26 November 2018

Woodland Holiday Cookie Box

This post is sponsored by Ingredients by Saputo. The opinions, as always, are my own. 

One of the biggest highlights of the holiday season for me every year is making the cookie box. The tradition started two years ago with my friends Anna and Alex when we made this box of assorted sugar cookies, thumbprints, snowballs, and homemade marshmallows. It still is one the most popular recipes on the blog today. Fast forward one year later and I shared my second cookie box — this time featuring all my favourite holiday cookies from bakeries in Vancouver. In between all those winter-themed cookie boxes I shared other seasonal ones too, like this Easter sugar box made with my favourite sugar cookie recipe from my aunt and smaller ones like this that are also perfect for gifting.

This year I am sharing a woodland themed holiday cookie box — deer wearing holiday scarfs and holly, snow-covered snails, toadstools, trees with Christmas lights, and of course classic gingerbread men/women. I am sharing this with you a tad earlier this month because I am going to be honest — cookie boxes take a lot of time and patience. Cookie boxes aren’t a one-day affair. The process is much more enjoyable when you divide work across several days. Making the cookie dough on one evening, baking it off the next day, and decorating all the cookies when you are able to set aside a larger chunk of time.  These cookies also freeze really well, so you don’t have to fret if you have to spread out the tasks into two different weekends.

In addition to using a great base recipe for your holiday cookie box, there are some tips and tricks that will your cookie box to the next level:

1. Finding the perfect box! 
Old metal cookie tins are perfect to recycle to become new cookie boxes — they were made to hold cookies in the first place! Wooden boxes from the craft store and sturdy gift boxes will also do the trick. I like to make cookie box dividers (for inside the box to section off different variety of cookies) from thick cardstock. Secure dividers with a little bit of tape.

2. Having a variety of colours and textures!
I like having a variety of cookies in my cookie box — cut out cookies, drop cookies, bar cookies, sandwich cookies, you name it. Not only does having a variety of cookies take your cookie box to the next level visually, but it makes the cookie box more fun to eat. You get a different flavour and texture with every cookie. Even if you only have one type of cookie, you can decorate them differently. I decorated my reindeer cookies three different ways to make sure each of them ‘pop’ in the box.

3. Adding in treats that are not cookies! 
Add your favourite candies, chocolates, and rice krispie treats for some extra fun. I love adding the mini candy canes to my boxes.

Today, I am sharing a classic sugar cookie featuring Dairyland 18% Coffee Cream. The cream is used in the batter itself to make the cookie extra tender and in the royal icing used to decorate the cookies.

Thank you, Dairyland for supporting Constellation Inspiration!

Classic Sugar Cookies
Yields approximately two dozens cookies
1 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons Dairyland 18% Coffee Cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

In a bowl of a standing mixer, beat together butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth. 

Beat in egg, one at a time. Add coffee cream and vanilla and beat until well-incorporated.

With the mixer on slow, add the flour. Mix until just incorporated. Do not overmix.

If the dough is too soft as this point, chill the dough in the refrigerator until dough is not too sticky to the touch.

Roll out the dough in between two sheets of parchment paper to 1/4 inch in thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut out desired shapes.

Chill the cut outs in the fridge for at least an hour to prevent the cookies from spreading when baking.

Bake at 315F for 12 - 14 minutes, just until the edges are golden brown. (Smaller cookies will require less time)

Let cookies cool completely before decorating with royal icing.

Royal Icing 
4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners' sugar
5 - 6 tablespoons Dairyland 18% Coffee Cream*
*For stiff icing: Use 1 tablespoon less cream
*To thin icing: Add 1/2 teaspoon cream at a time until you reach proper consistency

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix until no lumps of sugar remain.

Portion out icing into smaller bowls and colour with gel food colouring.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a piping tip with the thicker icing and outline a border onto your cookie. This creates the ‘dam’ for your cookie.

Fill the cookie with the thinner icing of the same colour — this step is called ‘flooding’ the cookie. Use the back of a small spoon or spatula to help smooth out the surface.

Once the icing has hardened, use thicker icing of different colours to decorate your cookie.

Let cookies completely dry before stacking.

Happy baking!

