Baking


Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks and Recipes for More Than 40 Irresistible Mini
Treats
By Bakerella
Raincoast/Chronicle 2010, hard cover, 160 pages; $22.95

The book offers instructions on how to make these cute snowmen.

The cupcake craze has pretty much passed me by, perhaps because I no longer have kids at home and the bake sales, birthday parties and other sundry cupcake friendly events have long ceased to involve me. And most cupcakes I’ve eaten haven’t really inspired me to love them enough to keep baking them.  In fact, there’s been only one one cupcake in memory that left me lusting for more, and that was one made about a year ago by Terra Breads baker Mary McKay, a Vancouver legend who could make cardboard taste good. I don’t know what she did, but those cupcakes were rich and tender, yet light enough to make me swoon, with frosting as ethereal as an angel’s wing.

I’ve now had to rethink my cupcake aversion, only because I adore Cake Pops, a new book by Bakerella, aka Angie Dudley. Dudley is not a professional baker — in fact she has no compunction whatsoever about telling the world that she’s still fond of yellow and chocolate cake-mix cakes and actually suggests you use boxed mixes for best results. She does provide several from-scratch recipes, but on the whole, this is a decorating book, not a cookbook. Bakerella doesn’t even really make cupcakes. These are whole cakes she bakes, then turns them into crumbs, mixes them with frosting and uses that to mold cake balls around lollilop sticks

It all started as a lark, Dudley says. She’s never been interested in baking, but she took a cake decorating class and was immediately hooked. She started a blog to keep track of her baking and decorating attempts, and as a result of her finesse with frosting, she’s now a cupcake star with a new cookbook and cake pops orders from Disney.

She calls them “fascinating tiny treats”, and even I could be convinced to try one despite knowing her penchant for boxed cake mixes. That’s because they look like so much fun, like toys you can eat.

I don’t know if I’d have the patience to attempt the ladybugs and pirates, the puppies, pumpkins, pandas and pussycats Dudley painstakingly shows you how to make with everything from edible ink to cookies and candy sprinkles. There are lots of photos showing her technique and there’s even a video at marthastewart.com where she demonstrates her sweet specialty. It’s actually quite fun to watch Martha fumble her way through making one of the simpler pops, but her clumsiness also serves as a reminder that even the queen of “I do it all myself and so should you” isn’t an immediate pro when it comes some things. If, however, you’re at all crafty and enjoy baking, you’ll have hours of fun with this one. And the nice thing is, you can always eat the mistakes.

What with the amazingly mild winter we’re having (the garden is already screaming at me!), plus the huge distraction of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, I’ve almost lost track of Valentine’s Day, which is only moments away.

To me, Valentine’s means chocolate, fine wine, maybe diamonds (okay, pearls are good, too) and even lovely scented bubble baths. Well, today we’re focusing on the top of the list, with the addictive dark stuff that has the power to make you feel in love (mmmm, dark, milk, sea-salted, creamy, melted — here I’m a commitment-phobe when it comes to choosing).

Two books that feature chocolate have come my way, so let’s get right to it.

Chocolate Cakes: 50 Great Cakes for Every Occasion
By Elinor Klivans
Published by Chronicle/Raincoast 2010, $26.95; hardcover, 143 pages

Okay, so there are really only 33 actual cake recipes featuring chocolate. The other 17 are variations on the basic recipes Klivans provides for Devil’s Food Cake and White Chocolate Cake. But that still leaves lots of choice for chocaholic cooks, whether it’s easy snack bread and pound cake, fancy multi-layer cakes, ice cream cake or cheesecake.

Need more tempting? There are recipes for Milk Chocolate Chip-Chocolate Loaf, Hot Chocolate Pudding Cake, S’Mores Cake, Chocolate-Marzipan Crunch Cake, Raspberry and White Chocolate Truffle Cake, Chocolate and Peanut Butter Mousse Cake, Chinese Five-Spice Chocolate Chiffon Cake, Banana-Butterscotch Upside-Down Chocolate Cake, Chocolate-Apricot Pudding Cake with Chocolate Toffee Sauce, Brandied Chocolate Cheesecake with Chocolate-Dipped Figs, Mocha Whipped Cream Truffle Cake, and White Mocha Tiramisu.

Klivans also provides plenty of tips for choosing and handling chocolate, making chocolate decorations, baking equipment you’ll need, and storage guidelines for your precious treats. A recipe is included at the end of this post.

Chocolate: More than 50 Decadent Recipes
By Dominique & Cindy Duby
Published by Whitecap, 2009, $19.95; softcover, 128 pages

The Wild Sweets Wizards are at it again with their latest book, this time featuring their favourite ingredient.

The Dubys, based in Richmond, B.C., are pioneering chocolatiers widely known for their Wild Sweets products, particularly their amazing chocolates. But they are also  teachers and culinary scientists, delving beneath commonplace ingredients and experimenting with  taste, texture and temperature to come up with intriguing flavour combinations and tasting experiences that could baffle the average person who might only crave a good caramel or truffle.

Here, teaching hats firmly in place, they’ve produced an accessible book for anyone wanting to increase their chocolate-making skills. They include a detailed chapter on selecting and tempering chocolate   plus they offer flavour-matching charts and wine-pairing suggestions. They also suggest that such mass-market chocolate as Lindt is a quality product suitable for their recipes, as long as it is the right type.

The recipes include chocolate-based drinks, mousses and creams, baked treats, and ganaches and creams for enrobing with tempered dark or milk chocolate. There’s no hand-holding here, however, no chatter about the method or what the end-product might look, smell or taste like, which I always find helpful as well as conducive to trying a particular recipe. Each recipe does include a photo clearly showing what you’re supposed to be making, but it would have been nice, for example, to hear a little about why they paired fresh ginger with milk chocolate in a panna cotta, or what fresh lime zest adds to the flavour and/or texture of dark chocolate pots de crème.

If you are looking to increase your repertoire of great home-made chocolates, there are recipes here for the following fillings: Cigarette Cookie Almond Praline; Fleur de Sel Soft Caramel; Almond, Sesame & Vanilla Praline; Maldon Salt Ganache; Candied Orange Marzipan; Passion Fruit, Coconut and Cardamom Ganache; Crystallized Ginger Ganache; Lemon Macadamia Praline; Espresso, Fennel and Sambuca Ganache; and Four-spice Cocoa Nib Truffles.

Here are two recipes, one from each book. Happy Valentine’s Day! (more…)

Whether wacky or crazy, cake is on the menu on this week’s food pages at the  Los Angeles Times. Their food section is one of the best in North America, in my opinion, as they always manage to stay a step or two ahead of most other papers in covering the food scene.

With wacky cake, however, they take a step back. It’s called wacky — or crazy — because the cake is made without eggs, milk or butter and yet it bakes up moist and delicious. LA Times food writer Emily Dwass has gone to the source to find out who invented this particular cake — which requires no bowl or beaters for mixing, just an unbuttered square cake pan and a fork to stir the ingredients together. (more…)