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One of the best parts about owning the bakery is that I have the freedom to be creative.  I can collaborate with someone who needs a cake for a party they're throwing and they can give me the concept they're after and then I get to run with it.

Just the other day we got a phone call from someone who wanted to really WOW his girlfriend.  He told us this was his first time ever doing something like this and he had an idea in his head, but not all the details.  Basically what he wanted was a giant cupcake and then he wanted to incorporate the colors that are important to his girlfriend.

I wanted the cake to still look like a giant cupcake, since that was in fact what he wanted.  I didn't like the way the white cake board looked underneath the colorful cupcake and so I decided to cover it with red chocolate.  I think it looks fantastic!  After that I added some ribbon roses in the colors he requested and a banner wishing her a happy birthday.  I topped it off with a hand modeled "kiss". The cake turned out really colorful and fun, which I think was what he wanted.  When he picked the cake up from me he was thrilled.  I can only hope she was as thrilled as he was when he gave it to her!

-The Baker

 
 
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I've been MIA for a while, but it's not because I've been laying around watching the grass grow!  In fact, this is the busiest I've been in a looooong time.  I have been baking a bunch, but it's all been bakery related, and usually when I'm doing that stuff I'm under a time crunch at our bakery kitchen to get in and out, so I haven't been able to take lots of pictures like I usually do.  I'm going to make more of an effort to blog about the yummy stuff we're still making and eating at home, but until I do I thought it would be fun to tell you about the first bridal expo we participated in.

We were invited to participate in The Great Bridal Expo, at the Hyatt Regency O'hare, just outside of Chicago.  We accepted and then came to terms with the fact that we had no idea how to prepare for a bridal expo.  I brainstormed different things that I thought would be important to have and wrote list after list after list.  Then I convinced two friends to come help me out because no way was I going to do this myself!

To prepare for the expo I gathered lots of pictures of wedding cakes I've done over the years, prepared and had printed a mini-brochure to hand out, made several model cakes to have on display, made sure I had enough business cards and then baked and baked and baked because I needed 1000 samples.  I put each sample into a little lidded cup, and now that we've done the show I'm so glad I did!

When the doors opened we were surrounded by future brides and their grooms waiting for samples.  It was insane!  People were waiting in line for at least two hours to get a taste of our cake, and we weren't the only cake vendor there.  We just talked and handed out samples non-stop from noon until about 2:30, when the expo started the fashion show and we finally got a break.  One of my friends who was working with me had to leave at 1:00pm and even though she was standing two feet away from me I never even saw her leave!  We gave away every single sample and people were still coming back asking for more.  So many people came over to our booth to tell us how fantastic our cake was, and we could hear people as they were walking past our booth talking about how good it was.

All in all it was a great experience and we've had a lot of emails and phone calls from people who tasted our cake there and I'm pretty confident that we're going to be getting lots of orders.  We're going to participate in more expos and meets lot of new brides!

-The Baker

 
 
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The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

So, by the closest of margins I was actually able to complete my second Daring Bakers Challenge!  The post has to be up by today, and, well I think if I get it up by midnight that should count, right?

This was a long month for me with M2 and M3 being sick pretty much non-stop.  They just kept passing it back and forth and as soon as one would start getting better the other one would wake up sick.  It just kept cycling like that until a couple of days ago when it seems like they're finally better!

As you saw, the challenge this month was to make Tiramisu.  But, just making Tiramisu is not enough of a challenge for the Daring Bakers!  Nope, we had to make all of the components... homemade mascarpone, savoiardi (ladyfingers), zabaglione and pastry cream.

I was actually really excited when I saw what the challenge was this month.  I have been wanting to make homemade mascarpone (coincidentally using the exact same recipe they chose for the challenge), but you can't use ultra-pasteurized heavy cream and that was all I could find.  I did finally manage to get my hands on some (Whole Foods for anyone in Chicago that wants to make it).

None of the components are too terribly difficult to make.  The hardest part is planning ahead to give yourself enough time to make everything so it's all ready when you assemble the tiramisu.  It does take a few days, so if you're planning on making this for a dinner party or special occasion just know that you can't do it all in one day.

That said, that was the Daring Bakers Challenge.  You can certainly make the tiramisu using store bought ladyfingers and mascarpone.  The zabaglione and the pastry cream can both be made the day of assembly.  But, if you have the time, I would highly recommend making the mascarpone at least once.  Mascarpone is pretty expensive to buy and it's so much more affordable to make it yourself.  It's really versatile and you'll find so many uses for it once you have it on-hand... you can stir it into a pasta sauce, sweeten it up with some sugar and serve it on french toast, or use it as a filling for crepes (savory or sweet).

