Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

So, it turns out I’ve been on a bit of a gingerbread kick lately . . .

I love sugar and spice and everything nice, and gingerbread (in any form) is such an old-fashioned treat that I can’t seem to get enough of (even though I seem to eat the entire year’s worth between December 1-December 31st). I make some form of gingerbread every year over the holidays, but yet it never dawned on me that pairing it with chocolate would be so delightful and that it would just all make so much sense . . . until, of course, I made Gingerbread Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Being an SMB (or SMBC) lover, I couldn’t resist tossing some gingerbread spices into a big fluffy batch of Brown Sugar Buttercream, making it the gingerbread variation, for swirling onto holiday cupcakes. I suddenly seem to be using Brown Sugar Buttercream often lately, because it’s such a wonderful base for so many variations (such as here and for the deliciousness that was Peanut Butter Buttercream.

The thing was, I knew I wanted to make little gingerbread cookie toppers, and if I had made gingerbread cupcakes to go along with the gingerbread buttercream, that would have made them triple gingerbread cupcakes which seemed a bit, well, spicy (although, that may not be a bad thing–I will try this and get back to you). For this round, adding some rich dark chocolate to the idea just felt right.

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

Then I remembered how much I’d wanted to try the chocolate cupcake recipe from a book I recently received: Making Cupcakes with Lola, which was written by the talented baker duo from Lola’s in the UK. This is one of the loveliest cupcake books I’ve read, and I’ve studied it for weeks–the cupcakes are a mix of classic and creative and the gorgeous photography & styling just brings it all to life.

I am eager to try many of their more unusual, or as they call it, “over the top” cupcakes (think Masala Chai Tea cupcakes, Gingerbread Latte cupcakes and more), but I couldn’t resist starting with their classic chocolate cupcake recipe. It stood out to me because they use both melted chocolate and cocoa powder and calls for no other liquid ingredient aside from 4 eggs. I was kind of intrigued! It’s a lighter, fluffier chocolate cake as opposed to the more fudgy oil-based chocolate cake I often use, which was a fun change, and I loved the double chocolate result.

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

So once I had my heart set on dark chocolate & gingerbread cupcakes, it dawned on me that my little gingerbread cookie toppers simply must be dipped in the finest dark chocolate — just makes good sense, right? I actually love making tiny gingerbread folk versus the standard size, because they are so cute and they are a perfect kid-sized treat. I was pretty excited when I remembered Reese having a teeny tiny house cutter in her playdough tool bin that was the perfect size for little chocolate gingerbread house toppers. So then we had a wee gingerbread girl and her wee gingerbread house. As far as we were concerned, it was kind of awesome. Why do things like this excite me so much? I’ll never know.

I hope you’re having a wonderful Saturday filled with holiday baking and hopefully, for your sake, no shopping! Personally, I like to keep the circus element of my day in our own four walls at this time of year, just as I am today. This thought would comfort me, if it weren’t for the fact that I have barely started my holiday shopping. Minor detail!

I’ll be back very soon with another holiday delight!

P.S. I’m pretty sure we’d jingle Santa’s bells if we left him a plate of these and a tall glass of milk. Maybe we could even add a pretty wrapped box of the chocolate dipped gingerbread cookies for his elves?

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes          {click to print}

Double Chocolate Gingerbread Cupcakes = Lola’s Chocolate Cupcakes + Gingerbread Swiss Buttercream + Chocolate-Dipped Gingerbread Cookie Toppers

Lola’s Bakery Chocolate Cupcakes

*written (with permission) as it reads in the book, Making Cupcakes with Lola

Ingredients

100 g/3 1/2 oz dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Callebaut Dark Chocolate Callets)

175 g/1 1/2 sticks butter, cubed

225 g/1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (caster) sugar

4 eggs

100 g/3/4 cup self-rising flour

2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used Cacao Barry Extra Brute Cocoa Powder)

a pinch of salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.

1. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Heat, stirring, until the chocolate melts and you have a smooth, glossy mixture. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Let cool for 10 minutes.

2. Now beat with an electric hand mixer for 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 10 seconds between each addition.

3. Sift the flour, cocoa and salt into the bowl and beat until blendid.

4. Divide the mixture between the muffin cases. Bake in the preheated oven and let cool completely on a wire rack before decorating.

Sweetapolita’s Notes

*Caster/castor sugar is also known as superfine sugar. You can create your own superfine sugar by substituting regular granulated sugar and processing it in a food processor until very fine.

**As with any cake or cupcake recipe I bake, I used room temperature eggs (not cold).

***I filled the cupcake liners a little more than I typically do, as I divided the batter evenly among the 12 liners, as directed. They were just over 2/3 full. I typically don’t prefer a “muffin-top” cupcake, but because I knew I wanted a wider cupcake to hold very billowy swirls of buttercream, I went with it. I may never look back.

Gingerbread Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Yield: ~5 cups, enough for filling and frosting an 8-inch round cake, or frosting 12+ cupcakes.

