Shirlee Goodness Cakery

Making the world a sweeter place one cake at a time

Baby Sweater – Size 18 months to 8 years!

Kristi wearing pink sweater that I knit for her.

Kristi wearing pink sweater that I knit for her.

Pictured above is my niece Kristi wearing a sweater that I knit for her when she was 18 months old. Just to tell you upfront, this post is not about baking.  I haven’t posted since January because I really haven’t baked anything I thought was interesting.  I’ve been busy knitting and sewing.

Sometimes people ask me if it’s hard to spend so much time creating a cake and then have it eaten and gone.  Actually, I like that it’s not permanent.  I can feel free to try new things and if they turn out, it’s great, and if it isn’t exactly how I had hoped, no one will remember in a few days. Plus, I know the cake will taste good!  And I always can look back at my pictures.

I do like to create some more permanent items, though.  These days, I mostly make baby things like baby quilts, sweaters, hats, booties.  Here are a few pictures of my knitted projects from the last few months.

 

Baby girl hat and botties

Baby girl hat and socks

Purple Hat and Booties

Purple Hat and Booties

Multi-colored Toddler Cap

Multi-colored Toddler Cap

And guess what?  My niece Kristi is now 8 1/2 and still wears the sweater…now re-imagined as a cropped sweater with three-quarter length sleeves.  I guess it’s time for me to knit her another one!

Kristi wearing sweater at 18 months.

Kristi wearing sweater at 18 months.

Kristi now, 8 years old, wearing the sweater I knit for her 7 years ago!

Kristi now, 8 years old, wearing the sweater I knit for her 7 years ago!

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How to make Microwave Brownie Mix

Individual Serving Microwave Brownie Mix, Packaged for Gifts

Individual Serving Microwave Brownie Mix, Packaged for Gifts

In past years, I’ve baked a selection of cookies to give my friends and neighbors at Christmastime.  This year, I decided to do something different.  I made microwave bowl potholders.  They’re quite handy.  You microwave your bowl nestled in the potholder.  When you go to take the hot bowl out the microwave oven, the potholder is already in place!  I found some really great directions at the blog Syzygy of Me.

Mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon and instant coffee in a large bowl.

Mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon and instant coffee in a large bowl.

Place labeled baggie in a mug to hold it open, and tare the scale.

Place labeled baggie in a mug to hold it open, and tare the scale.

As I was making the potholders, I decided I wanted to give a microwavable food item that could be used with the potholder.  I thought about healthy things like soup or oatmeal, and then I realized I could give a fun ready to bake treat– microwave brownie mix!  I took some different recipes from the web and then modified them a bit to my liking.  I like the cinnamon because it gives the brownie a hint of baked goodness, the instant coffee deepens the intensity of the chocolate, and the two types of chips add to the complexity of flavors…the chocolate chips lend bursts of real chocolate, and the white chips add color contrast and a bit of vanilla flavor. I printed the “baking” directions on a label and stuck them on plastic ziploc bags, and filled the bags with single portions of the brownie mix.

Add 87 grams of flour mixture to baggie.

Add 87 grams of flour mixture to baggie.

Add semisweet chocolate chips and white baking chips.

Add semisweet chocolate chips and white baking chips.

Since I was making a bunch of these to give as gifts, I multiplied the amounts of all the ingredients except the chocolate and baking chips times sixteen and mixed them in a big bowl.  (I wanted to make sure each mix got enough chips, so that’s why I didn’t mix the chips into the mix.  I thought that most of the chips would probably end up at the bottom of the bowl.)  I labeled the baggies and filled each one with 87 grams of the mixture and added chocolate and white chips to a total of 114 grams.

Here’s the recipe amounts for making a single serving or mixing up a batch of sixteen portions.  A few of my friends told me that the single serving mix was a perfect dessert for a family of three!

