!

Then I had a go with the blue bag around the side of the cake, which was definitely harder because of the angle. I think these tips work better downward. My first few flowers came out pretty nicely:

blue and white flowers

The blue exterior and white interior is really nice.

But by the time I got around the cake, the icing was way too soft and all I was getting was mushy lumps:

mushy flowers

No really, these are flowers…post-lawnmower. Yes.

With the leftover pink and yellow-pink buttercream, I tried some larger flowers in the middle. The yellow ones went all mushy, but one of the pink ones came out as a reasonably good fat rose, especially for the mere seconds it took to pipe it:

fat piped rose

I did this as an afterthought in seconds. Imagine if you used these tips with actual skill and forethought!

My overall review is that Russian piping tips make fancy flowers really fast. It took longer to colour the icing and fill the bags than it did to do the whole cake. These would be a fun way to use up all kinds of extra colours of buttercream after other cake projects, especially on cupcakes. Blort blort blort and you’re done.

And that’s just three of the tips…I haven’t even tried the other 11 yet!

I’d say if you are keen to play around with buttercream flowers in a fun, casual way, get yourself some of these tips, especially if you can find a good deal. Be aware that they take some practice and don’t expect perfection right away, but in terms of plopping together a super-fast floral cake for friends or a tea party, they’re just about perfect.

I can’t wait to play with the others. I wonder if I can talk my WI friends into having some kind of fundraiser where I’ll bring bags of icing with each tip ready to go and someone else brings some cakes and club members can pay a few pounds to come in and play with flowers and then eat cake…

Posted in Buttercream Techniques, Cake Decorating, Fancy cakes, Products | 6 Comments

Review: The Chew Cookbook


I was asked recently to review a new cookbook based on a US television show called “The Chew”, a cooking/talk show featuring Mario Batali, Carla Hall, Clinton Kelly, Daphne Oz, and Michael Symon. I warned the PR representative that I live in the UK now and have never seen the show, but that I’d be happy to review the cookbook on its own merits. He sent me a copy (disclaimer: for free) and I went through it with my family to pick some recipes we’d all like to try.

The first recipe I tried was the Chicken Potpie with Cheddar-Chive Biscuits, and unfortunately it immediately demonstrated some problems with the book. While I was preparing my grocery list using the ingredients list on the recipe, I became confused because I saw this:

broken ingredient list

I thought to myself, “I’m not sure how these are ‘cheddar-chive’ biscuits without any cheddar or chives in them.” So then I started looking at the instructions, which made reference in the second step to yogurt and milk:

full page of bad layout

Only then did I notice that under the large photo on the next page was the continuation of the ingredients list:

bad layout

I handed the book to my husband and asked, “What do you think of these ingredients for the cheddar-chive biscuits?” He looked at the list in the bottom corner, frowned, looked around the page some more, and then just like me finally realized the continuation is on the next page. He said, “That’s not good layout.”

I replied, “No, it’s not.”

I thought at first it must be an error, but this broken-ingredient-list layout occurs on several pages in the book. They’ve made a design choice to break up ingredient lists across pages.

I spent a good long time going through our massive library of other cookbooks to see if I could find any other example of a cookbook splitting ingredient lists like this, and I couldn’t. Most recipe books list ingredients first – even if the list has to span into another column – and then the methodology. Most clearly take pains to not split recipes at all, or if they must, do it in a way that at least never splits the ingredient list. Most do not even use columns because of the potential for confusing layout, and the one I found that did use columns had hardly any that went over a page and even when that happened, they split the instructions over to the next page, not the ingredient list.

America's Test Kitchen sample

This recipe in the 2012 America’s Test Kitchen TV Companion Cookbook – thus a fair comparison to this other TV-show inspired cookbook – clearly puts all of the ingredients together as one continuous list even though the instructions go on to the next page.