Ingredients

5 large egg whites (~150 grams/5 ounces)

1 1/4 cup (250 grams/8.5 ounces) dark brown sugar (you can also use light brown sugar)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks,  340 grams/12 ounces/3/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

1/2 teaspoon ( mL) pure vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey Vanillas 8-oz. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract)

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

a pinch of ground nutmeg

a pinch of salt

Method

1. Wipe the bowl and whisk attachment of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and brown sugar and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140-160°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 5 minutes if you used room temperature egg whites. About 8+ minutes if they were cold.

2. With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so and is so important–never add butter to warm meringue). Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing on medium-low and it will come back to smooth).

3. Add vanilla, salt and spices, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.

Sweetapolita’s Notes on Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

* Can make buttercream ahead and keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week, leaving out at room temperature when needed, re-whipping in mixer for 5 minutes.

** Can freeze for up to 6-8 weeks. To thaw, place on counter overnight, and rewhip for 5 minutes with paddle attachment in an electric mixer.

***If not satiny enough upon rewhip, take 1/3 of buttercream and microwave in a microwave-safe container for ~8 seconds, then add back to mixing bowl and remix with remaining buttercream.

****For more detail about making Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you can find my FAQ here and photo tutorial here.

Chocolate-Dipped Gingerbread Cookies

1. Bake your favourite gingerbread cookie dough, and cut desired shapes–I prefer bite-size cookies in general, especially when using them for cupcake toppers. For these cookies, I tried Martha’s Molasses-Gingerbread Cookies recipe, and I followed it to the letter. I love them because they are dark and have a very deep molasses taste. The dough is gorgeous–just note that you will likely need to add quite a bit of flour while rolling and you will need to flour your cutter often, otherwise it is quite sticky. Once baked, let cookies cool on wire rack. *I found my little house and gingerbread doll cutters in my little girl’s playdough tool box, so don’t feel you have to stick with traditional cookie cutters.

2. Melt some (depending on how many cookies you are covering) quality chocolate in the microwave, and if you follow this easy tempering process (when, using the microwave, your chocolate will be tempered in seconds, which is how we get the chocolate to harden with a nice sheen. For these cookies, I used Callebaut Dark Chocolate Callets, which is rich, dark and perfect for covering cookies and is intended for melting down.

3. Dip cookies into chocolate using two forks (or if you have a chocolate-dipping fork), covering entire cookie, or even just half, depending on the look you want to achieve, letting the excess chocolate drip back into bowl.

4. Place on Silpat or wax paper-lined cookie sheet.

5. Place filled sheet in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to set.

Place upon cupcakes or simply eat them as they are. Or both! Store at room temperature.

Good luck & enjoy!

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Little Hands Sugar Cookies & Cards

Little Hands Sugar Cookies via Sweetapolita

Were you starting to wonder if I’ve been baking lately? Since my last few two posts were a little more about me, myself and I, and not exactly recipe-filled, you might be wondering what the heck I’ve been up to in this kitchen of mine. I’m here, I promise. The holiday season has definitely sprung, and I’m a little stressed–I won’t lie. It’s all that good, you know, hustle and bustle holiday-type stress, but sometimes (and by “sometimes” you know I mean “always”) I take on just a little too much. Do you ever do that? Always? So because of that little tendency of mine, I decided to choose a few special baking projects this year, rather than crank out endless varieties, although, technically, there is still time for that . . . kidding. Sort of. For the last two years, I’ve had this “hand cookie”  idea bookmarked in the 2009 Martha Stewart Holiday magazine, and this year I knew I couldn’t resist making them.

My girls, ages 2 and 4, have embraced their creative sides, and so I thought this would be a great way to tie that into the holidays. When Reese wakes up, she literally runs for the crayons, markers and paper and immediately starts to create, and as soon as she’s aware of the holiday season, all she wants to do is make Christmas Cards. For everyone, literally. The mailman, the cat, every neighbour for miles and more. Don’t be surprised if you get one too — this girl can seriously create, and fast. She reminds me so much of the me when I was a little girl (memories of my tireless childhood rug-hooking fascination come to mind), and I love that she’s so enthusiastic. Neve does too, but because she’s just 2, she enjoys it for a few moments and then moves onto something else.

That’s actually why this project worked so well, because there was a little bit of baking, a bit of colouring and more. To create the template for their hands, I traced their hands onto cardstock and cut them out–so simple, yet the girls thought this was so fun. For some reason, I had it in my head that this would be a really crazy super time-consuming project, but, actually, with such a simple decorating approach, it was probably the quickest sugar cookie project I’ve ever done. Perfect!

Sweetapolita

We did these over the course of a few days (which seems to be the best way to approach this type of thing with 2 small kids, I’m finding), and the day the photos took place, Reese was at school, but Neve was ready to ham it up, as always. Since we just put up Christmas Tree, started listening to holiday music and were holiday baking and crafting, we were suddenly immersed in holiday-ness. Funny how that can give us all the boost we need sometimes–young or old. It’s been kind of grey around here for the past few weeks, in typical Canadian winter fashion, I suppose, but, this cookie project lifted us all quite a bit. That and decorating (and redecorating) the tree. The girls have rearranged it so many times, but I think they’ve got it just “so” now.

