15 April 2018

Dairy-Free Coconut Lemon Bars (from Simply Citrus)

Dairy Free Coconut Lemon Bars

On some days it feels like winter is still lingering in our pockets. Spring comes for a brief moment, and then it is gone. The crisp morning air, the intermittent rain, and the fleeting sunshine shroud my memories of past Springs. Then I see cherry blossom trees in full bloom and get reminded that it is indeed Spring right now and it is beautiful.

It is finally starting to feel like Spring. It look a while but we got there. More varieties of flowers are available at the grocer. Ranunculus stems no longer cost $12 a stem because they are not in season. Cherry blossoms create a canopy for the streets and their petals create a blanket for the ground below. Stone fruits are starting to make their appearance at the store. A bit delayed, but the first signs of spring are finally arriving – slowly, but surely. Spring is a season of renewal and I feel a renewed sense of urgency to create for this blog. Lemons might be considered a winter fruit but they feel and taste like Spring to me. I recently made a lemon ricotta cake for Easter weekend and it was everything I would want in a Spring cake. Another lemony favourite of mine is this lemon tart from two years ago and from the looks of it, many of you are into it too because it is one of the most popular recipes on the blog. If I ever want a simpler springtime lemon dessert, I would default to lemon bars. They are not fussy to make and I feel slightly less guilty eating a bar than a full slice of cake. They're easily portable and any dessert I can eat on the go is a win in my books.

Marie of Food Nouveau recently released a cookbook called Simply Citrus and it is one of those books I never knew I needed. I love books that focus on one ingredient because that means I have a go-to baking bible when I have an excess of a certain ingredient in my pantry but lack the inspiration to create something with it. As the title suggests, Simply Citrus is a wonderful collection of savoury and sweet recipes that showcases all the different things you can make with citrus fruits. The recipe I decided to make first are her dairy-free coconut lemon bars. The base of bars use coconut oil instead of butter and the addition of the toasted coconut add an unexpected tropical twist to this classic bar. The lemon filling is equal parts sweet and tart, and something I could eat by the spoonful. 

Dairy Free Coconut Lemon Bars

Dairy Free Coconut Lemon Bars

Dairy Free Coconut Lemon Bars

Dairy Free Coconut Lemon Bars

Dairy-Free Coconut Lemon Bars
*Recipe from Simply Citrus by Marie Asselin, reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith
Yields 9 large bars or 12 small bars

Coconut Crust
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup toasted unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup melted coconut oil

Lemon Filling
3/4 granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of kosher salt
3 large eggs
2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

To serve
Powdered sugar
Toasted unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper, letting it overhang on both sides.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, coconut, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir the oil into the flour mixture until fully incorporated. Place the dough in the prepared pan, and firmly press all the way to the sides. Bake the crust until it just starts to brown around the edges, 15 - 20 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the lemon zest and juice; whisk until mixture is completely smooth.

Pour the filling over the hot crust. Bake until the filling is just set, 15 - 18 minutes. The filling should start to turn golden around the edges and the centre should be a bit jiggly (it will firm up as it cools). Let the squares cool completely to room temperature and then refrigerate for 2 hours before cutting.

Just before serving, dust the bars with powdered sugar and garnish with coconut.

Simply Citrus Cookbook

Happy baking!
You can read more about Simply Citrus and pick up your copy here

8 April 2018

Peanut Butter and Jelly Birthday Cake!

...and then another year has passed by. It seems like it was just yesterday when I was writing about turning 26 and how 25 has been a year of change that I did not expect but learned to fully accept. It seemed like it was just yesterday when I was talking about unintentional indifference and how sometimes absolutes turn out to be conditional. I was sharing all those sentiments along with images of a celebratory rich chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream. I took last year's lessons and kept them in my pocket for safe keeping for all of this year. This past year has been a year of new beginnings instead of termination. It has been a year full of cliché-sounding (which does not make it any less true nonetheless) self-discovery; I am now surer of what it is I want, though I recognize that desires may not be unwavering and stagnant across time.

How are we celebrating 27? An everyday childhood staple rendered a bit more celebratory with a tad more maturity. It is the classic combination of peanut butter and jelly in a tall and layered form - moist peanut buttery cake layers and sweet strawberry jam. You can use a homemade strawberry compote in between the layers, but a store-bought seedless strawberry jam is exactly what I need to bring me back. Then, a vanilla buttercream encases all this childhood nostalgia. One thing I love about having an April birthday is that it is peak cherry blossom season. I dress the cake with fresh cherry blossom and blossom-toned piped buttercream to continue the cascading effect of the blossoms. Finally, the addition of edible gold stars and gold candles make the cake even more worthy as the centrepiece of a celebration.

