Potted Espresso & Salted Caramel Mud Cakes

Potted Espresso Cakes via Sweetapolita

Happy Fall! Kind of kooky time for me to be sharing a perfectly springy dessert, but this past weekend I did some desserts for a very special woman celebrating her 60th birthday. Kathy, my father-in-law’s wife and my close friend, is very passionate about all things garden. Her family threw her a huge surprise party, and I knew immediately that I would have to explore some sweet garden-themed treats. These potted treats were one of the the ones I was most excited about.

For a very brief moment, I thought I actually invented this concept–what a brilliant cakethrough!  See, I worked at an incredible restaurant in my twenties (so 16 years ago–ouch) where fresh bread was baked and served in full-size terracotta pots alongside whipped butters in an array of flavours. As I remembered this, it dawned on me that it would work for cake too! And it would be darn cute . . . then I realized that it’s been done before (by some woman named Martha, among others). Oh well, that wasn’t going to stop me. I knew Kathy (and hopefully guests) would love them. And I was relieved to see how simple Martha’s version with the mint sprig was, because it was the perfect solution to my needing something a little less time-consuming.

Potted Espresso Cakes via Sweetapolita

The potted cakes in these photos are actually the new & improved version since the weekend. There were a few things I wanted to change before I shared the recipe with you, taste-wise, so the girls and I grew a dozen yesterday. So what exactly is a Potted Espresso & Salted Caramel Mud Cake? It’s a double dose of cupcake batter baked in the pot, but just not quite all the way, then brushed with espresso syrup for starters. Not baking all the way creates a gooey chocolate (slightly muddy) centre and a convenient concave middle perfect for filling with oozing salted caramel, toffee bits and dark chocolate, slightly-salted glaze. Then we cover them with chocolate cookie crumbs and Chocolate Pebbles , then top them with small mint sprigs.

Potted Espresso Cakes via Sweetapolita

The inspiration for the flavour combination was lingering in my mind since I made these cupcakes, and I think the textures and taste are exactly what you would want a spoonful of earth to taste like (okay, that was weird). And don’t let the dry-dirt top fool you–underneath there is a rich, deep, gooey, crunchy, caramel-y and possibly religious experience. And cute all the while.

Potted Espresso Cakes via Sweetapolita

You can even cakelet-this-up by skipping the elegant mint sprig and espresso and burying a few gummy worms, a toasted marshmallow and chocolate pebbles (they taste like m&m’s) below the surface. Maybe add a bright green fondant sprout, or pipe a few cheery flowers on top. Wow, that sounds pretty awesome actually. Let’s add that to the week’s bake list!

Potted Espresso Cakes via Sweetapolita

So here’s the recipe just as I did these, but don’t be alarmed by all of the steps and ingredients. Truthfully, these are so easy to do and pretty straight-forward. If you really want to make these on the fly, they’d be pretty great with even the chocolate cakes with your favourite chocolate frosting under all of those crumbs & pebbles. Either way, play around and have fun with it–it’s almost impossible to not smile when you look around and see a roomful of adults eating dirt out of mini flower pots.

Good luck & enjoy!

Potted Espresso & Salted Caramel Mud Cakes

Yield: 12 Mini Cakes

Moist gooey chocolate mini cakes brushed with espresso syrup, filled with salted caramel, toffee bits, dark chocolate glaze and topped with cookie crumbs, chocolate pebbles and a mint sprig.

Ingredients

    For the potted cakes:
  • 1-1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups (300 g) white sugar
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) dark cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 g) baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 g) baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (6 g) cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon (6 g) salt
  • 2/3 cup (140 mL) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (120 mL) brewed coffee or espresso, hot
  • 6 tablespoons (90 ml) vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • For the espresso syrup:
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) water
  • 2 teaspoons (9 g) instant espresso powder
  • For the salted caramel:
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) fleur de sel
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon (14 g) unsalted butter
  • For the dark chocolate glaze
  • 6 oz (170 g) best bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/3 cup (75 g) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) light corn syrup
  • pinch fleur de sel
  • For decorating
  • 1 cup (80 g) dark cookie crumbs (for dirt)
  • 1 cup toffee bits
  • Chocolate Pebbles/Stones
  • 12 small mint sprigs

