Cookie serendipity

9781452109626I just love it when the library gods smile at me by sending me the right book just at the right time! I have been lamenting to myself for a while about the arduousness of baking for midweek work meetings. I love to bake—and more importantly, I love to eat good home baking—but sadly, I am not Wonder Woman, and often the thought of whipping up a batch of cookies or a cake in the evening after work is just too much.

I was pondering this as I wandered through the cooking section the other day, looking for something to put on our Staff Picks shelf, when Slice and Bake Cookies: Fast recipes from your refrigerator or freezer leapt right off the shelf and into my hands.

Here it was, the answer to all my baking dilemmas! What could be easier than making several batches of cookies at once in the weekend, and then pulling them out of the freezer to bake when needed? Sounds as easy as falling off a log, and a whole lot more delicious! I couldn’t wait to try the recipes! The first one I tried was Sugar and Spice Snickerdoodles, and they went down so well at work that everyone is clamouring for the recipe!

Next up, I tried the Ginger, Ginger Cookies. The photo looked just like the yummy Gingersnaps that my family loves, but I hardly ever make, because rolling all those little balls of cookie dough takes soooo darned long!  As I mixed, I was sure I had a complete failure on my hands. Could this sticky, squishy mess possibly be rolled into a sausage and sliced up?? But amazingly, they worked!  The cookie sausages where certainly floppier than I expected, but because they were sliced up when still partially frozen, they worked just fine. The Beecrafty family were very disappointed when I said they were for work—but then I left the cake-tin on the bench when I left, and they got to eat them after all! (My team mates were not as happy as my family were!)

Last weekend, I decided to try the Double-Spiral Cinnamon Crisps that Miss Missy had been begging me to make for our Movie Night treat. I don’t have a cake mixer, which all the recipes claim to need, but so far my hand mixer and a wooden spoon had worked pretty well.  Of course, a hand mixer is not a good tool for cutting butter into flour. If you try this, you are likely to send clouds of flour all over the place. A food processor is a much better option. I already knew that, of course, but it didn’t stop me giving it a go with the beater anyway. Yeah. It doesn’t work. But luckily I do have a food processor, and that worked a treat on these delicious treats! Next time I make them, I think I’ll do a double batch, they were so good!

I think I’ll try the Squared-Off Lemon Shortbread next. Or maybe the Chocolate-Dipped Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. Or Vanilla Cookies with Fudge Filling. Or…

They all look so good, I can’t choose!  Whatever I make next, one thing’s for sure: I’m adding this book to my Favourite Cook Books list!

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29 days till Christmas…

Cover of The Christmas countdown… yep, that freaked me out too! But in my house, we have the Energizer Bunny version of the Festive Season: with all four of our birthdays falling like dominoes each month from October to January, and our Wedding Anniversary on Christmas Eve (not to mention a dozen or so birthdays in the extended family) the festivities just keep on going and going and going.

The best (and worst!) thing about this crazy time of year is planning the kid’s birthday parties. I love the baking and cake decorating, the planning and searching of the interwebs for party ideas. But I don’t do anything by halves! On party-eve, I’m always up at some ungodly hour of the morning, still working my magic on the sugar-and-food-colouring on chocolate-cake masterpiece that will become the birthday cake. Sometimes the magic is less than forth coming. Stressful? You bet! Rewarding? Absolutely!

cover of Step by step Kids' birthday cakesWith a just-turned-six-year-old, and a nearly-thirteen-year-old, I’ve had plenty of birthday parties to plan and pull off. But last year, for some reason, with the momentous occasion of the Young Lad’s 5th birthday looming (which was to be his first “proper” party, with friends from preschool and all the hoopla) I felt at a complete loss as to what to do. I’d never planned a party for little boys before. What do they do at a party?? I took home book after book on party games, party foodparty themes, and of course party cakes. But the clock was ticking, and I still hadn’t figured out what to do-oo when (miracle of miracles) Step-by-step Kids’ Birthday Cakes fell into my hands.