Thank you Wilton for sending over so many goodies so I can make the perfect birthday cake. You can find all the products I used to make this cake (including the gold stars so many of you having been asking about!) in the assembly instructions below. For more birthday cake ideas and inspiration, click here!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Birthday Cake
Yields three layer 6-inch cake

Peanut Butter Cake
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter*
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
200 mL milk

Note: You want to use peanut butter like Kraft or Skippy's, not the natural peanut butters where the nut butter and the oil separates.

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

In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together butter, peanut butter, and sugar until smooth.

Add in eggs one at a time, adding the second one only after the first has been fully incorporated. Add vanilla and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

Alternating between the dry ingredients and the milk with the mixer on low, combine with butter-sugar mixture.

Mix until just incorporated.

Divide batter equally into the three prepared cake pans. Bake for 28 - 31 minutes, or until or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 15 minutes before carefully transferring them out and onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Buttercream
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 - 5 cups icing sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons milk

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, powdered sugar (one cup at a time), salt, vanilla.

Once combined, beat in milk. Use more or less milk depending on desired consistency.

Separate butter cream into three bowls - half the buttercream in a large bowl (to frost the cake) and the remaining half divided into two bowls (to colour).

For Assembly
1/2 cup strawberry jam

For Decorating (All from Wilton!)
Disposable Decorating Bags
Pastel Gel Food Colouring (Garden Colours Set)
Round and Open Star Decorating Tips (as part of Stainless Steel Master Tip Set)

Transfer plain vanilla buttercream into a piping bag with large round tip and coupler. Transfer the other two coloured-buttercreams into piping bags with open star tips and coupler. Set aside.

Once the cake layers have cooled, level cake layers with a serrated knife or cake leveller. Place the first cake layer cut side facing up onto a cake stand. Using the plain vanilla buttercream, pipe a ring of butter cream at the edges of the cake layer to create a "mote" for the strawberry jam. Put ¼ cup of strawberry jam inside the ring of butter cream. Using an offset spatula, even out the layer of jam.

Gently place on second cake layer. Repeat previous steps of creating a ring with buttercream. Use remaining ¼ cup of jam.

Press on the final cake layer, cut side facing down.

Using the piping bag of plain vanilla buttercream, pipe big dollops of the white buttercream onto the sides of the cake. Using a bench scraper, smooth out the buttercream. Use more buttercream if a less naked look is desired. 
Using white buttercream and an offset spatula, cover the top of the cake.

Using the coloured buttercreams, create small dollops of star-shaped of buttercream on the tops and side of cake.

Apply additional cake decorations like flowers, edible gold star accents, and candles.

Thank you Wilton for supporting Constellation Inspiration!
Happy baking!

28 March 2018

The Best Sugar Cookies (for Easter!)

Best Easter Sugar Cookies

Making a cookie box is one of those things that really tests your commitment levels. I originally struggled with committing to making an Easter cookie box this year because it is a project that takes many hours of both active labour and many hours of patience while waiting for icing to set and dry. Nonetheless, I really wanted to leave you with all with some Easter cookie box inspiration for this upcoming holiday. I am sharing my favourite sugar cookie recipe as well as a recipe for fudgey almost-brownie-like cookies studded with mini eggs and chocolate chunks.

I have always had a soft spot for intricately decorated sugar cookies. It really is one of those treats that show that you can make something so spectacular out of a simple recipe. A classic sugar cookie dough only calls for ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. I never fail to enjoy a classic sugar cookie, even if it from a grocery store. It is the mixture of the sugar, butter, and nostalgia that gets me every time. I decorated my first sugar cookie about two years ago. I was at my aunt's house for the winter holidays and she had all the tools (and all the piping tips) needed to decorate sugar cookies with any design one can possibly dream of. We started baking the cookies early in the morning and did not finish decorating all big batch until after dinner. It was a whole day affair. You have to bake the cookies, let them cool, make icing of different consistencies, and wait for the icing to dry before you have a finished cookie. It took many, many hours but I had so much fun the entire time. My aunt generously shared her recipe with me and it is now my go-to recipe for a classic sugar cookie. I might or might not have increased the amount of butter the recipe calls for to make the cookie even richer (I did not think it was possible). This melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookie is vanilla-y, extremely buttery, and very delicate.

Best Easter Sugar Cookies

An Easter cookie box is much like a Christmas cookie box. You can fill it with whatever types of treats you like but the key is to have a good variety. I always like to have the classics in there — sugar cookies or shortbread, but decorated to fit the seasonal occasion. I traded in the peppermint sugar cookies for pastel-hued iced ones and icing sugar dusted crinkles for mini egg studded cookies. Then I like to incorporate a more seasonal cookie. It was ginger molasses cookies for my Christmas cookie box and this time it is a mini strawberry danish for Easter. A sweet treat (that I do not have to make) is always a good filler... like a small jar these mini eggs! Last time it was marshmallows. And there you have it. An Easter cookie box that you can make any time for Spring...or any season because no one will ever say no to a box of treats.