Ingredient

Large Single Serving

Sixteen Servings

Single Portion Package

Flour

¼ cup or 31 grams

4 cups or 496 grams

2/3 cup

or

87 grams

Sugar

¼ cup or 46 grams

4 cups or 736 grams

Cocoa powder

2 Tbsp or 9 grams

2 cups or 144 grams

Salt

pinch

2 tsp or 14 grams

Cinnamon

dash

½ tsp

Instant coffee, crushed into powder

dash

½ tsp

Semisweet chocolate chips

1 Tbsp

1 Tbsp or ~23 grams per package

White baking chips

1 Tbsp

1 Tbsp or ~23 grams per package

Directions for single serving:

1.  Empty contents into a microwave safe bowl or large mug.
2.  Add 2 tablespoons oil and ¼ cup water.
3.  Mix well.
4.  Microwave for 1 minute and 40 seconds or until cooked through.
       CAUTION: The bowl or mug will be hot!
5.  Remove from microwave and allow to cool for 2 minutes.
6.  Top with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.
7.  Enjoy!

Microwave brownies aren’t as wonderful as oven-baked ones, but they’re still yummy and will satisfy a chocolate craving in a pinch.  And they’re fun for kids to make!

Freshly "baked" microwave brownie!

Freshly “baked” microwave brownie!

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Snoopy Christmas Birthday Cake

Natalie's Snoopy Birthday Cake

Natalie’s Snoopy Birthday Cake

Filling and frosting Snoopy Cake

Filling and frosting Snoopy Cake

My cousin’s daughter Natalie’s birthday is Christmas eve.  We always have a big family gathering of about seventy people that evening to celebrate Christmas.  The last few years I’ve made a special birthday cake for her.  This year, we had a Charlie Brown Christmas theme so I made the cake with Natalie and Snoopy on the cake.

Pictures for Snoopy Cake

Pictures for Snoopy Cake

The cake was a quarter sheet chocolate cake filled with chocolate buttercream.  I found a picture of Snoopy holding a Christmas present to use, and I looked at some pictures of the Peanuts characters from the Charlie Brown Christmas to draw one that looked like Natalie with her long hair and Asian eyes.

Trace of figures in the frosting

Trace of figures in the frosting

After coloring all the frostings, I filled and frosted the cake.  I traced my patterns of Snoopy and Natalie onto parchment paper and cut them out.  I traced the outlines on the cake frosting using a toothpick.  I outlined the figures with black frosting (chocolate frosting colored black) with a round tip #2 or 3, then filled in with the various colors, also using round tips of varying sizes.  I smoothed out the filled in shapes with a small knife.

Snoopy cake in progress

Snoopy cake in progress

The final touches were adding the Happy Birthday Natalie and the falling snow flakes.

Happy Birthday Natalie!

Happy Birthday Natalie!

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Bananas + Toffee = Banofee Pie!

Slices of Banoffee Pie

Slices of Banoffee Pie

Last month, I spent some time in Ireland for work.  While I was there, I tried an English dessert called Banoffee Pie. The pie consisted of a creamy layer of toffee filling, sliced bananas, and mounds of fluffy whipped cream, all on a tasty cookie crumb crust and dusted with chocolate.  It was so delicious, I decided I wanted to make it when I went home.

“The Completely True and Utter Story of Banoffi Pie” is told in an entertaining manner by  Ian Dowding who invented the creation.  He also provides the “Official Banoffi Pie” recipe here.  Mr. Dowding’s yummy creation has undergone some transformations to it’s most popular form today.  From what I gather, he detests crumb crusts, but the two versions I ate in Ireland both had crumb crusts.  All the recipes I saw (except for his) did also.  His original whipped cream topping has an addition of coffee flavor, but again, I did not see that anywhere.  I did add some instant coffee to some whipped cream as he instructs, and tried it on a piece pie, but I really didn’t like it, so left out the coffee.  The popular version with crumb crust and unsweetened whipped cream is given below.

The recipe I used was given to me by my Irish coworker. It’s very simple, with few ingredients.  There’s really no baking involved, it’s more of an assembling of the ingredients.  And it will taste like you got it from a bakery!

