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Saturday
Nov222014

Easy Recipe: Horchata

Have you ever heard of horchata? No, I am not insulting you. Horchata is a delicious, milky beverage which is actually not always made with milk, but often rice or nuts ground into a "milk". It's nearly always spiced with cinnamon, and is often sweetened. It's common in Mexico, and common enough in New Mexico that I have become quite intimately knowledgable of the stuff.

Photo via flickr member sstrieu

Now that you're intrigued...how about making some horchata?

It's so easy and tasty that there's no reason for you to say no. And I'd bet that it's pretty likely you have a lot of the ingredients on hand already!

There's nothing to lose. Make it now. This version does have milk, which I think makes it extra-nice. You don't have to add it if you don't wanna. And oh, if you wanna get really naughty, add some rum!

Easy Horchata

Makes 2 servings

  • 1/2 cup long grain white rice, UNCOOKED
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup whole milk* (see note above)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  1. In a blender, combine the rice and water. Mix on high for about 1 minute.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients right to the blender, and let it steep for 3 hours at room temperature. This is letting the flavors come together in a very pleasant way.
  3. Strain the mixture, and pour it into a pitcher. Serve chilled (I prefer to chill it in the fridge rather than serving with ice, as I feel that it dilutes the mix).

Enjoy!

Saturday
Nov222014

Great for Holiday Baking: Plush Puffs Marshmallows

Commercially made marshmallows aren't a go-to confection for me, because so many are inferior in quality and flavor. However, a homemade marshmallow is a different thing entirely: pillowy, sweet, and just begging to be popped on top of a rich cup of hot chocolate.

I was happy to discover a company that creates marshmallows that really do approximate that unique homemade flavor and texture: Plush Puffs. They sent me a package of samples, and I was very impressed with the quality (note: the samples were free to me; I am not being paid to write this post).

They sent me their holiday flavors, which included Gingerbread spice, pumpkin pie, and peppermint marshmallows. Each of the flavors tasted season-appropriate, and had a wonderful, pillowy yet holds-its-shape texture. In looking at their website, I was delighted to see that they offer a huge selection of flavors, from vanilla bean to caramel swirl to lemon meringue to even a tantalizing-looking chocolate chip cookie inspired flavor. Oh, and they pride themselves on not using high fructose corn syrup.

While my experience to this moment has been eating the marshmallows out of hand, I can definitely see them playing a role in holiday baking, be it gingerbread s'mores, minty cocoa, or maybe a homemade holiday s'mores pop-tart? Hmmm....

What do you think I should bake with these seasonal marshmallows?

If you're intrigued, shop for your own marshmallows on the Plush Puffs website.

Friday
Nov212014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

Need cards? Click here.Cake decorators: Win 8 Craftsy courses! (Craftsy)

I need to tell you: Oreo Peanut Butter Dip. (Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts)

Maple walnut fudge. I like it. (Eagle Brand)

I know, linking to a link post. But this is a collection of food blogs beloved by someone in eating disorder recovery. Now that's sweet! (Recovery Warriors)

Is Walkers the best shortbread in Britain? (Telegraph UK)

Intriguing: salted caramel pita chip clusters. (Naptime Chef)

Pie-fect: how to make pretty pie crust edges. (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Pecan pie baklava. A naturally delicious progression for both desserts. (Crazy for Crust)

In case you've ever wondered how to make a carved dinosaur cake. (My Sweet and Saucy)

50 Cake batter desserts. YES! (Chef in Training

Spumoni trifle. FREAKING LOVE THIS! (Confessions of a Cookbook Queen)

Palette knives: no longer just for paint. For cake, too! (CakeSpy for Craftsy)

Pear, blue cheese, and walnut rugelach. Wow! (Baking a Moment)

Ramen Donuts. Would you ever?? (Culinary Brodown)

Edible Thanksgiving place cards. (Hungry Happenings)

In case you missed it: my awesome roundup of the Pillsbury Bake-Off (CakeSpy)

Homemade carmelitas. I wouldn't lie about this. (Shauna Sever)

Book of the week: 

Holiday Cookies: Prize-Winning Family Recipes from the Chicago Tribune for Cookies, Bars, Brownies and More. This book spans three decades of prize-winning cookies from the Chicago Tribune's annual holiday cookie contest. They are amazing. I will be featuring the winner from 2012 in a few days on the site, but til then, I do suggest you buy this book!