Best Easter Sugar Cookies

Best Easter Sugar Cookies

Best Easter Sugar Cookies

The Best Sugar Cookies
Yields two dozen cookies

1 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
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 vanilla and beat until well-incoporated.

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 an hour to prevent the cookies from spreading when baking.

Bake at 315F for 12-14 minutes, just until the edges are golden brown.

Let cookies cool completely before decorating with royal icing.

Royal Icing 
3 tablespoons meringue powder
4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners' sugar
5 - 6 tablespoons warm water *
For stiff icing: Use 1 tablespoon less water
To thin icing: Add 1/2 teaspoon water 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.

Using a piping tip, pipe out desired design. Let the designs fully dry before stacking the cookies.

Mini Egg Brownie Cookies
Yields one dozen cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar 
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
1 bag (200grams) mini eggs; half roughly chopped, half whole
1/3 cup dark chocolate, roughly chopped

In the bowl of a mixer, cream together butter and sugars until smooth.
Beat in egg and vanilla.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add the dry ingredients into butter mixture and mix until just combined. 

Mix in the milk.

Add the minis and dark chocolate and gently fold into dough. Dough will be sticky.

Scoop out dough into dough balls with an ice cream scoop. Chill the dough balls for an hour before baking.

Bake at 350F for 10 - 11 minutes. Let cookies rest on cookie sheet for 15 minutes before moving to cooling rack.

Best Easter Sugar Cookies

Happy Easter and happy baking!

24 February 2018

Strawberry Celebration Cake with Blood Orange Buttercream

It snowed heavily yesterday. It fell heavily and it fell rapidly, but at the same time it felt soft and calm. It interrupted my plans for the day but it gave way to something much needed. I made coffee at home, I worked, I read, I baked a cake, and the scent of an orange butter cake lingered all throughout the evening. From time to time I would look out the window to watch the snow fall, adding to the already plush blanket it has created earlier in the day. Originally I had a rough idea about how I was going to describe this four-layer tall cake — I was going to tell you why I named it a celebration cake and what it is celebrating. I was going to say that any cake that is this tall, blush-toned, adorn with this many delicate blooms is worthy of the title and requires a special occasion to be made. But today I am going the more predictable (which does not make it any less true) route and say there is always something worth celebrating. Make it when you are snowed in. Make it on rest days that you did not know you needed. Make it on days to remind you that even the most mundane everyday things you did not notice before are worth celebrating. Make it on days when you want to celebrate simple ingredients that when put together can make something unbelievably beautiful.

I have always wanted to make a strawberry cake but the fear of adding the least amount of extra liquid without compromising on strawberry flavour has always deterred me from doing so. The strawberry cake layer are light but they are plush. The strawberry flavour comes from both a concentrated strawberry purée and freeze-dried strawberry powder, with the latter being one of my favourite ingredients to use to achieve strawberry flavours without changing too much of the ratio of a trusted recipe. The cake layers sandwich a blood orange buttercream which is also in an appropriate shade of pink. Blood oranges are less acidic than their navel counterparts and often carry a berry overtone. If you would like a more "true" orange flavour in your buttercream, opting for half blood orange and half navel orange would be a lovely substitute. Decorate the cake with whatever you like — keep it simple or decorate it with your favourite blooms. The flowers on my cake were part of a special bouquet I received so I wanted to make a cake as special as the blooms to match.

Strawberry Celebration Cake with Blood Orange Frosting
Yields four layer 6-inch cake

Strawberry Purée
1 pound strawberries, stemmed halved
2 tablespoon granulated sugar

In a food processor, purée strawberries. You should have a little over 1 cup. 

Add sugar to the purée.

Cook the purée over low-medium heat for 30 minutes until you're left with 3/4 cup or a little over 3/4 cup. Allow to cool completely before using in cake batter.

Strawberry Cake
3 3/4 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/3 cup granulated sugar
7 egg whites
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup reduced strawberry purée
1/3 cup freeze dried strawberry powder

Preheat oven to 350F and prepare four cake pans.

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

In the bowl bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. 

Beat in the egg whites on high speed until combined. Then beat in the sour cream and vanilla extract.

Turn the mixer to low speed and, alternating between the dry ingredients and the milk, add the them butter/sugar mixture until the batter is relatively smooth. Do not over-mix. Whisk in 3/4 cup of reduced strawberry puree and discard any extra.

Evenly divide the batter into the four cake pans and transfer to the oven to bake for 28 - 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Blood Orange Buttercream
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperture
3 1/4 cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoon reduced blood orange juice (from about two oranges)

Juice two blood oranges. Pour the blood orange juice into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until reduced by half and syrupy, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium-high until fluffy.

Add reduced blood orange juice, and beat to incorporate.

Add the confectioners’ sugar into the creamed butter one cup at a time. Beat until fluffy.

Happy baking!


© Constellation Inspiration.