Instructions

    For the potted cakes:
  1. Wash and dry a dozen 3-inch terracotta pots. Cut out 12 parchment circles the same size as the bottom of the pots. Preheat oven to 350° F. Brush the bottom of each pot with oil, line with the parchment rounds, then brush the circle with more oil, and oil about 2/3 up the sides and dust with cocoa powder. Place all of the pots onto a baking sheet, and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift all dry ingredients.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients to bowl with the dry ingredients and mix for 1 minute on medium speed (you may need the plastic splashguard that comes with mixer) and pour into prepared pots, about 1/2 full (6 tablespoons of batter each). *Batter will be liquidy.
  4. Bake for 17-19 minutes, or until toothpick or skewer comes out gooey. Try not to overbake. Remove the tray from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Cakes will fall in centre, once removed from oven, making room for the filling. Brush with warm espresso syrup while cakes are still hot.
  5. For the espresso syrup:
  6. In a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, bring ingredients to a boil and let boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  7. For the salted caramel:
  8. In a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, water, lemon juice and salt. Brush the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush to ensure there are no sugar crystals. Boil (with no stirring) until the mixture turns a medium-dark amber colour, swirling occasionally.
  9. Remove from heat and carefully and swiftly whisk in the heavy cream (be careful--the caramel will steam up abruptly!) until caramel is smooth. Stir in butter until incorporated, and then return to the heat.
  10. Boil until a candy thermometer in the caramel reads 240°F (116°C).
  11. Allow the caramel to cool completely before using. Any remaining caramel can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
  12. For the dark chocolate glaze:
  13. Place the chocolate, butter, corn syrup, and sea salt in a medium heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Be sure the water in the pot does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir the mixture using a rubber spatula until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Mixture will thicken as it cools.
  14. Assembly of the Potted Espresso & Salted Caramel Mud Cakes
  15. After the potted cakes brushed with espresso syrup have cooled, filled each "hole" in the middle with a spoonful of cooled salted caramel. Top with toffee bits, and then a spoonful of dark chocolate glaze.
  16. Sprinkle the cakes with enough cookie crumbs to completely cover the tops. Add a handful of chocolate pebbles.
  17. Right before serving, pierce a small hole in the top of each finished cake and insert a small mint sprig. Potted Cakes can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days. (Be sure to add fresh mint sprigs if you don't serve right away.)
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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • Each potted mini cake is the equivalent to 2 chocolate cupcakes, so can be either 1 or 2 servings.
  • For a fun serving idea, tie 1 or 2 wooden forks to the side of each pot using rustic twine.
  • For a simpler (and quicker) version, you can simply bake the potted cakes and top with your favourite chocolate frosting or glaze, and then finish off with the cookie crumbs, pebbles and mint.
  • For a super-fun kids’ version, hide a few gummy worms in the cake, stuff a toasted marshmallow inside and finish with bright green fondant “sprouts” in place of the mint (or even piped buttercream flowers).
  • Be careful to not add too much chocolate glaze–if there’s too much glaze pressed against the inside edges of the pots, the oil in the butter will start to leave marks on the outside of the pots.
  • For a garden-themed party, serve these cakes on round iron plant stands (they look like cake plates with wheels), or place them in a tray filled with more chocolate pebbles.
  • For a garden-themed party, serve these cakes on round iron plant stands (they look like cake plates with wheels), or place them in a tray filled with more chocolate pebbles.
Good luck & enjoy!

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Triple-Chocolate Sprinkle Birthday Cookies

Triple Chocolate Sprinkle Cookies via Sweetapolita

Happy Friday!

So since my last post, our littlest cakelet, Neve Winter (aka Lovie) turned 3. How is this possible, you ask? And that just yesterday she was a baby, you say, celebrating her very first birthday? And that I just posted this wee cake for her 2nd birthday? I know–it’s kooky the way time flies. Well, it’s true and what a curious, hilarious and lovie-licious little cakelet she has become. You might have noticed that she’s all me (sorry, Grant!) and even though I’m only 25% Irish, I can’t help but sense she’s a true Irish cakelet–everything from the hair to her humour, she’s got so much of my mom’s side of the family in her. Here are a few images from the past 3 years that I feel really capture her:

Sweetapolita

Sweetapolita

Ruffles & Roses Tea Party via Sweetapolita

Sweetapolita

Sweet, sensitive, mysterious, mischievous, happy and humourous — that’s our Neve. ♥

When it was time to decide what birthday treats to make for her, of course my first instinct was cake (which I did do a few days after because, let’s be honest, birthday cake isn’t optional), but the truth is I am literally always making cake with the girls, and so albeit backwards, I felt that for her actual birthday, perhaps a real treat would be something we rarely make: decadent cookies.