Normally I would re-write the recipe, but the Challenge hosts did such a nice job organizing the different tasks that I decided not to mess with their directions.

Tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts.  I remember the first time I had it was when I worked at a restaurant and we were doing menu tasting.  (This is something you do in restaurants when you're new and in training or when new dishes are added to the menu.  The kitchen will make the dishes and everyone samples them.  That way you know what it tastes like if you ever had to describe it to a guest.)  Up until then tiramisu was not something I would have ever ordered or snuck a bite of.  At that time I hated the taste of coffee and tiramisu is loaded with coffee flavor.  But, I had to taste it, so I took a tiny little bite.  Holy cow!  It was good!  Somehow all of the ingredients together managed to make coffee taste good!  From that point on, I would sneak into the walk-in cooler and slice myself off some tiramisu to nibble on during my shift.  Now that I think about it, my life (meaning my thighs) would probably have been better off if I had never discovered tiramisu!  But, I did discover it, and now so will you!  Enjoy!

-The Baker

PREPARATION TIME:

Tiramisu is made up of several components which can be made separately and ahead of time and put together the day before serving.
Making tiramisu from scratch requires about 2 to 3 days (including refrigeration) from when you start making the mascarpone to the time the tiramisu is served. So this challenge requires some prior planning.


Please read the instructions as you need to begin making the mascarpone at least a day in advance.
The zabaglione & pastry cream also need 4 hours to an overnight for chilling, as does the main dessert. The flavours mature after an overnight rest, and the dessert can be kept refrigerated for 2-3 days.
Once assembled, the tiramisu can be frozen till you need to serve it, in case you are not serving it immediately.


EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

  • A double boiler (a stainless steel bowl that fits inside a large saucepan/ pot without touching the bottom will do)
  • Two or three large mixing bowls
  • Whisk
  • A medium sized heavy bottomed pan
  • Fine meshed strainer (to remove lumps from pastry cream, if any)
  • Electric mixer, hand held
  • Serving dish (or dishes) of choice (8" by 8" should be fine)
  • Spatula for folding and spoons as required
  • Plastic wrap/ clingfilm
  • Baking sheets
  • Parchment paper or nonstick liners
  • Pastry bag (can be disposable)
  • Plain 3/4" pastry bag tip or cut the end of pastry bag to this size (If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off)
  • Oven
  • Cooling rack
  • Thin-bladed spatula for removing ladyfinger biscuits from the baking sheets
  • Instant-read thermometer (optional)
  • Strainer
  • Cheesecloth or cotton napkin for draining mascarpone
  • Fine-mesh strainer for shaking cocoa powder on tiramisu
TIRAMISU

(Recipe source: Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007 )
This recipe makes 6 servings

Ingredients:
For the zabaglione:
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar/50gms
1/4 cup/60ml Marsala wine (or port or coffee)
1/4 teaspoon/ 1.25ml vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

For the vanilla pastry cream:
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1 tablespoon/8gms all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup/175ml whole milk

For the whipped cream:
1 cup/235ml chilled heavy cream (we used 25%)
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract

To assemble the tiramisu:
2 cups/470ml brewed espresso, warmed
1 teaspoon/5ml rum extract (optional)
1/2 cup/110gms sugar
1/3 cup/75gms mascarpone cheese
36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less)
2 tablespoons/30gms unsweetened cocoa powder

Method:
For the zabaglione:
Heat water in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, place a pot with about an inch of water in it on the stove. Place a heat-proof bowl in the pot making sure the bottom does not touch the water.
In a large mixing bowl (or stainless steel mixing bowl), mix together the egg yolks, sugar, the Marsala (or espresso/ coffee), vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until the yolks are fully blended and the mixture looks smooth.
Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler or place your bowl over the pan/ pot with simmering water. Cook the egg mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes or until it resembles thick custard. It may bubble a bit as it reaches that consistency.
Let cool to room temperature and transfer the zabaglione to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the pastry cream:
Mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. To this add the egg yolk and half the milk. Whisk until smooth.
Now place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling.
Add the remaining milk a little at a time, still stirring constantly. After about 12 minutes the mixture will be thick, free of lumps and beginning to bubble. (If you have a few lumps, don’t worry. You can push the cream through a fine-mesh strainer.)
Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the whipped cream:
Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer or immersion blender until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Set aside.

