Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fun with Fabric

I didn't make much this year for my nephew's birthday or the holidays.  I mostly bought my way through, since I had so much going on with the show and those 21 crazy apples.  I did make one notable thing, though, for my nephew's birthday.

See, my 4-year-old nephew loves to cook.  It started with his play kitchen, and then he took a cooking class.  He loves it!  For Chanukah, in addition to a science kit because he also loves science, Eric and I actually got him two children's cookbooks.  These:

He loves them!  He's already made runaway pancakes and chocolate mousse, both from Fairy Tale Feasts.

So for his birthday, we kept with the theme.  In addition to getting him this set of 100 cookie cutters from Bed, Bath & Beyond, I made him this adorable apron.

The fabric is vintage (but brand new), from a New York fabric shop that no longer exists.  It belonged to my friend's grandmother decades ago, and my friend was generous enough to give me a ton of great vintage fabric from her mother's remaining stash.  This was part of that stash, and I think it's awesome.  I already had the denim for the pocket in my own collection, and only had to procure the bias tape.

I've used more of the fabric from my friend too.  A lot of what she gave me is decor fabric, and as it turns out, we needed some.  Our house was built in 1954 and is pretty drafty, especially by the front door and the door to the attic.  So Eric suggested door draft stoppers.  Well, why not?  I had this terrific funky fabric that looks to be circa 1960s or 1970s, and polyester fiberfill, and just needed the gravel to weigh it down!  So off we went to purchase gravel (and pick up a money tree, rubber tree, and flower pot while there - we're such impulse shoppers!) and some more fiberfill, and I got to work.

While making these door draft stoppers for our own house, I decided to make extras... and list them!  If you need any yourself, since they're a great way to save on energy costs, you can find them right here in Fabric of my Mind.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I've Been Knitting, Too

As I said in my cupcake post, I was cast as the Evil Queen's assistant in Snew White and was therefore on a poison apple kick.  I tend to like to give a little gift as a "break a leg" token with every show, so for this one, poison apples it was!

I did 21 of these little suckers, which measure about 2.5" across the body of the apple, and by then my hands were so sore and tired, I didn't even do one for myself!  Yet.  I'll have one at some point.  They're too cute not to have one for myself.

To give my hands a break after this, I went back and finished a cool green hat I'd started previously.  This one's now listed in Fabric of my Mind here.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Even More Baking: Cupcakes!

At Halloween, I saw an idea for mummy cupcakes, so I decided to try a new (to me) dark chocolate cupcake recipe.

I found one at the Brown Eyed Baker blog here.  For these, I used only her cupcake recipe and the Bouchon Bakery recipe for basic buttercream, my favorite buttercream of all time.  Unfortunately, I realized after making the cupcakes and butterream that although I did have Wilton eyeballs on hand (who doesn't?), I didn't have the right sort of tip to create the strips of bandage.  I tried winging it with a round tip and squishing down, but it wasn't quite as precise as I'd have liked.  I've since bought a flat tip for next year, because the cupcakes were definitely good.  And they were cute, they'll just be cuter when done right.

Meanwhile, back in September I was cast in the early December production of Snew White, obviously a takeoff on Snow White, at the Studioplayhouse in Montclair.  I played Evelyn Crabtree, assistant to the Evil Queen.  I figured, what with working with the Evil Queen and all, that it'd be fitting for me to go with a poison apple theme.  So I decided almost immediately that I'd do apple cake pops.  I have Bakerella's book and had done pops just once before, for a Mardi Gras party years ago.  To stay with the theme, I set out to find a good apple cake recipe to use for these pops.

This apple cupcake with brown sugar buttercream (I've determined that I really prefer buttercream that uses zero confectioner's sugar) recipe I found looked just about right, but I needed to test them for both taste and texture.  I made them first as cupcakes for a book club meeting, and they were a complete hit.  Somewhat more like dense muffins than cupcakes, they were really tasty and actually about as healthy as cupcakes are going to get, what with the 4 cups of apples in them!

Test successful.