Sweetapolita

After around the 1,330, 330th time “telling” the girls to “stop touching the balls (ahem)!” I lauged out loud and then let it go. Crash! Bang! Crash! And . . . it’s offically Christmas. This is all new to Neve, since last year she was only 1 and likely has no recollection of Christmas, so I just don’t have the heart to keep her away from the tree. It just wouldn’t be Christmas around here without a little bit of heartwarming chaos (with a hint of just plain chaos, of course).

Little Hands Sugar Cookies via Sweetapolita

I love that the hands don’t expand when baked (which is why it’s so important to follow the prebaking chilling steps), since puffed up, oversized baby hand cookies may be a little weird. I compared the template to the baked cookie, and it was almost exact. Yay! We decided that we’d go ahead and package up each cookie, complete with name cards and handmade Christmas greetings and that we’ll give them to family, Reese’s teacher, etc. I gave the girls a stack of 6″ squares of white cardstock and a box of markers and told them to create-away. I also gave them some 6″ strips of cardstock for their names, which I left Reese in charge of writing both (soon enough Neve will be able to write her own, I’m sure!).

Sentiment aside, this is my favourite sugar cookie recipe (as you probably remember in this previous post), as they are so scrumptious and traditional. Because they are so crisp, buttery and classic, I personally love eating them this way, with no icing. Next time I make these, or any other unfrosted variation, I will likely add some vanilla bean to add to the already lovely and old-fashioned taste, but if you use a good quality pure vanilla extract, that alone does give it a beautiful flavour. It’s just never a bad idea to add vanilla bean, right?

Little Hands Sugar Cookies via Sweetapolita

I’ll be back soon to share some holiday cakes that I’m really excited about making, and more. Until then, Happy Holiday Baking!

Little Hands Sugar Cookies

Yield: Apprx 30 medium-small cookies, depending on shapes/size

Ingredients

  • 6 cups (750 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 2 cups (454 g) unsalted butter, softened for about 20 minutes at room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) pure lemon extract

Instructions

  1. In large bowl, sift together flour and salt. Set aside.
  2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs.
  3. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla and lemon extract and blend.
  4. Remove 1/2 of dough from bowl, make a ball, and place on a large piece of plastic wrap on counter.Wrap the sides of wrap over the ball, then press down with the palm of your hand and make a disc about 2" thick. Finish wrapping the disc with the plastic wrap. Repeat with 2nd half of dough. Chill both discs of dough for about 45 minutes.
  5. Remove one disc and remove plastic wrap. Place on top of a large piece of parchment paper (I use a silicone rolling mat underneath to ensure it doesn't slip while rolling, but you can even dampen counter so the parchment sticks a bit.), then place two 1/4" wooden dowels on either side of your dough, then another sheet of parchment paper.
  6. Roll dough (this will require a bit of elbow grease for the first few minutes until it softens up a bit) so it's flush with dowels--they will ensure that your dough is even thickness.
  7. Preheat your oven to 350° F. Slide your parchment paper and dough onto a board, then place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
  8. Remove from fridge, and cut your shapes using the cutters of your choice, placing them on a baker's half sheet lined with a silicone baking mat (or parchment), with 2" clearance around each one and the edge of sheet. Place sheet with cookies into freezer for 15 minutes before baking. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.
  9. Cool sheets on wire racks for 10 minutes, then gently remove cookies and place on wire racks to finish cooling.

Notes

*If you follow the pre-baking chilling steps, you will find that your baked cookies end up the same size as your hand template, with no expansion (that could be kind of weird).

**May be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. They also freeze well.

***Package as desired.

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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

1. For packaging, I used a 6″ wide x 9″ crystal clear bag and cut a 6″ square piece of patterned scrapbooking paper and 6″ square piece of wax paper (regular wax paper) overlay to place on top. I highly recommend using the wax paper overlay, otherwise the cookie will leave buttery marks on your pretty paper.

2. I cut additional 6″ squares of white cardstock so the girls could write Christmas Card messages and then I slid them into the bag, facing out (the back of the bag) then cut small white strips for their names to slide into the front of the bag. In our case, with two little girls I wanted the recipients to be able to easily identify each girl’s cookie, but if you’re using only one “little hand,” you could skip this step.

3. To seal bag, I folded the excess bag over the front and then, using a single hole punch, created 2 holes a few inches apart (see photo), then tied with ribbon (I used a Celadon colour).

Good luck & enjoy!

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My Top 8 Sources for Cake & Confection Inspiration

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One of the most liberating and exhilarating things that I’ve come to figure out during the past few years as a baker and caker is that inspiration is everywhere — literally, everywhere. As long as I’m tuned in and really paying attention to what’s around me, and I keep the ability to stand back and look at things with an open mind and knack for using typical things in an untypical way, I find there is enough inspiration out there to have me happily baking for eternity, with my own spin on things. Okay, well maybe a few days short of eternity — I have days, many days, where it doesn’t come together, and where tears are shed, but that’s when I realize that it may be time to walk away and rejuvenate. Then, when I’m ready, and the stars are realigned, I get back at doing what I love and send my muse an urgent plea.

