29 December 2020

Party Animals Confetti Cake Decorating Tutorial

When I was in graduate school completing my master’s degree, I always leapt at the opportunity to attend research conferences in different cities and countries. Each year, our research grants covered at least one trip to present at a conference of our choice (assuming the conference committee accepted your presentation topic).  I actually hated presenting my research because I loathe public speaking but the opportunity to explore a new city always outweighed that. In the several years I was in graduate school, I got to visit New Orleans (love!!), Hong Kong (will always love!!), and DC (didn’t know what to expect but loved so much!!). Washington, DC was one of the cities I wasn’t necessarily super excited to visit because I didn’t know anything about the city but turned out to be one of the most memorable trips. Between all the conference workshops and panels, I snuck off to cupping sessions at La Colombe, found my favourite cortado at Chinatown Coffee Co., ate too many treats at Baked and Wired, had the most memorable meal at Rose’s Luxury, so many breakfasts at Founding Farmer, and ate many cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes. After all the incredible meals, Washington, DC is now one of my favourite food cities and I always miss it.

When Williams Sonoma reached out and asked if I would like to do something fun with their exclusive Georgetown Cupcake cake mixes, the answer was an obvious ‘yesss!!!’ with many exclamation marks. I would do anything to relive one of the many amazing treats I had in Washington, DC. Their confetti cake mix and strawberry champagne cupcake mix came just in time for New Year’s so I wanted to share a very simple tutorial on how to decorate a cake to celebrate the arrival of the new year. These party animal decorations come together so easily and turn any cake into a celebration cake. I followed the instructions of both the cake mixes and made the buttercream recipes on the back of the packaging. Obviously, you can use your homemade confetti cake and champagne cake recipes with these decorations, but if you want to try Georgetown Cupcakes in your home, I’m here to tell you that the mixes produce very lovely plush and moist cakes like the ones fresh from their bakery.

What you will need for a party animal celebration cake and cupcakes:
- Georgetown Cupcake Cake Mix, Confetti Georgetown Cupcake Mix, Strawberry Champagne
- Animal toy figurines
- Card stock or scrapbook paper
- Mini pom poms 
- Tape
- Glue gun
- Assorted sprinkles and sanding sugar

Line cake rounds with parchment paper and muffin pan with cupcake liners. Bake cake and cupcakes and make buttercream according to instructions of the back of the packaging. Allow cake to cool completed before frosting.

Remove animal toy figurines from packaging and wash with warm soapy water. Wipe figurines dry.

Cut out cardstock into small squares (the size will depend on the size of your toy), roughly about 1-inch on each side. Roll the square into a cone shape and use a bit of tape to secure the cone shape. Using a hot glue gun, attach a mini pom pom to the top of each cone to form the hat. Attach a hat to each animal with hot glue.

For the layer cake
Place the first cake round on a plate or cake stand. Transfer half of the buttercream to the cake layer. Using an offset spatula or back of a spoon, spread the buttercream evenly to the edge of the layer. Place second cake layer in top, flat side up. Frost the top of the cake with remaining icing. Apply sprinkles to the edge of the top layer. Take several of the party animal figurines and place on top of the cake

For the cupcakes
Transfer buttercream to a pastry bag fitted with a large open-star tip. Pipe two rings of buttercream on each cupcake and sprinkle sanding sugar on the buttercream. Place animal figurine to the centre of each cupcake.

22 December 2020

Gingerbread Cookie Garland

After I made my gingerbread house this year, I had some gingerbread dough leftover. The recipe I used for the gingerbread house comes from Food52 is meant for building structures — it's sturdier, doesn't spread as much as traditional gingerbread recipes, and made for construction rather than eating. Of course, if you want to eat it, it is 100% edible and still has all the flavours and spices of gingerbread. You can always sub for half butter half shortening if you intend to eat these garlands shortly after making them! 

These garlands are extremely easy to make. You make the gingerbread dough according to the the recipe and use your festive cookie cutters to punch out the shapes. The extra step you have to take is to punch out one or two holes for threading the twine when assembling the garland. Generally, you want to have two holes for each cookie. This prevents the cookie from sliding on the string as much and makes it easier for you to have evenly spaced cookies on the garland. There are some shapes, like the candy cane or the star, where you're only able to punch one hole for the twine. It's fine! Just alternate between cookies with two holes and one hole when stringing the cookies. I used the opening of a round piping tip to punch out the holes. Alternatively, you can use a straw.