All that remained was to make them into cake pops for my cast party on December 15.  Yeah, right.  I hit my first stumbling block in searching for the jumbo green diamond sprinkles that Bakerella suggests for a "leaf" on each apple.  Would you believe Wilton discontinued those?  Why on earth, with someone as popular as Bakerella pushing their use in her books and on her blog, why on earth, I ask you, would Wilton discontinue them?!  And I couldn't find anything truly comparable.  Finally, I found Wilton's sugar gems and spent quite a bit of time sorting through them to find the most leaf-like ones.

I was even good about it.  I made the cupcakes that Friday evening and the buttercream Saturday morning.  Saturday after our afternoon performances, I went home, crumbled the cupcakes, mashed in the buttercream, and formed 40-something little cake apples on parchment paper.  Into the fridge they went for the requisite time period, while I got my sticks, "leaves," and pretzel "stems" ready and dug out my candy melts.

Candy melts.  Ha.  A misnomer if I ever heard one.  I had (note:  had) a good number of red candy melts.  Tried to melt them.  Failed.  Decided my apples would be pale green.  Tried my green & white candy melts.  Better luck, but not by much.  I ended up with a candy melt paste that I had to spackle on to each "apple," which therefore no longer actually looked like apples, after I spent all that time shaping them into cute little apple shapes.  Ugh.  Sticks, candy melt spackle, pretzel stick stems, and after an even 40 I gave up.  I was exhausted, disheartened, and annoyed.  Why can Bakerella get her melts to hit a nice liquid and mine were a mess?  It's not like I've never melted chocolate before.  I make chocolate candies, for pete's sake.  I even tried adding a little vegetable oil based on a tip I found online, and it did very little.  Plus, I think that's kind of gross.

If any of you have any ideas, let me know, because I'm about ready to never make a cake pop again as long as I live.  If I ever do succumb and make another pop, I'm only using good chocolate to coat them, and the heck with cutesy shapes and colors.  I just can't do it.  Notice I'm not providing a photo of my pops.  There aren't any.  No way, no how.

Meanwhile, my fellow cast members & the show's crew loved them.  Of course.  Thought they were adorable and delicious.  Delicious, I agree.  Adorable?  Go figure.  One fellow actor actually said that I have a great "go to" when I get invited anywhere.  Hahahahahahaha!  Obviously, they looked easy and low-labor.

But I promised cupcakes in this post, so enough about my semi-failed/semi-successful cake pops, and on to more cupcakes!

My office holiday party.

I made that Bouchon Bakery tart.  But it just so happens that there is one single, solitary woman in the office who's allergic to hazelnuts.  Of course.  The one nut in the tart is her one allergy.  Sigh.  So I had to make something else as well.  I went back to the Brown Eyed Baker's dark chocolate cupcakes, but this time I topped them with Bouchon Bakery's peanut butter buttercream, the recipe for the filling in Sebastien Rouxel's Better Nutters.  Wow.  Rich and... well, rich... and wow.  Again, a hit.

I may complain and I may wear myself out, but I really do love baking.  I promise.

Friday, December 27, 2013

As Promised, Plum Kuchen

With recipe!

When I first mentioned making plum kuchen as an additional dessert for Eric's birthday, I got some quizzical looks.  Kuchen is a German word, after all, and not everyone knows what it is.  When I went online to try and show people, though, I discovered for the very first time that what I know as plum kuchen is not necessarily what others know as plum kuchen.  There were so many photos of cakes that looked nothing like my mom's version, and just as many different recipes to go with them!  I had no idea it wasn't a thing, but a variety of things.

My mom's version, the one I make, isn't actually a cake.  It's more of a plum pie or tart, in a delicious buttery crust.  And it requires Italian prune plums, which are only in season for about a half a minute in September.  For the last several years, I'd actually thought of it immediately after they were out of the supermarkets, and missed the season entirely.  This year, I thought of it early and made sure I kept an eye out... and when we were shopping for ingredients for the Bouchon Bakery tart, there they were!  My prune plums!

I snapped them up, stashed them in the fridge, and waited for Eric's birthday to roll around so I could share one of my very favorite desserts with our friends.

