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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Gingerbread for Thanksgiving

In The Gingerbread Book by Alan D. Bragdon (available at my local library) lies a pattern that is perfect for a Gingerbread Turkey Centerpiece for Thanksgiving.



For those of you not quite ready to embrace the CHRISTMAS spirit (BECAUSE THANKSGIVING IS A HOLIDAY THAT COMES FIRST!) this might be a wonderful gingerbread/craft option to tackle.

I made the turkey in 2012.  I think I was sick and bored out of my mind at home, so I decided to craft (and I washed my hands a lot and didn't hack on the gingerbread).

I loved this little turkey.  The pattern is smaller, so it's not a huge project.   It's not intimidating either, so it's a nice place to start if you're new to gingerbread.

It's also a great way to use up some Halloween Candy...if you don't want to eat it all for some reason...

Here's what I made:


I had extra gingerbread dough, so I made the pumpkin cookies.

I also didn't really have a base in mind that was small enough for this turkey (like I said, I just got this idea while home on a sick day) so you can see I only covered part of it with ground animal crackers left over from our 2012 Halloween House.  You're supposed to be looking at the turkey anyway :-)

Happy (early) Thanksgiving!






Thursday, October 2, 2014

Saying "Thank You" Gingerbuilders Style

Babies are a great reason to celebrate.  And bake, apparently!  Check out some of the awesome decorations and baked goods provided by MY FRIENDS in preparation for Little Girl.















Wow!  Celebrations bring out the creativity in all of us!

If you read my last post you know I've been doing some baking of my own to share the joy.

I also wanted to come up with a way to show my love and gratitude toward my friends and family.  

My work threw me a shower a week or so ago.  Many signed the card and gave us an AMAZING gift card, in addition to other gifts!  
My friends have spent much time and money planning parties in Baby Girl's honor.  They have been so happy to do it!

I am so grateful when I think about the kindness and generosity of those around me.  How could I even begin to show my appreciation?

Thank you cards are definitely the traditional way to go.  I have certainly written my share in the last month.

But for some, it just didn't feel like enough.

Some of my friends are so crafty.  They've crocheted and quilted and made things for me and Baby Girl.

What could I offer?

I can bake!

I made these cake pops to bring in to school.  What elementary staff doesn't speak the language of desserts?!  This, coupled with an email and a few Photoshop-made thank-you notes should do the trick!



And for any who took the time (and money!) to plan or contribute for a party, I made these:


I wrapped them in tissue paper and paired them with a hand-written note.

Both sets of grandparents will also get these cookies to show our love and appreciation. :-)  Of course, these will not be as cute as the real bundle they are waiting on!

I hope my friends know how much I love them.



Saturday, September 27, 2014

Baking More than Gingerbread

I've seriously wanted to make this post since...like...May.  Here we are, 4 weeks away from my due date, and I'm just now getting around to making the "baby announcement" in gingerbread.

I've been busy making cakes!

At this point, I made the carriage to bring in to school.  Every year, my third graders get excited that I'm the "gingerbread teacher" who brings in treats around Halloween and Christmas.  I'll be on maternity leave for both of those holidays, so I thought I'd do this instead!


If you haven't guessed, we're having a girl.

I got the idea from:


I made some modifications, since I'm making it for 8-9 year-olds.  I did not make the marzipan baby, and instead, added more icing and candy decorations.  I'm also going to pour more candy inside the carriage for my kids to devour.  

I respect that, to my students, the fun is all the sugar, not the tasty gingerbread pieces underneath.

I will say, however, that I had extra gingerbread pieces (extra supports etc. I baked off) and they taste AMAZING.  Especially good dipped in coffee!  (or decaf.  whatever)



As aforementioned, (oooh fancy word!) I gladly spent my summer fulfilling cake and cupcake orders.  An unexpected side-effect to this was that I got rusty making gingerbread!  I'm sure it didn't help that I did not have my other two Gingerbuilders with me to help...or the traditional wine to encourage creative thinking...but I definitely hit a few hiccups making this carriage, and I thought I'd share them with you, so you could learn from my mistakes.

1.  When rolling cutting and baking your pieces, remember

roll out your pieces and bake them on parchment paper!  I forgot this the first time I rolled the dough, warped pieces pulling them from the counter with a spatula, and had to try again.  Duh!


2.  What To Do if you Break a Piece

I know I know.  Megan wasn't there.  But it still happened.  Twice actually.  On 2 different pieces.  Like I said, I was out of practice!

