24 December 2011

Joy to the World

I'm just packing up my last few boxes of cupcake orders for the year. Lucky me, I am now officially on vacation! First up for me is to bake a cake for our holiday dinner at my sister-in-law's house tonight. Yes, it's true, even though I bake almost every day, I never tire of it. But enough about me, this post is for you. Wishing you all a very Happy and Healthy Holiday season! Thanks for all your love and support this year. See you in 2012!

21 December 2011

Give a Little Bit, Give a Little Bit of Your Love to Me

Xmas Box

The elves and I (God, I wish there was a team of elves!) are sending out 68 boxes of Christmas cupcakes just like this over the next 3 days to lots of nice little boys and girls in and around Paris. Maybe if you have been very good, you will be getting one! Don't like your chances? Then, leave me a comment below (or on the French version of my blog) telling me the flavor of your favorite cupcake and you will be entered to win 1 of 2 boxes just like the one above!

Note, contest is open to anyone anywhere but you must be able to come pick up your box of cupcakes on 24 December between 10H-12H30 at a Paris 75017 address(metro: Courcelles or Wagram). Please be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you. 2 winners will receive 1 box of 6 assorted flavor cupcakes with holiday decorations. Good luck!

17 December 2011

I Got Cat Class and I Got Cat Style

Meow Birthday Cake

Well, Hello Miss Kitty birthday cake for a 3 year-old. Hope she loves it as much as I enjoyed making it! Chocolate-hazelnut layer cake with fondant Kitty.

Love Is In the Air

It may be cold and rainy and grey here in Paris but springtime revisited my kitchen this week as I prepared this 3-tiered wedding cake for a young couple's wedding. The pastel fondant butterflies covered the cake and 170 matching mini cupcakes in the wedding colors. The cake is made of 3 different flavors: top tier - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang red velvet, middle tier - La Vie en Rose and bottom tier - Vanilla Lovers. My sincere congratulations to P & C on their wedding day.

04 December 2011

We're Back on the Train, Oh, Back on the Chain Gang

This past week I had a bit of a flashback to a former life and wow, was it weird. I worked a job for a client who was attending a European food ingredient trade show. I was engaged for 3 full days, most of which were spent on my feet (or stuck in traffic as I did the daily commute out near Charles De Gaulle airport), decorating cupcakes for people who visited their stand and talking up the company. My client has a broad international presence and so they had representatives there from all corners of the world - as far away as China, thought most of them were from Europe. All week long, I heard people babbling in a multitude of different languages - it was pretty cool - and the people I got to know over the 3 days were a really nice bunch.

The experience made me realize that I don't for a single second miss the business side of working in the corporate world. One of the drawbacks of working alone though is that you don't have any co-workers and there's something to be said of the camaraderie you share with them.

I saw some pretty cool stuff while at this show. There were a number of businesses selling all sorts of chocolates, sugar candies, sprinkles, marzipan, vanilla beans and other spices, etc. I had a 20-minute break each day in which I scoured the floor gathering brochures and contact info for potential suppliers for my shop.

I also saw some pretty disturbing stuff. As a mom, I am constantly reading the labels of stuff I put on my table. I obviously am aware that a lot of foods these days are engineered - colors added to make the food look more appetizing, stabilizers to prolong their shelf life, etc. But I also came to the conclusion this week that food manipulation is a lot bigger business than I had thought and there are so many additives going into the stuff we are eating.

I was a bit shocked by the number of bakery businesses that stopped by the stand looking to purchase preservatives and other gums, emulsifiers, etc. Maybe I am naive but for me, cakes are made with things like eggs, butter, sugar and flour - these give the cake their texture, their taste, their appearance....not chemicals. Or maybe it is the years living in France that have spoiled me - I know my baker downstairs has his team arrive every morning between 3-4 to bake up fresh croissants, baguettes, Paris-Brests and the like. I'd be really shocked to learn they were adding chemicals to their baguette to make it taste more fresh or stave off mold and bacteria growth.

I've always been a big proponent of baking with preservative-free, natural, fresh ingredients. I am aware that some of the other cupcakeries in Paris don't. Some use synthetic flavors in their cupcakes rather than using real fruit, nuts, freshly prepared caramel, etc. or they buy pre-made industrial genoise for their cakes. I really think you can taste the difference in the finished product. Now I am not trying to get all militant here - I'm just trying to make a point. On the Sugar Daze menu, I have only one cupcake that is made with a synthetic flavor and that is my Cotton Candy cupcake. I'd love to be able to provide a more natural version of this one day so I can't get off completely guilt-free for the moment! I'll be working on this though - that's for sure!

It was a busy week in addition to the trade show. Pictured are some of the orders that went out. Note: my calendar is starting to fill up for the holidays so if you are planning on serving cupcakes for a Christmas or New Year's party, please do get in touch now.