Thursday
Nov202014

Tastes Like Joy: Creme de Noisettes Recipe

Hazelnut chocolate creme

See that thing? Up there in the jar? That creamy, chocolatey looking stuff? Well, guess what--you now officially have the recipe. 

Not to break you out of the reverie, but I suppose I should tell you what it is, exactly. That little mason jar is filled with a chocolate-hazelnut slurry known as (doesn't it always sound better in French?) crème de noisettes. I never tried this when I was in France, but stateside, I've tried a little something called Nutella which brings it to mind. Ever heard of it?

This lovely recipe is excerpted from French Bistro: Restaurant-Quality Recipes for Appetizers, Entrées, Desserts, and Drinks.

PS: want to read more about my overseas adventures? Here's a roundup of my last trip to Paris.

French Bistro Maria Zihammou

*crème de noisettes*

Hazelnut and chocolate crème

Hazelnut and chocolate is an unbeatable combination that I downright love. My kids do too! Here, I’ve blended the two flavors into a rich and dangerously delicious crème, which my kids love to eat on baguette dipped in hot chocolate. I prefer it on a croissant, dipped in café au lait.

Makes 1 Jar 

  • ½ cup (100 ml) Nutella
  • 7 oz (200 g) dark chocolate, 70% cacao
  • 3½ tbsp (50 g) butter
  • ¼ cup (50 ml) cream
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 3½ oz (100 g) hazelnuts

Procedure 

  • Place the Nutella in a saucepan. Coarsely chop up the chocolate and place it in the pan. Cut the butter into small pieces and add it too, along with the cream, molasses, and water. Warm over low heat to make a smooth sauce. Move the saucepan off to one side.

  • Roast the nuts in a dry pan for 3–4 minutes. Mix them well and blend them into the sauce. Pour the crème into a jar with a tight lid. If stored in the fridge, it should keep for at least one week.

Enjoy!

Wednesday
Nov192014

Haters Gonna Hate, and Pop-Tart Stuffed Biscuit Donuts

This week, I took a peek at my website statistics, and saw an oddly high number of click-overs from one particular web forum. Curious, I clicked over to see what was going on.

Turns out, it was a thread about totally disgusting food blogger creations, and I was prominently featured. One of my recipes even warranted a little animated vomiting emoticon (oddly adorable), and a proclamation that "Sandra Lee must be her idol". 

You could call these commenters nasty or rude, and I certainly wouldn't correct you.

The funny thing is, though, these so-called "haters" have actually done me quite a service with their attentions--they significantly upped my web traffic, which ultimately translates to more income for me in various ways. Most obviously, more views means more ad revenue--to a reasonable degree, ads don't care if you're horrified by the content, they just care about if their ad is viewed. But this attention can also lead to increased income in other, indirect ways. For instance: maybe someone will click over to see exactly what is so hate-worthy and then think "the recipes are awful but gosh, this artwork is cute" and click over to my webstore and buy a print.

It reminds me of when I was in art school, and there was a very controversial show at the Brooklyn Museum. It got a lot of negative attention, but this didn't mean the show was a failure. It was crowded ALL THE TIME. My takeaway was this: it doesn't necessarily matter if the reaction is good or bad to your art. The idea is that you want to GET a reaction. So, you know, the fact that people are reacting in horror to my candy bar pie or my deep-fried cupcakes on a stick doesn't bother me--I consider it a badge of pride that I am being noticed.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not totally zen about it. If I ran into one of these commenters in person, I would hasten to do something small and snide, like not hold a door open for them or hustle so I could get into the grocery line before them with a cart full of pop-tarts and pop-n-bake biscuits.

With all of the above in mind, particularly the part about pop-tarts and pop-n-bake biscuits, I'd like to present a recipe for the haters: Pop-Tart Stuffed Biscuit Donuts. 

The recipe was inspired by an actual, classy recipe, which was made by a pastry chef reader, Stephany Hicks from South Carolina. She called them "Pie-Nuts" and made them with a real yeast raised doughnut dough and homemade pies inside. Because she's classy and talented.

Pie-nutsOf course, I went right in and made them somewhat trashy (I can't help it! I'm from New Jersey!) by substituting pie with pop-tarts, and doughnuts with pop-n-bake biscuit dough. Luckily, Stephany wasn't offended. She found it amusing, bless her sweet little soul.

