Thursday, November 26, 2009

Scroll Wedding Cake

The Saturday after the gingerbread festival I delivered this wedding cake for the daughter of the sister-in-law of the older sister of a girl I grew up with (did you follow that?) You gotta love Facebook for getting back in touch with people from your past.

Her wedding colors were brown, navy blue, and ivory, so I covered the cakes in ivory fondant, wrapped a navy blue ribbon around the base of each tier, and piped the scroll work with brown royal icing. The thing on the top is a mirror that she put her cake topper on. I even made the wood cake stand (with the help of my awesome brother-in-law); if you look close you can see a glass plate under the bottom tier to protect the cake from the polyurethane.

I've got another wedding cake due in December (this bride's sister, actually), and then a few months off before my next one. Phew! :)

King Crab's Holiday Castle

The end of my last post sure sounded like I'd be keeping you all updated on the progress of the castle, didn't it? This is my first big house, and I had no idea how it would take over my life...nothing but the castle got done, and I mean nothing...then there was the wedding cake...and then Thanksgiving...

Now, on to the building!

After baking the pieces I used poured sugar to make the windows, and then did the preliminary decorating (iced the flat pieces).

Then I added some bling around the windows.

When all of that was dry it was time to start building. Because the castle was so big it needed to have internal supports inside each of the three sections. The holes in the back were for lights.

The basic frame of the house is done. The crab, crown, and front door curtain are gum paste.

When the framing was done I threaded the lights through all the inside pieces. I love gingerbread houses with lights; they really add a neat dimension.

The towers were constructed from 5 long pieces each.

I used 55 pieces total for the 11 towers.

I used icing to give the towers a rounded look. After the icing had set for a few minutes and developed a crust, I used a spatula to mess up the crust and give the icing a "sand" look.

I used chocolate rocks to make a dam for the poured sugar water.

The tower tops are made out of rice krispie treat; the rice krispie's were Cookies and Cream, or something like that, which gave the cones a pebbly look :) I molded the shells out of chocolate. The flags are gum paste (thanks, Sheree!).

And the finished castle.

Me and the castle at the festival. Do I look very happy to be done, and delirious from getting only 6 1/2 hours of sleep combined over the last three days? ;)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Starting the Gingerbread Castle

The Thanksgiving Point Gingerbread Festival is right around the corner (Nov. 12) and I've been going like mad trying to get my castle done.

I used Loreta Wilson's gingerbread dough recipe again from her site Ultimate Gingerbread, but I changed the mixing instructions a little. The first time I used her dough was in 2007 for my Gingerbread Outhouses. The dough is awesome, and makes your house smell so good!

Loreta's Favorite Gingerbread Dough
Printable Recipe (original recipe)

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
1 1/4 cups mild molasses
2 eggs, beaten

1. Combine all of the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and run the mixer for a few seconds to mix everything together.

2. In a small sauce pan, heat the shortening over medium heat until it's half way melted; remove the pan from the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the molasses and eggs. While whisking, slowly add the molasses-egg mixture to the melted shortening. (I've found a fork is better than an actual whisk for this). Whisk until well combined.

3. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until everything is combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and mix on medium-low for 2 minutes.

This dough is very soft, and needs to be refrigerated until it can be handled more easily. You can wrap it in plastic or put it in a bowl and cover the bowl with plastic. The dough can sit in the fridge for 2 or 3 weeks. The picture below is 2 1/2 batches of the dough. I ended up using 8 1/2 batches for all of my pieces (that doesn't include the 3 batches I had to redo because one day the dog ate half a batch of raw dough (and threw it up in the car), another day the dog stole off the counter and ate 11 pieces for the towers, and another day I screwed up the two biggest pieces and had to remake them--it's all an adventure, right?)

To use the dough, let it sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. Scoop out a piece of dough about the size of an orange (or bigger if you're cutting a big piece), and knead it for a few seconds. Then:

1. Heat your oven to 350. Wipe your counter with a damp cloth and immediately lay a piece of foil on the damp area--this keeps the foil from slipping around as you roll out the dough. Liberally sprinkle the foil with four.