The Crust

For the crust, you need:

1 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp water
1.5 tbsp lemon juice

Mix all ingredients and press into pie plate.  Chill.

My one mistake here was not bringing the crust quite high enough in the pie plate.  You want it all the way up the edge.

The Filling

For the filling you need:

2 lbs of prune plums (about 24)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour

Mix the flour and sugar together, and spread half in the bottom of the crust.  Cut plums in half and circle tightly in the pie, alternating the direction of each concentric circle.

Pour the remaining sugar/flour mixture evenly over the plums.

Bake 50 minutes at 400 degrees.  And you get...

Utter deliciousness!  (and if you make the crust as high as you should, the juice won't pool around the edges like that)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I've Been Baking

Boy, have I!  I need to backtrack to September at this point, because of how much I haven't told you.

September was Eric's birthday, so of course I baked for that party.  And he had a request.  An intimidating, fairly arduous request.  He wanted a Praline and Cocoa Nib Tart from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook he got me for our anniversary last March.  If you don't know, the Bouchon Bakery is owned by Thomas Keller and run by executive pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel.  These are some big shoes to fill.  Huge.

That one little 8" tart required five different recipes to make.  And with French pastries, apparently, everything is a process.  Freezing for hours in between steps.  Baking, turning, baking some more.  And with Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel specifically, some interesting ingredients!

I'm a baker.  I've been a baker since I was a kid.  I come from a line of bakers, my mom won first prize for her French apple pie and her mother actually baked for schools.  Her sister, my aunt, baked for diners.  So I know my way around a canister of flour.  But trimoline?  (Invert sugar)  Glucose?  (Another form of sugar that's honestly a royal pain to work with; it's a stiff goo)  Cocoa butter?  (Good thing we make soap and our cocoa butter is food grade, since this is not easy to find at the supermarket!)  Hazelnut-almond praline paste.  (Huh?)  64% dark chocolate.  (Specifically 64%.  Did you know you can't find that in the supermarket?  Not even Fairway.  They've got 62%.  and 70%.  No 64%.  Damnit.)  And Feuilletine.  (WTH?)

Yeah.  Well, it's a good thing Eric's into molecular gastronomy because he got a good chuckle as I placed my first order with one of "his" websites to get this stuff.  At least I could find European butter, 40% milk chocolate, blanched hazelnuts, cocoa nibs, unsweetened cocoa powder, almond flour, and everything else I needed at one or the other of the two supermarkets I tried.

But Feuilletine?  Ha.  I tried Fairway, which has a stellar baking section, and is where I found the vanilla paste (as opposed to extract) for my foray into making Sebastien Rouxel's Better Nutters over the summer.  I tried calling a local restaurant supply store.  I tried local French bakeries to see if I could either buy it from them or get hooked up with their supplier.


Finally, I found a recipe for it online.  It's a pain to make, but holy crow, is it good.  It's kind of like crumbled up chocolate sugar cone, but better.  It just takes forever to spread really, really thin and bake just a couple pans at a time, since the recipe makes a ton.  On the bright side, the recipe makes a ton, and the tart recipe only calls for 60 grams of it, so I saved the rest in a cereal tupperware wa silica packet to keep it dry and crunchy.  For the record, feuilletine is also excellent on ice cream.

So that was recipe #1.

Then came the tart crust, called pate sucre.  It's amazing, and tastes a lot like shortbread.  Really, really great shortbread.  Recipe #2.

The base of the tart is a praline, and that's where the feuilletine comes in; it's an ingredient in the praline.  Yes, I spent hours making an ingredient.  Recipe #3.

And then the chocolate ganache.  That's where we get to the glucose, trimoline, and 64% dark chocolate.  Wow.  Recipe #4.

Then, the dentelle.  Crushed toasted blanched hazelnuts, cocoa nibs, and other goodness that turns into a crunchy crust.  Finally, Recipe #5.

The best way to make this tart, I've determined, is over the course of several days, in parts.  The dough needs to be frozen before and after being rolled out.  The praline needs to be frozen too.  So, yeah.  Days is best, unless you're getting up at 6 a.m. to start and serving it late at night.

