Lemon-blueberry cake and brush embroidery cookies for Catherine

Lemon-blueberry wedding cake

This post is coming all the way from France!   I am on vacation with my mom, and we are on the train travelling from Paris to a little town called Labrugiuere.  Once I have internet access I’ll put this up but I figured since I have the time now, I might as well write it.  Our few days in Paris were full of pastry and excellent bread, as well as important landmarks of course.  I think I won’t be posting anything else for quite a while, since we’re just doing a lot of eating and no baking!

The cake and cookies in this post were made for my sister’s friend Catherine, who got married a couple of weeks ago.  She had seen some of my other baking and requested some for her wedding.  She was the easiest person to bake for – she basically told me to make whatever I wanted!  The wedding had a dessert buffet so I decided to make a cake and some fancy sugar cookies to add to the table.  Catherine really liked the brush embroidery cookies I made previously, so I made more of those, but in three shades of blue/green for the background.  It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo, but if you look closely you’ll see mossy green, baby blue, and teal.  I chose them to roughly match the colours in the rest of the wedding.

Brush embroidery cookies

The cake was a lot of fun to plan and bake.  I wanted to make something with summery flavours, so I chose lemon and blueberry, with hints of lavender, mascarpone, and honey.  The cake layers were once again Alice Medrich’s hot milk sponge cake.  I made a double batch, also adding about two tablespoons of lemon zest, and divided it between three nine-inch cake pans.  After they were baked, I split each in half to make two layers (six in total).

I consulted one of my favourite food blogs, Annie’s Eats, for the filling components.  Inspired by her blueberry-lavender-honey jam, I made a blueberry lavender filling using this recipe and replacing some of the sugar with honey (I wrote down the exact recipe I used if anyone is interested).  It was super delicious, I think my favourite part of the cake.  The lavender was noticeable and went very well with the blueberry, but it wasn’t overpowering or perfume-y.  Some other time I think I’ll have to make some actually blueberry-lavender jam just to spread on toast.  This filling wasn’t quite jam – it was fairly thick but used cornstarch to set, which might be a little odd in jam.

For the other filling, I started to use the lemon-mascarpone filling recipe from Annie’s Eats, but then pretty much stopped following it.  I made some lemon curd, since I had some extra yolks in the fridge.  Then I creamed together mascarpone and butter, and added in icing sugar, lemon curd, honey, and possibly some other things that I don’t remember.  I then folded in whipped cream.  I originally steeped lavender in cream, strained it out, and then tried to whip that, but for some reason it just didn’t whip.  So I just used regular cream.

I then made some swiss meringue buttercream for the frosting, using a little less sugar than usual, and adding honey and vanilla at the end (I also wrote down this recipe if anyone is interested).  This was very tasty, although the honey flavour was quite subtle.

While assembling the cake, I piped rings of buttercream around the perimeter of the cake layers to act as a dam before adding the fillings.  I did cake, lemon, cake, blueberry, cake, lemon, cake, blueberry, cake, lemon, cake (if that makes any sense).  Then I coated the whole thing in the honey buttercream.

I had been really keen to decorate the cake with fresh flowers, but I didn’t manage to get my hands on any organic ones.  Everything I read online says to only use organic flowers for cake decorating if they will be in contact with the cake, since non-organic  ones are not intended for consumption and often sprayed with chemicals.  The farmer’s markets seem to have a few organic flowers at the vegetable stands, but the timing just didn’t work out (I wanted to buy them at most one day in advance so they would last until the wedding).  Anyway, in the end I used wafer paper to make some flowers.  This is a very thin, edible paper made of potato starch that is pretty trendy for making cake decorations.  I didn’t have any of the special tools, but managed to imitate an “open peony” I saw online.  I brushed green and pink petal dust on (my sister helped with that) and then stuck some coloured dragées in the middle using royal icing.

My sister made the cake topper out of wood using the laser cutter at her work.  Catherine and her husband are avid swing dancers, so it seemed like the perfect addition.  We hot-glued toothpicks to the bottom and it stuck in easily.