25 November 2018

Brown Butter Caramelized Banana Chocolate Cake

I made this cake about a year ago and teased about it on Instagram several times throughout the winter holidays. I had the full intention of sharing the recipe last winter but I waited a bit too long and this cake and the decorations seemed too winter holiday festive to share in the warmer months. I was really into decorating my cakes with fresh flowers and woodland animal figurines last winter but slowly progressed into a lot of buttercream work in the warmer months (exhibit a, exhibit b, exhibit c). I think I am going to start using more flowers on my cakes again. I miss how a simple arrangement of fresh flowers adds so much life and movement to a cake. However you want to decorate this cake, whether it is with fresh flowers or with some fun buttercream piping, I promise that it will be just as good. So here I am now — 11 months later and finally sharing this cake with you. Thank you for sticking around.

This cake was inspired by a cake that took over Vancouver last year. A new restaurant launched their  dessert menu and there was one item on their menu that put the restaurant on the map. It was a very tall slice of cake comprised of caramelized banana cake, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse layers, and a shiny chocolate glaze covered the top of the cake. I did not believe that a slice of cake could be that good until I tried it myself. That slice of cake was a complete dream and after the first bite I knew I needed to make my own version of it here. My version of this cake does not have as many layers as the original but is comprised of thicker, fluffier layers of similar flavours and is perhaps just as tall. There are two layers of brown butter banana cake, which requires you to caramelize the bananas to give the cake an even toastier flavour in addition to the brown butter. The two layers of caramelized banana cake sandwich a fluffy and chocolatey devil's food cake layer. All these layers are frosting with a velvety chocolate cream cheese frosting, which is the 'substitute' for the chocolate mousse. I use the word substitute in quotations because chocolate cream cheese will always be my first choice.

Brown Butter Caramelized Banana Chocolate Cake
Yields three layer 6-inch cake

Caramelized Bananas
2 large ripe bananas
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Brown Butter Caramelized Banana Cake
Yields two 6-inch layers
1 cup mashed caramelized banana (from 2 large ripe bananas)
2 cups all-purpose flour 
2/3 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted browned butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Devil's Food Cake
Yields one 6-inch layer
4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
100ml whole milk
3 tablespoons sour cream

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz package (227g) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 1/2 - 4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 - 4 tablespoons whole milk

Caramelized Bananas
Peel banana and cut into coins. Place the coins on a plate.

Sprinkle the sugar onto the bananas and gently mix the bananas so the sugar is evenly distributed.

Place butter on a medium size nonstick pan, and heat over medium heat. Add banana mixture.

Cook bananas until light to golden brown underneath, about 4 - 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook or burn them.

Gently flip bananas over to brown other side. The second side will brown in less time, about one minute.

Remove the banana from the stove and let cool.

Mash caramelized banana coins. This should yield about one cup of mashed bananas.

Brown Butter Caramelized Banana Cake
Preheat oven to 350F and prepare two 6-inch cake pans. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together. Set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the brown butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy. 

Add the eggs one at a time, making sure the egg is fully incorporated before adding the second egg. Add the vanilla.

Beat in the mashed caramelized bananas. Beat on medium-high speed until combined.

With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk. The batter will be slightly thick. It is okay to have lumps in the batter.

Divide batter evenly between two pans. Bake for 24 - 26 minutes, checking the cakes for doneness at 22 minute mark. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Devil's Food Cake
Preheat oven to 350F and prepare one 6-inch cake pan.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large measuring cup, combine milk and sour cream. Set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and and brown sugar on high speed until smooth and creamy. 

Add egg and beat until mixture is fully-incorporated.

With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in two additions alternating with the milk-sour cream mixture.

Transfer batter into cake pan and bake for 25 - 28 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth.

Add butter to the cream cheese and beat mixture on high until fully mixed and the mixture is smooth and fluffy.

With the mixer on low, add the confectioners sugar, one cup at a time. Add cocoa powder and beat on medium then high speed until fully mixed. Add vanilla.

Add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until frosting is at desired consistency.

Happy baking!

18 November 2018

Paris Brest + Betty Hung's New Book!

