Lola’s: A Cake Journey Around the World + Win a copy!

Lola’s: A Cake Journey Around the World + Win a copy!

Remember the story of the little red hen? Everybody wants to eat the bread, but nobody wants to help bake it. That’s what it’s been like around here the past week, only everybody wants to eat the cake, but nobody wants to get off the ipad and help make it. Or do much of anything else. I asked my daughter to give me a hand with this photo and what did I get? “What was I BORN for? Helping with PHOTOS or LIVING?” Yeesh. If you’re looking for me later I’ll be over here stress-eating hunks of this maple pecan cake. It’s from Lola’s: A Cake Journey Around the World. Thomas Allen & Son sent me a copy to review and they’ve got another one for one of you lucky ducks.  Continue reading “Lola’s: A Cake Journey Around the World + Win a copy!”

Miracle Mug Cakes and Other Cheat’s Bakes by Suzy Pelta + Win a copy!

Miracle Mug Cakes and Other Cheat’s Bakes by Suzy Pelta + Win a copy!

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My husband’s late grandfather had the habit of starting many of his sentences with “Here’s another thing you didn’t know,” followed by a long ramble about something obscure that I couldn’t possibly have known or cared to know, like how the father of former finance minister Paul Martin got his start in business or any number of things about Napoleon (the man, not the dessert.) Then it made me bristle, now it makes me snicker. Because despite his gruff delivery, he was almost always right. (Maybe not factually correct, but his versions of events were certainly new to me.) And the more I try small things, the more I think, “Here’s another thing you didn’t know.” Like you can make a cake in a couple of minutes and it’s actually really delicious! At least the ones I tried from Suzy Pelta’s Miracle Mug Cakes and Other Cheat’s Bakes: 28 Quick and Easy Recipes for Tasty TreatsThomas Allen & Son sent me a review copy, and I think you’d like it too.  Continue reading “Miracle Mug Cakes and Other Cheat’s Bakes by Suzy Pelta + Win a copy!”

The Sprinkles Baking Book by Candace Nelson + Win a copy!

The Sprinkles Baking Book by Candace Nelson + Win a copy!

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It’s been a fantastic year for cookbooks, and out just in time for holiday baking (and giving!) is The Sprinkles Baking Book: 100 Secret Recipes from Candace’s Kitchen by Candace Nelson. It’s the first cookbook from the investment baker turned pastry chef and founder of America’s first cupcakes-only bakery, Sprinkles. Inside are 50 cupcake recipes including customer favourites and new ones created for the book, as well as 50 other desserts (brownies and bars, pies and tarts, loaves and puddings and more). I want to try them all! But I started with two.  Continue reading “The Sprinkles Baking Book by Candace Nelson + Win a copy!”

Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking by Uri Scheft + Win a copy!

Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking by Uri Scheft + Win a copy!

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The other day I asked you to share with me something you tried recently and quite a few of you told me about a new recipe you’d made and how well it turned out. It’s so satisfying, isn’t it? I’m confident you’ll have all kinds of success with this book too. Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking by Uri Scheft of the famed Lehamin Bakery (Tel Aviv) and Breads Bakery (New York) is an approachable and inspiring guide that will excite both novice and experienced bakers with its inventive twists on classic and lesser-known breads, scintillating photography and clear, step-by-step instructions.  Continue reading “Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking by Uri Scheft + Win a copy!”

Layered: Baking, Building and Styling Spectacular Cakes by Tessa Huff

Layered: Baking, Building and Styling Spectacular Cakes by Tessa Huff

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Like the incredible cakes photographed in its pages, Layered: Baking, Building and Styling Spectacular Cakes by Tessa Huff has all of the ingredients for a delicious and satisfying read: 150 recipes for cakes, frostings, fillings and edible garnishes, gorgeous photography, and detailed instructions for all of the techniques to create them. (Everything from what to stock in your pantry and how to prepare your pans to how to check for doneness and master a variety of frosting finishes.) Classic cakes, chocolate cakes, casual cakes, whimsical cakes, adventurous cakes and holiday cakes are served up with the stories behind them and plenty of helpful troubleshooting tips. Bakers are encouraged (and inspired!) to think beyond chocolate and vanilla (tho you’ll find recipes for those too) and try something inventive and new: an orange passion fruit cake with ombre frosting reminiscent of an island sunset; a boozy banana espresso banana tiramisu cake perfect for dessert al fresco under strings of twinkly lights; and a peanut butter lover’s chocolate bombe topped with a dome of peanut butter mousse and a chocolate ganache so rich and decadent it can only mean I love youContinue reading “Layered: Baking, Building and Styling Spectacular Cakes by Tessa Huff”

