Pretty Little Cakes

To kick off our busy season in the bakery department, I had a wedding cake and a gender reveal cake to bake this weekend. Both pretty little cakes. I predict a busy summer in our future! -MM

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Easter Fun

Easter and Spring are such fun when it comes to crafts and baking. I love bright spring colors of greens, blues, yellows, pinks and lavenders after the dark colors of winter like reds, blacks, navy and grays.

Even though Doug is 15 he still likes to craft (once in a while) so I bring out the pot and we make homemade play dough. Ever make it yourself? It’s super easy and inexpensive. Really…I wouldn’t lie to ya.

Here’s the recipe:

1 Cup All Purpose Flour

1/4 Cup Salt

2 Tbsp Cream of Tartar

1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

1 Cup Water

Food Coloring

Mix the flour, salt, and cream of tartar together in a medium sized saucepan to combine. Add water, oil and food coloring to it. Turn on the heat to medium and stir. It will get harder to stir and it will act like it is sticking to the bottom of the pot. Just keep stirring and scraping until the liquid is all gone and what’s left is a sticky mass of dough. It will not be neat but dump the ball out onto a floured surface and knead it a few times to get the remainder of any wetness out. It will be HOT so knead carefully not to burn your hands. You will have to soak the pan for a few minutes to clean it but it will be so worth it!

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Repeat as much as you like to get as many colors as you want. It makes a pound of play dough each batch (yes I weighed it) which is about 4 times what you get in those little plastic containers of the real stuff. Plus who knows what goes into the stuff you buy at the store.

Doug and I played with our homemade dough for 2 hours on Saturday night. We had a blast!

Store the dough in the fridge. It will last a few months or until the point where you get sick of it rolling around in there and you finally throw it out. 🙂

We also love to color eggs. Hey it’s not just for little guys ya know!

One thing I don’t do is boil them first. That may seem weird but as long as the eggs are not cracked I die them raw. I love to dye dozens of eggs but I can’t eat 5 dozen hard boiled eggs in a week. I like eggs, but not THAT much.

If we dye them raw I can have the pleasure of using the eggs for a month long and enjoy the pretty colors each time I bake something. See what I mean?

The eggs in the photo below are dyed brown eggs. You can use the same egg dying kits that you typically use for white eggs for brown eggs too. I like the rich colors better with the brown eggs.

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I make cutout cookies for Easter, which are almost as fun as Christmas cutouts but without the added stress Christmas and the holidays bring. See, aren’t they super cute?

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Now that I have a teenager I don’t have a need for fun paper crafts and cotton ball bunny tails but maybe grand kids some day right?

What kinds of crafts do you do for Easter?  Have a wonderful and blessed week and Easter Holiday. -MM

How to Decorate Christmas Cutouts

For almost a decade I have been decorating Christmas cutouts with colorful glazes and a piping bag.

Traditionally, cutouts are decorated using royal icing and a technique known as “flooding”. Flooding is time consuming, tedious and very tiring on your poor fingers and hands.

I decorate hundreds of dozens of Christmas cutouts every year and instead of using royal icing I find that making a glaze of confectioner’s sugar, milk and a flavoring like vanilla or almond extract works almost as well and is much less time consuming.

To finish the cutouts and bring out fine details, I use a pastry bag and pipe on buttercream frosting which I think makes for a very tasty and beautiful cookie.christmas-cookies

In the You Tube links below I show you how I decorate my cookies and also how to package them so they don’t crush. Hope you enjoy these videos. Happy decorating! -MM

Christmas Cookie Decorating Part 1

Christmas Cookie Decorating Part 2

Christmas Cookie Decorating Part 3

Christmas Cookie Decorating Part 4

Packaging Christmas Cookies

Prepping Mixes-Chocolate Chip Cookies

In the food service industry, prepping is crucial. Preparing ahead of time cuts your time in half when it comes to cooking for a crowd or getting ready for a party.

I have created more than a dozen dry mixes that I use in the bakery every day. I am going to share these mixes and the recipes to bake the finished products through the next few weeks.

Cookie mixes are my favorite because all you have to do is grab a couple bags of the mix, add eggs, some kind of oil (butter, shortening or oil) a little water and some vanilla and voila! In less than 10 minutes you’re scooping dough onto a cookie sheet. Sounds easy doesn’t it? It is!