To assemble the tiramisu:
Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8" by 8" should do) or one of your choice.
Mix together the warm espresso, rum extract and sugar in a shallow dish, whisking to mix well. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese with a spoon to break down the lumps and make it smooth. This will make it easier to fold. Add the prepared and chilled zabaglione and pastry cream, blending until just combined. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Set this cream mixture aside.

Now to start assembling the tiramisu.
Workings quickly, dip 12 of the ladyfingers in the sweetened espresso, about 1 second per side. They should be moist but not soggy. Immediately transfer each ladyfinger to the platter, placing them side by side in a single row. You may break a lady finger into two, if necessary, to ensure the base of your dish is completely covered.
Spoon one-third of the cream mixture on top of the ladyfingers, then use a rubber spatula or spreading knife to cover the top evenly, all the way to the edges.
Repeat to create 2 more layers, using 12 ladyfingers and the cream mixture for each layer. Clean any spilled cream mixture; cover carefully with plastic wrap and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight.
To serve, carefully remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the tiramisu with cocoa powder using a fine-mesh strainer or decorate as you please. Cut into individual portions and serve.

MASCARPONE CHEESE

(Source: Vera’s Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese)
This recipe makes 12oz/ 340gm of mascarpone cheese

Ingredients:
474ml (approx. 500ml)/ 2 cups whipping (36 %) pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), preferably organic cream (between 25% to 36% cream will do)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Method:
Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the skillet. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. If you do not have a thermometer, wait until small bubbles keep trying to push up to the surface.
It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. All that the whipping cream will do is become thicker, like a well-done crème anglaise. It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly. You will see just a few clear whey streaks when you stir. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours.
Vera’s notes: The first time I made mascarpone I had all doubts if it’d been cooked enough, because of its custard-like texture. Have no fear, it will firm up beautifully in the fridge, and will yet remain lusciously creamy.
Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days.

LADYFINGERS/ SAVOIARDI BISCUITS
(Source: Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home)
This recipe makes approximately 24 big ladyfingers or 45 small (2 1/2" to 3" long) ladyfingers.

Ingredients:
3 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons /75gms granulated sugar
3/4 cup/95gms cake flour, sifted (or 3/4 cup all purpose flour + 2 tbsp corn starch)
6 tablespoons /50gms confectioner's sugar,

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350 F (175 C) degrees, then lightly brush 2 baking sheets with oil or softened butter and line with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites using a hand held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gradually add granulate sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff again, glossy and smooth.
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork and fold them into the meringue, using a wooden spoon. Sift the flour over this mixture and fold gently until just mixed. It is important to fold very gently and not overdo the folding. Otherwise the batter would deflate and lose volume resulting in ladyfingers which are flat and not spongy.
Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a Ziploc bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5" long and 3/4" wide strips leaving about 1" space in between the strips.
Sprinkle half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers and wait for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten. Now sprinkle the remaining sugar. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness.
Hold the parchment paper in place with your thumb and lift one side of the baking sheet and gently tap it on the work surface to remove excess sprinkled sugar.
Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the puff up, turn lightly golden brown and are still soft.
Allow them to cool slightly on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then remove the ladyfingers from the baking sheet with a metal spatula while still hot, and cool on a rack.
Store them in an airtight container till required. They should keep for 2 to 3 weeks.
 
 
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Something that has become very important to me is developing a sense of community for me and my kids.  Community has sort of always taken a back burner to our other pursuits, namely building, nurturing and growing a career.

We've moved many many many times in order for The Chef to be able to take the jobs we felt were critical in the early days of his career.  In fact, M1 went to a different school every year of his life until he was in fifth grade.  At that point we felt he'd been uprooted enough and we promised that this would be the last move we would make until he graduated high school.

He's a sophomore now, and what I realize is that I've set down roots.  My own family has moved 1500 miles away and suddenly they're no longer the magnet that draws me back home.  I have to make my own home, and in a lot of ways, my own family.

I'm so lucky that I've found a group of friends that are so much more than friends to me.  They're truly the family I would choose if I got to go out and hand-pick them, and I guess, that's exactly what I did.  They care about me and they're concerned about my kids and they go above and beyond to be supportive in ways that I don't even think they understand are so important to me and The Chef.  For instance, we're in Chicago, an area jam packed with restaurants of every type, and yet when it's a special occasion (or even if they're just going out to dinner) they make a point of going to The Chef's restaurant.