Triple Chocolate Sprinkle Cookies via Sweetapolita

Now the thing about Neve’s birthday is that it happened to be the same week as Reese’s first week in Senior Kindergarten and first day of ballet class, so there was a lot of excitement twirling, whirling and swirling around the house. I wanted to make a special treat that would make both of them happy, and Reese suggested “super chocolaty cookies with chocolate chips,” and Neve decided they should be “really sprinkly.”

Done, and done.

Triple Chocolate Sprinkle Cookies via Sweetapolita

So we made super fudgy chocolate cookies using Callebaut melted bittersweet chocolate callets, Cacao Barry Extra Dark cocoa powder and more bittersweet chocolate callets, butter, brown sugar, pure vanilla and more, and then we made a quick and easy dark chocolate glaze using more butter and chocolate. Finally, we covered them in a sprinkle medley and edible gold stars. Everybody wins!

Neve had a few mini birthday celebrations filled with family, chocolate, sprinkles, cookies . . .

Birthday morning fairy bread  . . .

And one seriously chocolate cake a few days later while she and her Grandpa celebrated their birthdays together (recipe to follow!).

These cookies are certainly decadent with their rich, fudgy, chocolaty, gooey, crunchy, sprinkly-ness, but I won’t lie–I love how quick and easy they are to make. ♥

Happy Birthday to our little cakelet, and Happy Weekend to you!

Here’s the recipe:

Triple-Chocolate Sprinkle Birthday Cookies

Yield: 12 medium cookies

Ingredients

    For the cookies:
  • 1-1/2 cups (280 grams) quality bittersweet (extra dark) chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (215 grams) light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups (200 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons (15 grams) Dutch-processed dark cocoa powder (I use Cacao Barry Extra Brute)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 grams) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) sea salt
  • For the glaze:
  • 3/4 cup (140 grams) quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) light corn syrup
  • For decorating:
  • Sprinkles of choice

Instructions

    Make the cookies:
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or a Silpat baking mat.
  2. Place 1 cup of the chocolate and the butter in a medium heatproof bowl over a saucepan of an inch of simmering (not boiling) water, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. Meanwhile, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or handheld mixer), beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla on medium speed, until well-combined. Add the chocolate mixture and beat until combined. Reduce mixer speed to low, and gradually add the dry mixture until everything is incorporated, occasionally scraping sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Stir in remaining chocolate pieces/chips.
  4. Using two spoons or cookie scoop, drop 12 equal amounts onto baking sheet. Be sure to space them a few inches apart to allow for spreading in the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until tops have a cracked appearance. (Be sure to not over-bake, or cookies will be dry and not fudgy.) Allow to cool on baking sheet on wire rack for 15 minutes, and then gently transfer cookies to rack to cool completely.
  5. Make the glaze:
  6. Place chocolate, butter and corn syrup in a medium heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of an inch of simmering (not boiling) water until melted and smooth, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
  7. Decorate the cookies:
  8. Line a baking sheet or tray with wax paper (or parchment or baking mat) and fill a medium plate or bowl with sprinkles of choice.
  9. Dip each cooled cookie into the glaze so that half of the cookie is glazed and then holding the cookie over sprinkle bowl drop a handful of sprinkles over glaze and shake off excess. Place each one on prepared sheet until you have decorated all of them, and then place sheet/tray in the freezer or refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to set.

Notes

[cookie dough adapted from Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook]

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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • Since the chocolate is the star of this show, I recommend using the best quality bittersweet chocolate possible. I used Callebaut Dark Callets 70.4 % , because I love the flavour, and the callets (chips) are so easy to melt and measure. If bittersweet is too dark for your taste, I recommend using it for the cookies, but using semisweet for the glaze.
  • For measuring cookie dough and placing on the baking sheet, I always use this 50mm Cookie Scoop–perfectly round and even cookies every time, which I love. I also swear by the Silpat Non-Stick Baking Mat, but just note that they are a tiny bit too big for some cookie sheets. You want to make sure you have what they call a Bakers Half Sheet. I use these for everything!
  • For the sprinkles on my cookies, I used Rainbow Jimmies + Chocolate Vermicelli  mixed together prior to coating the cookies and then sprinkled edible Gold Stars on afterwards. This is also the method I used for the birthday fairy bread–sprinkled it right on top of buttered toast. ♥

Good luck & enjoy!