Essentially what you are doing with these mixes is preparing the dry ingredients to your recipes ahead of time which is a real time saver especially if you prep multiple batches.

For the chocolate chip cookie dry  mix you will need:

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

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1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar

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The two sugars make up your first bag

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Twist tie the bag and set aside

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Next you will need 4-1/2 cups of all purpose flour

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2 tsp of salt and 2 tsp of baking soda

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This makes up your second bag.

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That’s it! Easy right? The reason we keep the sugar separate from the flour is that in most recipes it calls for the sugars to be creamed with the shortening and egg. Then you add the other dry ingredients so it is easier to have to separate bags.

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At the bakery I build to 6 mixes per recipe. In other words for this chocolate chip recipe I would make enough dry mix for 6 batches of cookies. At home for the 3 of us I would probably make 3 batches to store away for later use.

Now when you want to make a batch of cookies here is the rest of the recipe.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Dump the bag of brown and white sugars into a mixer bowl and add 2 cups of shortening, a 1/4 cup of water and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Cream these ingredients with a mixer or by hand with a sturdy spoon. Next add 4 large eggs and mix in until incorporated.

Next, dump the second bag with the flour, soda and salt into the bowl with the creamed ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Do Not Over Mix! Then by hand add 4 cups of chocolate chips and fold in until just incorporated.

Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets. If you want more uniform cookies use a spring action ice cream scoop to form the dough and drop onto the parchment lined cookie sheet.

Bake for about 12 minutes or until browned and not wet in the middle.

Here is the full recipe:

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar

2 cups of shortening

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup water

4 large eggs

4-1/2 cups of all purpose flour

2 tsp of salt

2 tsp of baking soda

4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

This recipe makes 4 doz good sized cookies.

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Here is a pic of my shelves at the bakery.

mixes

On these shelves I have mixes for chocolate crinkle cookies, snickerdoodle, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, ginger snap, cornbread, frosted sour cream cookies, oatmeal cookies, scones, chocolate chocolate chip cookies, jam thumbprints, and peanut butter cookies.

I will be sharing more mix recipes over the next few weeks so watch for more.

Also you can take your own recipes and make mixes out of them like I did. It makes life a whole lot easier when you have something already prepared in the pantry. -MM

 

Pie Challenge and the “Kids” are Up

I have really been slacking on my “Operation Pie Challenge” I left off at week #7 so this would be week #8. I am not going to do a recipe this week. Instead, I am going to show you a technique with pie crust that my Granny taught me years ago that I think you will find interesting.

This technique is best used on a berry pie with its dark purple or red color.

Start by having your bottom crust and filling ready. The filling pictured below was a mixed berry from our raspberries frozen from last season.

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Next, roll out the top crust and instead of slicing completely from one side to the other as in a traditional lattice, create a cross shape instead.

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As you can see next you cut each corner of the cross into an “L” shape.

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Carefully lift the cross shape (it can be a little tricky not to break it, so go slowly) and place in the center of the filling. Next lift and position the “L” shaped pieces of crust just like they were on your floured counter but leave a little space so the color of the filling peaks through. Now add the corner pieces and crimp the pieces into place.

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Bake as you would any pie and voila!

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Not only is it impressive to look at but it tastes darn good too!

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The Kids are Up!

Last week I showed you how I started my seedlings in pop bottles. My hubby and I always call them our “kids.”

The kids are up and out of the soil and stretching towards the sky. Here are a few pics!

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So far the plum tomatoes, regular tomatoes, basil, cilantro and dill are all up. The peppers and celery will hopefully be up some time next week.

Are you starting any plants indoors yet? If so, what are you growing?

Can’t wait to report back next week. Happy baking and gardening everyone! -MM

Baking for Lent

For me Lent is a journey every year. Easter is less commercial and I get to enjoy and reflect and think in silence without the glitz and mad shopping days of Christmas.

Lent and Easter traditions are handed down from generation to generation. A few years ago I researched recipes for Lent and Easter and found that almost every country has it’s own Easter bread. Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, America, England, Scotland and Belgium to name a few.

In our family we love our St. Joseph’s Day Bread and Hot Cross Buns. St. Joseph’s Day is March 19th and is a traditional Sicilian bread to honor St. Joseph, Sicily’s patron Saint.