So worth it.  So.  Freakin'.  Worth it.

I've done it twice since.  The pate sucre recipe is enough for two tarts and can be frozen for a month, so I used the other half of this first batch on a second tart for our Halloween party.

And then I made another batch, and brought the third tart to my office holiday party last Friday.  I don't think I need to explain what a hit it was.

The one thing that gets me is that when I roll out the pate sucre nice and smooth and lay it nicely on the cookie sheet in the tart ring, I roll over it, and get a beautiful, flat, even edge for my tart.  But then I've got to blind bake it before putting in the praline and ganache, so I follow Rouxel's instruction to use parchment paper filled with rice so it holds its shape.  The only problem with that is that parchment paper is crinkly and the dough is soft.  The paper mars the dough and ruins my nice, even edge!

Oh, geez.  As I was typing this, about to ask for input, I realized I should freeze the dough before doing that.  Frozen dough won't be marred by the parchment paper when it goes in the oven!  Don't mind me, I'm running a little behind in the brain cell department these days.  I plan to do the 4th tart for my book club meeting in January if I can get more hazelnut-almond praline paste and cocoa nibs, both of which I've used up.  I'll definitely let you know how it goes.

And my next post?  Plum Kuchen!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Artist Spotlight: Part One Hundred and Two & One Hundred and Three

First, someone you've met before, Kimberly of Makin' the Best of It.

You know I love her sea glass jewelry.


And her hand  painted glassware.

And her altered book art.  These are all available in her Handmade Artists Shop.

But have I mentioned what she does with wedding invitations?

It's gorgeous!  She'll take your invitation, mat it, and paint flowers to go with it.  You can even tell her what your wedding flowers were so she can paint to order.

And apropos of the day, she also makes pretty ornaments, like this sea glass angel.

On top of her many talents, she runs It's Better Handmade, a terrific forum for all handmade artists of any sort.  You don't need to have a shop at HandMadeArtists.com either.  The idea is to promote all handmade, so no matter where you've got a shop or if you haven't one at all, use It's Better Handmade to show off!

Next up, April of Brooklyn Bead Goddess!

April's got a Handmade Artists shop and an Etsy shop, in which you can find all sorts of amazing lampwork jewelry.

She makes each gorgeous bead herself, and if you're a jewelry artist you'll be happy to know that she also sells separate beads for you to use in your own creations.

Not so into jewelry?  That's OK, April also uses her amazing talents for magnets, keychains and purse charms, swizzle sticks, and my favorite - bottle stoppers.

Want to know more about her?  Check the blog!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Artist Spotlight: Part ONE HUNDRED and One Hundred and One

Holy crow, I've made it to 100 spotlights!  That's a lot of amazing other artists I've introduced you to, you lucky dogs.

Well, this time I've got some more you've never met here before.

First, let me introduce you to Anansa, a venue for handmade artists from around the Middle East.  There are so many different things!

If I was a leather worker, I'd jump on these .pdf patterns.

Or look at these amazing acrylic and oil paintings!  These are just a few of the many, but they really caught my eye.  Or check out the hand painted ostrich egg!

How adorable is this custom wedding cake topper?

And how pretty is this Quran cover?

Children's items like this hand-knitted camel and handmade dollhouse.

And last, but not least, clothing and household items!

You get the idea, I think.  Visit the site, seriously.

And for 101, a new artist to this blog, Highland Princess Designs.

The Highland Princess is a fellow Rennie, which you know I love.  She's been crafting chainmaille jewelry for over a decade, which I find amazing.  The first project she ever attempted was a headdress with a 3' chain net to hold her hair, inspired by one she saw at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.  It started when her friends took up maille and she figured if they could, she could.  She was right.

That had her hooked, of course, and branching out into other accessories and materials.

She also crochets and has entered the world of costuming.  Although she does work in fabric and fiber, the funniest costume I've seen from her is this chainmaille armor for a stuffed animal!

Adorable, right?  For more, check out her blog.
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