Sunday, February 28, 2010

Coffee Cake Recipe

I found this recipe through CRAFT Magazine online, but it seems like they haven't kept the links working for this recipe. I'm not sure if that's some way of try to get you pay for archives or print versions or something, but I printed this one out when it was first posted and I'm glad I did. Another smart blogger, Yasmine of Love Live Survive Home saved a jpeg so you can access the recipe on her blog. I had to show you this original recipe because this recipe is what I would call an illuminated recipe: beautifully illustrated. So, I picked up the jpeg from Yasmine's blog and if you click on the picture below, you can print out the beautiful recipe from Elena Nazzaro of

And you're going to want to not just print this beautiful recipe out, but you're going to want to make it and eat it because it is TASTY! I made it for church this morning and it was a big hit. Thankfully it made enough for us to take some home, too (yum!).

Here are the modifications I made for this morning's version. This would go in the "OR TRY" section
1/4 cup craisins & 1/4 cup white chocolate chips instead of the 1/2 cup chocolate chips.

And... pretty much that covers it. Oh, except either my loaf pans are really small or she means something totally different than I do when she says "loaf pan." The first time I made this recipe, it was all over my oven because there was waaaaaaay too much batter for my glass loaf pan. So, this time I used a bundt pan and while it didn't rise to the height of the bundt pan, it worked well. Two loaf pans would have worked, too.

If I do say so myself, this was fantastic. The white chocolate melting with the brown sugar in the swirl topping caramelizes and... mmmmmmmmm.....

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cake Decorating Tips #1: Starting Right

I've been sitting on this post for a couple weeks thinking that I must have to make a cake sometime soon, so I can fill it with relevant pictures relating to what I'm talking about, but it just hasn't happened. But since I've had a couple more questions and thought I should just do it even without the perfect pictures.

So, I end up sharing many of my tricks with people in person, in emails or facebook wall posts or whatever after I post cake pictures. I should note that nearly all of these tips and tricks came from the woman who taught me basic cake decorating. I own almost none of them. They could all very well be straight from a Wilton decorating book, but I don't own one and that's not where I learned them.

I'll have to do this in a couple of installments. This first one is super duper important because it gives you the base from which you start. If you start with a broken cake, you're going to be fighting a losing battle through the whole process. Later, I'll give you some tips for working through some of the problems you might encounter, but let's start by doing it right the first time, so we can avoid the problems.
This is the kind of start you want to your decorating. 
No holes, no crumbs, no breakage; just nice crisp edges.

First thing: Prepping the cake pans. This is usually one of the first instructions in any cake recipe. Grease the pan. Grease and flour the pan. Put a layer of parchment on the bottom of the pan, whatever. I no longer obey the instructions on the cake recipe. Because I have a better answer: Dream Cream. It is magic. Here is the recipe:

Dream Cream

1/2 cup shortening*
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup flour

Mix them together thoroughly, until you get a nice smooth, creamy paste. I usually start by creaming the shortening, adding the flour and then the oil slowly. Store in the refrigerator for up to a respectable amount of time (I'm really loosey goosey about this and refuse to reveal how long I might store this in my fridge)... seriously, it's shortening, oil and all purpose unbleached flour. Do these things spoil?

Spread liberally on your pans, especially the corners. Then, when you turn your cake out of the pans onto the cooling racks, you should require no shaking, no knives, no hoping, nothing. You should be careful not to turn them over any distance from the cooling racks, because the cake should fall out of the pan and you don't want it damaged in a fall. In fact, I usually put my cooling rack upside down on top of the cake, hang onto both the cake pan & the cooling rack and turn them over. Lift off pan. Seriously. Dreamy.

The cake recipe. Since taking a little course in, what was it?... 2003? I've mostly just used cake mixes. Our instructor said she couldn't really make a cake for much cheaper than a boxed cake mix. And, well, Betty Crocker knows her cake. In the last year or so, I've ventured out to find cake recipes to make from scratch. This is my go-to chocolate cake recipe (except I omit the chocolate chips**). The frosting is good, too. The cake recipe is vegan (I think; unless there are hidden animal products in those other ingredients that I don't know about); the frosting is not (butter & milk). Something about making the cake from scratch makes me feel good. I like knowing what's in what we eat. That Chocolate Peanut Butter cake was good, too, but you should read my notes about it. The recipe as written is not as conducive to cake decorating because it's quite fragile. So, make a cake mix, make your own, whatever. Bake and learn.

