Friday, December 25, 2009

Gummi Party

I had no intentions of making this month's Gingerbread House challenge. While intuitively I knew that making homemade gingerbread should be no harder than rolling out sugar cookies, it just seemed like a lot of work for something that rarely gets eaten. But I had a few eager elves that wanted to try their hands at it and I was more than happy to co-opt their efforts for this month's DB challenge!

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

My youngest nephew was the head chef and with the help of Grandma prepared the dough. He came up with the idea of a ski chalet which is perfect for our typical wintery Christmas Day except this year we were enjoying an unseasonably mild green Christmas. At least it would be wintery in our gingerbread world. The template was made, the dough cut out and put in the oven with a little trepidation as it seemed a little crumbly and I was worried that it wouldn't hold together. But everything came out well and with help from his oldest brother, the architect in training, the chalet with wrap around porch was constructed solidly.

And once the middle brother came up with the gummi bear party theme, all the kids were pitching together while dinner was cooking to put together the most rocking gummi party ever! Who can resist those little bears with their mugs, lining up for their drinks apres-ski. I couldn't believe how much fun they all had and we all agreed that it was better than the store bought model they used every other year. I may be biased but I think this is the most whimsical ski chalet and I'm glad I could be a part of it - if from a viewer perspective rather than as a baker. What a wonderful Christmas memory and one sure to be repeated.

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! See you in the new year and here's to another year of fun and challenging recipes with the Daring Bakers.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You say Macaron, I say yum!

I can't imagine a better souvenir to bring someone back from Paris than Pierre Herme macarons. And I was the lucky recipient of 6 of these tasty treats last month when my sister thoughtfully brought them back from her anniversary trip. Congrats on your 20th wedding anniversary Michelle and Stewart!

These cookies really did live up to their hype and price. Even after a few days trip to get to me, they were still everything you would expect these cookies to be. While initially skeptical, Ishapan proved to be my favourite followed closely by the salted caramel. I even liked the mint and that's not normally a flavour that I enjoy.

The Daring Bakers were in sync with me this month and the challenge was none other than the macaron. The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I have made macarons in the past so luckily I've gotten my failures out of the way. The batch that was overbeaten and came out as flat disks, the batch that stuck to the parchment paper, the batch that cracked...

Here's a picture of the eventual success. And don't think the failures went to waste. I crumbled up those attempts, froze them and pulled them out finally to use as filling in brownie mousse cakes. Thanks to Ami for a great challenge.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Marshmallow cookies

In reading other Daring Baker blogs, I've noticed that those of us in the midst of summer aren't baking as much as we had in the winter and spring. But it's not due on my part to the sunny, warm weather keeping me outdoors. This has been one of the coldest and rainiest summers we've had in recent memory. Nonetheless, I'm enjoying the slower pace of summer, spending time with the kids and generally relaxing. Luckily I've frozen a lot of my baking from the winter and can pull it out when friends come over for a drink (huddled) on our deck!

While campfires this year are being used mainly for warmth, I have enjoyed roasting a few marshmallows. Other than in their toasty form (or in Rice Krispie treats), I can't say I'm a huge fan of marshmallow cookies. I never asked for them as a kid and I still pick out the marshmallow layer from Wagon Wheels and just eat the chocolate top and cookie base. But this month we were challenged with making them.

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

While I appreciated the simplicity of making cookies, I think the kids enjoyed these ones more than the adults. And I have to admit that I used the "out" provided this month and didn't make homemade marshmallow and simply used store bought. Still, I'm glad that I finished the challenge and look forward to seeing what's next.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tea time in the garden

This month was a first for me. The posting day dawned today and I hadn't yet made this month's Bakewell Tart. Not for lack of interest in doing it but life sometimes finds away of charging ahead without you sometimes. But I wouldn't let this be the first challenge I would miss in a year and half of being a Daring Baker. And the good thing was that the recipe had few elements and could be put together in the morning before heading out to the enjoy the day picking local strawberries.

I had made my rhubarb-orange jam earlier this month when a friend passed on some of her plentiful rhubarb to me. Never having loved this vegetable as a kid, I've discovered how wonderful it is in baking. The jam is fantastic and probably my favourite part of this challenge.

The rest of the tart is almondy, puffy and a perfect complement to the jam. I couldn't resist taking pictures of it in the garden to show off some of my beautiful flowers. Since it was such a cold spring, I wasn't sure how things were going to fare. I've been pleasantly surprised to see what's survived. Enjoying my tart with tea in the garden was the perfect midmorning break. A few bunny friends thought so too...!

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Coming from a very German community, strudel was ever present during apple season in the Fall. But because I don't like cooked raisins, I was never a huge fan. Thanks to this month's challenge, I was able to make strudel the way I like it. And in a nod to spring, I added strawberry and rhubarb to the requisite (at least in our city) apple filling.

Surprisingly the dough was a treat to work with in terms of stretchability. It was almost too pliable - I found many a time my sides got stuck together when I was done stretching and put it back on the table. I got very few holes but I must not have wrapped it too well because during the baking process it split open on one side and a lot of the strawberry juices came out. So, unfortunately, I didn't give Jason much too work with during shooting (beige on beige!) but he did great with what he had.

I'm glad I had the chance to work with strudel dough but I'm not sure that I'll do it again. I found it lost its crispiness and flakiness pretty soon after baking and I didn't love it so much that I'd want to do it at the last minute for best results. If I'm going to be running around baking right before guests come over, it needs to be an "out of the park" experience and this was maybe a base hit, both in terms of taste and presentation. If you want a similar fruit dessert but with more shelf life, I would recommend the Danish from one of the last summer's DB challenges.