22 November 2011

I Don't Want to Close My Eyes...I Don't Want to Miss a Thing

Life has taken on a surreal quality lately. I've finally found the courage to advance on a long-time dream, and the next thing I know, all these amazing opportunities have opened up for me. I had a meeting last week to discuss a book about cupcakes with a publisher that just contacted me out of the blue. Today, I met with two lovely young women who are pitching a TV series about life in Paris and they actually wanted to meet me and hear my story to see if I might be a good fit for their cast. Crazy, no? I am just waiting for someone to pinch me and find that this is all a dream. Regardless of the outcome of these projects, I am grateful for the experiences and to everyone I have met who has shown an interest in what I do and encouraged me along my path.

Thanksgiving is coming up this week and so I would also like to say a word of thanks to all of you who check in here to see what I am doing -- to all my friends, my customers, the cupcakers out there, and my family for their support, love and kindness over this past year. How will you be celebrating and what are you thankful for?

In case you're still scrambling for a last minute dessert, here's a link to my family favorite, never-fail pecan pie recipe that comes courtesy of Nick Malgieri. It's what I'll be making for my friends and family this Thanksgiving and trust me, it is delicious! Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

16 November 2011

Red Light Yellow Light Green-a-Light, GO!

Wishy-washy, a fence-sitter, indecisive, non-committal...I've been called them all. I am a creature of habit and when it comes time to make a decision about something that will shake up my little life -- committing to a decision, right or wrong, is a source of major angst and stress for me. I weigh the options carefully, I speak to anyone I think may be able to help make me a decision, I'll make lists of pros and cons and then when I finally make up my mind, the doubts and the uncertainty will creep in and I backtrack and start all over. Pathetic, I know. I guess I am just one of those types of people who doesn't like to rock the boat. You know that expression -- If it ain't broke, don't fix it? Story of my life! :)

As many of you know, I saw a commercial space a few months back that I was considering for my business. I have always dreamed of having my own space -- a permanent set-up where I can bake and run classes and just have fun. I've reached a point in my business where this makes sense - turning down orders has unfortunately become too common of an occurrence due to my space and manpower limitations. But I also have my family to think about -- my kids are still on the young side and it's always been a priority for me to be there for them. For the past several years, I've been able to juggle everything as Sugar Daze has been kind of a part-time gig. Running a shop is a whole other ballgame and while I may be mentally ready, I have struggled over how to make this all work without sacrificing my family and personal life.

I've spent months now going over the numbers, trying to figure out how to organize my schedule, talking to other business women who have families and are entrepreneurial. I know it's going to be a very tough road ahead and it'll certainly take some time to settle into a routine but I have finally made up my mind! I'm formalizing my offer on the space tomorrow. It's a huge step for me, and I won't lie, I still have my doubts. But I also know that if I don't do this, I will always wonder "what if?" So, there you have it. Hope you all are ready for the Sugar Daze shop....coming to a Parisian neighborhood near you soon! Fingers crossed and away we go!!!!!!!

02 November 2011

Disarm You With a Smile

Back when me and all my friends were into Madonna and Duran Duran and Berlin (Oh god, Terri Nunn was so cool and she always had the most awesome hued hair), we used all kinds of crazy stuff to add color to our hair, just like our favorite celebrities. My preferred product? My mom's Jolene (wow, did that stuff smell bad) which stripped the pigment from my hair wherever it was applied (and also left my hair dry and damaged beyond belief!)...and then in later years, Sun In. You all remember this stuff? I had a good friend with naturally blonde hair and Sun In gave her these really cool white-blonde highlights. On my chestnut hair, I ended up with these really brassy, orange streaks. I spent an entire summer being taunted by friends who nicknamed me "Pumpkinhead." To this day, I still can't even think of pumpkins without this moniker being dredged up in my memories!

Today I made a cake for a girl who is getting married who goes by the name "Pumpkin." I tried to find out from her friends why they call her this but they just started cracking up so I didn't push it. They wanted a really nice, girly cake on the outside for her bachelorette's party and something a little more colorful and loud on the inside. This was a small 10-person cake with one layer of pumpkin cake and one layer of chocolate cake covered in salted caramel buttercream and fondant. Note, I don't typically do fondant-covered cakes but apparently Pumpkin wanted it and who was I to deny my fellow pumpkin-y friend? Enjoy girls!

16 October 2011

I'm Blue.....

Chocolate cake for a baptism. Between the layers, a salted caramel buttercream. A vanilla swiss meringue buttercream covers the outside of the cake. Congratulations Aiden and family!