I often bang the air bubbles out of my cake batter before I put it in the oven. If it looks all bubbly on the top, I gently shake and bang the cake pans on the counter to pop some of the air bubbles. I'm sure our basement neighbour loves this (too bad he never gets any cake). It makes a little denser cake, a little easier to work with and then you don't end up with big air pockets in your cake.

Actually baking the cake. Here is another part of the recipe I don't follow. Typical cake mix baking temperature is 350 degrees F. Unless you have a convection oven (which I don't, but I would love to have one. If you do have one, follow your awesome convection oven instructions...), pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees. Bake your cake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes, turn the oven up to 325 and bake for another 10 minutes, and finally turn the oven up to 350 and bake for the rest of the time recommended in the recipe. This helps your cake to bake more evenly and not peak in the centre. You'll have less to level off later.

After the cake is baked (insert a toothpick in the centre of the cake; it should come out clean), remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes (set a timer). Then turn it out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely at least 1 hour. Turn it over so the top doesn't get too indented by the cooling rack. I like to bake the cake the night before and let it sit overnight. I cover it with a tea towel so it doesn't dry out.
As you can see here, I did not level this cake the way I outline below. 
It was practically level when it came out, so I just pressed down it with my hand covered in a tea towel.
I read that tip somewhere on the Internet (sorry source I don't remember you).

Leveling the cake. Here's how you get that nice flat edge to your cakes: you cut the rounded top of the cake off and turn it up side down. If your cake has risen higher than your cake pan, put it back in the pan and run your longest serrated knife along the top of the cake pan to keep it level as you cut off the top of the cake. If it hasn't risen that high, you're going to have to eyeball it, or buy a fancy cake leveller/trifler (which I want to buy anyway, but I don't have one, so it's not like you must have one) to cut the top of the cake off. This is the best part of the cake. Snack on this while you decorate (or feed it to your kids to appease them while you put off making their dinner as you decorate a cake for someone else), ensuring you keep the crumbs far from your precious icing.

Well, that's it for this time. Hopefully the next installment won't take me too long. Happy baking!

*I have no answer for trans fats and cake decorating. ... sorry. That's the best I've got. I guess you could try a non-hydrogenated margarine, butter... or lard, I guess. I have never used those. One day they will ban trans fats altogether and what will all the cake decorators do?
**As much as I like real chocolate, chocolate chips are designed to retain their shape after baking. If you ate the cake warm, it would likely be very tasty and chocolatey, but if you ate it at room temperature or cold, you have cold chocolate chips in your cake. I don't like this. Besides, leveling the cake would remove a lot of the chocolate chips which, while tasty for the decorator's children, kind of defeats the purpose.

Resurrection Eggs

With Easter approaching, I was pleased to find these Resurrection Eggs, which you can easily make from some store-bought plastic eggs and sundries from around your home. Each egg is symbolic of part of the resurrection story.

Having not grown up in a very religious family, I don't have many traditions highlighting the real meaning of Easter, but I think this would be a great way to help tell the story of Easter and form a tradition in anticipation of our most important Christian holiday.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Easter Basket

I saw this on Sew Mama Sew today, and while I agree that it is an adorable flower girl basket, as intended, don't you think it would make a fabulous Easter Basket?

There's a tutorial there on how to make one.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pajama Pants!

Today I made pajama pants for my Z. Having had yesterday off work, I did a lot of laundry. As I was folding, I realized Z was pretty low on pajamas and was quickly growing out of others she has had for a while. I knew I had a metre of this flowered flannel fabric in my stash, having purchased it a couple years ago when I thought I would make 3 dresses out of the same pattern. After Z refused to wear the first dress I made for her from the fabric for the first several months, I decided not to make more dresses. She is much more receptive to the things I make now and proudly declares that "My mommy made it!" when someone comments on a handmade item she is wearing. This afternoon during quiet time (I heart quiet time!), I pulled out a pair of pajama pants that currently fit her and this fabric.