Crumb crust made with digestive biscuits

Crumb crust made with digestive biscuits

Ingredients

4 ounces butter, melted

20 McVities Digestive Biscuits (can be found at Cost Plus World Markets, link to store locator)  For gluten-free crust, see note below.

14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

~4 bananas

1 pint whipping cream

grated chocolate or cocoa powder

1.   Submerge (unopened) can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of water.  Bring water to a boil and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Open can of sweetened condensed milk after simmering for 3 hours.  It's hot so be careful!

Open can of sweetened condensed milk after simmering for 3 hours. It’s hot so be careful!

2.  While the milk is cooking, assemble pie crust. Crush biscuits until you have a fine crumb texture.  You can do this by placing the biscuits in a ziploc bag and crushing them with a rolling pin, or by using a food processor.  Pour crumbs into a bowl.  Add the melted butter and stir to combine.  Press the mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form pan or other baking dish.  (I made a large pie in a 10×13 dish to share at work when I got back from my trip.)  Chill the crust for at least one hour.

3.  When the sweetened condensed milk has cooked for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, carefully remove the can from the pot of water and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.  The contents will be hot and under pressure.  The can I used had a pull tab.  I used a pot holder to hold the very hot can, and a butter knife to pop the tab.  Some of the toffee squirted out, so be careful!  Pour or spoon the toffee onto the crumb crust.  Chill for at least one hour or overnight.

Layer of bananas over the toffee.

Layer bananas over the toffee.

4.  Slice bananas and arrange in a single layer on top of the toffee. If using a spring form pan, remove the sides from the pan and place the pie on a plate.Whip the cream and spoon it over the toffee and bananas, spreading to the edges to seal the pie.  Sprinkle with grated chocolate or cocoa powder.  Serve and enjoy!

Single serving Banoffee Pie with gluten-free crust made from almond meal.

Single serving Banoffee Pie with gluten-free crust made from almond meal.

Note #1:  For a gluten-free version, I made the crust from 1 cup of Trader Joe’s ground almond meal mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar and 3 tablespoons of melted butter.  This made some small 4-inch tarts for my gluten-free friends.

Note #2:  Mr. Dowding says that multiple cans of sweetened condensed milk may be prepared ahead of time and stored for later use.

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The Best Gluten-Free Cookie Recipe

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies made with almond flour

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies made with almond flour

This is different post from my usual post on baking something pretty.  These cookies may not look like much, but they are by far the best gluten-free cookies I have ever eaten! Most gluten-free cookies I’ve had are dry or crumbly and don’t have much flavor.  These are moist and chewy and delicious!  Even if you eat gluten, you will want to try these cookies!  I ate them at a potluck and had to get the recipe.  They are easy to make.  In addition to being gluten-free, these cookies are free of refined sugar or any animal products.  All the ingredients are available at Trader Joe’s.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Almond Cookies

Ingredients:

3 cups blanched almond flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 whole eggs

1 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a medium mixing bowl combine almond flour, baking soda, and salt.

3. In small bowl beat eggs, maple syrup and vanilla.

4. Pour wet ingredients into dry and beat until combined.

5. Melt coconut oil, pour into batter and continue to blend until combined.

6. Stir in chocolate chips.

7.  Drop rounded balls of cookie dough about tbsp in size onto parchment-lined baking sheet,

8.  Bake for 14-15 minutes.

9. Let cool.

Enjoy!

Fresh from the oven.

Fresh from the oven…great with a glass of milk!

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Lovebirds Cupcakes

Finished favors

Finished lovebirds cupcake favors

One of my coworkers is getting married this month so we are having a wedding shower luncheon.  I am making cupcakes for party favors for the guests.

lovebirdsbrides_wedding_collection_stationery_primary.jpg

The wedding invitation

I wanted to make the cupcakes to match the wedding invitations. Here’s a picture of the wedding invitation I found on the web.  It’s a DYI kit from Michael’s with these sweet lovebirds.

