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Entries in holidays (51)

Friday
Nov272009

Winter Wonderland: A Sweet Dispatch from the National Gingerbread House Competition

Gingerbread Houses
Have you ever been curious about the nation's gingerbread elite? Even if you weren't, bet you are now. Here, Cake Gumshoe Shannon reports on the scene at the National Gingerbread Competition:

A peppermint forest, a sprinkle laden path, sugary turrets and beams of brown baked gingerbread. This is the stuff that children’s dreams are made of, as are the incredible and edible works of art entered in this year’s famous National Gingerbread House Competition put on by The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina.
Gingerbread Windmill
After months of baking and building, gingerbread architects and purveyors of icing of all ages from across the country have witnessed the judging of their mouth-watering creations. Winning entries are now on display throughout the historic hotel until January 3.

While the name of the contest may conjure pictures of a child’s dilapidated yet endearing four-sided gingerbread home made from a store-bought kit, you’ll find much more among this spicy and sweet collection of entirely edible concoctions.
A marshmallow-laden igloo. A zoo of tasty lions and tigers with caramel cages. A Dutch windwill with spokes of pretzels and chocolate. A cuckoo clock with almond pinecone weights. A castle with a gingerbread princess. Next to a mandate of gingerbread as a building block, imagination is the most important rule of this contest.

Some of my most favorite entries are the most out-of-box inventions such as a festive Egyptian pyramid draped with frosted boughs and holly atop a sugary sweet desert neighbored by a crystal blue sea with a magical sailboat. The base of the boat is made of ice cream cones and is topped by a mast of ruby red licorice and a sail of yellow fruit roll-up.

Then there is the gingerbread house that models a posh Mediterranean villa with a terracotta roof, manicured gardens, a tiled patio and glistening blue fountains that mimic running water, or the gingerbread woven picnic basket filled with fruit and a parade of ants atop an iced picnic blanket.

The grand prize winner of this year’s contest perhaps bends all notions of gingerbread houses with a stunning copper and gold gilded bird cage with two brilliant snow white turtle doves. The base of the bird cage is encircled with perfectly shaped pears and leaves that seem to glow with reflected light (pictured top).
Gingerbread Picnic Basket
Certainly too beautiful to eat, it’s not hard to see on first glance, why this entry brought home the contest’s ultimate prize, which includes a $3,000 prize check, a two-night club floor stay at The Grove Park Inn, dinner for two, daily breakfast for two and a prize package from Chef Nicholas Lodge including a two-day class at the Nicholas Lodge School in Atlanta, Georgia, not to mention major bragging rights at the next neighborhood cookout or potluck.

While the top winners are interesting to see as a collection, each individual gingerbread creation has a story to tell that’s reflected in the incredible attention to detail and hours of work invested. To hear the stories behind the gingerbread, visit The Grove Park Inn and take part in the “Stories of Gingerbread” guided tours.

The Grove Park Inn, 290 Macon Ave., Asheville, NC 1-800-438-5800; Gingerbread Hotline 1-800-413-5778; online at groveparkinn.com.

For more of Shannon Connell’s work, check out her website.

Tuesday
Nov242009

Roll With It: Pumpkin Roulade Cake Recipe from Cake Gumshoe Julia

Guest Post from Cake Gumshoe Julia - roulade cake with sugar
CakeSpy Note: What the world needs now is love, sweet love--all rolled up in a pumpkin roulade cake. Cake Gumshoe Julia is at it again, and has contributed a totally sweet recipe! You can follow her everyday adventures on her site, Fat Girl Trapped in a Skinny Body.

I have been wanting to make a roll cake for years. But I have been so intimidated by them--they always look so perfect, and I always feared there was no room for error in the texture of the cake or consistency of the frosting. It had to be perfect or else it wouldn't roll correctly. But Saturday morning I was feeling lucky.

I had a pumpkin I had just roasted which I wanted to use for some baked goods. I also realized I hadn't made any pumpkin baked goods yet and Thanksgiving is only 5 days away. So right then I knew I had to make Ina Garten's Pumpkin Roulade. Her recipes have always turned out well for me, which gave me the confidence to move forward. Of course I modified her recipe slightly (I just have a habit of always adding some of my own 'flair' you can call it).