Cookbooks stick with this all-ingredients-together layout for a reason: it’s very frustrating to home cooks (particularly beginners) to think they have everything, start cooking, and then realize the next page has several other items that they may have forgotten to buy. Should everyone read recipes thoroughly before starting? Yes. I did, which is why I caught this problem at the shopping stage. Do all cooks do that? Nope. And for a book that has clearly been designed to be attractive with full-colour photo spreads and large photos of food, it’s very disappointing that this basic level of functionality was sacrificed.

But okay, fine, that’s just layout. What about the actual recipe?

Unfortunately, this recipe itself also caused me problems. It says to use a
“deep cast-iron skillet” so I used our 12″ Lodge cast iron skillet. I looked at the amount of liquid in the recipe and thought, “Should I be using the cast iron Dutch oven instead?” because I was worried that 6 cups of stock might not fit in the 12″ skillet, but decided that if I used the Dutch oven, the biscuits might not brown properly by being too enclosed. Plus, the directions clearly said “skillet” and if a standard Lodge pan isn’t right, I don’t even know what is. I mean this is the pan Alton Brown recommended on Good Eats all those years ago for frying chicken, and his book Gear For Your Kitchen cites a 12-inch cast-iron skillet as his primary use pan. Other recipes in the book do specify pan sizes, so I assumed the 12″ must be good enough since we also have a 10.25″ which most cast-iron users would consider to be a smaller pan. I think it’s fair to say that a 12″ Lodge is going to be what most US-based home cooks reach for if told to use a “deep cast-iron skillet” with no other measurements listed.

But no, it wasn’t big enough. As I added the ingredients, I could tell this was going to go badly. At the simmering stage instead of going for 10 minutes, I went for more like half an hour to reduce the liquid down.

full pan

This was clearly not going to accommodate the biscuits, and this was after 20 extra minutes of reducing. You can see by the time on the clock that dinner is going much later than expected at this point for a household with kids!

But as I made the biscuits, I came across a direction that said to drop heaping spoonfuls of the dough onto a floured surface. I’ve made a lot of biscuits/dumplings/etc recipes before and never seen one that called for the dough to be floured before putting it in the liquid. I thought, “Oh, okay, somehow this extra flouring will absorb the liquid and make it stay in the pan.”

Nope.

overflowing pan

The overflowing pan in the oven as the biscuits expanded.

For the life of me I have no idea what purpose dredging the biscuits served, because it’s not needed in any other recipe I’ve ever made, it didn’t help with the liquid, and it left globs of dry flour throughout the dish:

completed recipe

Those white dots aren’t just because I took this photo with my cellphone…they’re bits of unmixed, uncooked flour.

Some of the flour under the biscuits gelled up into a gooey paste, but other bits just hung around, unincorporated in any way.

serving

A serving of this dish, showing the bits of flour.

Okay, so the layout for this recipe was bad, the instructions weren’t specific enough for the pan size, and there was weirdness with the dredging part. But how did it taste in the end?

Meh.

The cheddar-chive biscuits actually were quite nice, and everyone in my family liked them. But the potpie portion itself was uninspiring, and actually unpleasant when reheated as leftovers. I’ve made many chicken pot pies of various types over the years and this – while edible – was the least liked by everyone. We all agreed that the cheapest grocery-store-brand frozen pot pies have better filling than this. The leftovers didn’t even get finished and ended up being tossed out, which is unusual in our house.

However, we all agreed that the cheddar-chive biscuits should be used for other recipe toppings in the future, or as stand-alone biscuits. We all also agreed that the dredging accomplished nothing other than leaving balls of uncooked flour around, and should be skipped.