Here are my 8 favourite sources of inspiration for cake & confection designs and ideas:

1. Children’s clothing

This may sound a little unusual, or maybe we all do it, but I find oodles and oodles of inspiration in children’s clothing & pajamas. As a mom of two little girls, I am surrounded by a jackpot of tees, pjs and more, which kind of comforts me–I can’t go two steps in our house without finding a cute piece of the girls’ clothing just begging to become cookies, cupcakes or cake. I find children’s clothing designers create the most pleasing colour-palettes, patterns and themes that are often reminiscent of confections and childhood in general. It’s not that I want all of my desserts to look like they are for children, because most aren’t, but I find that this kind of playful inspiration can bring out my inner child, which ignites a spark in me and makes me happy. When I’m happy, I create prettier things. True story.

Milk & Cookies for Santa via Sweetapolita

The colour palettes used in children’s clothing are often pastel, rainbow and the like. Sometimes I’m inspired to literally recreate a design I love onto a cookie or cake, as I did with these Milk & Cookie Cookies for Santa, and other times it’s not so literal–such as the How to Make a Rainbow blog post, which I pulled inspiration from the words and concept of the girls’ matching pajama sets. Sometimes I’m purposely searching for ideas, and other times I become inspired upon first glance, even before I buy it. And, I may or may not be guilty of choosing a style just so I can go home and use it as cake or confection inspiration, but since I’ve got two very girly-girls, this usually goes over well. There are so many ideas just sitting there in their closets waiting to be baked into life. You can also browse online for kids’ clothing, so no need to stock an entire closet full or rush out and make babies (unless you find making and raising babies particularly inspiring, in which case make away) to tap into this goldmine of creativity. I get a flutter in my heart while browsing Decaf Plush, Layla Grace and Etsy, to name a few.

2. Books, Stationery & Wrapping Paper

This is one another one of my favourite ways to get inspired, and it there are so many ideas waiting to happen, when you look at pretty books, paper, illustrations, or wrapping paper in a new light.

Love Letter Cookies via Sweetapolita

The first time I fell in love-at-first-sight with a potential paper-into-sweets idea was when I spotted these envelopes in an issue of Martha Stewart and created the Love Letter & Scripted Hearts Cookies (above). Up until the moment I spotted the stationery in the magazine, I was at a complete loss what to bake & make and just like that, I had a cookie vision. This was a pretty literal take on the envelopes, and then I added the hearts once I got started and felt, well, even more inspired. See how quickly inspiration travels? I can also recall an “aha” moment when I was brainstorming ideas for a friend’s virtual baby shower, and this book clicked a switch, resulting in the Little Pea Sugar Cookie Pops. And wrapping paper? This is one of the most incredible resources out there–so much creativity goes into the art of wrapping paper. I mean, can someone please make this into a cookie collection? Or this? And look at these colours — they scream confections. Some of my favourite online resources for this kind of inspiration are Paper Source, Cartolina and Etsy. Paper bliss . . .

3. Candy

This is a funny set of circumstances, really: Candy inspires me to make cake and cookies, but actually eating candy isn’t really my thing (one thing I forgot to mention on my recent post, 23 Random Things About Me). Maybe it’s because I’m a bit fanatical about oral hygiene and keeping my teeth healthy, or perhaps I just love the texture of baked goods and frosting so much that I’m not often willing to spend those calories on eating straight candy. That being said, nothing says uplifting or connect-with-your-inner child like walking into a candy shoppe. The colours, the shapes, the scents — instant sugar-induced inspiration and happiness.

Peppermint Twist Cake via Sweetapolita

As you probably guessed, or maybe recall if you read my guest post on Wedding Bells last holiday season, the inspiration for this winter wedding cake was peppermint candy and twine, which sounds a bit odd now that I think about it, but I remember how compelled I felt to incorporate a candy vibe into the cake. Even just a handful of old-fashioned candy can inspire, and it doesn’t always result in a big fancy wedding cake. Remember these Licorice Delight Cupcakes? Or this Strawberry Layer Cake with Whipped Strawberry Frosting?

4. Whimsical Blogs

This is such a big one for me–I love whimsical blogs! When I say “whimsical” blogs, I’m referring to blogs that are filled with, or, actually, overflowing with colour, quirkiness and just an overall sense of artistic chaos–blogs that leave you wondering if you’ve got paint or fabric snippings on your shoe after you’ve visited.

Art Palette Cookies via Sweetapolita

There are a few blogs in particular that give me an immediate creative boost and inspiration, and even a quick visit can arm me with creativity. You may remember my girl crush close friend Vanessa Valencia, and how her work and blog, A Fanciful Twist, inspired me to create these Artist Palette & Paintbrush Cookies. The truth is that each time I visit Vanessa’s blog I get a feeling of transcendence, and when I leave her blog I am instantly eager to make something special — it really is like visiting another world. It was also because of her that I took two steps left of my comfort zone and created the Ruffles & Roses Mad(ish) Tea Party. Another art & lifestyle blog that I adore is A Beautiful Mess by Elsie Larson. Elsie’s blog has a strong vintage-crafty flare and is dipped in pretty. She blogs about DIY projects, outfits, photography, beauty, treats and so much more. I dare you to spend 5 minutes on either of these blogs, or similar, and not feel compelled to create. There are many more out there, but these are my two current favourites.