Other than cutting out the pattern, I almost finished the pants while I was on the phone with my mom. And honestly, I haven't made a lot of pants. They're just that easy. Read a couple tutorials, make a couple pairs, and you can do it while you're on the phone. Besides, they're pajama pants; they don't have to fit that well.

When I presented Z with her new pajama pants, she asked if I could make her a shirt to match. I didn't have enough fabric to make a pajama top. So, I ran upstairs to her room and rifled through her drawers for a t-shirt that fit, but that she didn't wear. I found this yellow number. It had a little design across the front, so I just covered it up with a rectangular piece of fabric. I didn't use any interfacing or wonder under or anything to stabilize the knit fabric underneath. First I pinned it in place, then I basted it on, so that it wouldn't shift around as I zig-zag stitched over the edges. I thought I had a fancy applique stitch on my sewing machine, but as it turned out, I was wrong (or I couldn't find it) so I shortened the length of the zig-zag stitch to around 0.9 or 0.5 and zig-zagged around the piece of fabric.

She was quite pleased with the result and she is wearing them right now (quietly sleeping in her bed). She modelled the pajamas for me before she went to bed.

I had to include this little pose since it was so cute, even if it is a little out of focus.


When I showed her the pictures I had taken, she was disappointed that I hadn't got her head in the pictures. 

So she squatted down to make sure I wouldn't miss her beautiful face. It is pretty great.

My kids made supper

Both of my children are into Veggie Talesright now. We have been borrowing DVDs from the library like they're going out of style. On one of the DVDs' special features, there is a recipe for Bean Dip and they show kids making it, so naturally, Z wanted to make bean dip. Although I was pretty sure she wasn't going to like bean dip, I thought it would be a good way to introduce her to a new food. She's not very adventurous with her food anymore. I blame the dayhome we had her in for 9 months when we first moved to the city and both my husband and I worked full time. They spoiled her refined palate with Yo-tubes, store-bought chicken nuggets, french fries & McD's. It could have been she was there from about 17 months until 27 months and it's a finicky time in a little one's life anyway, but I prefer layin the blame on someone else, instead of my dear sweet Z. She's still a fabulous veggie-eater, so I don't have much to complain about.

So we made this bean dip. Here is the recipe, roughly, because it is just what I can remember from watching the DVD special feature.

1 14 oz can refried beans
2 avocados
2 tbsp minced onion
1 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded tex mex cheese
green onion, sliced
black olives, sliced

spread the refried beans on a plate or platter.
mash the avocado with the minced onion and spread over the beans
spread the sour cream over the avocado
sprinkle the cheese over the sour cream
garnish with green onions and black olives

Enjoy with tortilla chips like this.

Except, you should probably chew with your mouth closed. 

The kids actually did most of this themselves, since they saw kids on the DVD doing the work, too. I prepped everything and they spread it out on the plate. I cleaned up the edges a bit. They did a great job and actually ate a bit of it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This Makes Me Happy


Found this on Dude Craft (who found it via You Might Like This via NotCot). It makes me happy, too. Something about flowcharts.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I made the perfect cake

I'm not 100% sure about the claim of the title, as I haven't actually tasted this cake yet. I have tasted the components, though, and I must say, it's going to be pretty difficult to taste anything but delicious with the tastiness of the various components.

If you weren't planning to come to our church Superbowl party (or if you didn't get an invite, let me know and I'll get you the details), then you might want to rethink your decision, since this cake will be there for dessert. If I've changed your mind about coming to the party, you need to bring an appetizer or dessert to share with everyone. I recommend appetizer, since you're going to want some of this cake.

Of course, I've already mentioned this recipe just last week. After a couple of my friends made it, I decided I just couldn't wait until my birthday to try it, so the Superbowl party was the perfect opportunity.