After you bake the cookies and allow them to cool, decorate them with royal icing and sprinkles of your choice. I opted for white and red sanding sugar for my cookies to keep the design and colour palette simple. Allow your cookies to dry completely before stringing the cookies, or else the twine will smear the unset icing. After you're done, hang the cookie garland on your tree, above your fireplace, or any place that needs a festive touch. Another bonus? The garland makes the room smell like gingerbread cookies all the time.

Happy baking!

21 December 2020

Gingerbread Greenhouse 2020

Thank you, thank you, thank you x a million for all the gingerbread house love this month. When I made my first gingerbread house/greenhouse last year, I didn't expect so many readers to actually make their own greenhouse this year! You guys used the very low-quality budget diagram I drew, found gelatin sheets, and cut your gingerbread panels oh so carefully to make your own version of the greenhouse. I loved seeing each and every one of them! I saved all the gingerbread greenhouse photos I was tagged in on Instagram and proudly made an album on my phone for the photos. Thank you for making my holiday!

At the beginning of December this year, I knew I wanted to make another special gingerbread house. I didn't feel like I had to "top" the one from last year — I just wanted to make one that was different enough from the original but still had the similar vibe. What better way to elevate a gingerbread house than giving it a second floor and a few piped decorations like wreaths and garlands.

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that making this year's house was a whole journey. It wasn't a journey because it was significantly more difficult than last year's template (the steps were basically the same), and it wasn't because I had to mix additional colours of icing for the decorations... it was because I made the entire gingerbread mansion and then proceeded to drop the house on the floor. If you want to relive my entire nightmare, I saved it to my Instagram Highlights for your entertainment. Shortly after I shared the news, my inbox was flooded with DMs from you guys lamenting the death of the house that took an all nighter to complete. I stood there in shock for a minute (that felt like an eternity) staring at all the pieces of gingerbread across my kitchen floor in disbelief what just happened. Surprisingly, I started on house 2.0 within an hour of breaking the first one and the second gingerbread house turned out even better than the first. The piping was cleaner, garlands were neater, and the house was much sturdier. I'm not going to say that dropping the first house was blessing in disguise, but I will say that I'm much prouder of the new one. 

I'm not sharing a new recipe or step-by-step tutorial because the majority of it remains the same. The largest difference is in the measurements which you see in the diagram I drew before starting the construction. You can revisit last year's post to find the instructions for constructing a gingerbread greenhouse, and I will use this opportunity to answer some FAQs on gingerbread house making instead!

What did you use for the windows?
I used gelatin sheets! I considered using isomalt to create the 'glass' of the windows but really liked how light the gelatine sheets are. They're also very easy to work with.

How did you get the diamond pattern on the "glass"?
Gelatin sheets come with a diamond pattern!

Where did you buy your gelatin sheets?
I bought my sheets from a local specialty kitchen store, Gourmet Warehouse, but you can purchase sheets from several online retailers. Or Amazon.

My gelatin sheets kept curving and peeling. How did yours stick?
Gelatin sheets start to warp when in contact with liquids, so I used a much drier royal icing (more powdered sugar) to attach my gelatin sheets to the back of the windows. To assemble the panels of the house, you want a wetter/looser royal icing that is like honey in consistency.

How do you prevent your dough from spreading during the baking process?
You want to use a dough that doesn't spread much (gingerbread or shortbread) and make sure your dough is extremely chilled before you bake it. After I cut and shaped each panel of the house, I froze the panel on a baking sheet until completely firm.

Why did you decorate the panels before assembling?
I prefer to decorate on a flat surface than at an angle! It's much easier to pipe straight and even lines if you are working on a flat surface. You don't have to do it this way but I highly recommend it.

How long do you have to wait before your move your house after assembly?
This is where I went wrong with my first house that I dropped. I only let it dry 2 hours before lifting it and it clearly did not fully set. I would recommend waiting at least 4 -5 hours, preferably overnight, before you move it.

If you have any additional questions that I missed, please leave them in the comments!

Happy baking!

19 December 2020

Coconut Snow Globe Cupcakes

I don’t know about you, but holiday baking is still in full swing in my kitchen and I don’t expect it to stop until 11:59pm on December 25th. This month, I have kept my holiday cookie cutters out on the kitchen counter every day and I don’t even bother putting away my holiday sprinkles just in case inspiration hits and I want to squeeze in more holiday baking. (Spoiler: this happens very often.) Even though I’m not hanging out my friends and family this holiday season, I’m still making an effort to safely drop off festive baked goods to them on their doorstep, 6 feet away. Holiday cookies are my go-to when it comes to holiday baking and gifting, but I’ve also been making more cupcakes this year because: a) they’re so portable and easy to share and b) everyone still deserves cake during the holidays even though the holidays are a bit different this year. These snow globe cupcakes combine my love for holiday cookies and cupcake making.

