Friday, December 31, 2010

A Year in Cookies: 52 cookies in 52 weeks

Well, it's that time of year, again: the new year. I don't make new year resolutions. Instead, I have new year ideas, projects, etc. This year, I've decided to do a year in cookies; so by the end of 2011 I will have made 52 cookies in 52 weeks. I find this to be a bit more manageable than 365 cookies in 365 days; maybe if I weren't working, this would work.

So, every Sunday for the next year (give or take a few days), I will be trying a new cookie recipe. I may start simple with things I have already done, but eventually I will get a bit more creative with my culinary confections. I will post the recipe, source if there is a published one, and pictures (of course). This idea came to me, but in doing so, I have found that some other people have done the same thing. So I guess I'm just one of the hordes, but those others have inspired me to try this.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 4, 2010's a cake!

June brings many birthdays for my family and friends, but somehow I managed to only have to make one birthday cake. This was my first carved cake, and I had a lot of fun with it.

My cousin is a cellist, and I have wanted to make her a cello cake for a very long time now. For her birthday in June, I decided to try it. I had been planning it in my head since April, and I asked her what she wanted for her cake. Her only request was that the icing be chocolate with orange flavoring. This was a first for me, but I was up for the challenge!

I made a 9"x13" pound cake and froze it in the pan for 2 days. On the morning of the soiree I took the cake out of the freezer. Using a permanent marker on waxed paper, I traced the shape of the body of a cello to fit within the parameters of the cake. I then used a large knife to gently carve around the pattern, which I had cut out and secured atop the cake with toothpicks. The carving went very smoothly, with very few crumbs and no crumbling of the cake. I used the excess pieces of cake to fashion the scroll of the cello.

I had been thinking about the design of the cake for quite some time, and I decided that the fingerboard, bridge, and tailpiece were going to be made from a shortbread type cookie. Again, using the waxed paper method against the body of the cello cake for scale, I formed the cookie pieces of the other parts of the cello; the tailpiece and fingerboard were in chocolate, and the bridge in vanilla. Once the cookies were baked, I cut very tiny slots in the top of the bridge piece so that I could secure the strings.

The icing turned out spectacular. I used my standard butter cream icing, adding dutch processed chocolate and a bit of orange extract. To get a more wooden color to the icing, I added a bit of orange food coloring. I frosted the body of the cake with the base icing, and added black store bought icing to the mix for the scroll. I then piped lines in the scroll bit to give it more depth.

For the pegs, I piped the shape of the peg in chocolate, forming a small lollipop by adding a miniature dowel rod (reminiscent of a toothpick, but sturdier) and let them set; I then stuck them in the sides of the scroll.

The tricky part was the strings. I decided to use a very thin jeweler's wire, with the end wrapped around and taped to a mini dowel rod and inserted at the top end of the tailpiece. The wire was then inserted in the slot on the bridge and stretched across the body and fingerboard, and laid gently, though tightly, on the scroll.

I think my favorite part was the peg. This is the quintessential part of the cello: the part that separates it visually from other stringed instruments. I used half of a pretzel rod, which I dipped in chocolate, and then inserted it into the very bottom of the cake.

The piping on the top of the cake was simple enough. I piped the f holes in black icing, and I outlined the body in chocolate. Overall, I was very pleased with my work.

And now, for the pictures!

It's been 5 months...

and I'm still alive! This is just a short update, with a few fun posts to follow immediately.

So what's new in the live of this girl?

- I'm a member of the Philadelphia Singers, the official singing group of the Philadelphia Orchestra. How cool is that?

- I started my own Etsy shop. You can find me here. Everything is custom made, so if you're interested, ask!

- I got a big girl job. I'm working in Center City, and thus exploring various eateries. I am absolutely loving the Reading Terminal Market. It's a foodie's playground!

It's been fun, these past few months. And now, how about some baked goods?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter Eggs!

Easter is generally a crazy time in my family, since everyone is at church practically the whole week. So I decided to make my Easter goodies a week in advance, and pray during this week that they would be okay after a week in the refrigerator. I guess we'll know Easter morning!