Don't panic.  Just remember, most mistakes can be covered or fixed with icing.  :-)

I iced my pieces back together and used a support just to make sure it would hold.


All that mess is on the inside.  No way you can tell when I put it all together.


3.  Storing Royal Icing

I found this lovely site FULL of great info on royal icing.  Check it out: Sweetopia

This project took me several days to complete.  I did it alone, and pieces needed to dry before I could continue the project.  For these reasons, I stored my royal icing in the fridge in piping bags.  

The icing loosened/separated after 1-2 days.  I didn't want to re whip it because it was already in the bags.  This made for fun challenged.  I had to decorate everything flat so the icing wouldn't run everywhere.
  
Then let it dry, and flip the carriage to work on another part.

In the end, I made a new batch and whipped it fresh.  Being lazy doesn't pay off.  I was worried about matching color, but I think I did okay.

I went back over some of the sloppier parts with the newer icing.  

Meh.  This wasn't a competition piece.  It's for third-graders!  Who are going to love it.


The first of many Labors of Love for our Little Girl.







Saturday, August 30, 2014

Learning from Delicious Failure



“Learning Through Failure: Mom’s cherry covered chocolate cupcakes”
Back in July, I got inspired to create what I call, “DC Cherry Cupcakes.” It’s a white almond cake topped with a fresh cherry almond puree and cherry almond butter cream. 

I took my regular butter cream and used fresh cherry juice as the liquid and used almond and vanilla extract. The result was a delicate rose butter cream, very similar to the color of cherry blossoms. 

I used a star tip to create a rose design on top. This is actually ridiculously easy. If you’d like to try it yourself, start with a large star tip (4 or 5). Fill your pastry bag (or Ziploc, no judgments here) with your favorite frosting, slightly stiff. Hold your bag perpendicular to the cupcake, and start in the center. Squeeze out the frosting in a circular motion until you get to the edge. Voila! That’s it. I kid you not, it’s that easy.

        My friends and family have willingly become my guinea pigs (ironic, since I’m allergic to actual guinea pigs). They loved these cupcakes! I was making a test batch, so I did a few cupcakes without the cherry puree.  
I marked the ones with the puree by drawing with melted chocolate on top. My friend Laura, who’s not crazy about cherries, loved the cherry almond butter cream. Hell, I loved it so much; I spread it on graham crackers! 

My mom liked them, but said, “Not enough chocolate” (I wonder where I get my chocoholism from?).  I agreed that they would be good with more chocolate. I decided I would try chocolate shavings in the butter cream next time. 

        Flash forward to August and my mom’s birthday rolls around. She claimed I didn’t have to bake her anything. “I don’t need a cake!” she said, but I knew the truth. I decide to create, “Mom’s Cherry Covered Chocolate Cupcakes.” I started with our basic chocolate cake recipe. I replaced the unsweetened cocoa powder with Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
and I subbed out 1 ½ teaspoons of the vanilla extract for almond extract. The cake batter, holy balls the cake batter, it was heavenly!
I made cherry puree by pitting about 2 cups fresh cherries, throwing them in a food processor and draining through a sieve. I saved the cherry juice for my butter cream. I added 1 teaspoon of sugar and a healthy splash of Disarrono amaretto.  

I stored this in the fridge while the cupcakes cooled and went to work on the pièce d’ résistance; cherry almond butter cream with dark chocolate shavings. 

I wanted the chocolate and cherry to stand as separate notes, that’s why I chose the chocolate shavings instead of cocoa powder or chocolate extract. I also added a little amaretto, because why the hell not? I topped my cooled cupcakes with the fresh cherry puree.

Next, I intended to decorate the cupcakes like the DC Cherry cupcakes, with the star tips roses.  What I utterly failed to consider, and some of you smarties out there might have guessed, especially if you’ve ever had a chocolate chip Blizzard, is that the chocolate shavings would clog my star tip. 
Not knowing this, I loaded my bag with a #5 star tip and delicious frosting. I’ll admit, at this point, I had sampled some of the amaretto (for quality purposes, of course, I HAD to). 

Imagine my surprise when the first rose turned out like utter crap! I was flummoxed for all of two seconds, and then I remembered my own extensive Blizzard experience and the chocolate clogging the straw.  

Normally, you could just scrape off the frosting and try again, but the puree was already on these cupcakes. I wish I had taken a picture of how effed up these cupcakes were, but my first instinct was to fix it, not photograph it. I did, rather pointlessly, try another large tip before just cutting the end off the bag and doing a basic swirl. 

