Breadmaker

Yesterday was a hot one, and today is predicted to be much akin to it, with the addition of thunderstorms. That’s par for the course in the summer in Ottawa: first we get a stiflingly hot, humid day, followed by an impressive deluge and light show, often in the evening of the same day.

Of course, I had run out of bread, but I didn’t want to fire up the oven on such a hot day. I would like to continue making my own throughout the summer, so I dug out my breadmaker, which I’d never used before. Over the winter I purchased a Black & Decker All-In-One Deluxe Horizontal Breadmaker at Value Village for $9.99. There were (and always are) a few on the shelf, so I picked the one that showed the least wear and tear. I also Googled to make sure I could get a user manual.


100% Whole Wheat Bread in the breadmaker.

We didn’t have air conditioning when I was growing up, and one of the best lessons that my parents taught me was to keep the house cool, cook outside whenever possible. The most obvious example of this is barbecuing or grilling, but most countertop appliances work perfectly well outdoors. Breadmakers, toaster ovens, even toasters or kettles fit the bill, and it’s especially convenient to use them if you have a deck/patio or a balcony. They’re not intended for outdoor use, so you have to be very sure that they never get wet and are set on a surface that can’t be damaged by heat, like a concrete step or a glass-top table. If you’re uncomfortable leaving them out in the open, they can be left under a parking shelter or in a garage. Also, you have to make sure that any plugs or extension cords are up to the challenge (I recommend heavy-duty appliance extension cords just in case, you don’t want to start a fire).

So I made a loaf of 100% Whole Wheat Bread (page 24 in the user manual) in the breadmaker, and it turned out deliciously! It was really easy, and although I kind of missed kneading the bread and I don’t like the inflexibility of the recipes that go along with mechanization. But the results were delicious, and I can see why people will set breadmakers on timers so they have fresh bread first thing in the morning. Since I’m used to oven loaves, the bread looked kind of misshapen to me, much too tall and thin. The looks didn’t mar the flavour at all, though. My family devoured the entire loaf in a day (granted, we had grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner). I will have to make another loaf asap.

Morning Glory Pumpkin Muffins

It’s ComicCon costume crunch-time, so I haven’t been spending as much time cooking as I’d like to. Nevertheless, over the weekend I was inspired by the copy of Purely Pumpkin: More Than 100 Seasonal Recipes to Share, Savor, and Warm Your Kitchen by Allison Day (2016) that I have taken out of the library again. I managed to whip up some Morning Glory Pumpkin Muffins (page 81), which were very simple and absolutely delicious. Healthy, too!

For the health-conscious, these muffins are made with spelt flour, bananas, pumpkin puree, apples, pumpkin seeds, raisins, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds. A combination like that is a great way to satisfy hunger cravings and keep you full for a while — perfect to grab when running out the door in the morning. The recipe called for vegetable oil, for which I substituted an equal amount of applesauce, which made the muffins even healthier. These muffins are also very moist and tasty, with just a bit of crunch from the seeds, which is probably why my kids have been noshing on them whenever they get the chance. Would I make this recipe again? Most definitely. Now I’m more eager than ever to try the rest of the recipes in this book!

Simple Suppers

With ComicCon deadlines looming, I’ve been spending every spare moment working on costumes. That means that I have been making meals that can be thrown together out of what is in my fridge, freezer, and pantry. There just isn’t time to run back and forth to different grocery stores and specialty shops! I’ve also been picking meals with a short prep/cook time.


Thing 1 and Thing 2 showing off the mini loaves that they helped me make.

On Saturday I ran out of bread, so I had to make more. Now that I have the hang of the basics, I don’t find that baking bread takes much time at all. I mean, it takes time to proof, but that’s time I can spend on other things. This bread was supposed to be loaves of Nan’s pan rolls, but after I started mixing I discovered that I was at the very end of my all-purpose white flour. No problem, I’ll use half whole wheat, I thought! No luck, I was down to the last dregs of that as well. So I just combined what I had left of both of those flours with some multigrain flour, and promised myself that I’d make a grocery run soon.

I’m happy to say that they bread turned out quite nicely despite my improvisations; it was nice and fluffy, but also quite healthy due to being predominantly whole wheat and multigrain flour. The kids were very pleased with the mini loaves that they shaped in tiny pans that I found at the dollar store. Of course, those were the first bits of bread from this batch that were eaten.

Saturday dinner incorporated that fresh-made bread into a breakfast for dinner kind of meal. Eggs over hard (they were supposed to be over easy, but the cook usually ends up eating the mistakes), pork breakfast sausages, navel orange pieces, and a strawberry banana smoothie.