I know that the bride is not fond of chocolate, so I decided to make an orange citrus pound cake batter for the cupcakes.

Foil-lined baking cups

Foil-lined baking cups

I baked the cupcakes in plain paper liners a few days ahead and froze them.  I used foil-lined baking cups to assemble the final favors.  There were a number of reasons I used the two liners. First, with the inside paper liners, I didn’t have to worry about how they would freeze, store, and defrost.  Second, the outside liner will expand and fit into the shape of the plastic container since they are not stuck to the cupcake.  Third, I like the foil-lined baking cups because the colors are much more vibrant than the paper liners, but I don’t like using them for baking the cupcakes because the foil scratches my lips when I eat the cupcake!  I make my favorite homemade vanilla buttercream for the frosting.

Making fondant lover birds, step by step

Step by step creating fondant lovebirds

As to the decorations, I made the lovebirds from fondant.  I couldn’t find a bird cutter small enough to make the birds, so I looked for a shape that was similar.  I used the smallest leaf cutter that I have to cut out a basic shape.  Then I pinched one end to make the bird’s beak.  Next I pulled the other end out and up a little bit to make the bird’s tail.  I used a fondant tool to make poke a small hole for an eye.  Frosting tip #98 turned out to make a very nice impression of a bird’s wing!  Then I flipped the shape over and repeated to make the eye and wing on the other side.  I made these a week ahead so they could dry.

IMG_4046

Dipping chow mein noodles in melted chocolate

For branches, I took those crispy chow mein noodles and coated them with melted dark chocolate and let them harden on parchment paper.  I also did these ahead of time and stored them in an airtight container.

I found the favor containers on Etsy.  I think the bottoms are sundae containers and the and the tops are domed covers for drink cups.  There are some online stores where I saw similar tops and bottoms, but you had to buy packs of 1,000 and no guarantee the tops and bottoms would fit together since they aren’t sold as a set!

Love birds on buttercream icing with gold flakes

Love birds on buttercream icing with gold flakes

On the evening of the assembly, I gathered all my premade supplies and went to work.  Into the plastic cup went the foil-lined cupcake liner, then the cupcake in its plain liner.  Next I frosted the top of the cupcake with the buttercream.  I tried both a start tip and a round tip.  They both worked well.  (I personally preferred the round tip because I thought the branches looked better with a more simple design. I found out that people took the cupcakes frosted with the star tip; I guess they look fancier.)

Favor tags

Favor tags

I added two love birds and a couple of chocolate branches. The finishing touch was  a sprinkling of gold flakes.  After I snapped on the domed top, I tied a ribbon around the favor and added a small tag with the bride and groom’s names. Tip: I taped the ribbon to the bottom with a small piece of tape to hold it in place while I was tying the bow.

I really like the way the favors turned out, especially the way clear plastic holders let you see the entire cupcake so clearly! I think the bride was really touched by the matching lovebirds theme.

The beautiful bride-to-be

The beautiful bride-to-be

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Bloopers

Oops!

Oops!

I’ve been thinking that I need to post about some of my cake disasters or near-disasters.  It’s quite intimidating to read all the wonderful posts about other people’s baking and how delicious and wonderful everything turns out. I want to be one of the perfect and successful celebrities of the baking world!  But those disasters and near-disasters are how I learn the tips and tricks.  We all have them, admit it!.  We need to have a good laugh and then go on and fix them.  I guess I just haven’t wanted to document them.  Sometimes I’m afraid that the person I’m making the cake for will see the pictures that will take away from their appreciation of my creation…to know that it wasn’t how I envisioned the design in my head, that I had to modify the color or pose because the original idea wasn’t working out, or that some design detail was actually an afterthought because I accidentally made a mistake and had to cover the problem.  Some day I will write about those big bloopers, maybe they will seem less traumatic with the passage of time. For my first blooper post, I will start with a recent incident that wasn’t too bad.