For that reason, I’m going to skip typing out the whole recipe and instead just give you a truncated, improved version (including specifying plain yogurt since the original just said “yogurt” which could confuse beginner cooks and also specifying that the cheese should be grated, which is a bit of a “well duh” but still, recipes be specific!):

Cheddar-Chive Biscuits
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
An improved version of the recipe that appears in the cookbook The Chew. Originally on top of a chicken potpie, they could instead be put on any stew-type casserole or baked as a stand alone.
Author:
Serves: 8-10
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 tablespoons (85g) butter, cut into pats
  • 1¼ cups grated cheddar cheese
  • ⅓ cup chives, chopped
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • 1⅓ cups milk
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Cut pats of butter into dry ingredients with fingertips until they resemble peas. Add the cheese and chives to the flour mixture and stir to combine.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt and milk. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, mix until just combined, adding more flour if necessary.
  5. Drop by heaping spoonfuls on top of a stew or pot pie liquid base and cook as per the directions of that base (original recipe said 30-35 minutes) or bake on their own until golden brown (about 10-15 minutes depending on size).

 

After all of that, I was honestly reluctant to try another recipe from the book, but I couldn’t resist “Burger Bread Pudding” because that just sounded delicious. And happily, it was!

burger bread pudding

This was very tasty, even as leftovers.

This recipe specifies the pan size (although I used a larger one because I didn’t have the specified size and was worried after my last experience), has everything on one page, specifies how to prep each ingredient clearly (ie grated cheese), specifies type of ingredient (ie whole milk), and turned out just fine. I definitely recommend it, although I couldn’t find potato buns here so I used regular white bread buns and it turned out perfectly fine. I also skipped the pickle garnish since decent dill pickles are very hard to find in the UK. Oh and one quibble: it says to drizzle the bread with olive oil in the instructions but olive oil isn’t listed in the ingredients. Books should not assume every cook has that at hand.

Here’s the recipe as it appears in the book except with my addition of olive oil to the ingredient list. (UPDATE: as per the comments below, I’m also updating the recipe to include when to add the bacon back in since that’s missing in the book and on the web version.)

burger bread pudding

Burger Bread Pudding
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
From the cookbook "The Chew", reprinted with permission as part of a review.
Author:
Serves: 8 servings
Ingredients
  • 4 potato buns, torn into pieces or large dice
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • ½ pound thick-sliced bacon, medium dice
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1½ cups red onion, medium dice
  • 2½ cups sharp cheddar, grated
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup pickles, to garnish
Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Place torn bread on a sheet pan in an even layer. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Toast for 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and place torn bread into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
  3. In the meantime, in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add bacon. Cook until crispy, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
  4. To the same pan, add the ground beef. Cook, breaking up the meat with the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes or until meat is browned.
  5. Add the red onion and cook an additional 3 minutes, until the onions begin to soften. Add the bacon. Pour the meat mixture over the toasted bread. Toss to combine.
  6. Add half of the bread and meat mixture to the prepared pan. Sprinkle 1½ cups of shredded cheese evenly over the top. Add the other half of the bread and meat mixture to the top. Top with remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese.
  7. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the custard over the bread and gently press down. (At this point, you may wrap the dish tightly in plastic and refrigerate overnight.)
  8. Bake, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to set for 10 minutes for serving. Garnish with pickles on top.

 

So after all of that, is this a cookbook worth buying? If you love this show and would like to read profiles of the hosts, tips on entertaining in your own home, and other fun tidbits, this is a good book for you. But if you’re more into straight cookbooks, don’t watch the show, or are a beginner cook and need things explained carefully to you, I’d say this book probably isn’t for you, especially since many of the recipes appear on the website anyway. In fact I could have saved myself some time by just linking to the Burger Bread Pudding recipe on the site, but figured it was worth reprinting just in case the site takes it down. I can’t help but notice the website includes a helpful tip to bring the refrigerated version up to room temperature first, something not mentioned in the book. Also, the chicken pot pie recipe does not appear to be on the website at all.

Overall I wouldn’t buy this book unless I was getting it as a gift for a real fan of the show. It needs refinement as a proper cookbook, and appears to be more of a show book than anything else. But if you know a fan of this show, they’ll probably eat the whole thing up.

Posted in Book Reviews, Dinner, Main Dishes, Other Food, Products | 5 Comments

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!

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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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Posted in Book Reviews, Breakfast, Lunch, Other Food, Products, Working With Kids | Leave a comment