Last night’s dinner also used the bread, which by this time was a couple of days old, but still toasted up well. I made plain grilled cheese and served it with some quickly-thrown-together soup of turkey broth, carrots, and rice, all served with a side of (slightly-massacred) orange.

Looking back at these dishes, I realize that I need to find an additional go-to fruit or veggie to pair with quick dinners, or my family will soon become heartily sick of oranges.

Teddy Bear Birthday Cake

When I was eight years old, my mother threw me a teddy bear birthday party. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but it suddenly came to mind when I was perusing the used book sale at the public library. There, on the shelf, was a discontinued copy of A Piece of Cake: Fun and Easy Theme Parties for Children (Gwenn Boechler, 1987), which pretty much had my birthday party pictured on the front.

We decorated those headbands (which the book calls party hats). We made teddy bear paper-bag puppets. We ate that cake.

I love it when I find books like this! Books that contain patterns or recipes for things I remember doing or gifts I remember receiving as a child. It doesn’t happen often, but I think that’s why I treasure it so much when I am lucky enough to stumble upon them.

The highlight of the birthday party was, I think, the teddy bear cake. I know my mother baked me a cake for every birthday until I was a teen (at which point she either made me a blueberry cream cheese flan, or I baked my own cake), sometimes two if my actual birthday and my birthday party ended up being too far apart. Although I do have vague recollections of rainbow sprinkles, I honestly couldn’t tell you anything specific about the cakes Mom baked, except on this year. I remember looking at the instructions for how to put it together. I remember icing the cake. I remember that the candies we used for the claws had black licorice centers, like a Good & Plenty. I remember that the nose and tongue were Smarties.

On the whole, what I remember the most is being so proud of this awesome cake — which is funny, because my mom, unbeknownst to me, thought that it was a terrible failure. No part of it turned out the way she wanted it to. According to her, making this cake was what convinced her that she had no talent whatsoever at cooking. But to me, it was a triumph.

(I heartily disagree with the idea that Mom can’t cook, by the way. Who do you think is responsible for all of those lovely Sunday dinners?)

I guess it just goes to show you that children perceive the world completely differently than adults do. We can all be so critical of ourselves and our work. But a child doesn’t notice if a cake slumps to one side, or if it’s store-bought cake mix, or if the decorations don’t turn out quite as intended. What they remember — especially if you cook together — is the pride of accomplishment. Maybe us adults could use a hit of that in our day-to-day life. There’s nothing wrong with striving to do better, but there’s also nothing wrong with being proud of your work. If it makes someone happy, that’s perfection enough.

Hot Cross Buns

I find myself extremely happy that it’s not my responsibility to cook the formal Easter dinner this year, since my whole household, myself included, is still sick with a nasty cold. I did manage to haul my butt out of bed on to prepare hot cross buns in time for Good Friday. I think that’s the limit of my abilities at the moment.

For those not familiar with the hot cross bun, they’re basically a slightly sweet, spiced bun that studded with black currants and topped with an “X” or “+”, depending on which way you look at it. The Good Friday holiday for Christians is the commemoration of the death of Jesus upon the cross; the cross on the bun is said to represent the crucifixion, which is why hot cross buns are traditionally served on that day.

I used the “Hot Cross Buns” recipe on page 37 of Baking Bread: Recipes From Around the World for the Complete Home Baker by Audrey Ellison (1995). Unfortunately, I was not terribly impressed by the recipe. First of all, it calls for “shortcrust pastry leftovers for crosses”, without explaining the quantities or techniques necessary. Since I hadn’t made any pastry recently, I went with the second option of “a simple paste [made] from 2 tablespoonfuls each of flour and water”. That ended up being much too runny. I increased the flour to 3 Tbsp, and even then I had to pipe on the crosses because the mixture was so loose.

Additionally, either the cooking time was too long or the temperature was too high, since my first batch was burned by the time I went to check up on it by the minimum recommended time. I double-checked that the temperature on the oven was as instructed after the burned ones came out, and it was correct. So I’m not sure what went on there.

Maybe it’s because I’m sick and have no patience, but this particular recipe ended up being a huge pain in the neck. But at least I have homemade hot cross buns for breakfast, which I think makes it worth it.

Cake Pops

After the confetti cupcake disaster on Saturday night, a friend of mine suggested that I use the broken/misshapen homemade cupcakes to make cake pops. Despite my disappointment, I had saved the cupcakes — they still tasted great! So I gave it a go.

I had never made cake pops before, and honestly I had no idea how it was done. Based on the gadgets I’d seen in the stores, I thought you cooked them as little spherical cakes, kind of like a doughnut hole. After my friend’s suggestion I Googled, and what do you know? Cake pops are essentially cake meatballs.