5. Design Seeds

Design Seeds is an incredible source of colour inspiration. Jessica Colaluca is the talented woman behind this site filled with seemingly infinite colour palette inspiration (I’m sorry for the “u” in colour, Jessica — my Canadian fingers won’t let me omit it), and I can only imagine, actually, no, I can only dream of imagining how many works of art out there that have stemmed from her gift for creating and generously sharing her colour palettes.

{fresh pink} source: design seeds

In our case, let’s say you’re making a birthday cake or cookies (or anything at all) and you’re not sure which colours would work well together, or maybe you’re typically great with colour, but you need a boost to get your creative colour energy going. It’s almost hard to believe that there could even be so many palette options, but, like I mentioned, it is seemingly infinite, and since even the slightest variance in shade can evoke different emotions, each palette tells a story and inspires me in a unique way. Her site, albeit deep-rooted with colour, is simple, clean and easy to use. You can browse palettes by single colour, collection or season.  All of her palettes are inspiring, but I’m often drawn to her “Edible Color” palettes (quel surprise!).

6. Pinterest

Did I mention that my life changed the day I discovered Pinterest? If you’re not familiar with Pinterest, it’s basically a virtual pinboard for selecting images you find around the web and categorizing them onto different boards for your own reference and those who are interested in what you’ve pinned. Think of it as a big inspiration board, but on your computer. You can also follow any other Pinterest users, and see and/or repin anything they’ve saved to their boards. If you feel that sounds endless and overwhelming, well, you’re right, but it’s in incredible source of inspiration. And although “Pinterest” isn’t really one specific bit of inspiration, but rather endless, I find it really helps me create because I can view an entire board in one glance. Something about the ability to group these images any way I like keeps me focused.

While I was recently working on this summery fresh cake (above) with a “Provence” tablecloth theme for Wedding Bells magazine (Spring & Summer 2012 issue — it’s hitting shelves next week, which you won’t want to miss!), I turned to Pinterest straight away. I was, of course, given some guidelines for colour and theme, but it was up for my interpretation, and this can be a little overwhelming in its own right. If you peek at my “Sweet Colour Inspiration” Pinterest board, you’ll likely see it’s peppered with fresh, summer, blue and yellow images, and these images, as a group, gave me direction and a vision for my cake. But, fancy cakes aside, even if I’m making a simple layer cake or brownies, sometimes something strikes me on Pinterest that gets me excited to bake all over again. Or redecorate the house. Or buy a couture gown. Or to throw another wedding party. If you join Pinterest, you’ll see . . .

7. Baking & Party Supply Shops

Do you ever get stuck in a baking-tool rut? I do, and actually I’ve been in one lately, so shopping pretty baking supply shops gets me inspired. It’s not even about actually buying new cake or baking tools or party supplies, although I won’t lie, that does give me a lift. It’s kind of like buying new makeup — you wake up the next day with more P&V than usual because you can’t wait to try your new blush . . . or is that just me?

Rainbow Doodle Cake via Sweetapolita

This Rainbow Doodle Cake (which you are likely tired of looking at by now) came to be because I spotted the Gourmet Food Writer Markers one day while online shopping, and coupled with my little Reese’s need for a rainbow cake, we ended up with a much-doodled cake that she was so proud of. Had I not been looking for a new & fun bit of cake-tool inspiration, I’d probably still be trying to dream up a birthday cake design for her.

Neapolitan Sugar Cookies via Sweetapolita

Sometimes I get comfortable using my favourite baking tools, and even a new cookie cutter can set off a rush of cookie design ideas, like when I bought my cute-as-pie milk bottle cutter and made the Neapolitan Milk & Chocolate Sugar Cookies. I find, though, that even just taking some time to browse different baking supply or stylish party shops, online or in person, ideas start to click. And click. And click and click. Just remember to write your ideas down before you forget them! Some of my favourites are Shop Sweet Lulu, Bake It Pretty and Fancy Flours.

8. Desserts, Past & Present

I know this may sound peculiar. How can the general term “dessert” be a source of inspiration for dessert? Well, here’s how this works for me: I love dessert (no really, I do), and so I’m, for the most part, thinking, sleeping, dreaming, living and reminiscing about dessert. The key for me is taking a step back and looking at dessert in a new light — maybe mixing up an old treat into something different, but the same. Confused yet? For example, my memories of the carton-packaged ice cream bricks from my childhood inspired this cake, but yet there was no ice cream involved in my cake–the same but different. My love and memories of those Misty Mints I ate at Christmas-time as a little girl inspired me to make these peppermint patties, taking the simple little minty pastel chocolates and turning them into full-on homemade white chocolate and mint peppermint patties — the same but different. I love observing the flavour combinations that are out there in any dessert or confection and then tying them into my own recipes, but with a different spin. So, I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t always look to cake for cake ideas, but rather shake things up by using pretty much any sweet treat as inspiration for other sweet treats. I should mention, though, that there’s definitely something to be said for trying a recipe you’re inspired by and simply making it as it is, but for those other times when I really want to experiment, this system works for me.