I guess it goes without saying at this point that I hate stealing. So in order for me to share the recipe for these eggs, the link to the website where I found them is right here. The ones I used were the peanut butter and butter cream eggs.

Okay, so, first step is to mix the centers. I did the butter cream egg centers first, because they needed to set in the refrigerator longer than the peanut butter eggs. I did a double batch of the butter cream so that I had enough for a giant yellow yolk egg. Then I mixed the peanut butter centers and let them sit in the refrigerator. That was Saturday afternoon. Saturday evening I shaped the peanut butter eggs and put them in a pan to set overnight. I didn't touch the butter cream centers until the next morning, giving them extra time to set.

Sunday morning began with forming the butter cream egg centers into egg shapes, just as I had the peanut butter the night before. With the second half (or, more like the final third) of the center mixture, I died about 1/3 of it yellow, and put the white and yellow colored mixture in two separate bowls in the refrigerator to set for a bit.

Now comes the exciting part: the dipping! I've done butter cream eggs before, and I've never been truly happy with how they were formed in the chocolate because there was always too much chocolate left on the wax paper after I dipped the eggs. I have a dipping tool set, but these eggs are approximately 2 ounces in weight, so they far outweigh the capacity of my dipping circle, and I didn't want two holes in the top with the dipping fork. So I was at a loss...that is, until I saw a video online of someone dipping eggs! (Man, the internet can be a great tool.) :-)

So, the trick? Use a big toothpick. The only problem was, I didn't want to leave a gaping hole at the top of the egg after it was dipped, so I had to figure out how to cover it up. I didn't want to add extra chocolate as a patch job because it would look like, well, a patch job. But more on that later!

So, melting the chocolate. Usually when I melt chocolate I use the microwave, since it's easy and takes a much shorter time. I've just recently taken to the double boiling system on the stove, and I like the results much better. I decided to do the peanut butter eggs in milk chocolate, and the butter cream eggs in semi-sweet chocolate. The yellow yolk butter cream was also covered in semi-sweet chocolate. Finding the semi-sweet chocolate was no big deal: go to any grocery store, and they have them in the baking aisle. Mine just happened to be on sale for a dollar a bag, so that made this poor girl happy. :-) As for the milk chocolate, I decided to go with couvertures from Nuts to You, a great little candy/nut/snack shop in the Philadelphia area. Love, love, love it! So I got 2 lbs. there, and began my work on Sunday with the dipping.

When you double boil chocolate, you're supposed to chop the chocolate into small pieces, which I always forget to do; so it takes a little longer to get the chocolate melted. Also, regarding chocolate, my greatest fear is that the chocolate will bloom (get that whitish, powder-like residue over the surface), so I try to be extra careful with that. When you're working with actual chocolate, like chocolate chips, you really need to temper the chocolate to make sure that it doesn't bloom. I, however, am no expert at tempering chocolate, nor do I own a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature of said chocolate. With the milk chocolate from Nuts to You, I figured I would take a chance on the fact that it was simply a candy melt and not a pure chocolate melt, so I didn't do anything but melt and dip. But with the semi-sweet chocolate, the story was different. Since I didn't really know how to temper, or have the tools, I took a tip that someone gave me recently--add a small amount of vegetable oil to thin it out and keep it from blooming. So by the time I got to the butter cream eggs, I was holding my breath for hardening time.

Dippy dippy time! Use a sturdy toothpick, dip completely up to the top of the egg so only the toothpick shows, shake off excess chocolate gently (you don't want the egg falling off the toothpick!), and transfer to waxed paper Pretty simple. Did that with the milk peanut butter, let it sit out, then refrigerated for a bit. Then, later on in the day, did it for the semi-sweet butter cream...same deal. Again, though, there is a big giant gaping hole where the toothpick was at the top of the egg. What to do?