I followed the How To Make Cake Pops Easily tutorial on Divas Can Cook, and the further into it I got, the more like meatballs they seemed. The colours of the cake I was using didn’t help; it really reminded me of ground poultry. Basically, you take a cake (your “meat” and “spices” and “filler”), crumble it (i.e. grind it up), mix it with a bit of frosting as a binding agent (the “eggs”), and shape it into balls. I’ve made enough meatballs that once I realized the similarities, muscle memory pretty much took over. Once I got to the decorating stage, though, it was new territory.

They’re definitely not perfect cake pops. They’re not spherical, the chocolate coating is sometimes lumpy, and the sprinkles aren’t artfully arranged. And forget fancy decorating; I just don’t have the skills to make them into flowers or Christmas balls or Easter eggs. But they’re a darned sight better than the cupcakes I started with. I consider this a success, especially for a first try.

To be honest, the kindergarten kids who are going to eat them are going to smear them all over their faces and clothes anyway. It doesn’t matter that the chocolate is hard, they’ll find a way.

Confetti Cupcakes

Yesterday was Thing 2’s birthday party — not her birthday itself, which is unluckily squished in between Christmas and New Year’s, but her party. With all of the other affairs going on that time of year, her celebration with friends gets pushed back to the late winter or early spring. As a family we make a big fuss of her on her actual birthday, but this way she gets to pick the date of her party for a time when she can feel special in her own right, and not just “squeezed in”.

So the plan this year, as per her request, was to make confetti cupcakes, the ones with multicoloured sprinkles mixed directly into the batter.

I found the Homemade Funfetti Cake recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction, which called for a lot of sprinkles. 2/3 of a cup of sprinkles — and I doubled the recipe. I basically emptied out all the multicoloured sprinkles in my stash into one measuring cup.

So many sprinkles! Perfect, I thought, for what Thing 2 wanted. Sadly, it didn’t work out.

It’s hard to tell from this picture since by this point the cupcakes were all piled on top of each other after they were cooled, but almost all of the cupcakes stuck to the muffin pans and left huge chunks of themselves behind. And yes, I used non-stick muffin pans and sprayed them with cooking spray.

Those few cupcakes that didn’t joined their broken brethren in falling apart ended up slowly deflating and collapsing, as Eddie Izzard would put it, “like a flan in a cupboard”. They all just… Fell. They were too soft and refused to hold their shape. When the first pan came out like this, I thought perhaps they weren’t cooked the whole way through, but upon testing they were definitely done. They even tasted good! I baked the second pan for a few minutes longer than the first, thinking perhaps it was a problem with my oven. But I checked the internal temperature with a secondary thermometer, and it was spot-on. Either I messed up somewhere (did I forget an ingredient or something?), or there’s something up with the recipe. Perhaps there are just too many sprinkles? They’re structurally sound when cold, but when they melt, they’re sugary mush.

At this point it was 11:00pm the night before the party, and I was something on par with the Great Cake Disaster of my 16th birthday (pictured above). In retrospect, that one was caused by not levelling my cakes. The weather was also too hot (30°C or so) and humid (and us with no air conditioning) for the chocolate buttercream frosting to keep the cake from sliding over. My friends referred to it as the “Leaning Tower of Poo”. At least the flavour was okay.

I ran out to the only 24-hour grocery store around here and grabbed myself a box of Duncan Hines Confetti White Cupcake Mix, along with a package of Reynolds StayBrite Easy Release Baking Cups. No way was my second batch of cupcakes going to fail! And I needed to get some sleep before party day.

As promised by the packaging, the Confetti Cups went off without a hitch. They released easily from the baking cups, they didn’t fall, and they were done in record time. I also made them with the “lower fat recipe” on the back of the box, which didn’t seem to affect the cupcakes at all, except nutritionally. Taste-wise, the Homemade Funfetti Cupcakes were definitely better (quite yummy, actually), since the Confetti Cups had that boxed-cake-mix tang. But I needed and end product that would hold up structurally.

A couple of weeks ago I picked up some little kits from the grocery store to add to our stash assortment of cake decorations. The cupcake above was decorated mostly with the Twinkle Baker Décor Deco Bonbon Little Kittens set.

For the kids who aren’t interested in cutesy stuff, I also picked up the Twinkle Baker Decor Deco Bonbons Friends kit. Given the age of the kids at the party, I have no idea why I assumed that they would decorate their cupcakes more-or-less the same way as on the packaging. I should know better by now.

The creature above was one of my favourite of the guests’ creations. She showed it off to me, and then promptly ate its face off.

And this last one was Thing 2’s cupcake. You can usually tell which one is hers by the incorporation of Halloween-y elements. Like mother, like daughter, I guess.

So happy birthday (party) to my beloved Thing 2! I hope you take away fond memories of this day, and that the rest of your year is fabulous.