So, these definitely aren’t my only sources of cake & confection inspiration, because every day and every project is unique, but these are some of my favourites.

What are your best-loved sources for creativity?



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23 Random Things About Me

I used to just love reading those 25 Random Things About Me notes on Facebook a few years back, even if I didn’t really know the person that well. A few days ago, I was inspired by Jenna’s list, and after I read it I wished I could learn these unexpected facts from all of my new friends. So, tonight, while my baking tools were being held hostage in my running dishwasher, I decided to give it a whirl:

1. 23 is my birthday (July 23, 1974), and it’s also my favourite number.

2. My passion, aside from baking & photography, is singing and has been since I can remember. I sing constantly (when at home or in the car), but I still can’t figure out if I’m any good at it.

3. In my young twenties, I had a brief job reading tarot cards for a psychic phone network.

4. I actually loved reading tarot cards and never told a single lie to any caller during that job.

5. I created and concocted a quirky bath & body product collection called Cake Beauty with a friend in my tiny apartment kitchen in 2000, but I left the company in 2003.

6. My least favourite sweet is ice cream. I can take it or leave it, but it belongs in its own bowl and has no business touching my piece of cake.

7. I have 3 tattoos.

8. I wish I had zero tattoos.

9. For some inexplicable reason, I can barely reach or touch my hands flat onto my shoulders. This made the “head and shoulders, knees and toes” song very stressful for me as a child.

10. My husband and his family taught me to waterski when I was 29. It took me almost 100 tries (which they pointed out was almost scientifically impossible) to get up on the traditional 2 skis. I somehow finally did it, and then went on to conquer slalom waterskiing (skiing on one fancy and potentially very speedy ski) and still love it. Dare I say I’m not half bad.

11. Other than #10, I’ve never been an athlete.

12. I am an avid genealogist and spent a total of almost 1200 (yes, that’s twelve-hundred) hours in 2006 working on my (and my husband’s) family tree, and many more hours since that year. I could have baked about 2000 cakes in that amount of time (not that I would do it differently).

13. I cherish my Shel Silverstein book collection, and I’ve now passed it along to my daughters. The very first Shel Silverstein poem I heard was read by my fourth-grade teacher and was called “Sick.”

14. In my life I have been able to recite a total of 2 movies from start to finish: Weird Science and About Last Night.

15. If I had to choose one last meal, the dessert would likely be warm cinnamon buns with whipped frosting. Yes that’s “buns.” Or a chocolate caramel tart. Or bread pudding. Or chocolate cake with malted chocolate frosting.

16. I love to write, but I only enjoy reading non-fiction books.

17. I eat dessert almost every day, and sometimes twice a day, but I strategically eliminate many things I love from my diet (most days) to balance it out, such as mayonnaise, cheese, sugary sodas, and fried or processed food.

18. I can often be found wandering junk shops near and far, searching for vintage baking items or the like.

19. I have a strange connection to French cafe music.

20. I love words, and think more about proper spelling & grammar than one girl should.

21. I’ve been told for most of my life that I’m too sensitive. I am sensitive, and I’d like to stay that way (thanks, Jewel!).

22. I’m a natural-born detective and love solving mysteries. This may explain the strange events of #12.

23. I love fashion & nightlife, but I’m most comfortable at home in my frilly apron.

xo

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Art is Joy: Painted Chocolate Peanut Butter & Jelly Cakes

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

Every child is an artist. –Pablo Picasso

Happy Friday to you! This is a bit of a long (but colourful) post, guys, so you may want to grab a bucket of Skittles and a big glass of milk and get comfy. Heck, make it strawberry milk. Simply put, this post makes me happy. Art is joy and, well, cake isn’t half bad either. So, when I can marry most of my favourite things in life into one post, there’s no getting around it making me so happy. Let’s see, we’ve got colour + art + my cakelets + chocolate + cake + peanut butter buttercream . . . yep, that’s pretty much happiness in a nutshell.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

Art is just a way of life at our house. Aside from my own colourful chaos that has seemingly taken over our home, I have been blessed with two small girls who both embrace art everyday. Sometimes all day. So, even though it adds to that colourful chaos I mentioned, I have started to encourage this love of theirs by leaving appropriate art supplies on every table in the house. And, well, the floor (see below). So as a matter of natural course, I often try to find a way to incorporate baking and caking into their love for arts and crafts. You may remember the Artist Palette & Paintbrush Cookies I created or the Rainbow Doodle Cake that Reese created for her 4th birthday using these pens: Americolor Food Marker Writers- 10 Color Pack. That was the very first time Reese had ever been such a big part of creating her own birthday cake, and she thought that was pretty awesome (as she should have–she’s quite the artist, if you ask me!). Well, I thought it would be super fun for her to do the same type of thing again, but by painting onto a white fondant cake. Since she spends almost all of her waking hours drawing & painting, I knew she’d be pretty enthusiastic about this one.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

That cake would make even the Tin Man smile, don’t you think?