Cupcakes cooled and ready to be frosted.

Cupcakes cooled and ready to be frosted.

At the last minute, I decided to make a cake for one of my coworkers.  He’s a single guy, and most of the others in his group are guys, too, so I knew they would appreciate a home-baked cake and wouldn’t be too picky about the decoration or mind cake from a mix.  So I decided to make a cupcake-cake, using a white cake mix.  I also had some store-bought buttercream frosting and added lemon extract and fresh lemon juice to give it a nice flavor.

IMG_1039

The finished cupcake cake, pretty and smelling lemony-delicious!

I arranged and frosted the cakes on my cake carrier tray because I didn’t have a cardboard or flat serving platter big enough for all the cupcakes. Remember it was a last-minute project!  As I was packing up the cakes, I realized that the cupcakes were slipping a bit, so I decided to tie a ribbon around them.  One of fun those afterthoughts – it made the cake look like a present and added a nice touch.

Normally that would be the end of my post, but on to the blooper part…

Well, the next day after driving to work and getting the cupcakes to the office, I opened the box and…as you can see above, the cupcakes had slid off the tray and five of the ones on the edge had toppled over.  So much for the ribbon idea.  Luckily for me, the birthday boy was not at his desk.  I was able to get the cupcakes back in place without too much trouble and the cake was in presentable condition to surprise him when he got back.  And of course everyone enjoyed eating the cupcakes.

So tip learned:  make sure the surface under cupcake cake is not slick!  I remember someone telling me never to use those waxy cake doilies just for that reason. Sometimes I use a dab of frosting to make the cardboard stick or a piece of rubbery drawer liner under the cake cardboard depending on the situation.

Happy baking and remember,  “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

IMG_1046

Birthday cupcakes after repairs.

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The Big Question

IMG_0807On the day of the my son’s prom, about 3 hours before he was to leave for his friend’s house for the pre-prom picture-taking and festivities, he asked me if we had any brownie mix in the house.  I was happy to say that we did.  I always try to keep Costco’s Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix on hand for just these types of emergencies.  I assumed that he was supposed to bring some food to the party.

Brownie baked in Wilton heart-shaped cake pan.

Brownie baked in Wilton heart-shaped cake pan.

No, he needed to ask his date to the prom!  These days, a boy can’t just ask a girl to the dance like we did in our day.  No,  he must demonstrate he truly desires her company by putting time and effort into posing the question.  For instance, he might compose a song to sing to her.  Or he might paint a clever banner to pose the question.  Maybe he gets his buddies or her girlfriends to assist in a creative ruse to surprise the young lady with his proposal.

Yes, my son was going to the prom, and his date had been no question as they have been together for quite some time.  I guess she didn’t want to get shorted the ritual of being asked to the dance.  So here was my son on the day of the prom, asking if he can make some brownies just hours before the dance!

Letters covered with powdered sugar.

Letters covered with powdered sugar.

Well, we worked together on the idea.  He thought about trying to cut out the brownies in the shape of PROM, or stacking them in some way.  I suggested the heart pan.  He liked that idea.  Then he said maybe we can decorate with powdered sugar.  I wanted to write some words on the heart.  He wasn’t too crazy about the idea, but he said okay when I told him I wanted to decorate so I could put it on my blog.

I lined the cake pan with parchment paper so that the brownie would be easy to get out of the pan in one piece.  I let the brownie cool before running a knife around the sides and flipping it out of the pan.  I peeled off the parchment paper and  had a nice flat surface for decorating.  I printed out the “got milk?” logo from the internet and cut out the letters, modifying a few to get all the letters I needed (g ->p, m->r).  After arranging them on the surface of the brownies, I sifted powdered sugar over them.  The hardest part was taking the letters off the top.  I didn’t have a pair of tweezers, so I had to carefully lift with the end of a thin spatula and grab the paper.  I didn’t do so well, so I had to do a little touch up.