That's where Monday's project came in! I decided to work with royal icing for the first time in my life, and boy was it an interesting experience. So I mixed the icing, dyed some of it rose (which really turned out to be a hot pink hue), and went to pipe my drop swirl flowers on top of the eggs to cover the hole. Well, the icing was too thick; it wouldn't pipe properly. Okay, so, cut the bag, take the tip out, squeeze the icing into the mixing bowl, add a little bit of water, mix, try again. The problem? There is a fine, fine line between how much water to add if too stiff, and how much sugar to add if too thin. I have come to believe that royal icing is a pain in the royal butt (no pun intended). So, lo and behold, icing was too thin. At that point, I just didn't care, and I piped the "flowers" on the butter cream eggs. Well, the flowers didn't hold form. Instead, they kind of made a goopy star shape that sort of looked like it could have possibly been something fancily piped on top. No bueno, especially for a perfectionist like me. Super frustrated, I made a send batch of icing, this time a double batch with a little more water than called for in the recipe. This one was the right consistency. So, instead of wasting the already colored and thin icing, I added some of the fresh icing to the mix, blended, and voila! A lovely, lighter shade of pink (though still a deep pink) that seemed to work for piping purposes. And so it did! Because I was so frustrated with the butter cream eggs, I wiped a few of the original flowers off the eggs. That didn't last long; most of them still have the goopy stars/flower shape on them. So for the peanut butter eggs, and for the few butter cream that I wiped off, on went the new, easily-piped-but-holds-shape icing, and some beautiful drop swirl flowers came into existence. Okay, so they look more like rosettes, but I like them!

Some pictures for reference:

These are the peanut butter eggs with the holes on top in the refrigerator. Interesting fact: when refrigerated, peanut butter oil separates from the peanut butter; thus, my eggs leaked oil through the hole! Go figure.

The final result of the mini eggs...pure, simple, beauty. I did not photograph the runny icing eggs. I'm too ashamed of them I guess. Noeleen, always the perfectionist. It's my downfall.

On to the yellow yolk! Somewhere in the midst of the dipping and hardening on Monday, I managed to shape the yellow yolk egg. Simple enough: take the yellow butter cream, form into egg shape. Take the white butter cream, form around yellow egg shape. Put in refrigerator to set. When I was done dipping the butter cream eggs, I took the yellow yolk out of the refrigerator, turned it upside down in my hand, spread chocolate on the bottom of it, put it down on the waxed paper again, and spread the chocolate around all sides of the egg. It looked a little rough, but in a good way. A rustic way, if you will. ;-)

Set in the refrigerator over night. Pull out, cut off extra chocolate around edges (only the really obnoxious pieces, or else I would break the egg). On Monday came the fun part. With the second batch of icing, which was now a good consistency, I began to decorate my egg. Tip 104 for the rose buds, tip 352 for the stems (no leaves. I thought about it, but then decided against it), tip 104 for the bow (which turned out really well, considering that I didn't practice and I've never done it before!). The rose buds and bow were in pink, the stems in green. Then I got creative. at this point, the egg was on a 10 inch cake circle. So I decided to attach the grass tip (don't remember the tip number) to the green icing, and make grass. Simple touch board, pull up, let drop, repeat. Originally I just did it around the edges of the egg, but then I decided to cover the whole board. That way I could have a base for my...

Icing lambs! Yes, you heard me correctly. On wax paper, with tip 12, pipe out a generous base for the body, followed by a round bit on one end for the head. Then you're supposed to use a small round tip to cover in wool, but I decided to use the grass tip again, and I think it turned out well! I couldn't find my black icing color for some reason (boo), so I used a toothpick and blue icing color to make the mouth and eyes on each lamb. Using a separate toothpick and the left over pink icing, I added two ear centers and a nose.

I think we need pictures now, don't you?

Detail on the lambies! I love those little lambs. I think sitting in the refrigerator for a few days now they've sort of collapsed a little, but I still think they're cute! :-)

Detail on the top of the egg. A little dark, I know, but I don't have photoshop anymore. :-(

The whole shebang!