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

For those who may not be familiar with it, the “paint” is something that is often used in cake decorating for many effects, and is made by mixing non-toxic luster dust or petal dust with either clear lemon extract or vodka (which evaporates quickly). Luster & petal dusts are dry chalky-looking dusts that are sold in wee jars (about 2-4 grams) and come in dozens of colours. They can be used dry by brushing onto fondant and gumpaste (any frosting that is dry to the touch) for touches of colour or shimmer, or as we did here, used wet as “paint.” Although there are many types of dusts with varying shimmer-factor, luster dust is typically the shimmery dust (such as Super Gold 43-1233 Luster Dust 2g) and petal dusts are matte (such as Fuchsia Petal Dust, 4 grams). We used some of each with this painted cake.

Here’s what I was referring to above–even the floor has become a great spot for my little artists. If you happen to follow my Instagram photos, you might recognize this image of my cakelets colouring all over a huge piece of white photographer backdrop paper that had seen better days and I needed to replace. Sending a recycling message feels good too. I was going to save this once they were done, which I still will (I’m a bit nutty about keeping everything they do–I can’t seem to throw any of it away), but I decided to then use it as the surface top for this post’s photoshoot, complete with toddler scribbles and pre-schooler drawings. I love when things work out that way!

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

Because this project is really ideal for preschoolers up to adult, I was going to try to keep little toddler-Neve occupied by having her colour or paint at her own little “station” beside Reese, but there was no way she was letting that go. She wouldn’t leave her older sister’s side (literally) while Reese brainstormed her design. I’m estimating that this had 49% to do with sisterly affection and 51% to do with cake.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

The longer you let your cake chill before painting, the more firm the buttercream and fondant will be, which is ideal for painting, because the little hands will be pressing into the cake a bit while they work. On a sidenote, contrary to what many will say, you can, and I always do, put your fondant-covered cakes in the refrigator while working on them to firm them up. Otherwise, you will end up with fingerprints and dents in your cake, especially when little ones may not realize.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

Perhaps this was creative moral support. Or maybe Neve was plotting her cake-tasting plan.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

An artist at work. I love photographing the kids in more candid situations, as it’s always evident in the photos when they are relaxed and in their element and, most of all, don’t realize they’re being photographed. I think what made this project even more special for her was that it wasn’t her birthday. It wasn’t her sister’s birthday. It wasn’t any holiday at all, but just a regular day.

Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

 Painted Cakes via Sweetapolita

Because the alcohol in the vodka evaporates so quickly, it’s helpful to keep some nearby (and if you are hosting a birthday party and have a houseful of kids, you may or may not want to keep a martini glass nearby) to add a drop or so when needed. It’s best to keep the paint thin enough so that it glides on the cake but not too thin that the colours look diluted, because the best part about these dusts is that the colour is intense. The luster colours have such a lovely shimmer-quality to them, even once dry.

Painted PB&J Cakes via Sweetapolita

So what’s better than a hand-painted cake? A hand painted cake that is rich dark chocolate filled with the fluffiest and most satiny Peanut Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream. For the PB&J version, I spread a thin layer of Bonne Maman Wild Blueberry Jam onto the cake before the buttercream. The other cakes I left as simply chocolate & peanut butter.The reason I did Peanut Butter Swiss Buttercream, rather than the more common sugar peanut butter frosting is that I wanted to put a really thick layer of filling and because it’s not too sweet, it really brings out the peanut butter flavour. Peanut butter & meringue? That is so right. Even though it’s not cloying sweet, it’s still ideal for kids, especially with this cake because the fondant is very sweet. I heard Reese tell her dad that “Mommy made an excellent choice with the icing,” so it sounds like this one could be a winner. I think she was just relieved that it didn’t have key lime in it–long story.

Art = Joy!

For those of you who also love all-things-colour, I can’t get enough of Design Seeds. Endless colour inspiration!

I also found this kids’ painting party idea absolutely darling.

Here’s the recipe and info on making these painted cakes:

Paintable Chocolate PB&J Cakes         {click to print all instructions}

Use your favourite chocolate cake recipe baked in 3 separate cake pans. I used this recipe and baked using 3 Fat Daddio’s Anodized Aluminum Oval Cake Pan, 9 Inch x 2 Inch. I put 500 grams/~17 ounces of batter in each, and made some cupcakes with the extra batter. I then sliced each cake in two when frosting. So in this case, I use 3 pans to yield 3 finished cakes ready to paint.

Peanut Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Yield: ~10 cups of buttercream (enough to fill & frost 3 oval 9″ x 6″ cakes)

Ingredients

10 large egg whites (~300 grams/10 ounces)

2.5 cups (500 grams/17 ounces) light brown sugar

3 cups (1.5 lbs/680 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

2 teaspoons (10 mL) pure vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey Vanillas 8-oz. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract)

3/4 cup (190 mL) Kraft (or other quality brand) smooth peanut butter, or to taste

Method

1. Wipe the bowl and whisk attachment of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and brown sugar and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 8 minutes if you used room temperature egg whites. About 12 if they were cold. Just be sure you can’t feel any sugar crystals when you rub a small bit between your fingers.