14 October 2011

Raise Your Glass

8-inch praline cutting cake with hot pink gumpaste roses surrounded by a small assortment of the various cupcakes and minis that will make up the wedding tower. Among the flavors: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Caramel Dolce, Berry Berry Good, Roll Over Beethoven and Everything's Coming up Rosie. The colors of the wedding are obviously black, white and fuschia. I couldn't help but listen to Pink the entire time I was baking and frosting these. Raising my glass to the young couple and wishing them a very long and happy life together.

Praline Cutting Cake Close-Up

04 October 2011

Can You Feel the Love Tonight?

Phew! It's Over! Cupcake Camp Paris II has come and gone and wow, was it amazing! I didn't get a chance to spend much time at the entrance - it was too busy inside - but I understand some people waited on line for about 30 minutes to come in. Now, that's cupcake love!

All in all we had about 500 people attend. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 2500-3000 cupcakes prepared and we raised close to 6000 euros. We'll be making a donation to Make A Wish France in the coming days just as soon as we have all our expenses paid out.

From my perspective, it may have been crowded but the event ran so much smoother than the 1st year.

Nicolette, Bryan and I will be publishing a tandem post to the Cupcake Camp Paris blog later this week but I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who baked, attended, judged, gave financial support, donated prizes, volunteered, publicized the event and lent support. I am so so so very proud of what we accomplished and it's heartwarming to know that we will be able to touch so many young lives through our donation to Make A Wish France. Thank you everyone for EVERYTHING and we'll see you again next year!

Photo of my cupcakes up top by Fairy Cooker. If you'd like to see more pictures of Cupcake Camp Paris II, our flickr group is here.

30 September 2011

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged : Cupcake Camp Paris II

You Coming? Vous Venez?

Sunday, 2 October at Le Comptoir Général
80 Quai de Jemmapes, 75010
RDV for a day of cupcakes, cupcakes and more cucpakes!

23 September 2011

Are You Ready for Some Baseball?

Birthday cupcakes with sports fan toppers for a 7 year-old. I hear he was over the moon when he saw these. :P Happy Birthday Tristan!

18 September 2011

Takin' Care of Business

So, let's see....when I last left off, I was telling you about this space I had seen for my still undecided commercial kitchen/non-commercial bakery/maybe traditional cupcake shop. I visited again with a contractor about 10 days ago and the place was really growing on me. I was starting to feel excited about the prospect of making this my own space and moving in. I'm not a craftsman by any means though I had a rough idea of what construction work would set me back. Until my contractor really started to pull back the layers and take a more profound look around. There are many flaws that are more than skin-deep. I won't get into all of them but here are the top three that I had totally not counted on:

1) The wiring. There's not enough juice in the place for me to install more than 1 oven. And if that was bad enough, apparently the electricity is not up to code and so everything needs to be replaced.

2) There's a monstrosity of a refrigerated pastry case sitting in the middle of what's currently the restaurant portion. It's a freebie as part of the sale. No wonder considering the glass is nicked on one side, one of the doors doesn't close properly and it leaks -- there's water damage on the floor under the evacuation pipes. My original thought was to junk it or sell it piecemeal. Well, when we took a look under it, we noticed the parquet had been cut and removed in order to settle this into the floor. WTF? Who does that? The sad thing is the floor is actually in pretty good condition but both my contractor and a "courtier" who arrived with the real estate agent say the whole floor will need to be redone.

3) The back door looks as if someone barreled into it with a battering ram. The "copropriete" says it needs to be replaced or restored to its original condition. No kidding! Well, would you believe that this was once a double door and at some point someone decided to condemn one of the doors and then built a wall over it. So in order to replace the door, the only way to access the frame is to destroy that wall, take the frame out, put a new door in and rebuild it. Arggh!

The kicker of the whole visit though was during our discussion of installing a "hotte" (evacuation) in the kitchen, the real estate agent disclosed that the "copropriete" has decided that a business causing "nuisances de bruit ou odeurs" will not be allowed. When I heard this, I pointed out that I will be baking on-site and therefore there will obviously be odors emanating from the property. His response: "Yes, but you bake cakes. You won't be cooking with onions or cabbage. You will be making pleasant smells." I didn't even know what to make of this. All I could imagine was doing all the work, spending all this money to set myself up and getting shut down a week later because the building tenants don't like what they are smelling. This is obviously a point that needs to be covered off before proceeding. I'm still hoping I can pull a rabbit out of the hat on this whole thing as the space has such promise. To be continued.....

In the meantime, this past week was insane - I made hundreds of cupcakes for various events, taught a cupcake class out at a company in Levallois and I met with Hard Rock Cafe to discuss a really exciting upcoming project. I was happy for the distraction as my little one head off to school full-time and I was feeling blue about my kids growing up. Here are just a few of the orders that went out this week: LV cupcakes for a birthday party; logoed mini cupcakes for auFeminin.com which were served at the mega fashion show Galeries Lafayette pulled off this past week; cupcakes for the launch of a new association called ProudToBe Entrepreneur, and mini cupcakes for a pre-screening of The Gruffalo movie at Forum des Images (they're decorated with rice paper that show a still from the film.). Have a good week everybody!