Pumpkin Roulade Cake

For the cake:
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus extra for dusting

For the filling:
  • 8 ounces cream cheese (I used low fat)
Note: I have been using Philadelphia cream cheese. I used the generic cheap stuff forever, but recently discovered that Philly has such a better consistency.
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup fresh pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 banana, mashed
  • Pinch kosher salt

Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 18 by 1-inch sheet pan. Line the pan with parchment paper and grease and flour the paper.
  2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt and stir to combine. Place the eggs and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light yellow and thickened. With the mixer on low, add the pumpkin, then slowly add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Finish mixing the batter by hand with a rubber spatula. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake the cake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the top springs back when gently touched.Guest Post from Cake Gumshoe Julia - roulade cake on towel
  3. While the cake is baking, lay out a clean, thin cotton dish towel (I used a cheese cloth) on a flat surface and sift the entire 1/4 cup of confectioners' sugar evenly over it. (This will prevent the cake from sticking to the towel.) As soon as you remove the cake from the oven, loosen it around the edges and invert it squarely onto the prepared towel. Peel away the parchment paper. With a light touch, roll the warm cake and the towel together (don't press!) starting at the short end of the cake. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Note: I just dumped the cake onto the powdered sugar towel, and I watched a huge cloud of powdered sugar spread everywhere. So the term 'with a light tough' is key to making a little less mess.
  4. Meanwhile, make the filling. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and cream together for about a minute, until light and fluffy. Stir in the pumpkin, banana, and salt.Guest Post from Cake Gumshoe Julia - roulade cake with frosting
  5. To assemble, carefully unroll the cake onto a board with the towel underneath. 
  6. Spread the cake evenly with the filling. 
  7. Reroll the cake in a spiral using the towel as a guide. Remove the towel and trim the ends to make a neat edge. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve sliced.


Guest Post from Cake Gumshoe Julia - roulade cake fork cutting

 

Wednesday
Nov182009

Gobble Gobble: A Turkey Cupcake Tutorial From Meringue Bake Shop

Turkey Cupcake Tutorial c/o Meringue Bake Shop
Thanksgiving. The holiday of food, er giving thanks for life’s bounty. A few days to indulge in excess of food, family, travel and shopping--that is to say, a great holiday. No worrying about giving and getting presents: just a day to enjoy stuffing ourselves, making more room and saying thanks for that delicious turkey.
Back when I first started exploring baking creatively, I came across this idea for making Thanksgiving turkey cupcakes. At first I was a little skeptical because it looked like a lot of work and up to the point my decorating skills consisted of a butter knife and a slab of frosting from a can. But I couldn’t resist, and I found that these were really easy to make and so irresistibly cute. This is also a great thing to give kids something to do later in the day. They can assemble their turkeys and throw a turkey parade to rejoice for those birds that survived another year. Or the kids can make them ahead of time and you can use them as your table centerpiece. Just arrange on a platter and stick some flowers in between the cupcakes.

Turkey Cupcakes
-makes 24 -

Note: For these cupcakes, the base and frosting can be pretty much whatever you want. I used a yellow cake recipe and tinted it with some orange food coloring. And I used a chocolate buttercream because, it’s brown like turkeys, and I really like yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Peanut butter frosting would be good too. Yum!

Ingredients

  • 1 package of Nutter Butters
  • 1 package of fruit roll ups, fruit leather or airheads. (starburst could even work here but would require more effort)
  • Jumbo heart sprinkles (can be found at your local craft store or online)
  • Bag of mini chocolate chips or mini M&Ms (you could use leftover Halloween candy, but who are we kidding? There is no such thing by now, right? Especially if you made this pie)
  • Maple leaf cookie cutter (I used this set)
  • Candy corn
  • Cornstarch (for dusting)
  • Powdered sugar
  • Cocoa
  • Meringue Powder
  • 24 cupcakes, baked but unfrosted
  • Frosting (homemade or from a can – if you use a can, buy two)
  • Piping bag or gallon plastic zipper bag
  • Tip (I used a 1G Wilton tip) 
Guest blog post from Meringue Bake Shop
  • Optional: 100 Calorie packs (you may be wondering what the 100 calorie packs are for, you’ll see later on in the post!) 