How did they taste? 

Calorie-laden, slighty synthetic, and very sweet. The type of food that you know isn't necessarily good, but that somehow you can't...stop...eating. That is to say, awful and awesome, all at the same time. But...you already knew that, didn't you?

A dedication

This recipe is dedicated to everyone who has taken enough time to take issue with what I do--I paid for the ingredients with the money I earned from your web traffic. I think that deserves a new emoticon:

Note: I've called these "donuts" rather than "doughnuts"...because when paired with Pop-Tarts, it just felt more appropriate.

Pop-Tart Stuffed Biscuit Donuts 

Makes 4

Adapted from How to Make Doughnuts Using Biscuits from a Tube 

  • 1 tube of pop-n-bake biscuits (with 8 biscuits)
  • 1 Pop-Tart, cut into 4 equal pieces (I used a strawberry frosted--classic)
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • a skillet for frying
  • confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Procedure

  1. Open up your tube of biscuits. Take out the biscuits, and flatten each one with your hand.
  2. Place a piece of pop-tart in the center of one of the flattened biscuits, and place a second on top. Seal the edges to keep the pop-tart contained.
  3. Repeat with the remaining biscuits and pop-tart pieces.
  4. Pour the oil in your skillet until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Heat the oil on medium heat until it has reached 375 degrees. Don't have a thermometer? You can also break a small piece of dough off and toss it into the pan. If it starts bubbling assertively right away, you're probably ready to rock and roll.
  5. Gently transfer one donut at a time into the pan. When they start to rise in the oil and turn brown, flip 'em. These are bigger than your typical donut, so they might require a little more frying time. 
  6. Once fully fried, transfer to the paper towels to blot excess oil.
  7. Gently cut one of the donuts open to check that it is cooked through. If they seem doughy inside, pop them in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes until completely set inside.
  8. Once finished, dust with confectioners' sugar and serve warm.

What kind of Pop-Tart would you put in these donuts?

Sunday
Nov162014

Red Velvet Cereal and More

I need to tell you something. It's this:

Red Velvet Cereal.

Here's the deal. When you are testing recipes, sometimes you end up with extra layers of cake. Even good, high-demand cakes, like red velvet.

I realize that having extra, leftover red velvet cake layers sounds like a luxury--nay, an impossibility. How could a red velvet cake layer be around the house and not be slathered in cream cheese and eaten?

But, well, it did happen. Maybe never again, but it did happen just this once. And I have come up with the most brilliant solution for using this cake.

Why red velvet cereal?

It started with the idea that I would do a sort of twice-baked thing with the cake cubes: red velvet croutons! Why not--you could eat them like cookies, right? 

So I put a bunch of red velvet cake cubes on a baking sheet, drizzled it with butter and confectioners' sugar, and put it in the oven until it was all nice and crispy.

Then I set to using the "croutons" in various ways, all of them pleasant...

An ice cream topping: 

as simple sweet snacks (like cake chips):

but then, I realized that hey, I could probably put milk on these and eat them as cereal.

And after that moment, all other uses for these red velvet cubes of joy disappeared. Because clearly, red velvet cereal was the winner.

Advantages of red velvet cereal

Not quite a believer yet? Well, let me try to sway your affections by telling you some of the distinct advantages of red velvet cereal. 

  • It is toasty, but the cubes soften quickly in the milk to a lightly crisp, pleasing consistency.
  • Since I've used high quality ingredients and employed homemade red velvet cake, that this might even be healthier than, say, Cookie Crisp or Froot Loops. It certainly has less hard-to-pronounce ingredients.
  • It tints the milk a light and beautiful pink. 
  • It has the advantages of cake for breakfast, but carries less possibility of harsh judgment because it is cereal
  • RED VELVET CEREAL!

If you'd like to make this magic happen at home, here's how you do it.

Red Velvet Cereal

Makes many cubes of cereal

  • 1 8 or 9-inch red velvet cake layer, unfrosted
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • confectioners' sugar

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Cut the cake into cubes, about 1 inch. Place them on the baking sheet.
  3. Drizzle with butter, and dust with confectioners' sugar. Place in the preheated oven.
  4. Heat for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and flip the croutons. Put back in the oven for 20 more minutes, or until nice and crispy.
  5. Remove from oven and let cool completely. 