11 September 2011

Sunshine on My Shoulders Makes Me Happy

Today was a cold, rainy day here in Paris. I couldn't help but feel it was the tears of so many gone so soon falling from heaven. Today is a day of imminent sadness and mourning in the US, and my heart breaks thinking about the devastation, the darkness, the emptiness that was left behind. I grew up in NY and the twin towers were an integral part of the skyline to me -- their symmetrical lines and simplicity, a solid mass that just always were.

Then one day the unimaginable happened. I was there when they came crashing down...just like that. Did anyone think it could happen? And as they toppled, the promise of thousands of lives was left unfinished. Lives extinguished for no other reason than because they showed up for work that day. Try as I might, I will never be able to erase the horrific images from my mind.

The sun came out today just as my daughter went to blow out her birthday candles. So much light and love filled the room. I am grateful that on a day of so much sadness, I have a beautiful life to celebrate.

Sending hope, serenity and sunshine to all those whose loved ones were lost on that fateful day.

09 September 2011

I'm Coming Out

A few years back, I had planned to open a cupcake store. I started writing a business plan, I attended several reunions at the Chambre de Commerce and I signed up on a few different real estate sites to get alerts on properties that met my criteria. Then I found out I was pregnant, and so those plans kind of went out the window. In the interim, I started my small business, first as Little Miss Cupcake now as Sugar Daze, and I have watched my two babies grow practically side-by-side. My real baby heads off to school this week and for the past several months, I have been thinking about what this means for my business baby.

If any of you were in France over the summer, you know what a lousy summer it was weather-wise. I was stuck for about 10 days on the West Coast with my kids in the cold and rain with nothing more than a few cable channels and my iPhone to entertain us. One afternoon as I was going through my spam mail, I saw I had received a list of available properties from one of the sites I had signed up with all those years ago and having nothing better to do, I opened it. A quick scan of the properties and 1 in particular popped out at me. Here in France, if you want to rent a commercial space, one of the things you will encounter is the "droit au bail" or the right to a lease -- usually an exorbitant fee that needs to be paid upfront in order to then have the pleasure of paying a monthly rent. This droit au bail....not so bad. And the rent? well, I could swing it with my current revenue as a part-time business. Imagine if I worked more like full-time?

Upon my return to Paris, I called up the realtor and I went to visit the site. It has a lot of promise. Subsequent visits have shown some flaws which are more than skin-deep but we'll see what the contractors have to say. I'm still terribly torn about not being "accessible mom" like I have been for the past 8 1/2 years. I worry that while traveling down this path, I will never see my kids again. In all honesty, I figured this next step was still a few years down the road. But then I saw what I think is an exceptional deal, and my heart told me to check it out. I'm also still debating what exactly I want this space to be....a site with a commercial kitchen? A space where I can offer classes? A traditional store? Time will tell. And maybe this whole thing won't go anywhere. But since I have so many people write me often for advice on starting a business here in France, I thought I would share this adventure with you and try to document the process here. More to come on this!

Lastly, I have reached out to many of you in the business since starting to explore this idea and I just wanted to say an enormous thank you to Jane, Aimee, Rebecca, Liz, Louie, Sam and Sylvie (I hope I'm not forgetting anyone). Your help and advice has been invaluable! And also thank you to Lindsey, Bryan, Meg, Jennifer and Lili -- my friends and cupcake fans! I so appreciate the time you have taken out of your busy schedules to help me and share some encouraging words.

I've Got the Brains, You've Got the Looks, Let's Make Lots of Money!

Good news! 3 weeks out and we have just over 1500 cupcakes pledged for Cupcake Camp Paris 2! We've just finalized our pricing for the day and I wanted to share that with you.

This year, as a sponsor, the dining network site COlunching.com will be helping raise money for Cupcake Camp Paris 2. By signing up on the site for the event “COCupcaking at Cupcake Camp,” participants can benefit from the VIP GOLD pack. The best part is that for your prepayment of 12.50, COlunching will match your contribution, so for each VIP GOLD pack purchased, 25 euros will be donated to Make a Wish (note: limit 20 participants for matching donations).

The VIP GOLD pack includes an empty cupcake box and 4 tickets you can exchange for 4 cupcakes among the hundreds available. You’ll also get 1 ticket for the tombola - winners will select among dozens of donated prizes like a cooking class at La Cuisine Paris, boxes of cupcakes from Scarlett's Bakery or yours truly, or 30 euro gift certificates from Mathon. But most importantly, VIP GOLD Members have access to the cupcakes 30 minutes before the event opens to the public, giving you first dibs on the best cupcakes and the best tombola prizes. If you want to come later, there will also be a VIP express line that lets you enter immediately with your box ready to be filled. Some great perks,, no?!