Got your ingredients? Good. Let's get started:

Guest blog post from Meringue Bake Shop
1. Make the feathers. Grab a cutting board and lightly dust with cornstarch. Unroll the fruit roll ups, separate the colors and lay them on the board. Dust a little more cornstarch on top. I also dust some on a concentrated area that I can use to dip in my cookie cutter. Note: I tried Fruit by the Foot and only realized after I’d opened it that they print images on the fruit strips so I couldn’t use that. Also if you are going to use Airheads or starbursts, you might need to microwave them, out of their packages, for a couple seconds to get them more pliable. Then you’ll need a rolling pin or glass with some cornstarch on it to thin them out. Your hands can work too.
2. Next, make some royal icing. I halve this recipe but I add a little bit more water, like an extra teaspoon.
3. Put the icing in a piping bag or zipper bag and cut a tiny bit off the tip so you have about a 1/8 of an inch size hole. I also slightly snip the seams on my pastry bags so that I get a circle when I squeeze instead of a line.

Guest Post from Meringue Bake Shop

4. Grab a nutter butter. Pipe on two dots for the eyes and a dot with the line heading down the length of the cookie.
Guest post from Meringue Bake ShopGuest post from Meringue Bake Shop
5. Stick the jumbo red heart with the pointy part up on the line of royal icing. Then place one mini chocolate chip on each dot you placed for the eyes.

6. Snap off the end of a piece of candy corn, leaving the white tip and little bit of the orange. Eat the remaining piece. (Shhh, I won’t tell). You might need to add some royal icing to the candy corn piece and then glue the bits together...but now you're finished!
Guest post from Meringue Bake Shop
7. Now make 23 more. (Patiently waiting)

Guest post from Meringue Bake Shop
8. Ok! On to frosting. Fit a piping bag or zipper bag with a tip. Or you can cut the tip of the bag in a + shape to get a similar shape in your frosting. Fill bag with frosting of your choice.
Swirl on the icing and then add a little edge of frosting. This is where the feathers will rest.

9. Pick up a turkey and stick him towards the front of the cupcake, into the cupcake. You can press a little hard here. Make sure he is in the cupcake and not just in the frosting.
Guest Post from Meringue Bake Shop
10. Then start placing your feathers--I did 3 but you can do more if you like. Overlapping would look cool.

Guest Post from Meringue Bake Shop
And a turkey is born! Isn’t he cute! You almost don’t wanna eat him… almost.

Extra Credit: So you may still be wondering about those 100 calorie snack bags in my early photo. I made baby turkeys! This is a great option if you want to utilize mini cupcakes as well.
Guest Post from Meringue Bake ShopGuest Post from Meringue Bake Shop
1. Using the same method for the large nutterbutters, place two dots of royal icing on the cookie and add mini chocolate chips. Add another dot and either add another jumbo heart or for this one I used some leftover heart-shaped cinnamon red hots also purchased at my local craft store.
Guest Post from Meringue Bake Shop
2. Frost a swirl of buttercream on top of the mini cupcake. Insert one of the baby turkeys, then add your feathers. I used a tear drop cutter for the baby turkey feathers. So cute!!
Now, your turkeys are ready to party!
Come back!

...wait, come back, Turkey!

About the Cake Gumshoe: Kristin Ausk owns Meringue Bake Shop, a custom cupcakery located in Orange County, California. She uses high quality ingredients, pop culture, and nostalgia to come up with unique and flavorful cupcakes. All of her cupcakes are made-to-order, so every cupcake you order was made just for you. Kristin’s love of baking began when she was 7 yrs old and entered a baking contest held by her local paper and won! (an honorable mention). But that only encouraged her more. And two years ago, at the request of her coworkers, friends, and family, she decided to turn her love into a side business. You’ll find her trying out new recipes in her kitchen with her husband, Lyle, and her two dogs, Klondike & Miles. Keep updated daily with her Twitter updates!

Wednesday
Nov182009

Peace of Pie: Pumpkin Apple Pecan Thanksgiving Pie for Serious Eats

Thanksgiving Pies!
Pumpkin? Apple? Pecan? Why choose just one pie when you can have all three...at once?

For this week's pie entry on Serious Eats, I bravely took on the task of testing out different ways of combining these classic pie recipes: in one pie, I layered the fillings one on top of the other; in another, I mixed all of the fillings together into one sweet slurry; and in the final (and--spoiler--best tasting) one I baked them in individual compartments. As it turns out, the peace-sign pie tasted the best. So why bother going to the trouble of baking them together? While baking in the same pie crust, each flavor gets a boost from being baked with the others--it lends a certain je ne sais quoi to the pie.
Thanksgiving Pie!
Check out the full experiment, plus recipe, here.