2. Roll the dough to about 1/8-inch thick (I go a little thicker on big pieces to give them more strength against snapping). Sprinkle the dough with more flour. Lay your pattern on the dough and carefully cut the piece out. A pizza cutter is the best way to cut long straight lines. **This next part is important** Remove the excess dough from around your pieces. Pick up the foil, and lay it (with the gingerbread pieces on it) on a baking sheet. This keeps the pieces from distorting during transfer to the baking sheet because you don't move them individually.

3. Bake the gingerbread for anywhere from 10-25 minutes, or until nicely browned, depending on how big the piece is. Keep in mind that you're not making cookies, so you don't want the pieces to be soft after they cool (they will be soft coming out of the oven). It will take some practice to know how long is long enough. If the pieces are soft after they cool you can put them back in the oven for 5 minutes.

**I bake roof pieces until they are very dark, so they are hard as rocks and I won't have to worry about any sagging.**

4. Lift the foil off the baking sheet and let the gingerbread pieces cool completely on the counter. To keep the corners and any short ends from lifting or bending up, immediately after putting the foil/pieces on the counter, lay a cutting board on top of the hot gingerbread and press lightly for several seconds.

If the edges have distorted at all during cooking, use a sharp knife to straighten them out immediately after you take them out of the oven. Or you can use a belt sander (Ahhh...power tools!) to straighten the edges of hardened pieces.

5. If you're really good at planning ahead, it's good to let the baked pieces sit for a few days to dry and harden.

Next I'm going to add the sugar windows and start icing the outside walls. Check back soon!

Note: to make cookies, add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder to the dry ingredients.

Update: To see pictures of the finished castle go here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Raspberry-Oatmeal Cookie Bars

Sometimes things that seem too good to be true, aren't.

My sister brought me these cookies a few days ago. She recently moved, and after unpacking box after box, and eating out constantly, she had the need to bake something (we know how that is, huh?). She and my 2 year-old nephew baked these bars and they were amazing! Not only did they taste fabulous, but the recipe is incredibly easy, too. Too easy to taste so good? Nope.

Because this recipe has so few ingredients, good quality jam is important. The recipe calls for seedless raspberry jam; my sister used Black Raspberry Smucker's Spreadable Fruit, which was awesome because it's really thick and yummy. I don't recommend using a cheap, store-brand jam, which will have a thinner consistency.

Raspberry-Oatmeal Cookie Bars
Printable Recipe (original recipe on Allrecipes)

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup Black Raspberry Spreadable Fruit (Smucker's)

1. Heat your oven to 350 and spray a glass 8X8 pan with non-stick spray.

2. Combine the brown sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, and rolled oats in a medium bowl. Rub in the butter using your hands or a pastry blender to form a crumbly mixture. Press 2 cups of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the jam to within 1/4 inch of the edge. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top, and lightly press it into the jam.

3. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool before cutting into bars. For nice looking bars, use a plastic knife, and wipe the knife on a paper towel after each cut.

Makes 12 bars

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spinach-Artichoke Tart

My husband's company throws a pot luck several times a year, and (as long as I know about it) I always make something for him to take. He took this spinach-artichoke tart to the latest potluck, held the day before Halloween. The tart was supposed to be in bar form on puff-pastry, but I was in a hurry (never good), and I tried to thaw the puff pastry in the microwave. Bad, bad, news. Lucky for me I had some pie crust in the fridge, and was able to use the spinach-artichoke mixture to make a couple tarts instead. I was told they were a hit at the potluck ;)

Spinach-Artichoke Tart
1 pkg refrigerated pie crust (2 crusts, I prefer Pillsbury)
1 15-oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (not marinated)
1 9-0z pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed, and squeezed dry
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup light mayonnaise
2/3 cup light sour cream
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1. Soften the pie crusts according to the package directions. Heat your oven to 400 deg, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients (except the pie crust...I know, I know, but I have to say it just in case). Mix well to combine everything evenly.

3. Place 1 pie crust on each baking sheet. Divide the spinach-artichoke mixture evenly between the two pie crusts, and spread it evenly, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge.

4. Starting anywhere, fold the edge of the pie crust up and over the filling, crimping as you go around the whole crust.

5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges and bottom of the tart are golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or room temperature.

Each tart makes 8 appetizer servings.
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