Unlike last year where you paid a set door fee, entry to Cupcake Camp Paris 2 is free -- come on in, browse, have a drink if you'd like (available for purchase at the bar). If you want to eat cupcakes though or participate in the tombola, you must buy either the VIP Pack through COlunching.com or purchase a welcome pack at the door. We will be offering 2 different welcome packs inside Le Comptoir Général: silver or bronze.

The silver pack for 10 euros includes:
- 1 empty box for your cupcakes
- 3 tickets to be exchanged for 3 cupcakes
- 1 ticket for a try at the tombola

The bronze packe for 7,50 euros includes:
- 3 tickets to be exchanged for cupcakes or the tombola -- your choice.

Once you have purchased a welcome pack, additional cupcakes and tombola tickets will be available for 2 euros each. Empty cupcake boxes will be available for 1 euro, but again a welcome pack must be purchased before any cupcakes can be consumed.

So get ready to eat some cupcakes and help us raise some dough for Make a Wish!

02 September 2011

In the Mood for Love

6-inch Chocolate Squared layer cake with gumpaste heart bow. Ordered for a "romantic"weekend. I Love Paris!

28 August 2011

Where Have all the Flowers Gone?

This was a very last minute (like I made everything including the gumpaste ranunculus in under 6 hours) cake for a baptism. It's rare that I would scramble like this but I had a bit of a sob story from the parents whose daughter was being baptized concerning the flaky baker they had originally hired to make this. There's been a recent spate of ruffle cakes circling the net (probably thanks in part to the very talented Maggie Austen) and I thought it would make a quick and simple design for this chocolate layer cake. Congratulations to Sophie and family on this special day!

20 August 2011

Guest Post - Star Bakery

The final guest post in this summer series is from Liana from Star Bakery in the UK. I have followed Liana on flickr for some time and she is by far one of my favorite cupcake decorators on this side of the pond. On really, really, REALLY good days, my cupcake decorating comes out almost as perfect as hers. If only Liana could guest decorate in my kitchen some day, I could learn a thing or two! Take it away, Liana....

My name is Liana and I am a sugar addict. There, said it. I suppose this confessional should lead to some sort of relief on my part but it doesn’t. Why? Because I’ve known this and have been confessing this very truth for a very long time...
I’m the owner of Star Bakery in Nottingham, England and as a result am surrounded by the gooiest, sugar loaded, candy coloured treats on a daily basis. I started my bakery back in 2009 and after a fabulous career in Marketing and Communications, and being mum to two fab boys, I can honestly say I think I’ve found my niche in life.
This job is definitely the toughest job I’ve ever done and if you don’t fancy icing sugar laden houses and 3am finishes then please keep moving BUT anyone that bakes for a hobby will know the joys of baking from scratch and getting to indulge in the fruits of your labour.

Being constantly surrounded by sugary temptation does nothing to curb my sweet tooth and so I thought I’d share with you the one baked treat that satisfies my sugar craving and leaves me with a caramel induced contentment that lasts for days.
This recipe is often referred to as Millionaire’s Shortbread of Caramel shortbread and is based on a recipe from Nigella Lawson I came across on the internet – with tweaks!

175g unsalted butter
225g plain flour
75g caster sugar
Vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Caramel topping
200g unsalted butter
397g/1 can sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate topping
250g milk chocolate
1tbsp butter/golden syrup

8x8” tin lined with greaseproof paper
Preheat the oven to 170 C/gas mark 3/325 F
Put the flour, sugar, vanilla and salt into a bowl and rub in 175g of cold butter, clumping the dough together to make a ball. Press this shortbread mixture into the tin and smooth it down with the back of a spoon. Prick the surface with a fork and cook for five minutes, then lower the oven to 150C/gas mark 2/about 320F, and cook for a further 30-40 minutes until slightly golden brown. Remove from oven and let it cool in the tin completely before adding the caramel topping.

Melt the remaining 200g of butter in a saucepan then add condensed milk. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, and then reduce heat and simmer for 5-6mins until the mixture has turned a golden brown or thickened slightly. Take off heat and pour over the shortbread base and leave to cool.

Melt chocolate in your preferred way i.e. microwave or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and add butter of syrup to add shine to your chocolate. Once melted pour over cooled caramel topping and allow to set at room temperate so the chocolate doesn’t go dull. This recipe makes about 16 generous pieces but this varies depending on how you cut your shortbread!