My sister’s reports indicate that the cake was tasty!  So I call that a success.

Wafer paper flowers

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Thomas’s Crazy Space Cake

Blue and orange space cake

My boyfriend has been requesting a colourful cake for a long time, so I let him design this one and he helped make it.  I have to say I was a little dubious of the colour scheme he chose but I think it turned out pretty cool in the end!  It makes me think of a foreign planet, or something from a Dr. Seuss book.  The decorations were once again inspired by Katherine Sabbath‘s cakes.
Blue and orange space cake

We baked a lemon cake from Annie’s Eats for the layers, which was a good standard almost pound cake-like cake.  It might have been a little fluffier if I had used cake flour as the recipe requested, but I never buy cake flour since it always seems to be bleached.  I have heard you can substitute a small amount of corn starch in if you use all-purpose flour, which basically reduces the gluten content to make the cake a little lighter – maybe I’ll try that next time.

I made my usual swiss meringue buttercream recipe (6 egg whites worth was pretty much perfect for filling and frosting the cake with a bit left over for piping).  I added some crushed freeze-dried raspberries, vanilla extract, and purple food colouring to the frosting for between the layers.  I added lemon extract and blue food colouring to the frosting for the outside.  I prefer the lemon buttercream I made another time by adding lemon curd – the lemon extract almost tastes like fake lemon candy to me.  But it was definitely easier!

For the decorations, we made stripey meringues, sugar glass, and added some orange rope-y candies that I found at the candy store.  I used the same striping technique as for the last meringues I made, but mixed a bit of orange food colouring into the meringue itself so there would be less contrast with the stripes.  I also added orange extract instead of orange zest, and used the recipe from Sweetapolita.  Following this recipe, the meringues dried out completely, which I prefer to the last ones, which were still chewy on the inside.

I used this recipe for the sugar glass (but I made only a half recipe, and added liquid orange food colouring).  It turned out very neat, and didn’t take long to harden at all!  I accidentally let it heat up to about 350 degrees, but it was still fine.

Here’s a view of the purple on the inside of the cake:

Blue and orange space cake

Raspberry cupcakes

Raspberry cupcakes

It has been way too long since I made cupcakes, so today I made some simple and tasty ones and delivered them to my sister’s work.  I had some left over raspberry filling from the cake I made a few days ago, so I used it both for filling the cupcakes and for mixing into the swiss meringue buttercream frosting.  Filling them was quite fun – I got to use the long skinny piping tip that came with my set for the first time!  Just fill it with raspberry filling, stick it in to the cupcake, and squeeze!  You can even see the cupcake expand a little.  I started to run out of filling near the end so the one in the picture below is a little skimpy, but you get the idea.
Raspberry cupcakes

The cupcake recipe itself is from Georgetown Cupcakes.  I left out the vanilla bean and added 1/4 tsp rosewater for a very subtle rose taste.  They were very light, fluffy, and tasty – I think I will use this as my default vanilla cupcake recipe from now on.  I overfilled the cupcake liners accidentally so a bunch of them overflowed, but I think if I had put the right amount in I would have gotten about 18 (not 24 like the recipe says).  I got the cupcake liners from Shop Sweet Lulu (although it looks like they no longer have them).

Raspberry, pistachio, and white chocolate cake

White chocolate, raspberry, and pistachio bark

The other day, my boyfriend and I made a trip to Gourmet Warehouse, a local store that sells cooking supplies and ingredients.  Their baking section has an amazing array of every form or chocolate or sprinkle or flavouring you could imagine.  I bought some freeze-dried raspberries and was very excited to incorporate them into a cake.  I have been seeing lots of pictures of cakes by Katherine Sabbath, and cakes inspired by hers.  They are super colourful and dramatic, and many are decorated with shards of chocolate bark sprinkled with freeze-dried berries, nuts, or candy.  So using her cakes as inspiration, I made a raspberry, pistachio, and white chocolate layer cake decorated with chocolate bark.