IMG_0812

Ready to go!

Anyways, not too bad for a spur of the moment project.  I hope his girl liked it!

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Red Velvet Coconut Macaroons

Red Velvet Coconut Macaroons

I wanted to get in a post before March is over.  I’ve just been so busy, and I was sick with that awful bug that everyone is getting where you are really sick for a week, and then recovering with a cough for another three weeks, and then get a relapse.  Anyways, I actually made these most delicious and pretty Red Velvet Macaroons around St. Valentine’s Day.  I had eaten some store-bought red velvet coconut macaroons at a friend’s house and thought these were so delicious, I came home and looked for a recipe on the web.

Thank you to Greg’s Kitchen for the recipe!  A few modifications. For one, I used shredded, not flaked coconut, because that’s what I had on hand. And then of course I wasn’t able to pipe the macaroons through a piping tip…although I did try!  The coconut just got stuck in the tip.  So I ended up using a tablespoon cookie scoop.  The special touch is the drizzled the melted white chocolate over the cooled macaroons. The more the better! I also dipped the bottom of some of the macaroons in white chocolate.  That made the bottoms look prettier and the ratio of white chocolate to macaroon was much higher…like frosting, but without hiding all the pretty red coconut!  The white chocolate is a nice compliment to the red velvet, like the cream cheese frosting is for red velvet cake.

The bottom line is that the macaroons are not hard to make, and they were a hit with the ladies who were my tasters.  I think most of them had more than one! I also gave some to one of my coworkers whose 10-year old son said, “They are sooooooooooo good!  Anything you make I like!  It made me change my mind about coconut.  I used to not like coconut, but now I love it just because of your macaroons!”

I will definitely be making Red Velvet Coconut Macaroons again. I would like to try a cross between this recipe and the chocolate macaroons I made for my Christmas cookies, or maybe a gluten-free version as the recipe doesn’t ask for a lot of wheat flour.  Happy baking!

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Christmas Cookie Platters 2012

Christmas cookies plates for gifts

Christmas cookies plates for gifts

The last few years, I’ve baked cookies to give my coworkers at Christmas.  I like to include a variety of cookies – different flavors, shapes, and colors.  These are the cookies I included in my cookie platter this year.

Gingerbread – This year I decided I wanted to make gingerbread girls and boys.  I had a gift tag cookie cutter and thought that would be fun to decorate, too.  To see the recipe, tips and tricks for making gingerbread, see The Gingerbread House Centerpiece.

Chocolate Macadamia Macaroons – made with coconut, macadamia nuts, cocoa powder, egg whites, and sugar. After they’re bake and cooled, I dipped the bottoms in dark chocolate.  This was a new recipe this year and my favorite!  I got the recipe from Taste of Home.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Krispie Treats – Another bar cookie, fast and easy to make and if you like peanut butter and chocolate, you’ll love these!  I had some at a friends house and begged for the recipe.  I also found it online at Recipe Snobs.

Russian Tea Cakes – also known as Snowballs or Mexican Wedding Cakes – a classic at Christmas time.  Buttery with chopped nuts and coated with powdered sugar.  Recipe courtesy of Betty Crocker.  Anything covered with powdered sugar is always a pretty addition to a Christmas cookie plate.

Dutch Butter Cakes – These are buttery, not too sweet, with just a hint of almond.  They are baked in a pan and cut into squares.  My friend Dutch Indonesian friend Ilse would make these for us as gifts each Christmas, and I think of her every time I make them.  You can make a lot in a short amount of time.  The cakes freeze well so it’s great to be able to make them ahead of time.  Here’s a copy of the recipe from the church cookbook.

Ilse's Dutch Butter Cake Recipe

Ilse’s Dutch Butter Cake Recipe

If I had more time, I would have made a few more varieties of cookies, like classic shortbread, thumbprint jam cookies, and macadamia cranberry cookies.  Well, there’s always next year!

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