2. Place the bowl back into the mixer, and with whisk attachment attached, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10+ minutes or so). *Make sure your meringue is completely cool before adding butter–this may take much longer than you expect, but if the meringue is very stiff and still warm, just turn off mixer and wait until it has cooled. Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing on medium-low and it will come back to smooth).

3. Add vanilla and peanut butter, and continue to beat on low speed until well combined. *It’s also pretty delightful to leave unblended swirls of peanut butter.

Notes:

1. You can easily cut this recipe in half, and essentially it is Brown Sugar Swiss Buttercream with peanut butter whipped in at the end, so you also make it minus the peanut butter, freeze it, and then whip in peanut butter when you’re ready to use. That way you have the option of 2 flavours in your freezer. It keeps frozen for ~2 months.

2. You can make buttercream ahead and keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week, leaving out at room temperature when needed, re-whipping in mixer for 5 minutes.

3. You can freeze for up to 6-8 weeks. To thaw, place on counter overnight, and rewhip for 5 minutes with paddle attachment in an electric mixer.

4. If not satiny enough upon rewhip, take 1/3 of buttercream and microwave in a microwave-safe container for ~8 seconds, then add back to mixing bowl and remix with remaining buttercream.

5. For more detail about making Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you can find FAQ here and photo tutorial here.

Assembly of the Paintable Chocolate PB&J Cakes (or Chocolate PB Cakes)

1. Wrap & chill cake layers in refrigerator for ~30 minutes.

2. Carefully slice each of the 3 cakes into 2, horizontally, using a very sharp, serrated knife. If your cake has domed, don’t worry about trimming it, as you can put the dome side face-down. Since it’s a 2 layer cake, you don’t want to waste any cake by trimming it away.

3. Place first cake layer on a plate or cake board face up, and spread a thin layer of blueberry (or other desired flavour) jam onto the cake. Then spread a 1″ thick layer of Peanut Butter Swiss Buttercream on top, smoothing with an offset spatula. You can omit the jam, if desired, or do some with and some without.

4. Place top layer cut side down (or up if your cake is domed). Cover with a thin layer of the buttercream using an offset spatula and chill until set, about 30 minutes. You can also place in freezer for about 15 minutes. This seals in all of the crumbs. *You must chill the cake at this point to allow for a smooth, crumb-free top layer of frosting.

5. Once chilled and set, add a thick layer of buttercream, trying to get it as smooth as possible using your offset palette knife.

6. Roll out 1 lb 2oz (~525 grams) of white fondant (I love Satin Ice Rolled Fondant – White – Vanilla – 2.5 kg) on a smooth surface dusted with icing sugar or cornstarch, or you can use a fondant mat (I always use Ateco 24 x 36 Inch Fondant Work Mat) until it’s about 1/8″ thick or a little thicker. If your buttercream isn’t completely smooth, you will want to make the fondant on the slighlty thicker side to mask those imperfections (definitely no thicker than 1/4″). Transfer the rolled fondant onto the cake using a rolling pin and gently lay over the cake. Working quickly, smooth the fondant all over the cake using your hands and/or fondant smoothers (I use Wilton Easy Glide Fondant Smoother), working from the top down. Trim the excess fondant from the bottom of the cake using a small sharp knife. Smooth rough edges with a small palette knife. Chill for at least 1 hour.

7. Take selected lustre dust powders and tap small amount into a paint palette or small ramekins. Add a few drops of clear lemon or vanilla extract and blend with small paintbrush. *You can not use water. You can use clear alcohol, such as vodka, as it evaporates when dry. Once your liquid is added, you now have…edible paint! You will need a paintbrush designated for each colour.

8. Remove cake from refrigerator. The fondant may “sweat” a little, which causes it to be a bit tacky at first, but as long as your home isn’t extremely humid, this will evaporate fairly quickly and be ready for painting.

9. Let the child (0r, ahem, yourself) paint until their heart’s content.

10. Wash brushes, blot with paper towel, and let air dry. Wash paint bowls or palette.

Other colourful ideas:

1. Make mini cakes, say 4″ rounds, and let each child at a birthday party paint their own, then pack it up for them to take home as their “loot bag,” to show their parents.

2. Create an entire party around the painting theme. Art parties are so popular right now, and for good reason. They are awesome!

3. You could make these cookies as party favours.

4. You could create this rainbow cake for the inside of the painted cakes, for a real hit of colour.

5. You could create a mix of colouring and painting sweets for a party using the Americolor Food Marker Writers- 10 Color Pack + edible paints.

Whoa…that was a lot of info in one hit. Feel free to leave any questions below, and, as always, I’d love to hear your comments and/or experiences with this cake.

What would you paint on a pure white porcelain-finish cake?

Good luck & enjoy!

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