So, in that spirit, the kids and I were invited to our friends home to make tamales with their family and several of their friends.  There was such a sense of community and family that when we discovered that M1 hadn't memorized the poem that he needed to recite as part of his English final exam (THE NEXT DAY) that we all worked with him to memorize it while we made the tamales.  Sounds exactly like family.

My assignment was to bring the green chile sauce to go with the tamales.  I've never made green chile sauce, so I turned to good old google and found a recipe that sounded like it would work.  Let me tell you, it did more than work!  It was dee-yish-iss, as M2 would say!  My entire house smelled like a Mexican restaurant while it was cooking, and unfortunately because I was making it the day before and had nothing to put it on I had to wait an entire day before I got to truly enjoy it... but it was worth the wait!

I mostly chatted and didn't really take part in the tamale making so I can't really tell you exactly  how to do it, but I did take pictures and there are a million places online that can tell you how to do it.  What I will say is that you should gather your group of special people and try it out.  It doesn't have to be tamales, it can be anything that requires a bunch of hands to make it and mouths to eat it.  It's a great way to spend the day!

-The Baker



  • Recipe from Epicurious.com
    (my changes are in italics)
    • 1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed
    • 4 - 3" long serrano chiles, stemmed, chopped (I roasted mine over an open flame to develop a little more flavor)
    • 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 1/2 T olive oil
    • 2 cups low-salt chicken broth
    • 2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    1. preheat broiler
    2. line heavy baking sheet with foil (I lined my pan with parchment paper); arrange tomatillos on prepared sheet
    3. broil until tomatillos blacken in spots, turning once, about 5 minutes per side
    4. transfer tomatillos and any juices on sheet to a food processor and cool  (I used a blender)
    5. add chiles and garlic to processor and blend until smooth puree forms
    6. heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add tomatillo puree and boil 5 minutes, stirring often; add broth (the broth must be unsalted or low salt because you're going to let the sauce reduce, if you start with salted broth the sauce will be too salty to eat by the time it reduces); reduce heat to medium; simmer until sauce coats spoon thickly and is reduced to 1 cup, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes
    7. season with salt
    8. can be made 1 day ahead; cover and chill
     
     
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    Well, I'm thrilled, excited, terrified and shocked to announce that we did it!  My dream has come true and my bakery has gone from the place I'll someday open to the place THAT'S OPEN FOR BUSINESS!!!  Like, right now!  Go ahead, check out the website, send me an email or give me a call.  If you've got a cake emergency then I'm your girl.

    It all happened by a perfect alignment of the stars.  I've had so much help from friends and family and all the pieces fell into place.  I'm so excited about all the things we're going to do and most especially that I get to work at what I love every day.  Not many people can say that.

    My focus is mostly on wedding cakes, but I also make celebration cakes, as well as what I like to call "Temptations".  Things like tarts, pies, cookies, lemon bars.  It's all made from scratch and made with love!

     
     
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    I love when people ask me to make them something for a special celebration they're having.  I like to try to come up with something that will really wow them.  So when the GM at The Chef's restaurant asked if I could make a cake for his brother and sister-in-laws baby shower I was all over it.

    He sent me a copy of the invitations and wrapping paper they were using.  My idea was to make a cake with animals modeled out of chocolate to match the theme.  The only problem was I had no idea how to model animals out of chocolate.  I'm not even really good with play-doh.  Really long snakes are about the best I can do.  I swore The Chef to secrecy just in case I couldn't pull this off.  I even came up with a Plan B so when the day of the shower came and I was sobbing in a heap on the floor I would have something to give them.

    I remembered a Wilton cake that was decorated with animals and so I quickly googled my little heart out and found the cake.  Gulp.  I was pretty sure there was no way I could pull this off.  I stalled and texted a couple of friends to whine that there was no way I could do this.

    Finally I sat down and figured out exactly what I would need, wrote a list and went to the store.  Then I came home and paced.  And then paced some more.  I figured I would just start and see what happened.  So I worked my way step by step through the modeling of the animals.  It was incredibly easy!  They turned out so cute and I really couldn't believe I had made them.  And, apparently the guests of honor loved them, which makes me immensely happy!  Congratulations to them and their twin baby girls!

