Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Trick Or Treat Bag

Ok, so I know that this blog is all but dead. I just don't have the time to blog like I used to. But I have a craft project that is so easy and fun, I just had to share.

We took the Munchkin trick-or-treating this year, and I wanted to make him a bag for the occasion.

You will need:

--primary (outside) fabric
--liner fabric
--applique fabric
--fusible web
--sewing machine/needle/thread/other sewing basics

How much of each fabric you need depends on the size of the bag you want to make. I bought a yard each of the orange fabric and the black skeleton liner fabric, and was able to make three bags, measuring about 9 1/2" x 11 1/2."

1. Determine how big you want you bag to be. I decided that 10" x 12" was about the right size and the numbers were easy to work with. Cut primary and liner fabrics to measure the width of your bag (plus ~1/2" for seam allowance) x two-times the length of the bag (plus ~1/2" for seam allowance).

Here are my primary and liner fabric, cut to 10" x 24" and then folded in half to measure 10" x 12"

2. Fold fabric in half lengthwise, right sides facing, and sew along the outside edges of the fabric, leaving 1/4" to 1/2" for seam. When sewing the liner, leave a hole at the bottom corner of one side (In the picture below, you can see the orange fabric sticking out of the hole at the bottom of the liner).

3. Turn liner right side out (leave outside of bag inside out). It might help to iron the liner at this point to crease the bottom and flatten the seams. Place the liner inside the bag, so that the right side of the liner (outside) faces the right side of the bag (inside).

4. When placing liner fabric inside of bag, line the seams up as best you can (This is where ironing the lining fabric really pays off. When it's flat and well shaped, it's much easier to slip it into the bag). Sew lining to bag along the top of the bag, leaving 1/4" to 1/2" seam allowance.

5. This is where the magic happens. Reach into the bag and pull the bag and liner out through the hole in the bottom of the liner.

6. When you are done turning the bag inside out, sew up the hole in the bottom of the lining, then insert the lining back into the bag. Iron the bag to flatten seams and shape the bag. You now have a lined bag.

7. At this point, use the fusible web to applique whatever design you like. I chose this happy Jack O' Lantern Face. (Follow instructions on whichever fusible web product you are using to complete this step).

8. Now it's time to make the handles. 1) Determine how long you want your handles to be. Cut the fabric equal to the length of the fabric x 4 times the width. My handles were 14" long by 1" wide. 2) Fold strip of fabric in half, and iron to press crease along center of the fabric. 3) Unfold fabric, and then fold edges of fabric into center and press creases into fabric. 4) With edges folded in, fold fabric along center crease, and you have your handle!

9. Determine handle placement and pin handles to bag. Sew handles onto bag using a criss cross pattern to add extra stability. Don't forget to keep the back of the bag away from the sewing machine! You don't want to sew the bag together when sewing the handles one. We'll just pretend I didn't learn that one the hard way ;-)

Now your Trick-or-Treat bag is finished. Hand it off to your favorite little Munchkin and enjoy your Halloween!

(Yes, I know this post is too late to actually make one for this Halloween. But the beauty of this bag is that it can be ANY kind of bag...a craft tote, a Christmas bag, a small diaper bag, whatever you want. So have fun with it. I know I did!)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Late DB Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Apologies for a late post. I actually made the challenge a couple of weeks ago, but I just haven't had time to upload the pictures and blog about it. The Dobos Torte is several thin sponge cake layers, all held together and smothered with a wonderful, rich, chocolate butter cream frosting, and a caramel topping.

The recipe was pretty straight forward, though the sponge cake technique was new to me. Rather than bake the cake in a pan, a template was drawn on parchment paper, and the batter was spread in the template. It was kind of fun to see this circle of batter turn into a cake layer.

For the most part, this recipe gave me little trouble. The only snag I had was the caramel. I didn't let it boil down enough (I ran into the Munchkin's bed time, and ran out of time for it), so my top layer was more of a simple syrup layer than a caramel layer. But other than that, everything went really smoothly. And...I have some left over butter cream in the freezer, perhaps for a future batch of cupcakes?

You can find the recipe on Lorraine's blog.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Milan Cookies

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

I was very excited to log in to the Daring Bakers forums this month to discover that the July challenge was cookies. I LOVE cookies. Although my intention was to make both cookie recipes, I was a little busy this month, and only got around to making one of them: the Milan cookies.

These cookies were fun to make, and they flew off the plate at the July 4th potluck I brought them to. The cookie part was nice and delicate, and the chocolate wonderfully rich! I loved the sophistication that the hint of orange in the chocolate lent to the cookies.

These cookies get their shape by piping the batter/dough onto cookie sheets and baking. Apparently my piping skills need work, because I had a hard time getting them all to be uniform in size and shape. So...when it came time to "sandwich" the cookies, it was kind of like a puzzle to find two cookies that would fit well together. But all in all, this was a fun challenge, and a great new cookie technique. I still do intend to make the marshmallow cookies too, but between these cookies, a test birthday cake, and a real birthday cake, I just ran out of time.