Wednesday
Nov182009

Good to Gobble: Cookie Turkeys for Serious Eats

Cookie Turkeys for Serious Eats
Easy as pie? No, these cookie turkeys are even easier! I actually came across this recipe when I was assigned to illustrate it for a Taste of Home coloring book, and was so smitten that I had to test it out for my weekly entry on Serious Eats. They're not only simple but pretty delicious (in an admittedly guilty-pleasure sort of way) too!
Cookie Turkeys for Serious Eats
Check out the recipe here.

Monday
Nov162009

Candy Stripes: Candy Cane Cookies Recipe

Candy Cane Cookies
CakeSpy Note: Too early for Christmas cookies? No such thing. And so even though it's before Thanksgiving, Christmas Cookie madness has already begun  here!

As much fun as it is to mess with recipes, sometimes you just can't mess with perfection. Such is the case with the candy cane cookies from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book , a recipe which I've been making for years. Aside from the fact that I take an all-butter rather than part shortening route, not once have I strayed from the original recipe, and not once have I been let down. They're easy to make, unmistakably festive for the holidays, and very delicious.
Candy Cane Cookies


Candy Cane Cookies
-makes about 4 dozen -

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter 
  • 1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • red food coloring

Procedure
  1. Heat oven to 375 F.
  2. Mix butter, sugar, egg, and flavorings thoroughly. Measure flour by dipping method or by sifting; mix flour and salt; stir into the wet mixture.
  3. Divide dough in half; blend red food coloring into one half.
  4. Roll a 4-inch strip from each color. For smooth, even strips, roll them back and forth on a lightly floured board. Place strips side by side, press lightly together and twist like rope. For best results, complete cookies one at a time--if all the dough of one color is shaped first, strips become too dry to twist. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Curve top down to form the handle of the candy cane. Note: If you want a variation, you can also place strips side by side and roll them into a spiral and affix small triangles of white dough on either end, to have the look of starlight mints like in the picture on the top of this post!
  5. Bake about 9 minutes, until lightly browned. While still warm, remove from baking sheet with spatula; if desired, sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and/or crushed candy canes.

Wednesday
Nov112009

Sugar and Spice: Apple Cranberry Galettes Recipe from Patisserie Natalie


CakeSpy Note: This is another guest post from high school-aged baking phenom Natalie, who has contributed to CakeSpy in the past! You can keep up with her via her website, Pâtisserie Natalie. Here's her latest recipe:

Brrrrr! It has been ridiculously cold in Seattle lately. For anyone who lives here, they know we had the most intense rain storm recently. Personally, I love it! But for the people who are less inclined to run around in the rain, they might enjoy some delicious dessert to eat while reading a book by the fire. I know, it's a cliche, but that's a pretty good one, in my opinion. This is a great dessert because it's super easy to make, but it tastes fancy. I've never actually worked with cranberries before, and they were great (they're really cute, too). I thought that apples and cranberries would be a good combination of fall flavors that are very different from each other. I also made a honey cinnamon ice cream to go with this, but I didn't get the chance to take any pictures because the galettes got eaten. If you want the recipe you can go to my blog and email me for it.

Apple Cranberry Galettes
-makes about 4 8-inch Galettes -

Dough ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter + 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) ice water
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tablespoon heavy cream
  • sanding sugar

Filling Ingredients
  • 4 large granny smith apples
  • 2/3 cup fresh cranberries
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger

Procedure
  1. Mix flour, sugar, and salt in food processor.
  2. Add 12 tablespoons of butter; pulse until coarse meal forms. Add 2 tablespoons ice water; pulse until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Chill 2 hours.
  3. While you're chilling the dough, you might want to prepare the filling (procedure below).
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out dough on a floured work surface 1/2" thick. Cut into 8" diameter circles and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
  5. Place about 1/3 of a cup of the filling in the center of the circle and fold up edges of the dough in one direction. Place a 1/2 tablespoon of butter on the filling.
  6. Beat the egg in a small bowl and add cream. Using a pastry brush, paint the sides of the galette with an eggwash and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Place on the parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes depending on your oven.