I hope you enjoy this recipe, it might seem like a lot of hard work but I take it in stages and making the caramel is very soothing so ideal for that post-dinnertime wind down before the ‘joys’ of the children’s bedtime kick in...

18 August 2011

Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy!

Even though I'm officially on vacation, I have a hard time shutting off when it comes to making sweet after-dinner treats! I have limited baking facilities so have had to adapt someof my favorite recipes for simpler execution. This is a no-bake cheesecake that is super fast and easy to prepare. Here's what you need:

For the Crust:

1 sleeve of tea biscuits, graham crackers, chocolate cookies or whatever you want to make your crust with (about 20 cookies)
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsps sugar

1) Place cookies inside a plastic bag. Using a rolling pin or if you're like me and don't have access to one, the bottom of a skillet, bash the cookies until you have a very fine crumb.
2) Pour into bowl, add butter and sugar and stir to mix.
3) Using the back of a spoon, flatten crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a shallow round baking pan or springform mold (8 inch).
4) Store crust in freezer about 10 minutes while you make the filling.

For the Filling:
3 packages Philadelphia cream cheese
200 ml whipping cream
1 cup sugar
juice from 1 lemon
4 large squares from a chocolate tablet (I used Perugina dark)

1) Whip cream until soft peaks form and set aside.
2) Using the back of a fork, mash cream cheese in a large bowl, add sugar and lemon juice and stir to combine.
3) Mix in whipped cream until you have a homogenous, creamy filling.
4) Spoon into crust and smooth with a spoon or fork for a flat surface. Reserve in fridge while you melt the chocolate.
5) Melt chocolate squares in microwave for about 60 seconds or until smooth.
6) Drip chocolate in dollops over the surface of the cheesecake. Drag the tip of a sharp knife over surface of the cheesecake in figure 8's for a decorative pattern.
7) Leave cheesecake in fridge at least 10 hours or overnight to set. Serve and enjoy!

If you have any simple, no-bake recipes you'd like to share,please do so in the comments section!

14 August 2011

Guest Post - Fields of Cake & Other Good Stuff

This is the 3rd installment of guest posts where I've asked some of my favorite blogger/bakers to share a recipe. Have you been enjoying them? And better yet, have you tried out any of the recipes? Today's post comes from Carrie of Fields of Cake & Other Good Stuff - we used to compete in the Iron Cupcake Challenges and I was always wowed by her amazing flavor combinations and drool-worthy food photography. I'm so happy Carrie agreed to share one of her recipes here and all I can say is get ready to be swept off your feet too! Here goes.....

This has been a wacky summer. Some days have been rainy and cold, some super hot and humid. There hasn’t been any real, long stretch of one or the other, just a yo-yo type thing. I have been crazy busy with wedding cakes and cupcakes, taking care of my boys, going to conferences and workshops, entertaining guests….but one thing I would NEVER miss, is helping out my friend Cat and getting to do a guest blog for her! I was SO excited when she asked me. What an honor!
She asked for something light and summery and I dreamt of light lemon cupcakes, fluffy strawberry cupcakes, delicious vanilla cupcakes, airy cotton candy cupcakes, but in the long run I was crazy busy and decided to share a favorite of mine from my blog from a while back but I revised just a bit to make it a little more fun.
Thanks Cat for your patience and love. You are awesome!!
So without further ado….

Almond Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes!!!

Macerated Strawberries

• 2 lbs. fresh strawberries washed and diced
• 3 Tbsp. Chambord
• 3 Tbsp. Amaretto
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
In bowl combine all ingredients and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.
* Puree half of the mixture some for the buttercream and some to mix with the rest of the strawberry mixture.

Almond Vanilla Cupcakes (adapted from Warren Brown's Cake Love)

• 1 cup all purpose flour
• 1/4 cup almond flour
• 2 ounces potato starch
• 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp at high altitude)
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 cup half and half (1 cup + 2 tbsp. at high altitude)
• 2 Tbsp. Amaretto
• 1 Tbsp. Vanilla extract
• 1/2 tsp. almond extract
• 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter (room temp)
• 12 ounces sugar
• 4 large eggs (5 at high altitude)
Sift the flours, potato starch, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.
Combine half and half, Amaretto, vanilla extract and almond extract in a large measuring cup and set aside.
In bowl of standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on the lowest speed for 5-7 minutes.
With the mixer still on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Add the dry and wet ingredients alternating in 3-5 additions. This should take no more than 60 seconds total...you don't want to mix too much.
Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl remembering to get the bottom of the bowl. Mix on medium speed for 20 full seconds to develop the cakes structure.
Portion evenly into 24 cupcake papers. Bake for 22-25 minutes at 350 degrees. I find I need to bake mine a whole 25 minutes or they shrink from the sides. They should be a nice dark golden brown on the top, don't worry these are moist cupcakes...amazing! It is now my "go to".