White chocolate, raspberry, and pistachio cake

Since chocolate will seize if you add any water to it (unless you add enough to smooth it out into an actual sauce or ganache), I couldn’t colour the chocolate just by adding normal water-based food colouring.  I think most people use candy melts, which are pre-coloured “chocolate” pieces that are very stable for melting and re-hardening.  I wanted to use good quality white chocolate, but rather than going out to buy some oil-based food colouring, I just pulverized some of the freeze-dried raspberries and mixed in the dust to some of the chocolate.  This actually worked quite well to colour it pink without changing the consistency (I don’t think the flavour was noticeable, but I really just wanted the pink colour).  After swirling together the white and pink chocolates on a parchment-lined baking sheet, I sprinkled on toasted pistachios and crumbled up freeze-dried raspberries, and put it in the fridge to set.

If you look at Katherine Sabbath’s Instagram page, you will probably see the chocolate bark I was inspired by!  Hers has gold leaf on it – maybe something to try next time.  I saw some fancy bark like this at the recent “Eat! Vancouver” festival.  I think it would make a nice gift on its own, or as part of a little box of treats.  I plan to experiment more with other toppings I can add – I have seen dried rose petals on some!

For the cake itself, I used three layers of Alice Medrich’s hot milk sponge cake, and two layers of pistachio sponge.  I was hoping the pistachio cake would be a little greener… my sister pointed out that it looks a little like falafel!  Maybe next time I’ll add a bit of green food dye – although, to be honest, the flavour wasn’t particularly noticeable, so maybe next time I’ll just use almonds.  In any case I think it’s an interesting contrast to the vanilla cake.  In between the layers I used raspberry filling from Sprinkle Bakes (very tasty), and white chocolate swiss meringue buttercream.  I sifted more raspberry dust over the top of the cake and then stuck in the chocolate bark.  I just made a 6-inch cake because we seem to have an unhealthy amount of dessert over here!  If you happen to be in my neighbourhood, please stop in for a piece of cake…

White chocolate, raspberry, and pistachio cake

Knitting, sewing, and treats!

My recent sewing and knitting projects

Today I’d like to share a random assortment of things.  Above are my recently finished knitting and sewing projects.  On the left is the Norby hat designed by Gudrun Johnston for one of Brooklyn Tweed’s “Wool People” collections.  I love the patterns in these collections… I’m planning to start a sweater soon and will probably be using one of the Brooklyn Tweed patterns for that too!  In the center is an apron I just sewed.  I didn’t have enough fabric to follow a real pattern, so I just made the most basic apron possible – basically a rectangle attached to a waistband, using every inch of the pink fabric!  I sewed on a pocket as well.  On the right is a cowl made with double knitting, which is a technique that gives you a double-sided fabric.  This was my first project using the technique, and although it’s very slow going, the finished product is very thick and cozy!  The pattern is called Trapper Cowl and it’s from Interweave Knits magazine.
My recent baking

Here are a few of my edible projects as well!  In the top left are almond pear mini bundt cakes from the book Bake it Like You Mean It.  The cake was tasty although maybe a little too almond-y or a little too sweet for me.  Slices of pear poached in white wine were embedded in the middle of the cake, very yummy.  In the bottom left is a strawberry rhubarb pie following a recipe from The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.  I bought this book for myself using some Christmas money and have definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it!  So far I have baked the Salty Honey Pie (still my favourite), Black-Bottom Oatmeal Pie, Lemon Sour Cream Pie, Salted Caramel Apple Pie, Junipear Pie, Lemon Chess Pie (except using lime instead of lemon, and honey instead of part of the sugar – tasty but intense!), and Rhuby Rhazz Pie (the one from the photo – I used strawberries instead of raspberries).

In the top right is a blueberry pie (not from the book), and in the bottom right is a birthday cake for my boyfriend’s lovely mother, both baked on our recent trip to Saskatchewan.  The cake was layers of angel food cake with lemon curd in between, and frosted with strawberry swiss meringue buttercream, with strawberry purée poured on top.