    -The Baker

     
     
    The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.
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    I just joined Daring Bakers!  This is my first challenge and I had quite a lot of fun.  The way it works is one or two members choose a baked good that they would like the group to prepare.  The challenger finds a recipe they want to use and then the group (The Daring Bakers) all prepare it and blog about it.  We all agree to only post the recipe on a certain day so that we all do it on the same day.  It's a lot of fun and definitely can take you out of your comfort zone if someone chooses something really challenging.

    The rules are simple:  prepare the item using the same recipe that the challenger posts.  No substituting a recipe you already use or tweaking of recipes except in the case of allergies or personal beliefs (so, if like me you can't have nuts or if you're vegan).  The only changes that can be made are if the challenger specifically says you can change certain things.  Then, make it and blog about it!

    For my first challenge we made Nanaimo Bars.  I've heard of these before but have never made them, and I don't think I'd ever even seen them.  For me this was a great challenge.  I got to make something I'd never made before, but it wasn't terribly complicated so I didn't feel too stressed that I wouldn't be able to make them.

    The finished bars were incredibly rich and sweet!  It's definitely something that you only need a little piece of.  At first I wasn't sure if I liked them, but they seem to keep forever so I was able to keep going back and cutting a little sliver and they seemed to get better and better.  By the time they were gone M1 and I decided that we did, in fact, like them.  They're a crazy combination of sweeet, salty, buttery and chocolate, which is sometimes EXACTLY what you're looking for.

    The big challenge was to make the graham crackers gluten free, however our challenger said we could make them with regular flour if we wanted.  I chose to make the regular flour kind because it would be too expensive to go out and buy all the different flours needed to make it gluten free, especially knowing that I would never use the flours again.  I do have to say that the regular flour crackers were delicious, but other Daring Bakers who made the gluten free type said they were even better than the regular ones.

    I had a lot of fun with this, and I'm totally looking forward to the next challenge!

    For Gluten-Free Graham Wafers
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
    • 3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour
    • 1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour
    • 1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
    • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
    • 3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt
    • 7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
    • 1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover
    • 5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
    • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract
    1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.
    2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
    3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.
    4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
    5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
    6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.
    7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.
    8. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.
    9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.
    If making the graham crackers with wheat, replace the gluten-free flours (tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, and sorghum flour) with 2 ½ cups plus 2 tbsp of all-purpose wheat flour, or wheat pastry flour. Watch the wheat-based graham wafers very closely in the oven, as they bake faster than the gluten-free ones, sometimes only 12 minutes.

    (I made the regular flour crackers.  I had no problems with the dough being sticky or that they baked super fast.  They baked in the 12 minutes the recipes suggests.)
    Nanaimo Bars
    Ingredients:

    For Nanaimo Bars:

    Bottom Layer
    • 1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
    • 1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
    • 5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
    • 1 Large Egg, Beaten
    • 1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)
    • 1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
    • 1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

    Middle Layer

    • 1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
    • 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
    • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
    • 2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar

    Top Layer

    • 4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
    • 2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter
    1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.
    2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.
    3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.


    If making with wheat, replace the gluten-free graham wafer crumbs with equal parts wheat graham wafer crumbs!
    Additional Information:

    These bars freeze very well, so don’t be afraid to pop some into the freezer.

    The graham wafers may be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
     
     
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    I love cornbread.  My dad used to make it all the time when we were kids, and eventually I took over and made it.  We would have a big pan of it sitting around to snack on.  We always used the standard recipe on the back of the corn meal container, which at the time seemed plenty good.

    Then I met The Chef, who insisted he didn't like corn bread.  To me, that was a challenge.  I quizzed him about what he didn't like about it.  I figured out that he preferred his cornbread to be sweet and not dry and crumbly.  So I began trying out different recipes I would find in cookbooks and on the internet.  He didn't like any of them.  I realized I would have to create my own recipe.

    So began my cornbread odyssey.  It took a lot of trial and error, but I finally came up with a recipe that he liked!  It's a sweet and tender cornbread that is simply delicious.  I'm really proud of this recipe because I created it entirely myself, so it's a Baker Original!  We've taken to calling it "Cornbread For People Who Claim Not To Like Cornbread".

    Yesterday I wanted to make cornbread but I was undecided what to make with it.  I needed to drop M1 off at a guitar lesson.  While I was waiting for him to get ready I was perusing blogs.  Smitten Kitchen had just made some black bean soup and I was mentally slapping myself in the forehead... I LOVE black bean soup!  It's probably my favorite soup.  And, it would go so great with cornbread.