Fresh Strawberry Buttercream
• ¾ lb. unsalted butter (softened)
• 1/2-3 ounce package instant vanilla pudding mix
• 1/2 cup strawberry puree
• 1/2 cup cream
• 1/2 cup macerated strawberries
Beat butters and instant pudding mix in mixer until light and fluffy, about 8 minutes or so. Turn mixer to low and slowly add the puree and then the cream. Beat for another 3 or 4 minutes. Fold in the macerated strawberries ( I found I kinda had to beat them into the buttercream to get it all to come together once adding the strawberry chunks, but don't worry...it's worth it)

Vanilla Bean Buttercream
1 lb. unsalted butter (softened)
1/2 pkg. french vanilla instant pudding mix
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup (or more to suit your tastes) powdered sugar
In mixer set on medium speed, beat the butter and vanilla bean seeds until smooth and silky. Turn the speed to low and add the pudding mix, when it is all incorporated, slowly add the cream, a little at a time. When fully incorporated bring speed up to high and beat for 5-7 minutes. Turn speed back down to low and add powdered sugar by Tbsp., tasting along the way. When it is sweet to your taste, beat again at high speed for a good 5 minutes to really break down any graininess that you might get from the powdered sugar. Bring back down to low speed and beat for a while that way to get rid of air bubbles.

To assemble these delicious morsels...follow these instructions
• cut a cone in the top of each cupcake..I made mine fairly large to accommodate more strawberries..yum!
• put about a half teaspoon of buttercream into each cone then top with chunks of macerated strawberries and more juice, place the cone cap back on top.
• Pipe the vanilla buttercream around the outer edge of the cupcake and fill the hole in the center of the buttercream with the strawberry buttercream. Ta da!!!

12 August 2011

For Jennifer & Mikey Perillo - Peanut Butter Pie Friday

Ironically, it was because of my husband that I first discovered Jennifer Perillo's blog: In Jennie's Kitchen.  For those of you who don't know me, I started a custom cupcake business about 3 years ago and it has been a crazy busy ride. I rarely bake  recreationally anymore, or for my family as my husband often laments.  About 8 months ago, I declared I would no longer work on Sundays -- so I would have at least one day off a week to spend some good quality family time.  And I've picked up the practice of baking for them again -- usually chocolate chip cookies which is one of my husband's favorite treats. We have differing opinions on what makes a perfect chocolate chip cookie; I've made it a personal quest to find the best recipe and have tried about 3 dozen so far. Jennie's chocolate chip cookie recipe came up on one of my searches, and I bookmarked it along with about 12 others I have been meaning to come back and try.  Hers calls for molasses, a hard to find ingredient in Paris and not something I keep in my pantry.

Over the course of the past few months, I've revisited Jennie's blog on many occassions.  She has a direct and honest writing style I find endearing and the recipes I have tried from her blog have always garnered rave reviews. She once thanked her readers as being "a ray of sunshine" in her life and that is exactly how I have come to think of her. I've never met Jennie but sensed she was a kindred spirit and I enjoyed following along her comings and goings while she shared so many wonderful recipes and techniques.

Just like me, Jennie's a mom to two young kids aged 3 and 8. Like me, she is constantly striving to balance her personal and professional lives.  Like me, she is passionate about food and often reminisces about touchpoints in her life and people who have influenced her as she cooks on her blog. She lives in New York, my hometown.  And like me, she had settled down with a hard-working man who took his responsibilities to heart -- often working long hours and bringing the stress and the demands of the job home with him. The Mr. as she commonly referred to him.  Mikey as I have come to know him this past week.  A post for chocolate snaps, where she recounts one of her first dates with Mikey, her partner for life who loved and supported her in everything she did, brought a tear to my eye when I originally read it this past winter.  The sentiments expressed there are so much more bittersweet given the events of this past week.

Like many in the food community, I learned the devestating news via Twitter. Jennie's Mikey, the love and light of her life, had tragically and unexpectedly passed away. There are things that happen in life that are inexplicable and just so unfair.  This is one of them.  A man loved by his family and so many others suddenly cut short in the prime of his life.  Like me, I am sure Jennie expected her husband to be there at her side for decades to come -- to watch their kids head out into the world and forge their own way, to experience all the ups and downs that life threw at them, to love and laugh and to grow old together.  My heart is overflowing with sorrow for Jennie and her kids.  For all the sadness they are dealing with right now and for all the years to come without Mikey.  

