January 23, 2011

valentine's treats

I've been spending a lot of my down time from the 9-5 (or in my case, the 24/7... that PhD won't earn itself!) in the kitchen lately, and I've been having fun with some Valentine's Day baking. There are so many fun things I want to try so I'm getting a head start on this holiday's baking, which happens to be a favourite of mine not for the celebration of love, but for the celebration of sweet, sweet carbs.

a) A small 1-2 serving heart-shaped french vanilla cake covered in red fondant with a tiffany blue gumpaste bow.

b) Another small 1-2 serving heart shaped french vanilla cake covered in chocolate ganache and a white chocolate drizzle, with a glitter-accented gumpaste rose.

c) A cupcake bouquet - a dozen cupcakes with buttercream piped roses in a decorative vase. This was a little trickier than I thought it would be. Piping the cupcakes was no problem, but getting them to sit in the vase was a challenge. They're stuck into a styrofoam ball (available at any craft store) with lollipop sticks. The styrofoam ball was really stiff, and every once in a while a cupcake would topple off. Some structural arrangements were made (i.e. crossing my fingers and hoping for the best) and everything worked out fine in the end!

d) Box of chocolate (covered cake truffles) - peanut butter cake truffles covered in dark and white chocolates, each one uniquely decorated, atop a chocolate mud cake candy box. This was a lot of fun! Too bad the cake truffles didn't stand a chance in my household. 

e) Dark chocolate cupcakes with pink vanilla buttercream icing - a sweet and simple treat. 


January 9, 2011

something a little bit different

 Fruit gelee candies: dangerously good.

New year, new treat. Every once in a while I put away my rolling pin and embark on something I've never tried before.  I had recently purchased flavouring extracts that I was keen to try out (indeed, I tested out bubblegum on some buttercream for a coworker's birthday cupcakes, check out a photo here) and I figured I could use them in a non-cake recipe. The goal: fruit gelees.

Rather than a using gelatin as a gelling or thickening agent, I opted for pectin (which is vegetarian friendly and derived from fruit. Yum.). The result: a sweet and splendid candy treat that will give you one heck of a sugar rush.

Fruit Gelees
recipe yields... a lot.

3/4 cup frozen white grape juice concentrate (you can use any kind of juice, but I like that white grape juice has a mild flavour and has less colour)
1 1/4 cups water
2 packages of pectin crystals (about 100g total)
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup corn syrup
a couple of drops flavour extract
a couple of drops food colour

1) Line a baking sheet or pan with wax or parchment paper (these candies become very sticky). 
2) Combine juice concentrate, water, pectin and baking soda in a pan. This mixture will foam quite a bit. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and let simmer. Continue to cook until the mixture is thick and clear. 
3) Combine sugar and corn syrup in another pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and let simmer. Cook both mixtures for 5-8 minutes. 
4) Slowly pour the sugar mixture into the boiling pectin mixture.  Cook for one minute and ensure sugar is melted before removing from heat. Add flavour extracts and food colouring if desired. 
5) Pour mixture into pan (or into candy moulds) and let set at room temperature for a few hours. 
6) Cover the top of the mixture with sugar (superfine or granulated), which will help with handling the sticky candy. Cut into pieces, remove from pan then coat entirely in sugar. 
7) Eat all of them.

Now, these didn't firm up as much as I had expected, and I think adding a little bit more corn syrup and lightening up on the water might have helped. But they were still pretty darn delicious. The flavours tested out were bubblegum (blue), grape (purple) and cherry-pineapple (yellow). The latter was definitely my favourite. There was also a batch of watermelon, but it suspiciously didn't set as quickly, so I sent it home with my co-candy-creator Martha-In-Training Jamie to see if she could salvage it. Even if it turned out disastrous, I suspect it was at least a tasty one.  The next time I make these I think I'll try some real fruit puree too. *Important note: store at room temperature!