I blame the Friday night dumbs and the amaretto for not skipping that middle step. Then arrived problem number two: The delicate chocolate shavings that were solid enough to clog my tips were also melting in the bag from the heat of my hands. This turned my delicate rose frosting with dark flecks to a dusty pink frosting with some brown streaks.

I stared at my crappy-looking cupcakes in slight despair. These were not the cupcakes I wanted to present to my mother. It was time to bite the bullet, or cupcake. 

I said a quick prayer that they didn’t taste as bad as they looked. I got out a plate and a cup of milk to go with my cupcake (professional tip- just saying’).  

OH MY F#@*ing CRAP, these were the ultimate ugly duckling cupcakes! The flavors did just what they should; explode on your tongue, do a little dance and party in your mouth. This, IMHO, is an awesome cupcake.  I do recommend storing them in the refrigerator. To quote my mom, the birthday girl, they are “Divine.” My friend Jen texted me, “Hoooolyyyy crap!!!!” and “So good. Possibly even better that is was cold. It was still gooey and delicious”

*Sadly, my mom went to sneak the last cupcake when everyone else in her house was asleep (so she didn’t have to share) only to discover that ants had invaded her container and were eating her cupcake. She did not heed my fridge suggestion. *

Now on to learning from my delicious failure: the next time I make these I will simply do a big only swirl design. These darlings don’t need fancy looking frosting. I should probably chill the frosting in the bag for a few minutes to avoid the chocolate melting. For your viewing displeasure, here are a few of my bad pics. 
Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for more baking adventures, tips, triumphs and mishaps. ~Megan


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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Megan’s Chocolate Craving Cookies



Megan’s Chocolate Craving Cookies:
On a cool July afternoon, (high of 70) I was hit by a monstrous chocolate craving. I tried waiting it out. I talked on the phone with my best friend for an hour and a half. When we got off the phone, surprise! I still wanted chocolate.  I knew I had milk and semi-sweet chocolate chips in the pantry, but I also knew a handful of chips wouldn’t cut it. I decided this unseasonably cool weather was a great excuse to experiment with a cookie recipe. I started my favorite chocolate chip recipe and added two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder along with the flour.  Then I folded in a heaping cup of milk chocolate chips and heaping cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I grabbed my trusty medium scoop (from earlier blog posts, you know scoops are a great tool for even cookie sizes) and went to get out my cookie sheet. I could not find my favorite cookie sheet anywhere! Expletives were flying out of my mouth. I wanted a cookie so bad.  My stoneware cookie sheets were already in the preheated oven (*I'll explain that later). I was so desperate for a cookie; I grabbed my brownie pan and scooped out six cookies to pop in the oven while I continued the hunt.  Ten LONG minutes later, with a cool breeze coming from the window, I was pulling these heavenly cookies out of the oven. They were so chocolaty; I had to line the rest of the cookie sheets with parchment paper.
I can proudly say, these babies really hit the spot! AND, they got rave reviews from everyone who tried them. My step-dad doesn’t even like chocolate chip cookies and he went back for seconds.


The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe:
1 cup softened butter                      1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar                          2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract                        3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda                          2 tsp. hot water
½ tsp. salt                                      2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
(To make Megan’s Chocolate Craving cookies; be sure to make the changes listed above. These cookies are pretty bad ass on their own)
1     Preheat oven to 350°.
2     Cream together the butter and sugar until smooth.
3     Beat in eggs, on at a time.
--   4.  Stir in the vanilla extract.
5    Dissolve baking soda in 2 tsp. hot water
6   Add the baking soda mix to the batter, along with the salt.
7   Stir in flour (and cocoa, if you’re feeling the chocolate craving)
8   Stir in the chocolate chips.
9   Drop by the spoonful (or scoopful, they really are handy dandy kitchen tools) on to ungreased cookie sheets. I used parchment to line the cookie sheets for my chocolate craving cookies.
10.Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown. Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
This recipe makes about 4 dozen freaking awesome cookies. They freeze well, if you want to set aside a dozen for a rainy day.

  Happy Baking! Remember to subscribe to our blog for delicious recipes and excuses to bake. Let us know if you have any questions or you'd like us to try out any recipes for you.



*Stoneware can be stored in the oven and actually helps maintain even temperatures. The stoneware actually reduces the amount of energy it takes to keep the oven hot.  I have a gas oven, so this is especially important. They only time this backfires is if you don’t know that you need to use one until it is already 350°.