In her latest blog post, Jennie shares Mikey's favorite recipe -- Creamy Peanut Butter Pie, and invites the world to celebrate his life by baking one and eating it with someone you love. For me, making this pie was a small labor of love. We are currently on vacation (something Jennie and Mikey were to do in just a few days!) All I had to make this recipe with was a small cake tin and a mixing bowl.  No scales, no measuring cups or spoons, no real oven - that's all back in Paris with my nephew who is housesitting for us! I actually used an empty Peroni beer bottle in lieu of a rolling pin to smash the biscuits to pieces for the crust. And I consider it a minor triumph that I was able to find the ingredients I needed to make this in a foreign country where I don't speak the language. I did however modify the recipe; there was no peanut butter to be found in this small coastal village, and more importantly, my husband actually hates peanut butter (he's French after all!). Given the circumstances, I loved that Jennie's pie is no-bake and so I stuck with something just as easy to prepare by swapping out the peanut butter cream filling for cheesecake filling. Cheesecake is one of my husband's favorites. I didn't think Jennie or Mikey would mind.  

I'll be eating this pie with my family tonight -- the family I don't tell often enough how much I love them or how important they are to me.  I will savor each bite as I express how grateful I am for the love and life that I have, and I will think of Mikey and all that he has left behind.  May his memory and light live on in Jennie, in their two beautiful daughters, in their friends and loved ones, and in his favorite dessert: Peanut Butter Pie. Here's Jennie's recipe so you can make and share one with the ones you love!

Creamy Peanut Butter Pie
Originally published by Jennifer Perillo at In Jennie's Kitchen
Serves 10 to 12

8 ounces chocolate cookies

4 tablespoons butter, melted

4 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces cream cheese

1 cup creamy-style peanut butter

1 cup confectioner's sugar

1 – 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs.  Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well.  Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. 

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula.  Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form.  Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use.  Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner's sugar.  Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream).  Fold in the remaining whipped cream.  Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan.  Drizzle the melted chocolate on top, if using, and refrigerate for three hours or overnight before serving.

06 August 2011

Guest Post - Liz's Cupcakes

The second in my summer series of guest posts comes from Liz, the owner of Liz's Cupcakes in Nafplio, Greece. Liz and her husband opened shop a little over 6 months ago and are already creating a cupcake craze in their town. Liz shares with us her "Greek inspiration ― Olive & Ouzo cupcakes"! Take it away, Liz......

When Cat asked me to do a guest post for Sugar Daze I thought it was a great opportunity to play around with a couple of ideas I'd been having for new cupcake flavours. I thought about Greek products that might go well in a cupcake and might go well together.

Some of the ingredients I had in mind were figs, olives, brandy and ouzo.

I've had this jar of sweet olive preserve for a while now and I've been thinking of a good way to get them into a cupcake. Here in Greece it's very common to make a sweet preserve of various fruits and vegetables even.

It's not jam, marmalade or jelly but fruit or veg that is sometimes blanched and then stored in a sugar syrup. Depending on the fruit it can be boiled in the syrup or separately. You can get all the popular fruits such as cherry and grape and also more unusual things, such as baby egg-plant, all in sweet preserve form. They are often served on a small saucer, just a spoonful and are considered a healthy treat. They are fat free but are full of sugar!

In the photo below we have sour cherry on the left and my olive preserve on the right:

The thing that I admire about the women who make 'spooned sweets' as they're often referred to here, is that it totally encompasses thriftiness. Not a thing goes to waste. The abundance of fruit and vegetables from the trees and gardens can be preserved in sweet form for months.

Sweet Olive preserve is not widely available in Greece, well not at the supermarkets anyway, you probably have to go to a shop that specialises in sweets and other Greek produce. I get mine from a wonderful local shop: Melokipos (Honey garden).

So anyway... I was thinking that olives and figs together would be a very unusual concept but in the end I realised that the cinnamon and clove that are in the preserved olive just wouldn't work together so well.

I'd already soaked some dried figs in brandy overnight so in the end I made a simple batch of plain cake adding the finely chopped olives to half of it and the finely chopped brandy soaked figs in the other half.

I often use the simple recipe of 100g flour, 100g sugar, 100g butter & 2 eggs recipe when I'm doing experimenting. I can tell afterwards if I need to change the recipe to get it more or less moist, it's a good starting point.

There was a delicious smell in the kitchen as they were baking! For the frosting I made a simple buttercream; for the olive cakes I added some ouzo and for the fig cupcakes I added some brandy.

Findings: The Olive & Ouzo cupcake was really good and I'm not even an olive fan! Alex thought it was a little dry and maybe it could have done with a slightly more moist cake. The ouzo in the frosting is very interesting. You can barely tell it's there and then right at the end you get the slight taste of aniseed.

The Brandy Fig cupcake was divine too. I'm partial to figs so I knew this one was going to be my favourite.

I can't wait to try something similar when the fresh figs are in season, towards the end of summer. I also think that some cocoa in this cupcake wouldn't go amiss. It won't be too painful to have to do some more experimenting!