And then, to top it all off, I was offered a job decorating eggs for Shane Candies, the oldest candy store in America! Which I did, for two days, but then I had to stop. I made a bit of money, which was nice. And I sort of had fun, trying to get as much done as possible in as little time as I had. The icing consistency was terrible there, too, as it was a bit too runny; the star tip figures were not holding shape. *sigh* But it was an interesting experience. Who would have thought that, one, my hobby that I experimented with for the first time would lead to a job, and two, I would walk into a candy store to buy some Easter candy and be offered a job to begin on the spot? Only me, ladies and gentlemen. Only me. :-)

Saturday, January 16, 2010


January is a heavy birthday month for me. In fact, just one week in January is a heavy time for birthdays for me. My dad and my sister both celebrate their birthdays in January, only 5 days apart. Then there are my sisters Gabby, Tricia, MacKenzie, and Sarah, as well as my Aunt Terry. And I'm sure there's more as well. Needless to say, it's been a busy week for me birthday-wise.

Actually, I'm exaggerating a bit. I only had to make one cake this week. See, we purchased a few cakes from a fundraiser through my dad's school, and one of them was a coffee cake. My dad had sampled it and really loved it, so we saved the one we bought in December in the freezer until his birthday, when we enjoyed it. And boy, did we enjoy it! We also ordered a red velvet cake with cream cheese glaze icing from the same place, but that wasn't nearly as good as the coffee cake. (imho, it was not dense enough, and I wasn't a fan of the glaze icing. Give me a dense red velvet cake with rich cream cheese icing any day of the week!)

So that leaves me with my sister's birthday, where I'm in charge of both the cake and the "appetizer"...fruit kabobs. So guess what that means?

Yup! A new cake recipe! :-D

First is the chocolate chip pound cake, as seen below.

Pretty, isn't it? It really did turn out great. I had made this cake for my birthday, but I used regular sized chocolate chips. This time, per request of my sister, I used miniature chocolate chips. And I think it looks great! (and if the batter gives any inclination, it tastes great too! ;-) ) I found the recipe on, so, courtesy of them, here's the recipe.

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
2 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. (2 sticks) butters, softened
6 eggs
1 1/3 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1-12oz. pkg. (2 c.) miniature chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In medium bowl, combine flour, salt, and soda. Set aside. In large bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sour cream and vanilla extract. Gradually blend in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into greased and floured 10 inch round pan or 10 inch tube pan. Bake for 70-75 minutes (70 did the trick for me). Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

I really love sour cream-based pound cake recipes. I feel like they are more moist, and just generally tastier, than those without sour cream.

So what about the icing? Well, I knew that my sister loved buttercream, and I really like the look of fondant, so that was a no brainer...buttercream base with fondant overlay and decorations. I was perusing , where I came upon this awesome meringue-based buttercream icing recipe that I wanted to try, which you can find . Italian Meringue Butter Cream, or IMBC for short. It looked really cool, and I knew it was going to be a challenge. What's interesting is that it does not use powdered sugar, like my usual buttercream recipe; instead, it uses a sugar syrup. Well, I tried it, and wouldn't you know, it took me over 30 minutes to make it! Ridiculous! I can't afford that kind of time to make an icing. At first, I thought it tasted great. Once I took another taste, though, it seemed really buttery, and not so sweet. And then I tried piping with it, and i had a lot of difficulty with my small round tip...and I even used a bigger one than I usually do! One batch makes about 9 cups, and that was too much for me; I ended up tossing the last bit of it, sad to say. So, I probably will just be sticking to my Wilton Recipe from now on. I am hoping that the icing tastes better with the cake than alone. *sigh* I guess I can't expect all experiments to turn out perfect, now, can I? If you would like to give the buttercream a try, feel free to use the recipe at the link provided. There are some great photo tutorials, as well. I'm just not a huge fan...but if you try it, I hope you like it!