I showed the Young Lad the Pirate Cake, and everything finally fell into place. Funnily enough, after all my angst, we ended up with pretty traditional games like pass the parcel, pin-the-tale (or in this case the treasure chest), and a treasure hunt (with actual pirate treasure – well, OK, cardboard pirate chests full of chocolate coins). The cake turned out pretty good, I reckon.

pirate cake

I’ve certainly come a long way since Miss Missy’s third birthday, when she requested a Peppa Pig cake. I looked in horror at the amazing creations on the interwebs, and decided that I could probably pull off a picture of Peppa piped atop the cake. The midnight drama that year was the red icing for Peppa’s dress. I added more and more red colouring, the icing turned pinker and pinker, stubbornly refusing to turn red! Then I had an a-ha moment, added some chocolate icing, and came up with perfect Peppa red.

Cover of 50 easy party cakesSince then, I’ve turned more to the library for inspiration, and have created my own versions of cakes from several of the books in the catalogue.

I love Debbie Brown’s books, the instructions are really easy to follow, and I’ve used quite a few of her designs now. I found the perfect cake for Missy Missy’s pony party in  Debbie Brown’s 50 Easy Party Cakes. It really was easy! Honest! And it survived the near disaster of having the oven door slammed, which jarred the mane off one of the ponies (and I’d put it in the oven FOR SAFE KEEPING!)

pony cake

The kids and I drooled over More Cakes for Kids and the Young Lad chose the fire engine cake. It turned out almost too good, because he was desperately upset when we cut it up and ate it!

fire engine cake

Cover of Celebration CupcakesThis year’s wonderful discovery was Tamara Jane’s Celebration Cupcakes. I used her royal icing recipe to make Gingerbread Hulks, and her floodwork instructions to create superhero cupcake toppers. I had a lot of fun making them, but when the Young Lad saw the Hulks, he informed me “I can do it betterer than you, Mum!” and proceeded to amaze me with his piping skills. Our top tip from this year’s cakery is to use little zip-lock bags for piping the royal icing. That way, the icing stays where it should (inside the bag, not squirting out the back and all over your hands) and the icing stays nice and fresh, even while you wait for things to dry before adding more details. We just snipped the corner of the bags, but I imagine you could put a piping nozzle in it if you wanted to.

superhero cupcakes

OK, I’ll admit it – this blog post was mostly an excuse to show off, and redeem myself after sharing the story of my culinary failures. But a little bit of shameless self-promotion is alright now and then, right?

Mmmm-mmm, hokey-pokey whoopie pies … Nailed it!

Cover of BakingI reckon I’m a pretty good cook. Not one of those people who can take a bunch of weird ingredients and create something amazing at the drop of a hat, but when I’m in the kitchen I generally keep the customers happy. I had a flatmate who liked my pizza so much, he thought I should open a restaurant. I thought it would be a pretty boring pizza restaurant, since I only make one flavour! But still — happy customers.

I’ll admit I’ve had the occasional disaster.  My sister and I once made an apricot pie — lord only knows what we did wrong, but that thing looked so disgusting, we actually wrote “YUCK” on the top with the left over pastry. Anne Shirley-style lapses in concentration have made an appearance, like the time I put salt in the pancakes instead of sugar (that really was disgusting!) or the time I put a tin of bean salad in the pilaf instead of mixed beans (my lovely husband actually finished it — I couldn’t!). And there was that one pav I made that sort of looked like a pav pancake…

But those failures pale in comparison to the hokey-pokey whoopee pies that I tried to make the other day. As failures go, they take the cake. The recipe made them look so delicious, I just had to give them a try!  The biscuits themselves were a bit dry*, but not bad…the caramel butter cream filling though — complete failure! See, it all started with not having a small heavy-bottomed pan to boil the butter, cream, sugar, and golden syrup in.  I was worried that if I boiled it for 5 minutes without stirring (like the recipe said) it’d scorch — so I stirred it. Just a little. Just a couple of times. Surely that couldn’t make that much difference, right? Then I was to let it cool to room temperature, pour it into a bowl, and beat in the icing sugar.

Well.

Waiting for “room temperature” and “pouring” were clearly going to be impossible because the stuff was solidifying before my eyes! Perhaps if I just beat the icing sugar in straight away, thinks I. Nek minnit the beaters are stuck fast in caramel-concrete and unholy noises are coming from the motor. There was no turning this mess into anything that even vaguely resembled butter cream filling! I stormed out of the kitchen in disgust. But when I returned to bin the lot and clean up the mess, I found the beaters and bowl were already soaking in the sink.  Turns out Mr K didn’t think it was such a failure, so he’d hijacked it before I could bin it. Delicious it was. Fluffy butter filling it was not!