The Prairie Girl Cupcake Cookbook by Jean Blacklock

The Prairie Girl Cupcake Cookbook by Jean Blacklock

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The secret behind Mona Lisa’s smile. How they get the caramel in the Caramilk bar. Why it takes my kids 20 minutes to put on a pair of snow pants. Some things will always be a mystery but I do know this: Prairie Girl Bakery‘s cupcakes are delicious! delectable! delovely! and you can totally make them at home. The secrets are all in The Prairie Girl Cupcake Cookbook, released just last week. I baked from it on the weekend (would you believe those are my cupcakes up there? I’m so proud!) and I’m here to tell you, it’s a revelation. Heck, it might even be the secret behind Mona Lisa’s smile! The cupcakes are that good.  Continue reading “The Prairie Girl Cupcake Cookbook by Jean Blacklock”

Five things

Five things

You know those weeks when you feel like you can’t get anything done? I’m having one of those. Well, a couple of them actually. The house is upside down and I don’t know where to even begin to put it right side up, and the whole mess has got me feeling terribly unorganized and unmotivated to do anything. But then I look at pictures from the past couple of weeks and think wait a second! I have been doing things. I may not be ripping through my to-do list, but these things still matter.

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1. For special occasions, I love the Chateau Laurier. (Seen here from the Alexandra Bridge, which we walked along after a trip to the Museum of History.) It’s where we gathered for lunch the day I graduated from university, where my girlfriends surprised me with a baby shower when I was pregnant with my son, and where we celebrated my daughter’s fourth birthday with afternoon tea. Ah, so fancy! What’s your special occasion place?

2. I love whiling away the lunch hour at a favourite coffee shop with a girlfriend. That’s Kirsten’s sleeve up there. We met at work nearly 20 years ago and have been friends ever since.

3. A lesson from Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist: Ten Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. It’s one of the books I turn to for inspiration when I’m feeling stuck or stale. What books inspire you?

4. My entry for Chatelaine’s April cooking club challenge, classic vanilla cake. Each month the magazine invites readers to make and photograph a particular recipe for the chance to win a prize (this month it’s a set of bakeware — right up my alley!). The winner was announced today. And it’s me! Woot woot!

5. And tomorrow I’m off to the second annual BConnected blogger conference, just across the river in Gatineau. I know it takes an army of dedicated people to pull off an event like this and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from so many of my talented peers. But if I could do it from home I totally would. I’m nervous to meet everybody and feel way more comfortable here at home behind my computer than I do out there in the world. I feel so vulnerable admitting it. Aren’t you supposed to never let ’em see you sweat? I am sweating here, people!

That’s all for today. Have a great weekend, everybody. I’ll be back soon with another fantastic giveaway!

The Sweetapolita Bakebook + A Giveaway!

The Sweetapolita Bakebook + A Giveaway!

Random House Canada sent me a complimentary copy to review, however all opinions are my own. 

If I slept with a book under my pillow like my kids, The Sweetapolita Bakebook would be the one I’d tuck under my head and dream about each night. Baker, blogger and photographer extraordinaire Rosie Alyea invites readers to a magical land where playing with your food is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. Colour and paint on decadent cookies and cakes with edible paint and chalk, make your own sprinkles and candy clay, and top your cupcakes with toasted marshmallow frosting — Alyea shows you how in step-by-step instructions even the newest (and littlest!) bakers will want to try. And if you have a few flops along the way, she’s there to remind you she’s had her share of failures too. The teenager who fell in love with the world of cake and confection working at a bakery grew into a multi-talented entrepreneur, mother of two, and author of this most endearing first book where decorating takes the cake.

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Like so many thousands of her fans, I have been eagerly anticipating Alyea’s book. And when the cover photo was released a few months ago: wahhhhh! I thought I would burst from excitement. The Doodles and Daydreams Cake was unlike anything I’d seen before! (You can see Alyea working on one here.) How could you not want to make that cake?

Every page is just as enticing. Every. Single. One.

blue cake

Cut & Paste Illustration Cake 

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Watercolour Graffiti Cookies

Alyea used 520 pounds of sugar and 256 pounds of butter making the book. And obviously some supplies you might not have in your cupboard, but they’re easy enough to find. I ordered the food decorating markers and some special cookie cutters from Golda’s Kitchen in Mississauga and they were shipped in two days. Sprinkles, fondant, gel colours, edible paper, meringue powder and other supplies were all widely available at Bulk Barn and Michael’s. (They also had the markers but a different brand than the ones Alyea uses.)

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Speaking of sprinkles, did you know there was a difference between American sprinkles and sprinkles made in Canada? American-made sprinkles are short and chubby like these ones above (they’re from New Jersey via Winners), while Canadian sprinkles are considerably longer and thinner. You can find this fun fact and many others in the book’s Guide to Sprinkles (Alyea calls herself a “sprinkle-junkie”), as well as the how-to’s for several baking and decorating techniques from how to prepare and fill a pastry bag to how to dowel and stack a cake. Oh, and a recipe for Canadian sprinkles too!

doodles and daydreams cake

My kids and their friends (and me!) had a ball trying some of the recipes and techniques from the book. First up: the Doodles and Daydreams Cake from the cover. We’d made a rainbow layer cake a few days before that so we didn’t use Alyea’s recipe, but we did follow her tutorial for covering it with fondant. I’d never worked with fondant so I was nervous as all heck, but the two seven-year-olds had every confidence helping me roll it and smooth it over the cake. Had I been working on my own I would have obsessed about it for an hour but the kids were eager to decorate it so we didn’t fiddle with it too much. And you know, for a first-time effort it turned out okay.