So, my sister wanted white and blue polka dots for her cake, so I obliged. Only, I had some extra blue and pink fondant from my last cake, so I also made purple (with her permission, of course), and I mentioned aqua to her, and she was all for it. At first, when I was planning this cake, I was frustrated that she didn't give me more direction and told me to "have fun" with it...but in the end, that's exactly what did happen...I had a lot of fun! The colors worked really well, and it really was fun creating color and size patterns with the circles. Picture are included below, so that you can see for yourself.

So, that's the cake! I think, overall, it turned out pretty good. I love that I'm learning as I go along. I really think I would have preferred if the lettering on top were in fondant, but I did not have letter and number cut outs, nor did I have a stencil. So, I guess I'll just have to reserve that for next time!

Oh, and Happy Sweet 16th, Marygrace!

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Welcome Recipe!

I'm Noeleen. This is my blog. I love to sing, bake, and create many things.

Okay, enough with the First Grade Level introductions. I just need an outlet for everything going on in my head, and this is what I've got. I'm enamored with blogs that I read about the recipes that I want to try and such. I haven't read much about music or crafts, but I figure I'll incorporate them anyway.

So for today, why don't we start with a recipe?

I've been salivating over sensational sweets on flickr recently, especially cupcakes. I finally got to the point where I was so fed up with craving them, I needed to make my own. The problem is, no one in my house will eat cupcakes except me due to the fat content and everyone watching their I went fat-free. I also had an 8 oz. block of fat-free cream cheese, so I looked up a recipe for fat-free cream cheese icing...and I found the same recipe in many places, so I'll re-post here.

Fat-Free Cupcakes

1 cake mix (take your pick)
1 12 oz. can of diet soda (the type depends on the cake you pick)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, or whatever the box says to do. Put the cake mix in a bowl. Add the soda. If it's a yellow, white, red velvet, strawberry, or any other light or colored cake mix, use a clear-colored diet soda. If it's a chocolate cake mix or any other dark variety, use a caramel-colored diet soda. Mix well. DO NOT add any of the other ingredients printed on the box...the glory of this cake is that all you need is the mix and the soda! Mix on medium speed for a minute to get the mix wet, then on medium-high to thoroughly mix it together. Once it's mixed, spoon the batter into lined muffin pans. The batter will fill 24 cups about 1/2 full or so...maybe a little more than 1/2. To evenly distribute the batter, I use a cookie scoop, or one of those nifty spoons that has the lever inside to get all the batter/dough out of the scoop. Mine is of high quality because I just bought it for a great price at an outlet store in Lancaster, PA, and I am super excited to use it for whatever I can...but I digress.

Bake the cupcakes for about 17-22 minutes or so, depending on what the box says. Mine was a Duncan Hines Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix with a Diet Coke, and it took about 17 or 18 minutes to bake evenly. Take out of the oven, and let cool in the pans for at least an hour. Once cooled completely, you can ice them. Which leads me to...

Fat-Free Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8 oz. package of fat-free cream cheese, softened
1 8 oz. tub of fat-free whipped topping
1/2 cup Splenda (okay, I cheated and used granulated sugar. It was delicious!)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (it doesn't have to be clear. Your icing is still going to be bright white).

Whip your cream cheese with a mixer. Mix in the whipped topping. Follow this with the Splenda (sugar) and vanilla. Voila! A lovely icing.

When I made mine, I let the whipped topping and cream cheese sit out for a while, so it was super soft. After I mixed it, the frosting was almost a liquid texture. So I refrigerated it for 45 minutes, which helped a little. I took a disposable piping bag and cut the tip off so that I had a wide circular opening, and then piped the frosting in a swirl. Well, the frosting was so creamy, it sort of collapsed. I guess this is a frosting that you can't expect to pipe and keep its shape, but it's definitely a spreadable frosting.

So there you have it! A guilt-free dessert for you to try! Sad to say, I did not take any pictures...but they really aren't anything to write home about, aesthetically speaking. I just bought some diet Orange Crush, so I think next time I'll try an orange creamsicle crush in yellow cake mix with cream cheese frosting.