1 January 2019

Playing with Isomalt + Totoro Sprinkle Cookie

Happy New Year! I hope 2018 was everything that you wanted and dreamed of and I also hope that your 2019 is even better. The past week I would argue was one of the busiest but most wonderful weeks of the year. It was extremely busy because of all the holidays and my irrational (yet delicious) decision to make a different type of Christmas cookies every day of the week. Despite all the busyness, the week has been a reflective one. Busyness always renders itself as a tool that helps me prioritize what is important and what I want to focus on more in the upcoming year. Between work, all the holiday baking, and holiday preparations in general, I took some time to sit down and write down all the things I want to accomplish in the next little while. I would not call these hard-to-achieve 'resolutions' but gentle reminders of what's important and achievable goals that promote growth whether it is growth in baking or myself in general.

I am proud of myself for all the new things I tried and skills I attained this past year — I made choux pastry for the first time and immediately fell in love with making it despite the first few batches falling a bit flat; I taught myself how to pipe buttercream flowers by watching some YouTube videos and giving myself lots of time (and buttercream) to practice; and I made moon cakes, a seasonal treat I grew up eating during Mid-Autumn Festival, for the first time. Besides learning to make new kinds of desserts, I invested in my new favourite lens (my 24-70!) for my camera and shot a lot more. I was determined to get to know my camera better so I could produce more beautiful content to share with you.

I think 2019 is going to be a big year. I have some really exciting projects coming up and I cannot wait to share them with you. I am kicking off the new year with a new baking project. It is not my usual buttercream-coated and flower-adorn type of creation, but one that is a mix between a baking project and a DIY. I have been obsessed with all the insanely cute Japanese cookies I see on Pinterest and Instagram, especially the cookies that have a clear see-through element and shaped into characters of Japanese cartoons I grew up watching. I am creating one of these cookies on the blog for you today and sharing some tips and tricks I learned about working with isomalt through many batches of failed cookies that did not resemble what you see here in this post. I would not call these everyday cookies but over-the-top cookies that add to any celebration.

Bubbly isomalt vs. clear isomalt that was in the oven for 10 minutes 

What is isomalt? Isomalt is a sugar substitute derived from beets that is commonly used by sugar artists to create sugar sculptures, cake toppers, gems and other cake decorations. It is preferred for sugar work over regular granular sugar because it holds up better in heat and humidity. It is sold in crystal form, with granules that are around the size of coarse salt. You will not find it in your regular grocery store, but you should not have a problem finding it in your local cake decorating or specialty cooking/kitchen store. If you cannot find isomalt but want to create cookies with a see-through centre, you can easily substitute isomalt with crushed up clear candies. The clear candies will not create a 'glass' as clear as isomalt, but will still have the transparent quality we are looking for. I have made a batch with crushed clear candy and I was still able to see the sprinkles clearly!

How do I melt isomalt? You will only need two ingredients to cook clear isomalt: isomalt and water. For every cup of isomalt you cook, the water volume will be approximately 1/8 of that amount of isomalt (ex. 1/8 cup of water for every 1 cup of isomalt).

1. Place the isomalt in a small pot over medium heat
2. Allow the isomalt crystals to melt without stirring them
3. Once the isomalt is boiling, remove the isomalt from heat. Isomalt will be very bubbly.
4. Hold the small pot off of the heat until the bubbles settle down. 
5.  Once the bubbles have settled down, place the pot back down on the burner and stir in the water, a little at a time. Steam will aggressively come off of the sugar as the water is now cooling it down. Isomalt will still be very bubbly.
6. Reduce the amount of air bubbles in the hot isomalt by placing it in the oven at 265F for 10 minutes. If you skip this step, the bubbles will stay in the isomalt and will harden like the cookies on the left in the above picture.
7. After 10 minutes, carefully remove pot of isomalt from oven and use the isomalt while it is still hot. If the isomalt starts to thicken, place it back in the oven for 2 - 3 minutes until it liquefies again

How do I make these cookies with isomalt? You will need your favourite sugar cookie or shortbread cookie recipe (i.e., a cookie that does not spread much in the oven), liquid isomalt, royal icing, and your favourite sprinkles.

Follow your recipe's instructions to prepare the cookie dough. After you have rolled out your cookies and cut them into the desired shape and then cut a hole where you want the isomalt to fill. Bake the cookies according to recipe.

Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet as you prepare the isomalt according to instructions above.

Once the isomalt is ready to be used, carefully pour the isomalt into the hole of the baked cookie. Allow the isomalt to cool undisturbed for at least 20 minutes, until it has completely set.

*Note: to make one sprinkle-filled cookie, you will need 3 cookie cut-outs. Two of the cookie cut-outs will be filled with isomalt. These two filled cookies will be on the outside your assembled stacked cookie. The order you stack them should be: isomalt-filled cookie, hollow cookie, isomalt-filled cookie. The purpose of the hollow cookie in the centre is to add extra height to the stacked cookie, which then allow the sprinkles to move freely.

Once the isomalt has set, place one isomalt-filled cookie down. Apply royal icing to the edges of the cookie, being cautious to not get any icing on the 'glass.' Stack the hollow cookie before the royal icing dries. Fill your cookie with sprinkles of choice. Attach last isomalt-filled cookie with royal icing to 'seal' the cookie.

Shake, shake, shake!

I cannot wait to make different varieties of these isomalt sprinkle cookies for other holidays. Perhaps heart-shaped cookies for Valentine's Day, confetti-filled Easter egg cookies in the spring, and of course snow globe cookies for next Christmas. I saw the cutest flamingo sprinkles at my craft store the other day and I am tempted to make a little swimming pool cookies filled with flamingo sprinkles and blue sanding sugar. You can also make your own filling or sprinkles for these cookies. I made these little soot sprite 'sprinkles' inside my Totoro cookies by cutting out circles of black fondant with the opening of a piping tip and attaching smaller white balls of fondant for the eyes. It was quite time-consuming but I love how they turned out.

Happy baking and happy new year!

16 December 2018

Bon Appetit Holiday Cookie Box

There are two issues of Bon Appetit magazine that I must purchase each year the day they hit the shelves — the best new restaurants issue that comes in late summer and the December issue (which I, as well as many, dub as the holiday cookie issue) that is always adorn with cookies that are the epitome of holiday baking goals. This year was no different than the others. I saw the pink and sparkly rugelachs on this year's holiday cover and the voice inside my head was like "it's time." I picked up the issue, flipped straight to the cookie section, and started making a mental note on what I should make. That same voice inside my head reminded me that the brown butter linzers from the previous year were so tasty and that I had the time of my life making the floral wreaths. Because 'tis the season for baking everything I decided to go all out and bake all my bookmarked Bon Appetit recipes at one go on a Saturday. I shared the photo on Instagram and the response was quite overwhelming. Bon Appetit even shared it on their account. Many of you asked which specific recipes I used, so I am going to link all of them here. All the cookies are quite simple to make and require only basic pantry items that you probably have already. Before putting any of the cookies in the oven for their specified baking times, I chilled the cookie cut-outs in the freezer for fifteen minutes to make sure the cookies retain their shape during baking and come out of the oven with a clean edge.

Lavender Shortbread with Fruits, Flowers, and Herbs

Chocolate-Tahini Linzer Cookies

Spiced Brown Butter Linzer Cookies

Zebra-Striped Shortbread Cookies

Lemony Slice-And-Bakes

Happy baking!

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!


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