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Sprinkled Chocolate Party Spoons

Chocolate Party Spoons via Sweetapolita

Admit it: you are even just a little bit happier in the presence of sprinkles. Right? Me too. Add pink spoons, jelly beans and good chocolate to the mix, and that’s my kind of party. What are they? Well, nothing more than a fanciful spoonful of delight that you eat straight from the spoon. They’re perfect for birthday parties, party favours or Tuesday afternoons. Now, I didn’t invent the chocolate party spoon, but wo-man, I sure wish I did. Honestly, why didn’t I think of that? I spotted the idea for these spoonfuls of happiness a few months ago, when Melissa shared them after seeing them on a really neat blog called Delicious Delicious Delicious. Mr. P explains that he saw them a in a baking book in Toyko, and that he had to give it a try. Even if it gave it my all, I could never resist giving these a go–they are just way too easy, too yummy and too awesome. I’m going to be making a heap of these for an upcoming February dinner party we’re attending, so I thought the girls and I could make a few yesterday, just to see how much time they take and to test them out.

These were one of the quickest but most rewarding treats I have ever made, rivaling even this sprinkled goodness, which I didn’t think possible, and talk about yummy, sprinkle-induced joy. The girls and I made a bunch of these yesterday (Note: If you want to infuse some happiness into the lives of 2 and 4-year old girls, tell them on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon that you’re pulling out every sprinkle and wee confection you own so that they can toss them onto warm, melted milk chocolate sitting in a delicious pool on a Barbie-pink spoon.) and brought them to dinner with a few close friends and their kids. Everybody wins!

Chocolate Party Spoons via Sweetapolita
So on a whim I snapped a few quick photos, and decided to share these little beauties with you (staying true to my spread-the-sprinkle-love gospel). There are really only 3 steps to happiness: melting your favourite chocolate (white, milk, dark, extra dark), spooning it into the plastic spoon of your choice (to keep it level, you can rest the spoon handles on a book or, if you’re doing a bunch of them, you can even rest them on the rubber spatulas you’ve laid out on a cookie sheet), and tossing in your favourite sprinkles, jelly beans (I used Birthday Cake Jelly Beans, among others), dragees, or pretty much anything small enough to fit in the spoon. I say, sprinkle spoons for everyone!

I love the visual, of course, but I also love the texture. Every bite is different and no two party spoons are the same!

Sprinkled Chocolate Party Spoons

Yield: 24 chocolate spoons

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. (180 g) quality chocolate (milk, dark, white--anything!), chopped
  • sprinkles, jelly beans, confetti quins, small chocolate candies, or any other small confection
  • You will Also Need:
  • 24 coloured plastic spoons
  • cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
  • some spatulas (or a book) for resting party spoons while filling

Instructions

  1. Place your plastic spoons on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, resting the spoon handles on a rubber spatula or book, to level them out while filling.
  2. Temper your chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave (or in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water on the stove), by warming for 20 second intervals and stirring in between. When the chocolate is almost (80%) completely melted, remove from the microwave and keep stirring until the last few pieces are completely melted and the chocolate is smooth.
  3. Spoon melted chocolate into your plastic spoons, about 80% full (the sprinkles and candies will fill the rest)--any more than that, and they will likely overflow (trust me, it happened to me).
  4. Add your sprinkles, candies and more. Place cookie sheet in the freezer or refrigerator for about 20 minutes to set.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • If you choose to add any chocolate bits to the melted chocolate spoons, be sure to wait a few moments for the chocolate to cool in the spoon, so your chocolate additions don’t melt.
  • When adding jelly beans, wait a few moments for the chocolate to start to set, so they don’t sink.
  • I recommend using a good quality chocolate–nothing crazy expensive, but just something that tastes great.
  • Use any colour spoon to tie into any party theme or idea.
  • Get adventurous with the sprinkles and candy you add–anything goes!
  • Spoon in the melted chocolate and then let kids do the rest. A perfect birthday party (or even rainy day) activity!

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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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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