I should add that I modified the recipe a little bit. The cake recipe, I omitted 1/2 cup of the sugar (does any cake need 2 1/2 cups of sugar for 2 cups of flour?) and 1/2 cup of the water. The smitten kitchen recipe says that the cake is really soft and she had to freeze it to make it easier to work with. That's just not my idea of a great cake. Looking at the recipe, I had no doubt that the cake would be plenty moist without the last 1/2 cup of water and I hoped it would make it a little easier to work with. I was totally right. It was just as easy to work with as my go-to chocolate cake (I can't seem to access the epicurious recipe link right now: try searching old fashioned chocolate cake). I also let it sit on the counter cooling for the evening and covered it with a tea towel over night, so that made it easier to work with, too.

Also, I made a mistake on the glaze (the chocolate peanut butter ganache on the top)... I accidentally added 1 cup of half & half instead of just 1/2 cup. Aaaaaaaaaaagh! I found all the chocolate I had left in the house (about 1/2 cup chocolate chips & 2 oz of Baker's unsweetened chocolate), melted it in the microwave (I should have done this in my glass bowl over hot water on the stove but I was panicking a little), added some more peanut butter and icing sugar to the soupy mess I had and then the melted chocolate. The microwave melted chocolate was kind of lumpy and gritty and it was really difficult to get the glaze as smooth as I would have liked to, but it tasted DIVINE.  And bonus of bonuses, there is a significant amount of leftover chocolate peanut butter ganache in my fridge. Mistakes are rough, eh?

The cake is REALLY rich, almost too much to bear. Everyone said it was wonderful, but you had to take a break part way through. And I should have brought a gallon of milk to go along. That would have been perfect.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How I Patch & Hem Jeans

My children inherited my husband's long torso and short-ish legs. Don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly the tall, slender type myself, but proportionately my legs are pretty long for my size. So I can wear regular pants without usually having to undergo a lot of hemming. But even for me, jeans can be the exception to that. So, with short legs running in our family (and nice round bums) we have to size up in the jeans department (for the kids) and hem (a LOT).

I was so happy to find this fabulous way of hemming jeans from Just Something I Made. Fast and easy and it keeps the original hem look that we all love about jeans. It's has it's drawbacks, but overall, it's pretty great. I'll show you on my son's jeans.

This picture was taken after I ripped out the seam, but you can get a good idea from the wear lines, how it worked. I didn't cut the leftover fabric off, I just hand-tacked it up on the inside so it would stay there.

This is how it looks after ripping them hem out. You can see that I took about 3 inches out in hemming them. They'll be a little long on him and might look a tad goofy with the wear lines (and darker portion there), but I hope they'll be acceptable enough for my husband to put them on him (he dresses the kids most days).

These jeans needed letting down for a little while, but they also began to sport a small wear tear in the knee (the joy of boys!), so I took care of the whole job in one go. I patched up the hole in the jeans like this. I first saw this here on CRAFT (complete tutorial in that link).

Inside pic. If you can't tell what I did here, I cut a small piece of denim (from old jeans; I keep them around for crafting and whatnot... it also occurred to me that I should keep the bottom portion of my daughter's hemmed jeans since there's usually about 4 or 5 inches to lop off those and then I could use them for patches). So I cut a little square, quite a bit bigger than the hole. Usually there's wear around the hole, so it's good to give the whole area some reinforcement. I pin the denim in place and, using my sewing machine, I just sew back (using the reverse button) and forth pulling slightly to kind of zigzag it along the patch. Cover the patch that way, trim the excess patch, if you like... and you're done!

Turn them right side out and they look like that. It's a little funky looking, but I think goofy patches are more obvious; this is more like the distressed look. And that patch isn't going ANYWHERE!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Perfect Cake

This cake looks fabulous.

I love chocolate and peanut butter together and this looks simply lovely.

I'm mostly putting it here, so I don't lose the recipe, but if you wanted, you could make it, too. I might just have to make this for my birthday (What?! Who else is going to make me a cake?)

Images are from smitten kitchen.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tiny Hearts

I found this great little pattern for crocheted hearts. I made a couple and put them on snappy barrettes for Z's hair. They're so cute and she loves them. I made a couple slight modifications to the pattern. I sized down the yarn & hook and instead of the half double crochet, chain 1, half double crochet to make the point of the heart, I did a little picot (chain 3, slip stitch in the first chain) instead of the chain 1. Makes a pointier end.

Super fast little project.
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