I’ve always said that anyone can be a good cook — you just have to find a good recipe and follow it. I’m not sure that I can blame this disaster on the recipe! Who’s game enough to give it a try and let me know? You’ll find the recipe in Kiwiana cupcakes, cake pops and whoopie pies.

*They actually tasted pretty good once sandwiched together with a new batch of butter cream filling, this time made just by replacing 1/2 a cup of icing sugar with 1/2 a cup of brown sugar and following my usual recipe from the good old Edmonds Cookbook.

Nesting Instincts

As much as I’m starting to resent the cold mornings, short days and my inability to understand the concept of layering, (I’m stubbornly hanging on to wearing my summer clothes!) there are wonderful things about winter I do enjoy.

I love closing curtains, turning on the heat pump and ‘nesting’. I wish I had an open fire, but alas I do not. I love cooking stews in my slow cooker, making baking and puddings my Mum used to make, and embarking on projects that for some reason seem too much like hard work in the heat of the summer. This winter’s projects come from a stunning book, The Re-purposed Library.

It is filled with projects using old books. Anything from bookshelves made from books to Christmas decorations and lamps. I’m hoping to adorn both my home and the library I work in.

I also, sadly, enjoy cleaning out drawers and cupboards, no need to wait for spring. I find all sorts of treasures, and hopefully get ruthless enough to throw things out.

I just enjoy the feeling of snuggling down into my house, enjoying it as a space to be in and create in.

I watch a lot of movies, and always hope there will be a series on television I can get hooked into.

Having friends over for drinks and a movie, or dinner is lovely too. It was one of my resolutions when I turned the big 50 that I would keep in touch with my friends this year, and so far it’s been great to catch up amongst the busy lives we lead.

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk by the fire: it’s the time for home  – Edith Sitwell

Do you love winter, tolerate it or endure? What are your favourite winter activities, I’m an indoor kinda gal, but you may prefer outdoor pursuits? Are you planning a project?

From the Hangi Pit to the Weetbix Kid to afternoon tea

Proust knew it, we all know it. Something eaten at a certain place and time can send us straight back to that place and time when tasted years later and far away.

When I was a child, morning and afternoon teas and suppers marked out the day, the table would feature a variety of baking and the greedy among us would sample something from each plate.

Each family member had a speciality. My mother’s was the Belgian biscuit; spicy, sweet, with just the right thickness of biscuit, amount of jam, swirl of icing and sprinkling of pink jelly crystals on top.  Not too much, not too little. They bore no resemblance to the behemoths available in cafes now – those nasty saucer sized thick, dry things.

There were so many others; my grandmother’s specialty was the tan square, my aunt’s the pineapple sponge, my mother-in-law’s shortbread made with icing sugar.

It is a good idea to write them down – I don’t have one single recipe written down. The women in my family relied on their memories. I had good intentions of collecting these recipes but somehow never got around to it and now it’s too late.

Embrace the age of the cupcake

The Crabtree Bakery cupcake cookbook
The Crabtree Bakery cupcake cookbook

You’re not imagining it. Cupcakes ARE the treat du jour. Ever since Carrie and the gals munched on beautifully iced drops of spongey goodness in Sex and the city, the rise of the cupcake as a teatime supremo has been set in frosting.

The cupcake phenom started in New York, and it’s slowly made its way around the world, advancing like a mini-cake “icing age” and spawning many a brightly coloured, gorgeous illustrated cookbook. Look, you know that something’s a fully fledged craze when things start “specialising”. With titles like Vegan cupcakes take over the world : 75 dairy-free recipes for cupcakes that rule hitting the shelves it’s pretty safe to say that the reign of the cupcake is far from over. They’re just so darn pretty!

Other pastel coloured homages to the art of the cupcake that you might also find enticing are –

Bake me Im yours
Bake me I'm yours

But don’t worry, if the idea of donning a pinny and getting all fiddly with paper cups and icing seems like too much hard work, you’ll find that Christchurch is now home to not one, but two specialty purveyors of cupcakes, in the form of The Cupcake Parlour, and The Cupcake Collection so there really is no need to get to get your hands dirty, or sticky for that matter…