My favourite thing about these cupcakes, besides the fact there’s an edible snow globe on top of each cupcake (duh!), is the fact that you can make the cookie portion of the snow globe with any leftover cookie dough you have remaining from your holiday cookie baking. Sugar cookie, shortbread, gingerbread dough all works really well. I was making chocolate shortbread cookies prior to this, so I saved a bit of dough from that project for this one. I gathered the dough from that batch of cookies, rolled it out, and used to different-sized circle cookie cutters to punch out the shapes. To make the ‘glass’ of the snow globe, you simply crush clear candies like mints or Jolly Ranchers, fill the cookie cut-outs, and bake. It’s much like making ‘stained glass cookies’ you often see during the holidays. 

In addition to sharing my tips for making your own snow globe cupcakes today, I’m also sharing a recipe for a super plush toasted coconut cupcake with coconut mascarpone buttercream. This cupcake is a small batch which is great if you’re only baking for your household this holiday season or you can double it if you want to do some curbside drop offs to friends.

I think one key thing to make holiday baking more seamless and enjoyable is to use! good! bakeware! Thank you, Williams Sonoma Canada, for partnering with me for this holiday baking project and sending me this Goldtouch® Nonstick 6-Piece Essentials Bakeware Set. I always get a ton of questions asking: “why is it important to invest in sturdy bakeware like cookie sheets?” Over the years I’ve used many types and brands of cookie sheets. Poor quality baking sheets are much thinner and tend to warp over time which means crooked cookies and uneven baking. The Goldtouch® Nonstick pans are really sturdy and ensures your cookies bake evenly and flat every time.

Toasted Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Mascarpone Buttercream
Makes: 6 – 7 cupcakes

Toasted Coconut Cupcakes
¼ cup (57g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
¾ cup (90g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup toasted unsweetened shredded coconut
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup (120ml) full-fat coconut milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease muffin pan or line with cupcake liners. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat unsalted butter and granulated sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and beat until fully combined.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, toasted shredded coconut, baking powder, and salt.

Add half of the dry ingredients and coconut milk to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Add the remainder of the dry mixture and mix until no streaks of dry ingredients remain.

Using an ice cream scoop, portion out cupcake batter into prepared pan. Bake for 14 – 16 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

Coconut Mascarpone Buttercream
1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tbsp (85 g) mascarpone, at room temperature
2 to 3 cups (240 to 360 g) powdered sugar
3 tbsp whole-fat coconut milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and mascarpone on medium speed until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Add the coconut milk and vanilla. Increase the speed to high and beat the mixture until it is smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Transfer the buttercream to a pastry bag fitted with a large round or open-star piping tip. Pipe two rings of buttercream on top of each cupcake.

For Snow Globe Decorations:
Cookie dough of your choice (shortbread, sugar cookie, or gingerbread will all work!); you will only need very little!
Clear hard candies, crushed
Holiday sprinkles
Royal icing 

Preheat oven to 350F. 

In between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out your cookie dough to just a little under ¼-inch in thickness. Transfer the dough to the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes. Because we are punching out such thin cut-outs, you want to make sure your cookie dough is firm and won’t lose its shape when you are punching it out. Using a larger circle cookie cutter, punch out the circle and transfer it to a baking sheet. Using a smaller circle cookie cutter, punch out the centre of the cut out that is already on the baking sheet. This will become the border of your snow globe. I recommend punching out the smaller circle once your cut outs have been transferred to your baking sheet because it’s very easy for your thin cut outs to lose shape if you punch out the centres before transferring them!

Once you have all of your cut outs on the baking sheet, fill the cavity of each circle with crushed hard candy. Clear mints or blue Jolly Ranchers are great for this. The candy will melt during the baking process to form the ‘glass.’

Bake your cookies at 350F for about 6 – 7 minutes. Keep a close eye on your cookies since the cut outs are so thin and will brown quite easily. Once the cookies are ready, carefully remove them from the oven and allow the candy centre to set completely before removing them from the baking sheet.

Place one snow globe decoration on top of each frosted cupcake.

Happy baking!


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