 Would you eat red velvet cereal?

Sunday
Nov162014

How to Paint a Perfect Sunset in Watercolor

For the full tutorial, click the image!

Sunday
Nov162014

What is Bird's Custard Powder? 

Given my enthusiasm for Nanaimo bars, here's a question I am often asked: What is Bird's custard powder?

I understand the question, because it is one I had, too, in the beginning of my Nanaimo-bar-making journey.

The general consensus in Canada and beyond is that this stuff is a vital ingredient in the bars...but why? 

Bird's Custard Powder

Traditionally, the middle section of Nanaimo bars is made with Bird’s Custard Powder. This is a popular custard powder invented in the UK that immigrated to British Columbia in the early 1900s when there was a large wave of new immigration from Europe. This would have been well timed with the advent of iceboxes as a common household item in Canada, which would explain for the bar’s UK influence.

Instant vanilla pudding powder will do in a pinch, but do try to find Bird’s Custard Powder for a truly authentic taste. It’s not extremely difficult to find: look for it in the international aisle of your local grocery store, or online.

These may be of interest with that knowledge in mind:

Have you ever tried a Nanaimo bar?

Sunday
Nov162014

Meat of the Moment: Meatball Bubble Gum and More

Bacon? Yawn. There's a new meat of the moment: meatballs. And its cult status is reflected in a slew of new products which employ meatball as muse, from phone cases to t-shirts to, yes, bubble gum.

I found out about this fantastic new product via In Touch Weekly, where it was listed as one of the "losers of the week". Well, In Touch, as much as I adore your hard-hitting coverage, on this note, I will have to respectfully disagree. Bubble gum that looks like nubbly little meatballs? That's hiliarous and charming!

This "Hearty Italian-Style Meatball Gum" is a perfect treat for me to bring back to my Italian-leaning family in New Jersey for the holidays. 

It appears out of stock on Amazon at the moment, but I have already signed up for updates about when it's available again.

Of course, if meatball gum isn't your style, you could go for some other products by the same manufacturer, including Thanksgiving-themed gum:

Thanksgiving themed gumballs

this includes "twenty-two delicious gumballs in the classic flavors of Thanksgiving - turkey, cranberry and pumpkin pie! Enthusiastically approved by pilgrims. Twelve shrink wrapped tins in each illustrated display box."

If you're looking for something you can enjoy year-round, try the TV dinner gumballs.

TV Dinner Gumballs

The product description: "Remember when there were only three networks and you had to get up out of your chair to change the channel? This is the gum for you! Your vegetable is buttered corn flavored gum, your main dish is roast beef flavored gum and for dessert, apple cobbler flavored gum."

Find all of these sweet treats at accoutrements.com.

Sunday
Nov162014

Breakfast by Fabio: Buttermilk and Black Pepper Biscuits

Biscuits from Fabio book

There are carbohydrates that are biscuits, and then there are carbohydrates that are not biscuits.

These are biscuits. They are from the new book Fabio's American Home Kitchen: More Than 125 Recipes With an Italian Accent. Look at this guy, I trust his biscuits!

Sounds like the perfect holiday weekend breakfast to me!

Buttermilk and Black Pepper Biscuits

America loves biscuits. I love them with gravy, I love them without. I love biscuits with savory ingredients like roasted ham and sun-dried tomatoes on them. But when you add a lot of black pepper to the biscuits, that’s really taking it to the next level. This is a very simple recipe, perfect for the morning.

MAKES 1 DOZEN BISCUITS

  • 2¼ cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter a baking sheet.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, baking soda and Parmesan and pepper into a bowl.
  3. Work in the butter with your fingers, or pulse in a food processor, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in buttermilk until just combined.
  4. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7-inch disk about 1 inch thick. Cut out 12 rounds with a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter, collecting and reshaping the scraps as necessary.
  5. Arrange the biscuits on the buttered baking sheet. Bake until cooked through and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through.

Photo and recipe from Fabio's American Home Kitchen: More Than 125 Recipes With an Italian Accent by Fabio Viviani; published by Hachette Books, a division of the Hachette Book Group. Copyright ©2014 FV Legacy, LLC. All Rights Reserved.  Used with Permission. 

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