Thanks for a great challenge!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Happy Birthday Munchkin!

It's hard to belive it's already been a year! We celebrated the Munchkin's birthday this weekend, and in addition to reflecting on what a wonderful son we have, marveling at how he's grown and changed this year, and pondering our own evolution from childless couple to parents, it provided a great excuse to make a cake!

The Munchkin LOVES dogs, especially Thea, I decided to try to make him a puppy cake using Thea as my inspiration. Here's Thea:

And here's the Munchkin's birthday cake:

I was really happy with the way this cake turned out. I used Rose Levy Beranbaum's Perfect All American Chocolate Cake recipe, with Chocolate frosting. The face was carved from a 15" square cake, while the ears and tonge came from a 12" cake.

Once the cake was baked, carved, and assembled, it was time to decorate it. After talking to a cake decorator at another first birthday party a few months ago, I decided to try my hand at making marshmallow fondant. It was surprisingly easy! It came together very quickly and rolled out really smoothly. The only real problem I had was in dyeing the black fondant. For whatever reason, the amount of black dye I needed to add to the fondant to get such a rich black color seemed to affect the texture of the fondant. It tore really easily, and was just much more difficult to work with. I'll have to see if I can figure out why that was. I didn't have the same trouble with the red and brown dyes, but I didn't have to use nearly as much of those to get the color I wanted. But despite that, I'm really proud of this cake. There was a huge sense of accomplishment in coming up with the design, executing it, and having it come out the way I wanted it to.

All of our guests thought the cake looked amazing, and tasted even better. The Munchkin got his own cake, shaped like a bone.

He wasted no time digging in, not wanting to wait til we were done singing to grab his first fistful and shove it in his mouth. Once we set it in front of him, he went to town! It didn't take him long to decide he likes chocolate cake! I had a lot of fun working on this cake, and I loved seeing my guests (and my son) truly enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Happy Birthday Munchkin!!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Bakewell Success

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Cofessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

After the disaster that was last month's strudel, and what has felt like more failures than successes in my Daring Baking, June's challenge was just what the doctor ordered. JasimeandAnnemarie chose a Bakewell Tart for the challenge. This as a wonderful British dessert with a shortbread pastry crust, filled with jam or curd, then topped with an almond frangipane.

I knew right away that I would like this challenge, mainly because it is pie-like. I can do pies. I'm good at them. With my Amish/Menonite heritage, it's in my blood. So it was really nice to have a challenge that allowed me to focus on my baking strengths.

The Bakewll Tart has three parts: A shortcrust pastry, a jam or curd filling, and a frangipane top. Because I have to fit my baking in around the Munchkin's eating and napping schedule, being able to break up the challenge into three parts, two of which could be made in advance, was great! My initial plan was to make a Blackberry-Mango tart, but decided at the last minute to just do the blackberry. I think it was the right call. I made Jasmine's Blackberry Pan Jam, and it was so simply and yummy! It was a perfect element for this dessert!

On Sunday, I made the shortcrust pastry, which came together quite easily for me. While I have a lot of experience with making pie crust, I've never done a short crust pastry. The recipe called for grating a stick of frozen butter into the flour. I really liked this technique. Though it is surprizingly difficult to grate frozen butter, it is still much less trouble than trying to dice up the butter and keep it cold enough to cut in when you need it.

With these two elements of the dessert made in advance, it was quite easy to finish the tart in time for a Tuesday night dinner party. All that was left was the frangipane, a sort of almond cake that tops the tart. It came together for me quite easily and uneventfully. My frangipane batter didn't even curdle when the eggs were added, something we were warned might happen. After reading that several DB-ers had trouble with a slightly soggy pastry crust, I decided to pre-bake my crust. I'm glad I did, as the crust stayed nice and tender without getting soggy during baking. I simply baked the crust, covered with aluminum foil and pie weights (which for me is a bunch of dried beans) for 10 minutes. Once the crust cooled, I spread about 1/2 cup of the blackberry jam (the recipe called for closer than a cup, but in her notes on the recipe, Jasime mentioned that one could use anywhere between 1/4 - 1 cup of filling), and topped with the frangipane. Thirty minutes later, a perfectly browned tart came out of the oven.

When it came time for dessert (after a yummy dinner of spinach lasagna), I presented the tart to oohs and ahs from my guests. Served with a dallop of Amaretto whipped cream, this tart was divine. My guests raved, and some even went back for seconds. This was an incredible dessert, and one that I will definitely have to try again!

Thank you Jasmine and Annemarie for a wonderful challenge, and for helping me get my baking mojo back!