Going to Beaucoup Bakery to start my morning has always been one of my favourite things to do on a Sunday. Beaucoup is the home to one of my favourite pastries, in Vancouver and every where else, the kouign amann. To me, the kouign amann is an extremely underrated pastry.  It is made of viennoiserie dough, containing layers of butter and sugar folded in, similar in fashion to puff pastry. The sugar in between the layers and at both ends of the pastry caramelized beautifully and provides an extra crunch and flavour. At Beaucoup, they sprinkle on a generous amount of flakey salt which I think completes the pastry. Many other kouign amanns I have had lacked the salt element I always search for (which is a simple fix because I carry a small container of Maldon sea salt in my purse in most days, just in case I need to salt a KA or a chocolate brownie) or they are overbaked, rendering the pastry of caramelized sugar too hard to bite into. If i had to choose a spirit animal pastry, it would be a KA.

Through the years I have visited Beaucoup Bakery, I have met and developed friendships with people who work there. When I was having trouble finding Valrhona's Blond Dulcey 32% Chocolate, one of the owners generously packed me a little bag of those caramelized white chocolate féves. When I heard that one of the owners of Beaucoup Bakery (it is owned by a brother and sister duo, Jacky and Betty!) was releasing a cookbook, I was thrilled that I can finally recreate some of their signature and new pastries in my own kitchen. Betty's new book, French Pastry 101, as its name suggests, covers all the basics of French Pastry. There is a chapter focusing on French custards, one one choux pastry, another on pâte feuilletée, among many others. My favourite chapter so far has been choux because of my new found love of making choux pastry, but I cannot wait to dig into the yeasted pastry section. The yeasted pastry chapter shares the recipe for the KA that I love (evident via my butter-sugar monologue above).

Due to my recent choux obsession, I choux (ha!) to make the Paris Brest. Beaucoup offers a beautiful Paris Brest in the fall season and I am so happy that I get to make it myself. The Paris Brest is pastry of two airy choux rings sandwiching a dreamy praliné mousseline. The recipe was labour-intensive, because there were may components to make, but Betty explains each step so clearly that it was extremely manageable. For this recipe I had to make: choux pastry, crème pâtissière, and hazelnut praliné (caramelized hazelnut paste). The hazelnut praliné get folded into the crème pâtissière to create the praliné mousseline filling which is then piped into between the choux. It was first time making a Paris Brest and it turned out perfectly.

Congratulations Betty on your new book and I cannot to wait to bake my way through it!
You can find French Pastry 101 wherever books are sold.

Paris Brest
From French Pastry 101 by Betty Hung
Yields 10 - 12 pastries

Choux Pastry
1/4 cup (60g) water
1/4 cup (60g) whole milk
1 tablespoon (15g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoon (60g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (70g) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 (125g) large eggs, well whisked

Hazelnut Praline
3/4 cup skinned hazelnuts
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 vanilla bean

Pastry Cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 tablespoon + 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
4 egg yolks
3 tablespoon cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

For assembly
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (for mousseline)
2 tablespoons crushed hazelnuts, for garnish
Powdered sugar, to dust

Choux Pastry
Preheat oven to 400F

In a saucepan, combine the water, milk, sugar, salt, and butter. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and immediately add in all the flour. Quickly stir in the flour, using a rubber spatula, and return saucepan back over medium-high heat.

Continue to stir the mixture, without stopping, until the paste is smooth, about 1-2 minutes. It will pull away from the sides of the pan and leave a thin coating of cooked paste on the bottom when ready. The texture should resemble dry mashed potatoes.

Transfer the paste to a stand mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low for the choux to cool down.

While the mixer is running on medium, gradually stream in the lightly beaten eggs. Mix until well combined. The choux should be shiny at this point.

Transfer the pâte à choux to the prepared piping bag with a round tip. Pipe out ten 2 1/2-inch choux rings onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving roughly 2 inches between each ring.

Bake the choux at 400F for five minutes, then lower the temperature to 350F and bake for 35 - 40 more minutes. They are ready when golden brown, and their insides are no longer wet. Let pastries cool before filling them.

Hazelnut Praline
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water. Heat the sugar on medium heat until it boils, for about 3 minutes. Add the nuts and stir to coat them wit the syrup. Do not stop mixing the nuts. The sugar will start to crystallize, covering the nights after 5 - 7 minutes. Continue stirring.