    While M1 was at his lesson I ran over to the store and picked up the ingredients.  Then we picked up M1 and went back home to make the soup and cornbread.  I love the recipe she uses because you can cook the beans in a slow cooker, which is so convenient.  There's no need to soak the beans overnight.  I tend not to make black bean soup because I don't plan far enough in advance and by the time the craving hits I don't want to wait 24 hours.  So I do without or I buy a container of pre-made soup at the store.

    I did a couple of things differently than Smitten Kitchen.  I don't like red and green peppers so I left them out.  Knowing that by not having the peppers the soup would probably be flat tasting I chose to use chipotle sauce, which contains tomato puree, to round out the flavor.  Because I used the sauce, and not just the chipotle pepper that she used, I used more than what she called for in her recipe.

    I also garnished mine with some corn, queso fresco, mexican crema and cilantro... and a huge hunk of cornbread!  It's delicious and hearty.  A perfect meal to have on a cold day.  And, oh by the way, it gets even better then next day!

    -The Baker

    SWEET CORN BREAD:
    yield: 8" x 8" pan

    • 1 C All-purpose Flour
    • 1 C Cornmeal
    • 2/3 C Sugar
    • 1 t Salt
    • 3 1/2 t Baking Powder
    • 1 Egg
    • 1 C Milk
    • 4 oz Butter
    • 1/4 C Honey
    1. combine all of the dry ingredients; whisk together
    2. combine milk, honey and butter; microwave until the butter has melted; remove from microwave and whisk in the egg
    3. add the milk mixture to the flour mixture; whisk together, just until combined
    4. pour into a buttered pan; bake at 400 F for 15 - 20 mins
    BLACK BEAN SOUP:  (inspired by Smitten Kitchen)

    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 large red onion
    • 4 garlic cloves, minced
    • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
    • 1 16-ounce package dried black beans
    • small can of chipotle sauce (i used half of the can, which gives just a little after burn, but use more or less depending on how spicy or mild you like it)
    • 7 cups hot water
    • zest from 1 lime
    • juice from 1 fresh lime (use the lime you zested)
    • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

    1. heat oil in saute pan
    2. add onions saute until they just start to brown; add garlic and cumin; stir
    3. transfer to 6-quart slow cooker; add beans and chipotle sauce, and hot water; over and cook on high until beans are very tender; it took my beans about four hours to get soft, but Smitten Kitchen's beans took just under three hours, so test them every hour after the first two hours of cooking
    4. when the beans are tender, scoop a couple of ladles into a blender; puree until smooth; puree as much of the beans as you like; the pureed beans will act as a thickener for the soup; i prefer a more pureed soup so i pureed most of the beans;
    5. add the pureed beans back to the beans in the slow cooker; add the lime zest, lime juice, and season with salt, and pepper to taste; because you didn't season the beans in the beginning you will probably find you need a lot more salt than you thought
    6. to serve, garnish each bowl with some fresh corn, queso fresco, mexican crema and fresh cilantro and a big hunk of cornbread
     
     
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    It is with much trepidation that I'm posting this recipe.  It happens to be one of my favorite potato salads but it's a little expensive and time consuming to make, so I don't make it a lot.  I try to save it for special occasions.  We used to make this recipe for our Garde Manger class in culinary school when we would have to set up buffets.

    So, why am I nervous to give you this recipe?  Well, read on...  We spend Christmas Eve with my family.  This year we decided to have a very casual dinner since we were all going to have a traditional Christmas dinner on Christmas day.  We thought this would be more relaxing and fun.  We decided to make big sandwiches and all the sides that come with them.  I offered to make potato salad, thinking that I would wow everyone with this delicious twist on an old classic.  Then as I was writing out my shopping list The Chef saw what I was making and dropped the bombshell that HE DOESN'T LIKE ROASTED POTATO SALAD!!!  I was seriously shocked.  What's not to like?

    I decided to make it anyway figuring he's just weird and everyone else would love it.  So I made it and brought it and everyone HATED it.  I couldn't believe it.  So why am I posting it here?  Well, as it's several weeks after Christmas you can see that I wrestled with whether or not to post it.  I finally decided to put it up because IT'S DELICIOUS AND THEY'RE ALL CRAZY.  And I thought one of you might really like it.  I mean, just look at the ingredients... that's all good stuff!  My aunt said she didn't like the potatoes being roasted and it was throwing her off.  I certainly understand when you expect one thing and get another you won't be satisfied until you get what you want.  But, I'm telling you, this is too good to pass up.  Try it, and if you hate it I'll accept that I am, in fact, the weird one, but if you love it as much as I do then my suspicions that they're all weird will be confirmed!