Hot Cross Buns are traditionally eaten in England on Good Friday. The cross atop the bun was said to symbolize the Crucifixion. Although there is no real confirmation on who actually created the Hot Cross Bun it is said they do have ancient origins dating back to the 12th century.

I have been baking St. Joseph’s bread since I was in my 20’s. It can be a difficult bread to master. Humidity, quality of yeast and enough proofing time are all factors in successfully making this bread.

If you have never tasted this bread you have missed out on its soft, anisey, rich flavor. Some have told me the smell of the bread has instantly brought them back in time. I have had people in their 90’s who haven’t had it in years eat it and feel instantly transported back to their grandmother’s table. It is a magical bread I say.

This recipe makes 9 or 10, 1-lb. round loaves (or you can braid them). You may also halve this recipe because not many people have the mixer capacity although this bread was mostly kneaded by hand.

St. Joseph’s Bread Recipe

5 cups warm water

3 Tbsp yeast

4 eggs

1-3/4 cup sugar

1-1/4 cup shortening

2 Tbsp salt

2 Tbsp baking powder

2 Tbsp anise seeds

5 lbs. flour

Mix the water and yeast and let sit for a minute or two to dissolve the yeast. Don’t get that yucky yeast from the grocery store. I buy mine in bulk at Sam’s or BJ’s or Costco. I store the yeast in the fridge or you can freeze it.

Next add the eggs, sugar, shortening and salt. Then mix in half the flour. Then add the baking powder and the anise seeds. Mix until the flour in incorporated and then slowly add the rest of the flour. When you have a soft ball of dough and it clears the sides of the mixing bowl or your hands don’t get sticky if you are hand mixing, knead for about 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Add more flour if it gets sticky. Believe me if you hand mix this recipe you will get a full body workout. But it will be worth it!

Place the kneaded dough in a large greased bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Here is the crucial part. Let rise in a warm place for at LEAST 2 hours. This bread takes a LONG time to rise properly. Also the quality of the yeast makes a big difference too. I have thrown more batches of this bread out because the yeast from the grocery stores sucks. If you want to be a serious bread maker don’t waste your time with the store brand yeast.

After the dough has risen to double it’s original size roll it out of the bowl onto a floured surface. Punch it down and divide the dough into 10 pieces. If you have a scale, weigh each one to get even sizes.

Either braid or shape the dough into round loaves and place on parchment lines baking trays or in greased disposable pie pans.

Let double again in a warm spot, covered with a clean dish towel. (At least another hour or so.)

After the dough has proofed again brush the tops of them with an egg wash and sprinkle either sesame or poppy seeds on them.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes. They will be a golden brown and smell Heavenly!

 

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Hot Cross Buns Recipe

In my opinion Hot Cross Buns should be made with either raisins or currants but many commercial recipes add candied fruit which is way too close to a fruit cake for me.

1-1/2 cups warm milk

1-Tbsp yeast

1/3 cup  sugar

1 tsp salt

1/3 cup melted butter

2 eggs

4 cups flour

3/4 cup of raisins or currants

1/2 tsp mace

The original recipe I tried had 5 cups of flour and it really dried the buns out. I prefer the 4 cups myself but you can always add more if the dough it too sticky for you. I prefer the soft sticky dough because it makes a softer, less dense bun.

Mix the yeast and the warm milk together. Add the melted butter, sugar. salt, eggs, currants or raisins and the mace in. Add the flour in a cup at a time until a soft ball forms. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes adding enough flour here and there to keep it from sticking too much. Dough will be soft and probably a little sticky. That is ok. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

When doubled in size turn the dough out onto a floured surface and punch down. Divide the dough evenly depending on how big you want the buns to be. I made 12 out of this recipe but they were really big so I would make them smaller next time.
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Form each piece of dough into a ball and place in a greased 9 x 13 cake pan or a parchment lined cookie sheet. Make sure the buns slightly touch each other.

Let rise again in a warm place covered with a clean dish towel.image

After doubling in size again brush the tops with egg wash and bake at 375 for 25 minutes or until golden brown.Let cool.image

For the Cross: mix together a cup of confectioner’s sugar, 2 Tbsp milk and 1/2 tsp of vanilla. Drizzle the frosting in a cross like pattern over each bun. Don’t worry if it is not perfect. Mine never are! Eat with butter and enjoy! (Sorry I forgot to take a pic of them with the cross on them).

 

Does your family have Easter baking traditions? I would love to hear from you! -MM