As the sugar caramelizes, keep an eye on it; you want to cook it to a deep amber colour. When the sugar has reached a deep amber colour, 7 - 8 minutes, take the pot off the heat and spread the nuts onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Do this quickly as the caramel will harden as it cools.

After cooling, process the nuts with salt and vanilla in a food processor. It will take about 5 minutes for the nuts to become powdery and then turn into a paste.

Pastry Cream
In a small saucepan, heat milk on medium heat with 2 tablespoons of sugar and vanilla bean until it starts to simmer. Turn off heat, cover pot, and let mixture steep while preparing eggs.

In a medium bowl, whisk together yolks, the remaining sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Slowly pour in the hot milk while whisking the egg mixture, this will prevent the eggs from cooking. 

Return mixture to the pot, while turning back the heat to medium-low. Keep whisking the mixture as it thickens, 3 - 4 minutes. The pastry cream is ready when it starts to boil.

Take the pot off the heat and whisk in the softened butter. Strain the pastry cream into a clean bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Let pastry cream cool before using.

Praliné Mousseline
Beat pastry cream in a medium bowl with a whisk until it is soft and creamy. Whisk in the praline paste until well combined. Whisk in 7 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter until mixture is creamy and blended. Fill a piping bag with star or plain tip with the mousseline and set aside until you are ready to fill the pastries.

Slice choux pastries in half as you would for a sandwich. Pipe the mousseline on the bottom half and place the top half back on. Decorate the sides with the crushed hazelnuts. Dust the tops lightly with powdered sugar before serving.

Happy baking!

6 November 2018

Zucchini Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

I am not opposed to vegetables in pastries, not at all. Some of the most unforgettable desserts I have had include a piece of spring pea cake from Rose's Luxury (which inspired this one here), a corn cookie from Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, and a sweet but almost savoury zucchini tea cake from a local coffee shop. I am a fan of vegetable-forward desserts and do not mind when the vegetables actually contribute in flavour, not just moisture.

Chocolate and zucchini has always been a classic combination. When it is peak zucchini season, I always see many variations of chocolate zucchini cake or bread in magazines, blogs, and wherever recipes are shared. The addition of zucchini adds an insane amount of moisture to a cake and I wanted to create the same kind of lushness to a non-chocolate spiced cake. I made this zucchini cake in peak zucchini season but got distracted by trying to master choux pastry, arranging apple roses, and making flamingo doughnuts that are even more out of season. This cake is one of those cakes that are great, no matter what season it is. I never have trouble finding zucchini throughout the year so this recipe is something I will be making again and again. Besides the flavour of the cake, one of my favourite things about this zucchini cake is that you can see little flecks of green dotted throughout layers. The recipe calls for two cups of grated zucchini — that might seem like a lot but I promise you that it does not impart any vegetal flavours to the cake. The grated zucchini simply adds a softness and lushness unlike any other. The cake is frosted with a lemon cream cheese frosting to add brightness to every bite.

This zucchini cake would taste just as good un-iced, but I decided to have some fun with the frosting and pipe a pair of swans on the sides. I coloured the majority of my frosting a light purple and left the remainder white for the swans. I fitted a piping bag with a leaf tip and piped at the base and pulled away to create the feathers. A little bit of frosting coloured orange and black adds the facial details to the swan. This recipe would be great as a sheet cake as well (bake time will have to be adjusted, of course).

Zucchini Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Yields three layer 6-inch cake

Zucchini Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini
3/4 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 350F and prepare three 6-inch cake pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk in the shredded zucchini. 

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix with rubber spatula until just combined.

Gently fold in the milk with the spatula.

Divide the batter into the three prepared pans.

Bake for 33-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out mostly clean with no wet batter.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 - 
5 cups confectioners' sugar

In the bowl of a mixer, beat together cream cheese and butter until creamy on medium until smooth and uniform. 

Add lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla extract and mix well.

With the mixer low, slowly add in the confectioners' sugar.  Once incorporated, beat the buttercream on medium-high until light and fluffy, 3 - 5 minutes.

Happy baking!


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