Cool Yule, volume 2

December 2, 2009

Struggling with gift ideas for the cooks on your list? Here are two great ideas — one a bit extravagant and one less expensive -– that are sure to make the grade and not likely to be in their cupboards already:

‘I like you!” gift idea: Cupcake pens can be used to decorate all kinds of baked goods whether you’ve got artistic flair or two hands worth of thumbs.

“I love you!” gift idea: Yogurt makers aren’t just for people who wear sandals and socks (They used to be but things have changed now – I checked.) and this one is the Mac daddy of them all offering flexible timing options and the ability to make up to 8 flavours at a time! Seriously, 8 flavours.

If you’re an avid cook, what’s on your wish list this holiday season?

Easy Easter dessert

April 10, 2009


Although today is technically a holiday, I wanted to post an Easter dessert idea. For those of you who are hosting a crowd sometime this weekend, you may want to make this bright and cheerful pull apart cupcake dessert that I created for the Homemakers magazine Bakefest booklet last year.

Cupcake pull-apart cakes are trending up with consumers everywhere. In fact Laura Mandracchia, owner of Little Laura Sweets in L.A. notes that in the last 7 weeks 25% of her orders have been for cupcake cakes for kids parties, baby and wedding showers, adult birthdays and as an alternative for groom’s cakes at weddings. Since cupcakes have been deemed the recession resistant treat of choice, expect this trend to continue!

My Black Eyed Susan version is fun and easy to make (you can use a cake mix and coloured bought frosting) and it’s easy to serve as well. In fact, no knives, cake lifters, plates or forks are required. Just present this sweet arrangement on a tray and let everyone grab a cupcake and a napkin!

Feeling a bit more ambitious but not close enough to Laura to have her whip up something gorgeous for your table? Try this Very Hungry Caterpillar pull-apart arrangement of cupcakes. Isn’t it fantastic?

What’s on your Easter Feaster menu this year?

How to decorate a cupcake

March 5, 2009


While I certainly agree that any mish-mash of frosting and cake can have tasty merits, there’s no doubt that presentation is a big part of what makes cupcakes so popular.

If your cupcakes struggle with ugly duckling syndrome you may need an intervention since, unlike the fabled “duckling” that grew into an elegant swan, ugly cupcakes won’t transform into graceful three-tiered wedding cakes. They’ll just get stale and need to be thrown out.

The good news is that the path to pretty cupcakes is easily navigated! Recently I stumbled across this article that outlines cupcake decorating basics very well. And for those of you looking for advanced inspiration that will take your cupcakes from fair to fabulous, I can recommend Hello Cupcake! — a terrifically imaginative book that features dozens of clever ideas for cupcake makeovers.

Do you have any cupcake decorating tips you’d like to share?

Gourmet cupcakes cross the pond

February 25, 2009


To know that we are ga-ga for cupcakes here in Canada and the U.S., all you have to do is check my reader stats. Consistently each week, my posts about gourmet cupcakes and cupcakes in a jar are among my top read pages (it’s true!).

Well, it seems that our affection for these hand-held cakes was so infectious that it spread to the U.K. (I can only imagine that it was lurking in the ventilation system of some transatlantic airplane). According to this article, cupcakes, long viewed as a treat for kids in England, have transitioned to be a stylish grown-up indulgence featured at weddings, adult birthday parties and posh bake shops more often. Likewise, this cake love has even spread to Italy; according to this blog, Italians are in the throes of cupcake mania, too.  (Still no reports of anyone in Europe serving them at funerals in those countries but perhaps they’ll grow into that practice in time, too.)

All I can say is — what took them so long?

Justifying cake for breakfast

September 24, 2008

Last night O and I watched Monday’s Heroes season 3 debut on our PVR and all I could think about during the episode was sweets – the craving still hasn’t subsided. In fact, all I wanted for breakfast this morning was cake. And not just a small piece but a big honking wedge.

Call them muffins, tea loaves or quick breads, cake for breakfast isn’t really all that unusual. In fact, I think that Bill Cosby was completely correct when he pointed out that chocolate cake contains eggs, milk and flour – the very same ingredients in many other balanced breakfast favourites.

And, depending on your sleep habits, having cake for breakfast could be considered just a very, very late dessert.

Excluding muffins and other permissible breakfast cakes, have you ever tucked into a wedge of black forest cake or a square of cream cheese frosted carrot cake for breakfast?

I’ll admit that in my 42 years I‘ve raised a cake-laden fork to my lips on more than a few morning occasions. I don’t indulge in early day cake often, but when I do, it’s always a good day.

The bastard offspring of gourmet cupcakes and frosting shots

September 11, 2008

Image by Evans Caglage, published in the Dallas Morning News

Do you ever wonder what bakers do with the damaged cupcakes and the leftover frosting in the bottom of the bowl? If you thought they threw scraps away, guess again. They turn them into profits.

Don’t believe me? Check out this story about cake balls. Apparently cake balls are big as wedding favours and at Neiman Marcus.

I totally understand craving a one or two bite indulgence but may I suggest a a fresh and fabulous mini cupcake instead?

Gourmet cupcakes in a jar

June 26, 2008

I love cupcakes. Not only is that not news, it doesn’t prove me to be original or unusual either. I’ve discovered that cupcakes are truly a defining icon of our present day society. From the little cakes themselves to whimsical art that animates the cupcake with human characteristics to snazzy t-shirts that let you have your cupcake and be stylin’, too, cupcakes are universally popular.

And just when it seemed like my cupcake love couldn’t deepen, I discover yet another way to enjoy these beguiling little treats: in a jar. “But why?” you ask? Forgive me but I counter with “why not?”

Not only are cupcakes in a jar less messy to eat, they’re portable and they make people smile! Although you can easily make your own (like we did at the Test Kitchen – that’s our handy work above), you also can buy these yummies ready-made.

• In Canada, contact Milsean bakery in Abbotsford, B.C. (I hear their buttercrunch candy is great, too); their birthday cakes, Irish apple cakes and figgy puddings are baked in jars. They’ve been unavailable for the last 6 months due to jar supply issues but are back!

• In the US, Fat Daddy Bakery in Illinois is widely acknowledged as the originator of the cupcake in a jar concept. I haven’t tried their product but the buzz I hear is all good.

Would you eat a cupcake from a jar? Or, perhaps a better question is how many cupcakes in a jar do you think you could eat before you needed to be a person on a couch?