    So, um, enjoy?!?

    -The Baker

    ROASTED POTATO SALAD

    • 6 large Baking potatoes
    • 1 small Red onion
    • 1 lb Bacon
    • 1 small bunch Parsley, stemmed and finely chopped
    • 2 C Mayonnaise
    • 1/2 C Dijon Mustard
    • 1/2 C Brown Sugar, sifted
    • 1 t Vinegar
    • 1 T Balsamic Vinegar
    • 1 T Garlic, minced
    • Salt and Pepper to taste

    1. dice potatoes into bite sized pieces; season with salt and pepper and coat in olive oil
    2. roast at 350 F on a parchment lined sheet pan or a non-stick pan until the edges are golden brown and crispy and the insides are fork tender; cool completely
    3. while the potatoes roast, finely dice the red onion and the parsley
    4. cook the bacon until very crisp; dab off excess grease with paper towels and finely chop
    5. while the bacon cooks, mix together mayo, mustard, brown sugar, vinegar, balsamic vinegar, garlic and salt and pepper; set aside
    6. toss together the onion, parsley, potatoes and bacon; then toss with the dressing; season as needed
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    New Years Day we woke up to a wintry Chicago morning with fresh snow falling from the sky.  The refrigerator was empty from being picked clean of all the delicious food we had made for friends and family.  There was no way I was going to venture out into the wintry wonderland in search of breakfast.  The Chef was at work and M1 is still four months away from being able to drive.  Time to get creative!

    Everybody loves a good donut for breakfast, but they're a mess to fry, and to be honest I never know what to do with the oil once I've fried in it, so I tend to not make donuts at home.  I remembered that in culinary school we would sometimes whip up little donut imposters called Sugar Donut Muffins that we would eat for breakfast.  Unfortunately I didn't save the recipe, but I remembered the process and I didn't think it would be that hard.

    I decided to do a quick google search to see if there were any recipes and I couldn't believe how many there were!  I had no idea these were so popular!  I thought my instructor had come up with the concept.  Go figure!  After reading through several different recipes I decided to use the one from Baking Bites.  It had the simplest ingredients, and most importantly, I had all of the ingredients!

    I did change just a couple of things.  The first being that I used Pumpkin Pie Spice in place of nutmeg.  I'm not a huge fan of nutmeg, especially when it's the primary flavor.  Pumpkin Pie Spice contains some nutmeg as well as cinnamon and ginger so it has a nicer flavor.  It's really versatile, and I use it in a lot of things.

    The other change I made was that the Baking Bites recipe just has you brush the butter on and I have you dip the whole muffin in the melted butter.  If you're going for lower fat (notice I didn't say "low fat") then brush the butter on rather than dip the muffins.

    These are quick to make and very easy to make.  If you look at the pictures you'll see that M2 made the entire muffin by herself.  All I did was scoop them into the pan and put them in and out of the oven.  Definitely a good recipe to make with your kids!

    -The Baker

    Sugar Donut Muffin

        yield: 10 full size muffins; 32 mini muffins

    MUFFIN BATTER:
    • 3/4 C Sugar
    • 1 Egg
    • 1 1/2 C All-Purpose Flour
    • 2 t Baking Powder
    • 1/4 t Salt
    • 1/4 t Pumpkin Pie Spice
    • 1/4 C Vegetable Oil
    • 3/4 C Milk
    • 1 t Vanilla Extract
    1. preheat oven to 350 F
    2. spray muffin tin
    3. in a mixing bowl, beat together sugar and egg until light and creamy
    4. in a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and Pumpkin Pie Spice
    5. pour dry ingredients into egg mixture and stir to combine
    6. add oil, milk and vanilla
    7. scoop batter into mini muffin pan; fill about 3/4 full
    8. bake for 15 mins, until a toothpick comes out clean
    9. pop out of the pan while still warm so they don't get soggy
    DIP:
    • 4 oz Butter, melted
    • 3/4 C Sugar, for rolling
    1. melt butter and pour remaining sugar into a small bowl
    2. while muffins are still warm, dip them in the melted butter, and then immediately roll them in the sugar
    3. cool and dry on a rack