Monday, April 27, 2009


The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I looove cheesecake. And I love how easy it is to make, yet how impressed people are when you serve it. I think people have the mistaken impression that cheesecake is hard to make, or maybe too expensive or maybe too time consuming to make at home. I find it to be a dessert that is a crowd pleaser and great for dinner parties since it can (should) be made in advance.

This time I decided to try a version that I've had recently at one of our high end restaurants. I made the DB recipe using a plain vanilla flavouring and no graham cracker base. After refrigerating overnight, I sliced individual pieces and wrapped each in butter coated layers of phyllo. Baked in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, the cheesecake came out warm and gooey with a crisp phyllo coating. I finished it off with a simple mango coulis. Absolutely decadent!! I can't recommend this twist on the standard cheesecake enough.

Friday, March 27, 2009

"Cook-up" dessert lasagna

I love a good lasagna. Who doesn't?!? But since my blog focuses on the sweet, I decided to forgo the typical tomato based lasagna and make a sweet variation using a slight modification of the noodle recipe that is part of this month's DB challenge. I removed the spinach and replaced it with a little more egg and water to hold the dough together. All other steps were the same as the posted recipe which can be found here.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Why "cook-up" lasagna? In my house growing up, my mom would often make "cook-up" rice which is what she called rice combined with whatever leftovers we had in the fridge. When I looked into my fridge and freezer this month, I saw the remnants of past desserts that needed to be cleared out and I though the lasagna was the perfect recipe for that. I had little bits of lemon curd, whipping cream, and homemade strawberry sauce. Add in a 1/4 pint of strawberries and a small tub of ricotta and the idea was born.

The pasta dough came together quite easily and was nicely smooth and elastic to work with. I enjoyed mixing and kneading the dough but hand rolling it to right thinness was a different story. I'm sure a pasta roller would make this step much easier and efficient but with all of the kitchen gadgets I currently have and the lack of space for more, it's not one that I will be investing in any time soon. Homemade noodles are good, don't get me wrong, but there are other things that I like to take the time to make that give a better return in terms of taste and cost savings over store bought. To me it's like making puff pastry - not necessarily worth the time and effort given some excellent products that you can buy off the shelf for a reasonable price.

Once the noodles had dried and I cooked them for a few minutes in salted, boiling water, I was ready to assemble. I was pleasantly surprised how quickly everything came together and how easy the noodles were to work with. The layers got a little soft while I prepared to photograph them but I thought it gave an a homey feel to the presentation. The taste was awesome and my only complaint was that the softness of the fillings made for a difficult time in cutting precise pieces. It ended up looking a bit like slop on the plate - although very tasty slop!! Not a dessert I would serve to guests but one that was fun to make nonetheless. Thanks to Mary, Melinda and Enza for another great challenge. Come check out the new Daring Kitchen website to see all the great creations and lots of fun and informative forums and articles.


Saturday, February 28, 2009

I ♥ chocolate

February and chocolate goes together hand in hand. OK, chocolate and anything goes together hand in hand in my book! I couldn't have been happier to make a flourless chocolate cake this month and pair it with homemade vanilla ice cream.

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

I've never made ice cream before and was a little anxious to see how it would come out without using an ice cream maker. Well, I need not have worried as the ice cream was fabulous and not too difficult to do. In honour of my dear friend Shelly's birthday, I decided to serve the cake and ice cream as part of a grown up version of a sundae bar. Caramel ginger sauce, homemade strawberry preserves, waffle cookies (from a fabulous recipe at King Arthur Flour), vanilla infused whipcream. Wowsers!

Hope you extended the sweetness of Valentine's Day over the entire month and enjoyed lots of chocolate along the way! See you in March.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A spoonful of sugar

After a December of hibernating indoors, eating rich meals and even richer desserts, drinking, talking and too little time spent exercising, January has come and brought with it a renewed energy for getting out and enjoying winter. The snowy weather came very early this year so it felt like the Christmas indulgences extended over a very long period. Not that I'm complaining. Christmas is my favourite time of year and I love all the times we gathered with family and friends to enjoy a great meal and even better company.

But January has made me realize how much I need to get out in the fresh (very fresh!) air and embrace winter. Being a person who loves the sun and is constantly cold, this isn't the easiest thing to do but it does give me the energy to get through the often long, dark days.

So, all this exercise and renewed energy has allowed me to keep up with my baking and avoid making any nasty New Year's resolutions about cutting out yummy indulgences that make life worth living. Not that I didn't appreciate that this month's DB challenge called for making something light. This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Baking Soda and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux. While I can't say that lemon mousse is light in the calorie sense, it sure tastes light and wonderful on the tongue!

Tuiles are made from an easy dough to put together. The ingredient list isn't long or costly. The only tricks I found to making them is to spread the batter evenly so that you get the brown edges and pale center you're looking for and to get them out of the oven and shaped quickly before they are too hard to take the form you want.

Taking inspiration from some pics that I saw on Flickr, I made my tuiles in the shape of spoons to enjoy as a small indulgence with coffee. The lemon mousse recipe was adapted from the December challenge and comes together nicely. I'll admit that I punched up the yellow to give me the sunshine that I've been missing and craving.
Thanks to Christine for her wonderful pictures of the tuiles. She is such a talented photographer - making quick work of the job and letting her exuberance shine forth in whatever she does. Check out her awesome website at and be prepared to be dazzled by her body of work.

I'm also throwing in a picture of macarons that I finally thought were getting closer to what I see in all of my favourite blogs. These date back to the December challenge when I had extra egg whites to use up. Unfortunately I decided to store them in a ziploc bag in my freezer (all tins being having been filled with Christmas cookies) and many didn't survive my ins/outs of the freezer all holiday season. These were the best of the remaining ones - I'm saving all of the broken pieces to add to some dessert element in the future. Maybe February's challenge will give me just that opportunity...