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My daughter also loved helping me make a couple of batches of the Vanilla Sugar Cutout Cookies. (Aren’t the unicorns and and the cloud shapes adorbs? They’re from Golda’s Kitchen.) They’re the first sugar cookies I’ve had repeated success with. I iced them with Alyea’s Royal Icing (first time making and decorating with that too) and used her guide to outlining and filling them.

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One batch went to the Rainbow Doodle Cookies. The white icing serves as a blank canvas to decorate with the edible markers.

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j proud of his butterfly

Your little bakers will be so proud of their creations!

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A second batch went to these bunny cookies, inspired by the Marzipan-Filled Easter Pastries on Alyea’s blog. I was so happy with how they turned out! (Not all of them turned out of course. But those ones got eaten before I could show you.)

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The Dark Chocolate Sugar Cutout Cookies were just as delicious and fool-proof. I got such a kick out of mastering the magical “10-second” consistency of the Royal Icing (when you can drag a knife through the icing and it’ll leave a line that will disappear in 10 seconds) so I upped my game and decorated these like the Happy Happy Cupcake Cookies on Alyea’s blog. (If you think these are cute, you must check out Alyea’s. They’re so adorable you’ll want to tickle them!)

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Next up: Sprinkle-Dipped Meringues! My first batch of meringue never reached the proper volume, and I think it’s because I used egg whites from a carton, straight out of the fridge. Alyea says room-temperature egg whites from fresh eggs create the most stable, voluminous meringue and indeed, when I tried a second time with the fresh egg whites the meringue fluffed up lighter than air.

marshmallow frosting

Honestly, I wanted to make every recipe in the book! (I still do!) But at some point I had to put down the spatula and write this review. But not before trying the Sky-High Chocolate Covered Cupcakes. And I know, you’re wondering where is the chocolate but I loved the marshmallow frosting so much on its own that I left the glaze for another day. The cake part of the cupcake is a dense, moist, deep chocolate wonder and the marshmallow frosting so scrumptious I could easily eat a bowl of it on its own. I think I need a few more goes before I get them sky high, but for a first try I’m pretty happy with the size of these peaks.

Giveaway!

And I’m even happier that Random House Canada has given me an additional copy of The Sweetapolita Bakebook to pass along to one of you! YAY! If you’re a Canadian resident over the age of 18, hop on over here to submit your name and email, then come back here and tell me your favourite cake, cookie or confection (and if you can’t pick just one, tell me several!). You must leave a comment here on the blog in order to be eligible. One winner will be randomly chosen via Rafflecopter. Contest ends May 9.

Good luck everybody! I hope you’re feeling inspired to bake (and decorate!) something sweet.

Update May 10: Congratulations to the winner, Amanda Fontaine! 

Five things

Five things

Hey, you came by! Thanks for popping in. I know many of you are busy celebrating Easter and Passover, so it’s especially nice to see you here. Here’s a little update on the week that was.

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1. This week we had a lot of firsts: first time putting fondant on a cake, first time making and using royal icing, and first time using food decorating pens to decorate cookies, like you see my daughter doing here. Our inspiration: a playful, wonderful cookbook I just received to review. It’s called The Sweetapolita Bakebook, and it’s in stores this Tuesday, April 7. I can’t wait to tell you more about it and show you else what we made!

2. I put out the welcome mat for Spring, ‘tho winter is taking its own sweet time saying goodbye. Yesterday and the day before we woke up to more snow (!) but there’s a heck of a lot less on the ground than there was just a week ago. I’m so sick of wearing my winter coat that I’m ready to light it on fire. “Maybe that would melt the snow,” said Aneta.

3. Love these heart-shaped succulents (aka single-leafed Hoya kerri) from Papier Fleurissante.

4. Are you a Gretchen Rubin fan? You might enjoy her latest book, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Since how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, Rubin maintains that building beneficial habits is key to a happy, satisfying life. In order to change, we must find strategies that suit our nature or “habitual tendencies.” Readers will recognize themselves in Rubin’s questions and anecdotes and with this self-knowledge, be better able to identify effective methods to prevent and overcome slip-ups, setbacks and failures to change. While the writing is accessible, the research exhaustive and interesting and the strategies helpful (in theory anyway; I’ve yet to try any), I found Rubin’s own experiences difficult to relate to. As a rare, self-motivating “Upholder”, maintaining good habits seems to come easy; she has a remarkable self-discipline that most of us do not possess. That aside, it’s a worthwhile read and an informative study in human nature. (Random House sent me a copy to review.)

5. And coming up on the blog: an update on my fitness goal for March. Can you believe it’s April already? Do you have a fitness goal for the month? What about other goals?