Filling Procedure:
  1. Peel and cut apples into very thin slices, about 1/4" thick, then set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, turn on medium heat and melt butter. While the butter is melting, combine lemon juice, sugar, and spices in a small bowl. Pour into the saucepan.
  3. Cook the cranberries in the pan first, without the apples. Wait until they start to make "popping" sounds, then remove from the pan, leaving the juice in the pan.
  4. Cook apples just until they are easily sliced with a little pressure from a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and toss the cranberries in. Stir the fruits in with the sauce until everything is nice and covered.

Wednesday
Nov112009

Sam I Yam: Sweet Potato Tarte Tatin for Serious Eats!

Sweet Potato Tarte Tatin

The problem with sweet potato pie? While it's delicious, after consuming all of the mashed potatoes and stuffing at dinner, it often equals starch overload. Luckily, the Sweet Potato Tarte Tatin from the newly published cookbook DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel provides the perfect solution: it starts with slivered sweet potatoes—just enough to provide flavor without becoming a starchy bulk—then pairs them with a thick, rich caramel sauce and buttery puff pastry, all of which is combined, baked upside down, then flipped post-baking for a sophisticated and (especially when topped with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream) supremely satisfying dessert.

Oh, and it's fantastic for breakfast the next day, too!

You can check out the full recipe that I posted over at Serious Eats!

Tuesday
Nov102009

Seeing Stars: Cinnamon Star Holiday Cookie Recipe from Bredenbeck's Bakery of Philadelphia

Cinnamon Stars from Bredenbeck's Bakery, Philadelphia
When I used to work at a greeting card company, we had to work on our Christmas designs as early as February or March. Sometimes, to get ourselves in the mood, we'd bring in Christmas cookies--which tasted just as good in the spring as they had just a few months before. And with that in mind, let me say that I definitely don't consider pre-Thanksgiving too early to break out some delicious cookie recipes. So let's bring it on, starting with this spicy, moist and chewy cinnamon cookie--a recipe for the best-selling holiday cookie at Philadelphia's Bredenbeck's Bakery:

Cinnamon Stars

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (about 8 oz.) hazelnuts or blanched almonds, finely ground
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp lemon zest, grated
  • 1/4 cup egg whites (about 2 large)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • About 1/2 cup additional confectioner’s sugar for rolling

Procedure
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Combine the nuts, cinnamon, and zest. Beat the egg whites at high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. Add the salt, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form, one to two minutes. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar and beat until stiff and glossy, five to eight minutes. Reserve about 1/3 cup of the meringue and fold the nut mixture into the remaining meringue.
  2. Place a large sheet of waxed paper on a flat surface, and cover with additional confectioner’s sugar. Place the nut mixture on the sugar, lightly sprinkle with more confectioner’s sugar, top with a second piece of waxed paper, and roll out one-quarter-inch thick. Remove the top piece of waxed paper. Using a cookie cutter dipped in water, cut into two-inch star shapes, or use a knife to cut into diamonds. Re-roll and cut any scraps. Place on the prepared baking sheet.
  3. Bake until set, 10 to 12 minutes. Spread the reserved meringue over the top of the cookies and bake until the tops are lightly colored, about five minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool. Store in an airtight container for up to three weeks. Makes about 36 two-inch cookies.

Care to hear more about the bakery? OK! Here's the 411:  Located in the heart of Chestnut Hill, Bredenbeck’s is famous for its delicious butter cookies, fancy miniatures and gourmet wedding cakes, all baked on premises. The historic shop is located at 8126 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, 215-247-7374 or online at bredenbecks.com.

Monday
Nov092009

Sweet Bliss: Starbucks-Style Cranberry Bliss Bars for Serious Eats

Starbucks-style cranberry bliss bars
Confession: I get a little thrill every year when Starbucks rolls out their holiday menu, that sugar bomb-laden collection of eggnog and gingerbread lattes, frosted sugar cookies...and especially the Cranberry Bliss Bar. Don't get confused by the fact that "cranberry" is in the title--these are very much the opposite of health food.
Starbucks-style cranberry bliss bars

And this week for my entry over at Serious Eats, I tried a homemade version which I adapted from the Mr. Breakfast website. While the bars don't taste exactly like the 'bucks version, they are very good: dense, moist cake studded with tart cranberries and sweet white chocolate, and a veritable winter wonderland of cream cheese frosting and white chocolate drizzled on top. So sweet, they're bound to bring on a holidaze.

You can check out the full recipe on Serious Eats.

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