(The recipe is kind of long, so rather than post it here, click over to Annemarie's post for the Bakewell Tart recipe)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Changing Expectations (Or Better Late than Never)

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Since the Munchkin arrived, I've had to come to grips with the fact that I just can't do it all.  I've tried, and only ended up driving myself crazy.  There are only so many hours in the day, and so much that needs to be done, that somethings just fall to the bottom.  Unfortunately, my fun, more-than-just-throwing-dinner-together cooking and baking have had to get tossed aside.  Every month, I check the Daring Bakers forum, and get excited about that month's challenge.  And then the next thing I know, the posting date is almost here and I haven't had a chance to give it a second thought.  And every month, I think that it would probably be easier if I just gave up the DBs.  It would be one less thing staring at my from my To-Do list.  But...I enjoy it.  And as a mom, I have so little time for things that I enjoy, things I do just for me.  So, even though it is always difficult to find time to get the challenge done, I don't want to give it up, because I need that outlet.  I need the chance to do something that I enjoy just because I enjoy it.  But...I've had the change my expectations.  I don't have the time and energy I did to really come up with something fabulous and creative.  I don't have the time to try things multiple times if it doesn't work out the first time.  It's hard enough to find the time to do it once.  So...my success rate with these challenges has dropped significantly.  Today, after finishing the challenge late and having it not turn out at all, a strange thing happened: I didn't mind.  I wasn't upset, I didn't feal like a failure, and didn't wonder why in the worled I even bothered to try it anyway.  I was happy.  I felt like a success, because I did it!  Right now, just getting it done is a huge accomplishment.  And I'm proud of myself for it.  And I realized, I'm going to stick with the Daring Bakers.  I'll find some way to get these challenges done, and I'll laugh at the things that don't work, and be pleasantly surprised when the do.  Because it's not about perfection, it's about learning and having fun.  And I can do that, even if things don't turn out just right (especially if they're still yummy anyway).

This month's recipe was an apple strudel.  I enjoyed working on it, but I had a hard time with the dough.  I just wasn't able to stretch it thin enough.  In retrospect, I think it was because the dough was too dry (despite the warning not to let the dough get dry).  But when I added in the liquids to the dough, it seemed way too wet...so wet that it didn't seem like there was any way it would be able to be kneaded and rolled into anything.  So I added a little more flour.  And I continued to fiddle with the flour/water ratio to try to get it right.  Though...having never made strudel before I didn't know what right was.  But I went for it.  I rolled out the dough pretty well, but it just wasn't elastic enough to stretch as then as it needed to be.  But I put the filling in and rolled it up and baked anyway.  Although the result was tasty, I think the end result had a pastry that was too thick to realistically be called a strudel.  Despite that...in the 3 hours it's been out of the oven, Psycling and I have managed to polish off about half of it, so I guess it's not that bad.  ;-)

I definitely want to try this again.  Sometime when I'm not having to try to fit it in over a nap time, or shuffle feeding schedules to get it done.  But, for now, I'm happy that I did it.  I'll have a life time to cook, bake, experiment in the kitchen, and work on perfecting recipes.  But the Munchkin is growing so fast, checking off milestones right and left, I only have a short time to enjoy him at this stage before he moves on to the next one.  So I'm relishing that.  The kitchen will always be there.

Oh, and sorry for the whole pictureless post thing.  I guess that's part of my new slacker outlook on baking.  How 'bout a picture of the Munchkin instead?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Delicious Simplicity

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

It seems that life is getting increasingly complicated. The Munchkin is crawling and is getting into everything! I can't turn my back for a second, or he ends up playing with the DVD player or opening a window! He's eating solids and finger foods, so feeding time takes forever and makes a HUGE mess (especially when he eats blueberries). I've joined the YMCA and have been trying to get a workout in three times a week, on top of our play dates, errands, chores, etc. My stack of sewing and mending projects is growing faster than I can keep up. Throw in some traveling, weekly agility with Thea, Psycling's busy schedule -- it leaves my head spinning!


I was really excited when I saw that Jenny chose cheesecake for this month's challenge, and even more excited that we could get as creative as we wanted with it. I immediately started thinking about different options -- mocha cheesecake with chocolate graham cracker crust, mango cheesecake with gingersnap crust, lemon cheesecake, vanilla bean cheesecake...it seemed the options were endless! As I continued to ponder my cheesecake, I remembered the beautiful local organic strawberries that had just arrived in our CSA box. And I decided that the beauty of my cheesecake would be it's simplicity. A basic cheesecake topped with delicious fresh strawberries. Why make it any more complicated?

I (mostly) followed the recipe as written with only a couple of exceptions. When making my crust, I added about a cup of sliced almonds to the graham crackers, to give it a little extra flavor and texture. To complement the almonds in the crust, I used Amaretto as the liqueur in my cheesecake batter. After topping the cheesecake with strawberries, I brushed them with a glaze made by heating strawberry jam with a little bit of amaretto. The glaze was more for aesthetic purposes...it just added a little extra red and shine to the strawberries.

I took this cheesecake to an Easter potluck, and it disappeared so quickly, I barely managed to get a piece. In fact, some of my friends were late to the dessert table and missed out actually licked clean the server and the bottom of the springform pan. It was delicious. However, Psycling and I both agreed that it didn't quite compare to my "gold standard" cheesecake recipe (the one in this book). I've yet to find a cheesecake that is better, though I think this challenge is the closest yet. It's definitely worth a try!

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.