Lemon-blackberry cake

Lemon-blackberry layer cake topped with meringues

My lovely boyfriend had a birthday yesterday, so I made him this colourful cake.  I used a lemon layer cake recipe from Annie’s Eats, and put whipped cream folded with blackberries in between the layers (the last bag of blackberries in the freezer from last summer!).  I frosted the cake with swiss meringue buttercream with lemon curd and yellow food colouring added in.  The frosting was super tasty and very easy to frost and pipe with.

I had seen meringues being used to decorate cakes on Sweetapolita and Sprinkle Bakes, and my boyfriend loves meringues, so I decided to give it a go!  I used this recipe for the meringues, flavouring them with lemon, orange, and lavender.  The stripes are made by painting lines of food colouring on the inside of the piping bag before adding the meringue.  If I were going to do this again, I think I’d use a different recipe for the meringues – they were not quite the texture I was hoping for.  Also the lemon and orange zest in them went a little strange and crystallized – next time I think I would stick to extracts.  The lavender ones worked beautifully, though.

Looking forward to August when we can pick some more blackberries!

Lemon-blackberry cake

Chocolate ricotta gradient cake

Chocolate ricotta cake

This cake was based on a recipe from a book called “Bake it Like You Mean It” that I got a couple of years ago.  It’s full of beautiful photos and great inspiration, but for a few reasons I’m always a bit suspicious of the recipes themselves – the book came with a gigantic list of errata, the quantities seem crazy at times (three pounds of butter to frost a nine inch cake?!), and the instructions don’t seem to match up well with the picture of the end product.  So when I finally made this cake, I decided to make some modifications and take the instructions with a grain of salt.

I used the filling recipe in the book, which is a mixture of ricotta, mascarpone, whipped cream, and chocolate (I left out the coffee).  The idea is to divide the filling into five different bowls and mix different amounts of chocolate into each one, so when you assemble it the layers of filling form a gradient.

Chocolate ricotta cake with white chocolate flower

I decided to make a six inch cake instead of an eight inch cake (making half the amount of filling), and used a chocolate cake recipe from my mom, baking three six inch rounds and cutting each in half horizontally.  I’m not sure where the chocolate cake recipe came from originally, but it’s delicious and moist, and I use it all the time for cakes and cupcakes.  I left out the coffee syrup that is used in the book, since the cake was already so moist.  I then frosted the cake in ganache and topped it with a white chocolate flower following Alice Medrich’s instructions in her book Chocolat.

By far the trickiest part of this cake was frosting with ganache, which I have never done before.  Since the lighter filling layers didn’t have much chocolate in them, they were very soft, so it was tricky to get the ganache to stick to this part of the cake.  Also, even when I got the ganache to a nice spreadable consistency, it seemed to get very hard as soon as I started frosting.  I’m not sure what the solution to this is… maybe just get the ganache even softer and just work quickly?  Or maybe try just pouring liquid ganache over the whole thing?

Making the white chocolate rose was a lot of fun and worked surprisingly well.  It’s made from “chocolate modelling dough”. This is just chocolate and corn syrup, which you heat until the chocolate melts, stir together, and pour onto a plate and leave to sit.  I let it sit overnight, and when I went to use it today I just scraped it off the plate and kneaded it until it felt like play-dough.  To make the flower, you just roll nine balls of dough and flatten each one into an oval with a rolling pin.  You then form each one into a petal by gathering one edge and fit it into a bowl lined with plastic wrap, with a little melted chocolate in the bottom.  I made this in a sugar bowl about four inches across.  The rose is a little tall for my liking, so if I did it again I would use a shallower dish or just make the petals smaller.  (You can’t tell as much from these photos, because I chose the photos where it looked best!)

The chocolate dough was very easy and fun to work with, and since it’s almost pure chocolate it’s tasty too.  I think I’ll be making more with this in the future!

White chocolate flower

Chocolate ricotta cake

Chocolate ricotta cake

The filling is very tasty and melds nicely with the cake.  It has a good tang to it that’s a nice change from just plain sweet fillings.